Category Archives: Theology

Perfect Worship

I’ve been reflecting on different ways that Christians worship God.  Here are several that came to mind:

-Music

-Prayer

-Scripture reading

-Preaching

-Liturgy

-Giving and sacrificing of self (including money, material goods, time, gifts, talents, fasting, martyrdom, etc.)

Some of these things can be witnessed in any Christian church service.  Some of them are daily activities, such as the self-sacrifice godly parents give their children in service to God, or the work one does at a job with a godly attitude.  Some are more extreme than others.  All of them are good ways to worship God.  We offer all of them to God in worship.  All of them have one thing in common: they are blemished.  They are not perfectly spotless.

There is only one thing we can offer God that is perfectly spotless and without blemish: the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  That’s why a worship service filled with musical praise and inspirational preaching is good, but not perfect.  All of those things involve our hearts and our bodies.  All of those things are both spiritually and physically lifted up to God.  But, even at their best, they are still imperfect.

In the Catholic Mass, Christians are provided the opportunity to join our hearts, our bodies and our imperfect efforts in lifting up to God the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, perfectly spotless and without blemish.  We are not only to lift him up “in Spirit” but also “in the flesh,” for it is his flesh that he gives for the life of the world.  He gave us the Spirit partly so that we could have his flesh transubstantiated into the form of bread and wine and available to offer to God as the perfect worship.

Think about it this way.  Before Christ, all we could spiritually or physically offer God was imperfection.  Now we have a choice: our own physical and spiritual imperfection or the spiritual and physical perfection of Jesus Christ.

No matter how good the music is, no matter how inspiring or convicting the preaching is, no matter how good or blessed a worship service makes you “feel,” the worship is physically and spiritually blemished unless Jesus Christ himself is spiritually and physically (i.e. completely) lifted up to God.  That’s why Jesus instituted the Mass.  He gave us the Mass so that we could worship perfectly with our whole self joined physically and spiritually to him.  The Mass is the height of Christian worship.  “This is my body, this is my blood.”

Is The Bread Of Life’s Flesh Of No Avail?

Today’s Gospel reading is from John chapter 6:51-58.  It was great to hear our priest give a homily that affirmed the physical reality of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Many claim that Jesus was being metaphorical in saying that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life.  They use verse 64 to support the idea that Jesus was talking symbolically since he says, “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is of no avail.  My words are spirit and life.”

Yet, Jesus did not say, “MY flesh is of no avail” but he said “THE flesh is of no avail.”  This was to contrast Spiritual truth with human inability to understand intellectually.  Certainly, the flesh of Jesus avails much because it is his flesh that he gives on the cross for the life of the world.  However, the flesh is our human frailty and lack of understanding, as in “The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” or “You judge according to the flesh and not after God.”  The flesh indeed profits nothing!  Our human weakness cannot match the power of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, the word “Spirit” never means “symbolic” anywhere in Scripture.  The Spirit is very real and does not “symbolize” anything.  The Spirit is the power by which God makes calm weather out of storms, water into wine, life out of dust, creation out of nothingness, blind people see, deaf people hear and bread and wine into Christ’s own body and blood.  As God said, “Let there be light” and there was light (God’s words being Spirit and life), Jesus said, “Take and eat.  This is my body, this is my blood.”  That is Spirit and life in Jesus’ words, not metaphor!

If you are a Christian, when have you actually eaten Jesus’ flesh and drank his blood, thereby receiving the power and life of the Spirit the way Jesus prescribes?  Have you been partaking of a mere symbol?  We are called to believe the Spirit of Truth, by faith, not to understand with our fleshy brains.

(For even more on this topic, read this and this)

“If You Love Me”…A Knight’s Tale

One of my favorite movies is A Knight’s Tale with Heath Ledger.  There is a part of the story where the knight’s love interest asks him to prove his love for her by intentionally losing the jousting tournament, a tournament he desperately wants to win.  He begrudgingly acquiesces to her request.  Just as he is about to lose the tournament she changes her request and demands that he win to prove his love, which he does.  When the knight’s sidekick remarks on the things one does for love the knight says, “Yes, but now I hate her!”

Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  I used to think of his words as being like the knight’s love interest.  In other words, I had to make a concerted effort through my behaviors to “prove” to Jesus and to everyone else that I love him, in some cases, begrudgingly.  It is true that love is an act of the will that is not always “easy.”  Yet, if loving Christ results in a begrudging attitude, something is amiss.  Resentment and love don’t go well together.  For example, Jesus tells us to love our enemies.  He does not mean that we approach our enemies like school children being forced to begrudgingly apologize to each other after a fight on the playground.  He means love them the way he loves them, as souls that he died for.

Eventually, I learned to hear the words, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” in a different way.  At first, it was, “You will do certain things and say certain things to demonstrate that your love for me is genuine.”  Now I hear the words of Jesus saying to me, “A genuine love for me will transform you into a new creature that naturally desires to keep my commandments.”  An analogy might be, “If you are a woodpecker, you will peck wood.”  “If you are a fish, you will swim in and breathe water.”  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” because doing so will be a natural result of who you have become.

Christians do not always love Jesus.  That is what sin is all about.  Concupiscence is that part of us that does not completely go away with the new birth.  It is the tendency to revert back to our non-transformed state of being and refuse to keep Christ’s commandments.  That’s what sin is.  It is non-love for Christ, others and self.  But, when we love Christ, we are not sinning, we are keeping his commandments.  Repentance and conversion do not happen in one moment.  They happen over a lifetime and only reach completeness when we are in Heaven with God who is love.  We need the Sacraments to sustain us and restore us.  We need the Holy Scriptures and the teaching authority of the Church to guide us by the Holy Spirit.

Hearing the words of Christ in a new way refreshed my Christian walk.  It helped me to focus less on my performance (a self-centered perspective) and more on loving Jesus (a Christ-centered and other-centered perspective).  I’m far from perfect at it, but I’m grateful for the new perspective.  I want to love Christ and to be naturally and continually transformed by him.  That’s what makes following his commandments an “easy yoke” and a “light burden.”

The Bible-Believing Church I Attend

If you ask most Christians how they know what to believe the usual response is, “The Bible, of course.  It’s the Word of God.”  Chances are, though, the Christian that gives that answer learned it from someone else.  At some point, someone taught that person that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.  In other words, it is a tradition handed on from one person to the next.  Few people spontaneously pick up a Bible and teach themselves that it is the Word of God.  Generally, other people tell them so.

So, the “handing on” of the Bible is a Christian tradition.  Christian writings have been passed on from the very beginning.  As soon as the Apostles wrote letters and Gospels they were passed on to other believers.  Yet, if we look at all the Christian writings, we notice that not all of them made it into the New Testament.  There are many other letters and even some gospel accounts that are not considered divinely inspired.  Therefore, they were not included in the Bible to be handed on to others.

Who decided which writings were divinely inspired?  Who decided what Christian writings belonged in the New Testament?  The Catholic Church made those decisions almost 400 years into Christianity.  The men that were the successors of the Apostles decided which writings belonged in the Bible and which ones did not.  But why should anyone trust them to do it?  Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth.  If a Christian is going to trust Jesus, then a Christian must believe that the Holy Spirit guided those men in the Catholic Church in deciding which writings belonged in the Bible.  Not because the men were perfect, but because the Holy Spirit is perfect.

If I believe the Bible, I have no other choice than to believe that the Church that assembled the Bible was Spirit-led.  So, I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God because I can trust the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth.  Now, if the Catholic Church got the New Testament writings put in the proper place, who am I to suggest that they are in error regarding other aspects of Christian truth?  I cannot logically say, “Oh, well, yeah, the Catholics got the New Testament writings correct, but they are wrong about this or that aspect of faith and morals.”  Either the Holy Spirit leads into all truth or he does not.  Jesus did not say, “I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you only to assemble the Bible and then new churches will be started.”  Nor did Jesus say, “All of Christian truth will eventually be put into written form in the Bible.”  There is nothing anywhere to suggest that all Christian truth must be written down.  But, there is plenty to suggest that the Church is the “pillar and foundation of truth.” (1Tim 3:15 and Matt 18:17, for example)  The Bible points to the Church as the final authority, not to itself.  The Bible is “profitable” or “useful” (2Tim 3:16) but never claims to be entirely “sufficient” in leading the Church.  There must also be an interpreting authority.

Because the Catholic Church can trace an apostolic succession all the way back to Christ and his Apostles, I can therefore trust that the Bible is indeed the Word of God.  I know the Bible is right because the Catholic Church tells me so.  Nowhere does the Bible say, “The Table of Contents is accurate.  All these books belong here.”  The Church tells me that The Table of Contents is accurate because the Church assembled The Table of Contents.  It is the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church that is being handed on with each Bible.  Every time we say that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, we are validating the Christ-given authority of the Catholic Church.

So, that is why I attend the Catholic Church.  It is the original, Bible-believing Church.  Since they got that truth right, they must have other aspects of faith and morals right, too.  Otherwise, we’re all reading from Bibles that were put together by a Church that is only Spirit-led part of the time, a Church that is led into some truth but not all truth.  Or, the gates of Hell prevailed against the Church after it assembled the Bible and thousands of new denominations with different “truths” had to be started.  That’s not what Jesus promised.  I want the whole package promised by Jesus.  That’s why I’m a Bible-believing Catholic.  The Bible is, after all, a Catholic book.

God Is Everywhere. So, Why Go To Church On Sunday?

Since God is everywhere, why can’t I worship him anywhere?  I can.  I can worship God anywhere, anytime.  I can pray to God whenever I want to.  I can even be with God, as one Facebooker said, “At Wal-Mart.”  However, there’s more than one kind of worship and there’s more than one kind of prayer.

For non Catholic Christians, the primary purpose of going to church is generally to hear preaching and to fellowship with each other.  Indeed, scripture does tell Christians to ” not forsake the gathering of yourselves together” (Hebrews 10: 25).  Nevertheless, going to church for many Christians is considered highly recommended but not obligatory.  If the preaching is boring and nobody feels inspired then there is a sense that they didn’t really “have church.” If the sermon or the singing is inspiring, then people may leave the service feeling as though they ” really had church.” In any case, communing with each other while hearing preaching and singing together is the bottom line.  So, while it is true that God is everywhere, one can only worship communally where the community is.  Hence, one good reason for going to church on Sunday.  It’s not about where God is located, it’s about where you are located.  Are you with the community of believers or are you off being an individualistic Christian?  There is worship and then there is communal worship.  For 2000 years the community of believers has met for communal worship on the first day of the week, Sunday.

Catholic Christians (the 2000 year old Church) also meet on Sunday to hear scripture and preaching and singing and prayer and to fellowship with each other.  However, although Catholics acknowledge that God is everywhere, they also recognize that Jesus is present in a unique way during the Catholic Mass.  During the Catholic Mass Jesus is present physically, not just spiritually.  Consequently, Catholic Christians are communing with each other and with God in a unique way as they receive into themselves the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.  This they do as Christ instructed at the Last Supper and in the Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John chapter six.  There is no higher form of worship or prayer than this as it is a partaking of the supreme sacrifice of Christ himself.  Therein lies the second good reason for going to church on Sunday.  The Mass happens at church.  If the preaching or the music is lackluster ” church” has still taken place because Jesus has been physically and spiritually present regardless of how anyone feels about it.  His presence is an objective reality not a subjective experience of the believer.  There is a certain grace that is only accessible in this Eucharistic banquet.

Having said all of this, isn’t the fact that God wants us to worship together on Sunday enough of a reason to go to church?  I have not been able to find anything in scripture to suggest that any Christian should be content with a ” Jesus and me” Christianity.  Christianity is about community.  Having a personal relationship with Christ and being saved is a starting point.  A Christian is born again into a family of believers.  Family meal time happens at specific times and in specific places.  A Christian who says, ” I don’t have to eat with my family” is like the adolescent that is only interested in ” doing my own thing.” The parents have to say, ” You are part of the family.  Eat with us.” This is akin to the Catholic Church declaring a Sunday obligation for attending Mass (except for valid reasons for missing).  It is also the reason many preachers can be heard to say, ” There’s no such thing as a lone ranger Christian.”

So, if you’re a Christian, don’t miss church on Sunday without a valid reason.  Not because I said so, but because Jesus himself invited you.  Why turn down such an invitation?  You can go with me if you want to!

Woe, There! This Is Not Bigotry Or Hatred

There are certain behaviors that are contrary to natural and moral law.  It is beyond the scope of this post to address each and every immoral behavior.  The general principle applies that the immorality of any given behavior is not rooted in the intent of the person doing the behavior, but the behavior itself.  Immorality is not to be confused with culpability.  It is possible to perform an immoral act without culpability (blame) when there is lack of sufficient knowledge regarding the immorality of the act.  In other words, if a person has been taught that an immoral act is “fine” to do and sincerely believes it is not wrong, there is less blame to be placed on that person for the act.  Yet, the act itself remains an immoral one.  Just as gravity is gravity because it is gravity, an immoral act is immoral because it is immoral, not because people deem it immoral.

If I recognize the immorality of a certain behavior, it is my responsibility not to condone such behavior as moral.  If someone asks me, “Do you think such-and-such behavior is acceptable?” my answer must be, “No, I do not.”  If asked to support such behavior within the realm of legality and legislation, my response must be, “I cannot in good conscience support that behavior with my vote.”  The fact that multitudes of people fail to recognize the immorality of the behavior may reduce their culpability, but it does not make the immoral behavior moral.  The fact that multitudes of people believe the immoral behavior to be an inalienable human right does not make the behavior moral.  The fact that multitudes of people may have an inborn tendency towards performing the behavior does not make the behavior moral.  The fact that “most” members of my Faith supposedly do it does not make the immoral behavior moral.

Keep in mind that I am referring to behaviors.  This concerns what people do, not who or what people are.  Morality is about the choices we make.  Often we must make choices that are moral despite our desires and feelings that lead us toward immorality.  Feelings and desires do not alter the morality of a behavior.  All of us have feelings and desires that can pull us into immoral behaviors.  This is called sin, and we all have it somewhere in our lives in varying forms and degrees.  We all have to make the choice to either rationalize and justify our sins or repent of our sins.

If I recognize the immorality of a behavior, I do not necessarily have to place blame or culpability on the person performing the behavior.  I do not need to judge the person, the person’s soul or the person’s intentions in order to judge the fundamental behavior.  This is the problem with the “Judge not lest you be judged” argument people use to justify immoral behavior.  They rip that scripture verse from the Bible, divorce it from its context, and use it as a weapon against anyone that recognizes the immorality of their behavior.  All of us need to judge behaviors on a daily basis.  That is called knowing right from wrong.  Only God can judge the person the soul and the intentions.

Disagreeing with a behavior does not constitute bigotry.  Again, behaviors are choices we make, unlike skin color, gender, age, physical handicap, sexual attraction, etc.  If I recognize the immorality of a behavior and refuse to call it moral, that does not make me a bigot.  It does not make me a “hater.”  In fact, pointing out the immorality of a behavior can be one of the most loving things a person can do as a spiritual act of mercy.  If I condone the behavior and pretend it is moral, I could be helping to jeopardize that person’s soul.

If I disagree with a behavior, it does not mean I necessarily fear the person that performs the behavior.  (There might be some fear of displeasing God if I condone the behavior, however.)  Recognizing an immoral behavior does not make me “phobic.”  It does not mean I fear the person, hate the person or desire to restrict the rights of the person.  It simply means I recognize the behavior as immoral, and refuse to call it something other than what it is in order to placate the feelings of someone or give in to political correctness.  It does not mean I am cruel or without compassion.  It means I am doing my best to be honest, and that I can see no good for anyone in pretending that the immoral is moral.

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”  (Isaiah 5:20)

Captain Jack Sparrow’s Compass

When training to be a pilot, I was taught that there is more than one navigational “north.”  Magnetic north is oriented to the magnetic field of the earth.  True north is oriented to the pole on which the earth rotates.  Magnetic north and true north do not line up with each other.  The closer one navigates to the North Pole, the more “off” the magnetic compass will be.  In other words, if you want to get to the North Pole, don’t follow your compass unless you have taken into account the difference between magnetic north and true north.  One must also consider other forces that can influence the accuracy of a magnetic compass such as metallic structures of the aircraft and other electronic equipment.

The ability to distinguish right from wrong is often referred to as a moral compass.  A person with an accurate moral compass is better able to navigate through a world of complex moral decisions.  A moral compass might be likened to one’s conscience.  To follow one’s conscience, then, is to follow one’s moral compass.  Like a magnetic compass, a moral compass can lead in the wrong direction if not properly calibrated.  As there is only one true north based on an unmovable, fixed axis, there is only one true, fixed morality.  The accuracy of a moral compass can be influenced by many factors.  To “follow your conscience” may or may not lead to a truly moral decision.

Has your moral compass been calibrated?  To what fix was it calibrated?  Who calibrated it?  What is it really pointing to?  The moral compass of human nature tends to be like the compass of Captain Jack Sparrow.  It points to what is most desired.  Morality becomes rationalized and subject to desires rather than to truth.  Society is relativistic.  In a world where “all things are relative” a moral compass becomes obsolete since there is no moral “North Pole.”  There is no standard, unmovable, absolute truth in a relativistic society.  There is no point on the map, no North Star, no fixed morality upon which to get one’s bearings.  Anything goes.  Go wherever you want to go, do whatever you want to do, and please, don’t judge the behaviors of anyone else.  They are all just following their own compasses, after all.  Who are you to judge?  Don’t be a hater!

The only quasi-standard that seems to remain is the mantra, “As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.”  This view presumes to know the future consequences of every action.  Furthermore, there are some moral actions that do hurt people.  Whether or not “someone gets hurt” is a flimsy point on which to fix an entire system of morality.  It is really just another gimmick in the rationalization bag of tricks.  “Well, I guess it is fine for me to do this as long as no one gets hurt.”  This is the response many parents receive from a disobedient adolescent caught throwing a wild, destructive party.  “What’s the big deal?  No one got hurt!”

A properly calibrated moral compass can also be called a rightly formed conscience.  There are many influences competing for the formation of conscience such as Hollywood, the music industry, politics, religion, feminism, communism, socialism, hedonism, capitalism, conservatism, liberalism, conservationism, etc.  Where is the moral “North Pole?”

Many will respond, “The Bible is the standard of morality!”  Yet, people interpret the Bible in many different ways, usually to support their own desires, beliefs and agendas (hence, the problem of “Sola Scriptura” or “The Bible Alone” as a standard of authority).  Whose interpretation of the Bible is the standard?  Furthermore, how many people actually check their behavior against the standard of the Bible?  When faced with a moral issue, how many people even know where to look in a Bible for the answer?  Ultimately, people tend to lean on what their particular church or pastor teaches about the Bible rather than the Bible itself.  In other words, they are not using the Bible as the standard for morality, but a particular interpretation of the Bible as the moral standard.

Some say, “Just follow Jesus!  Do what Jesus would do!”  Again, as with Scripture interpretation, there are differing opinions on who Jesus is and what Jesus would do.

Some may say, “Love!  Love is the standard for morality!  All you need is love!”  But, what kind of love are they talking about?  Is morality based on brotherly love (philia), erotic love (eros) or godly, selfless love (agape)?  Seldom are those who cry, “Love!” willing to pay the sacrificial price required for a true expression of godly love when it comes to making moral decisions.  Often, doing that which is moral requires great personal sacrifice.  If one’s moral compass is calibrated so as to navigate around and avoid great, personal sacrifice, then it is not calibrated according to love.

There are teachings of Catholicism that I find difficult to accept.  Yet, my difficulty in accepting them does not make them untrue.  In fact, when placed against the wisdom of 2000 years of global experience, my own life experience pales by comparison.  Even the short, collective experience of the great nation I live in pales by comparison.  The Catholic Church and her teachings have outlived every empire.  As the world ebbs and flows and shifts on shaky sand, the Church remains rock solid in her official teachings on morality.

When choosing a fix by which to calibrate a moral compass, the Catholic Church has the right stuff.  The Church has the biblical interpretation and traditions handed down from the apostles.  Throughout history, the Church’s teachings on morality have reflected and demonstrated sacrificial, agape love (even if some of her members have not).  Jesus is in the Church spiritually and physically.  By following the Church I am following Jesus.  God is love.  Jesus is God.  The Church is the Body of Christ, authorized by Christ himself.  Who am I to set my moral compass to any other point of reference?  Who am I to relocate the North Pole?

Growing Younger

When I was young
It seemed that life was so wonderful
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical
And all the birds in the trees
Well they’d be singing so happily
Joyfully, playfully watching me

But then they send me away
To teach me how to be sensible
Logical, responsible, practical
And then they showed me a world
Where I could be so dependable
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

I can identify with these lyrics of The Logical Song by Supertramp.  I’ve always tried to retain a sense of awe and wonder about life and avoid a cynical attitude.  It’s hard to do sometimes.  The responsibilities of adulthood can become rather tedious and frustrating to the youthful boy inside me.  I’ll admit that I give in to my melancholy side on occasion, until I realize I’m just pouting.  Then I look for something wonderful and awe inspiring to pull me out of my funk.

When I was a boy, it was easier to find the wonder in life.  I suppose that’s just the state of innocence.  Some of my boyhood fascinations have lost their luster.  I’ve seen “the man behind the curtain.”  The glitter has rubbed off.  Other fascinations have endured.  For example, I can still stare at the moon with awe and wonder, or look at a space photo of the Earth and try to comprehend all the people that ever lived on it.  I can look at my own children and become lost in how amazing they are.  I also find more awe and wonder in my relationship with God as I grow older.

Recently, I have gained a greater appreciation for the union of the material and the spiritual.  There are many Christians that adopt a sort of dualism into their faith that can become rather cynical.  Life becomes all about getting out of this “bad” material world and into the next “good” spiritual world.  But that’s not really the goal of a Christian.  The goal is to be transformed in body and in soul so that we can live in the world as it is and as it will be.  In the resurrection we will get new bodies.  We will not be disembodied “ghosts.”  We will not be pure spirits like the angels.  We will continue to be the unique bridge between pure spirit and pure material, a hybrid of sorts (1Cor 15:51).  We will still be human, just changed humans.  There will be a new Earth for us to stand on.  That which is material will not be completely going away, but it will be renewed (Rom 8:22-23).

These days I look upon the future new Earth and my future new body with childlike awe and wonder.  It is a playground for the imagination that I will never grow out of.  In fact, the older I get, the more fascinating it becomes.  The great thing is that it is not just a fantasy I have to eventually wake up from, like a book or a movie, but the reality of life.  In fact, it is the essence and purpose of life.  It’s not that this present world no longer holds my interest.  It’s just that I have realized that the boy I used to be has not been shelved in a closet of memories.  My boyhood fascination with life was just an appetizer for the ultimate experience of living.  I will always and forever be a child of God.  I’m growing younger.

(Partly inspired by “The Little Way” of St. Therese of Lisieux, The Little Flower)

Can You Give And Accept An Apology?

One thing that often comes up when counseling couples is the issue of apologies.  I often ask spouses, “Do you apologize to each other,” or  “What is it like for you to apologize?”  A follow-up question is, “Are you able to accept apologies?”

A sincere apology requires humility because pride must be swallowed.  Some people have such an aversion to being wrong that it obstructs their empathy towards others.  They assume a defensive stance as they think only of self.  It’s hard to embrace someone through a suit of armor or a castle wall.  Apologies require vulnerability.  The armor must come off.  Knights wear armor for fear of swords and arrows.  When the armor comes off, vulnerability increases and so does the fear.  Apologizing can be difficult because one must drop the defenses.

Some folks apologize incessantly.  This is usually a sign of an insecure, passive type of person and/or an abusive relationship, not a healthy relationship.  There’s no reason for a genuine apology unless there has been a genuine offense.

Accepting an apology is another matter.  It’s even harder to drop the defenses and apologize to someone who can’t accept an apology graciously.  Some people use the apologies of others as opportunities to “twist the knife,” as in, “Darn right you shouldn’t have done that, you big jerk!”  A sincere apology is a gift.  The proper response to a sincere apology is, “Thank you, I accept your apology.”  The acceptance should then be followed up with genuine forgiveness.  One who holds a grudge, pouts or gives “the silent treatment” has not really accepted the apology.

I saw a quote once that said, “Marriage is an adventure in forgiveness.”  Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive someone seven times.  Jesus told him, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matt 18:22)  Of course, the point is not to forgive a person 490 times and then quit.  The point is to always be forgiving.  Forgiveness is not necessarily a onetime event.  Often we have to say, “Oh yeah, I forgave them for that yesterday, so I need to stick with it.”  Similarly, marriage is a choice we make every day, not just on our wedding day.

Forgiveness is not the same as trust.  If someone whacks me with a stick when I walk past, I can forgive that person.  That doesn’t mean I have to trust that person to cease the stick-whacking.  “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  If the person displays sincere remorse and proper behavior over time, however, trust may be reestablished.  One forgives in order to avoid carrying around a cancerous grudge, not in order to “let the person off the hook” of responsibility.  I can forgive someone for stealing my car, but the car still needs to be returned and/or jail time must be served.  This, by the way, relates to the Catholic understanding of penance, indulgences, Purgatory and the temporal punishment for sin that remains even after we have been forgiven of our sins.  Of course, Christ forgives our sins.  We are still responsible to make amends wherever we can.  That’s the fruit of true repentance.  Scripture tells us to avoid the altar until we have made amends.

So, if a marriage is rocky, each spouse can benefit from asking, “What am I not forgiving my spouse for?” and “What am I not apologizing for?”  Making amends is a sign of true friendship, spiritual humility and a happy marriage.

The Gospel: Simple, Easy Or Both?

Things that are simple are not always easy.  Eating your favorite ice cream is simple and easy.  Swallowing bitter medicine is simple but not easy.  It can be quite difficult to do some things that are not at all complicated.  In the Indiana Jones movie, The Last Crusade, there is a scene where Indian Jones has to step out onto a bridge that cannot be seen.  It is essentially a leap of faith.  It is an uncomplicated, simple act.  Just step off of the cliff.  But it is at the same time a very difficult act.  “Simple” does not automatically imply “easy.”

The Gospel is simple.  All one has to do is place faith in Christ.  Doing so has been called by some the simplest yet most difficult thing in the world.  The difficulty arises because in order to place trust in Christ we must let go of whatever else holds our trust (usually our own pride and personal opinions).  It’s really the letting go that causes the difficulty.  It’s like stepping off of the cliff when you can’t see the bridge.

The Bible tells us of the rich, young man that asked Jesus what he needed to do to be saved.  He had kept the law and told Jesus so.  “What else do I lack?” he asked.  “Sell everything you have, give it to the poor and come follow me,” Jesus told him.  The young man went away sad because he had many possessions.  Simple, but not easy.  There is always something to let go of.  That’s the hard part.

There are many folks that have left Catholicism in favor of a “simple Gospel.”  I used to be one of those folks.  It took me a while to realize that being Catholic isn’t complicated.  It’s really quite simple.  Just trust Jesus.  He said he would build his Church, so just trust him.  Follow his Church.  He put it there for a reason.  That doesn’t mean it will be “easy.”  There are some teachings of the Church that are not easy to submit to.  But that’s not a problem with the teaching, that’s a problem with me letting go of something (usually my own pride or control).

Lots of people leave Catholicism not because they have discovered a more “simple” Gospel, but because they want an easier Gospel that conforms to their own opinions and lifestyles.  Church teachings can be difficult to submit to.  The same can be said of Christ’s teachings.  Just ask the rich young man.  The problem was within him, not within Christ’s teaching.

Catholicism has 2000 years of depth and richness to explore.  In that sense it is complex and multifaceted.  But it is simultaneously simple.  St. Therese of Lesuix (The Little Flower) spoke of her “little way” of simple faith in Christ.  Yet, she was so deep and profound in her spirituality that she was declared one of only 30 “Doctors of the Church.”  That’s one thing I love about Catholicism.  It is so deep yet so simple.

Being non-Catholic was, in some ways, more complicated with all the differing doctrines and opinions on faith and morals.  It was like being set adrift with no one at the helm.  I found myself looking for a church that aligned with what I believed.  That made me the final authority, not Christ and his Church.  It can be easier to belong to a church that believes everything the way you do (or to belong to no church at all).  But that’s when you create God in your own image.  It’s easier to build a golden calf than to trust God and follow his lead.

The Gospel is very simple.  Just follow Christ and the Church he built for you.  Easy?  Not always.  Simple?  Yes.  Not complicated at all.  It’s a simple leap of faith.  When your feet hit the bridge, that’s when the “yoke is easy and the burden is light.”