Tag Archives: Grace

Wait…Jesus Said To OBEY The Scribes And Pharisees? What..?

In Mathew 23:1-3 Jesus says (paraphrase), “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: therefore, do all that they tell you to do; but don’t behave the way they do, for they don’t follow their own teachings.”  There are several points here to reflect on.

1)      Jesus was not anti-religion, he was anti-hypocrisy.  Jesus followed his Jewish religion perfectly (unlike the hypocrites).  Jesus never said he came to abolish religion.  Jesus came to fulfill the Jewish religion, not to get rid of it.  When people say, “Religion is bad but Jesus is good,” they are mistaken.  Jesus is good and so is his religion.

2)      Jesus recognized and validated the office held by the scribes and the Pharisees.  God established the seat of Moses.  It was an office of authority.  An earthly person (Moses) held an office of God-given authority.  Furthermore, that office had successors.  The scribes and the Pharisees had God-given authority because they were the successors of Moses, not because they were good men.  What we see here is the biblical principle that it is God, not men that establishes and preserves the earthly office of authority.  Men behaving badly can still validly occupy an office of God-given authority and use that authority to establish and teach doctrines and traditions (binding and loosing).  Jesus teaches obedience to men who sit on a seat authorized directly by God.

3)      The teachings of the scribes and Pharisees were not made invalid by their hypocrisy.  Notice that Jesus did not say, “Rebel against and disobey the scribes and Pharisees because they are hypocrites who won’t even follow their own teachings.”  Quite the opposite was true.  Jesus taught obedience to their God-given authority.

4)      The scribes and Pharisees “made the word of God of no effect” through their tradition (Mark 7:13).  Having the tradition wasn’t the problem.  Their attitude was the problem.  They “rejected the commandment of God” (verse 9).  Tradition is good if one is not rejecting the commandment of God.  After all, Jesus and his family followed Jewish tradition.  They were religious!  One can take most any religious tradition and either glorify God or reject God through that tradition.  It’s about one’s attitude.

5)      As stated above, Jesus validated the seat of Moses as an earthly authority from God.  In fact, he liked the idea so much that he fulfilled and perfected it for the New Covenant by creating the chair of Peter.  Again, God protects this office and provides successors for it.  Even a scoundrel of a pope cannot negate the authority of this office.  God protects the official teachings of the Church from error through the Holy Spirit, not through the impeccable behavior of men.  That is what the infallibility of the papacy means.  The same Holy Spirit that keeps error out of the Bible also protects the papacy.  God the Father directly authorized the seat of Moses.  God the Son directly authorized the Chair of Peter.

6)      Protestantism has the Bible, but it has no seat of earthly authority like the seat of Moses or the Chair of Peter.  This is, ironically, unbiblical.  The rejection of God-given Church authority has resulted in division and a multitude of opposing doctrines.  It is popular today to claim Jesus while rejecting religious authority.  Jesus taught the opposite.  To obey the God-given seat of authority is to obey God.  Obey Jesus by obeying his Church.

7)      Catholicism does not create traditions of men that “make the word of God of no effect.”  Read the Catholic Catechism honestly and you will discover that Church teachings flow from and compliment the Scriptures.  The Bible and Sacred Tradition are both apostolic.  They go together.

8)      Catholicism does not “heap heavy burdens upon men that even the religious leaders can’t bear.”  Read the Catholic Catechism and you will discover that Church teachings are about holiness and a relationship with Jesus, not legalistic rules and regulations.  There is nothing about being Catholic that “can’t be done” by the clergy or by the laity.  There may be things people don’t want to do, but that’s all about attitude and obedience.  If you live a Catholic life with the proper attitude you will grow ever closer to Christ.  Catholicism is all about receiving the grace of Jesus and sharing him with the world and with each other.

The Little Flower

I received the ten part documentary DVD set Catholicism for my birthday last week.  I had already seen some of the episodes on PBS and EWTN, and also in the men’s group at my parish.  It’s nice to have my own set, though.  I think Fr. Barron did an excellent job on the series.  I love how he traveled all over the world, even to my home town, to demonstrate the universality of the Church.  He also did a good job of going into some theological depth without completely losing the viewer.

Today I watched an episode that highlighted St. Therese of Lisieux, “The Little Flower.”  She has become an important influence in my spiritual journey.  It’s funny when I think back on my cradle Catholic days as a young man.  I used to ride my bicycle across town to visit a high school buddy of mine.  On the way I sometimes passed a Catholic Church called “Little Flower.”  I didn’t even know what that name meant.  I had no idea it was even named after a person.  I never visited that parish and I never learned about St. Therese and her nickname.  Now The Little Flower is a role model for me.  Just shows how clueless I was about my own faith back then.

In the episode, Father Barron talked about the “little way” of St. Therese and her view of holiness.  He related how St. Therese imagined that she could lift her arms up to God like a little child and He would, of course, reach down to lift her up.  In this way, she sensed that God could raise her up so very high because of her “littleness.”

While I was watching this episode, my toddler twins would periodically come into my room to see what I was doing and to say some childlike things to me.  My little daughter came in and, like she and her brother so often do, said with a smile, “You pick me up?”  I immediately saw in her the very essence of The Little Flower’s “little way.”  I reached down, picked her up, and to her delight and mine, lifted her high above my head.  Then I gave her a big hug and told her I loved her.

St. Therese, The Little Flower, pray for us!

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Visiting Where I Was Born Again.

This past weekend I was back in my hometown to celebrate a wedding and a birthday.  I needed to go to Church Sunday morning.  The default location was St. Ignatius, the Church I grew up in.  My parents still attend there, and it would be a chance to visit with them for a bit.  This time, however, I decided to do something different.  I was not baptized at St. Ignatius but at St. Clare, and my family attended there until I was in second grade.  Since I had not been there since I was a second grader, I thought it would be interesting to visit.

While approaching the church and school buildings, it struck me how small everything appeared.  Things are magnified to a child’s eyes, and my memory was a child’s memory.  Then I noticed the front steps.  I recalled an old photograph of my family standing on those steps with a baby.  The baby was me at my baptism.  I haven’t seen that photo in years, but I remember it.  And I remember the steps.

Upon entering the church a flood of memories hit me.  It all started to come back.  Except for the scale of things, I felt like I was looking through my six-year-old eyes.  The sights, the sounds and the aroma were familiar and welcoming.  It was like a reunion with a long lost relative.  As I took in the details it occurred to me that more than forty years had left so much unchanged.  The corner stone read “1914.”  The building was almost one hundred years old.  I was baptized there near its mid-century period.  I ran my hand along the railing that I could barely reach as a child.

Meanwhile, I was helping my wife juggle two-year-old twins and trying not to disrupt the Mass.  I had to carry my daughter to the back of the church to settle her down.  I paced back and forth while she gradually fell asleep.  Then I noticed the statue of St. Clare off to the side.  I gazed at her for a while and my eyes were drawn to the focal point of the monstrance she was holding.  When the priest lifted up the Holy Eucharist, it really hit me.  All those years that statue had been standing there holding that monstrance.  I had left, but she had not.  Yet, it was only a fraction of the time that Christ had been steadfastly present in the tabernacle of that church and in every Catholic Church for two thousand years.  He stayed with us, like He stayed with the travelers on the road to Emmaus, present in the Blessed Sacrament.

Jesus said to my heart, “You were baptized here, Thomas.  This is where you became my own.  When you left My Church, I awaited your return with open arms.  I have always been here for you, even when you didn’t care.  Though you may leave me, I will never leave you nor forsake you.  I love you, and I am happy you finally came home to Me.”  Then, I felt the warmth of my daughter asleep in my arms, and I knew the same promise was for her and her brother.  “I will not leave you orphans.  I am with you until the end of the age.”

God Is Everywhere. So, Why Go To Church On Sunday?

Since God is everywhere, why can’t I worship him anywhere?  I can.  I can worship God anywhere, anytime.  I can pray to God whenever I want to.  I can even be with God, as one Facebooker said, “At Wal-Mart.”  However, there’s more than one kind of worship and there’s more than one kind of prayer.

For non Catholic Christians, the primary purpose of going to church is generally to hear preaching and to fellowship with each other.  Indeed, scripture does tell Christians to ” not forsake the gathering of yourselves together” (Hebrews 10: 25).  Nevertheless, going to church for many Christians is considered highly recommended but not obligatory.  If the preaching is boring and nobody feels inspired then there is a sense that they didn’t really “have church.” If the sermon or the singing is inspiring, then people may leave the service feeling as though they ” really had church.” In any case, communing with each other while hearing preaching and singing together is the bottom line.  So, while it is true that God is everywhere, one can only worship communally where the community is.  Hence, one good reason for going to church on Sunday.  It’s not about where God is located, it’s about where you are located.  Are you with the community of believers or are you off being an individualistic Christian?  There is worship and then there is communal worship.  For 2000 years the community of believers has met for communal worship on the first day of the week, Sunday.

Catholic Christians (the 2000 year old Church) also meet on Sunday to hear scripture and preaching and singing and prayer and to fellowship with each other.  However, although Catholics acknowledge that God is everywhere, they also recognize that Jesus is present in a unique way during the Catholic Mass.  During the Catholic Mass Jesus is present physically, not just spiritually.  Consequently, Catholic Christians are communing with each other and with God in a unique way as they receive into themselves the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.  This they do as Christ instructed at the Last Supper and in the Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John chapter six.  There is no higher form of worship or prayer than this as it is a partaking of the supreme sacrifice of Christ himself.  Therein lies the second good reason for going to church on Sunday.  The Mass happens at church.  If the preaching or the music is lackluster ” church” has still taken place because Jesus has been physically and spiritually present regardless of how anyone feels about it.  His presence is an objective reality not a subjective experience of the believer.  There is a certain grace that is only accessible in this Eucharistic banquet.

Having said all of this, isn’t the fact that God wants us to worship together on Sunday enough of a reason to go to church?  I have not been able to find anything in scripture to suggest that any Christian should be content with a ” Jesus and me” Christianity.  Christianity is about community.  Having a personal relationship with Christ and being saved is a starting point.  A Christian is born again into a family of believers.  Family meal time happens at specific times and in specific places.  A Christian who says, ” I don’t have to eat with my family” is like the adolescent that is only interested in ” doing my own thing.” The parents have to say, ” You are part of the family.  Eat with us.” This is akin to the Catholic Church declaring a Sunday obligation for attending Mass (except for valid reasons for missing).  It is also the reason many preachers can be heard to say, ” There’s no such thing as a lone ranger Christian.”

So, if you’re a Christian, don’t miss church on Sunday without a valid reason.  Not because I said so, but because Jesus himself invited you.  Why turn down such an invitation?  You can go with me if you want to!

Part 6: Grant Me The Grace To Desire It

The last section of The Litany of Humility takes the desires from the first section and shows that it is not enough to be delivered from them.  Once we are delivered from a self centered desire we could easily slip into a state of self satisfaction and miss the point.  We are delivered for a reason beyond seeking our own comfort.  We are delivered for service to others.

A true servant places a priority on the needs of those being served.  We all have experienced good and bad service at a restaurant or some other establishment.  Some servers put their hearts into it and leave their customers feeling well cared for.  Other servers just go through the motions to get a paycheck.  They really don’t care about customers.  Christians are called to service to God and to others.  Are we placing God and others in a place of priority?  Or, are we placing priority on making sure we are comfortable?  Godly humility seeks to be delivered from certain desires and fears in order that we may set self aside and prioritize others.

For example, “Lord Jesus, deliver me from the desire to be esteemed and the fear of being forgotten so that others may be esteemed more than I.”  All three parts go together.  The humility is a prerequisite for Christian service.  None of this can be accomplished apart from God’s empowering grace.  Therefore, the litany includes, “Grant me the grace to desire it.”  We won’t even want to seek humility without the prompting of God’s grace.  We must pray for the desire to even begin to seek true humility because it isn’t natural.  True humility is spiritual.

Part 2: The Desire of Being Loved

Don’t we all desire to be loved?  Love is a good thing, right?  Why would anyone want to be delivered from this desire?  The prayer is not asking for deliverance from love, but from an unhealthy desire to be loved.  People do all sorts of destructive things to themselves and to others in an attempt to be loved.  I can recall times from my own life where this desire got me into big trouble, including choosing the wrong people to attach to and doing bad things in order to feel their so-called love.

There is nothing wrong with loving and being loved by others.  The problem is that sometimes we use other human beings to try and fill a void that can only be satisfied by complete trust in God.  Also, the desire to be loved can supersede the desire to love.  In other words, it becomes all about me.  I see this frequently in my clients when their relationships revolve around the question, “What’s in this marriage for me?”  I also see it in church goers when the emphasis becomes, “Jesus is mine!” or, “What can God do for me?”

Even the desire to be loved by God can become an idol.   God doesn’t want us sitting around soaking up his love.  We are called to take that love and spread it around to others, not hoard it for ourselves.  The goal of a Christian is not to search around looking for a church where we feel the most loved and accepted.  The goal is to love as Christ loves.  Look at the cross.  Jesus empties himself when he loves.  Jesus said, “Pick up your cross and follow me,” not “Go find the softest pew and most accepting congregation.”  Giving love is the goal.  A desire to be loved gets in the way of giving love.  Imagine Jesus throwing down his cross and saying, “Forget this, you people are too mean and you’re not loving me.  I’m out of here!”

From the desire of being loved, deliver me, Jesus, so that I may love as you love.  This is not easy.  I need your grace.

Part 1: The Desire Of Being Esteemed

From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, Jesus.

There is nothing wrong with being esteemed by others.  We all enjoy that feeling and validation.  The prayer is for deliverance of the desire to seek out such esteem as a validation of one’s worth and identity.  Even the desire for self esteem can become a pursuit that distracts one from trusting in God.  We live in a society that clamors for esteem, particularly self esteem.  We risk making idols of ourselves.

In one episode of “The Simpsons” Bart says grace before the family meal.  His prayer is, “Thanks for nothing God, because we earned it all ourselves.”  The allure of celebrity is another example of esteem gone haywire.  People practically worship celebrities, and the desire to be a celebrity is a common one.  The show “American Idol” is popular.  A show called, “American Humility” would likely not do so well.

It is not the esteem of others or self that gives us our worth and value.  It is God.  Every success, every breath and every heartbeat is possible only because of God.  If others esteem us, we can hope it is because we have exhibited qualities that in some way point to the beauty of God, and in that we can rejoice.  But we must not desire esteem for its own sake.  We must do our best with our gifts and talents so that others can see God, not so that we can be esteemed by others or even by ourselves.  Humility is not easy, but it is a source of true joy.  We need God’s grace.  We can’t do it under our own power.