Category Archives: Catholicism

Saved By Grace!

You’re in a deep, dark hole. You look at your wife and infant child and say, “Never mind how we got here, we just need to get out!”

Like MacGyver, you look around for something to use. All you can find are some sticks and weeds. Desperately, you attempt to fashion a ladder, or at least a step stool, from these meager materials. It’s no use. It breaks under your weight.

Suddenly, you hear a voice from above. You see a ladder coming down towards you and a voice says, “Come to me!” “But, there’s a baby down here,” you yell. “Step up on the first rung and lift the child up. I’ll reach down and take him.” In an act of faith, you raise him up and someone grabs him. You think to yourself, “How did he know it was a boy?”

The voice says, “Now, you climb out.” You and your wife climb out of the pit, one rung at a time. Along the way, you slip many times, but a hand from above reaches down to you and says, “Keep coming.” You grab his hand, regain your footing and persevere. At the top, you embrace your baby, but not before embracing the man that gave you that ladder. You ask the man, “How can I repay you?” He replies, “You can’t. Just watch out for those pits. You can keep the ladder as my gift. You might need it again.” You notice a strange wound on the man’s hand.

The hole is the fallen state of humanity that we cannot climb out of on our own. The sticks and weeds represent the Mosaic Law that, no matter how hard we “work it,” is unable to save us (Ephesians 2:8-9). We cannot boast of our ability to build a ladder. The ladder that came down is the grace that saves us (Ephesians 2:8). It is the free gift of God.

The rungs of the ladder are the Sacraments of the Church. Baptism is the first step which initiates the journey upwards. We see the free gift of grace is available even to the infant, for Jesus says, “Let the little children come unto me, and forbid them not,” and the book of Acts indicates that baptism is for “the entire household.”

By climbing the ladder, we don’t “earn” Heaven. We cooperate with the free gift of grace that is given to us despite our unworthiness. We see why James says, “Faith without works is dead.” Yes, it takes “work” to climb the ladder, but this is not the “works of the Law” that Paul speaks of. It is what Paul calls the “obedience of the faith.” This is a ladder that is able to support our weight because it was fashioned not by Moses, but by the perfect God-man, Jesus Christ. We trust Jesus. Therefore, we trust his ladder. We don’t build the ladder ourselves.

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see!” What a beautiful ladder I see!

MLK, Judgement and Character

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I wonder what MLK would think of the sign at a church I drive past which says, “No judgement here, only empowerment.” The pastor probably wants to attract people to the congregation and avoid repelling them by fear of judgement. The trouble is that one cannot truly achieve empowerment in the absence of judgement.

MLK actually wanted his kids to be judged, but according to right standards. He wanted empowerment for his children, but he also knew that judgement was an essential aspect of determining character. Skin color is static, not active. We can’t judge a person by skin color. Character is judged by what we do, what we say, where we go, etc. Character is based on the choices we make. How can we know if our character is good, bad, warped or disordered unless we use judgement?

In a society that preaches “don’t judge,” one is left with no real basis for determining the quality of one’s character. Feelings, like skin color, are not reliable indicators of character. People become less empowered when feelings rule their lives. For example, when two people experience fear, one may demonstrate courage and the other cowardice. Two married people may experience sexual temptation but one cheats and the other remains faithful. The same feelings reveal different character.

If we want empowerment, we must use judgement. If we want good role models for our children, we must judge the character of those role models. If we want a society filled with people of good character, we must be able to judge right behavior from wrong behavior and not be ruled by feelings or passions.

Jesus taught us to first remove the planks from our own eyes before trying to remove splinters from our neighbor’s eyes. In other words, don’t make judgments until you have your own character in order. Then you are equipped to make good judgments that help to empower others.

The Confused Champions of Love and Choice

Although it may involve all sorts of positive and negative feelings, love itself is not a feeling. Love is a choice; a decision. Love is an act of the will. However, we live in a world where people are guided primarily by impulse and feeling rather than by will and reason. Feelings tend to be rather fickle and impulses self-serving.

Our world (particularly since the so-called sexual revolution) has become saturated with the distorted thinking pattern sometimes referred to in psychological literature as “feelings are facts.” Consequently, the “facts of life” have become distorted along with the thinking processes. Therefore, it is prudent to maintain a healthy skepticism when words such as “love” or “choice” are used to champion any cause or movement having to do with the “facts of life,” as it were. The likelihood of distortion is quite high.

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

 

Which Voice?

John 18:36-40

36 Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” 37 Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

 

We have the voice of the eternal King who is truth and who speaks truth.

We have the voice of Pilate who speaks Relativism and hands Truth over to be crucified.

Which voice do we listen to and obey?

Can We Love?

“Light drives out darkness. Love drives out hate.”

Good.

First, one needs to personally know the Source of light and of love.

Then, one needs to understand what love is, and what love is not.

Love is willing the good of the other. Love is not a feeling. Love is an act of the will; a choice; a decision; often gut wrenching and difficult.

We can not love our neighbors without also loving our enemies, because they are often the same persons. Find a crucifix and really study it for a while. That’s the kind of love that drives out hate.

Can we “really” love each other? Or are we simply calling for an ineffectual, feel-good, sentimentality? Can we love our enemies? Not without the Source of light and of love. Not by our own power