Category Archives: Catholic Church

But, That Teaching Doesn’t Make Me Happy.

There is a common misconception that, if a teaching of the Church makes one uncomfortable, or somehow interferes with what one desires to do, it must be wrong. This is when many people turn on the Church and declare their right to “think for themselves.” How dare the Church “tell me what to do!” This is particularly true regarding sexual morality since the “sexual revolution.”

Partly, this behavior stems from a Western, individualistic mentality, but it also comes from the mistaken notion that being Christian is supposed to magically make one’s life “feel good.” Christianity certainly does bring joy. However, joy must not be confused with “happiness” or “always feeling good.” Joy is an abiding confidence that things will ultimately work out in this life or the next. “Happiness” depends on “happenings” and transient “feelings.” Happiness is a mood. Joy is a state of being.

Of course, there is much happiness to be found in living a genuine Christian life. But happiness is never guaranteed by Jesus. In fact, Jesus told his disciples that they would face persecution, even to the point of death. That does not sound very comfortable.

Jesus also said that unless we take up our cross and follow him, we cannot be his disciples. A cross is not a happy, comfortable thing. Just take a good, long look at a crucifix. That’s one reason we Catholics have crucifixes in our churches and in our homes. It reminds us of what Christ did for us, but it also reminds us of what Christ expects of us.

Can you be a Catholic Christian and also be happy? Of course! But, you also must be willing to accept your crosses. Doing so might not make you “feel happy.” The ultimate goal of Christianity is not to acquire happiness in this life. The goal of Christianity is getting to Heaven and bringing as many souls as possible along with you.

The teachings of the Church are there to serve the ultimate goal of Christianity. They are not designed just to make us feel good all the time. So, the next time you find yourself struggling with how difficult or “unfair” a certain Church teaching is, take a good, long look at a crucifix. Then, ask Jesus for the strength to pick up your cross and follow him. As wonderful as this life can often be, it can’t compare to where Jesus will ultimately take you. To follow his Church is to follow Jesus.

Why Confess To A Priest?

Since many second graders will soon be receiving their first Sacrament of Reconciliation, it seems like a good time to reflect on this awesome gift that Christ has given to his Church.

Jesus said to the apostles, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). Jesus has the authority to forgive sins because he is God. So, why did he empower the apostles (and their successors) with this authority? Why would God want people to tell their sins to men? God hears us. Why put some man in the middle?

In the Old Testament, people were supposed to tell their sins to a priest. However, the priests could only offer up animal sacrifices, which could never completely take away sin. In the New Testament, Jesus offered himself as the ultimate sacrifice which fully takes away sin. He fulfilled the Old Testament. “Fulfilling” does not mean “destroying.” Jesus did not abolish the Old Testament. Jesus completed the Old Testament. So, now when we confess to a priest, it is a complete, fulfilled sacramental cleansing of sin because it is based on the sacrifice of Christ, not the blood of bulls and goats.

That still doesn’t explain why God insists on having a man in the middle. People often ask, “Why not confess directly to God? Why go to a priest? Here are a few reasons:

  1. When we sin, we sin against God, the Church and our fellow human beings. So, it makes sense to apologize not only to God, but also to the Church and to a fellow human being. Confessing to a priest includes all three of these elements. Making amends with individuals we have wronged is, of course, important whenever possible. The priest will likely encourage such actions.

 

  1. Most people will admit that it is usually easier to apologize to God in the silence of one’s heart than it is to apologize out loud to another human being. Let’s face it; it’s very humbling to speak your sins out loud to another person and hear your own voice admitting what you did wrong. I see this frequently in counseling sessions with couples. It can be very difficult to say out loud to someone, “I’m sorry!” This is because apologizing is an act of vulnerability. Vulnerability is essential to intimacy. The Sacrament of Reconciliation helps us to be truly humble, vulnerable and intimately connected to God in our relationship with him. It’s harder to go to confession because it “keeps the relationship real” so to speak. You have to “put it all out there.” You can’t hide within the silence of your own thoughts.

 

  1. Can God hear you speak to him without a priest? Sure. But, can you hear God speak back to you? Of course, God can “speak to your heart” in many ways. However, God did not create you as only a “heart.” He also gave you a physical body with five senses. Assuming that all five senses are working properly, God expects you to use those senses in your relationship with him (as we do with each other). That’s why the sacraments incorporate the five senses. Through the priest, you get to use the ears God gave you to actually hear the words, “I absolve you of your sins.” Your spirit AND your body are involved as God intended. Jesus ascended to Heaven, but he still has a voice for us to hear. What a blessing!

 

  1. Imagine having a disease that is difficult to diagnose and treat. Your prayer to God may be, “Lord, please heal me of this disease!” Now, imagine that circumstances place you under the care of a doctor that just happens to have obscure knowledge and understanding of what ails you. The doctor performs a procedure that cures the disease. You are overjoyed and proclaim, “Thank you, Lord, for sending that doctor to me!”

Now, who cured your disease? Was it God, or was it the doctor? The answer is BOTH! So often, we see things from an either/or perspective when we should be looking at the both/and perspective. God cured the disease by sending a doctor that had the curative power. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is similar. We go to God for forgiveness. God provides a person to whom he has given the power to be his instrument (the priest). God and the priest work together because God wills it.

Rejecting the role of the priest in God’s forgiveness is similar to rejecting the role of a doctor in curing a disease. Because we are created as spiritual AND physical beings, it makes perfect sense to include both aspects of our being in a relationship with God. This is why Jesus gave us the sacraments. They are outward, physical connections to spiritual realities. God knows we need the sacraments because he created us!

 

For further reading on this topic:

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/is-confession-in-scripture

 

Where Is THAT In The Bible?

Non-Catholic Christians often confront Catholics with the question, “Where is THAT in the Bible?” This is usually a challenge to the Catholic to use the Bible to prove a Catholic doctrine. The premise is wrong, however.

Where in the Bible does it say that every Christian doctrine must be found in the Bible?

Nowhere.

Where in the Bible does it even say which books belong in the Bible?

Nowhere.

It is simply not biblical to look to the Bible alone for Christian doctrine.

There are verses, such as 2Tim 3:16-17 that emphasize the importance of Scripture. Let’s look at that verse:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…”

The Bible is certainly the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

“…and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction for instruction in righteousness…”

Notice that Scripture is called “profitable” but not “sufficient.” Water is profitable for keeping you alive, but it is not “sufficient.” You also require food, shelter, etc.

“…that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

Again, if you only have water, but no food, you are not “thoroughly furnished.” You won’t be perfectly healthy. You are not thoroughly furnished if all you have is a Bible. The Bible is an essential part of your equipment, but not the only piece of equipment you require.

Look at it another way: If I leave the house to go to work wearing no pants, my wife will say, “Honey, you’re not fully dressed!” If I then put on pants but take my shirt off my wife will say, “You’re still not fully dressed!” I need the complete outfit to be fully dressed.

The point of 2Tim 3:16-17 is that you need the Bible to complete (i.e. fully furnish) your equipment, not that the Bible is your “only” piece of essential equipment.

So, what else besides the Bible do you need to complete your equipment?

You need the official teachings of the Church established by Christ.

1Tim 3:15 says, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou ought to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

In this verse, we see that the pillar and ground of the truth is the Church established by Christ, not just the Bible.

2Thessalonians 2:15 says, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”

Here we see that both the written word and the oral word have always been important for Christians to adhere to. Though the apostles wrote some things down, they did not write down everything. Christians had to obey what the apostles said, not just what they wrote. Nowhere do we see Jesus instructing them to write down all the “essentials.” Jesus told them to “go and teach,” not to “go write a book.” The successors of the apostles received the same admonition to “go and teach” (2Tim 2:2, for example), not to “go and write.”

The Bible itself was given to us by the Catholic Church. It took about 400 years before it was decided which writings to include in the Bible. The Bible does not say which books belong in it. The Catholic Church, directed by the Holy Spirit, decided which books belong in the Bible. The Bible is actually part of Catholic Sacred Tradition. The Church and the Bible work together in harmony. They do not contradict each other.

A preacher might be able to give “good explanations” about the meaning of Scripture. However, any interpretation that contradicts the teachings of the Catholic Church is wrong, no matter how appealing or how logical it may sound. This is why there are so many opposing interpretations and so many different churches. With only a Bible, these churches and preachers are not fully equipped.

In order to understand your Bible correctly, you need to include the teachings of the Church established by Christ and directed by the Holy Spirit. To be fully equipped, you need the Bible AND the pillar and foundation of the truth, the Catholic Church. God made them to go together. If you ignore one or the other (or both), you’re missing something Jesus wants you to have.

Do We Reject Science When Scientists Behave Badly?

It is curious to me when Christianity is rejected because of the bad behavior of people. There are complaints about religious wars, crusades, inquisitions, sexual abuse scandals and any number of hypocrisies of “religious people.” Somehow, these complaints are allowed to cancel out the good that Christianity has brought to the world. It seems as though the examples of the Saints, the hospitals, the universities, the scientific advances, the charitable contributions, the spiritual enlightenment, the eternal salvation of souls and any other good that stems from Christianity is cast aside.

The reverse is true for science and technology. Few people reject science or technology because of the atomic bomb, weapons of mass destruction, pollution, social disconnection, or the dehumanization of the person. It does not seem to matter much when people behave badly with science and technology. People still embrace science and technology and extend the benefit of the doubt. In fact, despite whatever evils may have been perpetrated in the name of science or technology, people expect such endeavors to somehow be the salvation of us all.

We need to be consistent. The reality of human nature is that people have the ability to behave badly with any gift given to them. Science and religion can both be abused. Why reject only one of them?

I suspect that focusing on the bad behavior of people can be a convenient excuse for avoiding the humility, holiness and submission that successful Christianity demands. Focusing on the good that science and technology brings strokes our pride and makes us feel in control. We don’t need God because we become “little gods” that are masters of our own destiny. We like our smart phones. We don’t like holiness. We’re afraid that holiness will restrict our freedom. Yet, we are willing to become slaves to science, technology, and our own pride.

G.K. Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

If the idea of “people behaving badly” keeps one away from Christianity, it should just as well keep one away from science and technology. If one focuses on the good, however, there is no reason to reject either one.

“All You Need Is Love” or “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

“Why can’t we all just get along?” This is a common question. One might as well ask, “Why can’t we all just pick up musical instruments and play beautiful music together?” The answer to the later question is clear: “Because not all of us have been properly trained and practiced in the art of musical performance.” So it is with people’s ability to love.

In the story “The Music Man,” con man Harold Hill sells musical instruments to people with the promise of creating a wonderful band. He provides no musical instruction beyond telling people to “think Beethoven’s Minuet in G.” When pressured to actually direct the musical piece, what results from his “band” is a horrible sound with only the slightest resemblance to the Minuet in G.  There is certainly no display of excellence. Nor is there any ability to play other songs.

It is not enough to simply have a musical instrument and “think” about playing music. Musical excellence requires proper instruction and years of practice. Playing music with a group of musicians only works when everyone in the group understands the musical rules and has the proper musical skills. So it is with love in a marriage, a family, or an entire society.

Harold Hill’s “band” is similar to what results from telling people to “just love one another.” Saying “all you need is love” is like saying “all you need is a musical instrument and the passion to play it.” People need to be taught how to love. They need to learn and understand the “rules” of love and relationship. In other words, people need to learn and practice virtue.

Love is not a “feeling.” Love is an action. In order to perform an action with excellence, one requires skill and practice. Virtue is the skill of loving with excellence. Without virtue, all we have is feeling and emotion. One can “feel” very passionate about playing music. But, without the skill, one is not truly free to actually play the music. One can “feel” very passionate about love. But, without the skill to love (virtue), one is not actually free to love. In both cases, one becomes a slave to one’s passions. “Feelings” alone, as powerful as they may be, are not reliable guides to life and love.

An excellent musician is a “virtuoso.” The ability to love excellently is “virtue.”  Love is not “all we need.”  We must know how to love. Knowing how to love involves more than being led by emotions. Even the most passionate desire to love will lack excellence without virtue.

Learn more about the importance of virtue here and here.

I’m A Christian, So Why Can’t I Receive Catholic Communion?

Sometimes I hear people complain that non-Catholic Christians are not allowed to take communion (the Eucharist) at Catholic Mass. After all, the word “catholic” means “universal,” and Catholicism considers all properly baptized people to be Christian. So, why exclude some Christians? Isn’t that kind of mean or uppity?

In Protestant circles, it is more common that Christians from other denominations are permitted to take communion “as long as they believe in Jesus.” So, what’s up with the Catholics? It doesn’t seem very welcoming, inclusive or universal.

The Church is indeed “universal.” The Church is for all peoples of all times in all places. However, “universal” does not apply to all principles and beliefs of all peoples. There are more things that unite Christians than divide us. Nevertheless, those things that divide us cannot be ignored. There is not perfect, universal unity in doctrine or practice. Jesus prayed that all of His followers would be one as He and the Father are one. The Church cannot accept every belief and doctrine in the name of inclusion. This is especially true where the Holy Eucharist is concerned.

With some exceptions, non-Catholic Christians generally believe that the communion service is a symbolic memorial intended to help us remember what Christ did for us. So, the bread and wine are about Christ. Catholics believe in transubstantiation. The bread and wine actually become Christ. The bread miraculously transforms into His literal flesh. The wine miraculously transforms into His literal blood (Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” John Chapter six). The elements retain their outward appearance of bread and wine, but the substance has changed. This is an important distinction of beliefs that cannot be ignored. The Eucharist isn’t just about Christ, it is Christ. It’s not just a metaphor for Catholics.

“Communion” is an expression of unity among those who partake. Unless you believe that the bread and wine actually is Christ, it would be a false sign of unity for you to partake of the Eucharist. In other words, it would be a lie for both of us. One of us would be saying, “This is Jesus,” and the other would be saying, “This is not Jesus, it’s only about Jesus.” We would both be claiming a perfect unity that was not really genuine.

The other reason that non-Catholic Christians (or any non-Catholics) are typically not permitted to take communion is for your protection. In 1Corinthians chapter 11, The Apostle Paul warns against eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper without properly discerning it. Doing so can result in sickness, weakness or even damnation. Consequently, the Catholic Church doesn’t want you to take communion unless you properly understand and discern what you are doing. It’s for your own good for the Church to say, “Don’t take communion.”

It’s not about “exclusion” or “being mean” or “thinking we’re better Christians than you.” Anyone is welcome to come and participate in a Catholic Mass. Please, come join us. However, if you want to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, you must first enter into full unity with the Church. Otherwise, it becomes something less than an expression of genuine unity of faith (it’s not a real “communion”). It also places your soul in jeopardy. We don’t want that for you. We want only the best for you. We want you to have the fullness of the Universal Faith and the spiritual healing of the Eucharist, Jesus Himself.

Both…It’s Both.

I love the abundant fullness of Catholicism. Nothing is missing. Christ supplies every need through His Church. There are no false dichotomies. There is no need to make choices between things that were never opposed to each other to begin with. For example:

There’s no need to make a choice between “religion” and “relationship.” All relationships have certain qualities that make them unique. A marriage relationship is different from a sibling relationship or a parent/child relationship. Each relationship has certain “ground rules” and characteristics that identify it. Christ gave us His Church so we could know how He wants us to uniquely relate to Him and vice versa. Being authentically Catholic is the same as having a personal relationship with Jesus. In fact, one can’t be any more personal than that. It’s both religion and relationship. Seems silly to try and separate the two. Properly lived, the religion is the relationship.

There’s no reason to choose whether to follow the Church or to follow the Bible. Catholics follow both, just like Christ intended. The Church and Her leaders came first. Then, members of that Church wrote some things down. Then, around the year 400, the Church leaders decided which of those writings were inspired and belonged in the Bible and which ones did not. The Catholic Church leaders and the Bible were never designed to be separated from each other as competing authorities. The two do not contradict each other, they complement each other. One without the other does not make sense. The Church and the Bible are both the same authority, Jesus Christ. Jesus does not restrict Himself to text on a page.

We don’t have to choose between “works” salvation and “faith” salvation. Salvation requires both faith and works. There is only one place in scripture where being saved “by faith alone” is mentioned, and those words are preceded by the words “not by” (James 2:24). “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Catholics are saved by grace. We do not earn salvation. It is a free gift of God. By cooperating with God’s grace we can have a living, working faith, not a dead one, if we so choose.

We have no need to decide whether or not the Lord’s Supper is merely a symbolic memorial, or if it is actually the body and blood of Jesus. It is both. The Holy Eucharist is a memorial to help us recall the sacrifice of Jesus. It is also the actual body and blood of Jesus present in the form of bread and wine. Catholics take Jesus at His word when He says we must eat His flesh and drink His blood, and again when He says of the bread and wine, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” He is our personal Lord and Savior. Why wouldn’t we believe He meant what He said?

Catholics don’t have to choose between confessing “straight to God” and confessing to a priest. When we confess our sins to a priest, we are confessing them to God as well. All of Catholicism goes “straight to God.” There is no “either/or” or detours. God is right there the whole time. The great part is that we get to hear God speak the words of absolution through the priest. It’s wonderful to ask God for forgiveness. It’s even better to hear God say through His priest, “You are forgiven.” And why wouldn’t a loving Father want His children to actually hear those words?

As a Catholic, I never need to choose between “going straight to God” and “praying to Mary or any saint.” It’s not as though I can hide my mouth behind my hand and whisper in a saint’s ear so that God can’t hear me. God knows I’m not worshipping that saint instead of Him or trying to go behind His back. I’m simply asking that saint, a person close to God, alive in Christ, and a member of the Church, the family of God to pray for me. How can the saints hear me? God works it out. No worries. He’s powerful, you know.

There is no need for the Catholic to choose between the symbolic nature of baptism and the saving power of baptism. It is both an outward sign of the new life in Christ and the actual process by which that grace is transmitted. That’s the beauty of all the sacraments. They show us outwardly what is taking place inwardly. Again, it’s all part of that personal relationship with Christ we Catholics have. Christ actually touches us through His Church, and we get to touch Him.

Catholicism is all so beautiful, powerful and personal. I have discovered that so many “either/or” choices I once debated within myself are resolved by the great “both/and” peacefulness of the Catholic Faith. This is why it is the “fullness of the Faith.” It contains the abundance of life Christ wants us to have. There’s no other relationship quite like it.