Tag Archives: Eucharist

The Verse That Stood Between Me And The Eucharist For 20 Years

When I left Catholicism, I had to change my thinking about Communion.  I had been taught that the bread and wine became the body and blood of Jesus at Mass.  Bible-only Christians told me this was a false doctrine “invented” by the Catholic Church.  They told me the bread and wine were only symbolic.  They were quick to point me to the one and only verse that seemingly pulled the rug out from under the Catholic teaching of transubstantiation.  For 20 years that verse stood between me and the Holy Eucharist.

At the Last Supper, Jesus clearly says, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.”  In John chapter six we see the Bread of Life discourse, during which Jesus tells his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life.  This teaching really disgusted and offended the people that heard Jesus say it.  The more they objected to what Jesus was teaching, the more graphic and realistic Jesus made his words.  To drive home the reality, Jesus even made a point of using a word that meant “chew” or “gnaw” the way an animal would eat (Tōgō in Greek).

“Not to worry,” I was told by my Bible-only friends, “Jesus is only using a metaphor, he’s not seriously expecting us to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  That would be gross.”  They called my attention to John 6:63 at the end of the discourse where Jesus says, “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.”  “See?” my friends would say, “It’s all just a spiritual metaphor.  Jesus even says that the flesh doesn’t matter.  The bread and wine are only symbolic, like when Jesus said he was a door or a vine.”  At the time this explanation made sense to me.

What my friends did not seem to notice, however, was that Jesus did not say, “My flesh is of no avail.”  What Jesus said was, “The flesh is of no avail.”  They are small words but they make an important distinction.

Jesus said, “The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh,” and then he told us to eat his flesh.  He also said, “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.  So, why would Jesus go through all the trouble of saying how important his flesh was only to “negate” all those words with “my flesh is of no avail?”  (As if he was saying, “Just kidding!  My flesh isn’t really important after all!  Just seeing if you all were listening!”)

Which is it?  Does his flesh matter or not?  Of course Jesus’ flesh matters!  God sent his Son “in the flesh.”  His flesh was crucified.  Jesus gave his flesh for the life of the world.  The flesh of Jesus avails much!  Without it we are hopelessly lost.

The other point my friends did not mention is that “Spirit” does not mean “symbolic.”  The Spirit is what gives life.  When God created the world the Spirit moved in a life-giving fashion.  When Jesus said that his words are “Spirit and life” he did not mean that the bread and wine are “symbolic.”  God’s words have a real effect, not just a symbolic effect.  “Let there be light” is one example.  The way that Jesus changes bread and wine into his body and blood is through the power of the Spirit.  This is why Jesus says, “What if you were to see the Son of man ascending to where he was before?”  In other words, Jesus is saying, “Why are you offended at eating my flesh and drinking my blood?  I can make anything happen.  I am God.  Just wait until you see me rise from the dead and ascend into Heaven!  Would you believe that?”

So, Jesus did not say that his own flesh was of no avail, and he did not say there was anything symbolic about his words.  What, then, is “the flesh” that is of no avail?  It is our flesh!  Our pitiful, little, faithless, human reasoning is of no avail!  Jesus makes this clear when talking to the Pharisees in chapter 8:15.  They object to Jesus saying that he is the Light of the world so he tells them, “You judge according to the flesh.”  It is our human tendency to rely only on our own reasoning that is of no avail.  Jesus was telling them not to get caught up in how disgusting and gross it all sounded, but to have faith.  He would make it happen by the power of the Spirit.  Just as the Jews consumed the sacrificial lamb at Passover, Jesus would allow his followers to consume the sacrificial Lamb of God that fulfilled Passover.

The words of Jesus are Spirit and life because Jesus is God and the creator of everything.  When Jesus holds up bread and says, “This is my body,” it is the same Jesus that said to the dead Lazarus, “Come out of the tomb.”  He is the same God that said, “Let there be light.”  He is the same Jesus that cured the blind and the lame and created everything that exists.  It is no problem whatsoever for Jesus to change bread and wine into his own body and blood.  He is God.  It is we who have the problem believing it.  That is why so many of his followers left him that day.

Anyone offended by the idea of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood is looking through the lens of human reasoning rather than the eyes of faith.  That’s what John 6:63 is all about.  In verse 64 Jesus sums it up: “But there are some of you that do not believe.”

He Is Here! He Is With Us!

Sometimes I hear non-Catholics say, “If I believed what you Catholics supposedly believe about Jesus being really, physically present in the Eucharist, I would be at the church every day down on my face in worship.  Since you Catholics don’t do that, I don’t think you actually believe Jesus is really there.  It must not be true.”

Well, I have to admit that there are many Catholics that fail to appreciate the real presence of Christ (body, blood, soul and divinity) under the appearance of bread and wine.  Their lack of appreciation does not prove anything except that they lack appreciation.  Lots of Catholics fail to appreciate their spouses, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t married.  What about the Catholics that do appreciate the real presence?  Why are they not constantly down on their faces in worship?

First of all, there are times when we do bow down and worship.  However, to do so constantly would not be in keeping with what Jesus told us to do.  Jesus told us to go and preach the Gospel.  In fact, at the end of each Mass we are told to “Go.”  We have worshipped, received the Bread of Life, and now it is time to take Jesus out into the world.  To huddle around the church all day on our faces would not be following Christ’s marching orders.

The Apostles spent lots of time with Jesus, but they weren’t constantly falling on their faces in his presence.  The Apostle John is known to have lovingly laid his head on Jesus.  That’s more of a calm, comforting, assuring kind of posture that illustrates how a Catholic can be all day long, even in the very physical presence of Jesus.  We can “rest in the presence of the Lord.”  Even after Jesus was transfigured and revealed his glory the Apostles didn’t follow him around groveling on their hands and knees all the time.  Jesus didn’t expect them to, either.

There are certainly times when Catholics prostrate themselves in worship to God.  Some Catholics could stand to do more prostrating.  Too many take for granted the gift that God has given them.  Unfortunately, that’s human nature.  We can become complacent and unappreciative in any relationship.  God’s nature, however, is to send his only Son to become the Bread of Life.  He remains true and his heart remains on fire for us.  There are plenty of Catholics that do understand and appreciate the Eucharist.

I think sometimes there are people that use the complacency of some Catholics as an excuse to avoid the truth of Catholicism.  No matter which Christian church we enter we are likely to find people that are enthusiastic and people that are apathetic.  The attitudes of people do not determine truth.  Truth is truth whether people appreciate it or ignore it.  If we look for Catholics that are complacent, we will find them.  If we look for Catholics that are on fire for God, we will find them, too.  Always we will find Christ really present in the Holy Eucharist of the Catholic Mass.  Jesus told us, “I will be with you until the end of the world.”

For My Friends That “Don’t Get Anything Out Of Mass” Because It Is Boring Or Confusing

One of the most common complaints I hear from friends that left Catholicism is, “I just didn’t get anything out of going to Mass.”  Many of these friends now attend non-Catholic, Christian churches (if they attend at all).  Typically, the services they attend consist of music and a sermon.  No kneeling, standing up and sitting back down.  No confusing rituals or ancient traditions.  Just praise music, a sermon and some fellowship.  These days, there might be a video to watch, too.  Why complicate matters?

I have absolutely nothing against the old “K.I.S.S.” idea (Keep It Simple, Stupid!), although I don’t like the idea of calling anyone stupid.  That’s just rude.  But I do like for things to be straightforward and to-the-point.  I don’t like to complicate matters.  So, why do I like going to Mass when it seemingly complicates a very simple Gospel message?  It is because, although the Gospel is simple, it is also very deep and profound.  The Mass is also simple yet deep and profound.  The Gospel can be accepted by the simplest person, and it can also endlessly occupy and challenge the minds of the greatest theologians and philosophers.  In other words, the Gospel is for everyone, and so is the Mass.

The Mass proclaims the simple message to believe in Christ for the salvation of one’s soul.  The Mass also reflects 2000 years of deep theological reflection on salvation through Christ.  I would like to make an attempt here to explain the basics of the Mass in a way my friends can understand.  There is no way I can cover everything here, but the basics are enough for now.  All it takes to “get something out of the Mass” is an awareness of a few things.

 

  1. The simple message of the Gospel is typically right in front of you when you are seated in a Catholic church.  John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  This is the verse that folks hold up at sporting events on big signs, right?  “John 3:16.”  A crucifix is simply John 3:16 in “picture form.”  When you are in a Catholic church and looking at the crucifix you are “seeing” the reality of John 3:16.  That is why Catholics have an image of Christ hanging on the cross.  It is also because of 1Corinthians 1:23 which says, “We preach Christ crucified…”  Jesus died for you.  Take a look.  Pretty simple, eh?  Yet, so profound!
  2. The first part of the Mass is the “Liturgy of the Word.”  We start with the sign of the cross.  That shows we believe in the Holy Trinity (One God, three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit).  It also shows that we belong to God, not to ourselves.
  3. We ask God for forgiveness.  Ever hear people say, “Catholics don’t go straight to God with their sins?”  We do it all the time, at every Mass!
  4. Next, we read the Bible and preach from it.  There is usually a reading from the Old Testament, something from the Psalms, and the New Testament.  We stand up during the Gospel reading to reverence the story of Christ’s time here on earth.  Over a three year period, a faithfully attending Catholic will hear nearly the entire Bible.  Pretty simple, eh?  Catholics may not be good at quoting chapter and verse, but we hear God’s Word if we are listening.  Very profound!
  5. The second part of the Mass is the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  This is where we as Christians do what Jesus commanded us to do.  At the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and wine, blessed it, said “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” and told his followers to eat and drink it.  So, that’s what we do.  The priest, being ordained by the authority of Christ’s Church, stands in the place of Christ, and Christ’s words make the change happen (“Jesus told his priests, “He who hears you hears me.” Luke 10:16).  The bread and wine become Christ’s flesh and blood.  This has been the belief of the Church for 2000 years.  John chapter 6 shows how important this Eucharist is.  Jesus said, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.  If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have eternal life and I will raise you up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” (John 6:53-55)  Now, if you actually have the glorified Jesus Christ in the flesh right in your presence, it makes sense to show some respect and reverence, right?  So, we kneel down in worship.  Pretty simple, eh?  When we go forward for Communion, we accept Jesus into our hearts and also into our bodies.  Jesus wants to occupy every part of our being.  Now, that’s what I call Communion!  How profound, yet simple to do!  Anyone who believes can be fully united with Jesus!

 

Throughout these major parts of the Mass there are various hymns and prayers, including The Lord’s Prayer (The Our Father).  We are supposed to participate with and actively listen to these prayers and enter into the whole process of the Mass, not simply observe it.  The Mass is not a show to watch.  It is the way Jesus told us he wants to be worshipped.  A baptized Christian is part of the priesthood of believers.  We are supposed to be joining in with the worship and sacrifice, not watching a performance (1Peter 2:5).  Jesus is the High Priest, the earthly priest stands in for him, and we are the “living stones” of the “holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”  There is only one spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God by Jesus Christ; the sacrifice of Christ himself.  That’s why we lift him up in the Mass (John 3:14, 12:32).  That is also why people bow or genuflect towards the fancy, gold tabernacle in the church.  Some of the bread that has been changed into the body of Christ is kept in there.

The Mass is dismissed with an admonition to “Go.”  Christians are not supposed to be huddled up in their churches hiding from the world.  We are supposed to go to Mass, be nourished by Christ himself, and then take Christ out into the world we live in.  That’s not so hard to understand.

Like anything else in life, you get out of the Mass what you put into the Mass.  Remember, it is not there to entertain you.  It is also not an evangelizing service for recruiting new believers.  The Mass is there because it is how Jesus told us he wants believers to worship him and be fed by him.  The basics of the Mass do not change with the times.  Jesus never changes, and the way he told us to worship never changes.  That’s why the Mass is so ancient.  It was started by the unchanging Jesus 2000 years ago.

If there are things you don’t understand about the Mass, you can learn.  Ask questions, buy books, look up information on Catholic websites, whatever helps you to understand it better.  If you ask a question and don’t get a good answer, ask someone else who knows more.  Like anything else, once you know the basics, you wonder why it seemed so hard before.  The Mass is also very deep and profound.  The more I learn about the Mass, the more fascinating it becomes.  Every little action and word in the liturgy has deep meaning and purpose.

If you quit going to Mass because you were craving more fellowship, remember that Catholicism has other avenues for socializing.  It’s not enough to chat a few minutes before or after Mass.  If you really want the social interaction, you can find it in Catholicism.  Either find a more social parish or start a small group or event.  I recently joined a men’s group in my parish and it is helping me to be more social and involved.  You don’t need to leave Catholicism to have fellowship or to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Just imagine how vibrant and social your local parish and the entire Church would be if all those “former Catholics” saw the light and decided to return home to be fed by Christ himself!

The Real Transformers

I never had a Transformer toy when I was a kid.  I spent some time playing with the ones my nephews had, though.  Some of them were easier to “transform” than others.  I remember watching some of the cartoons.  I liked the Transformers movies pretty well.  The mechanically inclined part of me always thought is was cool the way all those parts shifted around to create new machines with different appearances.  Appearance is generally what we think about when we hear the word “transformation,” like a magician changing a rabbit into a dove or something.  It’s different because it looks different.

A friend of mine shared with me how happy she was that her son had recently accepted Christ and was going to be baptized.  I rejoiced with her.  There is nothing better than eternal life.  After all, finding eternal life is what this present life is all about.  The next time I laid eyes on her son I saw a Christian where previously there was no Christian.  But, he looked like the same person.  He may have had a different expression on his face.  Maybe he got a haircut.  He may have been making better choices in his life.  He may have shown more joy than he used to, but I still recognized him as being my friend’s son, even though he had been “transformed.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 reads, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”  He is a “new creature?”  Some translations use the words “new creation.”  Wow!  That is a major transformation!  In other words, what he “is” is not what he “was.”  But, to the human eye he still looks like the same person.  In fact, I would bet that, if looked at under an electron microscope, his skin, blood and bone cells would look like regular human cells.  He would still smell the same after a hard day’s work.  He would still taste like a man to any dog that bit him.  His vocal chords would still produce the same voice that his friends and family recognize.  And yet, he is “a new creature?”  That’s a more impressive transformation than Optimus Prime!  This must be some kind of supernatural process that changes the substance of something without changing the appearance of it.

I have yet to meet a Christian (Catholic or non-Catholic) that has a problem accepting Paul’s words “he is a new creature/creation.”  However, I have met numerous Christians that have a problem accepting the words of Jesus, “this is my body, this is my blood.”  Why do we take Paul at his word but dismiss the words of Christ?  Why can we so easily accept that we are transformed when we are saved but hardly accept that God transforms bread and wine?  Does Paul’s “is” have more power than Christ’s “is?”

We are transformed by Christ and made into new creatures, even though our outward appearance remains the same.  Bread and wine are transformed by Christ into himself, even though their outward appearance remains the same.  Both require faith in Christ to believe.  That which “is” is not what it “was,” even though it still looks the same.  This is the stuff of miracle, not metaphor.  The Spirit gives real, eternal life through faith, not symbols that we can only regard with “the flesh” of our mind and our senses (See John 6:63, 8:15).  Contrast what Jesus calls “the flesh” with what he calls “my flesh which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)

There is nothing better than eternal life.  Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:54)  At the Catholic Mass, the bread and wine looks, feels, sounds, smells and tastes just like bread and wine, but it is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.  Jesus instituted the Catholic Mass at The Last Supper (Mark 14:22-24).  Christ’s transforming words still have the same power today.

Do we believe we are transformed into new creatures?  Why not believe the bread and wine are transformed into our Lord?  Lord, I believe; help my unbelief (Mark 9:23-24).

 

(This reflection was inspired by this post by Stacy Trasancos)

Catholic Show And Tell

When someone says, “Evangelization,” most people probably imagine some combination of preaching, door knocking, handing out Bibles and tracts, and asking people if they have accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.  Or, if one is less inclined to boldly approach people with questions about their inner spiritual life, there is always “lifestyle evangelization” which allows one to quietly go about living without all the awkward, confrontational aspects of talking to others about Jesus.  The hope is that someone will be inspired to turn to Jesus by observing a pious Christian life.  How do Catholics evangelize?

Saint Francis of Assisi is usually credited with having said, “Preach always.  Use words when necessary.”  We are to evangelize with a combination of lifestyle and words.  If we are not living a life of genuine, Christian love, then our words lose credibility.  We also need words to describe why we live as we do.  We need to be able to articulate Catholic Christian ideas.  We need to show and tell the world why it is important to be a Catholic Christian.  Anyone can be nice.  Atheists and Agnostics can be nice.  Why be a Christian?  Why be a Catholic Christian?  Now more than ever, it is necessary to use words.

Peter, our first Pope, said, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:” (1Peter 3:15).  We don’t have to be out in the town square with speakers and a microphone, but we need to be ready to use words.  We need to know the Catholic Faith well enough to provide more than a blank stare or evasive maneuvers when someone asks us what we believe.  We need to know what we believe, why we believe it, and what difference it makes.

During my Evangelical Protestant phase things were a bit different.  All I needed to do was summon up enough courage to invite someone to church (not always easy for an introvert like me).  The preacher would generally take it from there.  The service was primarily focused on the sermon.  Most sermons contained at least some reference to the human need for salvation through Christ and, at the end, an invitation to pray “the sinner’s prayer” or come forward and “accept Christ into your heart” (like at a Billy Graham crusade).  The preacher did all the heavy lifting.  All I had to do was get a person to go to the service with me.

The Catholic Mass is not an Evangelical service.  Although the Bible is read and a sermon is preached, the focus of the Mass is the Eucharist.  Christ instituted Christian worship at the Last Supper.  The Last Supper was the first Mass.  Mass is the 2000 year old celebration of Christ’s sacrifice for believers to participate in, not an evangelical service designed to recruit nonbelievers.  Unless a Catholic is able and willing to explain the Mass to a visitor, that visitor is likely to be rather confused by the experience.  If more Catholics became adept at explaining the Mass, it would be more effective to invite people to church.  This, of course, necessitates Catholics themselves understanding the Mass.  Many simply do not understand.

Catholics need to get serious about living out the Faith.  As Pope Francis recently said, it does no good to simply wear Christianity as a label.  Catholics need to learn the Faith before we can live it out and effectively share it with others.  We are not ready to “give answers” if we don’t know the answers.  We can’t expect the clergy to do all the heavy lifting.  The Second Vatican Council was focused on getting the laity involved in spreading the Gospel, not just doing readings or distributing Communion or being ushers.  Catholics need to read the Bible and the Catholic Catechism.  We need to study our Faith either at home or in classes.  There are countless resources available to us in the form of books, DVDs, Bible studies and the internet.  We have no excuse for ignorance of our Faith.

We need caring and sharing.  We have to genuinely care about people and care about the Faith in order to share the Faith.  When we care about a person, we desire to know more about that person.  If we care about Jesus, we will seek to know Him more.  The best way to know Jesus is to know the Church.  As Saint Joan of Arc said about Jesus and the Church, “They are simply the same thing.”  Know the Catholic Church, know Jesus.

The best way for Catholics to evangelize is to begin by knowing what Catholics believe, why we believe it, and what difference it makes.  We can invite people to Mass, but first we must prepare to explain the experience.  If we have children, we must teach them what the Mass is about.  The best way to learn something is to teach it.  We don’t need to be theologians or clergy to evangelize others.  But we at least need to know the basics of what we are doing and why we are doing it.  Understanding the Mass is a good starting point.  By evangelizing others, we might find ourselves converted.

At the end of every Mass we are told to “go.”  Let’s go and make disciples.  Let’s do Catholic show and tell.

Doing Church A Whole New Way

How do you like to worship God?  That question gets many different answers.  Some might say, “I like to worship God through music.”  Others might prefer to sit on the beach or hike through the woods observing the majesty of God’s creation.  Still others will relate how being at church or reading the Bible is their favorite way to worship God.  All of these are good.  God is certainly pleased by our desire to focus on Him in some way.  Now, let’s ask a different question.  How does God want us to worship Him?

We don’t have to read very far in the Bible before realizing that our worship preferences often depart from what God asks of us.  Cain killed Abel out of jealousy because God accepted Abele’s offering.  The Israelites made a golden calf as a form of worship.  Moses wasn’t allowed into the Promised Land because he departed from God’s instructions.  Saul got in trouble because he didn’t honor God the way the prophet said he should.  There are plenty of examples.  The point is that there is God’s way and there is our way.  We tend to do things our way.  Worship is no exception.

The other day I saw a yard sign that had been placed near a public park.  The sign was an advertisement for a church.  The sign said, “Doing church a whole new way.”  I understand completely the reason for the sign.  They are trying to attract people to their church through creative marketing and new methodologies.  I have been a board member and a minister in churches that were faced with the same challenge of how to increase attendance.  Many churches have tried creative things to draw people in.  While it is not bad to use creativity, it creates problems when God’s preferred method of worship is neglected, abused or even eliminated.

One problem is that we have become a society of spectators.  We like to sit in front of screens or stages and be entertained too much.  Hence, many churches are akin to attending a concert or going to a movie or a sporting event.  Get your coffee or other refreshment, take it with you into the venue, sit down and observe and listen.  Church has become primarily a spectator event.  Participation in such church events might consist of singing a song (if you feel like it) or maybe giving an occasional shout of approval.  But that is something one can also do at a baseball game.  One can sing the national anthem at the start of the game, sing Take Me Out To The Ball Game at the seventh inning and give a shout when one’s team scores.  And, of course, one can have a drink and a hot dog while enjoying the event.  This is what many churches have become modeled after: a venue for spectators to enjoy.

Worship is not for spectators.  Worship is for participants.  True worship also cannot be invented by us because it has already been instituted by God.  Jesus Christ Himself instituted Christian worship at The Last Supper.  He took bread and wine, turned it into Himself and instructed His disciples to eat and drink of His Body and His Blood (“this is my body, this is my blood”).  The Last Supper was the first Mass.

The Mass is not for spectators.  The believing Christian participates in every aspect of the Mass through his/her universal priesthood (not to be confused with the ordained priesthood).  Many Catholics don’t even realize that they are members of the priesthood of believers by virtue of their baptism.  We are not supposed to be merely observing the Mass and the actions of the ordained priest, but joining with the priest and every aspect of the supreme sacrifice of Christ (“through Him, with Him and in Him”).  The Mass unites us with Christ and with each other.  This is the worship that God wants from us.  He wants us to be conformed to Christ by partaking of the entire Christ (body, blood, soul and divinity).

People that are bored with the Mass do not understand the Mass.  The Mass does not depend upon the quality of the music or the dynamism of the preacher.  The Mass does not depend upon how well or how loudly the congregants sing.  The Mass does not depend upon how socially outgoing or how shy the people may be.  The Mass does not depend upon how entertained or inspired people may or may not “feel.”  The Mass is no place for coffee or other refreshments because the food that is offered is The Word of God made flesh, The Living Bread, Jesus Christ Himself.  You don’t need to bring your own food to a banquet supplied by God!

“The Mass” is the answer to the question, “How does God want the Christian to worship?”  The answer has been the same for 2000 years, ever since Jesus Christ instituted the first Mass in the Upper Room with His newly ordained priests.  Jesus showed them how He wanted them to worship, and they passed it down through the centuries.  No other form of worship needs to be “invented” by us.  Whatever we may come up with is less than what God asks of us.  Any other form of worship ultimately becomes more about us than about God.  We may even fall into idolatry as we seek our own worship “preferences.”

If we are in any way unsatisfied with God’s method of worship, the problem is with us, not with the worship method.  We don’t need to “do church in a whole new way.”  We need to be converted and see God’s true form of worship the way He wants us to see it.  Our creativity should be focused not on changing God’s method of Christian worship, but on finding ways to help people understand and love the worship that Christ instituted.

Help people understand and love Christ’s Holy Mass!  It will change their lives!

Christian Unity: When Will We Learn?

My fellow Christians, why are we divided?  Do we not all believe that Jesus is the Messiah?  Do we not all have access to the same Bibles?  Do we not all know the Apostles’ Creed?  Do we not all read the words of Jesus and the Apostles?  Why are these things not enough to keep us united in spiritual battle?  What do we lack?  Why are we not “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” as Paul admonished us to be?

We lack that which transforms a great horde into a well-oiled, disciplined, effective army:  allegiance to a central chain of command.  We also lack the holiness that comes from being disciplined and united.  How can we preach holiness while maintaining division?  The two are not compatible.  A divided army simply does not fight well.  Holiness is what we use to wage spiritual warfare.  Division is not holy.  Our lips profess allegiance to Christ, but our actions show division, contention and strife.

When will we learn that Jesus established a visible Church hierarchy, a chain of command for all Christians to follow and be accountable to?  We cannot be united while preaching and teaching different doctrines.  We cannot be united while following leaders that oppose each other.  When will we learn that unity requires humility and the swallowing of pride?  Soldiers must learn to follow orders that they may not agree with or fully understand.  When will we learn that we cannot worship wherever and however we want?  Worship cannot be invented by us.  Christian worship has been instituted by Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  We cannot effectively function as different parts of the same Body if we are not fully united to that Body.  When will we learn that being Christian is not about choosing one’s preferences from a smorgasbord of doctrinal options, but about being obedient to the Faith?  One Lord, one Faith, one baptism.

When will we learn that genuine Christian unity will elude us until we reverse the perpetual, explosive trend of protest and division and return to the central command of Peter’s chair?

Rom 16:17, 1Cor 1:10, 1Cor 3:3, 1Cor 11:18, Matt 16:18

Becoming One Flesh: Eucharist And Marriage

Dr. Scott Hahn recently posted an excellent Facebook response to a question about the Eucharist being closed to non-Catholics.  His answer reflected on his own spiritual journey from Evangelical Christian to Presbyterian minister to Catholic.  Each step in his journey brought him closer to understanding the sacramental aspect of both marriage and the Eucharist.  Each relationship is a “one flesh” union requiring fidelity and integrity.

As I reflected on Dr. Hahn’s answer, it occurred to me that perhaps a lack of understanding about the Eucharist and marriage contributes to the wide acceptance of contraception.  For example, if marriage is not viewed as a sacrament, it becomes only a symbol and loses integrity.  It can be manipulated according to the will of anyone desiring to make use of its symbolism.  If Holy Communion is only a symbol, it loses any need for fidelity.  Anyone can “join in.”  There is no need for full union between participants.  The Eucharist becomes merely a symbol of common feelings rather than a reality of a “one flesh” union.  Since everyone “feels good” about Jesus, they should all be allowed to partake of the Eucharist, right?

Ironically, few married people would be comfortable becoming one flesh with someone they were not fully united to in marriage.  That’s called infidelity and it is rightfully frowned upon by most married people.  We don’t let everyone “join in.”  So, why should we be ok letting people “join in” the one flesh union of the Eucharist if those people are not fully united with Christ’s Church?

And why should we let people partake of the Eucharist if they don’t even believe that what they are participating in is an actual, “one flesh” union?  That’s like being in a contraception marriage.  There are lots of “good feelings” that feel like bonding, but there is not a one flesh union taking place in the marriage.  It is a lack of integrity.  The marriage is only symbolic of the feelings they have about each other.  They do not take the marriage to its full realization of a one flesh, life giving union.

One of the best ways for the devil to mess up our relationship with Christ is to promote the following errors:

–          The Holy Communion is only symbolic.  The bread and wine are not transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.  We don’t need to become one flesh with Christ at Communion.  All we need is our good feelings about Jesus and the Bible.

–          Contraception is fine and even preferable.  Sex and marriage are mostly about bonding and “good feelings,” not primarily about becoming one flesh and creating new life.

–          Anyone that believes in Jesus should be allowed to participate in Holy Communion.  No fidelity to the Church or her Christ-given authority is necessary.

The two Sacraments of Eucharist and Marriage are intimately connected in such a way that an attack on one serves as an attack on the other.  A deeper understanding of one leads to a deeper understanding of the other.  “Becoming one flesh” is a critical theme that connects the two Sacraments in a unique way.

Catholics are not mean, snobbish “elitists” that refuse to let other Christians “join in.”  We simply hold to the understanding of Jesus and the Church Fathers who saw the need for covenantal integrity and marital fidelity within marriage and within the Church.

Whose Conscience Are We Following?

It seems to me that one very misunderstood idea within Christianity is the idea of conscience formation.  While people are generally willing to do what they feel is right, they are less apt to consider how they came to know right from wrong in the first place.  People usually don’t think about what formed their conscience.  None of us totally “think on our own.”  We all borrow and exchange ideas, opinions, beliefs, values, principles, etc.  We learn things from parents, schools, churches, media, politics, friends, etc.  These sources all influence or “form” the conscience.

When presented with questions of morality and justice, which sources do we turn to?  What if parents taught that something is immoral, but school taught that it is moral and normal?  What if it is politically correct to normalize and embrace a certain lifestyle or behavior but Church teaching says it is wrong?  Who or what gets to have the preeminent spot in the conscience?  Out of all the competing forces inside the human heart, which one has the final say?

I have heard it said that if I follow the teachings of the Catholic Church I am not thinking for myself.  I am blindly going along with oppressive, religious teachings that marginalize or hurt certain peoples and populations.  Those who would make such an accusation apparently feel that I would be better off following their teachings instead of the Catholic Church.  In other words, they want to do my thinking for me.  They want to be the force that forms my conscience and teaches me right from wrong.  Why should I submit my will to theirs?

There is also a popular notion that one should be able to pick and choose which Church teachings to follow and which ones to reject based on one’s conscience.  However, the purpose of the Church is not to form the conscience and then produce a smorgasbord of rules for us to choose from in order to give us practice using our conscience.  It’s not like the military where soldiers are trained and then put through simulated battles to practice their skills.  The conscience is trained within the Church in order to fight battles that oppose the Church (i.e. Christ).  Put simply, the Church teaches us how to be good so we can fight evil.

It doesn’t help much in the fight against evil to have a conscience formed by the world rather than by the Church.  If the conscience is formed by the worldly, secular, politically correct culture, then following it will simply perpetuate the worldly, secular, politically correct culture.  A conscience that has been formed in opposition to the Church has been deformed.  It struggles to operate as a force against evil because it does not function properly.  It is more likely to assist evil ends than good ends, even if it does so blindly.

When we encounter a teaching of the Church that is difficult, we have choices.  One choice is to assert our conscience over and above that teaching, thereby potentially letting in the other conscience-forming forces that oppose good.  The other choice is to obediently allow our conscience to be formed by the Church.  Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would teach the Church all things.  Following Church teachings is placing faith in the promise of Christ.  Faith requires a reasonable, obedient act of the will, not just feelings or hunches.  A properly formed conscience is not a “gut feeling.”  It is an obedient act of faith.

It also does not help the battle against evil to have multitudes of Christians believing and teaching different things.  While Christians vie against each other with, “The Bible says this,” or “The Bible says that,” evil exploits their distractions.  When all Christians are willing to follow the Church instead of their individual, misinformed consciences and private biblical interpretations, evil will cower.

“I Love You, But I’m Not In Love With You.” (Marriage and Eucharist)

“I love you, but I’m not in love with you.”  I can’t count the number of times I have heard that phrase in my counseling office.  When someone says this to a spouse it typically means, “I no longer have those honeymoon feelings I used to have.”  There are occasions when a person is experiencing a genuine state of clinical depression and has lost the ability to experience feelings of happiness and appreciation.  However, more often these individuals are idolizing the god of subjectivity and have allowed feelings to become their master.  They have reduced the objective reality of their marriage to a subjective state.  They may not “feel” married, but they are still married.

The Church is the Bride of Christ and, as such, is married to the Bridegroom, Jesus.  The Eucharist is the marriage supper.  Hence, receiving Holy Communion is a joining together of Bride and Groom in an objective way.  It is a very real union that is not dependant on subjective feelings.  The fact that two people might “feel” married to each other does not make them objectively married.  Conversely, marriage is an objective reality regardless of the subjective feelings.  The Eucharist is not real because it “feels” real.  It is real.

Dr. Peter Kreeft points out that to regard the Lord’s Supper as merely symbolic is to reduce the relationship of a marriage to the level of a friendship.  Although a healthy marriage will include friendship between spouses (Jesus called His disciples friends), it is not the friendship that makes the relationship a marriage.  The marriage is created by the unique union of the body and soul of the bride and the groom.  That is the objective reality.  When the Eucharist is reduced to only the symbolic, all that remains is the subjective feeling.  In other words, when people receive the Lord’s Supper in non-Catholic churches, they may experience feelings about their relationship with Jesus, but there is no actual union taking place between Bride and Groom.  The relationship is subjective.  Communion becomes all about remembering what Jesus did and how believers “feel” about what He did.  The Catholic Eucharist includes the subjective remembering as well as the objective uniting of married partners.  Jesus is in our hearts, but He is also really united with our bodies and souls, like a bride and groom.

Think about how a vaccine works.  It is not a placebo.  It is not dependant on how the patient feels about receiving it, although the patient may be very happy and grateful.  The vaccine works by a very real process of interacting with the body of the patient.  It is an objective reality, not a subjective reality.  The Eucharist is not a placebo (nor are the other Sacraments).  It “works” by the power of Christ interacting with spirit and matter, not by the feelings of those receiving it.

The union of the Bride and the Groom is not dependant on “honeymoon” feelings, although such feelings may certainly be present.  Any experienced married couple will testify to the fact that honeymoon feelings do not sustain a healthy marriage.  Unless the honeymoon feelings grow into something much deeper, the marriage will suffer.  In counseling, the goal is not to take a couple back to their honeymoon days.  The goal is to bring the honeymoon forward to a deeper place.  Similarly, Dr. Kreeft says, “God does not want us to have a spiritual sweet tooth.”  God wants us objectively united with Him in the Eucharist, not just going by our feelings.  Feelings can become an idol of worship.  Feelings often become the cake instead of the icing on the cake (especially in America).

Moses did not feel good about God calling him to lead Israel.  Jonah did not feel good about preaching to Nineveh.  Jesus did not feel good about going to the cross.  Children do not feel good about getting the Polio vaccine or eating vegetables.  Married people do not always feel good about their spouses.  Catholics do not always feel their hearts “strangely warmed” or a “burning in the bosom” when receiving the Eucharist.  When it comes to love and obedience, feelings are not important.  Feelings come and go.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, and He invites us to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  Will we come and dine out of love and obedience, or will we let our feelings be our god?  “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:57)  “This is my body…this is my blood…” (Matt 26:26-28)  Jesus never asked the “therapist” question, “How does that make you feel?”  He simply said, “Take and eat.”