Friday, November 29, 2013

Happy Black Friday

Don’t forget to save...treasure in heaven this Christmas shopping season.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Waking Up Is Hard to Do

If you were to stumble across a motionless human body, you could determine if the body was alive via signs, like a heartbeat or breathing. Observing these signs, one could say the body is alive, but only alive in a minimal sense.  A human fully alive would have many more signs of life like dancing, playing, working, loving, learning, etc.

The same is true for waking-up. Upon observing signs like siting, walking, talking, etc. one could say a person is awake, but perhaps not fully awake, like the person not fully alive. We might experience a waking up process every morning feeling tired, slow and groggy at first, but energetic after a baptism of sorts in a hot shower.

Of course the signs are never the destination. Signs always point to something else, so the signs of being fully alive or awake point to perfect being itself. If God is perfect being itself, then the glory of God is seen in a person fully alive.

Why all this talk about waking up? I recently read Waking Up Catholic by Chad Torgerson from Assisi Media. The book is geared toward those converts, reverts, or anyone just waking up Catholic, perhaps still groggy with blurred vision under the towering sky of Catholic light. The author brings his perspective based on personal experience being first an atheist, then a non-denominational Christian and then finally waking up Catholic.

I’ve heard it said that theology is the highest science. Catholic theology is bright & beautiful, but like any high science, challenging to understand, and like any bright light, difficult to see. It’s all too easy to just turn way from a bright light or to simply mock what we do not understand. Chad’s book presents a very readable overview of the aspects of Catholicism that are thorny to non-Catholic Christians or just unknown to anyone unfamiliar with the faith.

On Sacred Tradition: Learn about tradition with a capital “T” that ultimately comes from God (not men). How important is it to understand this correctly? Well, it’s only the major dividing factor between Catholics and other Christians. Although Christ’s revelation is complete, our understanding of it continues to grow and mature through the centuries and this is where Sacred Tradition comes into play.

Examples are most helpful:
How does the Word of God come to us? How did Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac & Jacob pass on the Word of God? They had no scriptures (no Torah). It was via tradition. How did the early Christians pass on the Word of God before the New Testament was written; at Bible study? No, it was via tradition. Even today, how does the canon of the Bible come to us? It comes from Sacred Tradition. How do we know that? We know that because the Bible itself does not attest to its own canon.
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How does the teaching of the Trinity come to us? The Bible? No, it comes from Sacred Tradition. The word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible and there are verses that imply Jesus is not God. Additionally, the Holy Spirit can easily be interpreted as an allegory for the power of God, not an actual third person.

How does the teaching of marriage as one man and one woman come to us? The Bible? No, once again it comes from Sacred Tradition. There is nothing in scripture that says a man cannot have more than one wife.

On the Guardians of the Faith: Learn the truth about ministerial priesthood and other religious orders that preach and teach the gospel and serve the needy. No other Church has the rich history and long standing teachings of the Catholic Church. The gates of Hell have not prevailed thanks to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If we are the body of the Church, the guardians are surly the backbone!

On Mary and the Saints: The Catholic teachings on Mary and the saints are just as true as any other Sacred Tradition mentioned above. Learn the difference between worshiping and venerating and learn why this doesn’t need to be such a deep & complicated point of division.

On the Eucharist: Learn how this is a standing or falling point (see John 6:60 & 66). See how the author woke up to an amazing truth instead of turning away from it forever.

On Confession: Dig into the Biblical roots of Jesus passing on his authority to forgive sins on to mere men and how the earliest Christians confessed their sins to one another. Beyond this, the scriptures are clear about mortal sins (or deadly sins) and those that are not deadly. Even for those who hold tight to Bible alone theology, there is no denying the distinctions in sin and that some cannot be simply “prayed away” (see 1 John 5:16-17).

On Action: Get tips on who should evangelize, why evangelize and how to evangelize. The clergy shepherd the flock, but it’s our job to help it grow. Just as someone once planted a seed in you, you should plant a seed (or two) in others. Why? The author summed it up well. “The world is crumbing underneath the weight of selfish desires and sinful lifestyles. Now more than ever, society needs to re-embrace Christ as her Savior.”

I'm often surprised how many Catholics don't know that the word Catholic comes from the Greek word “katholikos”, which means universal, and what an appropriate word that is. To wake up Catholic is to find yourself in a universal Church that was founded for everyone. Universal, not in the sense of accepting everything, but to understand everything as God reveals it to be; to wake up to the fullness of faith; a worldwide light so bright that it reveals the grains of truth contained in everything else.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Actually, We're Not OK

We often go along and get along in our faith journeys with the “I’m OK, you’re OK" attitude,  but it benefits us now and then to pause and reflect upon things “not OK”, lest we become too comfortable. We can breakdown this “OK” and “Not OK” thing in terms of four quadrants.

Quadrant I
I’m OK, you’re OK:
This relates to the sin of presumption. God loves us just the way we are, therefore our salvation is assured, regardless of any sins or non-sins. Just do whatever you feel is right.

Quadrant II
I’m not OK, you’re OK:
This relates to false humility. True humility is submitting to the Truth. False humility involves putting oneself down. Thinking yourself stupid, worthless or beyond hope is not proper for a child of God and it offends Him, so stop it!

Quadrant III
I’m OK, you’re not OK:
This is pride mixed in with presumption; the self-defeating attitude of “everybody’s stupid, but me”.

Quadrant IV
I’m not OK, you’re not OK:
When we compare ourselves directly to the holiness of God, quadrant IV is where we encounter reality. We are all sinners.

Although we know we are not perfect, we may hear from time to time about how "good" we are. Most of us tend to follow the ten commandants, more or less, and we throw in The Golden Rule, now and then. We try to make the world a better place when it’s convenient. We volunteer, we donate to charities, we’re kind to animals, we recycle and we even practice safe-sex! If you think we’re good people who don’t do anything "bad" (we’re OK), one needs only to ponder what comes after The Sermon on the Mount in Mathew 5 to begin a terrifying examination of conscience.

If you are angry with someone, you are liable to the fires of Hell (Mat 5:22).
If you look at a woman lustfully, you have committed adultery (Mat 5:28).
Be perfect as God is perfect (Mat 5:37). To me, this verse reads more as a command than a suggestion.

Do you still think you’re in pretty good shape? I once ran across a reflection that practically sent me running off to the confessional. See if some of these might apply to you or anyone you know.

With the sin of pride we scheme to push ourselves forward with white lies, showiness, sarcasm, passive aggressiveness and exaggerations intended to show that we know more than we really do, to make us look good and others look bad. We refuse to admit our own faults; we’re stubborn and impatient with harshness of words and judgment. We have no use for human creatures that won’t or can’t see things the way we do.

Sloth relates to our negligence, gluttony, weakness of will, jealousy, discouragement, resistance to grace, omission of the good we should be doing, and an undisciplined imagination that daydreams, allowing for voluntary anxiety. We allow our imaginations to “stew”. We review again and again all that arouses our anger, sadness and melancholy. We exaggerate things in our mind in order to make our own fantasy world of misery. We make tragedy where there is none, allowing our emotions to be extreme and uncontrolled. To sum it up, we act like the spoiled children of God. We are monstrous.

God’s light shows us the many blemishes of our conduct and we get the ominous feeling that there are many more yet to be discovered. Once we see this, we no longer seek to depend upon ourselves; we seek dependence on God, but the journey is not easy.

Jesus' response to the question of salvation in Luke 13:23-24 is also sobering. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate…" He describes the gate into heaven as narrow. This means it is not easy. In order to get through a narrow gate one must be deliberate in purpose and focused. It would seem NOT to happen just by accident. He also says "...many...will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough." What does He mean by “strong enough”?  Don’t we only need to believe? I need to worry about strength? I’d rather hear the stuff about the burden being easy and the yoke being light.

All this sounds pretty discouraging; we cannot be perfect; we are not God. How can we be “strong enough”? The answer is God’s grace, and here is a plug for more frequent confession.

The sacrament of reconciliation is a channel of God’s grace in the world. Sin blocks God’s grace; even “small” sins begin to block the pipes through which grace flows. All the little sins accumulate and the clog gets worse and worse and soon you’re dried up. Confession clears the pipes and the precept of going once per year is not enough for a smooth, continuous flow. You will receive more grace at your next communion after confession, which will in turn allow you to make a better confession next time, which makes a better communion, which makes a better confession, and on and on. It’s an upward spiral to holiness!

This is how we can be “strong enough”. Grace can be the grease that will help get us through the narrow gate. It gives us the strength so the burden seems easy, the yoke seems light. With grace we can begin to obey the command of Jesus to be more than just OK, we can “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”.

Go to confession!