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Know your faith

As anyone who reads my blog can tell, I’m staunchly Catholic.  At times, it is very frustrating to me when I must either defend my faith or explain it.  It is so eminently sensible to me that I don’t always have a ready reason for some of the practices and theology to which some people, either Protestant Christians or non-Christians, object.  I have made an effort over the past several years to correct this.  I have studied apologetics in order to both know my faith better and be able to provide answers to some of the more common objections.

In my studies and subsequent discussions of theology, I have become increasingly frustrated by the sheer number of people who do not know their faith.  Most of these people are devout, well-intentioned Christians who love God with all of their heart and soul.  Despite that devotion, they cannot complete a frank discussion on any finer points of theology.  Their theological education focuses only on the basics of Christ’s life (Incarnation, 3-year ministry, Crucifixion, Resurrection), and how to apply Christ’s teaching to our lives today.  There is no thought or provision made for the history of Christianity, the writings of the early Church Fathers or the early saints, contextual understanding of Scripture, or the need to clearly state and understand what exactly they believe – including details.

I have discussed this with Methodists, Baptists, members of the Assembly of God, and Non-denominational Christians.  Very few of them are aware that most denominations have their own set of published beliefs to which its members are supposed to adhere.  Of the ones that are aware, the idea that they can take or leave the particular beliefs of whatever denomination they claim is pervasive.

As an example, during a theological discussion, I mentioned the Real Presence of the Eucharist as an example of differing theology between the Catholic Church and most Protestant denominations.  The person with whom I was speaking attends a church which belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention.  This webpage lists the beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Article VII clearly states that the Convention counts “The Lord’s Supper” as purely symbolic.  Theoretically, any church or pastor associated with the Convention agrees.  However, in response to my example, this person stated that while it is a symbol, her pastor states that you must go beyond the symbol and then you can feel Christ in the Lord’s Supper.

My first objection to that statement is that it doesn’t make sense to me.  A symbol represents something, but you cannot “go beyond” the symbol and fully know the thing which it represents.  Even if you do “feel” it, human feelings are notoriously unstable and no amount of feeling will make it real, just as no lack of feeling on the part of the recipient makes a validly-consecrated Eucharist fake.

My second objection is that while she belongs to a church which belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention, and her pastor is authorized to teach on behalf of that Convention, neither she nor the pastor agrees that “The Lord’s Supper” is purely symbolic.  They attach a deeper meaning to it, based on feeling, than their governing body does.  To my mind then, she ought to either seek out and attend a church which does hold her belief, or, if she accepts the teaching authority of the Southern Baptist Convention, to research the reasoning behind this statement and, through reason, reconcile herself to the same belief.

If everyone would choose one of those two courses, I think theological discussions across the board would become more effective and less tedious.  To my mind, the ideal way to go about that is to start with the early Church and find out what, exactly, the spiritual descendants of the apostles believed and practiced.  The next step is to research your own denomination and find out what it professes.  If you do not adhere to a particular denomination, then speak with your pastor.  Finally, pray about it.  Ask God for guidance and wisdom.  Take the facts that you have gathered to Him, and allow Him to show you His Truth.  Know your faith, and you will be unshakeable.

Here are some resources which may help you get started:

These are just some basic resources that I found with quick Google searches.  I have not read them thoroughly, nor do I know for certain that these are accurate or complete regarding the beliefs of the denominations they claim (with the exception of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is certainly accurate and complete).  The last link, Writings of the Church Fathers, contains a very thorough compilation of the writings of those men who were direct spiritual descendants of the disciples we all know from the Gospels, and their views should be given great respect.

I know it will take time to delve into the history of Christianity and your denomination, and to figure out what you believe and whose authority you will accept.  I know there are seasons in everyone’s life when you feel too busy to do anything but do the bare minimum.  With kids, school, your job(s), spouse, friends, and other obligations, you may think you don’t have enough time to do this research.  If you’re satisfied with your current church or pastor, you may not feel you even need to try to carve out time for this.  Please consider Ecclesiastes, 7:12

For the protection of wisdom is as the protection of money; and knowledge is profitable because wisdom gives life to those who possess it.

What is more important than life?  What is more important than protecting your life?  Protect your life with knowledge of your faith.  You will not regret the time you spend doing so.

But Jesus does that!

Catholics are often questioned about confession, or the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I’ve heard many questions and objections over the years, such as:

“Where is that in the Bible?”

“Jesus is the only one who can forgive sins!”

“A priest is only a man and cannot forgive sins.”

“What right does a priest have to tell me what I should offer for the forgiveness of my sins?”

Thanks to EWTN and Frances Hogan, host of “Miracles From Mark”, I now have very concrete answers to these objections and I’m just over the moon about it.

To the first question, I can now answer that it is in Mark 1:40-43.  This is the story of Jesus’ healing of the leper.  It has been long understood that the surface of the story, the physical healing of the leper, is only a small part of the point of this story.  More to the point is who the leper represents and what Jesus does for him.

In the time of the Old Testament, every leper had to be seperated from the rest of the community in order to prevent the spread of the disease.  This was, of course, a part of the law.  Also a part of the law was the edict that any leper claiming to have been healed had to present himself to the priests of the Temple for a physical examination to ensure that he had indeed been healed, and make the offering proscribed by Moses for such a healing.

Back to the healing of the leper, the law appears to be broken several times over.  First, the leper did not go about shouting “Unclean, unclean!” and ringing a bell as the Law of Moses intructs.  Then, the leper throws himself at Jesus’ feet, close enough to touch him.  Next, the leper’s hubris continues when he dares to speak to Jesus.  He tells Jesus that if He wants to, Jesus can cleanse him.

And what does Jesus do?  He reaches out, touches his head, and says “I will.  Be made clean.”

Imagine what the people who were with Jesus, who were following Him because of His miracles, thought.  This man, who they thought was a holy man of God, broke the law!  He touched a leper!  And then, the leper was healed?  The leper was rewarded for breaking the law?

I can easily understand their confusion.  In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus makes it clear that the law is not being abolished, but fulfilled.  Not done away with, but brought to its full meaning and purpose.  If that is true, then how can Jesus countenance the breaking of all of these laws?

The truth is, the law was meant for man, not man for the Law (Matthew 12:1-13 illustrates this).  The leper, by the grace of God, knew that Jesus was his only chance to be healed.  So then, let’s look at who the leper represents, and the deeper meaning of the story.

The leper is us: all humanity, sinful and seperated from God since the Fall.  We have no choice but to throw ourselves upon God’s mercy and love and hope for the best.  God, through Jesus Christ, offers forgiveness to all of us.  This story of the healing of the leper makes it clear that Jesus is the one who does the healing.  Jesus is the one who can forgive sins.  And, being the High Priest of God, the Son of God Himself, He had every right to send the leper home to his family.

Jesus didn’t do that, though.  He instructed the leper to go to the high priest, allow him to perform the required physical examination, and to offer the things Moses commanded for his cleansing.  He ordered the leper to follow the Law.

Why?  Because in this way the Law is fulfilled.  The leper, the sinful human, is forgiven by God, but he must still go to the priest.  He must still be examined (confess his sins).  He must still offer what Moses commanded (perform his Penance).  Then he is re-admitted to society (able to receive the Eucharist and exist in a state of Grace).

In case I haven’t been clear, here are my answers to the questions and objections I listed in the beginning.

“Where is that in the Bible?”  Mark 1:40-43

“Jesus is the only one who can forgive sins!”  Yes, that’s true.

“A priest is only a man and cannot forgive sins.”  A priest is only a man, but by the grace and will of God he stands in the Person of Christ, and thereby he can forgive sins.

“What right does a priest have to tell me what I should offer for the forgiveness of my sins?”  Jesus himself ordered the leper to give what Moses, a man and a priest, had commanded.


When Momma’s happy…

…everyone’s happy.

We’ve all heard this phrase – and even as we throw it around as a joke and laugh, we know it’s funny because it’s true.  If Mom is in a foul mood, there likely won’t be any fun to be had in the house.  Dad and the kids know it’s in their own best interest to keep Mom as happy as possible (without excusing boorish or overbearing behavior from Mom, of course.)  And that’s how the phrase is usually used: “you better keep Mom happy, or else!”

Today, I read this blog post, and it gave me a new perspective on the phrase.  Consider the following:

“First of all, moms are amazing. They are all things to all people. Regardless of
the time period they lived in, domestic peace is usually mom centered. Happy Mom
equals happy home.”

Read in this context, a slightly different connotation came to my mind.  If domestic peace is mom-centered, then Mom’s happiness shouldn’t depend on the actions of Dad and the kids.  As often as we are told that Mom must be kept happy, aren’t we also told that our happiness is our own responsibility?

This is something I certainly need to work on myself.  Too often I find myself unhappy for some little reason or other and my first impulse is to blame it on anything other than myself.  The truth is, regardless of what happens, I choose the way I ultimately react.  Will I get mad and make everyone miserable, or will I express my anger or dissapointment in the situation and let it go?  It is truly up to me.

Not to put another duty on moms, but I do think it’s our responsibility (and truly, every Christian’s responsibility) to give the gift of  good mood to everyone around us.  We want to give our children everything they need, and one thing they certainly  need is a happy home.  If we can help that happen by making the decision to be happy moms and happy people, then I believe we should.

I’m reminded of the song “Happy Girl” by Martina McBride.  The chorus is so true: it is a sweet thing to see a happy girl (or person), and it blesses everyone around her (or him).  So let’s be happy.  There are days when it just won’t seem possible, but try.  Our happiness is our responsibility, and it’s a gift we can give to everyone around us.

Little Farmer is two.  He, of course, has the two-year-old attitude.  He’s a big boy.  He can do it by himself!  If he wants it, then he needs it.  Stomping foot, occasional tantrum, pointing finger, and all.

Then there’s also all of the toddler cuteness.  Wanting his fwends (friends – his stuffed animals).  Giving hugs and wet, sloppy kisses.  Parroting everything we say.  Trying to help clean.  Ecstatic joy at every achievement.  All the things about a toddler that make you smile.

Yesterday morning, he completely surprised me.  I was getting him dressed, and that’s always playtime.  Pushing him down on the bed, tickles, kisses, and hugs.  As I put his socks on, I said “I love you.”  He said “I know.”

But it wasn’t in that sweet toddler voice, which would have melted my heart because then I would know that he knows I love him.

It was in a semi-exasperated teenage-attitude voice.  My little boy is growing up too fast.

The phrase “The Body of Christ” has many meanings.  The Eucharist, the Church, the Corpus on the Crucifix, all Christians, and many more, I’m sure.  Lately, the Holy Spirit has been teaching me what it means with regards to “the Church” and “all Christians”.

At first, it seemed to me that there was a conflict in these two interpretations.  Protestant Christians, either by ignorance, birth, choice, or a combination, have rejected the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church; so how could they be a part of the Body of Christ – the Church that they have rejected.  To get some outside perspective, I started these two threads on different forums: LTS Forum and CA Forum.

The general consensus was that Protestant Christians are, by virtue of valid baptism, a part of the Body of Christ and therefore are also a part of the Church.  I have to admit that this is a concept that I’ve had a hard time accepting over the years.  How can you be a part of something you have rejected?  How can Protestants be a part of the Church and still, by action or voice, denounce and deny it?

Yet, here again I have found the Holy Spirit working on my pride and hubris.  It is only by the grace of God that I was born Catholic.  Had I been born into a Protestant family, I too would be separated from the Church.  I like to think that I would have found my way Home, but that too would have been only by God’s grace.  In light of that, how can I, who have been so blessed, look down upon those who are still suffering in ignorance and/or pride?

The Holy Spirit continued this work in me this morning.  I went to get my oil changed.  I had to wait on it, which gave me about 45 minutes of free time.  I pulled out my tablet, checked Facebook, checked my email.  I got some coffee from the hospitality station.  Then I pulled out a book I’ve been carrying around with me: Speak, Lord, Your Servant Is Listening: A Daily Guide to Scriptural Prayer.  I’ve started this book a few times, but something always seems to get in the way of really digging in to it.  This morning, waiting for my oil change, the chance to do so landed in my lap.  Isn’t it great how God can use the little minutial tasks of our day to give us the time to know Him?

I started reading, and it was clear that God wanted me to get it into my heart that Protestants ARE my brothers and sisters, and ARE His sons and daughters.  A valid Baptism incorporates the recipient into the Body of Christ. A valid Baptism consists of the use of water, and the correct intent to baptize according to God’s Will (which is generally assumed when a person is baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”).  Therefore, Prostestants (excepting some, such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses) are validy Baptized and are a part of the Body of Christ.

So, then, what is the difference between a Protestant and a Catholic?  My answer is Confirmation.  The Church considers Confirmation to be a sacrament of maturity.  It endows us “with special gifts of the Spirit which enable us to fulfill our function in the body of Christ.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not given solely for our own spiritual growth but for our specific role of service in the Community. … The Holy Spirit builds community.  In order for the Spirit to work, we must establish the proper conditions.  We must exhibit loving concern for one another.” (Emphasis mine, quoted from Speak Lord, Your Servant is Listening)

So Protestants are a part of the Body of Christ.  They are a part of the community of the Church.  In order for the Holy Spirit to build that community – to unify the Church, a deep desire of mine and many other Catholics – we must exhibit loving concern for all members of that community.  Protestants are not confirmed in the Church, but they are a part of it.  Confirmation is a sacrament of maturity – meaning those who do not or have not received it have not been blessed with the maturity of faith necessary to seek it.

Should we revile Protestants then, for their immaturity of faith?  Surely not; no more than we should revile a child for his immaturity of thought.  Just as we should be patient with a child and teach him to think rightly, so we must be patient with Protestants and attempt to teach them to believe rightly.  All this should be done with loving concern.  It should be done with an attitude of understanding: that our own faith is a gift and grace that we did not attain for ourselves, that Protestants are children in faith but not necessarily children in thought, that God has likely graced them with certain insights that may be greater than our own, and that, above all, they are our brothers and sisters and should be treated with the utmost respect.  After all, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Mark 9:42