Tag Archives: Church

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

 

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.

The Worship Music Battleground

One of the things I noticed during my years in non-Catholic churches was the frequent tension over worship music. While there are certainly tensions over music in Catholic churches, it seems to be a much more persistent battle ground for Protestants (at least in the denominations I attended). Why was the debate and tension over worship music so consistently intense at these churches?

There were older people that wanted more traditional music. There were younger people that wanted more contemporary music. There were people that liked all types of music. There were people that didn’t really care much about music at all (they tended to focus more on the quality of the preaching). The ever-present issue was how to keep everyone happy, which, of course, is impossible. I sensed that there was something much deeper than mere differences in musical preference, but I could not put my finger on it.

There were always possible solutions offered. Perhaps there could be a mix of traditional and contemporary music. Or, there could be two services, one traditional and one contemporary. The church could simply decide to use only contemporary music or only traditional music. Those who might be displeased would have to find a church to suit their preferences, or stay and not complain. All of these solutions had problems, especially since these were typically small churches with limited options.

For example, in order to have two services, these small churches needed to grow in number. In order to grow in number, they needed to attract younger people. In order to attract younger people, they needed more contemporary music. Traditional folks felt left out. But, if the church stuck with traditional music, the young folks would leave and find other churches with rocking worship teams, light shows, fog machines and T-shirt-wearing preachers.

It was hard to find a good balance of traditional hymns and contemporary music. It was also hard to find a music leader or worship team that was comfortable and adept in both genres. And don’t forget to add some Southern Gospel into the mix as well.

Recently, while browsing my Facebook newsfeed, I saw a video that had been posted. It was a video of a woman singing a Christian song and the caption read, “She really took them to church!” Then it hit me. I realized the reason that worship music is such a ticklish issue at these non-Catholic churches. They tend to gauge the quality of worship with the degree to which the music (and/or the sermon) inspires them. Unless they feel a certain level of inspiration, they haven’t really “been to church.” If the music or the sermon was particularly inspirational, they might remark, “Wow, we really had church today!” Good music and good preaching equals good worship.

The emphasis of these non-Catholic worship services is music and preaching. At least one of these has to be inspirational in order to feel as though worship has “happened.” If the music is dull, the preacher has additional pressure to be inspirational. If the preacher is dull, the music had better be good enough to compensate. If neither the music nor the preaching inspires, people will look for a different church where they feel they can “really worship.” Music is their highest level of worship. This “sacrifice of praise” is largely how they worship. Take away the music and the sermon and there is not much of a “worship service” to speak of.

Catholics also desire and appreciate inspirational music. This is obvious throughout the history of music and its use in the Mass and monastic life. I personally have my favorite cantors, hymns and musical genres. However, the music and the preaching are secondary or supplementary to the primary act of worship, the Eucharist. A Catholic Mass can be held without any music at all and the primary act of worship still “happens” in its fullness.

The way Catholics primarily worship is by offering the perfect sacrifice of Jesus to the Father. There is no song or sermon that can match such perfection. So, if the music is boring or the sermon is dull, there is still the ultimate sacrifice of praise and worship in the lifting up of and the receiving of Jesus Christ. The music is not the highest form of worship. Preaching is not the highest form of worship. The sacrifice of Christ is the highest form of worship, and that’s what the Mass is. At Mass, the worship “happens” regardless of how inspired the people may or may not “feel” that day. After each Mass, the Catholic has always “been to church.”

In non-Catholic churches, people that feel inspired primarily by Southern Gospel music will likely have a harder time worshiping in a rock style worship service and vice versa. They may even be repelled by such a service. In Catholic churches, the same act of worship takes place regardless of the style of music or the quality of the sermon. Some might whine or complain about the music, but the quality of worship is not dependent on how the people “feel.” It is perfect every time because it is Christ Himself being lifted up, not just spiritually, but in the flesh. The worship of the Mass is the same everywhere in the world, even if there are differences in styles of music, emotional reactions or other cultural expressions. Ultimately, the Catholic goes to Mass to adore and receive Jesus Christ in the flesh, music or no music.

Unfortunately, many Catholics (especially younger ones) don’t realize or appreciate this reality and they have left Catholicism to attend non-Catholic churches where they “feel” more inspired by the music or the preacher. Or, they will only go to Mass if there is “good music” or a priest they like to hear preach. They have missed the whole point of true worship and have abandoned the highest form of worship possible in order to appeal to their individual tastes and emotions. God wants more than hearts full of emotion. God also wants hearts of obedience. For example, God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s offering because they were of substantially different forms.

The sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God, is superior to all other forms of worship we can possibly offer. Of course, we can praise and worship God anytime, anywhere and everywhere through song and prayer. So, why are Catholics obligated to attend Mass every Sunday? Why are we encouraged to attend Mass every day if possible? Jesus is there in the flesh to personally meet you!

I once heard a non-Catholic friend bemoan the fact that the worship music of his heritage is being supplanted by more contemporary music. He felt as if there was no longer a place for him. My heart hurt for him because I sensed that he felt his highest form of worship being taken away.

As wonderful as praise music is, there is an even higher and more intimate form of worship to offer God. You can find this worship at every Catholic Church in the world, music or no music. Jesus awaits to embrace you, in the flesh.

“What Would Jesus Do?” Try Asking, “What Did Jesus Do?”

“What would Jesus do?”

The answer to that question often depends on who you ask.  It’s a question that fits nicely into the relativistic mind of our age.  It allows each of us to thoughtfully rub our chins, look up at the sky and say, “Well, I believe Jesus would…”  So, the question is really just Jiminy Cricket’s “follow your conscience” line wearing a Christian mask.  It is relativism presented as religion.  Whatever answer you come up with is as good as anyone else’s answer as long as we are all “sincere.”

Often, the honest answer to the question “What would Jesus do?” is “I really don’t know.”  His disciples lived with him for three years and Jesus constantly kept them surprised and guessing.  Why are we so convinced that we have Jesus pegged?  For example, it astounds me when celebrities claim to know what Jesus would or would not approve of, as if being a famous celebrity makes one an authority on the mind of Christ.

When we ask, “What would Jesus do?” we can only think and act hypothetically.  We can only speculate and take our best guess.  Maybe we’re helping, maybe we’re doing harm.  What if we decide to do the exact opposite of what Jesus would actually do?  Our world faces daily situations for which there are no explicit instructions in the Bible.  Dealing in general, biblical principles does not always provide enough specifics.  Asking what Jesus would do often doesn’t help much.

Perhaps a more helpful question is, “What did Jesus do?”  There are documented answers to that question.  In terms of what our world faces today, an important answer is, “Jesus established an authoritative, teaching Church to guide us and to spiritually feed us.”  In the midst of all the confusion over what Jesus would do, we have a Church to inform us of what we as followers of Jesus in this present day are to do and what we are not to do.

I sometimes hear people defend immorality by stating that the Bible is silent or ambiguous about certain modern day issues.  Of course it is!  Jesus never told his disciples to write a book to instruct us on every possible, future, moral issue.  Jesus established a Church (only one Church) with the authority to provide us with those instructions on faith and morals.  Jesus did not establish multiple church denominations to speculate and argue about what He might or might not do.  Men established those churches (some very recently).

God is not the author of confusion.  Jesus did not leave us with a Bible, the Holy Spirit and hypothetical questions about what He would do.  He left us with His Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, to lead us into all truth.  Does this mean we always have every answer to every question?  No.  Does it mean we put it to a vote when we are confused about what Jesus would do?  No (Christianity is not a democracy).  It means that by following His Church we are following Jesus.  We are to strive for obedience to the faith, not speculation.

It comes down to trust (i.e. faith).  Either we trust with all our heart that Jesus knew what He was doing when He established the Church (trust what He did), or we try to constantly change the Church to conform to our speculations about what Jesus would do (lean on our own understanding and feelings).

Relax The Moral Standards?

Why does the Catholic Church refuse to “relax” certain moral standards even when a high percentage of Catholics desire such a move?  It’s because the job of the Church is not to produce “nice,” spiritually mediocre people who “get along” with everybody.  The job of the Church is to produce saints, people of radical holiness.  Lowering moral standards would mute the call to sanctity.

At the same time, the Church has a most lenient penitential system.  We all fall short of Jesus’ standard of perfection and require God’s mercy.  The other job of the Church is to be the vehicle of God’s love and mercy when we fall.  God’s loving mercy does not lower moral standards.  Mercy provides help and support in shooting for those standards.

Catholics (indeed, all Christians) are called to radical holiness.  We are all called to sainthood.  Lowering the bar won’t cut it.  Instead, seek to meet the bar.

 

(Paraphrase of a commentary by Fr. Robert Barron)

Why It Was The Best Holy Week I Have Ever Experienced:

Monday:

In the evening we had the monthly meeting of our men’s group.  Although we had been meeting for a couple of years, there was a moving of the Spirit which prompted some men to witness to the power of God in their lives.  It felt as though the time had come for the group to move deeper into the Faith and to share it with others in new ways.  It was a refreshing and encouraging meeting.

Tuesday:

We went to the Chrism Mass at the cathedral and experienced the blessing of the holy oils.  The oils are distributed to parishes throughout the archdiocese for use in the sacramental life of the Church.  Each church has a special place to keep and display the holy oils.  Also, during the Mass, priests from around the diocese renewed their commitment to their vocation, and the congregation warmly acknowledged several new seminarians preparing for the priesthood.

As the liturgy engaged all five senses, I was reminded that, unlike the angels, God gave us physical bodies for a reason.  God came to us physically 2000 years ago, and he still does today in the Eucharist.  It was true worship.

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Thursday:

The foot washing Mass commemorated the humble and loving example that Jesus showed His disciples by lowering Himself to the place of a servant and washing their feet.  The priest knelt to wash the feet of twelve members of the congregation (one of which was my wife).  It was a moving display of God’s love for us, and the attitude Christians must have towards others.

Friday:

On Good Friday we gathered with soberness of heart while meditating on the depths to which Christ lowered Himself for our sake.  Each of us went forward to venerate the cross.  At the foot of the cross, we showed respect and gratitude for the price Jesus paid for our sins.  It is always a moving experience.

Saturday night Easter Vigil:

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is approximately a nine month process in which people wishing to become Catholic Christians are catechized and brought into the Church community.  It is not a quick process, because the Church regards being Christian a very serious matter.  The Church also recognizes that conversion is not a one-time event, but a life-long process of growth, learning and discipleship.  Being Christian is about a relationship with Christ, and a relationship with Christ is fully realized and expressed within the context of knowing Christ’s Church.

Those in RCIA finally enter full communion with the Church during the Easter Vigil.  It begins with the blessing and lighting of the Paschal candle outside the church at a small bonfire with everyone gathered around.  From there, we enter the church in a candlelight procession.  As the service progresses, the music becomes more celebratory and the lights become brighter.  The crucifix has been replaced by the image of the risen Lord.  We are ushering in Easter, the resurrection of the Lord!  Death is swallowed up in victory!

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Catechumens (those who are not yet Christian) receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion.  Candidates (those who are already Christian by virtue of their baptism in other denominations) receive the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Communion.  We welcomed all of them with open arms as they entered into the fullness of the Christian Faith!  Our parish had about 15 of the over 400 hundred people entering the Church all over the diocese.

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One of the women that became Catholic this Easter spent more than the prescribed nine months preparing.  She had been through the customary RCIA period, but, at the end, was not ready to commit.  She still had much to process in her mind and in her heart.  She had always been a strong, faithful Christian.  She had a lifelong relationship with Christ and a strong foundation in scripture.  She took very seriously the implications of embracing Catholicism.

Nine months of study and discernment turned into four years.  No one pressured her to become Catholic.  They simply loved her, answered her questions as best they could, and gave her the space she needed.  The Holy Spirit did the rest, as only He can.

At the beginning of Lent, this woman (my wife, if you haven’t already guessed) approached me, pulled me aside and said, “I have something to tell you.  I’ve decided to enter the Church this Easter!”  My joy was increased in knowing that she had reached this decision in her own time, gently led by the Spirit of God who loves her.  My respect for her increased in knowing the courage it took for her to make this journey and that her decision had not been made lightly.  The years it took for her to step out in faith made it all the more inspiring to me and to many of those present Saturday night.  I am so grateful for how she has been led by the Spirit and embraced by the Church community.

Only she can tell her story.  I do know there are things she is still pondering and learning about, but that is what we all must do.  No one “knows it all.”  Conversion is a life-long process.  Christians are called to discipleship, which means we are to be constantly learning from the Master through His Church.  However, we can’t wait until we have every question answered before acting on faith.  St. Augustine said, “If you understand, then it is not God.”  We can’t intellectually grasp all the wonders of God.  We must take some things on faith.  That’s what makes it faith.  By faith, my wife had already accepted the salvation offered through her Lord, Jesus Christ.  Now, by faith, she has embraced the Church established by that same Lord, Jesus Christ.

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My wife and I have always had a wonderful relationship.  Now our union has reached another level of intimacy with God and with each other.  The journey holds new possibilities as our path unfolds before us, God’s lamp lighting our way.

Easter Sunday:

My little nephew announced that he had decided to follow Jesus.  His journey has begun with the childlike faith Jesus calls all of us to have in Him.

Now you know why this has been the best Holy Week I have ever experienced!  Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, now, and will be forever.  Amen!

Truth Or Consequences

In this age of relativistic thinking it can be difficult to come to any conclusions.  Truth, if it exists at all, is regarded as being “out there” in some inaccessible, grayish, void beyond our reach.  So, when the Church declares truth, many people are understandably cynical or skeptical.  To them, it is not actually truth being declared by the Church, but the Church’s particular version of truth.  It’s not “really” truth, but just another opinion among many.  “Just because the Church says so doesn’t make it true.”  Anyone claiming to know truth must be arrogant, delusional, brainwashed or otherwise misled.

If I noticed that a bridge had been washed away by a flash flood, I would want to warn approaching motorists of the danger.  Circumstances would have revealed a truth to me that had not yet been revealed to the approaching motorists.  The bridge is out, not “because I say so,” but “I say so” because the bridge is truly out.  If I decide to hide the truth or declare the truth, it still remains true.  The bridge will still be out.  Drivers may decide to ignore my frantic arm-waving and go over the edge, or they may stop and heed the truth.  Whatever decisions I or the drivers make, the truth remains true.

The truth taught by the Church is not true “because the Church says so.”  The Church teaches what is true because the truth has been revealed to the Church, and the Church’s job is to “wave her arms.”  This doesn’t mean that the Church has a monopoly on all truth, or that the Church is “better” than the rest of humanity.  All truth belongs to God, whether one finds it through the Church or not.  It simply means that the purpose of the Church is to reveal the truth that God reveals to the Church.

Again, one can be cynical and skeptical and believe that the Church is like the Wizard of Oz behind a big curtain putting on a show to control people.  But that doesn’t line up with the historical origins of the Church and her institution by Jesus Christ.  The Church didn’t suddenly fall from the sky in a balloon and invent ways to grab and retain power over the populace.  The Church was established by Jesus, given His authority and sent on a specific mission by Him.

God could have decided to teach everyone truth in an instant, all at the same time.  He could have simply zapped us all into full knowledge of everything that He wanted us to know (a bit like the angels).  God could have decided to reveal truth any number of ways.  As it turned out, God decided to reveal truth to us through Jesus and His Church.  (Keep in mind that “the Church” also includes the Bible which flowed from the Church and is part of the Church’s Deposit of Faith).

Now I’ll share some of my own skepticism.  No matter how God chooses to reveal truth, there will be plenty of folks ready to reject it.  No amount of miracles or displays of power will convince everyone.  Lucifer, the angel, rejected God and took one third of the angels with him.  Judas watched Jesus perform all kinds of miraculous signs and wonders, and the most religious people had Jesus killed.  Being present with God Himself isn’t enough to persuade everyone to accept truth.  The Church can’t convince everyone of the truth, either.  And yet, what the Church teaches is true.