Category Archives: Christian

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.

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

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.

Easter In July

This past Easter, we brought home an Easter lily. After a while, it seemed to have run its course and the pot sat ignored out on our deck.  Recently, we noticed the stalk producing a bud, and today, Sunday morning, it opened into full bloom.

How appropriate, since every Sunday is a “little Easter” celebrating the resurrection. If we are willing to listen, God can be heard.

Easter Lily