Category Archives: Christian Unity

Yet Another Grain of Truth

Recently, my doctor told me to go on a gluten free diet.  No gluten.  No wheat.  Although it needs to be confirmed, my blood work shows I may have Celiac Disease.  So, I have been following doctor’s orders, and experimenting with gluten free products.

Some products are better than others.  One thing I have noticed is that my gluten free breads, cookies and pancakes don’t hold together very well.  They seem to crumble or separate rather easily.  The gluten in wheat apparently has a cohesive quality to it that other grains lack.

When faced with the “go gluten free” order from the doctor, I began to wonder what I should do about Holy Communion.  Although I had heard some vague mentioning of this issue, I never really paid much attention to it.  Now I have to, so I did a little research.  I discovered this article:  http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/why-wheat-bread

Previously, I had no idea how scripturally important it is to use wheat for the Eucharist.  Two points really struck me.  First, the sacramental substance really is important (like using only water for baptism and not milk or orange juice, for instance).  Secondly, the cohesive quality of wheat has so many spiritual and symbolic applications that never occurred to me until I read this article.  No other grain can fulfill the role.  Suddenly, I saw the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Christian life in a whole new light.  When I hold a hamburger on crumbling, gluten free bread or watch the bottoms fall out of my gluten free pancakes and cookies, it reminds me of how important it is for all Christians to partake of the authentic, Holy Eucharist in unity.  We are not supposed to be divided into competing, crumbling denominations with our own versions of the Lord’s Supper.  We are supposed to worship in one accord with the Holy Eucharist holding us all together.

Thank God for the bishops that insist that Catholics must keep at least some gluten in our communion bread.  I love the authenticity of Catholicism and the Church’s steadfastness.  I’m not offended one bit that the Church’s suggestion to me is, “Receive Christ from just the cup, because both the bread and the wine are transubstantiated to become the whole Christ.”  Nor does it upset me in the least that completely gluten free wafers are not offered.  I would have it no other way.  I want the Church to remain authentic in every aspect.

Incidentally, those who ask, “Doesn’t the gluten disappear when the bread is changed into Christ?” are misunderstanding what transubstantiation is about.

Maybe I have Celiac Disease, or maybe I just have gluten sensitivity.  In any case, this experience has opened my eyes to yet another grain of truth in Catholicism.  The more I learn about it, the more I appreciate it.

None of Us Christians Do What the Bible Says

Imagine that there are two or three Christians having a discussion (or an argument) about doctrine (not hard to imagine).  How can they settle the dispute?  Someone will likely suggest that they open a Bible to see what it says.  The problem with that idea is that the Bible will not “say” anything.  The Bible will sit there quietly on the table waiting for someone to read it and interpret it.  Once it has been read and interpreted, some person (or persons) will do the “saying.”  Hence, opening the Bible will usually result in multiple, competing interpretations about what the Bible supposedly “says.”  Opening the Bible does not work well in resolving disputes or creating unity among Christians.

The fact is, all of us Christians base our doctrines and beliefs on what some other person or people say that the Bible “says.”  There are many voices to choose from, such as the Pope, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Charles Stanley, Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, Thomas Merton, Beth Moore, Joel Osteen, (insert your favorite preacher here), or even our own, personal opinions.  There are over 30,000 Christian denominations whose differences are supposedly based on what the Bible “says.”

Consider what happened when Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  Jesus got a bunch of different answers.  “Some say, Elijah, some say John the Baptist or one of the prophets,” etc.  When Jesus asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” it was Peter that spoke up and said, “You are the Christ.”  Jesus told Peter he was not only correct, but he was blessed because his answer was given to him by God, not by some person.  This was validation of the special anointing Peter had from God, not just some lucky guess on Peter’s part.

It is amazing that, in the midst of many voices and opinions, God decides what the answer is and appoints the person to say the correct thing.  God did not stop there with Peter.  In Peter’s anointing, Jesus established a unique office with authority.  When Peter died, the office was filled by another.  That’s who the Pope is.  Peter was the first Pope.  The other apostles also had special authority given to them.  Their successors are the Bishops.  The Pope is simply the head Bishop.  These men not only have the God-given authority to interpret the Bible, they also had the authority to say which books belonged in the Bible when it was assembled.

But why do Christians even need such an authority?  Why can’t we just open up a Bible to see what it says?  Because the Bible doesn’t “say” anything.  To quote G.K. Chesterton, “You can’t place the Bible on a witness stand.”  It sits there quietly on the shelf, waiting to be read and interpreted.  For example, is water baptism necessary for salvation?  Is the Lord’s Supper really Christ’s body and blood, or is it just a symbol?  The word “Trinity” is not in the Bible, so, is God really a Trinity?  Nowhere is it written in the Bible to, “Accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and you will be saved.”  Who came up with that phrase?   Is that really how to be saved?  These are all interpretations told to us by various people.  But which of those people are occupying authoritative offices established by Jesus?

Of course, you and I can and should read the Bible.  Christians are supposed to read and study the Bible.  We just have to remember that both right and wrong conclusions can be drawn from it.  Even Peter wrote that there are things that are hard to understand.  We need the correct standard to apply things to.  That’s why we need the authoritative Pope and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.  Jesus formed it that way.  Humans can’t re-form the authority that Jesus formed.  That’s called fashioning God into our own image.  It’s backwards.  Despite good intentions to correct some abuses, the Protestant Reformation fractured and fragmented the Church rather than “re-forming” the Church.

The Bible is the Living Word of God, but it does not stand alone as a sole authority.  It co-exists with the life and authority of the Church.  The two cannot be compartmentalized and distanced from each other.  As Christians, we are not really going by what the Bible alone “says.”  We are either going by what the authority Jesus established says, or by what someone else says (even if that someone is ourselves).  In other words, every Christian either has a pope, or has become their own pope.  Yet, like it or not, there’s only one Pope that occupies the Chair of Peter and has his authority from Christ.  He and the other Bishops in union with him have much to say about what is written in the Bible.  Are we listening with humility?

The Ultimate and Original “Cloud”

Before there was an iCloud to pull everything together, there was the “great cloud of witnesses” that Hebrews 12:1 says we are surrounded by.  The Feast of All Saints reminds us of this cloud and how all Christians, whether in this life or the next, are intimately connected in one Body with Christ as the Head.

One of my favorite things about being Catholic is that we do not view the Church as being just an earthly group of believers.  The Church on earth is called “The Church Militant” because we are waging a war against evil and spiritual wickedness.  Scripture calls Satan “the god of this world.”  As Christians, we are “in the world, but not of the world.”  It is a spiritual battle for souls here on earth and we Christians are spiritual warriors.

There exists a state of being between this life and Heaven where Christians may be purged of anything that cannot enter heaven, anything that is not pure and built upon Christ.  1Corinthians 3:11-15 describes this state of purging as a fire that burns away the wood, hay and stubble of our lives, yet leaves us saved with our good works of precious stones, gold and silver.  Since eternity is not limited by our time constraints, and God is outside of time, we cannot place any sense of time on this state of being.  Yet, few of us are perfect and ready to enter Heaven “right now” in this life.  We will be different in Heaven than we are “right now.” This means that a change takes place somewhere in between this life and Heaven.  Catholics call this state of being Purgatory, because it is a purging process.  Since the purging process is not a pleasant one (it is not easy to relinquish things our souls tend to cling to), the Christians in this state of purging are referred to as “The Church Suffering.”

Christians that are in Heaven are called “The Church Triumphant.”  This is the ultimate goal of Christianity, to triumph over Satan, sin, death and the evil in the world and in ourselves.  Heaven is where we are finally joined completely with Christ and “see Him as He is, for we shall be like Him.”  On the day of resurrection, even our physical bodies will be glorified and present with Christ.  No more sin or death.  Triumph!

All Christians are united in one body of Christ.  The Church Militant, The Church Suffering and The Church Triumphant are all the Body of Christ with Jesus as Head.  This is why the “cloud” that surrounds us is so awesome.  It is connected to us.  We in The Church Militant are not separated from Christians in The Church Triumphant.  Far from being dead, they are more alive than we are!  That is why we can call upon them to pray for us and intercede to God on our behalf.  In the same way that we ask other Christians here on earth to pray for us and with us, we can call upon the Saints in Heaven to do the same, for we are all one Body of Christ!  I am so glad to be able to call upon our mother, Mary, the Saints in Heaven, my earthly Christian brothers and sisters, and, most of all, Jesus, the One Mediator who makes it all possible by allowing us to share in His mediation through His One Body.  Thank God for “the cloud!”

Have a blessed Feast of All Saints!

I’m Pro-Unity For Christians

When I left Catholicism in my twenties it was largely due to the influence of anti-Catholic, evangelical, fundamentalist sources I encountered.  It also didn’t help that my own spiritual formation and knowledge of Catholic teaching was lacking.  At the time, I thought I was being liberated from a complex religious system and replacing it with a simple one-on-one relationship with Jesus Christ.  In my naiveté, I regarded Catholicism as a man-made obstacle to Christ rather than a God-made organism of Christ designed to lead us to him.  For a while, I took a rather anti-Catholic approach to spirituality and sharing of the Gospel.

My return to the Catholic Church was preceded by the realization that I had been taught many misconceptions and untruths about Catholicism, both from an historical and a doctrinal perspective.  I had mixed emotions because I felt relieved and deceived at the same time.  As I processed my transition back to the Church I realized I had to be careful.  It would be very easy for me to adopt an attitude that was decidedly anti-non-Catholic, or anti-Protestant.  What I mean is that I could easily have adopted a less-than-charitable attitude towards non-Catholic persons.  This became particularly apparent as I delved deeper into Catholic apologetics.  Debates on sensitive topics can quickly produce a lack of charity in people.

Obviously, there are non-Catholic teachings and practices I am “against.”  But, I never want to be “against” any person.  Genuine charity (godly love) desires the ultimate good for every person.  I believe that such charity resides within Catholic teachings.  What I am really against is division among Christians.  I am against a divided Body of Christ.  I am against any religious system where Christians function as something other than one flock with one shepherd.  Since the sixteenth century the one flock has become increasingly divided and multitudes of shepherds now lead in vastly different directions.

I am not “anti” anyone.  I am anti-division and pro-unity.  I am for all the scattered Christians finding their way home to the Catholic Church.  I am for Christians uniting under one banner instead of constantly finding things to protest and divide over.  I am for Christians learning authentic Catholic teachings instead of misconceptions and misunderstandings that keep them away from home.  I am for one flock with one shepherd.  Jesus already established the office of Peter to “strengthen the brethren” and to “feed the sheep.”  The one shepherd has always been successively present on the Chair of Peter.  What Christianity needs is for the flock to reunite under that shepherd.

We don’t need a unity that flattens out diversity and creates bland uniformity.  We need all the gifts, strengths and diversity of all the Christians that love Jesus Christ living in one accord.  Then the world will see the Church as it should be.  Rather than seeing many protesting, clustered, individualized churches competing for attention, the world will see one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.  They will see the love of Christ.  This is what I am for.  This is why I talk about and promote the Catholic Church, sometimes juxtaposed with other doctrines.  It is not just another denomination.  It is where the flock finds home.

Don’t Put Me On Display…Christian Love

There’s an old song from the 1960s called You Don’t Own Me, by Leslie Gore.  It’s been covered by other artists and used in movies as well.  One of the lines in the song says, “Please, when I go out with you, don’t put me on display.”  This line came to mind recently when I was thinking about how Christians are supposed to love each other.  Scripture says that the world will know we are Christians by our love for one another.  The world is supposed to see us and remark, “See how they love each other!”

The girl in the song is upset because her boyfriend uses her to put on a show.  He displays her as a trophy.  His public affection for her is designed to make him look good to others.  What others see is not real but a display.  It is an illusion.  Contrast this scenario with couples that genuinely and obviously love each other.  Their concern is for each other, not for how others perceive them.  They are in love.  They are friends.  They treat each other with respect and kindness even when they disagree or feel angry.  Upon observing such couples, one naturally notices their deep love.  Many will remark, “I wish I had that.”  Those around them notice the love, not because the couples tried to be noticed, but because the love between them is real and desireable.

Christians don’t need phony displays of affection towards each other.  We don’t need the “kiss of peace” in public and the “kiss of betrayal” when backs are turned.  We don’t need a false ecumenism.  Don’t pretend to love each other because it looks good to others.  Don’t pretend to love others so people will think you are a great Christian.  Really love each other even in the midst of disagreements.  Really love each other and it will automatically have an appeal to the world because the world is thirsting for genuine love.  The world has a void that only the love of God can fill.  Christians are called to demonstrate that love.  Don’t put your Christian sisters and brothers on display.  Love them, even when it hurts.  Seek unity.  Where there is division, there is sin.  Where there is sin, there is disobedience to the faith and to the love of Christ.