Tag Archives: Body of Christ

Becoming One Flesh: Eucharist And Marriage

Dr. Scott Hahn recently posted an excellent Facebook response to a question about the Eucharist being closed to non-Catholics.  His answer reflected on his own spiritual journey from Evangelical Christian to Presbyterian minister to Catholic.  Each step in his journey brought him closer to understanding the sacramental aspect of both marriage and the Eucharist.  Each relationship is a “one flesh” union requiring fidelity and integrity.

As I reflected on Dr. Hahn’s answer, it occurred to me that perhaps a lack of understanding about the Eucharist and marriage contributes to the wide acceptance of contraception.  For example, if marriage is not viewed as a sacrament, it becomes only a symbol and loses integrity.  It can be manipulated according to the will of anyone desiring to make use of its symbolism.  If Holy Communion is only a symbol, it loses any need for fidelity.  Anyone can “join in.”  There is no need for full union between participants.  The Eucharist becomes merely a symbol of common feelings rather than a reality of a “one flesh” union.  Since everyone “feels good” about Jesus, they should all be allowed to partake of the Eucharist, right?

Ironically, few married people would be comfortable becoming one flesh with someone they were not fully united to in marriage.  That’s called infidelity and it is rightfully frowned upon by most married people.  We don’t let everyone “join in.”  So, why should we be ok letting people “join in” the one flesh union of the Eucharist if those people are not fully united with Christ’s Church?

And why should we let people partake of the Eucharist if they don’t even believe that what they are participating in is an actual, “one flesh” union?  That’s like being in a contraception marriage.  There are lots of “good feelings” that feel like bonding, but there is not a one flesh union taking place in the marriage.  It is a lack of integrity.  The marriage is only symbolic of the feelings they have about each other.  They do not take the marriage to its full realization of a one flesh, life giving union.

One of the best ways for the devil to mess up our relationship with Christ is to promote the following errors:

–          The Holy Communion is only symbolic.  The bread and wine are not transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.  We don’t need to become one flesh with Christ at Communion.  All we need is our good feelings about Jesus and the Bible.

–          Contraception is fine and even preferable.  Sex and marriage are mostly about bonding and “good feelings,” not primarily about becoming one flesh and creating new life.

–          Anyone that believes in Jesus should be allowed to participate in Holy Communion.  No fidelity to the Church or her Christ-given authority is necessary.

The two Sacraments of Eucharist and Marriage are intimately connected in such a way that an attack on one serves as an attack on the other.  A deeper understanding of one leads to a deeper understanding of the other.  “Becoming one flesh” is a critical theme that connects the two Sacraments in a unique way.

Catholics are not mean, snobbish “elitists” that refuse to let other Christians “join in.”  We simply hold to the understanding of Jesus and the Church Fathers who saw the need for covenantal integrity and marital fidelity within marriage and within the Church.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Church Of The Unsatisfied

God gave the Israelites manna in the desert.  Without that miraculous food, they would have starved to death.  It literally kept them alive.  But, human nature kicked in.  They grew tired of the manna and began to complain.  “We want more options.  We want more variety.”  Manna, no matter how miraculous, was no longer good enough.

Jesus took a few fish and some loaves of bread and miraculously fed thousands of hungry people.  They followed him around wanting even more.  “God gave our ancestors manna in the desert.  What sign can you give us?  What can you do?”  They had just been miraculously fed, but they wanted more.  The miracle of the fish and loaves wasn’t good enough for them.

Jesus told them He would provide the true food and true drink of His flesh and blood to sustain their eternal life.  They lacked understanding.  Many then turned away from Him, and the betrayal of Judas took root at this point.  For many of Christ’s disciples, His flesh and blood were not good enough.  They wanted more.  At the Last Supper, Jesus pointed out Judas as the betrayer, and showed the apostles the miracle of the Eucharist.  He had told them earlier that they would need to eat His flesh and blood, and now He showed them how to do it in a miraculous manner.

Manna was not good enough for the Israelites.  The miracle of the fish and the loaves was not good enough for the multitudes following Jesus around.  His flesh and blood were not good enough for many of His disciples.  Human nature has not changed much.  His flesh and blood are still not good enough for many Christians today.  They want more.  More programs, more coffee, more doughnuts, more music, more excitement, more Bible studies, more interesting preaching, more miracles, etc.

What more can Jesus give than His very flesh and blood poured out and crucified for our forgiveness and salvation?  What is more miraculous than the God of the universe humbling Himself in the form of bread and wine in order to spiritually and physically unite with His own, spiritual/physical creations?  Add the other six sacraments and we not only have life, but life more abundantly.  Why do we grumble?  Don’t we have enough?  We don’t even deserve what we do have.  Do we really believe?  God help our unbelief.

Is Catholicism A Cult?

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

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

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

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

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

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

— From Christianity Today website

 

So, are Catholics members of a cult?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Another Man In The Presence Of Jesus

The History Channel’s The Bible series was watched by lots of people.  I enjoyed most of it.  There is only so much that can be covered in the time they had.  Obviously, they left a lot out.  I thought some of what they left out could have been covered.  For example, at Pentecost, the disciples spoke in other languages, but they were not shown talking that way to the public.  And it didn’t show how the public thought they were drunk.  There was nothing shown about the Roman guards at the tomb of Jesus or the angels that were there, the road to Emmaus, etc.  Despite all they left out, it was still an interesting program to watch.

I liked that the show demonstrated the humanity of the disciples pretty well.  Even with Jesus staring them in the face they still acted human.  They were in the direct presence of Jesus for three years, but they were not groveling on the ground or prostrating themselves the entire time.  Sometimes they were scared, or they fell asleep, or they had a bad attitude, or they were apathetic, etc.  This is just like we are today, even in the real presence of Christ we have good days and bad days.  Followers of Jesus are not perfect.  Jesus is perfect.

Knowing my humanity, I try my best to do this when I go to Mass:

– I listen carefully to the Scriptures and the sermon.

– I’m mindful of the fact that I am about to encounter the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ and receive Him into my whole self, body and soul.  (“This is my body, this is my blood.”)

– I remember how the disciples fell asleep after Jesus asked them to pray with Him.

– I remember how Thomas doubted until he saw the wounds on the living Christ and then said, “My Lord and my God.”

-I remember that Jesus said to Thomas, “You see me and you believe.  Blessed are those who have not seen, yet still believe.”

– I remember how Peter denied even knowing Jesus and then repented.

– I remember that all the heavenly saints and angels are also worshiping at this Mass and every Mass.

– I think about how Mass is constantly being said at some point on Earth at all hours of every day and how this links us to each other and to Heaven.

-I remember that there is faith, hope and love, and that the greatest of these is love.

-I remember that God is love, that Jesus is love in flesh and blood, and that I am there to receive that flesh and blood.

-I remember that we are what we eat, so I need to let Christ nourish me and change me into God’s love.

Love Means Sometimes Having To Say You’re Sorry Out Loud

Imagine that you were born in a primitive part of the world that had no access to technology.  Imagine that you had never seen a cell phone or a television or a radio.  Then one day, a stranger showed up in your land.  Somehow, this stranger knew your language, and he told you about the place he was from and some of the people he knew.  Intrigued, you said to the stranger, “I would like to meet some of those other people, too.”  “Of course,” said the stranger, “I will ask them to come join us.”  Then, the stranger pulled out a little, square, black object from his pocket and began to speak to it.  After putting the object back into his pocket, the stranger said, “They will be here tomorrow morning to meet you.”

Confused, and thinking this person might have a screw loose, you said to the stranger, “I thought you were going to talk to your friends about coming to visit.”  “Yes,” said the stranger, “I just spoke to them.”  “No, you didn’t, you spoke to that thing in your pocket.”  “Well, that is a phone.  It allows me to communicate with my friends.”  “You mean you don’t have to speak directly to your friends?  You can speak to that little phone and it does everything for you?”  Well, no,” explains the stranger, “I was actually speaking to my friends through the phone.  The phone is an instrument through which I speak directly to my friends.”

After a crash course in basic technology you begin to understand how the phone operates.  Once you understand about radio waves and electronic speakers, transmitters and receivers, you can see just how much sense it makes.  At first it seemed like the stranger was a confused, crazy person talking to a little black box.  Now it seems like a good idea.

In a similar way, non-Catholics (and even some Catholics) think it is unnecessary and even silly to confess one’s sins to a priest rather than going “directly to God.”  What is misunderstood is that Catholics are going “directly to God” when they confess to a priest.  The priest is merely God’s chosen instrument.  God realizes that we, being physical and spiritual creations, benefit from actually speaking our sins out loud to another and hearing the words of absolution audibly spoken back to us.

When Jesus walked the earth 2000 years ago, His followers got to use their physical mouths to speak to Him and their physical ears to hear Him say, “Your sins are forgiven.”  Jesus did not communicate to them strictly through telepathic or “spiritual” means.  He spoke and listened like a man to other men and women.  2000 years later, Catholics still have access to this gift through the priest.  Jesus is right there the whole time.  Jesus listens and Jesus forgives through His instrument, the Priest.  This is the system established by Christ.  It is the way Christians are to find forgiveness (especially for mortal sins) apart from “emergency” situations that I will not cover here.  Suffice it to say that the normal way to drive a two lane highway is to not cross the solid, center line.  In certain emergencies, crossing the center line might be necessary.  The normal or “ordinary” way for Christians to find forgiveness for sins (particularly mortal sins) is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  But there is no reason to avoid the Sacrament for venial sins as well (even though these can be forgiven apart from the Sacrament of Reconciliation).

In a sort of reversal of the phone analogy, people today see the Sacrament of Reconciliation as “obsolete technology.”  In other words, why pick up the “phone” to call someone when you can just instantly “be” with that person (i.e. Jesus in spirit).  “We can talk directly to Jesus anywhere!  Why do we need this ancient, “go-between” priest nonsense?”  This attitude is an outgrowth of the “Jesus and me” theology that is so prevalent today.  This theology emphasizes a one-on-one relationship with Christ at the expense of the corporate, familial, sacramental reality of the Church.  This can be seen in the attitude that says, “As long as I’m not hurting anyone else, it’s ok.”  But sin is not just between the sinner and God.  Sin hurts the entire Body.  If one member of the Body is sick, the whole Body suffers.

We humans tend to deceive ourselves and justify our sins.  It’s too easy to “talk to Jesus” about things and not be truly honest with ourselves.  We can too readily fashion Jesus into who we want Him to be.  We don’t like to confront and admit sin.  The priest can help us discern if we are being too hard or too easy on ourselves.  So then, why not just talk to a trusted friend or a therapist?  We can derive some psychological benefit from doing so, but Christ did not give the authority to “bind and loose” to your friends or to therapists.  Christ did not say to your friends or your therapist, “Whosoever sins you forgive are forgiven and whosoever sins you retain are retained.”  Christ gave that authority to specific men in His Church and to their successors.

It is one thing to “be sorry” and another thing to “say you are sorry” (despite what the Movie Love Story might want us to believe).  I see this frequently in my counseling office.  People tend to be defensive and avoid admitting their faults.  Getting an apology from some folks is like pulling teeth.  So many marriages would be a lot happier if both partners knew how to apologize and how to graciously accept an apology.  As earlier stated, sin affects not only the sinner, but the entire Church, His Body.  Therefore, Christ wants us to make our apology and find healing through the Church, His Body.  He wants us to do the real work of humility and actually speak our sins out loud to the Church.  He wants us to make a full apology through His Church.

When Jesus healed the blind man, He made mud with spit and dirt, put it on the man’s eyes and then told him, “Go wash in the pool.”  Imagine the blind man saying, “Forget all this mud and washing nonsense, just heal me now, Jesus!”  No, the blind man did as Jesus instructed and was healed.  Jesus often gave specific instructions to those He healed.  Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever hears you hears me,” and “Whosoever sins you forgive are forgiven, whosoever sins you retain are retained.”  Yet, we often say to Jesus, “No, I don’t want to go through that process to call upon your Name, express my personal belief in You and find healing for my soul.  It’s too humiliating, too inconvenient, too old fashioned, too complicated, too messy.  I want to do it my way.  Just forgive me now, Jesus.  I don’t need Your apostles or their successors or any of Your Church getting in the way of my relationship with You.”

“I Have A Personal Relationship With Christ. Before That I Was Catholic.” Umm, We Need To Talk

While browsing through the comments on a non-Catholic, Christian friend’s blog, I noticed the following comment:

“My husband and I accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Savior 6 years ago. Before that we were catholic. I am grateful that I have an infallible source, God’s Word.”

Her comment made me cringe for several reasons.  First, it sounded like something I would have said several years ago as an uninformed, fallen away Catholic.  Secondly, it demonstrates how misunderstood Catholicism is, even by its own members.  Thirdly, it shows how unprepared Catholics are to defend their own Faith and share it with others.  It also shows a common misunderstanding of authority.  Lastly, it suggests that Catholics do not have personal relationships with Jesus Christ and are therefore not Christians.

I know where this person is coming from, because I used to have some of the same misconceptions.  So, my goal is not to criticize or belittle this person in any way.  Finding a relationship with Christ is awesome, and I’m happy for her and her husband.  At the same time, I’m sad for her because she did not need to leave Catholicism to have a personal relationship with Christ.  In fact, there is no better way to draw close to Christ than through authentic Catholicism.  I stress authentic Catholicism because there are lots of caricatures and misconceptions about Catholicism floating around.

For the past fifty years or so, the Catholic Church has not done a great job of catechizing the faithful.  Hence, most Catholics are ill prepared to “give an answer for the hope” that lies within them (1Peter 3:15).  But, the failure to catechize does not make Catholicism untrue.  It just means that Catholics are not prepared to explain why it is true to those who have questions or who seek to lure them away from the Church.  They are “easy prey.”  Hopefully, this is improving with the explosion of Catholic apologetics and the New Evangelization being promoted.  The new Pope also will be an essential element in addressing many issues, as will the new crop of younger priests.

The woman in the comment has bought into the (relatively speaking) new Protestant idea of Sola Scriptura.  In other words, only the Bible is her infallible authority.  She apparently has rejected the biblical principle of Church authority that was established by Christ, taught by the apostles, written into Scripture and handed down as part of the deposit of faith.  She is glad to “have an infallible source, God’s Word.”  She had that same Bible in the Catholic Church, but she now has no infallible interpreter of that Bible.  She has knocked a leg off of what was a solid, three legged stool.  She has entered the world of thousands of conflicting interpretations of The Word.  She has no way of knowing who is right about the Bible.  She has discarded the system established by Christ.  She has replaced the Catholic Pope, Peter’s successor, with some other pope, even if that pope is herself, her husband or her minister.  She is likely making the all-too-common mistake of equating Papal infallibility with impeccability.  Even Peter was not impeccable.

Finally, Catholicism provides more than ample opportunity for people to have a personal relationship with Christ.  Catholics that don’t know this are simply not listening, not hearing or not understanding.  Everything about authentic Catholicism points back to Christ.  Frankly, I don’t know how Christ can get more personal than to give us His very flesh and blood and allow us to join with Him physically, even on a daily basis if we so choose.  Catholics pray the “sinner’s prayer” when they go to confession.  It’s called the Act of Contrition.  But only Catholics that actually practice their Faith as they are called to do would recognize this fact.  We hear Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures at every Mass, throughout the entire Mass.  We are given a chance to confirm our Faith in the Sacrament of Confirmation.  We openly renew our baptisms and our profession of faith.  From before conception to deathbed and beyond, Jesus is personally active in the life of a Catholic, and the Catholic has every opportunity to choose Christ.  Jesus is there the entire time, waiting for us to reciprocate and love Him back.

No one needs to leave Catholicism to have a personal relationship with Christ and be a Christian.  Catholics that leave Catholicism simply do not understand what they are leaving behind, or they would not go.  They are leaving behind the very vehicle by which Christ makes Himself personally available to us.  They are leaving behind the fullness of the Faith.  There really are no “former Catholics.”  There are simply fallen away Catholics that have lost sight of what was given to them and confirmed in them.  They have lost sight of home.

Not only are Catholics Christians, they are the original Christians.  No other church has a succession of authority that can be historically traced directly to the apostles and Christ.  Many Protestant denominations only began within the past century or even decades.  Catholicism is not simply one of many Christian denominations.  Calling Catholicism a denomination is a bit like calling the trunk of a tree a branch.  Even the Bible was assembled and validated by Catholic Church authority.  This is not a statement of pride, arrogance or one-upmanship.  It is simply a fact that Catholics themselves often fail to consider with sober reverence and gratitude.  No one is deserving of what Christ has given.  All of it is by grace.  But to whom much is given, much will be required.  When Catholics learn their Faith, and stop taking for granted what God has given them, fewer will find reasons to leave and more and more Christians will make the journey home.

Jesus Vs. E.T.

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

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

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

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

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

A Talk With The Youth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet Another Grain of Truth

Recently, my doctor told me to go on a gluten free diet.  No gluten.  No wheat.  Although it needs to be confirmed, my blood work shows I may have Celiac Disease.  So, I have been following doctor’s orders, and experimenting with gluten free products.

Some products are better than others.  One thing I have noticed is that my gluten free breads, cookies and pancakes don’t hold together very well.  They seem to crumble or separate rather easily.  The gluten in wheat apparently has a cohesive quality to it that other grains lack.

When faced with the “go gluten free” order from the doctor, I began to wonder what I should do about Holy Communion.  Although I had heard some vague mentioning of this issue, I never really paid much attention to it.  Now I have to, so I did a little research.  I discovered this article:  http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/why-wheat-bread

Previously, I had no idea how scripturally important it is to use wheat for the Eucharist.  Two points really struck me.  First, the sacramental substance really is important (like using only water for baptism and not milk or orange juice, for instance).  Secondly, the cohesive quality of wheat has so many spiritual and symbolic applications that never occurred to me until I read this article.  No other grain can fulfill the role.  Suddenly, I saw the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Christian life in a whole new light.  When I hold a hamburger on crumbling, gluten free bread or watch the bottoms fall out of my gluten free pancakes and cookies, it reminds me of how important it is for all Christians to partake of the authentic, Holy Eucharist in unity.  We are not supposed to be divided into competing, crumbling denominations with our own versions of the Lord’s Supper.  We are supposed to worship in one accord with the Holy Eucharist holding us all together.

Thank God for the bishops that insist that Catholics must keep at least some gluten in our communion bread.  I love the authenticity of Catholicism and the Church’s steadfastness.  I’m not offended one bit that the Church’s suggestion to me is, “Receive Christ from just the cup, because both the bread and the wine are transubstantiated to become the whole Christ.”  Nor does it upset me in the least that completely gluten free wafers are not offered.  I would have it no other way.  I want the Church to remain authentic in every aspect.

Incidentally, those who ask, “Doesn’t the gluten disappear when the bread is changed into Christ?” are misunderstanding what transubstantiation is about.

Maybe I have Celiac Disease, or maybe I just have gluten sensitivity.  In any case, this experience has opened my eyes to yet another grain of truth in Catholicism.  The more I learn about it, the more I appreciate it.