40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #1 Jesus Died for My Sins

Michelangelo's Pieta

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  John 3:16

COOL!

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #2 The Eucharist


“Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”  John 6:53

I think Jesus is speaking very clearly here even though many of those who heard Him speak didn’t know what to make of this statement.  More ironic is that, twenty centuries later, so many people still don’t get it even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.  Let’s look at the rest of the passage:

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

What happened next?  Many of those who heard Him speak walked away from Him.  This was too hard for them to understand; too hard to accept.  Even today, knowing what happened on Holy Thursday, many non-Catholic Christians believe that Jesus was speaking figuratively.  The same people whose faith teaches that everything in the Bible must be taken literally refuse to accept the Real Presence of Jesus Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

But, look at the context.  Jesus had been sent by His Heavenly Father to establish a Church.  Beginning with just twelve Apostles He was gaining a following.  By His words and by His actions, He was gaining new followers every day.  Then He tells them they must eat His flesh and drink His blood and He begins to lose them.  They’re walking away.  If He’d been speaking figuratively wouldn’t it have made sense for Him to say, “Wait!  I didn’t mean you really have to eat my flesh and drink my blood.  It was just a metaphor; a figure of speech.”?  Read on.  He stands by what He’s said and then asks the twelve if they want to leave Him too.  Of course, they say “no”.

Even though the Apostles have faith in Jesus they still must have wondered exactly what He meant by drinking His Blood and eating His flesh.  It had to be the subject of a lot of conversation around the campfire when Jesus wasn’t there.

Fast forward to the feast of the Passover.  Jesus is about to clear up the mystery.  With His Apostles gathered around Him at the Passover table

 He took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.”  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you. Luke 22:19-20

Aha!  That’s it!  He doesn’t want us to actually bite into His holy flesh and drink the blood that flows from the wound.  He’s created the Eucharist and given the Apostles the ability to turn bread and wine into His Body and Blood.  That ability still exists today in our bishops and priests.  You and I can partake of the Eucharist, His Body and Blood.  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  “

As a deacon, I prepare the altar for the priest and stand by his side as he turns ordinary bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood.  I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the elements of the Eucharist look exactly the same after consecration as they did before.  They also taste the same.  Yet you and I know that they’re different.  How do we know?  Because we have faith.  Our understanding of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection tells us that Jesus was incapable of telling a lie.  If we don’t believe everything He said, then we can’t believe anything He said.  If we catch Him in even one lie, then our faith is destroyed.

When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we take him into our very selves.  It’s great to read the Bible, to go to mass, to pray privately, and to do any number of other things that bring us closer to Christ.  But when we receive the Eucharist we aren’t just close to Christ, Christ is within our very bodies.  No one can come closer to God than that.  Frankly, I can’t imagine why anyone would even consider leaving the Catholic Church and giving up such an amazing gift.

Having Christ’s actual presence  circulating in our own bodies is beyond cool.  It’s so awesome that it’s almost indescribable.

[Side note.  If you believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, please show Him the proper respect.  Think about what you’re about to receive.  Follow the Church’s minimal rules on fasting.  Don’t chew gum.  And come to church dressed appropriately.]

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #11 The Early Church Fathers

Let’s face it, Jesus lived a long time ago, more than 2,000 years to be exact.  The writers of the New Testament did a great job of telling us about the life and times of our Savior.  But they could only do so much.  In the Bible that I use most of the time, the New Testament is just about 400 pages long.  Keeping in mind that many of the Gospel stories are repeated by the four Gospel writers, that’s not much space to tell us the whole story.  One of my favorite authors, Tom Clancy, writes huge novels, some over 900 pages, and the stories take place over a few weeks.

Many of our protestant brothers and sisters will tell us that the Bible is all we need.  It’s called sola scriptura, the Scriptures alone.  But, we don’t agree.  There were just too many events in Jesus life (and the time immediately after His death and resurrection) that aren’t in the Scriptures.  So, where do we turn for the whole picture.  The Catholic Church believes that many men who wrote about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection who are not included in the Canon of Scripture are authoritative as well.  These men are called the Early Church Fathers.

Chances are you’ve never heard of many of these writers.  Here’s a link to a listing of the fathers along with some of their writings.  Some you’ve probably heard of are Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine, Saint Gregory the GreatSaint Ignatius of Antioch, Saint Jerome, Saint John Chrysostom (the patron saint of preachers.  His homilies are brilliant.), Saint Justin Martyr, and Saint Leo the Great. Every Church Father isn’t a saint though many of them were.

The earliest Fathers are called Apostolic Fathers because they were taught by the twelve Apostles.   For example, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who lived during the first century and was taught by John, wrote on the Eucharist among other things.  His is the first known writing that refers to the “Catholic Church.”  Remember, he is believed to have died around the year 100.  He wrote, “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.  — Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8, J.R. Willis translation.

The perpetual virginity of Mary isn’t clearly spelled out in Scripture, thus the sola scriptura crowd don’t believe in it.  But Saint Jerome defined it very clearly in 383.  Again, I could go on for several pages about the Fathers and what they wrote, but I’ll just say that the Catholic Church teaches, and rightly so, that everything we need to know to be faithful Catholics wasn’t written in the New Testament.  In his 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians, Saint Paul wrote, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter”.

Some things were so well known, so widely accepted, that the New Testament authors just never wrote them down.  Thankfully we have the Early Church Fathers who did write them down and those writings still exist today.

It’s worth mentioning that in the official prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, one hour is called “The Office of Readings”.  There are two readings each day, one from Scripture and one from the Church Fathers.  Granted, these writings have been translated into English from their original language, but it’s really remarkable how contemporary they seem to 21st century readers.

The Church Fathers were cool!  The put pen to paper and provided us with a rich tapestry of our Catholic faith.  Even cooler, all of these writings are in the public domain.  Follow the links in this post and drill down to find some great reading.

Beginning tomorrow, my Top 10 reasons why it’s cool to be Catholic.

 

 

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be a Catholic #28 Stations of the Cross

If we had the chance, who wouldn’t want to visit the Holy Land and walk the path that Jesus walked on His way to Calvary?  Unfortunately most of us will never make the actual trip, so we take advantage of the next best thing; the Stations of the Cross.

Wait a minute, Deacon.  I remember the Stations from grade school and they were boring.  There was too much standing and kneeling.  It was like a really slow gym class.


I won’t disagree that the Stations might have been a little tedious when you were ten, but as adults this devotion puts us right there as Jesus made the tortuous trip up the Via Dolorosa to His crucifixion.  If we do this devotion prayerfully, we can almost feel Jesus’ pain as He falls three times, as He meets His mother along the way, how it must have felt to have the nails driven into His hands and feet.

This devotion dates back to the fourth century but stations weren’t normally placed in churches until the 17th century.   Because there are indulgences attached to each holy place represented by the Stations, there are also indulgences attached to the Stations.

Especially during Lent, praying the Stations of the Cross is a very Catholic thing to do.  Plus, if the last time you did was when you were in grade school, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

The Stations of the Cross are definitely cool!

Tomorrow:  Indulgences

9th Sunday of Ordinary Time–Love One Another

It seems like there’s a big difference between the words of Saint Paul and the words of Jesus in today’s readings.  Paul writes to the Romans “a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”  Sola Fide.  Faith alone.  Once saved; always saved.  Many of our protestant brothers and sisters believe this passage justifies their belief that all we have to do to be saved is to accept Jesus Christ as our savior.

But then we have Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel.  “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 in heaven.”  So what’s the deal?

There’s more than one answer to this question, but take a close look at what Paul said.  “For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.” What are these works of the Law?

In the Jewish faith there are 613 laws which are taken from the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament.  Included in these 613 laws are the Ten Commandments.  But the Jewish religion has rules on every aspect of life;  what to eat, what to where, how to worship, how to speak.  You name it and the Jewish Law, the Halakhah, has a rule for it.

Now, at the time, there was a dispute among the early Christians about whether you had to be a Jew to be a Christian.  Did you have to follow the Halakhah to follow Christ?  The biggest issue was circumcision.  Remember, there was no such thing as anesthesia and circumcision was kind of a deal-breaker for adult men.  Scripture doesn’t say, but I imagine the women of the time didn’t think it was such a big deal.

Anyway, when Paul writes that a person is justified by faith, “apart from works of the Law”, that’s what he was talking about.  You could be a Christian without having to observe all 613 of the Laws.  The Ten Commandments were still in, but a lot of the other things were out.  Around the year 50 the Church held it’s first Council meeting, which we call the Council of Jerusalem to settle the issue.So, our protestant friends ask, wasn’t Jesus’ death on the cross enough?  Do we human beings really think we can add anything to that?  Why aren’t we justified by faith alone?

I think Jesus gives a pretty good answer in today’s Gospel reading.  “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 in heaven.”  Yes, Jesus’ death was enough, but we have to complete the work He started.

I think if I had to choose one passage in the New Testament that’s my favorite, it would be John 15:14.  It’s part of Jesus’ story of the vine and the branches.  “I am the vine and my Father is the vine grower.” He goes on to tell the Apostles that they must remain on the vine lest they wither and die.  The Father will cut away the vines that don’t bear fruit.  In verse 14, right in the middle of his monologue, he says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” What is His command?  “Love one another as I have loved you.”

That’s it!  Our whole faith is summed up in that one thought.  “Do what I tell you.  Love one another.  Then you’ll be my friend.”

So, how do we reconcile the idea of “faith alone” with doing good works?  Do we not need to run Catholic hospitals, and Catholic schools, and Catholic Charities, and Saint Vincent de Paul?  Should we bring all our missionaries home?  Of course not.  We know we’re saved by our faith in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But we also know that our faith requires us to do what Jesus tells us.  To be his friend, to stay on the vine, we’re called to love one another.  And we fulfill that love by doing good things.  We feed the hungry, and shelter the homeless, and visit the sick, and a thousand other works of mercy, not because we have to, but because we want to be Jesus’ friends.

That’s all there is to it.  Love one another.  Eat pork if you want to.  Eat shellfish if you want to.  If you like your steak rare, that’s ok.  And circumcision is definitely optional.

Now, you may be thinking, “wait a minute, deacon.  Lent starts next week.  We’re not supposed to eat meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent.  How’s that different from Jewish Law?  The difference is this.  We abstain from meat as a form of penance.  It’s a way of sharing in Jesus’ suffering on the cross.  We do it because we’re Jesus’ friends.  But it’s not a law.  You’re not going to hell if you eat a hamburger on Ash Wednesday where the consequences for a Jew who eats a pork chop is a whole different matter.

We observe the Lenten traditions because we want to, not because we have to, in spite of what your mom may have told you forty years ago.  Think about it.  How big a sacrifice is it to skip meat for eight days each year?  I mentioned in this week’s bulletin that “fish fry season” is my favorite time of the year.  I’m already working on my Friday dinner schedule for March and part of April.  It’s not a sacrifice.  It’s not penance.  But the Church asks us to do it, so we do.  What I’m suggesting this morning is that we all find some other form of penance for the next six weeks, something we either add or take away from our normal routine that requires a little effort, or maybe a lot of effort.  And, hopefully something that makes you a better person; a better version of yourself.

The Church today has gotten away from a lot of the “must dos” and I think it’s a shame.  No one in the history of the world has done more for us than Jesus of Nazareth.  He gave up His life for us and all He wants in return is for us to love one another as He’s loved us.  It seems like a very, very small price to pay.

 

 

 

We ARE a Christian Country!

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In today’s Gospel for the Feast of Saint Agatha Jesus says,

Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

Today at 1:00 pm, my wife will be having surgery to remove a tumor.  I’m a firm believer in the power of prayer so I have asked my Internet contacts, Facebook friends, and online business associates to pray for her.  Normally I wouldn’t do that in a business context, but this is too important to leave any stones unturned.

The response has been nothing short of amazing.  People who I barely know, people I’ve never met in person, and people that I would never have thought to be particularly religious have responded to my request with kind words, thoughts, and the promise of prayers.

In spite of what you may see, hear, or read in the media, the world is full of wonderful, faith-filled people.  Responding to Jesus’ words today, they’re not ashamed of their faith.  Whether the president thinks this is a Christian country or not, I know that it is.  That doesn’t mean that every one of our citizens is a member of a Christian church, but most of them are.  And I don’t mean to imply that those who aren’t Christian are somehow inferior to those of us who are.  But those who aren’t  Christian are influenced by the Christians around them, whether they realize it or not.

Using the word “Christian” is a larger sense, we all follow Jesus’ teachings and we’re all affected by His Presence, whether we give Him credit or not.    “Love one another as I have loved you” is more than just a passage in a book.  It’s a principal that’s long been followed in this country by Christians, Jews, and others who want to live life in harmony with their fellow citizens.  You don’t have to be a Christian to embrace Christian values.

So, be proud of your faith!  Be proud of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  And be proud of your identity as a Catholic.  That’s what He asks us to do.

JanAnd, thanks to everyone who’s praying for Jan today.