Tag Archives: Catholic Church

“Pray, Which Leg Comes After Which?”

A centipede was happy quite
Until a frog in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg comes after which?”
This raised her mind to such a pitch,
She lay distracted in a ditch,
Considering how to run.

When I was a child, my mother gave me a A Child’s Book of Poems.  I still have it and use it occasionally with my own children. The poem quoted above puzzled me for a very long time. In fact, it wasn’t until I was much older that I resolved my confusion.

I could not figure out why the frog wanted the centipede to talk to God about her legs. It almost seemed that the frog expected the poor bug to ask God in which order she should lose her legs as she was being eaten. What a strange poem. I didn’t get it.

It was the word “pray” that threw me off. I only understood the word in the modern sense. I had not yet read any Shakespeare or Old English and “pray” could only mean “talk to God” or “worship God” in my mind. The day I realized that “pray” could also mean “I ask you,” it all fell into place. The frog was teasing the centipede by asking her to explain how she walked with so many legs. “I ask you, when you walk, which leg comes after which?” Aha!

I had a similar epiphany during my reversion from Protestantism back to Catholicism. I had been told by well-meaning Protestants for over 20 years that it was wrong to pray to Mary and the saints because it was idolatrous to worship them. When I finally remembered that “pray” can also mean “I ask you,” it all fell into place. Asking a saint for intercession is not the same as worship. Not even close. If asking someone to pray for me was worship, then why ask my friends, my family, my pastor or anyone else to pray for me? Shouldn’t I go “straight to God” with everything?

Actually, it’s even possible to ask God something without worshiping him. An atheist could ask God, “If you really do exist, would you please give me a sign?” but that would not be the same as worshiping God. “Prayer” and “worship” are not synonyms.

“But, the saints are dead people,” I was told. “They can’t hear you or respond to you. How could they hear all the prayers of everyone? They would have to be divine!” No, they would not have to be divine, but they would need divine assistance. With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible. The saints are certainly “with God!” In fact, except for Jesus, the saints are the most perfect part of the Body of Christ.

Physical death does not amputate people from the Body of Christ. They become more perfect than you or I. They are perfectly righteous. “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16) Why would I not want to ask Mary and the saints to pray for me!? (I need all the help I can get!)

Jesus is the “one mediator between God and man,” but, as part of his body, we get to share in that one mediation by praying for each other, sacrificing for each other and loving each other. This doesn’t change when we die and go to Heaven. It only gets better. Through him, with him and in him we live and move and have our being.

Now I see the beauty of praying to the saints. I ask them for their prayers. Together, we go straight to God with our requests. Together, we worship God. Best prayer partners I ever had.

Pray, will you not also pray to the saints?

 

Incidentally, while the A Centipede poem confused me, the W poem on the same page immediately became one of my favorites:

The king sent for his wise men all
To find a rhyme for W.
When they had thought a good long time
But could not think of a single rhyme,
“I’m sorry,” said he, “to trouble you.”

–James Reeves

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 Mail Carrier Shouldn’t Edit The Mail

There are certain disciplines, cultural practices and pastoral considerations of the Catholic Church that can and sometimes do change over time. The doctrines of the Church, however, cannot change. Truth does not become untruth.

The Apostles handed down (Tradition) that which was given to them by Christ. Some of it was written down, some of it was spoken and some of it was implicit (which is why an exhaustive list of the deposit of faith cannot be written down). The Holy Spirit guides the Church into all truth as promised by Christ. This means that the understanding of some doctrine develops over time.

The Church has the authority to be God’s “mail carrier.” In other words, the Church is tasked with the responsibility of delivering to the world God’s truth as given by Christ. The Church is not authorized to “edit God’s mail.” The Church cannot change the doctrine contained within the deposit of faith. Doctrines delivered to the world cannot be reversed or declared “no longer true.” In this respect, the Catholic Church claims less authority than Protestant churches.

Prior to 1930, all churches taught that artificial birth control is immoral. Today, the Catholic Church stands alone in teaching this truth. Even when many individual Catholics fail to obey the doctrine, the Church does not reverse the truth of the doctrine. That which is immoral does not become moral simply because society changes its views. Truth is not determined by vote.

Jesus Christ taught that divorce is wrong because it defies the bond that God designed between man and woman “from the beginning.” Unlike Protestant churches, the Catholic Church does not claim to have the authority to change this doctrine of Christ and allow divorce. Additionally, the Catholic Church cannot change the fact that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman. Some Protestant churches claim the authority to alter God’s design for marriage. Nevertheless, authentic development of doctrine cannot declare a previously held truth “untrue.”

Jesus Christ ordained men to carry out certain priestly duties within the Church. The Catholic Church does not have the authority to ordain priestesses. This is not the patriarchal oppression of women or the “invention” of a New Testament priesthood under Constantine. It is part of the deposit of faith handed down by the Apostles.

The Catholic Church infallibly declared the canon of the Bible in the 300s. This reality stands to reason if one is to regard the Bible as infallible. As Dr. Peter Kreeft has said, “How can you squeeze infallible Bible ‘juice’ out of a fallible Catholic Church ‘orange’? The effect cannot be greater than its cause.” Protestantism removed some books from the canon of Scripture by its own authority in the 1500s. It declared “untrue” that which had already been declared true. If Martin Luther is a fallible man, how can anyone trust that his canon of Scripture is infallible? By reversing that which had already been declared true, Martin Luther, along with other reformers, claimed more infallible authority than even the Catholic Church.

Thoughts On Sola Scriptura (aka The Bible Alone)

Sola Scriptura (Bible alone) is a founding principle of the Protestant/Evangelical churches I was once involved in. On the positive side, I learned a lot of Bible from many wonderful, Christian people. Obviously, the Bible is a necessary part of the Christian life and we need to study it. However, I eventually learned that the Bible alone wasn’t intended to provide us with the fullness of the Christian faith. There was something missing. The following are just a few of the thoughts that resulted from my journey away from Evangelicalism/Protestantism and back to the fullness of the Faith in the Catholic Church.

If Sola Scriptura is true, it would seem that:

  • Jesus would have said to His disciples, “Write everything down and distribute those writings to every nation” instead of, “Go and teach all nations.” (Matt 28:19)
  • Paul would have said, “Faith comes by reading the Word of God” instead of, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Rom 10:17)
  • Paul would have told Timothy, “Scripture alone is sufficient for perfecting you as a man of God.” However, Paul’s message to Timothy was, “All scripture is profitable…” (2Tim 3:16-17)  As an analogy, water is profitable and necessary, but not sufficient for sustaining life. Food, shelter, clothing etc. are also profitable and necessary. Christians need the Church and her Sacraments as much as they need Scripture.
  • There would be a verse somewhere in the Bible that clearly indicates that the Bible alone is sufficient. Instead, there are verses extolling the necessity and profitability of Scripture, but not that the Bible alone is sufficient.
  • We wouldn’t need preachers or teachers or evangelists. We would only need to put the Bible on display and let people read it. There would be no need to explain anything in the Bible, as its contents would be self explanatory.
  • We wouldn’t need Martin Luther or anyone else to teach, argue or debate the sufficiency of the Bible alone. The sufficiency would be self evident from the Bible alone. We would need no other teaching authorities.
  • Jesus would have said to his disciples, “He who reads your writings reads me” instead of, “He who hears you hears me.” (Luke 10:16)
  • Paul would have said to the Thessalonians, “Stand fast and hold only to what I write down.” What he told them was, “Stand fast and hold to the traditions I taught you, either by letter or by word of mouth.” (2Thess 2:15)
  • The Apostles would have written something to the effect of, “We’re all going to die off eventually and we’ll have no successors. Therefore, our writings will be your guide.” But they did choose successors. (Acts 1:21-26)
  • We wouldn’t need a Church to tell us infallibly that the Book of Revelation belongs in the Bible while The Gospel of Thomas does not. The proper contents of the Bible would be self evident. The successors of the Apostles eventually decided (among other things) that the book of Revelation belongs in the Bible but the Gospel of Thomas does not. If the Catholic Church is fallible, then the Bible isn’t infallible. (The effect isn’t greater than its cause.)
  • Protestants wouldn’t need Luther or any other teaching authority to show them that the apocryphal books do not belong in the Bible. Such exclusion or inclusion of any books would be self evident. (If Luther is a fallible man, how can the canon of the Protestant Bible be trusted as infallible? Again, the effect isn’t greater than its cause).
  • Jesus would have told His disciples to resolve their disputes by appealing to Scripture. Instead, He told them to “take it to the Church” as their final authority. (Matt 18:17)
  • There would be a verse in the Bible stating that all Christian truth must be stated in the Bible. The Bible makes no such claim for itself. The Bible points us back to the authoritative Church.
  • The Ethiopian eunuch would not have needed Philip to interpret the scriptures for him. (Acts 8:27-30)
  • The Bible would be understandable by believers that read it. Instead, it is often difficult to understand. There are even verses warning the reader about the difficulties and dangers of biblical interpretation. (2Peter 3:16)  Different people reach different conclusions while claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit.
  • Paul would have called the Bible rather than the Church “The pillar and ground of the truth.” (1Tim 3:15)
  • Jesus would have said, “The Bible is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by the Bible.” But, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” The Church is the very Body of Christ. We come to the Father by way of the Church (i.e. Christ Himself, the Living Word of God).

These thoughts are not the only reasons I returned to Catholicism, but they help illustrate the importance of a both/and approach to Bible and Church authority. My error was in thinking that I needed to choose either the Bible or the Church as an authority (an error I was ironically taught by Protestant teaching authorities, not by the Bible alone). In reality, the Bible and the Church are both part of the same authority given by Christ.  The Holy Spirit weaves them together to provide believers with “all things” Christ wants us to have.

Study, But Lean Not On Your Own Understanding

I found the article Why Catholicism Is Preferable to Protestantism to be quite thought provoking. It addressed a question that I personally had wrestled with for some time in my spiritual journey. The question is one of authority. Since I am the one that ultimately decides which church to align myself with, does that not make me the ultimate authority? Aren’t Catholics and Protestants both doing the “same thing” in that regard? How can either of us claim to have different, ultimate authorities (i.e. Church vs. Bible) if the final authority is ultimately the individual?

The answer lies within the following statement from the article:

“How is the Catholic’s judgment different from a Protestant’s, if at all? The difference lies in the conclusion, or finishing point, of the inquiry they make. Whereas the Protestant can ultimately submit only to his own judgment, which he knows to be fallible, the Catholic can confidently render total assent to the proclamations of the visible Church that Christ established and guides, submitting his judgments to its judgments as to Christ’s.”

Another way to approach the issue is to ask, “What is being let go of?” When we let go of something, we relinquish control over it. We relax our grip. We hand over control to someone or something other than self. We submit. There, then, is the essence of the “finishing point” mentioned in the article.

Both Protestant and Catholic must use reason to come to a final conclusion. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2Tim 2:15)  God expects us to use our brains. On the other hand, we can go too far with our use of reason and trust in it more than we trust in God. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” (Prov 3:5)

There comes a point where one must “let go of” one’s own understanding in order to trust and obey God. That is the finishing point for the Catholic. It is not the total absence of reason, but the reasonable response to trust in God. One cannot “trust” without “letting go.” Hence, the Catholic sees that the way to trust and obey Christ is to trust and obey the Church given by Christ. The Catholic ultimately “let’s go of” the trust in personal understanding where doctrine is concerned.

A perfect example can be found in John chapter 6. None of Jesus’ followers understood why they must eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ in order to have eternal life. However, some stayed with Jesus and others stopped following Him at that point. Those who stayed did so, not because they understood Jesus, but because they trusted Jesus. Peter said it best: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter did not scrutinize Christ’s words against scripture and render his own, personal conclusion. He submitted to Christ. Those that left remained constrained by their inability to make sense of Christ’s words. They tried to “figure it out” and, ultimately, clung to their personal authority.

The Protestant must continue to cling to personal understanding of Scripture in order to insure that the truth is being “rightly divided.” Personal interpretation of Scripture must rule the day in order to guard against heresies. If I, as a Protestant, disagree with the direction my church is headed, I can switch to a different denomination more closely aligned with my personal interpretation of Scripture. Even though I may “search the scriptures to see if these things are so,” I still make my decision based upon my personal interpretations of those scriptures. Ultimately, there is never a “letting go of” my own understanding where doctrine is concerned. Either the doctrine aligns with my personal interpretation, or, I find a new church.

The Catholic ultimately makes a decision to give up personal authority in favor of Christ’s authority. The Catholic submits to Christ by submitting to the teachings of Christ’s Church (even when those teachings are “hard sayings” not easily understood through diligent study). This is not blind faith void of reason. It is a reasonable trust in the authority of Jesus.

The Protestant must ultimately cling to personal, fallible authority in order to claim submission to the authority of the Bible (an authority the Bible does not claim for itself). Unlike the Catholic, there is not a “letting go of” personal authority for the Protestant. The personal authority must remain in order to empower any potential “protest.” This dynamic may serve democracy well, but the Church is not, and never has been, a democracy. For the Church, it results in continuous fragmentation as people do what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).

We Walk By Faith, Not By Feelings

I saw a church sign that said, “God seem far away? Who moved?”

Implication: it’s your fault if God seems distant.

Nonsense. What about Job? What about the Psalmist? What about Jesus who said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What about folks going through a very real depression or “dark night of the soul?” What about Saints such as Therese of Lisieux or Mother Theresa, etc. who felt a distance from God despite their holy lives?

Sometimes God seems far away and there’s not a darn thing you can do about it. There’s more to being Christian than sitting on a mountaintop and dancing for joy all the time. There are valleys, too, and sometimes they are excruciatingly deep and wide.

We walk by faith, not by feelings.