Category Archives: Church

Matter Matters

I used to think that being Christian was all about leaving this world to be with God “up there” somewhere.  In my mind, I had a vision of my soul leaving my dead body and floating up to Heaven to be with billions of other souls.  There we would have an eternal, spiritual party worshiping God.  At some point, my dead body would be all fixed up and reunited with my soul, but I didn’t really know why that mattered.  The point of this present life was to leave this world behind and “get to Heaven.”  Everything about the Christian life was “spiritual.”  Matter didn’t really matter.  In fact, matter was an obstacle that interfered with the spiritual.  “Material” people were not “spiritual” people.  I didn’t really see how the material and the spiritual were intimately connected by God’s design.

As a Catholic Christian, I now see things differently.  Rather than focusing on me rising up to a spiritual Heaven, I see that Heaven has already descended and merged with the material world (including me).  The incarnation is about God becoming a Jewish carpenter with a material, human body and human nature.  Redemption is about all of material creation being made new.  This transformation of creation is already happening.  For example, it happens every time a person is baptized.  The water (matter) is used by God to transform the person into a “new creature.”  Baptism, like all the Sacraments, uses matter to affect God’s grace.

The connection of matter and spirit is also evident in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in the Catholic Mass.  Baptized Christians look the same as other humans even though they are new creatures.  In a similar way, bread and wine appear to be bread and wine even though they have been transformed into the body and blood of Christ.  This is Heaven descending into the world of matter to transform it and heal it.  We are material and spiritual beings.  It only makes sense that we need to be fed by food that is both material and spiritual.  Why do people accept God being physically present in the form of a Jewish carpenter but balk at God being physically present in the form of bread and wine?  A look at Jesus under a microscope would reveal human flesh, but he is God.  Under the microscope we see bread and wine, but it is his glorified flesh and blood.  He is here!

I no longer focus on “getting to Heaven.”  I focus on Heaven coming into this material world to transform it and me.  This is what the incarnation is all about.  This is what the Holy Eucharist is all about.  After God created everything He said it was good.  It is still good, but it needs healing.  Jesus came to heal all of creation, including you and me.

The incarnation did not suddenly stop after Jesus ascended to Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit.  He promised to send the Holy Spirit as a teacher and a guide, but he also promised he would not leave us orphaned.  He promised he would always be with us.  He would never leave us or forsake us.  If he is only here “in spirit” then his physical body is missing.  The physical presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist means that Jesus is still the Word become flesh and he is still “God with us.”

During my many years in non-Catholic churches I often felt like something was missing.  I realize now what it was.  Most everything was spiritualized and subjective.  There was less sense of how connected matter and spirit actually are.  For example, The Lord’s Supper seemed like a very reverent Memorial Day ceremony.  It was a time of remembering what Christ did 2000 years ago.  Remembering is not a bad thing.  Folks are typically quite moved during such services, as I was.  Remembering is not the same as participating, however.  Holy Communion is not ONLY for remembering what Jesus did, regardless of how moving it is to remember.  Communion is for physical as well as spiritual communing with God and with each other.

The Mass is where Heaven descends to this material world and allows us to merge with it, not merely remember it.  “…Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven…Give us this day our daily bread…”  It is the will of God that we on Earth be physically and spiritually connected to Heaven through the incarnate Christ, the Bread of Life.  This happens DAILY all around the world in the Catholic Mass.  This connection between Heaven and Earth is an objective one.  That is, it happens whether or not the believers “feel” it happening.  It is not a subjective experience that flows from how moved or inspired the participants are.  Christ makes it effective, not the feelings of the believers.  A vaccine “works” by virtue of its objective, physical connection to the patient.  Similarly, the Holy Eucharist “works” by virtue of its objective, physical and spiritual connection to the recipient (not our subjective feelings, strong as they may be).  Jesus saying, “Take and eat, take and drink” is like a doctor saying, “Take this medicine.”

So, these days, I think less about us going to Heaven and more about Heaven coming to heal us daily.  One day, all things will be made new.  Right now, the process is underway.  We simply need to accept it and participate in it.  Going to the doctor includes following the doctor’s orders to take your medicine.  Accepting Christ includes following his command to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  That’s how the spiritual merges with the material every day.  That’s the incarnation, “God with us.”  Christianity is as much about the material as it is the spiritual, because we are material and spiritual creations.  That’s why all seven Sacraments matter, and that’s why matter matters to the Christian.

Reaching Out To Our “Christmas & Easter Only” Churchgoers

I’m excited about something we’re doing at our parish this Christmas.  One of the men in our men’s group has been able to procure low cost copies of Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s book Rome Sweet Home.  Hundreds of these books will be gift wrapped and given to people at Christmas Mass.  The plan is to also give more of these books away at Easter.

There are so many people that only come to church on Christmas and Easter.  This book may help some of them appreciate their faith more.  Listening to the stories of converts is a great way to avoid taking the Faith for granted.  Cradle Catholics often lack zeal and knowledge about their own Catholicism.  Many are “culturally Catholic” with little or no sense of the historical, spiritual, life-giving power of Christ’s Church.  It can be very enlightening to hear the logical and spiritual reasons for actually wanting to become Catholic.  There are thousands of people and hundreds of families in our parish.  We hope to get at least one book to most of these families.

The book was written by a married couple.  They take turns describing their path from anti-Catholic, Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism.  Scott Hahn has become one of the most respected biblical scholars of our day.  It is refreshing to hear the perspectives of both Scott and Kimberly as they explain their individual struggles as well as the challenges the journey presented to their marriage.  I highly recommend the book to Catholic and non-Catholic readers.

So many Catholics are drifting away from the Church or going through the motions of being Catholic without really being in love with Christ or his Church.  My prayer is that, by reading what people go through to find their way home to Catholicism, many Catholics will realize how good it is to already be home.  Then they will have more desire to invite others home, too.  I also hope non-Catholics will read the book and be inspired to make the journey home.

Mary: More Than A Part In A Christmas Play

I know why it bothers people when Catholics make such a big deal about Mary.  It used to bother me, too, even as I was being raised Catholic.  God sent Jesus to take away our sins.  Case closed.  Why bother with anything else?  So, Mary got picked out of billions of women to be the mother of Jesus.  That’s why all generations are supposed to call her blessed, right?  It’s like winning the lottery or something.  “Wow, you’re so blessed to be chosen!”  That was the end of it.  Turns out that’s just part of the reason.  There’s a lot more to Mary than a part in a Christmas play.

There are a lot of theological and scriptural implications about Mary that I simply did not know about.  Learning those “technical” aspects of Marian doctrine really opened my eyes.  Becoming a parent changed my outlook as well.  I can only imagine being a mother, but being a father was enough to give me a greater appreciation for Mary’s role as a loving, sacrificial, devoted, holy parent.

Being a husband also contributed to my appreciation of Mary.  One learns much about a spouse by getting to know one’s in-laws.  Becoming part of a new family is life changing.  As the saying goes, “You don’t just marry your spouse; you also marry your spouse’s family.”  Knowing your spouse’s family contributes to knowing your spouse.  It just makes sense that knowing the mother of Jesus would help a person know and love Jesus better.  That’s how families generally work.  No one lives in a vacuum.  We all impact each other’s lives.  The Church is a family, after all.

I understand my Protestant friends’ fear of idolatry, and I greatly respect it.  I used to share it.  The focus has to be on Jesus.  I agree.  It took me a long time to grasp the concept that devotion to Mary does not take anything away from Jesus.  Indeed, Mary is the perfect model of complete devotion to Jesus.  There is no other reason to acknowledge Mary except for the fact that she points us to her Son in all that she says and does.  She is everything a disciple of Christ is supposed to be.  She accepted Christ into her heart (and her body, thus becoming the Ark of the New Covenant) from before his birth until after his death and resurrection.  She never left him.  Her whole being is wrapped up in her love for Jesus.  She is “full of grace.”  She is what we are supposed to be.  Her focus is always on her Son, Jesus.

Christians are supposed to love Jesus and follow Jesus.  No human being ever loved Jesus more or followed Jesus better than Mary.  That’s why Catholics have a devotion to her.  It’s not because we think she can do something that Jesus can’t do.  It’s not because we think she is equal to Jesus.  It’s because we want to be as close to Jesus as possible, and she shows us how it is done.  Can we be close to Jesus without getting to know Mary?  Sure, but not as close.  Mary is Jesus’ own flesh and blood.  You can’t help but draw closer to Jesus by getting closer to Mary.  It’s not an act of idolatry to talk to Mary.  It’s not adding something “extra” to a relationship with Jesus.  It’s being part of Jesus’ family.  It’s about learning to know and love Jesus within the context of a family.

Incidentally, I have a great app on my phone that explains a lot about the Catholic perspective of Mary.  If you have even the slightest interest in learning more about Mary, check it out.  It is very comprehensive and easy to read.

The Thoroughly Furnished Christian (2Tim 3:16-17)

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

Does this verse indicate that the Bible is all I need in order to be a good Christian?  Does having only my Bible make me “thoroughly furnished” and “perfect” in my doctrine?  “The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword…” (Hebrews 4:12).  But is a sword the only equipment a soldier requires to be “thoroughly furnished?”  Is Paul telling Timothy, “All you need is your Bible?”

Soldiers require lots of things in order to be effective.  Imagine the U.S.A. sending troops overseas with nothing but their rifles.  The soldiers would have no training, no clothes, no helmets, no armor, no food, and no water.  They might not even have proper officers.  Sound silly?  Well, it takes more than a sword to be fully equipped.  However, soldiers with all the gear and provisions, but no rifles are also not fully equipped.  Paul is not telling Timothy, “All you need is your Bible to be fully equipped.”  He is telling Timothy, “In order to be “perfect” and “fully equipped,” you need to add the Bible to the rest of your essential gear.”  The sword is profitable but not sufficient by itself.

Ephesians 6:13-17 sheds some light on this principle:

“Take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:”

The word of God, the sword of the Spirit, is not the only necessary item on the list.  It is part of an ensemble.  The Christian needs more than just a Bible.  The Christian also needs “truth,” and “righteousness,” and “the gospel of peace,” and “faith,” and “salvation.”  The Bible is not the “whole armor of God.”  The Bible is one piece of essential equipment. 

For example, if one has a Bible, but misinterprets it, then one’s loins are not girt with truth.  Instead, one is wearing heresies and falsehoods.  Heresies and falsehoods do not promote faith, righteousness, peace or salvation.  They also help the wicked rather than quench the fiery darts of the wicked.  How then, does one obtain truth from the scriptures?

The Apostle, Philip, saw a man sitting in his chariot reading scripture.  Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?  The man said, “How can I except some man should guide me?” (Acts 8:31)  He had the same scriptures as Timothy, but he was obviously not “thoroughly furnished” with “the whole armor of God.”  He did not yet have truth, or faith, or righteousness, or peace, or salvation.  He needed a man with apostolic tradition and authority to teach him.

Paul says in 2Thess 2:15, “Stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”  Having the “sword” is not enough.  A soldier must be properly trained to wield it.  Otherwise, there is a good chance you will cut yourself or others.  The Apostle Peter tells us that there are things in scripture that are hard to understand, and that untrained people use the scriptures to their own destruction (2Peter 3:16).  We need the scriptures.  However, to be thoroughly furnished, we also need proper training lest we fall upon our swords and slay ourselves.

Catholicism has it all.  If you want to be “thoroughly furnished,” we have the scriptures and the truth, and the righteousness, and the gospel of peace, and the faith, and the salvation.  We also have the authority to provide proper training free from heresies and falsehoods.  It is the same authority used by Paul, Peter and Philip.  It is the apostolic authority given by Christ himself.  No other church has it all.  Be “thoroughly furnished.”  Be Catholic.

Once Christ’s Church, Always Christ’s Church (OCCACC)

During my years spent in “once-saved-always-saved” churches, there was something lurking below the surface of the doctrine that I could not quite put my finger on.  This morning it hit me.  Although it is not intentional, there is a double standard.  I certainly don’t mean to accuse anyone of malice or ill intent.  It is simply a double standard that folks overlook.  Most people that hold to “once-saved-always-saved” (OSAS) genuinely believe the doctrine and are well-intentioned in spreading it. They want to go to Heaven and take as many people with them as they can.  That’s not a bad thing.  They mean well.  They sincerely love Jesus.

When King David committed adultery and murder, he was not “dethroned.”  He remained King, not because of his good behavior, but because he was God’s anointed.  When Moses was disobedient, he was punished but not “removed from office.”  He remained the leader of Israel until he died because he was chosen by God to be the leader.  When the Pharisees became hypocrites and made the Word of God of no effect Jesus did not say, “You have been bad, so you no longer have any authority.”  Instead, Jesus told the people, “Do what the Pharisees tell you because they sit on the seat of Moses.  Just don’t be hypocrites like they are.”  Peter said the “wrong thing” prompting Jesus to refer to him as “Satan.”  Then Peter denied Jesus three times during his trial.  Despite this bad behavior Peter was still chosen by God to infallibly write letters that would become part of the inerrant, God-breathed, Holy Bible.

Regarding their own salvation, OSAS folks will say, “It doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t lose my salvation because nothing can separate me from the love of God.  I am sealed unto the day of redemption.  I am justified (meaning, it is “just as if” I had never sinned).  Once God decides to save me it’s a done deal.  I may lose rewards in Heaven for bad behavior, but I’ll never lose my salvation.  God has the power to preserve my soul!”

However, that same, steadfast, preservative power of God is never seen as applied to the Catholic Church.  To the OSAS folks (and Protestantism in general), the Catholic Church cannot be the one true Church established by Jesus Christ due to “bad behavior.”  Whether it is the Crusades, the Inquisition, the selling of indulgences, the Galileo ordeal or the more recent priest abuse scandals, people insist that such behavior disqualifies Catholicism from being Christ’s Church.  In other words, God can keep King David and even individual Christians intact, but not his own Church.  The Church had to be scrapped and “started over” because it just wasn’t working out.  So, the Old Covenant was replaced by the New Covenant Church, and the New Covenant Church was replaced by the “New” New Covenant Church in the 1500s.  God’s grace and the Holy Spirit just couldn’t handle the behavior of Catholics.

Nevertheless, OSAS Christians (and Protestantism in general) accept the Catholic Church’s formation of the New Testament canon.  The New Testament, as compiled and authorized by the Catholic Church, is accepted as the God-breathed, inspired, inerrant Word of God.  But, because of the bad behavior of some Catholics, the Catholic Church was “dethroned” as God’s anointed and replaced by lots of different “churches” with various doctrines and practices.  The office of the papacy, which once oversaw and authorized the compilation of Holy Scripture, no longer has authority.  This is the double standard.  It seems that the Holy Spirit and God’s grace are able to work with everybody’s bad behavior except for the Catholic Church.

The Holy Spirit-led Catholic Church allegedly gave us the New Testament and then suddenly turned into “The Whore of Babylon” at worst, or an “outdated, out of touch denomination” at best.  Personally, I believe God is more powerful and more gracious than that.  He is powerful enough to establish a Church with offices of leadership, and then preserve that Church until the end of time, just as he preserves the Scriptures compiled by that Church.

We need not apply the words of Christ, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” only to individual Christians.  Those words also apply to the Church Jesus established, the Catholic Church.  Jesus has not left the Church, but many of us have.  Some of us have met Christ’s Church, but we have not met Christ.  Some of us have met Christ, but we have not genuinely met his Church.  Many people have only been introduced to a caricature of the Church propagated by anti-Catholic teachings, poor catechesis or simple misunderstandings.

Christ and his Church go together.  We are incomplete with one but not the other.  Where there are human beings there will always be sin.  Nevertheless, “Once-Christ’s-Church-always-Christ’s-Church” holds true because of Jesus, not because of us.

The Religion Of Personal Preference

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “I’m looking for a good church,” or, “We’re church shopping.”  I’ve said these things myself in the past.  There is much “between the lines” of such statements.  Overall, I believe those words often reveal a “religion of personal preference.”  That is, we seek God under the condition that God will make us comfortable and happy.

People “shop” for churches that appeal to them.  I can’t recall ever hearing someone say, “I chose this church because it made me feel so uncomfortable.”  The ironic thing is that, although God calls us to peace and joy, he doesn’t call us to “comfort,” at least not in the sense that most people perceive comfort.  The Holy Spirit is “the Comforter,” but that doesn’t mean he provides padded pews and nice feelings all around.  It means we can have spiritual peace and guidance even in the midst of our greatest trials.  Many trials are a direct result of following God.  In fact, Jesus told his followers to expect suffering.

The thing we tend to forget is that  Jesus calls us.  We’re not supposed to “shop around” until we find our preferred selection on a spiritual menu.  How arrogant and self-centered we can be!  Think about famous people in the Bible that were called by God.  Abraham, Moses, Jonah, all the prophets, the Virgin Mary and Joseph, the Apostles, are just a few examples.  None of them were “comfortable” being called.  They were afraid, reluctant, confused, angered, blinded, knocked to the ground, swallowed by fish, etc.  None of them said, “Wow, this just feels right.  What a warm welcome!”  On the contrary, the calling was not what they were “shopping for.”  It did not suit their preferences.

Why, then, do we insist on shopping for a church that suits our preferences?  We’re not supposed to search for a church that we “like” or create a church that we “like.”   We’re supposed to answer the call of the Church established by Jesus, like it or not.  The Church is Christ on Earth.  It is through his Church that Jesus calls us.  It is “right” even if it doesn’t always “feel right” because it is truth.  Truth does not change with our whims and our feelings.  Truth unifies.  Feelings tend to divide and confuse.  Jesus calls us to unity through truth.  The Church is not a product to be marketed.  It is the truth to be lived and shared.

Pope Francis has captured the attention of the world, not by creative marketing, but by being a disciple of Christ.  He is, as he says, “A child of the Church.”  This is what we are all called to be.  This is what Catholics are supposed to be like.  He is leading by example.  He is the pastor of the entire Christian Church.  He is our shepherd.  He takes his orders from The Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.  Like it or not, there is no other “church” to shop for.

Let’s stop shopping for churches.  Let’s quit trying to turn the Church into a “product” that competes for the attention of fickle consumers.  Let’s dump the “religion” of personal preferences.  Instead, let’s answer the call of the Church.  Let’s allow Jesus to step into our boats and rock them.  That’s what disciples do.  Disciples follow their leader, not their own preferences.  Let’s show the world Jesus Christ.  He is what they long for.

The Ultimate Thanksgiving

When God fed the Israelites with manna from heaven, they eventually took it for granted.  They got tired of it.  They got bored with it, although it sustained their lives.  “Why can’t we have meat?”

When Jesus fed the multitudes with a few fish and a few loaves of bread, they took it for granted.  It wasn’t the wonder of the miracle that caused the crowds to follow him.  They followed him to feed their bellies.  It is no stretch to suppose that, if Jesus had provided an unending flow of bread and fish, the people would have eventually complained.  They would have grown bored with bread and fish.  “Why can’t we have lamb or steak?”  If the bread and fish still flowed from the basket today people would say, “Oh yeah, the bread and fish basket.  Been there done that.”

Jesus gave us more than lamb.  He gave us the Lamb of God.  He gave us himself.  “This is my body, this is my blood.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will abide in me and I in him.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life.  I give my flesh for the life of the world.  Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.”

Jesus provides an unending supply of himself to sustain us.  We take him for granted.  We get bored with him and we want something different.  We want better music, better programs, better preaching, better pews, better buildings, better parking, better feelings, better food, better fellowship and so on.  We seek to feed our bellies.  We care about our own flesh, not his.  Filling our fleshy appetites profits us nothing.  It is the spirit and the life of Christ that sustains us (Jn 6:63).

The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.”  It is the realization of what was foreshadowed by the manna and the fish and the loaves.  There is more than enough for everyone to partake of until the end of time.  It sustains us because it is Christ.  The word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.”  There is no better way to give thanks to God than to receive his Son, Jesus Christ.  We must not take the Eucharist for granted.  We must not become bored with receiving Jesus.

Wait…Jesus Said To OBEY The Scribes And Pharisees? What..?

In Mathew 23:1-3 Jesus says (paraphrase), “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: therefore, do all that they tell you to do; but don’t behave the way they do, for they don’t follow their own teachings.”  There are several points here to reflect on.

1)      Jesus was not anti-religion, he was anti-hypocrisy.  Jesus followed his Jewish religion perfectly (unlike the hypocrites).  Jesus never said he came to abolish religion.  Jesus came to fulfill the Jewish religion, not to get rid of it.  When people say, “Religion is bad but Jesus is good,” they are mistaken.  Jesus is good and so is his religion.

2)      Jesus recognized and validated the office held by the scribes and the Pharisees.  God established the seat of Moses.  It was an office of authority.  An earthly person (Moses) held an office of God-given authority.  Furthermore, that office had successors.  The scribes and the Pharisees had God-given authority because they were the successors of Moses, not because they were good men.  What we see here is the biblical principle that it is God, not men that establishes and preserves the earthly office of authority.  Men behaving badly can still validly occupy an office of God-given authority and use that authority to establish and teach doctrines and traditions (binding and loosing).  Jesus teaches obedience to men who sit on a seat authorized directly by God.

3)      The teachings of the scribes and Pharisees were not made invalid by their hypocrisy.  Notice that Jesus did not say, “Rebel against and disobey the scribes and Pharisees because they are hypocrites who won’t even follow their own teachings.”  Quite the opposite was true.  Jesus taught obedience to their God-given authority.

4)      The scribes and Pharisees “made the word of God of no effect” through their tradition (Mark 7:13).  Having the tradition wasn’t the problem.  Their attitude was the problem.  They “rejected the commandment of God” (verse 9).  Tradition is good if one is not rejecting the commandment of God.  After all, Jesus and his family followed Jewish tradition.  They were religious!  One can take most any religious tradition and either glorify God or reject God through that tradition.  It’s about one’s attitude.

5)      As stated above, Jesus validated the seat of Moses as an earthly authority from God.  In fact, he liked the idea so much that he fulfilled and perfected it for the New Covenant by creating the chair of Peter.  Again, God protects this office and provides successors for it.  Even a scoundrel of a pope cannot negate the authority of this office.  God protects the official teachings of the Church from error through the Holy Spirit, not through the impeccable behavior of men.  That is what the infallibility of the papacy means.  The same Holy Spirit that keeps error out of the Bible also protects the papacy.  God the Father directly authorized the seat of Moses.  God the Son directly authorized the Chair of Peter.

6)      Protestantism has the Bible, but it has no seat of earthly authority like the seat of Moses or the Chair of Peter.  This is, ironically, unbiblical.  The rejection of God-given Church authority has resulted in division and a multitude of opposing doctrines.  It is popular today to claim Jesus while rejecting religious authority.  Jesus taught the opposite.  To obey the God-given seat of authority is to obey God.  Obey Jesus by obeying his Church.

7)      Catholicism does not create traditions of men that “make the word of God of no effect.”  Read the Catholic Catechism honestly and you will discover that Church teachings flow from and compliment the Scriptures.  The Bible and Sacred Tradition are both apostolic.  They go together.

8)      Catholicism does not “heap heavy burdens upon men that even the religious leaders can’t bear.”  Read the Catholic Catechism and you will discover that Church teachings are about holiness and a relationship with Jesus, not legalistic rules and regulations.  There is nothing about being Catholic that “can’t be done” by the clergy or by the laity.  There may be things people don’t want to do, but that’s all about attitude and obedience.  If you live a Catholic life with the proper attitude you will grow ever closer to Christ.  Catholicism is all about receiving the grace of Jesus and sharing him with the world and with each other.

New Reality Show Idea! “Fact Or Faked: Bible Files”

There are a lot of “reality” shows on TV about people investigating strange or paranormal occurrences.  There are shows about ghosts, monsters, Bigfoot, aliens, UFOs, etc.  One in particular is called “Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files.”  The investigators attempt to recreate and debunk alleged paranormal events.  Sometimes they uncover a hoax and other times they label the event “unexplained.”  The viewer can form his or her own opinion based on the “expert” analysis of the investigators.

Sometimes it seems like people take a similar approach with the Bible.  For example, Jesus said a lot of strange and disturbing things like, “If your hand offends you, cut it off,” and “If your eye offends you, pluck it out.”  He called himself a door and a vine.  He said we must be born again of water and of spirit.  He said he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.  He talked about Hell and eternal damnation.  He told his followers that they needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life.  He held up bread and called it his body.  He held up wine and called it his blood.  He said lots of wild stuff, some of which caused his followers to walk away from him.  He also raised the dead, healed the sick, walked on water and controlled nature.  And, of course, he was killed and came back to life.

So, fact or faked?  Which of Jesus’ statements and actions are real and which are hyperbole?  Are any of them real?  Are all of them metaphor?  For example, did Jesus “fake out” his followers and then let them walk away from eternal life in John 6?  What would a panel of “experts” say?  What would your Bible study group conclude and why?  Would your opinion match the others in your study group?  What would your Sunday school teacher conclude?  How does he or she know the answer?  Would your preacher agree with the preacher down the street?

People get together and draw their own conclusions about Scripture.  “Oh, Jesus didn’t really mean that, he was just ‘faking us out’ to test our faith or to prove a point.”  That may be true some of the time.  Parables are designed to have an impact and make a point.  However, some people have actually maimed themselves because Jesus said to cut off their offending body parts.  Were they wrong in doing so, or were they being extremely holy?  When is Jesus being serious and when is he just being metaphorical to make a point?  He wasn’t always metaphorical, was he?  Is it just bread or is it really him?  Fact or faked?

All the confusion demonstrates the need for the Spirit-led, teaching authority of the Church.  When Christ’s Church authority is rejected, we are left with the opinions and conclusions of whoever wants to be an “expert.”  Without the authority that Christ gave to the offices of the pope and the magisterium we are left to our own devices.  Conflicting opinions rule the day.  Not a good situation when eternal life is on the line.  We might as well rely on a television reality show called, “Fact or Faked: Bible Files” to guide us in matters of faith and morals.

Conversion: A Work In Progress

Humans are spiritual creatures.  It is written into our DNA to look beyond ourselves to spiritual truths.  History demonstrates our desire for spiritual connection.  Although many these days claim to be “spiritual but not religious,” we all have religious tendencies.  Left to our own devices, we will find something to worship.  We will create our own, individual belief systems by assembling our opinions, our values and our principles into “little religions.”  Therefore, none of us are really “spiritual but not religious.”  Either we follow God’s religion or we follow our own.

I put together a list that illustrates my own journey of awareness about God’s revelation to humanity.  It’s sort of what I perceive to be a “growth chart” of spiritual awakening.  There was a time when I considered myself to be “spiritual but not religious.”  That changed around number 11 or 12 on the list when I realized that religious people behaving badly did not make “religion” a bad word.  I realized it was not only possible but desirable to be both religious and spiritual.  It is a both/and proposition, not an either/or one.

I believe lots of people get stuck somewhere on this list.  For example, agnostics might be around number one to six.  Lots of Christians stop around number eleven.  Some may be at number thirteen without knowing they need number 11.  Really, we can get stuck anywhere on the list.  I’m not claiming to have personally reached the ultimate place in a journey of faith.  We’re all works in progress.  This list is just a sketch of where I have been and what I’m striving for by God’s grace.  It’s not perfectly chronological in order.  I’m far from where I need to be.  The point is, as soon as we think we’ve “arrived,” we haven’t.  Conversion is a lifelong process, not a single event.

Here is the process:

1)      Look around at creation and realize it couldn’t have “just happened” without an intelligent designer and call that designer “God.”

2)      Realize that God transcends us.

3)      Understand that we are eternal beings, but imperfect beings (sinners).

4)      Realize that we can’t fix our own imperfection and become like God.

5)      Wonder if such a God cares about what happens to us and the rest of creation.

6)      Wonder if God knows how it feels to be human, or if God is aloof.

7)      Realize that Jesus is God in human flesh.

8)      Realize that God does know how it feels to be human because God became human.

9)      Realize that through Jesus, God came to seek us out.  We didn’t need to climb up to God.

10)  Realize that the perfect life, suffering and death of Jesus is the answer to humanity’s imperfection (sin).

11)  Realize that Jesus (God) desires us to trust him with our eternal souls and lives, not our own efforts.

12)  Understand and accept that, because he loves us, Jesus did not want to leave us to our own devices, so he made sure there would be an antidote to conflicting opinions.

13)  Realize and accept that Jesus called his antidote “the Church” and gave its hierarchy his own authority.  Accepting Jesus includes accepting the Church, because they are the same authority.  The Holy Spirit guards and controls the hierarchy’s teachings and also preserves the written Word.  To accept Christ and reject the Church is contradictory.

14)  Realize that Jesus did not want to leave us orphaned and promised to be with us.

15)  Understand that, in order for Jesus to actually “be with us” he has to be completely with us, not partially with us “in spirit” as if he were on the telephone or a video conference.  Jesus still has a physical body and still wants to literally “be with us.”  His love for us is that profound.

16)  Understand and accept that the way Jesus chooses to keep his promise to “be with us” is by humbling himself in the form of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist.  The power of the Holy Spirit accomplishes this.

17)  Realize that the religion of Catholicism is actually about being with and loving Christ and each other.  God is love, and Catholicism is the fullness of God’s religion when lived out in holiness and love as Jesus intended (not as a set of rules to earn Heaven apart from God’s grace).