Sunday, August 31, 2014

Luke 19:1-10: Accepting the Invitation of God's Grace

"For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost." (Luke 19:10)

Read Luke 19:1-10

This passage has a deep, significant meaning for me, for I was assigned to read this passage at my first Communion Mass.  As an eight-year-old, I remember vehemently reading and and trying to memorize the passage so that my delivery would be poised and practiced.  Reflecting on those times, I vividly recall a picture of the small man Zacchaeus perched in a tree in order to see Jesus among the crowd.  That vision made a lasting impression.  

Why does this tax collector want to climb a tree to see Jesus?  Being a child myself, I was “short in stature,” so I was mesmerized by Zacchaeus’ act of ascension to see the Son of Man. The meaning, then, clicked for me.  Zacchaeus had to rise above who he was, a loathed sinner, and accept the invitation of our Lord.  But it was our Lord who sought Zacchaeus first, not the other way around.  Even more, Jesus calls Zacchaeus by name.  He already intimately knows this seeming stranger, as he does every one of us.  And if we listen carefully, Christ calls us all by name and desires to shed His mercy and forgiveness on our sins. We have to accept that grace-filled invitation, however, as Zacchaeus does, and truly repent in our hearts. 

Jesus invites all of us to faith in Him. He wants us to embrace his love and forgiveness, just as Zacchaeus does, “for the Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.” Let us thank God daily for offering us His mercy and forgiveness and, by His grace, raising us up from our low, sinful state. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Whitcomb's "Confession of a Roman Catholic"

I read this short discourse in about an hour, as at the current time it is available online for free. The essay is well written and to the point. Although brief, Whitcomb provides plenty of personal, subjective insight as well as relevant references to Scripture and the Early Church Fathers.

Paul Whitcomb was a born-and-raised Protestant who, through devout faith, eventually became a Methodist minister. Throughout Paul's Protestant ministry, he thoroughly pursued the Scriptures trying to find answers regarding the variances in Protestant theology and doctrine. Paul exhausted local public library resources in his quest to find answers, but he kept coming back to the inconsistencies of Protestant theology. Unsettled in his inquiry, Paul experienced as serious but unexpected pull toward the Roman Catholic Church.

Paul writes with honesty and captivating truth, and I could not stop reading his compelling testimony. One of the many thought-provoking premises Paul uncovers is that the Roman Catholic Church, through Christ's commission in Matthew 28:18-20, carries on the task to teach not only what is written in Scripture but also those doctrines that St. Paul mentions as traditions of the Church in 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

Paul Whitcomb's confession speaks loudly to those who are looking for an answer to the hotly debated question "Why should I choose the Roman Catholic Church?" And his answer is solid and tightly wound in research, Scripture, and tradition. At a time when I, a practicing Roman Catholic, am prayerfully questioning the validity of some Catholic Church doctrines, this confession could not have come at a more relevant time for me and serves as a beautiful reminder of Catholicism's historical and theological authenticity.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

John 10:27-29 -- Hear and Follow the Voice of the Good Shepherd

"My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one."
~ John 10:27-29 NRSV

Why do we have the tendency to wander away for the path of grace and become distracted by the world and sin? We are human, after all, and gravitate toward sin. But there is a greater call for those who have faith in Christ, a call that will rescue us from the distractions of our sinful nature and bring us to the nourishing glade of salvation.

In the above passage Jesus says, "my sheep hear my voice ..." and "... follow me." This indicates the sheep are called and "follow." Interestingly, sheep are instinctive followers; it is hard-wired into their genetic code to follow the senior sheep or leader. No matter the task or danger, sheep instinctively flock.

Jesus is the good shepherd. Those who follow Jesus, then, are given eternal life and cannot be snatched out of His hand. Although not snatched, a sheep may lose its way from the flock, however. As sheep are hard-wired to stay together, they would not choose to stray but may get lost due to circumstance. People are no different.  When given the free gift of God's grace in Christ, we instinctively want to follow the life of grace.  But the world and our instinct to sin can cause a distraction, a circumstance, and derail us from the shepherd's path (see Romans 7:14-24). The deceit of sin, effectually, is the circumstance and leads us away from the flock of faith. No can snatch us away from the shepherd, but it is by the temptation to sin and our poor choices that we can become lost. Repentance, prayer, trust, and contrition turn us back toward the voice of the searching shepherd.  

God searches for us when we give in to temptation and sin, as is indicated in the parable of the lost sheep, coin, and son in Luke 15, but we must choose to accept God's peace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ and follow His voice. If we frolic in the dangerous glade of sin, Jesus will continue to look for us, but we must hear His voice, repent, trust, and follow.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

John 10:9-11 -- Discipleship and Emulating the Good Shepherd

"'I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.'"
 ~ John 10: 9-11 (NRSV)

Jesus Christ is the only way (the gate or door) into the divine sheepfold of heaven, our eternal destination. Our Lord gathers up the initial flock (Israelites) and those who were not initially included (gentiles). Jesus, as the good shepherd, sacrifices Himself for the love of His flock by wilfully accepting the brutality of the cross for us. We, in turn, must willfully accept the difficult cross of discipleship and live lives of faith in Christ. Our faith, however, must reflect the active love of The Good Shepherd. True discipleship means actively emulating Jesus in our day-to-day lives.  We are called, for instance, to live lives of self-sacrifice and service to others.

How do we live lives of service and self-sacrifice in a self-serving world? In what ways are we called to live out our discipleship and model Christ for others? Although some are called to be missionaries in foreign lands or devote their lives to caring for the sick and poor, many are called to the mission fields of everyday living. Simple, honest love comes in many forms:  
  • Spending a few extra minutes telling your spouse and children that you love them.  
  • Turning to a neighbor and saying hello instead of walking by. 
  • Letting our co-workers know we appreciate them by saying "thank you" and giving honest praise for something they did. 
  • Volunteering to do an extra task at work in order to give our co-workers a break.
  • Being a loving parent, spouse, and family member in the home. 
  • Praying for people in need.
We are called to be kind to all we meet, even the rude, offensive person. When we love one another, our discipleship will shine and, through us, God's light will radiate to others (John 13:35). 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

John 9:3 and The Purpose of Human Imperfection

"Jesus answered, 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.'" 
~ John 9:3 NRSV

Each of us is born and created a certain, special way by God (Psalm 139:13). Although we all have faults and shortcomings, we have a divinely-infused purpose. And this blind man, who was seen as either a sinner or born of sinners because of his blindness, was created to glorify and serve God. 

In an interesting and sometimes hard-to-see way, our weaknesses were woven into our being in order to draw us or others closer to God. This blind man was healed so that others could witness the grace and power of Jesus and be drawn to Him. But like the accusing Pharisees, those who reject the will of God are scattered in their sin and blinded by their egos. All things in this world, seen through the eyes of faith and humility, lead to God's glory in Christ.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Matthew 22:12-14: The Wedding Garment, Being Chosen, and Reconciling Imputed/Imparted Grace

"...and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’"
~ Matthew 22:12-14 NRSV

The parable of the wedding guests in Matthew 22 divides most Christians into two exegetical camps:
a.  The "wedding robe" as a symbol of imparted grace due to charitable works 
b.  The "wedding robe" as an indication of God's imputed grace upon the elect  

How do we reconcile these two opposingly different views of this parable? Would our merciful God deny the faithful His loving invitation to the wedding feast of heaven? 

Clearly God offers all the invitation to His loving forgiveness through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We all benefit from the atonement, moreover, and are freely justified by Christ's act of love on the cross.  But we are called to love, too. This garment of loving action is required to enter the banquet, for if we fail to love not only God above all things but our neighbor as ourselves, then we fail to wear the required "wedding robe" and are cast "into the outer darkness."  

In order to be the light of Christ for others, we need to let His light shine through us, for through loving action we become the living conduit of Christ.  However, if we refuse to love and channel His light, then we doff the garment of His grace. It is through God's grace, first, that we are able to love and receive forgiveness, that we are justified.  But being reborn in Christ, we are required to honor being unworthily justified through sanctifying acts of love. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"O God, All My Hopes are in You": Moral Dilemmas and Resting in Prayer, Grace, and God's Will

“When, therefore, you are suffering from some sickness, temptation, persecution or other trouble, go to Him at once and ask Him to reach out to you His helping hand. No sooner will you have put before His eyes your affliction by saying: “Behold, O Lord, for I am in distress...” (Lam. 1:20), then He will console you, or at least give you strength to suffer patiently the passing trial, and it will have been better for you to have had that trial than to have been delivered from it. Make known to God all feelings of sadness or fear that oppress you, and say to Him: “O my God, all my hopes are in You. I offer You this affliction and conform myself to Your Will. But have pity on me, and either deliver me from it or give me strength to suffer it.” And God will surely fulfill in you the promise He made in the Gospel always to console and comfort the afflicted when they have recourse to Him: “Come to Me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you.” (Matt. 11:28)”
~ How to Converse with God  by St. Alphonsus Liguori

Moral struggles are no easy matter, and if given the option, most will choose to face a physical struggle instead.  Physically, we can either overcome the battle or accept the defeat.  Moral, spiritual struggles are much tougher and have a lingering, life-altering effect.

A few months ago, I had an epiphany that rerouted my faith journey. Much of the traditions and doctrines of the Church became my means of focus and study.  Deepening my understanding of and desire for the Church, I submerged myself in reading and praying through The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, sacred Scripture, and many writers, both lay and ecclesial, of the Church. Initially this led me to lean on devotions, sacramentals, and frequent reception of the Sacraments. Although these practices were bringing me closer to Christ, strict analysis and study of the Church, however, quickly led me to a scrupulous examination of self and a constant worry about my failures to follow and consciously conform to all Church teachings. Worry and scrupulosity became a heavy burden, one that led me to a moral crisis. Although I was trying my best to empty myself and live a life in Christ, I was not, however, able to completely conform my life to the teachings of the Church. As a newly reverted, on-fire Catholic, this was devastating. And in this devastation, I cried out in prayer for Jesus to lead me to His will, not mine.

In looking back, it was my will to follow Christ by strictly aligning myself to the doctrines of the Church, even if it meant abandoning reason and love for those around me. In trying to solve my moral dilemma, I sought daily devotions and frequent Reconciliation as a way of “making it right” and pressing on with my faith journey. In trying to live a life in Christ, I prioritized living a life in perfect sync with the Church. I was becoming a modern-day Pharisee. This way, however, was not God’s will for me. My dilemma hit hard when, in my zealous pursuit of Church doctrine, I offended those closest to me.

At this point, it would have been easy to abandon “religion” and only seek “relationship” with Jesus, as many who love Christ with good intentions wrongfully preach. Worship, conforming ourselves to Christ, and service to God and neighbor must be in the context of community; it is why Jesus established His universal church on earth. Instead of despairing, I reached out to God in prayer, Scripture in meditation, the faithful in reading, and to my pastor in counsel. This, for me, was the winning combination.  And although I did not get an easy answer, I received the grace, forgiveness, and love of God in Jesus Christ.

Our journeys to Jesus, I am convinced, follow different paths, yet are in some ways similar. Scripture spells this out in many of the apostles’ stories. Peter, for instance, was strong and brave, but his short temper and lack of faith led him to abandon Christ. But Peter had the humility to repent and trust in the mercy of Jesus, the Son of God. Thomas was too quick to doubt the resurrected Jesus, even though he lived with and learned from Him.  Thomas was at the feet of God, but he refused to believe until he felt the wounds of Christ. John, the beloved disciple, was closest to the heart of Jesus, so close he gently rested his head against his breast at the last supper. We all follow different paths, but when we willingly choose Jesus Christ, we arrive at the same destination by His grace.

Listening, having faith, being humble, and leaning on Jesus in times of trial is a summation of my journey as a servant of Christ. By God’s grace, my moral dilemma has led me closer to Him, deepened my faith, and, hopefully, is making me a stronger conduit of Christ’s light to others. But the key to our faith journey is prayer and conforming to God’s will, praying not only for Jesus to lift the burden of our dilemmas but, if God so desires, to strengthen us to carry them for Him.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Matthew 19:29 -- Modern Martyrdom, Faith Witness, and Giving up All in the Name of Jesus Christ

"And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life." 
~ Matthew 19:29 (NABRE)

We do not have to read far in the daily headlines to find the many real sacrifices of Christians and minority groups in the middle east.  Many Christians were given the choice to convert to Islam or die a brutal, terrifying death.  Violent deaths and sufferings have been reported via the news media. Yet in the face of such brutally real threats, Christians are either fleeing their land or facing death.  By God's grace, they are clinging to their faith in Christ. 

These people are living testaments to the power of the Holy Spirit, and their willing martyrdom in the face of such brutal circumstances, speaks volumes to the many lukewarm Christians in America.  This crisis is a faith wake-up call and reflects the message Jesus teaches in the sermon on the mount in the gospel of Matthew Chapter 5:10-11, for he says that those who are persecuted, reviled, ill-treated, and wrongfully accused for His sake will inherit the kingdom of God. We are called to carry the cross of discipleship, and that cross can be heavy and knock us down.  But it is through our faith and reliance on Jesus that we are strengthened to do the impossible, as these persecuted people bear witness. 

Please remember to pray for these children of God, Christians and non-Christians, who are persecuted and robbed of their humanity as we live, thrive, and breathe in a modern, protected world. Please look upon their living testimony as a finger pointing to the true meaning of living out one's faith. To be a follower of Jesus Christ is not easy, and let us never take our faith for granted. Please, through prayer and loving action, help spread peace in our world. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Matthew 15:21-28: In Faith and Humility, All are Welcome at the Table of Grace

The Canaanite Woman’s Faith
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
(Matthew 15:21-28 NRSV)

In the USCCB commentary video on the above scriptural passage, Fr. Joe Pisaneschi pinpoints the meaning of this gospel reading, and he is not afraid to call out those who lean on their works to justify themselves as righteous. Yes, many Catholics, including myself, tend to rely on our participation in the Sacraments, attendance at Mass, wearing of sacramentals, and devotional prayers as a means to earning God's favor. In doing this, we indirectly tend to place ourselves above others. 

The disciples were no different, for they followed the Master and knew Him personally. The first-century Jews, then, ostracized the gentiles, looking down upon them.  For example, the children of Israel readily referred to the gentiles as "dogs," a dehumanizing term that implied Jewish supremacy.  In the Scripture passage above, even the disciples, Jesus' chosen students, command Jesus to send the pleading gentile woman away, implying that only the disciples are worthy of Jesus' love and saving miracles. Interestingly, however, Jesus, calculating the crowd's response, plays into the haughty mind of the first-century Jewish population, for our Lord says He was "sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."  These words were aimed as much at the gentile woman as they were the observing Jews. 

Humility and an honest, loving heart are the core of genuine faith in Jesus Christ (see commentary on Hosea 6:6, Matthew 12:7). The gentile woman, in her humility, pleads a third time and is happy with the simple nourishing crumbs that fall from the table of grace. This woman is not, like the rebuking disciples, a child of Abraham and cannot claim the covenantal right to Jesus' healing grace. Jesus replies, however, by answering this outsider's prayer and instantly healing her daughter.  

Christ offers his healing grace not because we have a right to it, not because we earn it, and not because we flaunt our faith tradition.  Our Lord offers his love and healing to all who sincerely persist in seeking his love, but we must seek Jesus with a humble, repentant heart.  It is clear in Matthew's gospel that Jesus offers salvation and healing to those who humble themselves and have great faith, no matter their background, sins, or present social branding. In faith and humility, all are welcome at the table of God's healing grace. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Jeremiah 29:4-9-- The Blessing in Embracing God's Plan

"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the LORD."  
(Jeremiah 29:4-9 NRSV)

        In life, we can either accept or reject God's will. Embracing God's will can be a challenge in difficult contexts and situations, but no one ever said carrying the cross was easy.  The Israelite exiles under king Nebuchadnezzar, for example, were in a problematic position, and accepting God's will in captivity was a tough task, especially when false prophets were telling them to do the opposite. But God spoke through the true prophet Jeremiah, telling the exiles to thrive in captivity and draw ever closer to God in prayer and dependence.
        As God drove the Israelites into Babylonian captivity, there was a blessing for the exiles who embraced God's plan. They could thrive and grow closer to God in captivity if they listened to Jeremiah and accepted God's will. But it was the voice of the false prophets that decried God's will and tried to force a will of their own on the exiled Israelites. These false prophets tempted the Israelites, but God, through Jeremiah, warned the Israelites and said "I did not send them."
        We, too, must listen to God and follow his will in our lives, even when his will runs counter to what society, neighbor, culture, or current trends dictate. Most importantly, God's will for us may not be what we want or expect, for the last thing the Israelites wanted was to be held captive in a foreign land. But God knows best and blesses us with situations that draw us closer to the love of Jesus Christ. God knows what builds our character, make us better disciples and witnesses, and enriches us to evangelize. For the Israelites, captivity was a bitter reality, but if embraced, they could thrive and grow closer to God. In tough situations, we, too can thrive and grow in our dependence on Jesus in all things, for even in having little and being deprived of the plenty we once had, as St. Paul says, we "can do all things in him who strengthens [us]" (Philippians 4:12-13).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Disney's Frozen: An Adage Reflecting Jesus Christ's Atonement

     This morning, my daughter and I lazily snuggled on the couch and watched her current favorite film, Disney's Frozen.  As I was watching the final eight minutes of the movie, tears welled up on my smiling face.  Why? The final climactic scene includes a loving nod to the gospel and Christ's sacrificial love. God's loving message can be found in many modern films if we look closely, and Disney's Frozen is no exception. Most specifically in Frozen, however, this gospel adage happens between the 1:26-1:29-minute mark.
            The final scene in Disney's Frozen is a thought-provoking meditation on Christ's atonement and reflective of the sacrificial love we are all called to give.  I find it comforting that Anna, as she is about to freeze to death before receiving true love's kiss, turns not toward the kiss that will save her that moment, but toward the evil that aims to kill Elsa.  Throughout the film, Hans, the evilly-minded, pride-filled prince-to-be, plots to take the kingdom from Elsa.  His plot includes a Machiavellian murder, and the final scene shows Hans raising a sword to end Elsa's life, that is until Anna puts herself in front of the sword knowing that she will die in order to save Elsa.  Symbolically in this scene we see the devil (Hans), sin (the sword), and death (an ice-encrusted world symbolic of the absence of God) all defeated by Anna's act of "true love," as is stated in the film. Christ's sacrifice is mirrored in Anna's.  Jesus, throughout His Passion, exemplified the pinnacle story of true love; His was the greatest love story ever. God comes to dwell on earth through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ to love, serve, and sacrifice Himself for the love of all mankind. There are many moments throughout the gospel where Jesus could have claimed his divinity to save Himself from the cross, but He chose service and sacrifice to save us from the icy emptiness of death and Hans' death-dealing sword.
            If we examine Frozen's denouncement, the post self-sacrifice scene, a presumably-dead Anna (again death symbolized by ice) is mysteriously raised back to life through her atoning act of true love. And once she begins to live again, she is gorgeous, exalted, and pure. More than that, though, the world is changed, there is hope, and the sun (or should I say Son) shines brightly. The message is simple but profound: We are called to have faith, love others, and live lives of hope and self-sacrifice. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Matthew 17:14-20: Jesus' Frustration, Rebuke, and Lesson about Faith

Matthew 17:14-20

       As a desperate father approaches our Lord, we see an example of faithful, loving intercession. This father knows that Jesus is the only one who can heal his son, and the father approaches Jesus in faith asking for His mercy, "Lord, have mercy on my son."  Notice, also, that the father briefly mentions the disciples' failure. In stark contrast, we see Jesus express frustration in the disciples' lack of faith when He says,"You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you?. . ."  Quickly, then, Jesus rebukes the demon and instantly heals the child. The disciples do not, however, remain silently scolded and try to figure it out on their own.  They privately approach our Lord and ask questions about what they did wrong. If we recall many moments in the gospels, it is in private prayer and conversation that Jesus reveals very important instruction and truth to His disciples (e.g. the explanation of the parables in Luke, the Transfiguration, prayer in Gethsemane, etc.), and verses 19-20 are no different. Jesus says to them that they lack in faith, for it is true faith in Jesus that makes the impossible possible. The faith Jesus mentions, however, is not the size of a great mountain but the size of the smallest mustard seed.

The disciples were called by God, listened, and gave up everything to follow our Lord.  Naturally, we assume that they had extraordinary faith because they were so close to Jesus. But their faith lacked, as does ours. That the disciples struggled and failed many times is comforting.  For I know there is hope for me and many others that tend to get our faith wrong, fall into temptation, and sink when we are called to faithfully walk with Christ.  The key to discipleship is to ask God questions in prayer, seek His direction in faithful fellowship, and pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to guide us and reveal what we need to grow closer to Jesus. When we follow the model of the disciples' failures, we grow from their successes. In every instance but one (Judas Iscariot), the disciples realize their failure and ask the Lord for forgiveness.   Jesus’ mercy is without measure for those who seek it.  Let us all listen to our failing moments, seek God’s guidance in prayer and fellowship, and plant our mustard seeds of faith.

And audio file of this commentary is located here.

Friday, August 8, 2014

John 1:12, 14, 17: Jesus Christ as God Incarnate

Notes on John 1:12, 14, 17

12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God
(John 1:12) In receiving and believing in Jesus Christ we are transformed and adopted as sons and daughters of God. John states it as a choice, though, not as a forced adoption. We are given "power to become children" of God if we believe in and receive Jesus as God and our Lord and Savior.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

(John 1:14) The Word that created the universe and all that lie in it took on the lowly status of humanity and "became flesh." God the Son not only "became flesh" but He "lived among us." And He not only "lived among us" but lived the life of a poor servant, modeling how we, too, should live in serving God and neighbor. In everything that Jesus represents, in every aspect of His earthly life, in every action of His totally divine and totally human being, we see “grace and truth” at work.

17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

(John 1:17-18) Although the Law is important and a step in God's saving plan for us, only Jesus Christ brings "grace and truth." John uses "God the only Son" to depict Christ, which points to Jesus' unquestionable role as the equal and second part of the Trinity. That Jesus is “close to the Father’s heart” and has “made Him known” points to our Lord being God in the flesh.  Jesus is God incarnate, living and breathing among us.  When we see Jesus Christ, we see the love, truth, and grace of God.  For later in John 10:30, Jesus tells an unbelieving Jewish audience that “[He] and the Father are One.”

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ten Things Leading to Happiness: A Response to "Humblepiety: What can bring us happiness?"

Humblepiety: What can bring us happiness?

The above blog post, from Father Patrick Brennan, presents a prompt and list that inspires.  The following is my top ten list leading to happiness:

My quicklist (adapted from Fr. Pat's):

1. Read Scripture daily, especially the New Testament, focusing on Jesus Christ's salvific message.

2. Conform myself to Jesus by His grace living a life of service aimed at doing God's will even in mundane tasks.

3. Be humble in all things as a dad, husband, and neighbor.

4. Pray simple, frequent prayers throughout the day -- thanks, praise, forgiveness, intercession -- attributing that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28).

5. Go to Mass not out of "obligation" but because I love God. Go frequently when the opportunity serves.

6. Go to confession for serious matters, avoiding self-righteous legalism. God loves and forgives those who repent; confession is not medicine for deliberately recurring sin (Luke 5:12-13).

7. Live life knowing that Jesus died for me; therefore, I must die to myself and live for Jesus in a life of service (Galatians 2:20).

8. Be a shepherd to my domestic church. Set the example of living in Christ for my wife and kids.

9. Love all people, especially the least of His brethren and those who persecute me (Matthew 5:44, 25:40).

10. Live life reflecting that the Holy Trinity comes first in all things, always attributing any any works and gifts to God's grace.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Comments on an Evangelical View of The Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Recliner Commentaries: On the Catechism of the Catholic Church

The above link is an insightful commentary on The Catechism of the Catholic Church from the Evangelical perspective.  Below are my comments on this thought-provoking commentary:

Thank you, Dr. Ingolfsland, for this thought-provoking post.  The following are a few personal meditations on your commentary.  I took the liberty of quoting passages from your blog posting and commenting directly on them.  

"Evangelicals argue that “service of and witness to the faith” are the fruit of salvation, not the means to salvation. We would insist that conversion is evidenced by concern for the poor, the exercise of justice, etc. not the result of such good works."

Works are a necessary fruit of sanctification and holiness but not a required step to justification.  Our justification is entirely the loving work of God through Christ's atonement on the cross, and the magisterium agrees (CCC 1996), as you point out.  But we cannot in any way attribute our salvation to works; it is all over Paul's epistles and pastoral letters (i.e. 2 Tim 1: 9). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), however, later states that works effect our eternal life as we are "... moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life"(CCC 2010).  This statement seems to change the direction of Scripture in what Paul teaches, and is something, as a Catholic, for which I have wrestled.  The qualification of "moved by the Holy Spirit," however, points to God as the grace behind the works.  Many Catholics, lay and ecclesial, as well as non-Catholics can twist this to mean something it is not.  It is only through God's grace via "moved by the Holy Spirit" that we are saved and moved to do good works.  Either way, dogmatic interpretation should not trump our loving God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves.  

"In his letter to the Galatians, Paul strongly condemned the teaching that circumcision and good works were necessary for salvation. So when the Catechism teaches that the sacraments and the “service and witness to the faith” are necessary to salvation, this sounds very similar to the Galatian heresy."

In Galatians, Paul was addressing the Judaisers who insisted on circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic Law as a means of being part of the New Covenant in Christ.  In Acts 15, Peter solved this after his dream and the clarity and rule he sets forth during the Jerusalem Council. Paul, moreover, was addressing the false teaching that the Mosaic Law could earn one's salvation. Although I see the parallel Evangelicals draw between the works of the Law and the grace found in the Sacraments, Catholics believe the Sacraments contain in "inward grace" that transforms us to a life in Christ; whereas, the Law is only an external observance. The Sacraments, moreover, were instituted by Christ and are found throughout Scripture and confirmed in the writings of the early Church fathers.

"First, it seems a bit odd that the Catechism should criticize the perpetual nature of Old Testament sacrifice while teaching the perpetual nature of the sacrifice of Jesus in the Eucharist. Second, the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist seems to downplay the “once for all” nature of Jesus’ sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 10:1-10). Finally, to take Jesus literally when he said, “this is my body,” and “this is my blood,” appears to Evangelicals like insisting that when Jesus said, “I am the vine” he was affirming that he was vegetation."

Although Reformed theology teaches the figurative rather than literal when it comes to the Eucharist, if you look closely at John 6:54, the evangelist uses the Greek word "traga," which means "chew" or "gnaw," and it is used four times exclusively in this section of the New Testament, emphasizing the actual act of eating Christ's flesh.  Immediately following in verses 60-69, many leave Jesus because of the intensity of this teaching, but Simon Peter is the one, much like what he says in Matthew 16:16, who declares that Jesus is the Son of God and that there is no where else to go.  No matter how much reformers turn this section of John's gospel around, they cannot effectively explain this away as "figurative." Even Martin Luther at the Marburg Colloquy insisted that the Eucharist was the Real Presence of Christ, and Luther was the original reformer.  It was Ulrich Zwingli who argued and denied over 1500 years of this truth.  The Real Presence is scripturally based and rooted in the earliest traditions of the Church.

"Yet another reason to question Church infallibility is the Catechism teaching that man “must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters” (#1782). In times past, however, the Church regularly sought to force people like Martin Luther, for example, to act or profess contrary to their conscience."

The Church has undeniably flip-flopped on issues declared infallible, pre-post Vatican II. There are actually many conservative orthodox Catholics who reject the teachings of Vatican II.  At the same time, the Church has refused to budge on certain hot-ticket issues in order to defend the doctrine of infallibility. In 1968, for instance, Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae that declared contraception as “intrinsically evil” after the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control (1963-66) published a majority report that recommended the Church allow contraception.  The reference that man “must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters” (CCC 1782) is directly contrasted later with ". . . rejection of the Church's authority and her teaching . . . can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct" (CCC 1792).  In this passage, the Church, then, closes the possibility of man's conscience justly going against doctrine and authority on certain issues, namely being in opposition to the magisterium.  In other words, if doctrine of the Catholic Church goes against man's conscience, man's judgement is in error and CCC 1782 longer applies. This dogma is self defeating in teaching that man cannot, in good conscience, object to anything the Church teaches; if so, he is in grave error.  It is a moral trap that can lead to legalism, spiritual depression, and encourage a sense of questioning one's salvation. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice, not by a demand for strict adherence to man-made rules.  Jesus says in Matthew 15:6-9 that we are to follow Him, not the Law and man-made doctrines of the Pharisees and scribes.  It may seem small to many Catholics, and I would argue most Catholics do not even know or concern themselves with this teaching, but it is significant and a dividing line for many faithful Catholics, both lay and ecclesial, starting in the late 1960's and continuing until the present.

"First, in this section the words “worship,” “adoration,” and “veneration” are seemingly used synonymously, so when Catholics say that they venerate Mary and icons, but adore or worship Christ, Evangelicals hope Catholics will understand our skepticism, especially in light of the impression we have that many average Catholics don’t really seem to make much distinction between veneration and worship."

To a non-Catholic, veneration can look like idolatry in some cases.  In the strict sense, Catholics believe the Eucharist is truly Christ Himself, body, blood, soul, and divinity. Although it is a mental leap for Evangelicals, in faith they should understand that Eucharistic adoration is not idolatry, for Catholics the Eucharist is Jesus truly present in the species.  

Veneration of Mary is simple; she is the mother of Jesus.  We all agree that Jesus is God the Son.  Therefore Mary is the mother of God. Catholics believe that Mary is our mother, too, since we are adopted sons of God. We ask Mary for her prayers, as we would ask any family member or friend. Many Catholics can get carried away and take Marian devotion way too far. Therefore, in some cases, it looks like worship. But that is not truly what Catholic tradition intends.

"Some of the disagreements . . .  are extremely significant and could be matters of spiritual life and death."

That some Catholic traditions are a matter of spiritual death is a strong statement.  In some cases, people get carried away with veneration, the Church can wrongly condemn those who conscientiously object to doctrine, and infallibility can be taken to the extreme. Although the doctrine of works and faith is cloudy, its essential elements are the same for all believers. If a Catholic makes mistakes in their beliefs but offer them up in love and devotion to God, then there is faith and hope that our loving God will have mercy and welcome us to eternal life. God is perfect love; people are sinful and full of imperfection.  No matter what church you find, there is a room full of sinners who get it wrong.  We all are the Body of Christ, love God through faith in Jesus, and trust in His mercy and forgiveness.

Thank you for this in-depth look at The Catechism of the Catholic Church from an Evangelical perspective. I truly love and respect my Evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ and am elated to learn from your insight.

Grace and peace to you,


2 Timothy 2:22-23 -- Leaning on the Peace and Love of Jesus Christ

"So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels."

(2 Timothy 2:22-23) RSV2CE

I have the tendency to search for the intellectually "right" answer about faith in Jesus. The answer, however, lies not in the passion for knowledge but in the love Jesus has for us and our reciprocating that love to Him and our neighbor. Paul reminds us to focus on those attributes that are of Christ, namely faith, love, peace, and purity of heart. Participating in controversy with other Christians is tempting and an appealing intellectual exercise, but at its core, argument is, as Paul states, "stupid and senseless." Instead, I must focus on the peace of our Lord and the unconditional love He offers. The Gospel of Jesus is the answer to all temptations and quarrels. His Gospel feeds not only our intellect but most importantly our hearts.  I am to live for and in Him by His grace.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Catholicism and Evangelicalism - Scott Hahn vs. Kenneth Samples - YouTube

Dr. Hahn does a stellar job explaining justification through grace in faith and matured and nurtured through love of God and neighbor.  Dr. Hahn's explanation of the true nature of "works," too, is clear.  Most protestants agree that salvation comes first through faith in God's grace but must be lived out through love, although some would argue a hard-line view of imputed grace (see John Piper).  

When Dr. Hahn, however, says the only church is found in Catholicism, Ken's loving response shines brightly.  The exclusivism of Catholicism, professing they are the only church goes against the gospel (Luke 9: 49-50).  It is clear throughout Scripture, that all who believe in the grace of Jesus and strive to live holy lives bearing good fruit in accordance with God's will are the church. 

The discussion of sacramentals, namely the brown scapular of Mount Carmel, is quick and somewhat avoided, probably a result of running out of time on the show.  Sacramentals, however, are encouraged by both lay and ecclesial traditional Catholics and are sometimes used as a legalistic means of earning grace in the Catholic church.  As a result, many people get carried away with these and rely on the method and physicality of the sacramental to give grace (Luke 11:39-52).  Sacramentals are meant to be physical reminders that lead us to holy living in Christ, nothing else. 

This is an excellent discussion, but I am a little put off by Dr. Hahn's reluctance to step out of the orthodox stance, which is a typical stumbling block for traditionalist Catholics.  Ken is more realistic in seeing Catholicism as a holy way to worship and be part of Christ's church, not "the only" way that Dr. Hahn implies.