Monday, March 10, 2014

The Temptations of Jesus and Church

The gospel reading this past Sunday (and typically every 1st Sunday of Lent) was of Jesus’ temptations in the desert.  For those unfamiliar with the story, read the first verses of Matthew 4 (1 – 11 I believe).  It was noted in the priest’s homily that the three temptations of Jesus are categories of temptations we all face.  The first temptation was physical (satisfy a guilty pleasure), the second spiritual (seeking mystical power), and the third civil/political.

An interesting point that was made was in relation to the third temptation.  Here, Jesus is offered the whole world if he worships Satan.  In a sense, it would fulfill Jesus’ mission.  He would save the world, but the means to that end are severely perverted and twisted.  Of course, Jesus rebukes Satan, using scripture to thwart his temptations.

This got me thinking about how various Christians and churches have gotten caught up in the whirlwind of a “market driven” model a la Willow Creek, Joel Osteen, or almost any other “megachurch”.  Seemingly at these kinds of churches, there are coffeehouses, cafes, and some even have chain restaurants like McDonald's or Subway within their walls!  The church where my wife works has also become swept up into this mode of “quantity beats all”, with a goal of having 250 guests enter their doorstep over the course of 2014.  Mind you, this particular church has roughly 350 members, a far cry from the thousands a megachurch typically has.

I have always had my own qualms with churches that operate like this, but in thinking about Jesus’ temptation, it gives me new pause to how we do Church.  Could we be feeding people a lie and not the whole truth by luring them in with flashy lights, projection screens… material fluff?  It also gives me pause when I think about Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21ff:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!”

It’s a sobering thought to be sure!  How can we know we are doing it right, that we are serving God’s true purpose?  Look at Jesus’ example; he used God’s Word.  For me as a Catholic, this includes not only the Bible, but the teachings of the Church (aka Tradition).  One particular passage that has always been with me when thinking about market driven churches is Matthew 28:19f, which many refer to as the Great Commission:

“Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching to obey everything I have commanded you.  And sure I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus does not command us to “go and bring people into the synagogues,” he just says “GO.”  He puts the burden not on our pastors or priests, but on us.  We are the disciples, the teachers, the ones told to go out, the literal meaning of apostle.  We don’t need to be great speakers, just great disciples of Jesus.  As St. Francis of Assisi famously said, “Preach the gospel always.  When necessary, use words.”

Friday, November 22, 2013

Anointing of the Sick

A friend and good follower of the blog asked me about “Last Rites” due to the coverage of the anniversary of JFK’s assassination.  “Last Rites” or “extreme unction” include a celebration of three sacraments:  Reconciliation, Anointing, and Eucharist.  Since Eucharist was covered previously, this is a good tie in for the sacraments of healing:  Penance (aka confession) and Anointing of the Sick.

Most anyone when they are ill or suffering will react in multiple ways.  Some will curse God, like Job’s wife wanted, while others will use it as a means to draw closer to God and seek His strength, like the Psalmists or the apostle Paul.  Christ himself performed many healings to the blind, the deaf, the mute, and on the list goes on.  What He also did in many cases was forgive those people of their sins and credited their belief and faith for the healing.  This is the basis for the sacrament of Anointing.

“Moved by so much suffering Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own:  ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.’ (Matthew 8:17)  But he did not heal all the sick.  His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God.  They announced a more radical healing:  the victory over sin and death through his Passover.  On the cross Christ took upon himself the whole weight of evil and took away the ‘sin of the world,’ of which illness is only a consequence.  By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering:  it can henceforth configure us to him and unites us with his redemptive Passion.” (CCC 1505)

Not only did Christ heal, he also charged his disciples with this command as well (Mark 6:12f).  We see also after his ascension into heaven the disciples still performing healings.  There are those who have the gift of healing, which Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 12.  However, even Paul was not relieved of a physical ailment despite his petitions.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” was the response given (2 Cor 12:9).  We cannot expect physical healing in every case, much as Jesus did not heal every person (CCC 1506-1509).

We see an early version of the sacrament in the letter of James, who wrote, “Is any among you sick?  Let him call for the elders (presbyters) of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven,” (James 5:14f) (CCC 1510).

Up until recent years, this sacrament was typically celebrated on a person’s deathbed, hence where “Extreme Unction” came from.  After Vatican II, the Church clarified the meaning of the sacrament:

“The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given to those who are seriously ill by anointing them on the forehead and hands with duly blessed oil—pressed from olives or from other plants—saying, only once:  ‘Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.  May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.’” (CCC 1513)

As we see, this sacrament is celebrated in similar ways among Protestants.  Those who are gravely ill or advanced in years would celebrate this.  Also, those who might be undergoing a major medical procedure would consider receiving this sacrament (CCC 1514f).

With “Last Rites”, the anointing is followed by receiving Eucharist before a person dies.  As mentioned previously, the Eucharist is considered the “Sacrament of sacraments” due to the belief that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.  Christ himself said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day,” (John 6:54) (CCC 1524).  Just as the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist begin our journey, so do the sacraments of Penance, Anointing of the Sick, and Eucharist bring a close to our earthly journey (CCC 1525).

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Why Catechesis?

I’ve been mulling for a while how “easy” it is for people to become Christians, primarily in the Protestant world.  Megachurches like Saddleback, Willow Creek, and Lakewood garner much attention and followers, and even where I live, there are a handful of “mini-megachurches” like Christian Life Assembly and West Shore Evangelical Free Church. What I strongly dislike about these places is the methodology used to bring people in (which itself is a problem).

A big problem I have with much of Protestantism (primarily “low liturgy” folks) is the whole “being saved” concept.  Recently, I finished reading Karl Keating’s book “Catholicism and Fundamentalism”, in which Keating defends accusations levied against the Church while at the same time raising questions of fundamentalism.  One chapter is devoted to salvation and the notion of “being saved.”  All one has to do is simply accept Jesus into their heart and their ticket to heaven is punched.  That’s all there is to it, say the fundamentalists.

This is highly contrary to what the early Church did and what Catholicism still does today.  People interested in becoming Christians went through a period of education, or catechesis, before deciding that yes, this is what they wanted.  This process today takes months, starting in the fall and ends at Easter, a stark contrast to a five minute prayer.  Persons are presented with what Catholicism teaches and believes and are essentially asked, “Do you accept this?”  I find it saddening that far too many Christians know little about the beliefs of the denomination they belong to and how they differ from others.  Far too much is based on the “feel” of a particular church, which is where megachurches come in.

Places such as this attract people with their many programs and activities so that in a sense, your life becomes entrenched in that one place.  This promulgates the “bring people in” model of evangelism, which is not what Jesus said.  “Go out into all the world and preach the Gospel” is the command given by Jesus before his ascension (Matt. 28:19, Acts 1:8).  The Church should be what attracts seekers, not a church.  In other words, it’s our job as Christians to lead by example, to “preach the gospel always and, when necessary, use words” as St. Francis of Assisi said.  Along with that though, we also need to educate and have good catechesis so that maybe, just maybe, we can develop Christians with a deeper understanding of the faith, whose roots are deep in the Gospel, and those who can defend the faith well.

Monday, February 25, 2013

I'm back!

For those who may have been unaware, this past year I was in school taking evening classes.  This left me with no time for blogging, hence the large gap between my most recent post and the previous one.  Thankfully I am now done and can devote more time to the blog and answering your questions.

I'm hoping to get through the rest of the sacraments this year, as the whole tour started back in 2009 with Baptism and stalled at the Eucharist.  This was largely due to you, my readers, asking questions about various Catholic teachings like praying to saints or mortal and venial sins.  One sacrament, marriage (matrimony) has been touched on in some other posts, but will get a more thorough look in its own post.

I always appreciate your questions and comments, as it hopefully helps you better understand Catholicism and perhaps realize that we're not quite so wacky as you think!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Eucharist part 2: Transubstantiation

Transubstantiation:  A big word that essentially is one of the major belief differences between Catholicism and most, if not all, of Protestantism.  The term refers to a belief about the Eucharist (communion), which was heavily debated during the Protestant Reformation, especially among prominent Protestant leaders, like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli.  Mainly in response to the Reformation, the Church convened for the Council of Trent in the mid-1500s, which firmly established transubstantiation as the right view of the Eucharist (among many other things, hence why it is referred to as the Counter-Reformation).

The Catechism begins its teaching on this doctrine at paragraph 1373.  I left the Eucharist part one at paragraph 1344.  Those sections after this talk about the Mass and contain teachings on why we celebrate this sacrament.  For the purposes of this post, the focus will be on specifically transubstantiation.

What does this long word mean anyway?  Essentially it is the belief that Christ is physically present in the bread and wine after the priest consecrates them on the altar.  So they are no longer bread and wine, but are now the body and blood of Christ (hence also the reason for the feast of Corpus Christi).  Christ’s presence is also affirmed in Scripture:

“Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there.” – Matthew 18:20

“Whatever you did for the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40

Christ is also present at the celebration of any sacrament of the Church, since he authored them, but “most especially in the Eucharistic species,” (CCC 1373).  His presence in the Eucharist is what elevates it to being “the sacrament of sacraments.”  Thomas Aquinas wrote that the Eucharist is “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend,” (CCC 1374).  The Council of Trent stated that in the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ it truly, really, and substantially contained.”  This presence is more “real” because it is “a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present,” (CCC 1374).

Transubstantiation is part of the reason non-Catholics are asked to not participate in the Eucharist.  Most Protestant denominations believe in a symbolic view of the Eucharist, that Christ’s body and blood are symbolized in the bread and wine.  Catholicism teaches that it is actually the body and blood of Christ, not a symbol.

Here some may say, “Why wait until the 1500s to clarify this?  Why not earlier?”  To answer, many theological issues had no need to be fleshed out in such a way because the majority of people believed it.  When the dynamic changes, the Church in response will solidify its position on a teaching.  This is true not only for transubstantiation, but for other doctrines and teachings like Christ’s dual natures or Marian beliefs.

In fact, many early Church fathers promoted the belief in transubstantiation.  Thomas Aquinas was mentioned above, and others like John Chrysostom and Ambrose also spoke about this.

“It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself.  The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s.  This is my body, he says.  This word transforms the things offered.” – John Chyrsostom

“Be convinced that this is not what nature has formed, but what the blessing has consecrated.  The power of the blessing prevails over that of nature, because by the blessing nature itself has been changed… Could not Christ’s word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before?  It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than to change their nature.” – Ambrose of Milan (CCC 1375)

The Council of Trent said it in this way:  “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and win there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood.  This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.” (CCC 1376)

Another fellow Catholic blogger also points out that no one up until the Protestant Reformation disputed transubstantiation and, as pointed above, the early Fathers in fact promoted this belief.

Biblical evidence of this claim is also found not only at the Last Supper, but also in John 6.  After Jesus feeds the multitude of people, they come back wanting more.  Jesus tells them that he is the bread of life and that this bread is his flesh (vv. 35-51).  The crowd is then perplexed:  How can Jesus give them his flesh (v. 52)?

Jesus answers, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.  Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (vv. 53-58)

After this, many of these disciples leave him because they cannot swallow his teaching.  Typically, Jesus would explain more if it were symbolic, like he does for parables.  Here, he essentially says, “Here it is.  Take it or leave it.”  And it is difficult to fathom; our minds cannot process it.  It is simply a matter of faith.  The food that looks like bread and tastes like bread is not bread, but Christ’s body. The drink that looks like wine and tastes like wine is not wine, but Christ’s blood.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Contraception in society

As a small epilogue, here are some advertisements for contraception.  Notice their rationale for promoting said products and also, has anyone ever seen a commercial featuring a married couple?  Ponder that for a minute!


There has been much said and reported on recently regarding the HHS mandate that Catholic organizations and institutions along with like-minded employers involved with healthcare start providing contraceptives to those who request it.  With this in mind, I thought it would be good to go deeper into why the Church believes such things are wrong.  This ties into my previous Pro-life post, in which I touched on this briefly.

To reiterate, all of what the Church teaches on sexuality stems from the sacrament of marriage/matrimony.  It is the definition of marriage, specifically the “openness to children” criterion, which affects all that was touched on in “Pro-Life”.  Homosexuality, contraception, and abortion are the big issues involved.  Each act of intercourse between husband and wife should be open to the possibility of conceiving a child.

Some would say, “Ah ha!  That’s why so-and-so Catholic has 12 children!” or ask, “So no sex unless we want children?”  To answer that question, I say yes and no.  Yes, we should be open to the possibility, but no, not just when reproduction is the only aim.  Couples should “renew” their vows often, and God created us in such a way to make this possible.

As we all know, men are fertile 24/7.  “When the moment is right”, they are good to go.  Women, on the other hand, are typically fertile for a relatively short period of time each month, roughly a week for those with consistent schedules.  It is the beauty of this design that allows us to say, “Yes, we’re open”, but God can say, “Not this time.”  This is how methods like rhythm method were developed.  Since that particular method is highly inaccurate, others have been developed and are used by many women today, like the Sympto-Thermal Method or the Creighton Method (we use the latter now after using the former).  Essentially, using the signs God “programmed” into women, it can be determined how likely a pregnancy is to occur.  This is called Natural Family Planning (NFP for short).

Objections now might be, “Wait, that’s still a form on contraception!”, but it is in God’s hands, not ours.  A pregnancy is possible during an infertile time, but it is unlikely and vice versa.  Catholicism essentially teaches that using things like condoms or pills essentially say to God, “I give you my all, except for what happens in the bedroom.”  It is also worth noting that the phrase “protected sex” is contradictory, because what are you protecting yourself from and why do you need protection from your spouse?

What has happened in our society is a redefining what sexual intercourse is.  Because of the “sexual revolution” in the 1960s, sex has become purely recreational; it feels good.  Naturally defined, sex is meant as a means to reproduce; it’s the natural order of things.  As people created in God’s image, this holds true as well, but it takes on a higher meaning.  Sex, as God defines it, is meant to affirm the sacred union between husband and wife.  That is the cake; the feeling and stimulation is the icing.  Far too many people think sex is all about the icing, which leaves them spiritually and emotionally sick.

Contraception was not designed by some great medical persona believe it or not.  Nor was it originally designed to prevent pregnancy.  All it does it allow us to give into our sexual appetites and ignore self-control, because with it we avoid the “consequences” of sex.  Christopher West notes in his book, “Good News About Sex and Marriage” that contraception not only violates the openness to children, but the other marriage criteria.  For example, with fidelity, he writes:

“Being faithful to one’s spouse does not only mean refraining from adultery.  It means living what you promised at the altar through thick and thin, no matter how difficult, no matter how challenging, no matter how much sacrifice is required.  Couples who succumb to sterilizing their acts of intercourse have consciously or unconsciously decided that fidelity to their vows is too demanding.  Consciously or unconsciously, they choose to be unfaithful to the promises they made at the altar.” (pg. 111)

Essentially, contraception allows to us to be like animals, giving in to our base desires.  However, we are called to practice self-control (Gal. 5:22-23), part of the fruit of the Spirit.  This is part of how we are made in God’s image; we can decide to ignore those desires.  Paul himself wrote to the Corinthians, “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize,” (1 Cor. 9:27) and even earlier said, “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.  You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” (1 Cor. 6:12f)

I leave you with some notable figures that predicted (some could even say, prophesied) about what would happen to a society that embraced contraception along with a recent article from Business Insider:

“Artificial methods are like putting a premium on vice.  They make men and women reckless... Nature is relentless and will have full revenge for any such violation of her laws.  Moral results can only be produced by moral restraints… As it is, man has sufficiently degraded woman for his lust, and artificial methods, no matter how well meaning the advocates may be, will still further degrade her.” – Mohandas Gandhi

“The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.” – T.S. Eliot

“Carried to its logical conclusion, the committee's report (to allow marital contraception) carried into effect would sound the death-knell of marriage as a holy institution, by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalized contraceptive would be ‘careful and restrained’ is preposterous.” – Washington Post editorial written in response to Anglican Church and Federal Council of Churches, USA, decisions to allow contraception in marriage in 1930.

“Surely it should need no demonstration to show that willful sterility is, from the standpoint of the nation, from the standpoint of the human race, the one sin for which the penalty is national death, race death; a sin for which there is no atonement.” – Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, State of the Union address, December 3, 1906

“The abandonment of the reproductive function is the common feature of all perversions.  We actually describe a sexual activity as perverse if it has given up the aim of reproduction and pursues the attainment of pleasure as an aim independent of it.” – Sigmund Freud