Tag Archives: Catholic

“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

Catholicism Predates Constantine

You may hear people claim that the Catholic Church was started by the emperor Constantine in 313. Constantine’s Edict of Milan simply made legal the Christianity that already existed. Here are some facts about those early Christians you probably are not being told by non-Catholic sources:

The early Christians venerated saints and relics, which is a biblical principle. For example, contact with the bones of Elijah brought a dead person back to life. In Acts we read how people were healed by touching Peter’s handkerchief and even his shadow. Pagans took issue with early Christians keeping the bones of dead people close at hand. The usual practice was to keep dead people at a distance. Christians in all parts of the world have venerated saints and relics throughout history. Constantine did not invent these practices. They were already in practice from antiquity.

Interestingly, although churches were built above the relics of important saints, no one built a church above the bones of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She has no grave to visit. There was no corpse to be found. Surely, her dead body would have been venerated by these early Christians if it was still on Earth.

The early Christians were accused of cannibalism due to their liturgical practices. The Catholic Church is the only church still accused of cannibalism, primarily by non-Catholic Christians seeking to disprove the authenticity of Catholicism.

The early Christians relied primarily on the oral tradition and the successive authority of the apostles, not on scripture alone as their final authority. Not until the late 300s was the canon of scripture compiled and authorized by the bishops of the Catholic Church. Neither Constantine nor the Christians had ever heard of Sola Scriptura. Oral Tradition continued to be the primary means of Christian teaching until the Protestant Reformers asserted the novel idea of Sola Scriptura and used the invention of the printing press to promote it. Ironically, Sola Scriptura became a foundational, Protestant tradition which cannot be affirmed by scripture alone.

The early Christians already referred to themselves as “catholic” well before Constantine came along and legalized Christianity. The early Christians saw themselves as one body, not as separate ecclesial communities with conflicting doctrines. This can be observed in the works of the early church fathers.

Ignatius, the first century bishop of Antioch, is known for his use of the Greek word katholikos (καθολικός), meaning “universal”, “complete” and “whole” to describe the church, writing:

Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid.

— Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8

Early Christianity was distinctly Catholic before and after Constantine came along. Constantine’s Edict of Milan didn’t start Catholicism; it simply let it out of its cage. As Saint Cardinal Newman, a convert to Catholicism once said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”

Saved By Grace!

You’re in a deep, dark hole. You look at your wife and infant child and say, “Never mind how we got here, we just need to get out!”

Like MacGyver, you look around for something to use. All you can find are some sticks and weeds. Desperately, you attempt to fashion a ladder, or at least a step stool, from these meager materials. It’s no use. It breaks under your weight.

Suddenly, you hear a voice from above. You see a ladder coming down towards you and a voice says, “Come to me!” “But, there’s a baby down here,” you yell. “Step up on the first rung and lift the child up. I’ll reach down and take him.” In an act of faith, you raise him up and someone grabs him. You think to yourself, “How did he know it was a boy?”

The voice says, “Now, you climb out.” You and your wife climb out of the pit, one rung at a time. Along the way, you slip many times, but a hand from above reaches down to you and says, “Keep coming.” You grab his hand, regain your footing and persevere. At the top, you embrace your baby, but not before embracing the man that gave you that ladder. You ask the man, “How can I repay you?” He replies, “You can’t. Just watch out for those pits. You can keep the ladder as my gift. You might need it again.” You notice a strange wound on the man’s hand.

The hole is the fallen state of humanity that we cannot climb out of on our own. The sticks and weeds represent the Mosaic Law that, no matter how hard we “work it,” is unable to save us (Ephesians 2:8-9). We cannot boast of our ability to build a ladder. The ladder that came down is the grace that saves us (Ephesians 2:8). It is the free gift of God.

The rungs of the ladder are the Sacraments of the Church. Baptism is the first step which initiates the journey upwards. We see the free gift of grace is available even to the infant, for Jesus says, “Let the little children come unto me, and forbid them not,” and the book of Acts indicates that baptism is for “the entire household.”

By climbing the ladder, we don’t “earn” Heaven. We cooperate with the free gift of grace that is given to us despite our unworthiness. We see why James says, “Faith without works is dead.” Yes, it takes “work” to climb the ladder, but this is not the “works of the Law” that Paul speaks of. It is what Paul calls the “obedience of the faith.” This is a ladder that is able to support our weight because it was fashioned not by Moses, but by the perfect God-man, Jesus Christ. We trust Jesus. Therefore, we trust his ladder. We don’t build the ladder ourselves.

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see!” What a beautiful ladder I see!

The Confused Champions of Love and Choice

Although it may involve all sorts of positive and negative feelings, love itself is not a feeling. Love is a choice; a decision. Love is an act of the will. However, we live in a world where people are guided primarily by impulse and feeling rather than by will and reason. Feelings tend to be rather fickle and impulses self-serving.

Our world (particularly since the so-called sexual revolution) has become saturated with the distorted thinking pattern sometimes referred to in psychological literature as “feelings are facts.” Consequently, the “facts of life” have become distorted along with the thinking processes. Therefore, it is prudent to maintain a healthy skepticism when words such as “love” or “choice” are used to champion any cause or movement having to do with the “facts of life,” as it were. The likelihood of distortion is quite high.

No Need To Pretend.

If you have children, you probably enjoy watching them play pretend. They can pretend to be or do all sorts of things. It’s likely that you also have occasionally had to step in and say, “That’s not nice, even to pretend.” There are some things that are inappropriate enough that even to pretend to do them is not acceptable.

The same holds true for adults. I suspect that, in general, most married people would not like the idea of their spouses taking another partner out on the dance floor and dancing in a way that simulates having sex. The idea of adultery is so abhorrent that even to pretend to do it is unacceptable, particularly in public.

There are certain movies, songs, and other forms of entertainment that are worth avoiding because what they portray is not good to take into one’s heart and mind. “It’s just pretend” doesn’t always justify indulging in something.

Catholics are often criticized for their belief that they are actually eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking the blood of Jesus. “How abominable! How gross! How blasphemous! It’s cannibalism! How can you believe such a horrible thing?” Many of these objections come from non-Catholic Christians. They believe that the Lord’s Supper is symbolic.

Now, if eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking the blood of Jesus is such an abomination, why would it be okay to even “pretend” to do it? Why does it suddenly become acceptable to pretend to be a cannibal? Is that what Jesus has commanded us to do? Jesus wants us to pretend that we are doing something abhorrent simply to remember him? That doesn’t make sense. Jesus only commands us to do good.

If Jesus only commands us to do good things, then eating his flesh and drinking his blood must be a good thing. There is no reason to “pretend” in order to escape committing an abomination because it isn’t an abomination to begin with. If you actually eat his flesh and drink his blood you are doing a good thing.

“How can this be?” That’s exactly what Mary asked the angel Gabriel when he told her she was going to be pregnant with the Messiah. Her response was “I believe you, but I’m curious as to how this is going to happen since I’m a consecrated virgin (“I know not man”). Gabriel told her the Holy Spirit would do it.

When we ask, “How can this be” we are echoing many of Jesus’ disciples who asked, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus never told them that it was only symbolic, or a metaphor. He told them it would be accomplished by the Spirit (my words are spirit and life). “Spirit” does not mean “symbolic.” Just as Mary actually, literally conceived Jesus in her womb by the power of the Spirit, Jesus gives us himself to physically consume by the power of the Spirit.

When many of his disciples left him, Jesus turned to the twelve and asked if they were going to leave him too. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” This is much like Mary saying, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your will.” We don’t need to understand it in order to accept it.

When Jesus said, “The flesh is of no avail,” he was referring to people who try to figure it all out “in the flesh” or, without faith. He echoes the scripture which says “You are not in the spirit, but in the flesh.” Only God has the ability to raise the dead, control nature with a word, make the blind see and the deaf hear, etc. Only God can make a virgin conceive a child without involving a man. Only God can raise himself from the dead and make himself physically consumable to us without it being cannibalism or some kind of abomination.

There is no need to pretend to physically consume Jesus. He wants you to do it for real because he wants you and him to be that close to each other. The best way to remember someone is to actually be in their presence. Jesus commanded us to “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Catholics don’t “bite off a piece of Jesus.” We physically consume him in his entirety, body, blood, soul and divinity. There is no pretending. Only real faith in the Jesus. Come join us.

Jesus Gave His Flesh For The Life Of The World: So, Does It Profit Nothing?

During my spiritual journey I have learned that there are basically two ways of looking at John 6:63 where Jesus says, “The flesh profits nothing,” or “The flesh is of no avail.”

One way (A) is to say that Jesus is speaking metaphorically when he tells his disciples to eat his flesh. In other words, verse 63 means, “My flesh doesn’t actually profit anything. This is all symbolic.”

The other way to look at it (B) is to hear Jesus using “the flesh” to mean “human understanding apart from grace” as found elsewhere in scripture such as Romans 8. People are said to be “in the flesh” or “carnally minded.” Or, as Jesus said to his disciples, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” (Matt 26:41)

Let’s see how the two interpretations compare when they are placed within the context of what they supposedly clarify, namely, the words of Jesus that precede verse 63.

Verse 51:

  • “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world (but my flesh doesn’t actually profit anything).”
  • “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world (but you won’t understand this apart from grace while you are still in the flesh).”

Verse 53:

  • Then Jesus said unto them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you (but my flesh doesn’t actually profit anything).”
  • Then Jesus said unto them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you (but you won’t understand this apart from grace while you are still in the flesh).”

Verse 54:

  • “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day (but my flesh doesn’t actually profit anything).”
  • “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day (but you won’t understand this apart from grace while you are still in the flesh).”

Verse 55:

  • “For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed (but my flesh doesn’t actually profit anything).”
  • “For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed (but you won’t understand this apart from grace while you are still in the flesh).”

Verse 56:

  • “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him (but my flesh doesn’t actually profit anything).”
  • “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him (but you won’t understand this apart from grace while you are still in the flesh).”

Notice that Jesus never says, “My flesh profits nothing.” Jesus says, “the flesh.” This is an important distinction. If his flesh profited nothing, he would also need to say that his blood profited nothing in order to be consistently metaphorical. Yet, he insists that his disciples must ingest both his flesh and his blood.

The interpretation (A) that de-emphasizes Christ’s flesh over his spirit also threatens to undermine the doctrine of the hypostatic union by leaning towards Gnosticism. That is, spiritual things are considered “good,” but physical things are considered “bad.” Yet, the incarnation places the flesh and the divinity of Christ together as fully good. (More can be learned about the Gnostic threat here.)

Interpretation (B) explains how the Christian can receive Christ without compromising the hypostatic union rather than receive Christ merely in a “spiritual” capacity. The Christian can fully receive the entire glorified Christ (body, blood, soul and divinity). Christ’s flesh, blood, soul and divinity profit us eternal life which is everything! We become fully united to him. He dwells in us and we dwell in him (vs 56). It is the ultimate example of the expression “you are what you eat.” It is also the ultimate fulfillment of what was foreshadowed at Passover: then as now, believers are instructed to eat the Lamb that was slain. Additionally, we can take Jesus at his word when he says at the last supper, “This is my body” and “this is my blood.”

We do not receive Christ without faith. It is such faith that allows God’s grace to work in us to accept that which our carnally minded understanding fails to grasp. Without that grace, we are offended by the idea of ingesting his flesh and blood (Jn 6:61). Such grace comes from the Father (Jn 6:65), and through the Spirit we receive life (vs.63).

“There are some of you that believe not.” (vs. 64) In order to believe, we do not need to fully comprehend how God accomplishes the miracle of feeding us with his flesh and blood. Nor do we need to see the bread and wine change in appearance. “We walk by faith, not by sight.” We only need to accept it like Peter and ask, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (vs. 68)

There is no reason for Christ to have given his flesh for the life of the world if his flesh profits nothing. His words are “spirit and life.” If we want life, we must abandon our desire to remain in “the flesh” and humbly ask him for the spirit of grace to accept his flesh and blood as he presents it to us. He presents it to us like he did at the Last Supper: under the appearance of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist.

To Catholic Parents: Teach Your Children Well

It’s about time we Catholics realize that going to church occasionally and sending our children to Catholic school simply won’t cut it. And it isn’t enough to be “nice people living a good life.” Parents are called to teach their children about the Faith.

Parents are the primary teachers of their children. Even an apathetic or absent parent is teaching “something.” For example, parents that only go to church occasionally (if ever) because they want their kids to attend Catholic schools are teaching their kids that education is important but the Catholic faith is not. The message is, “Get a good education, kids. Don’t care about your eternal destiny.”

Your children need to see you live your Faith, but they also need to hear you talking about your faith. They need to hear you explain why you are Catholic. They need to hear you constructively and compassionately stand up for your faith when others put it down, doubt it or attack it. They need to hear you describe what you believe and why you believe it. They need to hear you speaking to others with love, kindness and compassion. They need to hear that you have a personal relationship with Christ, and that you do so through Christ’s Church.

It’s not enough for clergy or teachers to say what your children need to hear. Your children need to hear you say why it’s important to go to church every Sunday and on Holy Days. They need to hear you explain that, “No, Catholics do not worship statues, Mary or the saints, and here’s why.” They need to hear you explain why you are going to confession and how it changes your heart and your life. They need to hear you say why you believe in the authority of the Bible and the Church (not Bible only). They need to hear you talk about the Holy Eucharist and why it’s life-giving (not just a “symbol”).

In short, what I’m saying is this: Catholic parents must become Catholic apologists! Not the sort of professional apologists that debate from behind podiums and write scholarly, theological books defending Catholicism. Catholic parents must be the kind of apologists that can have informed, loving conversations about Catholicism with family, friends, co-workers, etc. Unless you know something about your faith, you can’t have much dialogue about it with your children or anyone else.

Does it seem overwhelming to you? It doesn’t need to be. Look at it this way: when you fall in love with someone, you instinctively want to learn more about that person. To truly be Catholic is to love Jesus Christ. We grow to know Jesus better by learning about His Church (which includes the Bible). Start small. Take “baby steps.” Surf some reputable Catholic websites like Catholic Answers and read about a topic that interests you. Read the Catholic Catechism and find out what the Church really teaches. Have a few apologetic books like this or this in the house along with a good, Catholic study Bible.

One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it! By teaching your children about the Faith you will learn along with them. When they have a question, look it up! Find out the answer together. Stop worrying about how much you “don’t know” and start exploring Catholicism.

There are numerous forces in the world seeking to divert you and your children from the truth. Atheism, anti-Catholic Protestantism, Socialism, Secularism, etc. are just a few of the philosophies that would love to tell your children why Catholicism is wrong and false. As parents, you are the first line of defense. Do not rely solely on Catholic schools or the clergy to teach your children about the Catholic Faith. They can’t do it very well without you! And you can’t teach it to your children without living it yourself.

I’m not proposing that you sit your children down and lecture them in some kind of “home school catechesis class.” I’m saying that you need to notice the teachable moments and actually have something informative to say in those moments!”  The only way to do this is to know your faith or at least know how to get answers. Your children need to see that Catholicism is more than merely a cultural identity: it is the very means by which Christ gives eternal life!

Catholic parents, one of the most important aspects of your job is to help your children get to Heaven, not just to get through school. Learn the Faith so you can teach the Faith. Teach the Faith so you can learn the faith. Live the Faith and speak the Faith with your children. Let your actions match your words, and your words match your actions. Be genuinely Catholic! If you don’t take Catholicism seriously, why should your children? Why should anyone?