Category Archives: Church

I’m A Christian, So Why Can’t I Receive Catholic Communion?

Sometimes I hear people complain that non-Catholic Christians are not allowed to take communion (the Eucharist) at Catholic Mass. After all, the word “catholic” means “universal,” and Catholicism considers all properly baptized people to be Christian. So, why exclude some Christians? Isn’t that kind of mean or uppity?

In Protestant circles, it is more common that Christians from other denominations are permitted to take communion “as long as they believe in Jesus.” So, what’s up with the Catholics? It doesn’t seem very welcoming, inclusive or universal.

The Church is indeed “universal.” The Church is for all peoples of all times in all places. However, “universal” does not apply to all principles and beliefs of all peoples. There are more things that unite Christians than divide us. Nevertheless, those things that divide us cannot be ignored. There is not perfect, universal unity in doctrine or practice. Jesus prayed that all of His followers would be one as He and the Father are one. The Church cannot accept every belief and doctrine in the name of inclusion. This is especially true where the Holy Eucharist is concerned.

With some exceptions, non-Catholic Christians generally believe that the communion service is a symbolic memorial intended to help us remember what Christ did for us. So, the bread and wine are about Christ. Catholics believe in transubstantiation. The bread and wine actually become Christ. The bread miraculously transforms into His literal flesh. The wine miraculously transforms into His literal blood (Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” John Chapter six). The elements retain their outward appearance of bread and wine, but the substance has changed. This is an important distinction of beliefs that cannot be ignored. The Eucharist isn’t just about Christ, it is Christ. It’s not just a metaphor for Catholics.

“Communion” is an expression of unity among those who partake. Unless you believe that the bread and wine actually is Christ, it would be a false sign of unity for you to partake of the Eucharist. In other words, it would be a lie for both of us. One of us would be saying, “This is Jesus,” and the other would be saying, “This is not Jesus, it’s only about Jesus.” We would both be claiming a perfect unity that was not really genuine.

The other reason that non-Catholic Christians (or any non-Catholics) are typically not permitted to take communion is for your protection. In 1Corinthians chapter 11, The Apostle Paul warns against eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper without properly discerning it. Doing so can result in sickness, weakness or even damnation. Consequently, the Catholic Church doesn’t want you to take communion unless you properly understand and discern what you are doing. It’s for your own good for the Church to say, “Don’t take communion.”

It’s not about “exclusion” or “being mean” or “thinking we’re better Christians than you.” Anyone is welcome to come and participate in a Catholic Mass. Please, come join us. However, if you want to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, you must first enter into full unity with the Church. Otherwise, it becomes something less than an expression of genuine unity of faith (it’s not a real “communion”). It also places your soul in jeopardy. We don’t want that for you. We want only the best for you. We want you to have the fullness of the Universal Faith and the spiritual healing of the Eucharist, Jesus Himself.

“What Would Jesus Do?” Try Asking, “What Did Jesus Do?”

“What would Jesus do?”

The answer to that question often depends on who you ask.  It’s a question that fits nicely into the relativistic mind of our age.  It allows each of us to thoughtfully rub our chins, look up at the sky and say, “Well, I believe Jesus would…”  So, the question is really just Jiminy Cricket’s “follow your conscience” line wearing a Christian mask.  It is relativism presented as religion.  Whatever answer you come up with is as good as anyone else’s answer as long as we are all “sincere.”

Often, the honest answer to the question “What would Jesus do?” is “I really don’t know.”  His disciples lived with him for three years and Jesus constantly kept them surprised and guessing.  Why are we so convinced that we have Jesus pegged?  For example, it astounds me when celebrities claim to know what Jesus would or would not approve of, as if being a famous celebrity makes one an authority on the mind of Christ.

When we ask, “What would Jesus do?” we can only think and act hypothetically.  We can only speculate and take our best guess.  Maybe we’re helping, maybe we’re doing harm.  What if we decide to do the exact opposite of what Jesus would actually do?  Our world faces daily situations for which there are no explicit instructions in the Bible.  Dealing in general, biblical principles does not always provide enough specifics.  Asking what Jesus would do often doesn’t help much.

Perhaps a more helpful question is, “What did Jesus do?”  There are documented answers to that question.  In terms of what our world faces today, an important answer is, “Jesus established an authoritative, teaching Church to guide us and to spiritually feed us.”  In the midst of all the confusion over what Jesus would do, we have a Church to inform us of what we as followers of Jesus in this present day are to do and what we are not to do.

I sometimes hear people defend immorality by stating that the Bible is silent or ambiguous about certain modern day issues.  Of course it is!  Jesus never told his disciples to write a book to instruct us on every possible, future, moral issue.  Jesus established a Church (only one Church) with the authority to provide us with those instructions on faith and morals.  Jesus did not establish multiple church denominations to speculate and argue about what He might or might not do.  Men established those churches (some very recently).

God is not the author of confusion.  Jesus did not leave us with a Bible, the Holy Spirit and hypothetical questions about what He would do.  He left us with His Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, to lead us into all truth.  Does this mean we always have every answer to every question?  No.  Does it mean we put it to a vote when we are confused about what Jesus would do?  No (Christianity is not a democracy).  It means that by following His Church we are following Jesus.  We are to strive for obedience to the faith, not speculation.

It comes down to trust (i.e. faith).  Either we trust with all our heart that Jesus knew what He was doing when He established the Church (trust what He did), or we try to constantly change the Church to conform to our speculations about what Jesus would do (lean on our own understanding and feelings).

Why It Was The Best Holy Week I Have Ever Experienced:

Monday:

In the evening we had the monthly meeting of our men’s group.  Although we had been meeting for a couple of years, there was a moving of the Spirit which prompted some men to witness to the power of God in their lives.  It felt as though the time had come for the group to move deeper into the Faith and to share it with others in new ways.  It was a refreshing and encouraging meeting.

Tuesday:

We went to the Chrism Mass at the cathedral and experienced the blessing of the holy oils.  The oils are distributed to parishes throughout the archdiocese for use in the sacramental life of the Church.  Each church has a special place to keep and display the holy oils.  Also, during the Mass, priests from around the diocese renewed their commitment to their vocation, and the congregation warmly acknowledged several new seminarians preparing for the priesthood.

As the liturgy engaged all five senses, I was reminded that, unlike the angels, God gave us physical bodies for a reason.  God came to us physically 2000 years ago, and he still does today in the Eucharist.  It was true worship.

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Thursday:

The foot washing Mass commemorated the humble and loving example that Jesus showed His disciples by lowering Himself to the place of a servant and washing their feet.  The priest knelt to wash the feet of twelve members of the congregation (one of which was my wife).  It was a moving display of God’s love for us, and the attitude Christians must have towards others.

Friday:

On Good Friday we gathered with soberness of heart while meditating on the depths to which Christ lowered Himself for our sake.  Each of us went forward to venerate the cross.  At the foot of the cross, we showed respect and gratitude for the price Jesus paid for our sins.  It is always a moving experience.

Saturday night Easter Vigil:

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is approximately a nine month process in which people wishing to become Catholic Christians are catechized and brought into the Church community.  It is not a quick process, because the Church regards being Christian a very serious matter.  The Church also recognizes that conversion is not a one-time event, but a life-long process of growth, learning and discipleship.  Being Christian is about a relationship with Christ, and a relationship with Christ is fully realized and expressed within the context of knowing Christ’s Church.

Those in RCIA finally enter full communion with the Church during the Easter Vigil.  It begins with the blessing and lighting of the Paschal candle outside the church at a small bonfire with everyone gathered around.  From there, we enter the church in a candlelight procession.  As the service progresses, the music becomes more celebratory and the lights become brighter.  The crucifix has been replaced by the image of the risen Lord.  We are ushering in Easter, the resurrection of the Lord!  Death is swallowed up in victory!

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Catechumens (those who are not yet Christian) receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion.  Candidates (those who are already Christian by virtue of their baptism in other denominations) receive the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Communion.  We welcomed all of them with open arms as they entered into the fullness of the Christian Faith!  Our parish had about 15 of the over 400 hundred people entering the Church all over the diocese.

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One of the women that became Catholic this Easter spent more than the prescribed nine months preparing.  She had been through the customary RCIA period, but, at the end, was not ready to commit.  She still had much to process in her mind and in her heart.  She had always been a strong, faithful Christian.  She had a lifelong relationship with Christ and a strong foundation in scripture.  She took very seriously the implications of embracing Catholicism.

Nine months of study and discernment turned into four years.  No one pressured her to become Catholic.  They simply loved her, answered her questions as best they could, and gave her the space she needed.  The Holy Spirit did the rest, as only He can.

At the beginning of Lent, this woman (my wife, if you haven’t already guessed) approached me, pulled me aside and said, “I have something to tell you.  I’ve decided to enter the Church this Easter!”  My joy was increased in knowing that she had reached this decision in her own time, gently led by the Spirit of God who loves her.  My respect for her increased in knowing the courage it took for her to make this journey and that her decision had not been made lightly.  The years it took for her to step out in faith made it all the more inspiring to me and to many of those present Saturday night.  I am so grateful for how she has been led by the Spirit and embraced by the Church community.

Only she can tell her story.  I do know there are things she is still pondering and learning about, but that is what we all must do.  No one “knows it all.”  Conversion is a life-long process.  Christians are called to discipleship, which means we are to be constantly learning from the Master through His Church.  However, we can’t wait until we have every question answered before acting on faith.  St. Augustine said, “If you understand, then it is not God.”  We can’t intellectually grasp all the wonders of God.  We must take some things on faith.  That’s what makes it faith.  By faith, my wife had already accepted the salvation offered through her Lord, Jesus Christ.  Now, by faith, she has embraced the Church established by that same Lord, Jesus Christ.

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My wife and I have always had a wonderful relationship.  Now our union has reached another level of intimacy with God and with each other.  The journey holds new possibilities as our path unfolds before us, God’s lamp lighting our way.

Easter Sunday:

My little nephew announced that he had decided to follow Jesus.  His journey has begun with the childlike faith Jesus calls all of us to have in Him.

Now you know why this has been the best Holy Week I have ever experienced!  Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, now, and will be forever.  Amen!

Truth Or Consequences

In this age of relativistic thinking it can be difficult to come to any conclusions.  Truth, if it exists at all, is regarded as being “out there” in some inaccessible, grayish, void beyond our reach.  So, when the Church declares truth, many people are understandably cynical or skeptical.  To them, it is not actually truth being declared by the Church, but the Church’s particular version of truth.  It’s not “really” truth, but just another opinion among many.  “Just because the Church says so doesn’t make it true.”  Anyone claiming to know truth must be arrogant, delusional, brainwashed or otherwise misled.

If I noticed that a bridge had been washed away by a flash flood, I would want to warn approaching motorists of the danger.  Circumstances would have revealed a truth to me that had not yet been revealed to the approaching motorists.  The bridge is out, not “because I say so,” but “I say so” because the bridge is truly out.  If I decide to hide the truth or declare the truth, it still remains true.  The bridge will still be out.  Drivers may decide to ignore my frantic arm-waving and go over the edge, or they may stop and heed the truth.  Whatever decisions I or the drivers make, the truth remains true.

The truth taught by the Church is not true “because the Church says so.”  The Church teaches what is true because the truth has been revealed to the Church, and the Church’s job is to “wave her arms.”  This doesn’t mean that the Church has a monopoly on all truth, or that the Church is “better” than the rest of humanity.  All truth belongs to God, whether one finds it through the Church or not.  It simply means that the purpose of the Church is to reveal the truth that God reveals to the Church.

Again, one can be cynical and skeptical and believe that the Church is like the Wizard of Oz behind a big curtain putting on a show to control people.  But that doesn’t line up with the historical origins of the Church and her institution by Jesus Christ.  The Church didn’t suddenly fall from the sky in a balloon and invent ways to grab and retain power over the populace.  The Church was established by Jesus, given His authority and sent on a specific mission by Him.

God could have decided to teach everyone truth in an instant, all at the same time.  He could have simply zapped us all into full knowledge of everything that He wanted us to know (a bit like the angels).  God could have decided to reveal truth any number of ways.  As it turned out, God decided to reveal truth to us through Jesus and His Church.  (Keep in mind that “the Church” also includes the Bible which flowed from the Church and is part of the Church’s Deposit of Faith).

Now I’ll share some of my own skepticism.  No matter how God chooses to reveal truth, there will be plenty of folks ready to reject it.  No amount of miracles or displays of power will convince everyone.  Lucifer, the angel, rejected God and took one third of the angels with him.  Judas watched Jesus perform all kinds of miraculous signs and wonders, and the most religious people had Jesus killed.  Being present with God Himself isn’t enough to persuade everyone to accept truth.  The Church can’t convince everyone of the truth, either.  And yet, what the Church teaches is true.

The Eucharist: Living To Eat Or Eating To Live?

Some people think that going to church is what Christianity is all about.  That’s like saying that eating is what life is all about.  Eating (though enjoyable) merely keeps us alive so we can actually live life.  People who focus too much on eating end up obese and unhealthy.  They can’t live life as well.

People who focus their Christianity on “going to church” have a similar issue.  Mass is where we are spiritually fed so we can leave church and live the Christian life.  After Mass we are told, “The Mass is ended, go!”  We have been fed, now it’s time to get to work!  Many folks consider their church attendance to actually be their Christian work.  That’s like going to a job and only “clocking in” during lunch break.  Who would hire such an employee?

Imagine if soldiers never left their training grounds and mess halls during a war.  They would be very good at running obstacle courses, marching, doing drills, cleaning their weapons, etc.  They would not be much use in defending their country.  In fact, an invading force could simply take over.

Spiritual warfare is no different.  If Christians are preoccupied with “going to church,” who is out in the world “fighting the good fight?”  Who is out there putting God’s love into action, healing and defending the hearts that the enemy seeks to devour?  A lot of well fed soldiers are not much use unless they are willing and able to risk themselves and engage in battle.

Catholicism is meant to be shared with the world.  It was never intended to be a “private religion” we keep to ourselves.  The spiritual food we consume on Sunday is given to us to sustain and equip us for daily life.  That means that from the time we wake in the morning until the time we fall asleep at night we are to be conscience of the fact that we are Christians on a mission.  We are always disciples who serve a Master.  We need to resist the tendency to flip our “Christian switch” on or off as it suits us.  We can’t be Christian only when it’s convenient or comfortable or acceptable to others.

I’m not suggesting that we Catholics all become obnoxious, Bible-waving, verse-quoting, overbearing, over-zealous, Christians that people avoid like the plague whenever they see us coming.  I’m suggesting that we allow the gift of Himself that Christ feeds us at every mass to change our hearts into Christ’s heart.  Then we will not mentally leave Christ behind in the tabernacle as we leave church and go out into our daily, distracted lives.  We will actually be Christ in our daily lives.  Then, life won’t be all about eating.  Eating will be all about life.

The Loving, Great Physician Must Diagnose And Prescribe

Most of us have probably heard it said that the Church is like a hospital for sick people (sinners), not a mansion for healthy people (saints), or something to that effect.  The analogy is apt, especially in light of Jesus being the Great Physician and we all being sinners.  As Jesus said, the sick people need the doctor, not the well ones.

The good news of the gospel is that God loved us so much He gave His only Son to die for us and to call us to repentance.  That is where we find healing from our illness of sin.  The Church’s job is to spread this good news to the rest of the world.

In order for a hospital or the Church to provide healing, there must be diagnosis and treatment.  This is where things get tricky.  People want to be welcomed at the door, but they don’t always want to be diagnosed.  Even if they allow themselves to be diagnosed, they may be unwilling to follow the doctor’s orders.

The Church (like a hospital) also works against the spread of disease (sin).  Consequently, if a patient is spreading “germs” that may infect others, the Church has the obligation to try and contain the outbreak.  Some patients may be a “health risk” without even realizing it.  They need to be informed and instructed on what to do for their own health as well as the health of everyone else.  That’s why the Church puts boundaries on certain behaviors.  We all impact each other.

The Church has to balance her responsibility to welcome all sinners with her responsibility to diagnose and treat sinners.  Even if the Church is the most loving, warm, welcoming place on Earth, we still need to hear what our sins are.  We need the diagnosis.  Coming to Christ requires repentance.  We need to know what to repent of.  If the Church does not let us know what our sins are, she is not really doing her job.  The Great Physician is in the healing business, but, in order to heal, He must also diagnose and prescribe.  This is where many Christians lose the balance.

It does no good to get people in the door then refuse to call them to repentance.  It is even worse to draw people in by calling their evil deeds good, thereby robbing them of their need for repentance and healing.  Often, when people are told, “What you are doing is immoral” they will head for the door.  So, a lot of churches would rather say, “What you’re doing is fine,” or, say nothing at all.  Such churches may have  pleasant bedside manners, but they do people a disservice by failing to diagnose and prescribe.

Other churches are so determined to point out sin that they forget the importance of a good bedside manner.  People generally won’t hear the message until they feel a certain degree of trust and safety that can only be established through genuine, caring relationships.  When we sense how much the doctor cares, we are more likely to follow the prescription.

Jesus was welcoming to everyone.  He loves us unconditionally, but He also calls us to holiness.  Jesus pointed out sin, called for repentance and said, “Go and sin no more.”  He welcomed, He diagnosed and He prescribed.  Still, some people accepted Him, and some people walked away from Him.  So it is with the Church.  The doctor must be kind and honest with the patient, but the patient must cooperate with the doctor in order for healing to take place.

Just One Of The Guys

Recently, my wife and I were invited to an information meeting for those who may have a calling to be permanent deacons.  People at church have been suggesting to me for some time that I may have this calling.  This is something that will require a good bit of discernment over time.  I don’t know if I have the call to be a deacon or not.  What I do know for sure is that I am called to be a follower of Jesus, no matter what.

I had a good conversation with a deacon who shared some of his thoughts about his vocation.  It struck me when he said, “Since being ordained, I’m no longer one of the guys.”  People treat him differently now.  For example, men who ordinarily might share an off color joke or make some unseemly remark speak more cautiously around him.  I suppose this is a good thing insofar as it shows some reverence for his ordained status and his representation of Christ and the Church.  It may also reveal their guilty consciences and highlight their need to conform their minds to Christ.  Or, maybe they are simply being “courteous” by trying not to offend the deacon as a person.

In any case, it occurred to me that we are all called to serve Christ.  We are all told to be living sacrifices and to let our minds be conformed to Christ.  Ordination may set certain men apart for specific purposes in the Church, but it does not make them “more called” to serve Christ than the layman.  Therefore, it seems to me that a deacon should always be “one of the guys” because “the guys” need to be striving for holiness as much as any deacon, priest, bishop or pope.  There is nothing that says a Christian man is exempt from living a holy life unless he gets ordained.

There is also a perception that, if a man has a keen interest in “spiritual matters,” or he possesses certain gifts, he must be called to some ordained status.  Maybe, maybe not.  All men and women are called to have a keen interest in following Jesus Christ.  Devoting one’s entire life to Christ is not reserved for priests, deacons and nuns.  It is for all of us.

Adding to a perceived “spiritual gap” between clergy and laity is the notion that canonized saints are something other than ordinary human beings.  We see their pictures and hear their stories and we believe they are not us.  The irony is that the very reason we are supposed to be mindful of the saints and in touch with the saints is that we are supposed to emulate the saints.  They are not there to show us a lofty ideal we can never reach.  They are there to show us and to tell us, “If we can do it, you can do it!”  The saints are not “the exception” they are “the goal.”  They show us what we as Christians are expected to be.  That is why there are so many saints from all walks of life.  They are us!  They are cheering us on!

It seems to me that if a deacon is living a holy life, and is surrounded by men who are striving for the goal of sainthood, he will feel like he is “one of the guys.”  Maybe God is calling me to be a deacon.  I don’t know yet.  He has already called me to be a Christian man, a husband and a father.  He has called me to follow him, no matter what.  I want to be “one of the guys” for Jesus, ordained or not.