Category Archives: Theology

“I Love You, But I’m Not In Love With You.” (Marriage and Eucharist)

“I love you, but I’m not in love with you.”  I can’t count the number of times I have heard that phrase in my counseling office.  When someone says this to a spouse it typically means, “I no longer have those honeymoon feelings I used to have.”  There are occasions when a person is experiencing a genuine state of clinical depression and has lost the ability to experience feelings of happiness and appreciation.  However, more often these individuals are idolizing the god of subjectivity and have allowed feelings to become their master.  They have reduced the objective reality of their marriage to a subjective state.  They may not “feel” married, but they are still married.

The Church is the Bride of Christ and, as such, is married to the Bridegroom, Jesus.  The Eucharist is the marriage supper.  Hence, receiving Holy Communion is a joining together of Bride and Groom in an objective way.  It is a very real union that is not dependant on subjective feelings.  The fact that two people might “feel” married to each other does not make them objectively married.  Conversely, marriage is an objective reality regardless of the subjective feelings.  The Eucharist is not real because it “feels” real.  It is real.

Dr. Peter Kreeft points out that to regard the Lord’s Supper as merely symbolic is to reduce the relationship of a marriage to the level of a friendship.  Although a healthy marriage will include friendship between spouses (Jesus called His disciples friends), it is not the friendship that makes the relationship a marriage.  The marriage is created by the unique union of the body and soul of the bride and the groom.  That is the objective reality.  When the Eucharist is reduced to only the symbolic, all that remains is the subjective feeling.  In other words, when people receive the Lord’s Supper in non-Catholic churches, they may experience feelings about their relationship with Jesus, but there is no actual union taking place between Bride and Groom.  The relationship is subjective.  Communion becomes all about remembering what Jesus did and how believers “feel” about what He did.  The Catholic Eucharist includes the subjective remembering as well as the objective uniting of married partners.  Jesus is in our hearts, but He is also really united with our bodies and souls, like a bride and groom.

Think about how a vaccine works.  It is not a placebo.  It is not dependant on how the patient feels about receiving it, although the patient may be very happy and grateful.  The vaccine works by a very real process of interacting with the body of the patient.  It is an objective reality, not a subjective reality.  The Eucharist is not a placebo (nor are the other Sacraments).  It “works” by the power of Christ interacting with spirit and matter, not by the feelings of those receiving it.

The union of the Bride and the Groom is not dependant on “honeymoon” feelings, although such feelings may certainly be present.  Any experienced married couple will testify to the fact that honeymoon feelings do not sustain a healthy marriage.  Unless the honeymoon feelings grow into something much deeper, the marriage will suffer.  In counseling, the goal is not to take a couple back to their honeymoon days.  The goal is to bring the honeymoon forward to a deeper place.  Similarly, Dr. Kreeft says, “God does not want us to have a spiritual sweet tooth.”  God wants us objectively united with Him in the Eucharist, not just going by our feelings.  Feelings can become an idol of worship.  Feelings often become the cake instead of the icing on the cake (especially in America).

Moses did not feel good about God calling him to lead Israel.  Jonah did not feel good about preaching to Nineveh.  Jesus did not feel good about going to the cross.  Children do not feel good about getting the Polio vaccine or eating vegetables.  Married people do not always feel good about their spouses.  Catholics do not always feel their hearts “strangely warmed” or a “burning in the bosom” when receiving the Eucharist.  When it comes to love and obedience, feelings are not important.  Feelings come and go.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, and He invites us to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  Will we come and dine out of love and obedience, or will we let our feelings be our god?  “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:57)  “This is my body…this is my blood…” (Matt 26:26-28)  Jesus never asked the “therapist” question, “How does that make you feel?”  He simply said, “Take and eat.”

Is Catholicism A Cult?

“The word cult has three definitions. First of all, it can simply be a group that loves something. When people refer to an “Elvis cult” or “The O.C. cult,” they mean really devoted fans.

The second definition is that of a religion whose beliefs differ from the majority around them. In the Roman Empire, Christians were sometimes considered a cult because they worshiped Jesus rather than the Roman gods.

The third, and most commonly used definition, refers to a religious group that is:

1) Exclusive. They may say, “We’re the only ones with the truth; everyone else is wrong; and if you leave our group your salvation is in danger.”

2) Secretive. Certain teachings are not available to outsiders or they’re presented only to certain members, sometimes after taking vows of confidentiality.

3) Authoritarian. A human leader expects total loyalty and unquestioned obedience.”

— From Christianity Today website

 

So, are Catholics members of a cult?

According to definition number one we are.  We are “really devoted fans” of Jesus Christ and the Church He founded.

According to the second definition, we might be, depending on the time and the place.  The Catholic Church is the Church Jesus established.  Hence, the early Christians considered by the Roman Empire to be a cult were Catholics.  America was discovered by a Catholic, but the U.S. was colonized predominantly by Protestants.  In the 1800s, when large groups of Catholics came to the U.S., they were not welcomed.  They were not wanted.  They were considered “papists,” or “Romanists,” something other than Christian, even though “Christianity” and “Catholicism” had been synonymous for 1500 years before Protestantism even appeared.  To the early American Protestants (and some modern day Protestants), Catholics were considered cult members.  Ironically, Protestants could also be considered cult members according to their respective founders such as the cult of Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Calvin, King Henry VIII, etc.

The third definition does not describe Catholicism.  We are “exclusive” in the sense that we believe Jesus meant it when He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except by me.”  We also believe Jesus established one Church, gave His authority to that Church, and, as King, made Peter His first Prime Minister.  Catholics believe that all Christians are part of the Church, although many, either willingly, or, through no fault of their own, have been cut off from many of the graces available through the Church.  They have been deprived of these graces due to the Protestant movement and/or heretical teachings.  Those who obstinately resist those graces do indeed place their salvation in jeopardy.  But this is as much as saying that those who obstinately reject Christ place their salvation in jeopardy.  The Church and Jesus Christ go together.  They cannot be compartmentalized.  This is why, when Jesus confronted Saul (Paul) of Tarsus on the road to Damascus He asked him, “Why do you persecute me,” not “Why do you persecute my Church?”

The beliefs of Catholicism are not secretive or confidential.  Anyone can read the Catholic Catechism either in book form or on the internet.  There are no “confidentiality” requirements to becoming Catholic.  In fact, we are supposed to tell people about the Faith so they know where to find the Church that Jesus established.

The Catholic Church is not “authoritarian” it is “authoritative.”  The authority she possesses was not claimed by her or taken by her but given directly to her by Christ.  Jesus said, “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  He told his apostles, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  He also gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven (like an Old Testament king appointing his Prime Minister).

The Catholic Church expects obedience because Jesus Christ expects obedience.  Christ is the Head and the Church is His body.  Where the head goes the body goes as one unit, not as many parts in various directions.  The obedience is not “unquestioned obedience.”  Catholics must have doubts and questions in order to learn.  “Seek and you shall find” includes asking questions and growing in understanding of the Faith.  The obedience of the Catholic is what Paul described as “the obedience of the Faith.”  It is obedience out of love.  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Catholics are not dumb animals without brains.  As Pope John Paul II said, “Faith and reason are the two wings on which the soul takes flight.”  Catholics are supposed to think with their brains and love with their hearts, not just have a “blind obedience.”

People who accuse Catholics of being in a “cult” usually use the term in a pejorative way to attack the Church with misconceptions.  These people do not want Christ’s Church to have authority.  They want to cling to their own authority.  They suppose that, since Catholics have a pope, we must be following a man instead of Christ.  In reality, we are all following Christ in a grand, 2000 year old parade.  The pope is simply the man Christ placed first in line behind Him.  Consider Paul’s words in Philippians 3:17 to “be followers of me.”  As an apostle, Paul was a leader the Christians were supposed to follow.  By doing so, they were following Christ.  Catholics do the same thing when we follow the bishops, the successors of the apostles.  The pope is simply the head bishop.

If Catholics are members of a cult, it is simply the cult of Jesus Christ.  There is nothing wrong with being a follower of Jesus.  I’m not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I’m a really devoted fan of His!

The Bible? Yep, There’s An App For That. But…

We have reached a point in history where the Bible is available to practically everyone.  We can even carry it around on our smart phones if we want to.  We have access to all sorts of information about the Bible with a few clicks of a mouse or the slide of a finger.  Things have changed drastically since the days when there were only a few Bibles copied by hand.  And yet, some things have not changed at all.  The meaning of Scripture has not changed.  The truth contained in Scripture has not changed.  The ability to properly discern the meaning of the text still resides with the Holy Spirit, not human technology.  Our technology cannot match God.

Consider the account of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:31.  The Apostle Phillip saw him reading from the prophet Esaias.  So, Phillip, guided by the Spirit, approached the man and asked him if he understood what he was reading.  The man replied, “How can I unless some man guides me?”  So, Phillip explained (preached) to the man how the Scriptures pointed to Jesus Christ.  The eunuch then asked to be baptized.  He became a Christian, not because he read and understood the copy of the Scriptures he possessed, but because a Spirit-led, authoritative interpreter of that Scripture preached to him.  That Ethiopian eunuch might as well have been sitting there Googling the Scripture on his iPhone.  He still would have needed the apostolic authority guided by the Holy Spirit.

The Bible contains, among other things, Paul’s letters to various churches regarding many different topics such as salvation, end times, proper behavior of Christians, the Lord’s Supper, etc.  Peter (the first pope and head of the apostles) also wrote some letters.  In 2Peter 3:16, Peter mentions the letters of Paul.  Peter writes that Paul’s letters contain information that is “hard to understand.”  Not only are the letters hard to understand, but there are a lot of people twisting the truth of those letters “to their own destruction.”  In other words, interpreting the Bible is difficult and dangerous.  Peter then warns the Christians not to be led astray by people that are improperly interpreting Paul’s letters.

Having a laptop with fancy Bible software or a smart phone has not made it safer to interpret Scripture.  In fact, it has probably increased the danger.  We now live in a world of relativism, the antithesis of truth.  People generally no longer believe in absolute truth.  “You have your truth and I have my truth.”  “You have your Bible interpretation and I have my Bible interpretation.”  “You follow your Jesus and I’ll follow my Jesus.”  This is partly the result of many Bibles with little or no guidance from apostolic authority.  Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  Pontius Pilot says, “What is truth?” and then washes his hands of it and crucifies Truth.  Such is our world of mass information and relativistic mindset.

Can’t people become Christian in any church?  Isn’t it even possible for people to pick up a Bible, read it, learn about Jesus and become Christian?  Of course.  But becoming Christian is only the beginning.  Disciples must learn how to remain Christians, grow as Christians and conduct themselves as Christians.  Just as we do not leave newborn babies to fend for themselves, The Master did not set us adrift on the winds of conflicting doctrines.  Jesus did not leave us alone with only our Bibles.  He left us a Church for guidance.  When we ignore or abandon the apostolic guidance of that Church, we place ourselves in peril.  When we act as if we know better than the Church that Jesus established and gave His own authority to, we place ourselves in peril.  When we have devotion to the Bible but not to Christ’s Church, we place ourselves in peril.  It is not the Bible that divides Christians; it is the issue of authority.

The question of authority extends even beyond the interpretation of Scripture.  The Bible does not explicitly address certain issues facing modern Christians.  While technology has given us smart phones, it has also enhanced our ability to “play God,” particularly in the beginning and ending stages of life.  Science promises great power and ingenuity, but it does not promise morality or spiritual truth.  If Christians are divided over moral issues that are addressed in the Bible, how much more will they be divided on issues where the Bible is silent?  There has to be an authority to interpret Scripture and to address contemporary moral issues.

Keep your Bible on your phone, your Kindle, your laptop, your desktop or in a drawer by your bed if you wish.  It matters not.  What matters is the authority by which we discern the Bible.  There are now literally thousands of conflicting interpretations and various lifestyles all claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit and all using the name “Christian.”  It’s confusing.  God is not the author of confusion (1Cor 14:33).  We still need the apostolic, Spirit-led authority that unlocked the Scriptures for the Ethiopian eunuch.  We don’t need more technology or Bibles, and we don’t need just any church or just any preacher; we need the Church preaching apostolic truth.

Why Don’t Catholics Carry Bibles To Church?

If you watched the History Channel’s The Bible series, you might not have noticed that there was something missing in the last episode.  The Apostles were spreading the Gospel far and wide even as they encountered much persecution and opposition.  The number of Christians was growing substantially.  Paul of Tarsus was shown disrupting Christians as they participated in The Lord’s Supper (Mass), and inciting the crowds to murder Saint Steven.  After his conversion, Paul was shown visiting various parts of the world and preaching to them.  What was not shown were Christians carrying Bibles around.  That’s because the Bible did not yet exist (only Old Testament scrolls existed).  Nevertheless, the Gospel was being preached and people were being converted.

It is ironic that, when people start new churches and make attempts to recreate the environment of the first Christians, they bring their Bibles with them.  The first Christians had no Bibles and most could not even read.  “Faith came by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).  The Word of God was preached by the Apostles and the men they appointed.  One did not need a Bible.  All that was needed were ears to hear.

Eventually, some things were written down and letters were sent to various Christians.  Over time the Church gathered up quite a bit of written material.  But even then, people did not generally know how to read.  And the written materials were not handed out for everyone to bring to the service with them.  People still had to be read to and come to faith by hearing, not by reading.

The Church carried on in this manner for about 400 years until it was decided that the inspired writings needed to be compiled into one collection of books.  The Bible is a collection of writings, a library (from Koine Greek τὰ βιβλία, tà biblía, “the books”).  The Catholic Church had to decide which writings were inspired by God, and which ones were not.  They did this through the authority given by Christ 400 years earlier and under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Hence, we were given the Bible.

However, Christians still were not carrying Bibles to services with them.  They still could not read.  There were only a limited number of copies of the Bible.  The Bible was copied by hand over centuries.  Were it not for Catholic monks bending over tables in monasteries and protecting the copies we might not have Bibles today.  A congregation was blessed to have even one copy of the Bible.  It was so valuable it had to be protected from theft and damage.  Still, the people came to faith by hearing, not by reading.

The invention of the printing press made it possible for more folks to have Bibles.  Even then, it took years before Bibles were household possessions.  It was a mixed blessing.  More people had Bibles, but there was more confusion about what was in the Bible.  Suddenly, everyone that could read became a Bible interpreter.  Rather than being good for the Church, this phenomenon fragmented the Church.  People began to think they knew better than the Church that had written, compiled and preserved the writings for hundreds of years.  Today we have a Bible in every hand, but we also have 30,000+ ways of interpreting the Bible.  The Church is weakened in her mission to the world by such division.  People took the Bible away from the Church and started thousands of other “churches.”  This is not the Christian unity that Jesus and His Apostles had in mind.  People hijacked the Bible from the Church and coopted the name “Christian.”

Today Catholics are still listening to the Word of God being read to them (although they can certainly read along from their Bibles or the Catholic Missal if they want to).  If a Catholic goes to daily Mass, he/she will hear nearly the entire Bible over a three year period.  Literate Catholics are also encouraged, even exhorted, to read and learn the Bible outside of the Mass.  We are offered Bible studies and have access to all sorts of educational materials about the Bible.  We can even interpret the Bible as we read it, as long as we don’t come up with ideas that contradict the apostolic teaching of the Church.

The Catholic Mass is divided into sections.  One section is the Liturgy of The Word.  This is where we hold up the Bible (literally hold it up to honor and reverence it), read from it, and preach about it.  However, The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the high point of the Mass.  This is where we do what Jesus told us to do in remembrance of Him.  Even throughout the entire Mass there are words from Scripture integrated into the service.  For most Bible-Christian churches, the high point of the service is typically singing, the reading of the Bible and preaching.  Catholics also do these things, but we have preserved Christ’s emphasis on the Eucharist, His life-giving flesh and blood.

Most Bible churches have communion, but it tends to be a lesser emphasis and is only symbolic in nature.  Some churches only have communion once a quarter.  Mostly they focus on the Bible and preaching.  The Apostles would not recognize such services.  They would be looking for the Eucharist, not the Bible.  Churches that emphasize the “Bible alone” are a relatively new phenomenon, but most people are not aware of the history.  They just assume that Christianity has always been based on the Bible.  But, the reverse is true.  It is more accurate to say that the Bible is based on the Church.  The Church did not always have the Bible.  The Church came first.

So, Catholics don’t usually carry Bibles to church with them, even though the Bible is actually a Catholic book.  It’s not that we don’t believe or teach from the Bible.  For 2000 years our Faith has come by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God whether written down or not.  Catholicism is original, authentic Christianity in its fullness.  We love the Bible.  We teach and preach from the Bible.  We read and listen to the Bible.  It is a Catholic book.  It is part of us.  We carry it in our hearts wherever we go.

The Red Flags Of Religion And Tradition

There were two, main concerns expressed to me by Bible Christians when they heard that I was Catholic.  First, they were afraid that I lacked a personal relationship with Jesus.  Second, my “religion” and its “traditions” were what prevented me from having that personal relationship with Jesus.  In other words, religion and tradition are bad, relationship is good.  Whenever you hear someone make this point, red flags should begin to frantically wave.

If someone tells you that Jesus is anti-religion or anti-tradition, don’t believe a word of it.  Jesus was anti-hypocrisy.  He told His fellow Jews, “Do what the scribes and Pharisees tell you to do, because they sit on the seat of Moses.  Just don’t act the way they act” (Matt 23:1-3).  In other words, “Your religion and tradition is good, but your religious leaders are behaving badly.”

Jesus confronted the scribes and Pharisees and called them hypocrites.  Jesus also pointed out that they had piled on man-made traditions that were ruining the good, God-given religion and Sacred Tradition.  Jesus never said, “Get rid of the religion.”  He essentially said, “Stop ruining the religion that God gave you.”

Jesus took the religion that God had given the people and made it better.  He fulfilled the religion and brought it forward; He did not abolish or destroy religion.  Jesus continued the religion given by God. Jesus established His Church, placed certain men in charge of the Church, gave those men His own authority and commissioned them to spread the religion.  The religion is called Christianity.

Like Judaism, Christianity contains Sacred Tradition (Tradition with a capital “T”).  Catholics know this as “The Deposit of Faith.”  This is handed down by apostolic authority, the authority given by Christ.  For example, the Apostle’s Creed, the seven Sacraments and even the Bible are part of Sacred Tradition.  When people condemn “tradition” they are unwittingly condemning the Bible.  The Bible was given to us through the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church.  Paul said, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess 2:15).  Here we can see that both oral and written traditions are important and are given by apostolic authority.  Catholicism contains both the written and the oral Sacred Tradition.

Catholicism also has traditions (tradition with a lower case “t”) that are disciplinary, pastoral or cultural in nature.  These are not the same thing as Sacred Tradition.  However, that does not mean that these traditions impede a personal relationship with Jesus.  These are outgrowths of a personal relationship with Jesus.  Imagine, for example, a mother and a daughter making cookies together every year for Christmas.  That is a family tradition that grew out of a relationship that already existed.  Making cookies does not “replace” the relationship between the mother and the daughter.  So it is with many Catholic, lower case “t” traditions.  Catholicism does not interfere with a personal relationship with Jesus.  Catholicism is all about a personal relationship with Jesus.

There are occasions when people abuse Catholicism and/or fail to make the connection between the religion and the relationship.  This has always been the case.  That is why Jesus warned us about it.  Jesus knew that the abuses in Judaism could also happen in His Church.  Nevertheless, He established His Church and promised that it would endure by His power, not by man’s power.  It has endured.  2000 years later, the Catholic Church is still going, still spreading the Gospel, and is the largest charitable organization in the world.  After all, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).  In other words, religion should promote charity (love) and holiness.  Such is the goal of authentic Catholicism, the religion of Jesus Christ.  Those who believe otherwise simply misunderstand authentic Catholicism.

So, Catholics, when someone wants to tell you that your religion is preventing you from having a personal relationship with Jesus, red flags should begin to fly about.  Tell them that quite the opposite is true.  Your religion is a personal relationship with Jesus.  It was given to us personally by Jesus.  The more you learn The Faith the more you will know this to be true.

Jesus Vs. E.T.

There are lots of reasons I can give as to why I choose to be a Catholic Christian.  I can talk about the necessity of Church authority in a world of relativistic, secularized theologies and individualistic Bible interpretations.  I can talk about the historical consistency of the Church from Christ until today in an atmosphere of endless church splits and fragmentations.  I can talk about how the Catholic Church stands firm on issues of morality while other churches cave into public pressure and secular culture.  I can talk about the need for unity, community and guidance in a world of Jesus-and-me, church-hopping Christians who “don’t want to be told what to do.”  I can talk about 2000 years of sacred Tradition and the deposit of faith being preserved by the Catholic Church.  I can explain that, without the God-given authority of the Catholic Church, Christians wouldn’t even know if their Bibles should contain The Gospel of Thomas or The Gospel of John or the Book of James, for it was the Catholic Church that decided the answer.  I can appeal to both reason and faith from the perspective of Natural Law and theology, etc., etc.

To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, it’s hard to give a short answer as to why I decided to be Catholic, because there are at least 10,000 reasons all leading to the conclusion that Catholicism is true.  But, after all is said and done, the ultimate reason I want to be Catholic is because I love Jesus Christ, and I want to follow Him.  I want to be with Him.  But, as much as I love Him, He loves me even more, and wants even more to be with me.  I’m not content to have a long distance relationship with Christ.  It is not enough for me to only have Jesus “in my heart” and read His letters and listen to preachers talk about being with Him in Heaven some day.  I want to be with Him now.  Thankfully, Jesus wants this even more than I do, so He set up His Church to provide the means.

But it’s not all about me and Jesus.  Jesus loves us all the same.  So He set things up in such a way that we can all be with Him, and He with us, not just “in our hearts” but in our very physical presence and essence.  I used to imagine that Jesus did a kind of “E.T” thing.  In the movie “E.T.” the little alien creature goes back to space and leaves his friend Eliot behind in tears.  In order to consol Eliot, the alien points his glowing finger at his friend’s head and says, “I’ll be right here!”  In other words, “I’ll be with you in spirit, or I’ll be present in your thoughts, but actually, I’m leaving you.”

Jesus promised to never leave us nor forsake us.  He also said He would not leave us orphans.  On the road to Emmaus Jesus met the men who begged Him to stay, even though they did not recognize who He was.  Jesus did not point to their heads or their chests and say, “Don’t worry, I’ll be right here!”  No, Jesus vanished from their sight, but, as they requested, He stayed with them in the bread, and that’s how they recognized who He was.  Jesus can do anything He wants with His glorified body.  He chooses to be present with us in bread and wine, so we can all touch Him, be with Him, partake of the Sacrificial Lamb and be united in one Body with Him.  This is what Passover was foreshadowing.  We are saved by the blood of the Lamb, but we also physically partake of, and become one with, the Lamb.

Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit as the Church’s teacher, Comforter and power.  However, the Holy Spirit is not a substitute for Christ’s physical presence among us.  Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit to teach the Church what it needed to know.  One thing the Church needs to know is that Jesus is here among us!  He longs to be with us and become one with us.  The Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life and unity.  If you love Jesus, don’t just read His letters and sing songs about Him.  Follow Him and really be with Him!

A Talk With The Youth

I’m back in the saddle again after a break from writing.  Sometimes I just run out of things to say.  A period of contemplation and soaking in of the life that surrounds me usually provides some thoughts to share.  The introverted side of me is always reluctant to speak for the sake of speaking.  So, I try to have something to convey that may be pertinent to someone.

Recently, I was asked to share my story of Catholic reversion with some eighth graders at a local Catholic school.  It was part of an attempt to capture their interest in upcoming youth events that may help them stay involved with their faith as they become more independent.

Afterwards, it occurred to me that, when I left Catholicism, the Protestants I was involved with wanted to hear my “testimony.”  They wanted to hear how God had worked in my life to bring me out of Catholicism and into their fold.  Catholics had little interest in hearing about why I had left.  Upon returning to Catholicism, the only folks that openly want to hear my story seem to be Catholics.  There are no Protestants approaching me and asking me to tell why I decided to leave them and return to Catholicism.  Now, it is the Catholics that want me to “testify.”

It would be nice if everyone had a listening ear.  It would be nice if everyone had a “teachable spirit” and a willingness to hear truth spoken in love (even truth that hurts).  But, I suppose it is human nature to take sides and dig in one’s heals and feel threatened or bewildered by opposing opinions.  We all want to feel secure in what we believe.  We tend to seek out like minds to confirm our beliefs, not opposing views that challenge them.

In telling my story, it is important for me to make clear the positive contributions that both Catholics and Protestants have made in my spiritual journey.  My desire is that all Christians heed the prayer of Jesus that we, as believers in Him, “all may be one.”  Therefore, in talking about my return to Catholicism, I try to avoid an “us against them” attitude.  Obviously, it would not make sense for me to be Catholic if I did not believe Catholicism to be true.  But I try to approach that truth as one would direct a thirsty soul to water in a desert.  “It’s over here.  Come this way.  Look at this awesome gift God has given us!”

I only had a few minutes to speak to the eighth graders.  After briefly explaining how I left Catholicism and found my way back to Jesus and His Church with the help of Protestant Bible teaching, I presented them with the following scenario:

“Have you ever loved someone so much that you just wanted to be with them?  Writing a letter wasn’t enough.  Talking on the phone wasn’t enough.  You had to be with that person physically.  You had to embrace and hold that person so close that you practically melted together and became one.”  I noticed many of them nodding their heads.  “That’s what the Holy Eucharist in the Catholic Church is like.  The Bible is like letters from God.  The presence of His Spirit is sort of like talking on the phone with a loved one.  But God loves us so much, He desires to also be with us physically, and melt into us and become one with us, and us with Him (after all, He did make us eternally spiritual AND physical creatures).  God makes this life-giving embrace possible through the physical presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  The Catholic Church is where this 2000 year old miracle takes place.  That was the biggest reason for me coming back to Catholicism, and it’s the biggest reason for you to stay.”

No Longer Afraid of Mary: Becoming A Momma’s Boy

I am now 12 days into a do-it-yourself, 33 day retreat called, 33 Days To Morning Glory.  The focus is on Mary’s unique spousal relationship with the Holy Spirit and how that relationship applies to and includes us.  Much of the retreat is presented through the perspectives of four Saints of the Church, St. Louis de Monfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Mother Theresa and Blessed John Paul II.

My appreciation for Mary has been growing, even before beginning this retreat.  One resource I have found helpful is the phone app created by the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.  The app is good at explaining a balanced approach to Marian doctrine.  In my spiritual journey through various forms of Protestantism and Catholicism, I have experienced what the Marian Fathers call the two extremes of understanding Mary: Marian excess and Marian defect.  Marian excess is “to think of Mary as if she were God.  She is not God.  She is a creature, and to think otherwise is to fall into idolatry.”  I’ve noticed this approach in some Catholics.  Marian defect “means to think of Mary as being ‘just like the rest of us,’ having no particularly special significance.”  This is what I experienced in most Protestant circles where the regard Mary is given is perhaps a nod of affirmation during a Christmas play, if any.

My 20+ years in Protestantism made me skittish about having a relationship with Mary.  I now understand that Mary is all about a relationship with Jesus (as is the rest of Catholic doctrine).  Her singular goal is to bring souls to her son.  She was and is the perfect disciple.  She was the first person to accept Jesus into her heart and into her body.  Knowing Mary and becoming close to Mary is not an obstacle or a distraction from a relationship with Christ.  The opposite is true.  The role of every Christian disciple is to bring people to Christ, not just by preaching or teaching, but through relationship.  No one had a closer relationship to Jesus than His mother.  To really know Mary and have a relationship with her is to know Jesus.  (Incidentally, that’s what the Rosary is all about.  It is not just a series of vain, repetitious prayers or some kind of superstitious incantation.  It is a spiritual meditation on the life and ministry of Christ through the eyes of His mother).

Some folks will claim that Jesus was dismissive of His mother and actually put her down and/or minimized her.  Don’t let such doctrines fool you.  The Scriptures they use to support such ideas are easily shown to be misapplied.  Imagine the sinless Jesus Christ going against one of the Ten Commandments to “honor thy father and mother” and you can begin to see how misled such claims against Mary are.  Catholic doctrines reveal the true and perfect honor that Jesus Christ, the sinless, obedient God-man bestows on His mother and Father.

I’m not afraid of Mary anymore.  I’m not the least bit scared that God will be offended if I love her and embrace her.  God loves and embraces her.  She is the chosen daughter of the Father, the spouse of the Holy Spirit and the mother of Jesus Christ.  If the Holy Trinity honors and loves her so completely and perfectly, how can I go wrong by honoring and loving her, too?  It’s not idolatry, it’s being godly.  I’m looking forward to the rest of this retreat.  I love getting to know my mother and her Son, my Brother.  Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says, “Real men love Jesus?”  I would add, “…and real men are momma’s boys.”

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!

Spiritual But Not Religious (No Longer)

Why do so many people say that they are “spiritual but not religious?”  Usually it has something to do with some degree of disenchantment with organized religion.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I know why I used to say it.  For me it was a way of avoiding the grunt-work of searching for truth.  It was a non-committal, relativistic place to sit on the fence and make no real decision.  It was almost an agnostic perspective.  Since I wasn’t sure what to decide, I would make no clear decision and just be “spiritual.”

I also believed it was a way for me to be non-judgmental of others.  Choosing any particular path would mean rejecting other paths.  I would have to admit that not all paths are equal.  Calling myself “spiritual but not religious” allowed me to be “broad” instead of “narrow.”  I would not have to confront the idea that, just maybe, someone was wrong.  That didn’t seem “nice” to me.  Who was I to say someone might be wrong about the path they were on?  I didn’t want to risk the arrogance of claiming to be correct.  “Religious” meant, “My path is the correct path” and “spiritual” meant, “All paths are correct.”  I wanted to be inclusive and avoid judging others.  I ran into problems, however.  For example, it simply is not possible for both monotheism and polytheism to be true.  But I had not yet allowed myself to confront such realities.  I had not come to realize that judging a path is not the same as judging the person on the path.

One principle I failed to grasp was invincible ignorance.  I was not considering that one could possibly be “wrong” about a religious path yet still gain eternal life.  Not until I returned to Catholicism did this principle hit home to me.  I had been steeped in a Fundamentalist Christian perspective that emphatically denied Heaven to people that had never even had an opportunity to hear about Jesus.  “Too bad,” they would say.  “No missionary reached them in time.”  Such thinking helped fuel my desire to distance myself from “religion” and just be “spiritual.”  In my own way, I was trying to give those poor, un-evangelized souls a fighting chance.  “Surely, they too are spiritual, whatever their religion might be,” I thought.  I didn’t realize that the Catholic religion I had been raised in and rejected was also giving them a chance.  This same principle (among others) would also help me when it came time to decide which brand of Christianity to commit to.  Again, I had to admit that not all Christians can be correct while teaching opposing doctrines.

It also took me a while to realize that, while most religions are about humanity’s search for God and/or eternal life, the Christian path is about God coming down to seek out humanity and offer eternal life.  This is a stark contrast.  It certainly does not place all religions on equal footing.  There were other choices to consider as well.  For example, if I decided on monotheism, would I become a slave to a harsh Master/Owner (Islam’s Allah) or a son to a loving Father (Christianity’s, Abba, “Daddy”)?

Being “spiritual but not religious” also turned me into the ultimate religious authority.  I could pick and choose which things seemed best and fashion my own eclectic “religion” out of all the parts.  I became the Pope, the priest, the minister and the congregation of my own little “church of Tom.”  It didn’t matter if I got any of it wrong or misinterpreted the Bible because I was being spiritual and, as far as I could tell, it worked for me.  So, Tom created God in his own image.  It was upside down.  I could pretend that it was all about love of humanity, tolerance and acceptance, but it was really about me and what I wanted (mostly comfort).  Ironically, I was just being religious in my own, private way while saying I was “not religious.”

The more I realized that I didn’t have to climb up to find God, but that God had condescended to find me, the more I fell in love with Christianity.  When I really delved into Catholic teachings I began to realize that abusive priests, atrocities of crusaders, inquisitions, etc. were about bad Catholics, not about Catholicism.  The more I learned about the Catholic blending of faith and reason, the beauty of the Catholic religion and the lives of the Saints, the more I wanted to be spiritual AND religious.  The more I understood about the history of Christianity and the different doctrines, the more I wanted to be a Catholic Christian.

Being “spiritual but not religious” was part of my journey, but not my destination.  My journey continues as a spiritual, religious Catholic Christian.  I’m still learning.  I don’t know everything.  No one does, except God.  I do know that I am not God, and neither are you.  We should all be glad about that!  The church of Tom has disbanded.  I have discovered that truth is not an idea but a person, Jesus Christ.  I have submitted to the obedience of faith, the religion of the God that is a loving Father, and the original Church founded by Jesus Christ.  I now call myself “spiritual and religious,” yet, I judge no one (that’s God’s job).

 

(A shout out to my buddy, Steve for partly inspiring this post)