Category Archives: Catholic

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.

The Love Language of Jesus

The Five Love Languages is a popular book by Gary Chapman. The book explains how people differ in the way they give and receive love. This principle comes up often in my counseling sessions with couples. Essentially, people tend to give love in the same form that they prefer to receive love. After all, aren’t we supposed to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us?”

The key is discovering how your partner prefers to receive love. Does your partner primarily prefer gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion), or physical touch (intimacy)? After discovering the answer, one is then better able to provide the kind of love one’s partner desires the most.

The love language principle has helped many couples realize that, although they meant well, they were “spinning their wheels” trying to actively love each other. For instance, it is counterproductive to constantly buy gifts for a partner that actually desires more physical touch. It soon becomes evident that, “You don’t really know me that well, do you?” The partner can only get so much consolation by thinking, “Oh well, it’s the thought that counts.” Genuine thought seeks to know a person intimately, including likes and dislikes.

Chapman’s book helps partners discover from each other what their actual likes and dislikes are. This removes the assumptions and “mind reading” games that plague so many relationships. The best way to really know your partner is to get the information from your partner. This helps build intimacy. It also helps to shift the focus away from “self” and towards “other.”

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” becomes, “Learn your partner’s love language as you would have your partner learn your love language.” In other words, the question shifts from, “What would I like?” to, “What would my partner like?” The idea seems simple enough, but it is not so readily implemented in so many relationships. We tend to fashion a relationship into our own version of how it “should” be. We tend to give love the way we want to give love.

Now, consider the following phrases:

  • Accept Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior.
  • It’s all about a relationship with Jesus.
  • Many in that day will say, “Lord, Lord,” but I will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

Just as in a marriage, it is possible to accept Jesus and desire to have a relationship with Him without really knowing Him. We can have a relationship with Jesus that exists on our own terms. What is the “love language” of Jesus? We can talk about how much we love Him, but the more important question becomes, “How does Jesus want us to love Him?”

Do we look for a place of worship that “feels right” to us, or do we look for a place of worship that worships the way Jesus desires us to worship? The implication here is that Jesus may actually desire a form of worship that does not feel right to you, because it is not your love language, it is His!

The challenge for married partners with different love languages is that it may feel very awkward and uncomfortable to switch languages. Hopefully, more time and practice will make it more comfortable. Nevertheless, the act of love is not based on how comfortable it feels to you. It is an act of love because of how it feels to your partner. The same holds true for how we love Jesus. How Jesus wants us to love Him, is not about how it feels to us!

Shopping around for a church that “feels right” is like loving your spouse the way that you like to be loved. The key is in finding which church was established by Jesus and worships Him the way that He wants to be worshiped. We tend to do the opposite. We tend to look for a church (or create a new one) that worships Jesus the way we want to worship Jesus.

Jesus only established one Church, not many. Jesus did not provide a shopping mall where we browse around looking for the church or the theology that best suits our tastes. Jesus never asked people how they preferred to love Him. He always had a “love me or leave me” approach. Our job is to love Jesus on His terms, not ours. This means we must follow and obey the Church Jesus established. It doesn’t always feel comfortable. Sometimes it can feel downright abominable (just read John chapter six and you’ll see what I mean).

The “love language” of Jesus can be found in His one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church. In particular, the Scriptures and the Seven Sacraments display His way of loving and being loved. By accepting His Church, one fully “accepts the Lord Jesus as personal Lord and Savior” and “has a personal relationship with Jesus.” Through His Church we learn to fully love Jesus according to His very own love language, not ours.

The Worship Music Battleground

One of the things I noticed during my years in non-Catholic churches was the frequent tension over worship music. While there are certainly tensions over music in Catholic churches, it seems to be a much more persistent battle ground for Protestants (at least in the denominations I attended). Why was the debate and tension over worship music so consistently intense at these churches?

There were older people that wanted more traditional music. There were younger people that wanted more contemporary music. There were people that liked all types of music. There were people that didn’t really care much about music at all (they tended to focus more on the quality of the preaching). The ever-present issue was how to keep everyone happy, which, of course, is impossible. I sensed that there was something much deeper than mere differences in musical preference, but I could not put my finger on it.

There were always possible solutions offered. Perhaps there could be a mix of traditional and contemporary music. Or, there could be two services, one traditional and one contemporary. The church could simply decide to use only contemporary music or only traditional music. Those who might be displeased would have to find a church to suit their preferences, or stay and not complain. All of these solutions had problems, especially since these were typically small churches with limited options.

For example, in order to have two services, these small churches needed to grow in number. In order to grow in number, they needed to attract younger people. In order to attract younger people, they needed more contemporary music. Traditional folks felt left out. But, if the church stuck with traditional music, the young folks would leave and find other churches with rocking worship teams, light shows, fog machines and T-shirt-wearing preachers.

It was hard to find a good balance of traditional hymns and contemporary music. It was also hard to find a music leader or worship team that was comfortable and adept in both genres. And don’t forget to add some Southern Gospel into the mix as well.

Recently, while browsing my Facebook newsfeed, I saw a video that had been posted. It was a video of a woman singing a Christian song and the caption read, “She really took them to church!” Then it hit me. I realized the reason that worship music is such a ticklish issue at these non-Catholic churches. They tend to gauge the quality of worship with the degree to which the music (and/or the sermon) inspires them. Unless they feel a certain level of inspiration, they haven’t really “been to church.” If the music or the sermon was particularly inspirational, they might remark, “Wow, we really had church today!” Good music and good preaching equals good worship.

The emphasis of these non-Catholic worship services is music and preaching. At least one of these has to be inspirational in order to feel as though worship has “happened.” If the music is dull, the preacher has additional pressure to be inspirational. If the preacher is dull, the music had better be good enough to compensate. If neither the music nor the preaching inspires, people will look for a different church where they feel they can “really worship.” Music is their highest level of worship. This “sacrifice of praise” is largely how they worship. Take away the music and the sermon and there is not much of a “worship service” to speak of.

Catholics also desire and appreciate inspirational music. This is obvious throughout the history of music and its use in the Mass and monastic life. I personally have my favorite cantors, hymns and musical genres. However, the music and the preaching are secondary or supplementary to the primary act of worship, the Eucharist. A Catholic Mass can be held without any music at all and the primary act of worship still “happens” in its fullness.

The way Catholics primarily worship is by offering the perfect sacrifice of Jesus to the Father. There is no song or sermon that can match such perfection. So, if the music is boring or the sermon is dull, there is still the ultimate sacrifice of praise and worship in the lifting up of and the receiving of Jesus Christ. The music is not the highest form of worship. Preaching is not the highest form of worship. The sacrifice of Christ is the highest form of worship, and that’s what the Mass is. At Mass, the worship “happens” regardless of how inspired the people may or may not “feel” that day. After each Mass, the Catholic has always “been to church.”

In non-Catholic churches, people that feel inspired primarily by Southern Gospel music will likely have a harder time worshiping in a rock style worship service and vice versa. They may even be repelled by such a service. In Catholic churches, the same act of worship takes place regardless of the style of music or the quality of the sermon. Some might whine or complain about the music, but the quality of worship is not dependent on how the people “feel.” It is perfect every time because it is Christ Himself being lifted up, not just spiritually, but in the flesh. The worship of the Mass is the same everywhere in the world, even if there are differences in styles of music, emotional reactions or other cultural expressions. Ultimately, the Catholic goes to Mass to adore and receive Jesus Christ in the flesh, music or no music.

Unfortunately, many Catholics (especially younger ones) don’t realize or appreciate this reality and they have left Catholicism to attend non-Catholic churches where they “feel” more inspired by the music or the preacher. Or, they will only go to Mass if there is “good music” or a priest they like to hear preach. They have missed the whole point of true worship and have abandoned the highest form of worship possible in order to appeal to their individual tastes and emotions. God wants more than hearts full of emotion. God also wants hearts of obedience. For example, God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s offering because they were of substantially different forms.

The sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God, is superior to all other forms of worship we can possibly offer. Of course, we can praise and worship God anytime, anywhere and everywhere through song and prayer. So, why are Catholics obligated to attend Mass every Sunday? Why are we encouraged to attend Mass every day if possible? Jesus is there in the flesh to personally meet you!

I once heard a non-Catholic friend bemoan the fact that the worship music of his heritage is being supplanted by more contemporary music. He felt as if there was no longer a place for him. My heart hurt for him because I sensed that he felt his highest form of worship being taken away.

As wonderful as praise music is, there is an even higher and more intimate form of worship to offer God. You can find this worship at every Catholic Church in the world, music or no music. Jesus awaits to embrace you, in the flesh.

Why A Manger?

With Advent upon us, we begin a period of reflection, repentance and expectation. We await the coming of the baby in the manger. It’s a good time to contemplate the significance of the manger. Of all the places that God could have directed Mary and Joseph to spend the night, why a stall with a manger?

We often hear that it was a place of poverty and lowliness. It was a humble beginning. The God of the universe condescended to low estate to meet us where we are in our infirmity. This, of course, is true, but there’s even more to it than that.

Flash forward to the Last Supper. Jesus takes bread and says, “This is my body. Take and eat.” (Matt 26:26) Rewind back to the Bread of Life discourse in John chapter six where Jesus says we must eat His flesh to have eternal life. His followers asked in horror, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Rewind just prior to that and we see Jesus feeding thousands with a few loaves of bread and a few fishes. Not only were the people fed, but there were baskets of food left over. There was no shortage. There was plenty for everyone. Then Jesus informs them they must eat His flesh. Miraculously, there will be plenty for everyone.

It all began in a manger. Jesus wasn’t placed on the ground on a bed of straw or a pile of wadded up cloth. There is a reason the manger was specifically mentioned and emphasized. A manger is a container for food. This baby would be food. Like the Passover lamb, He was meant to be sacrificed and eaten. So, He was placed in a food trough.

But, how can one, little baby be food for the entire world? We might as well ask, “How can this man make so much food from a few loaves and fishes?” or, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” With God, all things are possible.

Our role is not to completely understand this amazing reality. Our role is to take Jesus at His word. We can walk away from it disturbed (like many of His followers did in John 6). We can try to rationalize it away as merely a metaphor. Or, we can embrace it like Peter and say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”

This Advent, as Nativity scenes begin to pop up here and there, remember the purpose of a manger. Remember the loaves and fishes. Remember that Jesus said, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) Remember that Jesus calls us to “take and eat” of Himself to sustain our eternal life.

Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I’m reminded that the word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek “eucharista” and means “thanksgiving.”

There is no better way to give thanks to God than to participate in the greatest act of worship possible: the sacrifice of Jesus. There is no better way to “make our bodies living sacrifices” (Rom 12:1) than to unite them to Christ’s sacrifice by receiving Him in the Holy Eucharist.

All of our own acts of worship fall short. No matter how sincerely we sing or how eloquently and emotionally we praise Him, we can never match the perfection of Christ’s worship. No matter how much we devote our lives to serving God, we will always fall short of Christ’s perfect service. So, in His mercy, He makes a way for us to unite ourselves, body and soul, to His own, perfect sacrifice.

The priest says, “The Body of Christ,” and we say, “Amen.” We receive the glorified Jesus. We dwell in Him and He dwells in us (Jn 6:56). We become united to the perfect, eternal sacrifice that Christ, the High Priest continually offers before the Father.

As a dear friend of mine recently said, “It’s all about a relationship with Jesus.” Indeed, there is no closer relationship to Jesus than the Holy Eucharist. We accept Christ into our hearts, and we accept Christ into our bodies. That’s intimacy. You can’t get more personal than that in a relationship.

Thank God for His mercy, His grace and His real presence in the Holy Eucharist.

If You Believe…

If you believe that Jesus:

  • Came to Earth as The Word made flesh (i.e. God)
  • Created the world by speaking it into reality
  • Walked on water
  • Healed the blind, deaf, mute, lame, leprous
  • Controlled the weather
  • Changed water into wine
  • Fed thousands with a few loaves and a few fish
  • Was transfigured before His disciples very eyes
  • Raised the dead (including Himself)
  • Rose from the dead in a glorified, spiritual, physical body (1Cor 15:44-49, John 6:61-63)
  • Ascended into Heaven

If you believe all of that, then why not believe that Jesus actually changed bread into His body and wine into His blood? (Matt 26:26-28) He spoke it into reality. He’s God, after all.

“He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in him. As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eats me, even he shall live by me.” (John 6:56-57)

There should be no reason to disbelieve any of His words in John 6, unless you are regarding them “in the flesh.”

“The flesh” will profit you nothing. (John 6:63, Rom 8)

“His flesh” profits you everything. He gave it for the life of the world (John 6:51)

The words of Jesus are “spirit” and “life,” not “symbol” or “metaphor.” (John 6:63)  “Spirit” is very real and very life-giving.

Believe it.

The Mail Carrier Shouldn’t Edit The Mail

There are certain disciplines, cultural practices and pastoral considerations of the Catholic Church that can and sometimes do change over time. The doctrines of the Church, however, cannot change. Truth does not become untruth.

The Apostles handed down (Tradition) that which was given to them by Christ. Some of it was written down, some of it was spoken and some of it was implicit (which is why an exhaustive list of the deposit of faith cannot be written down). The Holy Spirit guides the Church into all truth as promised by Christ. This means that the understanding of some doctrine develops over time.

The Church has the authority to be God’s “mail carrier.” In other words, the Church is tasked with the responsibility of delivering to the world God’s truth as given by Christ. The Church is not authorized to “edit God’s mail.” The Church cannot change the doctrine contained within the deposit of faith. Doctrines delivered to the world cannot be reversed or declared “no longer true.” In this respect, the Catholic Church claims less authority than Protestant churches.

Prior to 1930, all churches taught that artificial birth control is immoral. Today, the Catholic Church stands alone in teaching this truth. Even when many individual Catholics fail to obey the doctrine, the Church does not reverse the truth of the doctrine. That which is immoral does not become moral simply because society changes its views. Truth is not determined by vote.

Jesus Christ taught that divorce is wrong because it defies the bond that God designed between man and woman “from the beginning.” Unlike Protestant churches, the Catholic Church does not claim to have the authority to change this doctrine of Christ and allow divorce. Additionally, the Catholic Church cannot change the fact that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman. Some Protestant churches claim the authority to alter God’s design for marriage. Nevertheless, authentic development of doctrine cannot declare a previously held truth “untrue.”

Jesus Christ ordained men to carry out certain priestly duties within the Church. The Catholic Church does not have the authority to ordain priestesses. This is not the patriarchal oppression of women or the “invention” of a New Testament priesthood under Constantine. It is part of the deposit of faith handed down by the Apostles.

The Catholic Church infallibly declared the canon of the Bible in the 300s. This reality stands to reason if one is to regard the Bible as infallible. As Dr. Peter Kreeft has said, “How can you squeeze infallible Bible ‘juice’ out of a fallible Catholic Church ‘orange’? The effect cannot be greater than its cause.” Protestantism removed some books from the canon of Scripture by its own authority in the 1500s. It declared “untrue” that which had already been declared true. If Martin Luther is a fallible man, how can anyone trust that his canon of Scripture is infallible? By reversing that which had already been declared true, Martin Luther, along with other reformers, claimed more infallible authority than even the Catholic Church.

Study, But Lean Not On Your Own Understanding

I found the article Why Catholicism Is Preferable to Protestantism to be quite thought provoking. It addressed a question that I personally had wrestled with for some time in my spiritual journey. The question is one of authority. Since I am the one that ultimately decides which church to align myself with, does that not make me the ultimate authority? Aren’t Catholics and Protestants both doing the “same thing” in that regard? How can either of us claim to have different, ultimate authorities (i.e. Church vs. Bible) if the final authority is ultimately the individual?

The answer lies within the following statement from the article:

“How is the Catholic’s judgment different from a Protestant’s, if at all? The difference lies in the conclusion, or finishing point, of the inquiry they make. Whereas the Protestant can ultimately submit only to his own judgment, which he knows to be fallible, the Catholic can confidently render total assent to the proclamations of the visible Church that Christ established and guides, submitting his judgments to its judgments as to Christ’s.”

Another way to approach the issue is to ask, “What is being let go of?” When we let go of something, we relinquish control over it. We relax our grip. We hand over control to someone or something other than self. We submit. There, then, is the essence of the “finishing point” mentioned in the article.

Both Protestant and Catholic must use reason to come to a final conclusion. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2Tim 2:15)  God expects us to use our brains. On the other hand, we can go too far with our use of reason and trust in it more than we trust in God. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” (Prov 3:5)

There comes a point where one must “let go of” one’s own understanding in order to trust and obey God. That is the finishing point for the Catholic. It is not the total absence of reason, but the reasonable response to trust in God. One cannot “trust” without “letting go.” Hence, the Catholic sees that the way to trust and obey Christ is to trust and obey the Church given by Christ. The Catholic ultimately “let’s go of” the trust in personal understanding where doctrine is concerned.

A perfect example can be found in John chapter 6. None of Jesus’ followers understood why they must eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ in order to have eternal life. However, some stayed with Jesus and others stopped following Him at that point. Those who stayed did so, not because they understood Jesus, but because they trusted Jesus. Peter said it best: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter did not scrutinize Christ’s words against scripture and render his own, personal conclusion. He submitted to Christ. Those that left remained constrained by their inability to make sense of Christ’s words. They tried to “figure it out” and, ultimately, clung to their personal authority.

The Protestant must continue to cling to personal understanding of Scripture in order to insure that the truth is being “rightly divided.” Personal interpretation of Scripture must rule the day in order to guard against heresies. If I, as a Protestant, disagree with the direction my church is headed, I can switch to a different denomination more closely aligned with my personal interpretation of Scripture. Even though I may “search the scriptures to see if these things are so,” I still make my decision based upon my personal interpretations of those scriptures. Ultimately, there is never a “letting go of” my own understanding where doctrine is concerned. Either the doctrine aligns with my personal interpretation, or, I find a new church.

The Catholic ultimately makes a decision to give up personal authority in favor of Christ’s authority. The Catholic submits to Christ by submitting to the teachings of Christ’s Church (even when those teachings are “hard sayings” not easily understood through diligent study). This is not blind faith void of reason. It is a reasonable trust in the authority of Jesus.

The Protestant must ultimately cling to personal, fallible authority in order to claim submission to the authority of the Bible (an authority the Bible does not claim for itself). Unlike the Catholic, there is not a “letting go of” personal authority for the Protestant. The personal authority must remain in order to empower any potential “protest.” This dynamic may serve democracy well, but the Church is not, and never has been, a democracy. For the Church, it results in continuous fragmentation as people do what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).

We Walk By Faith, Not By Feelings

I saw a church sign that said, “God seem far away? Who moved?”

Implication: it’s your fault if God seems distant.

Nonsense. What about Job? What about the Psalmist? What about Jesus who said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What about folks going through a very real depression or “dark night of the soul?” What about Saints such as Therese of Lisieux or Mother Theresa, etc. who felt a distance from God despite their holy lives?

Sometimes God seems far away and there’s not a darn thing you can do about it. There’s more to being Christian than sitting on a mountaintop and dancing for joy all the time. There are valleys, too, and sometimes they are excruciatingly deep and wide.

We walk by faith, not by feelings.