One of several photos I took at our cathedral before the archbishop’s service for catechumens and candidates. We have over 400 people entering full communion with the Church this Easter! The light streaming in from on high could not have been more appropriate for this day. How awesome is God, and how beautiful is the Faith!
Yesterday I was on a men’s retreat at my parish. During lunch break one of the guys was looking at his phone and scrolling away. I asked him if he was looking at Facebook. “Yeah,” he said, “just killing some time.” I nodded my head. Then he said, “Facebook is kind of like standing in front of the refrigerator. You open it up and scan through it to see if anything looks good.” I laughed in agreement.
His comment reminded me of a talk I once heard from a priest who was teaching a class on Catholicism. The priest was introducing the idea that all of us have a built in longing for God, but we seek things other than God to appease that longing. He quoted St. Augustine as saying that “our hearts are restless, oh God, until they rest in you.” Then, he shared his own experience of something that is familiar to most of us. It is the tendency to open the refrigerator door and stand there looking for something, even when we’re not really hungry.
I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said, “Every man who ever knocked on the door of a brothel was looking for God, but he just didn’t realize it.” Whether it is the brothel door, the refrigerator door, the pantry door, the log in page of Facebook or any number of endeavors, we all look for something besides God to appease our longing for God. Actually, it’s not something but someone we are seeking. It is a longing that can only be satisfied by a relationship with God, for only God can provide the pure, unconditional love that we crave. If we seek that relationship in anything or anyone other than God, we will eventually find ourselves unfulfilled, frustrated or disappointed. We may even find ourselves addicted, constantly returning to that which can never fully satisfy, and that which ultimately leaves us empty and restless.
Close the refrigerator door. You’re letting all the cold air out.
I’m excited about something we’re doing at our parish this Christmas. One of the men in our men’s group has been able to procure low cost copies of Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s book Rome Sweet Home. Hundreds of these books will be gift wrapped and given to people at Christmas Mass. The plan is to also give more of these books away at Easter.
There are so many people that only come to church on Christmas and Easter. This book may help some of them appreciate their faith more. Listening to the stories of converts is a great way to avoid taking the Faith for granted. Cradle Catholics often lack zeal and knowledge about their own Catholicism. Many are “culturally Catholic” with little or no sense of the historical, spiritual, life-giving power of Christ’s Church. It can be very enlightening to hear the logical and spiritual reasons for actually wanting to become Catholic. There are thousands of people and hundreds of families in our parish. We hope to get at least one book to most of these families.
The book was written by a married couple. They take turns describing their path from anti-Catholic, Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism. Scott Hahn has become one of the most respected biblical scholars of our day. It is refreshing to hear the perspectives of both Scott and Kimberly as they explain their individual struggles as well as the challenges the journey presented to their marriage. I highly recommend the book to Catholic and non-Catholic readers.
So many Catholics are drifting away from the Church or going through the motions of being Catholic without really being in love with Christ or his Church. My prayer is that, by reading what people go through to find their way home to Catholicism, many Catholics will realize how good it is to already be home. Then they will have more desire to invite others home, too. I also hope non-Catholics will read the book and be inspired to make the journey home.
Catholics are often caught off guard by the question, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior?” That question may cause confusion for the Catholic because it is presented in a phraseology the Catholic is generally not familiar with. The questioner may observe a look of confusion on the Catholic’s face, or hear an answer that is other than what has been predetermined by the questioner as the “right” answer. What follows is typically an assumption that the Catholic has no personal relationship with Jesus and needs to “get saved.” I think the wrong question is being asked.
First of all, where in the Bible does one find the phrase, “Accept Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior?” It is not in the Bible. So, it’s not really a good place to start, anyway. There is, however, a lot in the Bible about repentance, belief, faith, baptism, confession and obedience. So, it would be better to start with one of those topics.
Ask Catholics the question, “Who died to save the world from sin?” “Jesus,” they will say, “look right there at that crucifix.” Good. “Do you believe that Jesus died to save you personally from your sin?” “Yes,” the Catholics will say. Good. “Who is greater, Jesus or Mary?” The Catholics will say, “Why, Jesus is greater. Jesus is God. Mary isn’t God, she’s a created being, a human.” Good. “Are Catholics supposed to follow the commandments of God and do good works?” “Of course we are! What good would it do to be a Christian without following God’s commandments?” That sounds like good sense. “What if you sin? Does God forgive you when you repent?” The Catholics say, “Yes. If we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (OK, I admit most Catholics will not be able to quote that Scripture verse, but that is what they believe!).
So, asking the proper questions unveils a very real, personal relationship between the Catholic and Jesus Christ. But Evangelicals and Fundamentalists that “witness” to Catholics tend to not ask the right questions. Obviously, it is possible for a Catholic to get all those questions right in the head but not the heart. The same could be said for the Evangelical or the Fundamentalist. Only God knows whether the answers to the questions are genuinely from the heart.
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.”
I’ve created a new tab with my reversion story. You can read it here.
Most of my Christian friends would agree with me when I say that the Bible is God’s Word. They would also agree when I say that Jesus is Lord and Savior, and that his promises are true. I would like to consider the connection between some of the promises of Jesus and the origin of the Bible.
There is a misconception among many Christians that the Church springs forth from the Bible. However, if we use the Bible as a guide for starting a new church, we are doing things backwards. The historical reality is that the Bible came from the Church, not vice versa. The Church was started by Christ and thrived for 400 years before the Bible was even assembled.
Consider the promise of Christ, “I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” Jesus promised us one Church that would never fail. It makes no sense, then, to conclude that the Church started by Jesus somehow “failed” and needed to be “rebooted” or started over at some point. Jesus also promised to be with his Church “until the end of the age.” In other words, Jesus doesn’t “leave” his Church, cast it aside and start a “new church.” The Holy Spirit sticks with the original Church until the very end of the world.
Most Christians would agree that the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture. There were a lot of writings from the time of the early Church, but not all of them were inspired. Not all of them belonged in the Bible. Not all of them made it into the New Testament. Who decided which writings made the cut? Whoever it was, they must have been guided by the Holy Spirit, right? It was the Catholic Church that decided which writings were inspired and which writings did not belong in the New Testament. This is not a matter of opinion, it is simply history. The Bible was assembled by the Catholic Church nearly 400 years after Christ.
Would Jesus start his Church, have members of his Church write inspired Scripture, guide his Church in assembling the Bible, and then “leave” his Church to start a “new” Church? No, because Jesus does not break his promises. The Catholic Church today is the same Church started by Jesus 2000 years ago.
Catholics are Christians. The word “catholic” simply means “universal.” The Catholic Church is the universal Christian Church. In other words, it’s for everyone everywhere, including you and me. It is wrong to assume that a Catholic is something different than a Christian, or that Catholics are not “saved” according to the Bible. The Catholic Church wrote the New Testament Scriptures and assembled the Scriptures. The Church has studied, preached and taught the Scriptures for 2000 years. Make no mistake, the Catholic Church knows all about salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ! Read the Catholic Catechism!
Incidentally, those who claim that the Catholic Church is “The whore of Babylon” from the book of Revelation, or that the pope is the antichrist, are using the same New Testament produced and authorized by the Catholic Church! And for those who claim that the Emperor Constantine “started” the Catholic Church, notice that the New Testament was assembled and approved by the Church (A.D. 382 at the synod of Rome) after Constantine converted to and legalized Christianity in the early 300s. Those who say, “Constantine started the Catholic Church!” are using the same New Testament produced and approved by what they consider to be a “false religion!”
I submit that most Christians are simply not aware of the historical and spiritual origin of their Bibles. It took me nearly 40 years to learn it and I was raised Catholic! The fact is, if you accept the God-given authority of the Bible, you are also accepting the God-given authority of the Catholic Church, whether you realize it or not. Jesus did not give authority to his Church only to strip it away at some later date. The Catholic Church is the original Christian Church. It is only the protection of the Holy Spirit that has prevented the Catholic Church from self-destructing for 2000 years. No mere human institution holds up under such pressures. All other churches have been started by someone other than Jesus Christ.
If we love Jesus and the Bible, it only makes sense to love the Church from which the Bible flows. It is inconsistent to accept Christ, accept the Bible but knowingly reject the Catholic Church. All three of them go together. They are intimately linked and cannot be separated from each other. Jesus is God’s Living Word made flesh among us. The Bible is God’s written Word. The Catholic Church is God’s authoritative Body of Christ that preaches and teaches God’s Word.
It is important to prayerfully consider the following questions: If the Holy Spirit guided the Catholic Church to be right about the New Testament, what else is the Catholic Church right about? What is your authority?
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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!
- 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!
I came across this post and was impressed with how applicable it is to the American Catholics of my generation. I identified with much of her reversion story. It is not a short read, but every bit of it resonated with me in some way. If you are a Catholic born in the 60s or 70s, chances are good that you share at least part of her story. If you are a Catholic that left the Church (or know Catholics that have), this story is also for you.
Her blog also has some interesting marital information from a woman’s perspective worth checking out. If any of you have read the books she mentions, I would love to hear your opinions since I have not read them.
Have you ever experienced the feeling of being called out in a crowd? Do you remember hiding behind the head of the student in front of you so the teacher wouldn’t call your name to answer a question or solve a problem on the board? Perhaps you have avoided eye contact with performers at a show as they scanned the audience for volunteers. Maybe you have participated in a prayer group and secretly hoped the leader wouldn’t ask you to lead the group in a closing prayer. There can be comfort in anonymity. We sometimes prefer to be lost in the crowd and not called out. The shadows feel safer than the spotlight.
There have been occasions when my enjoyment of a show turned to dread as the performers left the stage to wander the audience looking for a “victim” to become part of the show. My mind was screaming, “Please don’t walk over towards me!” All I wanted was to enjoy the show, not become part of it. Of course, if I ever was chosen I would play along and make the best of it. I’m a bit of a ham when I want to turn loose. The discomfort is in that initial feeling of being plucked from the security of my shadow. The heat of the spotlight burns a bit at first.
Think about all the crowds that followed Jesus around watching him perform miracles and listening to him teach. Imagine being one of those people in the crowd. There you are, listening to the power and impact of his words. Maybe you were close enough to actually see him heal someone or drive out a demon. What if you were among the crowd of five thousand people who were fed from a few fishes and loaves of bread? Wouldn’t that be amazing? What a show that would be!
As you stand on your toes and crane your neck to get a better view, you notice that Jesus has turned to face your direction. He begins to slowly move towards where you are standing and you wonder where he is going. “Wow,” you think to yourself, “He’s headed this way! I’ll get an even better look at him!” (You would be wishing you lived in the 21st century so you could pull out your smart phone and get a picture or even a video of him as he passes by). The crowd separates and opens a path for Jesus as he draws ever closer to your location. Now you can see the whites of his eyes.
As he comes closer you realize his eyes are looking towards where you are standing and you are curious about what he is looking at. You look around and behind yourself to discern where he may be headed. When you look back at him again it seems as if he is looking right at you. At first you are somewhat amused. Then, as it becomes apparent that he has made eye contact with you and is not looking away, your face become flushed and a sense of dread comes over you as the blood seems to drain from your body. Slowly, yet quite intentionally, Jesus comes face-to-face with you. He gazes into your eyes, raises his hand and says, “Come. Follow me.” The crowd is now staring at you. They are waiting to see what you will do.
Now, let us travel to the present day. You are sitting in a pew in a church. There are many other people around you. You sit through the service. You listen to the readings and the preaching. You sing a song or two. You watch the activity in front of you. Perhaps you even feel inspired. When the “show” is over, you leave and go home. Once again you have taken your place in the shadows. You have remained anonymous. You are comfortably lost in a crowd. Or, so you think.
Jesus calls all of us by name. He calls us out from the shadows. As surely as he stepped into Peter’s boat, he steps into our lives and beckons us to follow him. He calls us, not only to open our hearts to him, but to live life with him. He calls us to participate, not to observe. It is not a moment of acceptance he asks for, but a lifetime of conversion. Do we avoid his gaze? Do we hide behind the person in the pew in front of us? He shines the light on us and says, “Come. Follow me.” What will we do? The harvest is rich and the labourers are few.
What will you have me do, Lord?