Tag Archives: Catholic Christian

This Is That Love

Out of all the religions, what makes authentic Christianity unique is that, from the beginning of time, God seeks us. It’s not about adopting a set of moral values and principles…it’s about knowing God, the person of Jesus Christ, intimately. So intimately, in fact, that an eternal, physical AND spiritual union between God and His creatures takes place.

You know that love that everyone yearns for in the deepest places of their hearts? This is it.

A Shift In My Focus

The largest percentage of my blog has been apologetic in nature.  Partly I’ve been motivated by a desire to grow in knowledge of my own faith by explaining some of it to others.  I also hoped others might take an interest in the Faith and discover Christ for the first time or rediscover Him in new ways.  All I can really measure is my own growth.  Maybe others have been influenced, maybe not.

I’ve come to a point where apologetics interests me less.  Certainly, if someone asks me a question about Catholicism I will do my best to answer or suggest further resources.  However, I’m finding that too much focus on apologetics is stunting my spiritual growth.

Apologetics is, after all, a discipline of defending a certain position.  It has its place.  Nevertheless, as a marriage and family therapist, I am keenly aware that defensiveness can be quite toxic to relationships.  In fact, high levels of defensiveness between spouses has been deemed a “marriage killer.”  I see it play out often in my therapy office.  Considering the fact that marriage models the relationship between Christ and His Church, it seems fitting for Christians to avoid a defensive stance as much as possible and choose the opposite approach of vulnerability.  Vulnerability is the birthplace of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).  Vulnerability is the cross.

Vulnerability leads to openness, dialog, discourse, empathy, understanding and unity. Defensiveness leads more often to division, blame, accusations, lack of personal accountability and closed hearts.  Would one rather embrace a knight in armor or a vulnerable child in swaddling clothes?

Again, apologetics has its place and I do not disregard it as important.  But even apologetics must contain a degree of vulnerability to be effective.  No human can be 100% right all of the time.  The best armor is never completely impervious to attack or injury.  Christian apologists must be humble, vulnerable and willing to admit error.

Personally, I’m becoming less interested in explaining Catholicism and more driven to live it.  Let’s face it, most people really don’t care how something works as long as they know they can depend on it to work.  There’s only so much I can explain anyway.  I just want to be an example of the transforming power of Christ and His Church.  Hopefully I can shift my writing to reflect that goal.

The following is a song written and performed by a skeptic who also happens to arguably be the most popular and talented rock drummer in the world, Neil Peart.  (If you don’t like rock music, humor me.  The lyrics are pertinent.  I’m a drummer, so, there you have it).

Where Did The Authority Go?

There are two ideas that I encounter over and over again in my conversations with non-Catholic Christians.  The first idea is that, for whatever reason, the Catholic Church does not possess apostolic authority.  The second is that Christians should only believe what can be explicitly found in scripture, because the Bible is the final authority.  I would like to reflect on these two ideas that I myself once held.

If apostolic authority died with the last Apostle, then no one has apostolic authority.  No Catholic, no Protestant, no Evangelical or Fundamentalist has apostolic authority.  Hence, no one since the Apostles has had the authority to tell anyone what to believe or what not to believe about the Bible, including its contents.

The early Christians had to believe what the Apostles told them.  But, the Apostles died.  So, what happened to their authority?  How could they continue to “tell” Christians what to believe?  How would the Holy Spirit guide and unify the Church without the Apostles?  Here are a few options:  1) Apostolic authority was transferred to the successors of the Apostles.  2) Apostolic authority was transferred to the Bible.  3) A combination of the two.

If authority was transferred only to the Apostles’ successors, then there would be little point in writing things down (like the Gospels, for example).  So there must be at least some apostolic authority contained within the writings of the Apostles.  After all, if the Apostle has authority, his writings will, too.

If authority was transferred only to the writings of the Apostles, then it would make sense to include that information in the writings.  For example, the apostles should have written down something that says, “When we are all dead, our authority will reside only in these written documents” or, “Only believe what is explicitly written in this future collection of writings and nothing else,” or “The Bible is now your final authority.”  The problem is that the Bible makes no claim that it is the final authority for the Christian upon the death of the last apostle or at any other point in time.  Although the Bible claims to be “profitable” it does not claim to have “the final say” or to be entirely “sufficient.”  Plus, the Church went 400 years without an officially assembled Bible.

Non-Catholic Christians (with few exceptions) have largely rejected the idea that the authority of the Apostles was transferred to successors.  Therefore, unlike the early Christians, there are no men that these Christians are ultimately accountable to.  They are essentially free to discern the Bible on their own and believe what they wish.  If they disagree with one church, they can find a different one.  While many of them claim submission to their respective church leadership, there is really no reason for them to do so in matters of faith and morals.  Why submit to leadership when each Christian can decide what to believe?  “Leadership” therefore becomes limited to the logistical and administrative needs of each church.  In this scenario, apostolic authority on faith and morals (limited now to only the Bible) takes a back seat to the beliefs of individual Christians.  Christians now tend to submit to leadership that aligns with what they believe.  This is the opposite of the early Church where individual Christians were expected to line up with the unified teaching of the Apostles.

Catholics, believing that the Apostles transferred their Christ-given authority to successors, are expected to behave as the early Christians did.  They are expected to fall in line with God’s written Word as well as the teachings delivered by men with apostolic authority.  In this scenario, apostolic authority is still in the driver’s seat.  Individual Christians are expected to remain in the back seat and submit to the teachings of Church leadership, just like when the apostles were alive.  In other words, the apostles “live on” in their successors who are able to clarify their writings and apply them to the present day life of the Church.  This has continued for 2000 years.

The authentic Catholic Christian, like the early Christian does not search for a church that aligns with his or her individual conclusions about the Bible.  Rather, like the early Christians, the authentic Catholic is obedient to Christ through obedience to Christ’s Church (which includes the Bible).  The Bible is not the “container” which holds all things Christian.  The Church is the “container” which holds all things Christian, and the Bible is inside that container (aka the Deposit of Faith).  The Bible points the Christian back to the Church as the “pillar and ground of the truth.” (1Tim 3:15)  The Bible never places itself over and above the Church’s authority, or demands that the Christian reject the Church and submit only to the authority of Bible.  The Bible and the Church together are a coordinated, apostolic authority.  It is not either/or, it is both/and.

The Catholic Church must possess apostolic authority in order to have assembled and affirmed the contents of the Bible 400 years after the Apostles died.  The Catholic Church declared which writings were inspired and which were not.  It makes no sense to reject the apostolic authority of the Catholic Church and then claim that the Bible contains apostolic authority for the Christian.  It is inconsistent to say, “I only believe what is in the Bible, but I don’t believe that the Church that assembled that Bible has apostolic authority.”  That is akin to saying, “I believe the Gospel of John, but I don’t believe John had apostolic authority.”

Assembling the Bible was as important as writing the Bible.  Without the Church’s apostolic authority, we could all pick and choose whether or not we think the book of James or the Gospel of Thomas belongs in the New Testament.  Why not rely only on the words spoken by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel?  Why not accept Peter’s writings but reject Paul’s?  When you dump the Catholic Church’s apostolic authority, everything else is up for grabs, including the Table of Contents of your Bible.

Apostolic authority was promised by Christ to the Church.  It is not transient, it is permanent.  It is not something that can be “lost” and then “picked up” by another church, for Jesus established only one Church and promised to remain with that Church.  Bad people in the Church cannot cause apostolic authority to “go away.”  It is the authority of Christ, given by Christ.  Jesus never said that the authority given to the Apostles would someday go away or be confined to a book.  The Apostles never taught that, either.  They appointed new men to fill vacant offices (Acts 1:20-26).

If the Catholic Church does not have apostolic authority, then no one has apostolic authority.  That authority died with the Apostles, and the Bible doesn’t have it, either.  It’s just a collection of old writings that may or may not have been inspired by God, put together by a false religion that calls itself Christian.  If that’s the case, it really doesn’t make sense to believe what is in the Bible.  On the other hand, if the Catholic Church does have apostolic authority, then it is reasonable to believe the things that are explicitly stated in the Bible as well as all of the other official teachings of the Catholic Church.  It’s all apostolic teaching.

Ultimately, for the Catholic, it comes down to trusting Christ to hold it all together in spite of our imperfections.  “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2Cor 4:7)  Jesus, I trust in thee.

Matter Matters

I used to think that being Christian was all about leaving this world to be with God “up there” somewhere.  In my mind, I had a vision of my soul leaving my dead body and floating up to Heaven to be with billions of other souls.  There we would have an eternal, spiritual party worshiping God.  At some point, my dead body would be all fixed up and reunited with my soul, but I didn’t really know why that mattered.  The point of this present life was to leave this world behind and “get to Heaven.”  Everything about the Christian life was “spiritual.”  Matter didn’t really matter.  In fact, matter was an obstacle that interfered with the spiritual.  “Material” people were not “spiritual” people.  I didn’t really see how the material and the spiritual were intimately connected by God’s design.

As a Catholic Christian, I now see things differently.  Rather than focusing on me rising up to a spiritual Heaven, I see that Heaven has already descended and merged with the material world (including me).  The incarnation is about God becoming a Jewish carpenter with a material, human body and human nature.  Redemption is about all of material creation being made new.  This transformation of creation is already happening.  For example, it happens every time a person is baptized.  The water (matter) is used by God to transform the person into a “new creature.”  Baptism, like all the Sacraments, uses matter to affect God’s grace.

The connection of matter and spirit is also evident in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in the Catholic Mass.  Baptized Christians look the same as other humans even though they are new creatures.  In a similar way, bread and wine appear to be bread and wine even though they have been transformed into the body and blood of Christ.  This is Heaven descending into the world of matter to transform it and heal it.  We are material and spiritual beings.  It only makes sense that we need to be fed by food that is both material and spiritual.  Why do people accept God being physically present in the form of a Jewish carpenter but balk at God being physically present in the form of bread and wine?  A look at Jesus under a microscope would reveal human flesh, but he is God.  Under the microscope we see bread and wine, but it is his glorified flesh and blood.  He is here!

I no longer focus on “getting to Heaven.”  I focus on Heaven coming into this material world to transform it and me.  This is what the incarnation is all about.  This is what the Holy Eucharist is all about.  After God created everything He said it was good.  It is still good, but it needs healing.  Jesus came to heal all of creation, including you and me.

The incarnation did not suddenly stop after Jesus ascended to Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit.  He promised to send the Holy Spirit as a teacher and a guide, but he also promised he would not leave us orphaned.  He promised he would always be with us.  He would never leave us or forsake us.  If he is only here “in spirit” then his physical body is missing.  The physical presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist means that Jesus is still the Word become flesh and he is still “God with us.”

During my many years in non-Catholic churches I often felt like something was missing.  I realize now what it was.  Most everything was spiritualized and subjective.  There was less sense of how connected matter and spirit actually are.  For example, The Lord’s Supper seemed like a very reverent Memorial Day ceremony.  It was a time of remembering what Christ did 2000 years ago.  Remembering is not a bad thing.  Folks are typically quite moved during such services, as I was.  Remembering is not the same as participating, however.  Holy Communion is not ONLY for remembering what Jesus did, regardless of how moving it is to remember.  Communion is for physical as well as spiritual communing with God and with each other.

The Mass is where Heaven descends to this material world and allows us to merge with it, not merely remember it.  “…Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven…Give us this day our daily bread…”  It is the will of God that we on Earth be physically and spiritually connected to Heaven through the incarnate Christ, the Bread of Life.  This happens DAILY all around the world in the Catholic Mass.  This connection between Heaven and Earth is an objective one.  That is, it happens whether or not the believers “feel” it happening.  It is not a subjective experience that flows from how moved or inspired the participants are.  Christ makes it effective, not the feelings of the believers.  A vaccine “works” by virtue of its objective, physical connection to the patient.  Similarly, the Holy Eucharist “works” by virtue of its objective, physical and spiritual connection to the recipient (not our subjective feelings, strong as they may be).  Jesus saying, “Take and eat, take and drink” is like a doctor saying, “Take this medicine.”

So, these days, I think less about us going to Heaven and more about Heaven coming to heal us daily.  One day, all things will be made new.  Right now, the process is underway.  We simply need to accept it and participate in it.  Going to the doctor includes following the doctor’s orders to take your medicine.  Accepting Christ includes following his command to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  That’s how the spiritual merges with the material every day.  That’s the incarnation, “God with us.”  Christianity is as much about the material as it is the spiritual, because we are material and spiritual creations.  That’s why all seven Sacraments matter, and that’s why matter matters to the Christian.