Category Archives: Catholicism

True Worship

True worship, like true love, is sacrificial. This is why King David said, “I will not offer a sacrifice that costs me nothing.” (2Sam 24:24) The sacrifice of Christ is the ultimate example. Since Christ sacrificed for us and said, “It is finished,” then we no longer need to offer sacrifice to God, right? Wrong.

The apostle Paul said, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1) Why would God still want sacrifice if Jesus already did more than we could ever do? Because true worship, like love, is sacrificial. In order to truly love and worship God, we must still offer sacrifice. To do so is “reasonable.”

The sacrifice of Christ did not eliminate our need to sacrifice. It did, however, provide us with the means for offering a pure sacrifice. As Hebrews tells us, the sacrificing of bulls and goats could never take away sin, but the sacrifice of Jesus does take away sin. The presenting of our bodies as living sacrifices alone can never take away sin, but we can unite ourselves to the pure sacrifice of Jesus which does take away sin. “For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 1:11)

Jesus offered himself “once for all” 2000 years ago, but his sacrifice is an eternal one. Christ eternally intercedes for us and presents his offering before the Father. We, however, are not yet in eternity. Christ’s sacrifice must be applied to us now. We must offer sacrifice now. This is the purpose of the Catholic Mass where the eternal offering of Christ is made present to us. We get to join our sacrifices to his one, pure sacrifice. We offer our joys, our sorrows, our struggles, our successes, our failures, our prayers, our hymns, our lives, our everything along with the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.

“For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, for we are also his offspring.” (Acts 17:28) Without Christ, we have nothing to offer as a worthy sacrifice to God. In Christ, however, everything we have can be offered up to God. God rewarded Christ for his sacrifice, and God rewards us when we “take up our cross” and join Christ’s sacrifice. This is why even our suffering can be a redemptive expression of our love and worship to God. This is why Catholics often say “offer it up” about some pain or struggle. Our suffering isn’t pointless.

The gift of the Mass means that we can offer the sacrifice of Jesus to God along with our own lives in a pure, effectual manner. We don’t “kill Jesus” again or “repeat” his once for all sacrifice. We unite ourselves with the pure sacrifice that Jesus eternally presents to his Father. That’s why it has to be his body and his blood that we offer, not just our own. It really is true love and true worship!

“Pray, Which Leg Comes After Which?”

A centipede was happy quite
Until a frog in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg comes after which?”
This raised her mind to such a pitch,
She lay distracted in a ditch,
Considering how to run.

When I was a child, my mother gave me a A Child’s Book of Poems.  I still have it and use it occasionally with my own children. The poem quoted above puzzled me for a very long time. In fact, it wasn’t until I was much older that I resolved my confusion.

I could not figure out why the frog wanted the centipede to talk to God about her legs. It almost seemed that the frog expected the poor bug to ask God in which order she should lose her legs as she was being eaten. What a strange poem. I didn’t get it.

It was the word “pray” that threw me off. I only understood the word in the modern sense. I had not yet read any Shakespeare or Old English and “pray” could only mean “talk to God” or “worship God” in my mind. The day I realized that “pray” could also mean “I ask you,” it all fell into place. The frog was teasing the centipede by asking her to explain how she walked with so many legs. “I ask you, when you walk, which leg comes after which?” Aha!

I had a similar epiphany during my reversion from Protestantism back to Catholicism. I had been told by well-meaning Protestants for over 20 years that it was wrong to pray to Mary and the saints because it was idolatrous to worship them. When I finally remembered that “pray” can also mean “I ask you,” it all fell into place. Asking a saint for intercession is not the same as worship. Not even close. If asking someone to pray for me was worship, then why ask my friends, my family, my pastor or anyone else to pray for me? Shouldn’t I go “straight to God” with everything?

Actually, it’s even possible to ask God something without worshiping him. An atheist could ask God, “If you really do exist, would you please give me a sign?” but that would not be the same as worshiping God. “Prayer” and “worship” are not synonyms.

“But, the saints are dead people,” I was told. “They can’t hear you or respond to you. How could they hear all the prayers of everyone? They would have to be divine!” No, they would not have to be divine, but they would need divine assistance. With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible. The saints are certainly “with God!” In fact, except for Jesus, the saints are the most perfect part of the Body of Christ.

Physical death does not amputate people from the Body of Christ. They become more perfect than you or I. They are perfectly righteous. “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16) Why would I not want to ask Mary and the saints to pray for me!? (I need all the help I can get!)

Jesus is the “one mediator between God and man,” but, as part of his body, we get to share in that one mediation by praying for each other, sacrificing for each other and loving each other. This doesn’t change when we die and go to Heaven. It only gets better. Through him, with him and in him we live and move and have our being.

Now I see the beauty of praying to the saints. I ask them for their prayers. Together, we go straight to God with our requests. Together, we worship God. Best prayer partners I ever had.

Pray, will you not also pray to the saints?

 

Incidentally, while the A Centipede poem confused me, the W poem on the same page immediately became one of my favorites:

The king sent for his wise men all
To find a rhyme for W.
When they had thought a good long time
But could not think of a single rhyme,
“I’m sorry,” said he, “to trouble you.”

–James Reeves

God’s Relationship Rules

Every relationship comes with certain expectations, boundaries, dos and don’ts, acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, etc. In other words, rules. The rules might be spoken or unspoken, but they are there. Even saying, “Our relationship has no rules” becomes the rule! Examples of relationships include:

  • Parent/child
  • Spouse/spouse
  • Sibling/sibling
  • Friend/friend
  • Boss/employee
  • Coworker/coworker
  • Coach/player
  • Police officer/citizen
  • Pet/pet owner
  • Neighbor/neighbor
  • God/believer
  • The list goes on and on.

Every relationship comes with rules and boundaries that help to define it. This is why, for example, a dating relationship, an engaged relationship and a married relationship are different, even though the same man and woman are involved. Different words are used for different types of relationships.

The relationship between God and humanity also has certain expectations, boundaries, dos and don’ts, acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, etc. In other words, rules. The word that describes this relationship is “religion.” This is why it makes no sense to claim that Christianity is “relationship not religion.”

The fact that there are different religions with different rules simply means that we must discern which set of rules is legitimate. Ultimately, we will either settle on a religion that meets our own terms, or one that meets God’s terms. Jesus (God) said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In other words, in order to be in right relationship with God, we must follow the expectations, boundaries, dos and don’ts, acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, etc. established by Jesus. In other words, the rules, the religion of Christ.

The religion of Christ cannot be fully discerned by reading the Bible alone. This fact is evident when we observe the multitude of Christian denominations that have conflicting rules and ideas about how to be in right relationship with Christ. While these many denominations all possess some truth, they can’t all possess the fullness of truth Christ intends for his Church. Christ promised to lead his Church into all truth, not into a plethora of conflicting interpretations of scripture.

Christ established a visible Church with a visible hierarchy possessing his own authority (Jesus told his apostles, “He who hears you hears me).” Without that authority, believers end up following rules of their own making based on their own interpretations of what a relationship with God should look like. In other words, religion on human terms, not on God’s terms. We lose sight of God’s terms when we abandon the authority of God’s Church. Hence, the ultimate result of the Protestant reformation has been confusion and fragmentation rather than true reform and unity.

Christianity cannot possibly be a “relationship without religion.” On the contrary, in order to fully realize the relationship, we must choose the right Christian religion. Anything else is less than what God desires us to have, even if it does contain elements of God’s truth. After all, God came to us, we did not ascend to God. It behooves us to heed and embrace his terms for the relationship.

Can a non-Catholic Christian have a relationship with Jesus? Yes. Will that relationship include everything God intends for a relationship with him? No. It will not be the fullness of the Faith. Much of it will be based on human interpretations of scripture which followed the rejection of Church authority. This is the reverse of the process in which Jesus first establishes an authoritative, teaching Church from which scripture emerged. To take those same scriptures and attempt to build churches apart from the original authority results in the confusion and disunity we see today.

Due to all the confusion and conflicting doctrine, people have largely given up on trying to resolve discrepancies and concluded, “Oh well, I guess it doesn’t matter which church you go to as long as you love Jesus.” The popular meme “it’s a relationship, not a religion” makes it easier to swallow the idea that any set of Christian rules will do since we really can’t agree on the rules anyway. In some cases, it results in outright hostility towards legitimate practices of a “religious” nature (the definition of which depends on the opinion of the observer). Catholics, for example, are often accused of not being Christian at all because they do “religious” things. The irony is that all Christians do “religious” things.

Christians, of course, do have much to agree on. This can be a starting point, but it is not the unity Jesus and the apostles demanded and prayed for. Catholics and Protestants are united (albeit imperfectly) in Christ through baptism. However, the reality still exists that the thousands of Christian denominations with their conflicting doctrines and practices cannot all be correct. The Holy Spirit does not lead God’s people into conflicting “truths.” Only one Christian Church has claim to the historical, apostolic authority given by Christ. Like it or not, Catholicism is the only historically credible choice.

Catholicism is the fullness of the Faith. This does not mean that all Catholics have a good relationship with Christ (many do not). It does not mean that non-Catholic Christians have no relationship with Christ (many do). It means that, to have the fullest relationship with Christ as Christ intends, being Catholic is the way to go. Catholicism is the religion of Christ. It’s where we meet Christ on his terms and learn the rules for the relationship.

Catholicism Predates Constantine

You may hear people claim that the Catholic Church was started by the emperor Constantine in 313. Constantine’s Edict of Milan simply made legal the Christianity that already existed. Here are some facts about those early Christians you probably are not being told by non-Catholic sources:

The early Christians venerated saints and relics, which is a biblical principle. For example, contact with the bones of Elijah brought a dead person back to life. In Acts we read how people were healed by touching Peter’s handkerchief and even his shadow. Pagans took issue with early Christians keeping the bones of dead people close at hand. The usual practice was to keep dead people at a distance. Christians in all parts of the world have venerated saints and relics throughout history. Constantine did not invent these practices. They were already in practice from antiquity.

Interestingly, although churches were built above the relics of important saints, no one built a church above the bones of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She has no grave to visit. There was no corpse to be found. Surely, her dead body would have been venerated by these early Christians if it was still on Earth.

The early Christians were accused of cannibalism due to their liturgical practices. The Catholic Church is the only church still accused of cannibalism, primarily by non-Catholic Christians seeking to disprove the authenticity of Catholicism.

The early Christians relied primarily on the oral tradition and the successive authority of the apostles, not on scripture alone as their final authority. Not until the late 300s was the canon of scripture compiled and authorized by the bishops of the Catholic Church. Neither Constantine nor the Christians had ever heard of Sola Scriptura. Oral Tradition continued to be the primary means of Christian teaching until the Protestant Reformers asserted the novel idea of Sola Scriptura and used the invention of the printing press to promote it. Ironically, Sola Scriptura became a foundational, Protestant tradition which cannot be affirmed by scripture alone.

The early Christians already referred to themselves as “catholic” well before Constantine came along and legalized Christianity. The early Christians saw themselves as one body, not as separate ecclesial communities with conflicting doctrines. This can be observed in the works of the early church fathers.

Ignatius, the first century bishop of Antioch, is known for his use of the Greek word katholikos (καθολικός), meaning “universal”, “complete” and “whole” to describe the church, writing:

Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid.

— Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8

Early Christianity was distinctly Catholic before and after Constantine came along. Constantine’s Edict of Milan didn’t start Catholicism; it simply let it out of its cage. As Saint Cardinal Newman, a convert to Catholicism once said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”

“It’s Not A Religion, It’s A Relationship:” Actually, It’s Both

You can follow a religion without knowing Christ, but you can’t know Christ without following a religion. Jesus said, “Follow me,” and “Keep my commandments.” This involves taking certain steps. In other words, following Christ’s religion as taught by him and his apostles.

The teaching that says, “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion” is itself a novel religious tradition not taught by Jesus, his apostles, the Church or Scripture. They never condemned religion, only hypocritical or false religion. Never did they teach believers to dump religion and only have a relationship with Jesus. Never did they teach that “it doesn’t matter what church you belong to as long as you love Jesus” (Jesus only established one Church, which, by the way, was visible because believers could go to it to have disputes settled). On the contrary, Jesus and his apostles provided very specific dos and don’ts for believers to follow.

Religion is a human universal. It is found in every culture of every age because God built that desire into our hearts. Embracing the religion of Jesus (the fullness of the Faith) is the best way to know Jesus. It’s how we learn his terms for the relationship and how to come to the Father through him. It’s not a way to “earn salvation by following rules.” It’s a participation in salvation “through him, with him and in him.” One Lord, one Faith, one baptism. One holy, catholic, apostolic Church.

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.