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.

Do You Blame “Organized Sports” For A Ref’s Bad Call?

“I don’t believe in organized religion.” “I’m spiritual, not religious.” These are common statements put forth by the ever-increasing population of “nones,” or, those who would check the “none” box for religious affiliation on a demographic form. Let’s look at the objection to “religion” in general and “organized religion” specifically.

Every type of relationship has “rules,” either spoken or unspoken. These rules establish certain boundaries and expectations for the relationship. For example, being fired from a job typically indicates a failure to abide by particular employer/employee relationship rules. Genuine marriage requires specific boundaries such as sexual exclusivity. Avoiding extramarital affairs is a “rule” that comes with marriage. There are rules that define the boundaries of sports and games. Without the rules, the players have no boundaries, and the game devolves into chaos.

The same people that object to “organized religion” typically have no problem with organized employment, organized marriage, or organized games and sports. In fact, much of their lives are organized around routines and expectations of behavior. Even driving around town requires a level of organization that most people accept as necessary for safety and efficiency. However, when it comes to spiritual things, somehow organization “has no place.”

If one believes in God, why assume that God is against order and organization? One look at creation affirms God’s approval of order and organization. It makes no sense to say that a relationship with such a God should be “unorganized.” In families, we call such relationships “dysfunctional.” What makes such families dysfunctional? The dysfunction is a lack of ability to form consistent, cohesive, constructive bonds with each other. They are families with disorganized relationships.

No organization is without flaw due to the human element. Religion is no exception. Interestingly, when a referee makes a bad call in a sports game, people object to that particular referee. They do not completely reject the game. In fact, they cast their objections at the referee for the sake of preserving the game’s integrity. They love the game, and they don’t want a bad referee to mess it up. However, when a “religious” person does harm, people are more likely to reject the religion entirely and bemoan “organized religion” as the culprit. This is akin to blaming football for a referee’s bad call.

Religion boils down to relationship. If one is going to have a genuine relationship with God, one must know God’s terms for the relationship. How horrible would it be to marry someone completely on your own terms? Shouldn’t your spouse have some input into the relationship? So, why believe that a relationship with God needs to be solely on your terms? Doesn’t it make sense to know and understand what God expects from the relationship? Without religion there really is no relationship. Good relationships require definition and boundaries mutually agreed upon.

Being “spiritual but not religious” is akin to being an athlete with no rules for any game. There is no real commitment to anything but one’s own athletic prowess. There is no real order to such spirituality. One has chosen disorganization over organization. One is essentially a religious denomination with a single member. Does it make sense to believe that the same God that organized the entire universe would desire a disorganized relationship with people?

Jesus established a religion. He said he would build his Church. The only way to build anything is to organize it (a fact known all too well by anyone that has ever experienced the headaches of building a house with a poor contractor). This is why the Catholic Church has been organized since Christ established it. It is also why the enemy has attempted to dismantle the Church by various means throughout the centuries. The enemy breeds confusion and disorganization in our lives and in the Church. Nevertheless, we have Christ’s promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. The Church is God’s organized relationship with us. All are welcome, not solely on our own terms, but on Christ’s terms.

Why Confess To A Priest?

Since many second graders will soon be receiving their first Sacrament of Reconciliation, it seems like a good time to reflect on this awesome gift that Christ has given to his Church.

Jesus said to the apostles, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). Jesus has the authority to forgive sins because he is God. So, why did he empower the apostles (and their successors) with this authority? Why would God want people to tell their sins to men? God hears us. Why put some man in the middle?

In the Old Testament, people were supposed to tell their sins to a priest. However, the priests could only offer up animal sacrifices, which could never completely take away sin. In the New Testament, Jesus offered himself as the ultimate sacrifice which fully takes away sin. He fulfilled the Old Testament. “Fulfilling” does not mean “destroying.” Jesus did not abolish the Old Testament. Jesus completed the Old Testament. So, now when we confess to a priest, it is a complete, fulfilled sacramental cleansing of sin because it is based on the sacrifice of Christ, not the blood of bulls and goats.

That still doesn’t explain why God insists on having a man in the middle. People often ask, “Why not confess directly to God? Why go to a priest? Here are a few reasons:

  1. When we sin, we sin against God, the Church and our fellow human beings. So, it makes sense to apologize not only to God, but also to the Church and to a fellow human being. Confessing to a priest includes all three of these elements. Making amends with individuals we have wronged is, of course, important whenever possible. The priest will likely encourage such actions.

 

  1. Most people will admit that it is usually easier to apologize to God in the silence of one’s heart than it is to apologize out loud to another human being. Let’s face it; it’s very humbling to speak your sins out loud to another person and hear your own voice admitting what you did wrong. I see this frequently in counseling sessions with couples. It can be very difficult to say out loud to someone, “I’m sorry!” This is because apologizing is an act of vulnerability. Vulnerability is essential to intimacy. The Sacrament of Reconciliation helps us to be truly humble, vulnerable and intimately connected to God in our relationship with him. It’s harder to go to confession because it “keeps the relationship real” so to speak. You have to “put it all out there.” You can’t hide within the silence of your own thoughts.

 

  1. Can God hear you speak to him without a priest? Sure. But, can you hear God speak back to you? Of course, God can “speak to your heart” in many ways. However, God did not create you as only a “heart.” He also gave you a physical body with five senses. Assuming that all five senses are working properly, God expects you to use those senses in your relationship with him (as we do with each other). That’s why the sacraments incorporate the five senses. Through the priest, you get to use the ears God gave you to actually hear the words, “I absolve you of your sins.” Your spirit AND your body are involved as God intended. Jesus ascended to Heaven, but he still has a voice for us to hear. What a blessing!

 

  1. Imagine having a disease that is difficult to diagnose and treat. Your prayer to God may be, “Lord, please heal me of this disease!” Now, imagine that circumstances place you under the care of a doctor that just happens to have obscure knowledge and understanding of what ails you. The doctor performs a procedure that cures the disease. You are overjoyed and proclaim, “Thank you, Lord, for sending that doctor to me!”

Now, who cured your disease? Was it God, or was it the doctor? The answer is BOTH! So often, we see things from an either/or perspective when we should be looking at the both/and perspective. God cured the disease by sending a doctor that had the curative power. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is similar. We go to God for forgiveness. God provides a person to whom he has given the power to be his instrument (the priest). God and the priest work together because God wills it.

Rejecting the role of the priest in God’s forgiveness is similar to rejecting the role of a doctor in curing a disease. Because we are created as spiritual AND physical beings, it makes perfect sense to include both aspects of our being in a relationship with God. This is why Jesus gave us the sacraments. They are outward, physical connections to spiritual realities. God knows we need the sacraments because he created us!

 

For further reading on this topic:

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/is-confession-in-scripture

 

Which Voice?

John 18:36-40

36 Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” 37 Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

 

We have the voice of the eternal King who is truth and who speaks truth.

We have the voice of Pilate who speaks Relativism and hands Truth over to be crucified.

Which voice do we listen to and obey?