Where Are Your Shoes?

Sometimes I’ll ask my kids, “Are you ready to go to school?” “Yep,” they will reply. Then I will look at their feet and say, “Where are your shoes?” “Oops!” This is a case of not being thoroughly equipped.

In 2Timothy 3:16 we see the apostle Paul telling Timothy the importance of the holy scriptures and how they allow the man of God to be perfect and thoroughly furnished. In verse 10 Paul has already mentioned that Timothy fully knows Paul’s doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, etc. Timothy needs these things in addition to having the holy scriptures (which, in Timothy’s case, would only be the Old Testament scriptures since the entire Bible was not even written yet).

Paul is not telling Timothy that the Bible is to be his sole authority. Paul’s message is that the scriptures are an important part of a complete set of equipment. Timothy needs the scriptures, but not without knowing Paul’s doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, etc. Timothy does not need the scriptures “alone.” This would be like telling my kids that they are fully equipped to go to school wearing only their shoes and nothing else.

Christians are not fully equipped with only a Bible (sola scriptura). We also require legitimate, apostolic teaching authority, proper manner of life, understanding of purpose, correct understanding of the faith, etc. These things are found in the Church that Christ established and continues to sustain through apostolic succession and the Holy Spirit. As Timothy needed Paul, we need the Church. Not just “any” church, but the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

MLK, Judgement and Character

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I wonder what MLK would think of the sign at a church I drive past which says, “No judgement here, only empowerment.” The pastor probably wants to attract people to the congregation and avoid repelling them by fear of judgement. The trouble is that one cannot truly achieve empowerment in the absence of judgement.

MLK actually wanted his kids to be judged, but according to right standards. He wanted empowerment for his children, but he also knew that judgement was an essential aspect of determining character. Skin color is static, not active. We can’t judge a person by skin color. Character is judged by what we do, what we say, where we go, etc. Character is based on the choices we make. How can we know if our character is good, bad, warped or disordered unless we use judgement?

In a society that preaches “don’t judge,” one is left with no real basis for determining the quality of one’s character. Feelings, like skin color, are not reliable indicators of character. People become less empowered when feelings rule their lives. For example, when two people experience fear, one may demonstrate courage and the other cowardice. Two married people may experience sexual temptation but one cheats and the other remains faithful. The same feelings reveal different character.

If we want empowerment, we must use judgement. If we want good role models for our children, we must judge the character of those role models. If we want a society filled with people of good character, we must be able to judge right behavior from wrong behavior and not be ruled by feelings or passions.

Jesus taught us to first remove the planks from our own eyes before trying to remove splinters from our neighbor’s eyes. In other words, don’t make judgments until you have your own character in order. Then you are equipped to make good judgments that help to empower others.

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.

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

“But, it’s not hurting anyone.” I used to use this as a “test” to determine if my actions were moral or immoral. As long as no one else was getting “hurt” I could do what felt best to me. However, there were problems with my approach that I was unaware of.

I was assuming that I had enough information and foresight to determine whether or not anyone was going to be “hurt” by my actions. I also had to form my own ideas about what “being hurt” actually meant. Ultimately, I was just making up my own morality to suit my wants and drives as I saw fit.

I failed to understand that there is more to morality than “not hurting others.” I also did not realize that there are ways of hurting others that may not be obvious or immediate. The consequences of some actions can be unseen or show up years later.

Lying is a good example. What makes a lie “bad?” It can’t be simply that it “hurts” other people. Some lies hurt, but some do no apparent damage to anyone. The reason a lie is “bad” is based on the “good” it opposes. The “good” is truth. Truth is a “good.” When we lie, we oppose that “good.” That’s what ultimately makes lying “bad.”

Stealing is another example. If I take $100 from a billionaire, who really gets hurt? That billionaire won’t even feel the loss. So, why is stealing “bad” in this case? What’s the “good” that is being opposed? The principle of private property is being opposed. Private property is a “good.” When I steal I oppose the “good” of private property.

Immoral behavior is not “bad” simply because others “get hurt.” It is “bad” because it opposes a certain “good.” Nevertheless, there is a chance that someone is being hurt, even if we can’t obviously see it.

Consider the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. In order to make the emperor feel good, everyone was commanded to pretend that his clothes were spectacular. The truth was that the emperor was naked.

Now, would it “hurt” people to tell the emperor how wonderful his clothes looked? Would it hurt them to pretend in order to spare the emperor’s feelings? Maybe not in the sense that people regard “hurting” someone. Yet, they are all being compelled to lie. They are opposing the “good” which is truth. They are being forced to be dishonest. They are being forced to say that the truth is bad and a lie is good. In this sense, it does hurt them. The “good” is actually better for all of them. “Honesty is the best policy” even when the truth is “uncomfortable.”

In order to recognize an immoral behavior, we first must recognize the “good” that it opposes. If all we do is ask ourselves if it “hurts” anyone, we are missing the deeper essence of morality. This is why it can be so difficult for even professing Catholics to understand and accept Catholic moral teachings. There is a profound lack of understanding of what is truly “good.” Without that foundation, we are left with only vague speculations about what may or may not “hurt someone,” and subjective feelings about “what’s best for me and my happiness.”

Unless we are able to truly see the “good,” we will fail to see the “bad.” Things eventually get “ugly.”

Religion vs. Relationship

  • There are people that are married but have no heartfelt relationship with their spouses.
  • There are people that feel very much in love with each other but they refuse to commit to marriage.
  • There are people that are very much in love with each other and demonstrate it through their marital commitment and behaviors.

Similarly:

  • There are people that follow Christ’s religion without having a heartfelt relationship with him.
  • There are people that feel love for Christ but refuse to commit to the religion he established.
  • There are people that love Jesus and demonstrate it through their religious commitment and behaviors.

So:

Don’t let anyone convince you that, in order to be Christian, one must choose between “religion” or “relationship.” On the contrary, the key is in uniting with Christ through the very religion he established.

It’s not about “religion or relationship.” It’s about “relationship through religion;” the religion Jesus established, that is. There’s little point in pursuing a religion established by anyone else if a relationship with Christ is your conscious goal. And there’s little point in belonging to his religion if you have no interest in a relationship with him.

Both marriage and Christ’s religion come with tangible boundaries, behaviors and expectations for the good of the relationship. Stepping outside of those boundaries places the relationship at risk. It is fitting, therefore, that scripture compares the relationship between Christ and his Church to marriage. And, it makes perfect sense that the forces of evil would seek to undermine both marriage and the Church established by Christ.