Sunday, December 12, 2010

Be reconciled and be holy

Our priest mentioned something in his homily last Sunday that has really stuck with me through the week – partly because it was so profound, but also because I have been struggling with a particular sin in my own life.
He said that the holiness of a parish is not measured by the length of the line for Holy Communion, but by the length of the line for Confession.
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced by the truthfulness of his statement. Whilst it is true that in Holy Communion our Lord makes us grow in holiness because He gives Himself to us, it is necessary that we receive Him worthily in order to receive this grace. Unfortunately, we can so easily grow complacent to our sins, and also become indifferent to our Lord in the Eucharist.
And this is just one way in which Confession can be so valuable to us Catholics. This is because a good confession requires us to honestly examine our conscience and accuse ourselves of our sins to the priest. Admitting our faults and sins to another person is an extremely humbling experience and it is never comfortable. But we must lift our hearts in faith past the person of the priest and always remember that he is hearing our confession as the ambassador of Christ. In other words, when we confess our sins to the priest, we must remember that we are really and truly accusing ourselves before our Lord Jesus Christ who is simply acting through the priest who then, vested with the authority of Christ, pronounces the absolution. And so, leaving the confessional, we can truly know that our sins are forgiven and go with a firm resolve to sin no more.
Oh, what a wonderful gift the Lord has given us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation! My own prayer is that I would be more faithful to make use of this Sacrament so that I may grow in holiness, and so grow more worthy to receive our Holy Lord in the Eucharist.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Why Me?

Sometimes when things go wrong in our lives, we ask God “Why me?”
I know that I have often asked the question in the past because I didn’t have an proper appreciation for the value and depth of Christian suffering (which is a whole different subject). This week though, I asked God this question from a completely different perspective.
Considering my conversion from Protestantism to Catholicism, I seriously asked God why He chose me above any of my other Protestant friends. I mean, so many of them are smarter than I am, and many of them lead much holier lives than I do. So, why did God choose to open my eyes to the fullness of truth found in the Catholic Church?
My guess is that most cradle Catholics wouldn’t understand where I am coming from because many are not really aware of just how anti-Catholic much of Protestantism can be (especially those who pride themselves on being “Bible Christians”). Many Protestants are completely misinformed about the Catholic Church – largely due to much of what they believe about the Catholic Church being handed down generationally. In fact, there are even Protestants who believe that the Catholic Church is the Beast of the Apocalypse, and that the Pope is Antichrist. So as you can imagine, becoming Catholic for us meant that so many teachings that we always took for granted had to be challenged and ultimately rejected.
That is why I asked the question. Why did God choose to soften our hearts to be even slightly open to investigating Catholic teaching? If He hadn’t, we would never have become Catholic. Rather than leaving us in our misinformed ignorance, God in His grace and mercy gave us an opportunity to really study Catholic teaching – not from the mouths of misinformed Protestants, but from godly Catholics. And boy were we surprised!
So this week, when I asked the question “Why me?” it was a gentle reminder that I am Catholic not because of anything wonderful that I have done. No – I am Catholic because of God’s grace. And I pray that the question would remain on my lips until that day that our Lord calls me home so that I can learn humility.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Knowledge of Christ is not only intellectual

In his papal address on 18 April 2007, Pope Benedict XVI made the following comment in the context of discussing St. Clement of Alexandria:
“Knowledge of Christ is not only thought, but is love which opens the eyes, transforms the person, and creates communion with the Logos, with the Divine Word who is truth and life.”
I love theology because it is the study of our great and merciful God. But sometimes we can become so focussed on our theology that it can tend to become dry, and we risk losing Christ because our theology becomes the end rather than the means to the end.
Theology is good because it helps us to know Christ better. However, as our Holy Father so wisely puts it “knowledge of Christ is not only thought”. We have to let our theology open our eyes so that we are transformed and drawn into closer communion with our Lord and Saviour.
In this way, the words of our Holy Father are simply an echo of those of our first Pope, when he said that avoiding false doctrine, we should “grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18).
As each one of us seeks to grow in our understanding of our Lord Jesus, may our prayer always be for His grace that we would be drawn into deeper communion with Him.  And where can we receive this grace most especially? The greatest grace is received through the same means as the end that we are hoping for, and that is Holy Communion. There is no greater gift of grace that our Lord can give us than Himself in the Blessed Sacrament. So, if we desire to know Jesus, and enter into deeper communion with Him, the best place to start is with the Holy Eucharist.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hearing only what we want to hear

It’s a common problem...selective hearing...and we all suffer from it to one degree or another. Ask my wife – she’ll tell you that I am very good at it.
In any event, it never ceases to amaze me (although it really shouldn’t anymore) how – whenever I talk to Protestants about the Catholic faith – they only hear what they want to hear.
There are many ways to exemplify this, but a classic example is any discussion about Mary. I have often quoted Mother Teresa who said “No Mary, no Jesus”. But at the same time, I try carefully to explain everything the Catholic Church teaches about Mary is fully centred on Christ i.e. Mary would not be who she is if it wasn’t for our Lord Jesus Christ.
And yet, the only thing many of my Protestant friends selectively choose to focus on is the way we say “No Mary, no Jesus”, without acknowleging that what we believe about Mary is absolutely 100% based on Jesus. It’s as if they think that we Catholics believe Mary was the mother of the Trinity – and yet nothing could be further from the truth. For once...just once...I wish even one of my Protestant friends would take his/her theologically biased blinkers off for even a split second to honestly examine the REAL Catholic position rather than having their minds made up before even examining the argument in the proper way.
To paraphrase the late Bishop Fulton Sheen:
“There are not 100 people who hate the Catholic Church; but there are millions who hate what they THINK the Catholic Church is”.
So, an exhortation to my Protestant brothers and sisters – rather than accepting as “gospel truth” what you have always been taught about the Catholic Church by your own tradition – take the time to study Catholic teaching from a Catholic perspective; honestly asking for the Lord’s light and guidance. I have a sneaking suspicion that you may even be (pleasantly) surprised.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Real Presence in John 6

I don’t know about you...but I really do not enjoy debating...especially with brothers and sisters in Christ who are on the Protestant side of the Christian divide. Whilst I don’t enjoy it, I feel compelled to share the beauty of the fullness of the truth that I was blind to for so long – but thank God, He was gracious enough not to allow me to wallow in my ignorance. One of the blessings however that comes from entering these discussions with our Christian brothers and sisters who disagree with us, is that it encourages us to grow in our knowledge of the what and why of the teachings of our Holy Catholic Church.  
The thoughts below were inspired by one such discussion that I am currently having with a Protestant brother in Christ. For the record, I admire this young man’s commitment to what he believes to be the truth (although much of what he believes about Catholic teaching is misconceived). In our discussion, we were talking about the Catholic understanding of the Real Presence of Christ as per His teaching in John 6 (which is of course not the exhaustive Scriptural defence for the Catholic position on the Eucharist). The most common Protestant argument against the Catholic understanding of John 6 is that the “eating” referred to by Christ is really a figure of speech for faith (or believing). This assumption comes from a comparison of verse 47 and verse 54, and incidentally it supposedly fits in with the Protestant  doctrine of Sola Fide (faith alone).  
I pointed out to my friend that his simplistic comparison of Jn 6:47 with Jn 6:54 was too simplistic. Just because the result may be the same, does not necessarily mean that the cause is the same. A silly example to illustrate the point could be summarised as follows:
a)     Whoever eats arsenic will die
b)    Whoever suffocates will die
c)     Therefore eating arsenic = suffocation

Also the simplistic conclusion that eating = believing does not take the context of the whole passage in account. Going back to Jn 6:27 to establish the context, we find Jesus saying that the people must not work for the food that perishes (referring to the feeding of the five thousand) but rather that they must work for the food that does not perish (which is Jesus Himself – see Jn 6:35).

Now, the work is not the food – because Jesus says that the food must be worked for. So, the people ask Jesus what the work is (Jn 6:28) and He tells them that the work is to believe (Jn 6:29). So, if we want to have eternal life, we must eat Jesus’ Body and drink His Blood; but in order to receive Him in this way we must first do the work of believing. So, whilst the belief is not the feeding (because the belief is the work necessary in order to receive the food), both statements of Jesus remain true.

In addition, Jesus did explain what He meant, which is exactly why many of His disciples left Him (Jn 6:66). They already believed in Him (Jn 2:23-25) so it was not His saying that they needed to believe in Him that caused them to leave Him. So what was it? It was the fact that He told them that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. If Jesus was talking simply about believing, surely the crowds would not have left Him, seeing that they already did.
Moreover, Jesus spoke in quite literal terms when He said that the bread He was referring to was His flesh (Jn 6:51). And the people understood Him literally (Jn 6:52). Yet, Jesus doesn’t clear up their supposed “misconception” (which He surely would have done if they so blatantly misunderstood Him). Instead, He goes on to speak even more vehemently in literal terms (Jn 6:53ff).

Jesus saying was a hard one 2,000 years ago (Jn 6:60), and it remains a hard saying for many today, which is why so many have continued to attack the Catholic Church on this very doctrine. And that is the ultimate test of faith. Although the host and the contents of the chalice after the consecration continue to have the appearance and taste of mere bread and wine, our faith is exercised by our belief that they REALLY are the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord, I believe! Help thou mine unbelief!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The kind of service our Lord desires

Many of us are familiar with the criteria of service that our Lord gives us in Matthew 25 for inheriting the kingdom. Those who inherit the kingdom are those who serve Him through ministering to the needs of those around us.
Mat 25:35, 36 - “For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me.”

Notice the response that these just men and women will give the Lord:

Mat 25:37-39 - “...Lord, when did we see thee hungry and fed thee: thirsty and gave thee drink? Or when did we see thee a stranger and took thee in? Or naked and covered thee?
      Or when did we see thee sick or in prison and came to thee?”

It is striking that this spirit of is completely “disinterested”; that is it is a service that is so completely selfless that it doesn’t even recognise when it is serving. Oh, for an attitude of service that comes so naturally that I don’t even think about it.

These words of our Holy Father in his papal address on 6 November 2010 should inspire us all to serve in this way, because it is the way of Christ who came to serve and give His own life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28):

“For those disciples who seek to follow and imitate Christ, service of neighbour is no mere option but an essential part of their being. It is a service that is not measured by worldly standards of what is immediate, material or apparent, but one that makes present the love of God to all in every way and bears witness to Him even in the simplest of actions.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

To know Christ in the Eucharist

The Gospel of Luke contains an interesting account of one of the post-resurrection appearances of our Lord. The account is that of the disciples who were travelling on their way to Emmaus who encountered the Lord on their way (Lk 24:13-35).
As they were walking they encountered a man, whom they originally didn’t realise was the Lord Jesus. But the interesting thing about this meeting was not that the two disciples did not recognise Jesus; but in how they eventually did recognise Him.
During the encounter, our Lord opened the Scriptures to show that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer (v27). But even in this exposition of the Scriptures, the disciples still did not recognise the Lord. It was only when the Lord blessed and broke the bread at table with them that their eyes were opened (v30-31). It is unmistakeable that this is a reference to the Eucharist given that when they relayed this encounter to the Apostles they called it “the breaking of the bread”.
It was ultimately not in through the Scriptures that the disciples eyes were opened, but through the Eucharist. What is so significant about this fact? It illustrates that Christ is really and truly known in the Eucharist, which means that the Eucharist ought to be the primary focus of every Christian. In addition, it illustrates that the rightful and proper place for Scripture is to prepare God’s people to recognise our Lord Jesus in the Eucharist.
One more decidedly important, and often overlooked, fact is that as soon as our Lord was revealed to the disciples in the Eucharist, we are told that He vanished from their sight (v31). Now, what was so significant about this fact that St. Luke felt it necessary to include it? The significance of Jesus’ vanishing after they recognised Him in the Eucharist was that He was showing His disciples that His physical presence bodily was no longer necessary because His Real Presence was now completely manifest in the Blessed Eucharist. And so in the Mass everyday, and in tabernacles around the world, our Lord is truly present and with us, just as He promised He would be until the very end (Matt 28:20).
This means that whenever you attend Mass, you encounter our Lord in the breaking of the bread. And whenever you happen to pass a Catholic Church, why not take some time out of your schedule to step into the sanctuary, and spend a few minutes in the Presence of our Lord as He resides in the tabernacle - or better yet, if your parish has made Eucharistic adoration possible, why not schedule some time every week to spend a special Holy Hour with our Lord. From experience, I can vouch that there are few things more precious than this time well-spent.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Is Jesus Christ our substitute or our representative?

Is Jesus Christ our substitute or our representative? This was a question that I pondered seriously in my conversion to becoming Catholic. As a Protestant, I firmly believed that the crucifixion of our Lord was substitutionary i.e. that Jesus Christ died in our place for our sins. Now, don’t get me wrong...this is true...but only insofar as it goes.  What I didn’t realise as a Protestant was that Christ was so much more than simply our substitute.
Consider St. Paul’s teaching of Jesus as the New Adam (cf. Rom 5:12ff; 1 Cor 15:21-23). St. Paul’s point is that Jesus Christ is the covenantal head of the new creation, just as Adam was the covenantal head of the old creation. And this covenantal headship is not a substitutionary headship – rather the covenantal head is the first member of the covenant, as well as the representative of all those who are included in the covenant thereafter. So, just as Adam was our representative in the old humanity, so Christ is our representative in the new humanity.
And how did Christ become the head of the new covenant? By pouring out His blood for the forgiveness of our sins (Matt 26:28). By giving Himself on Calvary, Christ was our substitute, but He was also so much more than that. He was our covenant representative. The idea of a substitutionary atonement is limited only to substitution; however, the idea of a representative atonement is so much more (although it includes element of substitution).
But what does this mean in practical terms? If Christ is more than just our substitution – if He is in fact our representative – then this places some responsibility on us. Because Jesus was our representative on the cross, we have the responsibility to follow in His footsteps i.e. we are called to take up our cross daily and to follow Him (Matt 16:24). We are called to follow His representative example by dying to ourselves and giving ourselves – and in this way we fill up what was lacking in Christ’s suffering (Col 1:24).
And this is what covenant is about. The fact that we are in covenant with God implies that we have covenantal responsibilities. The New Covenant, like all the preceding covenants, contains blessings for faithfulness and curses for disobedience. With Christ as our representative, and being fed by His grace, may we continually look to Him and seek to live out the life that He calls us to live – giving ourselves sacrificially to one another, just as Christ gave Himself for us.
"I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least" - Dorothy Day

This is so profound and true that there really isn't much that needs to be said...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Real Presence should drive us to our knees

There is an old adage – what we believe effects how we behave. This thought really struck me in the Mass this morning as the priest elevated the Host. As Catholics, sometimes it is so easy to take for granted that what the priest elevates is not a mere piece of bread. For sure, it still looks like bread...but what it really and truly is the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is so easy when something becomes familiar to us that we can miss the sheer magnitude of what we are experiencing. By the grace of God, I was overcome by this truth in a fresh way this morning. When the priest spoke the words “This is My Body”, and elevated our Lord, I was completely overcome by a need to bow down and worship Him with every ounce of my being. Whilst my experience of the Real Presence of our Lord was so real to me this morning, the sad truth is that it is not always the case. How often don’t we go to Mass with our minds distracted? Far too often we seem to have become too familiar with the Eucharist, and we lose our sense of awe. Therein lies the challenge. We say that we believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but does this drive us to our knees, or do we simply kneel out of habit? Let us pray to our Lord that He would constantly refresh within us a holy reverence whenever we come into the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Unity is everything

Of all the things that our Lord prayed for in His High Priestly Prayer on the eve of His Crucifixion, we are struck by His focus on Christian unity (see Jn 17: 11, 21, 22, 23). The unity that our Lord prayed for was not some abstract kind of unity that doesn’t really exist objectively e.g. the kind that claims that we are all part of the one Body of Christ as long as we believe in Him. No, the unity that Jesus speaks about is a very real and very objective reality – in fact, it is the same unity that the Lord Jesus Christ has with His Heavenly Father (v21).
In his epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul speaks of the unity of the Church in the same way. In Eph 4:4-6, he tells us that the Church’s unity springs from the unity of the Holy Trinity (i.e. there is one Spirit, one Lord, one Father). But what does this unity look like? Is the unity of the Trinity such that there is division, or a differing of minds and wills? On the contrary, St. Paul says clearly that there is one body, one hope, one faith, one baptism.
In other words, true Christian unity is doctrinal unity. It is not a unity that we are called to create; because it is already there by the power of the Holy Spirit. Rather, it is a unity that we must strive to protect. As Catholics, let us never doubt our Lord – let Him be true and every man a liar. Jesus promised us that He would build His Church, and that the gates of Hell would never prevail against her (Matt 16:18). This Church, founded upon the rock of St. Peter, has remained one through the centuries because Christ prayed for it.  
As Catholics, may we never be ashamed of clinging to the promises of our Lord - He will continue to build His Church, He has never left her and never will, and she will always remain one. May we remain faithful to our Lord by remaining faithful to His Church. She is our Mother. She is the Body of Christ. She is the Catholic Church.  
Our Holy Father has just recently issued a new post-synodal Apostolic exhortation entitled "Verbum Domini" (i.e. the Word of the Lord).

The document deals with various matters including Trinitarian revelation; the relationship between revelation and Eucharist (see my post yesterday); and the Church's authority in interpreting the Scriptures. I can't wait to read it...

If you would like to read it, or simply browse through it, click on the link below:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

True preaching leads to the Eucharist

"...the preaching of God's Kingdom is never just words, never just instruction. It is an event, just as Jesus Himself is an event, God's Word in Person. By announcing Him, the Apostles lead their listeners to encounter Him" - Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI

Before I became Catholic, I loved the Scriptures and hearing them preached (and I still do). But there was always something that was missing - even though I wouldn't have admitted it. It wasn't that I doubted having a real relationship with the Lord Jesus, but it always seemed to be of a somewhat distant kind - at an arm's length, so to speak. But  that was not the kind of relationship that our Lord called us to. Jesus calls us to have a deep and intimate relationship with Him. What I never realised was that a relationship based solely on words and preaching is not enough - rather it can tend to lead to a dry sort of rationalism that is more concerned with theology than it is with Theos.

In the words of our Holy Father quoted above, preaching is a good and necessary thing - but it is only a means to an end. And the end is Jesus Christ Himself. If preaching does not lead us to truly experience our Lord Jesus Christ, then it is not true preaching. Now, as a Catholic I realise what was missing in my Protestant history, as good as the preaching was. I was missing the true experience of Christ in His fulness. It was only when I was able to start receiving the Sacraments that I realised that it is in the Word and the Sacraments that Christ makes Himself known to us. And Christ makes Himself known to us in the most intimate of ways when we receive Him - Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity - in Holy Communion.

It is along these lines that we can begin to see one aspect of the beauty of the Mass. The Mass never just ends with the Scripture readings and the progresses upwards to the climax of Holy Communion. And so true preaching of the Scriptures ultimately prepares us to experience Christ in the most intimate of ways - when we receive Him into our bodies in the Holy Eucharist.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

If you believe in the resurrection, then pray for those who have died

The book of 2 Maccabees (12:38ff) contains an interesting account. Some of Judas' men had fallen in battle, and Judas discovered that the reason for their falling was because they were guilty of sin. Judas then encouraged his men to take heart, and to sanctify themselves to God and to pray for those who had fallen in battle. In addition, he arranged for a collection which would be sent to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering for those fallen soldiers. What is particularly interesting in this account is the reason given for Judas' actions. In verse 43 we are told:

"In doing this, he acted very well and honourably, taking account of the resurrection".

In other words, the hope of the resurrection was Judas' inspiration for his prayers and offerings on behalf of those who had died, that they might be released from their sins. Clearly, Judas understood that the sin committed by these men was not damning, but it was serious enough that it would continue to bind them until they were sufficiently purified to enter the Most Holy Presence of God Almighty.

And so, during this month of November, which is dedicated to the Holy Souls, may we follow the example of the noble Judas. May we offer our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings for the souls in Purgatory that they may be released from their sins. And may we do so trusting in the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the hope of His Resurrection - knowing that we will oneday be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mary leads us to Jesus

"From Mary's body comes the gift of God; from her lips comes the command of God. Her role is to lead us to be obedient Christians...Mary's role is to teach us that once we have seen Jesus' glory, we must also walk in obedience to Him" - Dr. Kenneth Howell

These words really sum up the Catholic position on Mary's role in the life of the Christian. When I was still a Protestant, I used to think that Catholic devotion to Mary detracted from Christ; but now as a Catholic I realise just how mistaken I was. Rather, Mary really leads us to Christ more than we can ever know. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said "No Mary; No Jesus". And that is so true. A priest earlier this week in a homily reminded me of this when he said that Mary always leads us to Jesus; and if you weren't being led to Jesus, then you weren't really following Mary.

What a wonderful gift God has given us in Mary - in His wisdom He gives her to us to lead us to obedience in Christ, because we are simply too frail and feeble to do it on our own. Looking back on my many years as a Protestant, I now acknowlege that it was Mary holding my hand leading me to our Lord, even though my misconceptions didn't allow me to see it.

My first blog has taken me a little while to get up to speed with the rest of the world and embrace technology. So, why a blog page??? Well, I used to regularly post quotes that I felt had inspired me - unfortunately, Facebook friends tended to take the comments the wrong I have since stopped posting these quotes (well, mostly at least).

Hence the decision to start a blog - it becomes a "not-so-in-your-face" way of sharing those inspiring quotes for those who are actually interested in reading them...and hopefully being inspired in the same way...

Let's see how long I last eh?

God bless