Tag Archives: Body of Christ

None of Us Christians Do What the Bible Says

Imagine that there are two or three Christians having a discussion (or an argument) about doctrine (not hard to imagine).  How can they settle the dispute?  Someone will likely suggest that they open a Bible to see what it says.  The problem with that idea is that the Bible will not “say” anything.  The Bible will sit there quietly on the table waiting for someone to read it and interpret it.  Once it has been read and interpreted, some person (or persons) will do the “saying.”  Hence, opening the Bible will usually result in multiple, competing interpretations about what the Bible supposedly “says.”  Opening the Bible does not work well in resolving disputes or creating unity among Christians.

The fact is, all of us Christians base our doctrines and beliefs on what some other person or people say that the Bible “says.”  There are many voices to choose from, such as the Pope, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Charles Stanley, Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, Thomas Merton, Beth Moore, Joel Osteen, (insert your favorite preacher here), or even our own, personal opinions.  There are over 30,000 Christian denominations whose differences are supposedly based on what the Bible “says.”

Consider what happened when Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  Jesus got a bunch of different answers.  “Some say, Elijah, some say John the Baptist or one of the prophets,” etc.  When Jesus asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” it was Peter that spoke up and said, “You are the Christ.”  Jesus told Peter he was not only correct, but he was blessed because his answer was given to him by God, not by some person.  This was validation of the special anointing Peter had from God, not just some lucky guess on Peter’s part.

It is amazing that, in the midst of many voices and opinions, God decides what the answer is and appoints the person to say the correct thing.  God did not stop there with Peter.  In Peter’s anointing, Jesus established a unique office with authority.  When Peter died, the office was filled by another.  That’s who the Pope is.  Peter was the first Pope.  The other apostles also had special authority given to them.  Their successors are the Bishops.  The Pope is simply the head Bishop.  These men not only have the God-given authority to interpret the Bible, they also had the authority to say which books belonged in the Bible when it was assembled.

But why do Christians even need such an authority?  Why can’t we just open up a Bible to see what it says?  Because the Bible doesn’t “say” anything.  To quote G.K. Chesterton, “You can’t place the Bible on a witness stand.”  It sits there quietly on the shelf, waiting to be read and interpreted.  For example, is water baptism necessary for salvation?  Is the Lord’s Supper really Christ’s body and blood, or is it just a symbol?  The word “Trinity” is not in the Bible, so, is God really a Trinity?  Nowhere is it written in the Bible to, “Accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and you will be saved.”  Who came up with that phrase?   Is that really how to be saved?  These are all interpretations told to us by various people.  But which of those people are occupying authoritative offices established by Jesus?

Of course, you and I can and should read the Bible.  Christians are supposed to read and study the Bible.  We just have to remember that both right and wrong conclusions can be drawn from it.  Even Peter wrote that there are things that are hard to understand.  We need the correct standard to apply things to.  That’s why we need the authoritative Pope and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.  Jesus formed it that way.  Humans can’t re-form the authority that Jesus formed.  That’s called fashioning God into our own image.  It’s backwards.  Despite good intentions to correct some abuses, the Protestant Reformation fractured and fragmented the Church rather than “re-forming” the Church.

The Bible is the Living Word of God, but it does not stand alone as a sole authority.  It co-exists with the life and authority of the Church.  The two cannot be compartmentalized and distanced from each other.  As Christians, we are not really going by what the Bible alone “says.”  We are either going by what the authority Jesus established says, or by what someone else says (even if that someone is ourselves).  In other words, every Christian either has a pope, or has become their own pope.  Yet, like it or not, there’s only one Pope that occupies the Chair of Peter and has his authority from Christ.  He and the other Bishops in union with him have much to say about what is written in the Bible.  Are we listening with humility?

The Ultimate and Original “Cloud”

Before there was an iCloud to pull everything together, there was the “great cloud of witnesses” that Hebrews 12:1 says we are surrounded by.  The Feast of All Saints reminds us of this cloud and how all Christians, whether in this life or the next, are intimately connected in one Body with Christ as the Head.

One of my favorite things about being Catholic is that we do not view the Church as being just an earthly group of believers.  The Church on earth is called “The Church Militant” because we are waging a war against evil and spiritual wickedness.  Scripture calls Satan “the god of this world.”  As Christians, we are “in the world, but not of the world.”  It is a spiritual battle for souls here on earth and we Christians are spiritual warriors.

There exists a state of being between this life and Heaven where Christians may be purged of anything that cannot enter heaven, anything that is not pure and built upon Christ.  1Corinthians 3:11-15 describes this state of purging as a fire that burns away the wood, hay and stubble of our lives, yet leaves us saved with our good works of precious stones, gold and silver.  Since eternity is not limited by our time constraints, and God is outside of time, we cannot place any sense of time on this state of being.  Yet, few of us are perfect and ready to enter Heaven “right now” in this life.  We will be different in Heaven than we are “right now.” This means that a change takes place somewhere in between this life and Heaven.  Catholics call this state of being Purgatory, because it is a purging process.  Since the purging process is not a pleasant one (it is not easy to relinquish things our souls tend to cling to), the Christians in this state of purging are referred to as “The Church Suffering.”

Christians that are in Heaven are called “The Church Triumphant.”  This is the ultimate goal of Christianity, to triumph over Satan, sin, death and the evil in the world and in ourselves.  Heaven is where we are finally joined completely with Christ and “see Him as He is, for we shall be like Him.”  On the day of resurrection, even our physical bodies will be glorified and present with Christ.  No more sin or death.  Triumph!

All Christians are united in one body of Christ.  The Church Militant, The Church Suffering and The Church Triumphant are all the Body of Christ with Jesus as Head.  This is why the “cloud” that surrounds us is so awesome.  It is connected to us.  We in The Church Militant are not separated from Christians in The Church Triumphant.  Far from being dead, they are more alive than we are!  That is why we can call upon them to pray for us and intercede to God on our behalf.  In the same way that we ask other Christians here on earth to pray for us and with us, we can call upon the Saints in Heaven to do the same, for we are all one Body of Christ!  I am so glad to be able to call upon our mother, Mary, the Saints in Heaven, my earthly Christian brothers and sisters, and, most of all, Jesus, the One Mediator who makes it all possible by allowing us to share in His mediation through His One Body.  Thank God for “the cloud!”

Have a blessed Feast of All Saints!

Visiting Where I Was Born Again.

This past weekend I was back in my hometown to celebrate a wedding and a birthday.  I needed to go to Church Sunday morning.  The default location was St. Ignatius, the Church I grew up in.  My parents still attend there, and it would be a chance to visit with them for a bit.  This time, however, I decided to do something different.  I was not baptized at St. Ignatius but at St. Clare, and my family attended there until I was in second grade.  Since I had not been there since I was a second grader, I thought it would be interesting to visit.

While approaching the church and school buildings, it struck me how small everything appeared.  Things are magnified to a child’s eyes, and my memory was a child’s memory.  Then I noticed the front steps.  I recalled an old photograph of my family standing on those steps with a baby.  The baby was me at my baptism.  I haven’t seen that photo in years, but I remember it.  And I remember the steps.

Upon entering the church a flood of memories hit me.  It all started to come back.  Except for the scale of things, I felt like I was looking through my six-year-old eyes.  The sights, the sounds and the aroma were familiar and welcoming.  It was like a reunion with a long lost relative.  As I took in the details it occurred to me that more than forty years had left so much unchanged.  The corner stone read “1914.”  The building was almost one hundred years old.  I was baptized there near its mid-century period.  I ran my hand along the railing that I could barely reach as a child.

Meanwhile, I was helping my wife juggle two-year-old twins and trying not to disrupt the Mass.  I had to carry my daughter to the back of the church to settle her down.  I paced back and forth while she gradually fell asleep.  Then I noticed the statue of St. Clare off to the side.  I gazed at her for a while and my eyes were drawn to the focal point of the monstrance she was holding.  When the priest lifted up the Holy Eucharist, it really hit me.  All those years that statue had been standing there holding that monstrance.  I had left, but she had not.  Yet, it was only a fraction of the time that Christ had been steadfastly present in the tabernacle of that church and in every Catholic Church for two thousand years.  He stayed with us, like He stayed with the travelers on the road to Emmaus, present in the Blessed Sacrament.

Jesus said to my heart, “You were baptized here, Thomas.  This is where you became my own.  When you left My Church, I awaited your return with open arms.  I have always been here for you, even when you didn’t care.  Though you may leave me, I will never leave you nor forsake you.  I love you, and I am happy you finally came home to Me.”  Then, I felt the warmth of my daughter asleep in my arms, and I knew the same promise was for her and her brother.  “I will not leave you orphans.  I am with you until the end of the age.”

Let Me Entertain You

A few years ago a new church opened in my town.  I watched with interest as they converted an empty Walmart store into a church building.  They knocked a hole in one of the walls and installed a drive-through window for serving coffee.  They even had a catchy label above the window, but I can’t recall the exact words they used.  I think it was “Java for Jesus” or something like that.  One day, as I drove by the place, I noticed a new sign had been installed by the road and I had to do a double-take.  For a few seconds I thought I was looking at a sign for a new “gentlemen’s club.”  Then I realized it was the sign for the new church.

Well, I had to give them credit for at least trying to draw people to church.  The whole thing certainly got my attention.  About a year or two went by and I noticed that there didn’t seem to be as much activity.  The drive-up window didn’t have a sign anymore.  Today I decided to take a closer look and discovered that the building is boarded up and deserted.  Apparently, the church is gone.  I had not noticed it was gone because the sign is still mounted by the main road where I usually drive by.

I wondered if the church just moved to another building.  I looked them up online to see if they had a website.  They did.  The pastor even had a blog, but when I clicked on the link the blog was gone.  The website was from 2009, so I assume the church just never took off and had to close their doors.  Judging from their website and their sign they tried very hard to market themselves.  “Church like you’ve never seen it before!” The church was “not trying to be like the church next door.”  Gimmicks and marketing techniques were generously employed in an attempt to draw a crowd.  The website claimed that church attendance was at 2000.  It also stated a goal of reaching 12,000 with the Gospel (not sure why they would want to stop at that number).

I never attended the church and I’m just an outsider looking in, but it did get me thinking.  I have heard many Catholics say that the Church needs to do more to attract people, especially younger ones.  Perhaps, to a point.  The above church that is now boarded up seemingly did a lot of things to attract people, especially younger, “edgy” people.  Now they are gone.  It takes more than modern appeal, vibrant rock style entertainment and a celebrity type preacher to attract and keep people.  Lots of people even followed Jesus around in hopes of seeing him do a miracle.  To them it was entertainment.  As soon as Jesus placed demands on them such as, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you” they were gone.

The worship of Catholicism is not about entertainment.  Nor is it about modern appeal, hip preachers or rocking music.  It is about worshiping Christ the way Christ said to worship 2000 years ago, through the Eucharist.  We live in a society that cannot seem to get enough media and entertainment.  Consequently, many churches feel they have to deliver what the people want instead of focusing on what the people need.  People need the written Word, and they need the living Word, Christ in the Eucharist.  That is how Jesus said he would feed his followers.

I’m not making fun of the above church or glorying in its demise.  I just wish they would use all that creativity and energy to help people discover the meal Christ has prepared for them.  I wish they understood the Eucharist.  I want our separated Christian brothers and sisters to come home and stop trying so hard to reinvent what Jesus has already established.

The Catholic Church has nothing against glorifying God through media.  The cathedrals, paintings, sculptures and music from the past centuries illustrate the importance of appealing to the senses to inspire awe and wonder for God.  The difference is that no matter how grand or how small an individual Catholic Church may be, the meal is the same.  The meal is what sustains the Church.  It cannot be improved upon.  Anyone, young or old, that is bored with the Catholic Mass simply does not understand it.  The meal is Christ himself.  Without the Eucharist, there would be no Church.

Are you following Jesus around hoping for some entertainment?  Or do you yearn for The Bread of Life?  One is fleeting and the other eternal.

Perfect Worship

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

-Music

-Prayer

-Scripture reading

-Preaching

-Liturgy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Pro-Unity For Christians

When I left Catholicism in my twenties it was largely due to the influence of anti-Catholic, evangelical, fundamentalist sources I encountered.  It also didn’t help that my own spiritual formation and knowledge of Catholic teaching was lacking.  At the time, I thought I was being liberated from a complex religious system and replacing it with a simple one-on-one relationship with Jesus Christ.  In my naiveté, I regarded Catholicism as a man-made obstacle to Christ rather than a God-made organism of Christ designed to lead us to him.  For a while, I took a rather anti-Catholic approach to spirituality and sharing of the Gospel.

My return to the Catholic Church was preceded by the realization that I had been taught many misconceptions and untruths about Catholicism, both from an historical and a doctrinal perspective.  I had mixed emotions because I felt relieved and deceived at the same time.  As I processed my transition back to the Church I realized I had to be careful.  It would be very easy for me to adopt an attitude that was decidedly anti-non-Catholic, or anti-Protestant.  What I mean is that I could easily have adopted a less-than-charitable attitude towards non-Catholic persons.  This became particularly apparent as I delved deeper into Catholic apologetics.  Debates on sensitive topics can quickly produce a lack of charity in people.

Obviously, there are non-Catholic teachings and practices I am “against.”  But, I never want to be “against” any person.  Genuine charity (godly love) desires the ultimate good for every person.  I believe that such charity resides within Catholic teachings.  What I am really against is division among Christians.  I am against a divided Body of Christ.  I am against any religious system where Christians function as something other than one flock with one shepherd.  Since the sixteenth century the one flock has become increasingly divided and multitudes of shepherds now lead in vastly different directions.

I am not “anti” anyone.  I am anti-division and pro-unity.  I am for all the scattered Christians finding their way home to the Catholic Church.  I am for Christians uniting under one banner instead of constantly finding things to protest and divide over.  I am for Christians learning authentic Catholic teachings instead of misconceptions and misunderstandings that keep them away from home.  I am for one flock with one shepherd.  Jesus already established the office of Peter to “strengthen the brethren” and to “feed the sheep.”  The one shepherd has always been successively present on the Chair of Peter.  What Christianity needs is for the flock to reunite under that shepherd.

We don’t need a unity that flattens out diversity and creates bland uniformity.  We need all the gifts, strengths and diversity of all the Christians that love Jesus Christ living in one accord.  Then the world will see the Church as it should be.  Rather than seeing many protesting, clustered, individualized churches competing for attention, the world will see one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.  They will see the love of Christ.  This is what I am for.  This is why I talk about and promote the Catholic Church, sometimes juxtaposed with other doctrines.  It is not just another denomination.  It is where the flock finds home.

Knock Knock! Who’s There? It Ain’t The Pizza Guy!

As I reflect and prepare my heart for Mass tomorrow, the following verse comes to mind:

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

This verse has been depicted by artists with Jesus standing outside of a door that has no doorknob.  The door only opens from the inside.  This illustrates the idea that Jesus does not break down the door and force himself upon us.  We have to decide to invite Jesus in.

There is more to the story, however.  There is something not usually portrayed in the artwork.  After we decide to open the door to him, something else happens.  A meal takes place.  Jesus “comes into us” and “sups with us.”  He eats with us and we eat with him.  This is the Holy Eucharist.  This is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  This is the fulfillment of “unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you.”  We receive Christ in Communion, in the Holy Eucharist.  We partake of the meal that gives eternal life because we have opened the door to him and he humbles himself and serves it to us.

This is the answer to the question that non-Catholic Christians often ask Catholics, which is, “Have you received Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?”  The answer is, “Yes, every time I go to Mass I receive his body, blood, soul and divinity into me.  This happens because I have opened the door of my heart to him, and he provides the meal.”  Nothing is more personal than receiving Christ into your heart, your soul and your body.

Can’t Live Forever On Just Bread, Man

I was reflecting on how Jesus responded to Satan when the devil tempted him to slake his hunger by turning stones into bread.  Jesus said, “It is written, that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.”  I used to hear those words and think, “Ok, Jesus wants me to read the Bible.  The Bible is the Word of God.  That’s where eternal life is found, not in the material food (bread) that I eat.”  My return to Catholicism has caused me to reflect more deeply on those words of Christ.

The Bible is indeed the Word of God, but only the written part.  It is easy to hear the words “The Word of God” and think “Bible.”  However, Jesus is the Word made flesh.  He is God’s ultimate Word.  Everything God has to say to us he said in the person of Jesus Christ.  The Word of God is Jesus.  So, when Jesus says we don’t live by bread alone, but by every word of God, he means himself.  Eternal life comes through Jesus.

Another important connection that once escaped me is the Eucharistic implications of Christ’s words.  Bread alone is not Christ.  Christ alone gives eternal life.  A reading of John 6 shows Christ making a distinction between manna (material bread that you eat but eventually die) and him (the Bread of Life that we eat and receive eternal life from).  John 6 also shows how adamant Christ is about his followers actually (not symbolically) eating the Bread of Life.  A symbolic piece of bread is bread alone.  It is not actually Christ, but only representing Christ.  Such bread does not give eternal life.  It is like the manna.  The flesh that Jesus gave for the life of the world was his real flesh (not symbolic flesh).  Believers need the real Jesus to have eternal life (not a symbolic Jesus).  It is this real flesh Jesus commands his followers to eat (“my flesh is real food, my blood is real drink”) in order to have eternal life.

So, man does not live by bread alone but by every word of God.  We need the Bible (The Word of God), and we need Christ (The Word of God made flesh).  Christ says he is The Bread of Life we must eat to have eternal life.  Eating symbolic bread is eating bread alone, not Christ, The Bread of Life.  Christians are not meant to live on bread alone.  That is why Jesus gave us the Eucharist at the Last Supper.  The Word of God made flesh spoke the words of God, “This is my body, this is my blood” and it became, not bread alone, but the reality of The Word of God for us to eat and have eternal life within us.  What Jesus speaks, happens.  He cannot lie or deceive.  He is The Word.

This is also why Catholics have daily Mass wherever possible.  “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Who doesn’t need Jesus every day?

Today Is The Feast Of St. Thomas (My Namesake)

Today is the feast of St. Thomas, the Apostle, and the saint my parents named me after.  He is famous for being the doubter.  He was absent when the resurrected Jesus appeared to the rest of the Apostles, and he would not believe them when they told him they had seen Christ.  “I will not believe it until I put my hands in his wounds,” he said.  When Jesus appeared again, Thomas was there.  Jesus invited Thomas to touch his wounds and Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me.  Blessed are those who have not seen and believe!”

I’m thankful for Thomas.  He allows us to see that God is patient with our doubts.  In fact, Jesus used the doubt of Thomas to encourage you and me in our “unseeing” faith.  We can’t see Christ standing before us or touch his wounds, yet we can believe he lives.  We see only bread and wine, yet we can believe that it is actually the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ we receive in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.  We can’t see Heaven, but we can believe Jesus has prepared a place for us because he said so.  We can’t always see the good that comes from our obedience to the Faith, but we know God does.

People are often hard on Thomas for his doubt, but Jesus wasn’t.  Jesus takes our crooked ways and makes them strait if we let him.  The lesson from Thomas isn’t that we should demand visible evidence for our belief.  The lesson is that the doubt of Thomas was God’s tool to encourage us in our faith.  “We walk by faith, not by sight.”  My own name reminds me of this daily.