Tag Archives: Christianity

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.

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.

Why Confess To A Priest?

Since many second graders will soon be receiving their first Sacrament of Reconciliation, it seems like a good time to reflect on this awesome gift that Christ has given to his Church.

Jesus said to the apostles, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). Jesus has the authority to forgive sins because he is God. So, why did he empower the apostles (and their successors) with this authority? Why would God want people to tell their sins to men? God hears us. Why put some man in the middle?

In the Old Testament, people were supposed to tell their sins to a priest. However, the priests could only offer up animal sacrifices, which could never completely take away sin. In the New Testament, Jesus offered himself as the ultimate sacrifice which fully takes away sin. He fulfilled the Old Testament. “Fulfilling” does not mean “destroying.” Jesus did not abolish the Old Testament. Jesus completed the Old Testament. So, now when we confess to a priest, it is a complete, fulfilled sacramental cleansing of sin because it is based on the sacrifice of Christ, not the blood of bulls and goats.

That still doesn’t explain why God insists on having a man in the middle. People often ask, “Why not confess directly to God? Why go to a priest? Here are a few reasons:

  1. When we sin, we sin against God, the Church and our fellow human beings. So, it makes sense to apologize not only to God, but also to the Church and to a fellow human being. Confessing to a priest includes all three of these elements. Making amends with individuals we have wronged is, of course, important whenever possible. The priest will likely encourage such actions.

 

  1. Most people will admit that it is usually easier to apologize to God in the silence of one’s heart than it is to apologize out loud to another human being. Let’s face it; it’s very humbling to speak your sins out loud to another person and hear your own voice admitting what you did wrong. I see this frequently in counseling sessions with couples. It can be very difficult to say out loud to someone, “I’m sorry!” This is because apologizing is an act of vulnerability. Vulnerability is essential to intimacy. The Sacrament of Reconciliation helps us to be truly humble, vulnerable and intimately connected to God in our relationship with him. It’s harder to go to confession because it “keeps the relationship real” so to speak. You have to “put it all out there.” You can’t hide within the silence of your own thoughts.

 

  1. Can God hear you speak to him without a priest? Sure. But, can you hear God speak back to you? Of course, God can “speak to your heart” in many ways. However, God did not create you as only a “heart.” He also gave you a physical body with five senses. Assuming that all five senses are working properly, God expects you to use those senses in your relationship with him (as we do with each other). That’s why the sacraments incorporate the five senses. Through the priest, you get to use the ears God gave you to actually hear the words, “I absolve you of your sins.” Your spirit AND your body are involved as God intended. Jesus ascended to Heaven, but he still has a voice for us to hear. What a blessing!

 

  1. Imagine having a disease that is difficult to diagnose and treat. Your prayer to God may be, “Lord, please heal me of this disease!” Now, imagine that circumstances place you under the care of a doctor that just happens to have obscure knowledge and understanding of what ails you. The doctor performs a procedure that cures the disease. You are overjoyed and proclaim, “Thank you, Lord, for sending that doctor to me!”

Now, who cured your disease? Was it God, or was it the doctor? The answer is BOTH! So often, we see things from an either/or perspective when we should be looking at the both/and perspective. God cured the disease by sending a doctor that had the curative power. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is similar. We go to God for forgiveness. God provides a person to whom he has given the power to be his instrument (the priest). God and the priest work together because God wills it.

Rejecting the role of the priest in God’s forgiveness is similar to rejecting the role of a doctor in curing a disease. Because we are created as spiritual AND physical beings, it makes perfect sense to include both aspects of our being in a relationship with God. This is why Jesus gave us the sacraments. They are outward, physical connections to spiritual realities. God knows we need the sacraments because he created us!

 

For further reading on this topic:

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/is-confession-in-scripture

 

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.

I’m A Christian, So Why Can’t I Receive Catholic Communion?

Sometimes I hear people complain that non-Catholic Christians are not allowed to take communion (the Eucharist) at Catholic Mass. After all, the word “catholic” means “universal,” and Catholicism considers all properly baptized people to be Christian. So, why exclude some Christians? Isn’t that kind of mean or uppity?

In Protestant circles, it is more common that Christians from other denominations are permitted to take communion “as long as they believe in Jesus.” So, what’s up with the Catholics? It doesn’t seem very welcoming, inclusive or universal.

The Church is indeed “universal.” The Church is for all peoples of all times in all places. However, “universal” does not apply to all principles and beliefs of all peoples. There are more things that unite Christians than divide us. Nevertheless, those things that divide us cannot be ignored. There is not perfect, universal unity in doctrine or practice. Jesus prayed that all of His followers would be one as He and the Father are one. The Church cannot accept every belief and doctrine in the name of inclusion. This is especially true where the Holy Eucharist is concerned.

With some exceptions, non-Catholic Christians generally believe that the communion service is a symbolic memorial intended to help us remember what Christ did for us. So, the bread and wine are about Christ. Catholics believe in transubstantiation. The bread and wine actually become Christ. The bread miraculously transforms into His literal flesh. The wine miraculously transforms into His literal blood (Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” John Chapter six). The elements retain their outward appearance of bread and wine, but the substance has changed. This is an important distinction of beliefs that cannot be ignored. The Eucharist isn’t just about Christ, it is Christ. It’s not just a metaphor for Catholics.

“Communion” is an expression of unity among those who partake. Unless you believe that the bread and wine actually is Christ, it would be a false sign of unity for you to partake of the Eucharist. In other words, it would be a lie for both of us. One of us would be saying, “This is Jesus,” and the other would be saying, “This is not Jesus, it’s only about Jesus.” We would both be claiming a perfect unity that was not really genuine.

The other reason that non-Catholic Christians (or any non-Catholics) are typically not permitted to take communion is for your protection. In 1Corinthians chapter 11, The Apostle Paul warns against eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper without properly discerning it. Doing so can result in sickness, weakness or even damnation. Consequently, the Catholic Church doesn’t want you to take communion unless you properly understand and discern what you are doing. It’s for your own good for the Church to say, “Don’t take communion.”

It’s not about “exclusion” or “being mean” or “thinking we’re better Christians than you.” Anyone is welcome to come and participate in a Catholic Mass. Please, come join us. However, if you want to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, you must first enter into full unity with the Church. Otherwise, it becomes something less than an expression of genuine unity of faith (it’s not a real “communion”). It also places your soul in jeopardy. We don’t want that for you. We want only the best for you. We want you to have the fullness of the Universal Faith and the spiritual healing of the Eucharist, Jesus Himself.

“It’s My Body, My Choice”

“Don’t talk to me about abortion. You’re a man. You have no idea what it’s like to be pregnant. It’s my choice because it’s my body.”

It is true that, as a man, I have no idea what it’s like to be pregnant. Although, I do know that pregnancy is how all of us, male or female, came to be here. So, as a human being, I do have a vested interest in how pregnancy is perceived and how it is treated. I owe my life to pregnancy. (By the way, notice that I don’t need to use “religious arguments” in this response. That’s because my religion and reason are made for each other).

You say it is your body? Ok, let’s go with that. I agree with you. My body is as much my body as your body is your body. So, when did our bodies become “ours?” When, exactly, did you “take ownership” of your body? Asked another way, when did you become “you?”

Did you become “you” when you became conscious or self aware? Was it when you gained a voice? Well, when was that exactly? If that’s when you became “you” then it follows that you are no longer “you” when you are unconscious. If someone knocks you unconscious, are they then justified in doing as they please with your body since you lack consciousness? That seems silly, doesn’t it? Isn’t that what evil men do when they drug women and rape them? “She lacks consciousness. I can do as I please with her body.” Isn’t that what evil men do when they abuse young children? “She’ll never tell. She’s too young to remember and she can’t speak yet.” No. You are you even when you are unconscious or without a voice.

Your body has certain parts that are “yours.” They are “your” body parts even if you are not conscious. The use of possessive words must mean that you are “you.” After all, you would not claim ownership of a body part unless it is your body. When you were a fetus we could say that you had certain parts, just as now you have certain parts. Yet, how can you have anything unless you are you? So, you must have been “you” while inside your mother’s womb. Even then, it was your body, not someone else’s body. Those were “your” cells and body parts developing.

You must have become “you” the moment you came into existence. An egg and a sperm united and the “you” that was never there before was now there. Prior to that, there was no “you.” Only when you came into existence could you claim anything as “yours,” even the unique cells of your growing body. Since coming into existence, you have been “you” regardless of your location, your state of consciousness or your ability to speak. Whether you were inside or outside the womb, you have always been “you.” It has always been “your body.”

So, yes, it certainly is your body. It has been your body from the start. It has never been someone else’s body. You are here now because someone else recognized that you were “you” in the womb. They let you continue to be “you” and they let “your body” grow. It was your body then and it’s your body now. Everyone deserves the same chance. No other rights matter unless one is alive to exercise those rights. Whether one is male or female, the right to life is prerequisite to all other rights. You, first of all, have to be allowed to be “you.”

Essentially, your body and my body are here now because no one aborted us. We have that in common. The other thing we have in common is that, whatever choices we may face in life, who our parents would be was not one of them. None of us knew whether our fathers would be good citizens, criminals or even rapists. None of us knew whether our mothers would be presidents or prostitutes. But, now that we are here, we can make our own choices.

It doesn’t mean we must disregard the sacrifices and challenges of pregnancy or the crime of rape or the poverty of women or any other injustice. It means that, as much as possible, everyone has a right to see what they can do with their existence without bigger, stronger people taking that existence away from them. That, also, is an injustice. To heap injustice upon injustice does not create justice. (Or, as children are often taught, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”)

I want justice for women’s bodies (and men’s bodies) whether those bodies are inside or outside of the womb.

It’s her body AND it’s her body.

mom and daughter anti-abortion

Both…It’s Both.

I love the abundant fullness of Catholicism. Nothing is missing. Christ supplies every need through His Church. There are no false dichotomies. There is no need to make choices between things that were never opposed to each other to begin with. For example:

There’s no need to make a choice between “religion” and “relationship.” All relationships have certain qualities that make them unique. A marriage relationship is different from a sibling relationship or a parent/child relationship. Each relationship has certain “ground rules” and characteristics that identify it. Christ gave us His Church so we could know how He wants us to uniquely relate to Him and vice versa. Being authentically Catholic is the same as having a personal relationship with Jesus. In fact, one can’t be any more personal than that. It’s both religion and relationship. Seems silly to try and separate the two. Properly lived, the religion is the relationship.

There’s no reason to choose whether to follow the Church or to follow the Bible. Catholics follow both, just like Christ intended. The Church and Her leaders came first. Then, members of that Church wrote some things down. Then, around the year 400, the Church leaders decided which of those writings were inspired and belonged in the Bible and which ones did not. The Catholic Church leaders and the Bible were never designed to be separated from each other as competing authorities. The two do not contradict each other, they complement each other. One without the other does not make sense. The Church and the Bible are both the same authority, Jesus Christ. Jesus does not restrict Himself to text on a page.

We don’t have to choose between “works” salvation and “faith” salvation. Salvation requires both faith and works. There is only one place in scripture where being saved “by faith alone” is mentioned, and those words are preceded by the words “not by” (James 2:24). “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Catholics are saved by grace. We do not earn salvation. It is a free gift of God. By cooperating with God’s grace we can have a living, working faith, not a dead one, if we so choose.

We have no need to decide whether or not the Lord’s Supper is merely a symbolic memorial, or if it is actually the body and blood of Jesus. It is both. The Holy Eucharist is a memorial to help us recall the sacrifice of Jesus. It is also the actual body and blood of Jesus present in the form of bread and wine. Catholics take Jesus at His word when He says we must eat His flesh and drink His blood, and again when He says of the bread and wine, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” He is our personal Lord and Savior. Why wouldn’t we believe He meant what He said?

Catholics don’t have to choose between confessing “straight to God” and confessing to a priest. When we confess our sins to a priest, we are confessing them to God as well. All of Catholicism goes “straight to God.” There is no “either/or” or detours. God is right there the whole time. The great part is that we get to hear God speak the words of absolution through the priest. It’s wonderful to ask God for forgiveness. It’s even better to hear God say through His priest, “You are forgiven.” And why wouldn’t a loving Father want His children to actually hear those words?

As a Catholic, I never need to choose between “going straight to God” and “praying to Mary or any saint.” It’s not as though I can hide my mouth behind my hand and whisper in a saint’s ear so that God can’t hear me. God knows I’m not worshipping that saint instead of Him or trying to go behind His back. I’m simply asking that saint, a person close to God, alive in Christ, and a member of the Church, the family of God to pray for me. How can the saints hear me? God works it out. No worries. He’s powerful, you know.

There is no need for the Catholic to choose between the symbolic nature of baptism and the saving power of baptism. It is both an outward sign of the new life in Christ and the actual process by which that grace is transmitted. That’s the beauty of all the sacraments. They show us outwardly what is taking place inwardly. Again, it’s all part of that personal relationship with Christ we Catholics have. Christ actually touches us through His Church, and we get to touch Him.

Catholicism is all so beautiful, powerful and personal. I have discovered that so many “either/or” choices I once debated within myself are resolved by the great “both/and” peacefulness of the Catholic Faith. This is why it is the “fullness of the Faith.” It contains the abundance of life Christ wants us to have. There’s no other relationship quite like it.