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True Worship

True worship, like true love, is sacrificial. This is why King David said, “I will not offer a sacrifice that costs me nothing.” (2Sam 24:24) The sacrifice of Christ is the ultimate example. Since Christ sacrificed for us and said, “It is finished,” then we no longer need to offer sacrifice to God, right? Wrong.

The apostle Paul said, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1) Why would God still want sacrifice if Jesus already did more than we could ever do? Because true worship, like love, is sacrificial. In order to truly love and worship God, we must still offer sacrifice. To do so is “reasonable.”

The sacrifice of Christ did not eliminate our need to sacrifice. It did, however, provide us with the means for offering a pure sacrifice. As Hebrews tells us, the sacrificing of bulls and goats could never take away sin, but the sacrifice of Jesus does take away sin. The presenting of our bodies as living sacrifices alone can never take away sin, but we can unite ourselves to the pure sacrifice of Jesus which does take away sin. “For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 1:11)

Jesus offered himself “once for all” 2000 years ago, but his sacrifice is an eternal one. Christ eternally intercedes for us and presents his offering before the Father. We, however, are not yet in eternity. Christ’s sacrifice must be applied to us now. We must offer sacrifice now. This is the purpose of the Catholic Mass where the eternal offering of Christ is made present to us. We get to join our sacrifices to his one, pure sacrifice. We offer our joys, our sorrows, our struggles, our successes, our failures, our prayers, our hymns, our lives, our everything along with the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.

“For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, for we are also his offspring.” (Acts 17:28) Without Christ, we have nothing to offer as a worthy sacrifice to God. In Christ, however, everything we have can be offered up to God. God rewarded Christ for his sacrifice, and God rewards us when we “take up our cross” and join Christ’s sacrifice. This is why even our suffering can be a redemptive expression of our love and worship to God. This is why Catholics often say “offer it up” about some pain or struggle. Our suffering isn’t pointless.

The gift of the Mass means that we can offer the sacrifice of Jesus to God along with our own lives in a pure, effectual manner. We don’t “kill Jesus” again or “repeat” his once for all sacrifice. We unite ourselves with the pure sacrifice that Jesus eternally presents to his Father. That’s why it has to be his body and his blood that we offer, not just our own. It really is true love and true worship!

God’s Relationship Rules

Every relationship comes with certain expectations, boundaries, dos and don’ts, acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, etc. In other words, rules. The rules might be spoken or unspoken, but they are there. Even saying, “Our relationship has no rules” becomes the rule! Examples of relationships include:

  • Parent/child
  • Spouse/spouse
  • Sibling/sibling
  • Friend/friend
  • Boss/employee
  • Coworker/coworker
  • Coach/player
  • Police officer/citizen
  • Pet/pet owner
  • Neighbor/neighbor
  • God/believer
  • The list goes on and on.

Every relationship comes with rules and boundaries that help to define it. This is why, for example, a dating relationship, an engaged relationship and a married relationship are different, even though the same man and woman are involved. Different words are used for different types of relationships.

The relationship between God and humanity also has certain expectations, boundaries, dos and don’ts, acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, etc. In other words, rules. The word that describes this relationship is “religion.” This is why it makes no sense to claim that Christianity is “relationship not religion.”

The fact that there are different religions with different rules simply means that we must discern which set of rules is legitimate. Ultimately, we will either settle on a religion that meets our own terms, or one that meets God’s terms. Jesus (God) said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In other words, in order to be in right relationship with God, we must follow the expectations, boundaries, dos and don’ts, acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, etc. established by Jesus. In other words, the rules, the religion of Christ.

The religion of Christ cannot be fully discerned by reading the Bible alone. This fact is evident when we observe the multitude of Christian denominations that have conflicting rules and ideas about how to be in right relationship with Christ. While these many denominations all possess some truth, they can’t all possess the fullness of truth Christ intends for his Church. Christ promised to lead his Church into all truth, not into a plethora of conflicting interpretations of scripture.

Christ established a visible Church with a visible hierarchy possessing his own authority (Jesus told his apostles, “He who hears you hears me).” Without that authority, believers end up following rules of their own making based on their own interpretations of what a relationship with God should look like. In other words, religion on human terms, not on God’s terms. We lose sight of God’s terms when we abandon the authority of God’s Church. Hence, the ultimate result of the Protestant reformation has been confusion and fragmentation rather than true reform and unity.

Christianity cannot possibly be a “relationship without religion.” On the contrary, in order to fully realize the relationship, we must choose the right Christian religion. Anything else is less than what God desires us to have, even if it does contain elements of God’s truth. After all, God came to us, we did not ascend to God. It behooves us to heed and embrace his terms for the relationship.

Can a non-Catholic Christian have a relationship with Jesus? Yes. Will that relationship include everything God intends for a relationship with him? No. It will not be the fullness of the Faith. Much of it will be based on human interpretations of scripture which followed the rejection of Church authority. This is the reverse of the process in which Jesus first establishes an authoritative, teaching Church from which scripture emerged. To take those same scriptures and attempt to build churches apart from the original authority results in the confusion and disunity we see today.

Due to all the confusion and conflicting doctrine, people have largely given up on trying to resolve discrepancies and concluded, “Oh well, I guess it doesn’t matter which church you go to as long as you love Jesus.” The popular meme “it’s a relationship, not a religion” makes it easier to swallow the idea that any set of Christian rules will do since we really can’t agree on the rules anyway. In some cases, it results in outright hostility towards legitimate practices of a “religious” nature (the definition of which depends on the opinion of the observer). Catholics, for example, are often accused of not being Christian at all because they do “religious” things. The irony is that all Christians do “religious” things.

Christians, of course, do have much to agree on. This can be a starting point, but it is not the unity Jesus and the apostles demanded and prayed for. Catholics and Protestants are united (albeit imperfectly) in Christ through baptism. However, the reality still exists that the thousands of Christian denominations with their conflicting doctrines and practices cannot all be correct. The Holy Spirit does not lead God’s people into conflicting “truths.” Only one Christian Church has claim to the historical, apostolic authority given by Christ. Like it or not, Catholicism is the only historically credible choice.

Catholicism is the fullness of the Faith. This does not mean that all Catholics have a good relationship with Christ (many do not). It does not mean that non-Catholic Christians have no relationship with Christ (many do). It means that, to have the fullest relationship with Christ as Christ intends, being Catholic is the way to go. Catholicism is the religion of Christ. It’s where we meet Christ on his terms and learn the rules for the relationship.

Catholicism Predates Constantine

You may hear people claim that the Catholic Church was started by the emperor Constantine in 313. Constantine’s Edict of Milan simply made legal the Christianity that already existed. Here are some facts about those early Christians you probably are not being told by non-Catholic sources:

The early Christians venerated saints and relics, which is a biblical principle. For example, contact with the bones of Elijah brought a dead person back to life. In Acts we read how people were healed by touching Peter’s handkerchief and even his shadow. Pagans took issue with early Christians keeping the bones of dead people close at hand. The usual practice was to keep dead people at a distance. Christians in all parts of the world have venerated saints and relics throughout history. Constantine did not invent these practices. They were already in practice from antiquity.

Interestingly, although churches were built above the relics of important saints, no one built a church above the bones of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She has no grave to visit. There was no corpse to be found. Surely, her dead body would have been venerated by these early Christians if it was still on Earth.

The early Christians were accused of cannibalism due to their liturgical practices. The Catholic Church is the only church still accused of cannibalism, primarily by non-Catholic Christians seeking to disprove the authenticity of Catholicism.

The early Christians relied primarily on the oral tradition and the successive authority of the apostles, not on scripture alone as their final authority. Not until the late 300s was the canon of scripture compiled and authorized by the bishops of the Catholic Church. Neither Constantine nor the Christians had ever heard of Sola Scriptura. Oral Tradition continued to be the primary means of Christian teaching until the Protestant Reformers asserted the novel idea of Sola Scriptura and used the invention of the printing press to promote it. Ironically, Sola Scriptura became a foundational, Protestant tradition which cannot be affirmed by scripture alone.

The early Christians already referred to themselves as “catholic” well before Constantine came along and legalized Christianity. The early Christians saw themselves as one body, not as separate ecclesial communities with conflicting doctrines. This can be observed in the works of the early church fathers.

Ignatius, the first century bishop of Antioch, is known for his use of the Greek word katholikos (καθολικός), meaning “universal”, “complete” and “whole” to describe the church, writing:

Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid.

— Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8

Early Christianity was distinctly Catholic before and after Constantine came along. Constantine’s Edict of Milan didn’t start Catholicism; it simply let it out of its cage. As Saint Cardinal Newman, a convert to Catholicism once said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”

Did Jesus Trash Religion?

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matt 5:17-20)

“Not to destroy.” Jesus did not crumble up religion and throw it in the trash; he perfected it. He fixed it. He enlivened it. Jesus fulfilled the Jewish religion so that we could all be fulfilled. Catholicism is the participation in this reality. “Behold, I make all things new.”

Consequently, Catholicism mirrors Judaism in many ways. For example:

Circumcision is no longer the initiation into God’s covenant. Jesus replaced it with the sacrament of baptism. Baptism is for everyone, not just males. Slave, free, male female, Jew, Greek, adults, infants, all (entire households) come into the New Covenant through baptism. No one is left out because Jesus made religion new.

The sacrificing of bulls and goats could never take away sin no matter how many times priests offered them up. The one, holy, perfect sacrifice of Christ does take away sin. “The next day John saw Jesus coming to him, and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.’” (John 1:29) The Catholic Mass makes us present to, and participants in, the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus (Heb 10:10). It’s an eternal sacrifice that Christ (our High Priest) continually presents to the Father. Through the Mass, we, as a priesthood of believers, along with the ministerial priest, actually offer to God the perfect sacrifice. It’s our High Priest, Jesus Christ, that makes it all possible.

We don’t only worship God through singing, prayer, preaching and fellowship. We worship God in the greatest way possible; by offering the sacrifice of God’s perfect Son. Worship requires sacrifice. Nothing in ourselves is worth sacrificing compared to God’s only Son. So, thanks be to God, he makes it possible for us to offer the perfect sacrifice. Now, that’s true worship!

Jesus transformed the Jewish Passover into the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The Passover spared the lives of the Jews that were faithful to God’s instructions. The lamb they sacrificed had to be eaten. In the Mass, we follow the instructions of Jesus: “Then Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’” (Matt 26:26-28)

Although it is a memorial, the Eucharist is not merely a symbol to help us remember Jesus. In a miraculous way (not as cannibals would!), we actually consume the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. By following Christ’s instructions, we are spared from spiritual death and given spiritual life. Comprehensible? No! Amazing? Absolutely! We trust Jesus at his word by faith.

These are just a few ways that Jesus changed religion forever. Catholicism is the closest relationship to God possible in this life.

So, the next time someone tries to convince you that “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion,” you can remind them that it’s actually both. Catholicism is a relationship with God through the religion of Christ “fulfilled” and “made new!”

The Confused Champions of Love and Choice

Although it may involve all sorts of positive and negative feelings, love itself is not a feeling. Love is a choice; a decision. Love is an act of the will. However, we live in a world where people are guided primarily by impulse and feeling rather than by will and reason. Feelings tend to be rather fickle and impulses self-serving.

Our world (particularly since the so-called sexual revolution) has become saturated with the distorted thinking pattern sometimes referred to in psychological literature as “feelings are facts.” Consequently, the “facts of life” have become distorted along with the thinking processes. Therefore, it is prudent to maintain a healthy skepticism when words such as “love” or “choice” are used to champion any cause or movement having to do with the “facts of life,” as it were. The likelihood of distortion is quite high.

No Need To Pretend.

If you have children, you probably enjoy watching them play pretend. They can pretend to be or do all sorts of things. It’s likely that you also have occasionally had to step in and say, “That’s not nice, even to pretend.” There are some things that are inappropriate enough that even to pretend to do them is not acceptable.

The same holds true for adults. I suspect that, in general, most married people would not like the idea of their spouses taking another partner out on the dance floor and dancing in a way that simulates having sex. The idea of adultery is so abhorrent that even to pretend to do it is unacceptable, particularly in public.

There are certain movies, songs, and other forms of entertainment that are worth avoiding because what they portray is not good to take into one’s heart and mind. “It’s just pretend” doesn’t always justify indulging in something.

Catholics are often criticized for their belief that they are actually eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking the blood of Jesus. “How abominable! How gross! How blasphemous! It’s cannibalism! How can you believe such a horrible thing?” Many of these objections come from non-Catholic Christians. They believe that the Lord’s Supper is symbolic.

Now, if eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking the blood of Jesus is such an abomination, why would it be okay to even “pretend” to do it? Why does it suddenly become acceptable to pretend to be a cannibal? Is that what Jesus has commanded us to do? Jesus wants us to pretend that we are doing something abhorrent simply to remember him? That doesn’t make sense. Jesus only commands us to do good.

If Jesus only commands us to do good things, then eating his flesh and drinking his blood must be a good thing. There is no reason to “pretend” in order to escape committing an abomination because it isn’t an abomination to begin with. If you actually eat his flesh and drink his blood you are doing a good thing.

“How can this be?” That’s exactly what Mary asked the angel Gabriel when he told her she was going to be pregnant with the Messiah. Her response was “I believe you, but I’m curious as to how this is going to happen since I’m a consecrated virgin (“I know not man”). Gabriel told her the Holy Spirit would do it.

When we ask, “How can this be” we are echoing many of Jesus’ disciples who asked, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus never told them that it was only symbolic, or a metaphor. He told them it would be accomplished by the Spirit (my words are spirit and life). “Spirit” does not mean “symbolic.” Just as Mary actually, literally conceived Jesus in her womb by the power of the Spirit, Jesus gives us himself to physically consume by the power of the Spirit.

When many of his disciples left him, Jesus turned to the twelve and asked if they were going to leave him too. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” This is much like Mary saying, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your will.” We don’t need to understand it in order to accept it.

When Jesus said, “The flesh is of no avail,” he was referring to people who try to figure it all out “in the flesh” or, without faith. He echoes the scripture which says “You are not in the spirit, but in the flesh.” Only God has the ability to raise the dead, control nature with a word, make the blind see and the deaf hear, etc. Only God can make a virgin conceive a child without involving a man. Only God can raise himself from the dead and make himself physically consumable to us without it being cannibalism or some kind of abomination.

There is no need to pretend to physically consume Jesus. He wants you to do it for real because he wants you and him to be that close to each other. The best way to remember someone is to actually be in their presence. Jesus commanded us to “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Catholics don’t “bite off a piece of Jesus.” We physically consume him in his entirety, body, blood, soul and divinity. There is no pretending. Only real faith in the Jesus. Come join us.

But, That Teaching Doesn’t Make Me Happy.

There is a common misconception that, if a teaching of the Church makes one uncomfortable, or somehow interferes with what one desires to do, it must be wrong. This is when many people turn on the Church and declare their right to “think for themselves.” How dare the Church “tell me what to do!” This is particularly true regarding sexual morality since the “sexual revolution.”

Partly, this behavior stems from a Western, individualistic mentality, but it also comes from the mistaken notion that being Christian is supposed to magically make one’s life “feel good.” Christianity certainly does bring joy. However, joy must not be confused with “happiness” or “always feeling good.” Joy is an abiding confidence that things will ultimately work out in this life or the next. “Happiness” depends on “happenings” and transient “feelings.” Happiness is a mood. Joy is a state of being.

Of course, there is much happiness to be found in living a genuine Christian life. But happiness is never guaranteed by Jesus. In fact, Jesus told his disciples that they would face persecution, even to the point of death. That does not sound very comfortable.

Jesus also said that unless we take up our cross and follow him, we cannot be his disciples. A cross is not a happy, comfortable thing. Just take a good, long look at a crucifix. That’s one reason we Catholics have crucifixes in our churches and in our homes. It reminds us of what Christ did for us, but it also reminds us of what Christ expects of us.

Can you be a Catholic Christian and also be happy? Of course! But, you also must be willing to accept your crosses. Doing so might not make you “feel happy.” The ultimate goal of Christianity is not to acquire happiness in this life. The goal of Christianity is getting to Heaven and bringing as many souls as possible along with you.

The teachings of the Church are there to serve the ultimate goal of Christianity. They are not designed just to make us feel good all the time. So, the next time you find yourself struggling with how difficult or “unfair” a certain Church teaching is, take a good, long look at a crucifix. Then, ask Jesus for the strength to pick up your cross and follow him. As wonderful as this life can often be, it can’t compare to where Jesus will ultimately take you. To follow his Church is to follow Jesus.