Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Is it better to give or receive?

Some of the chatter taking place in chat rooms and forums across this planet revolve around the approaching Synod on the Family and how it will address the millions of Catholics civilly divorced and remarried outside of the Church. If we are to listen to the talking heads in the media living in fantasy world they would have us believe that the Pope is pro divorce and would change who can receive the Eucharist tomorrow if he could just convince all those old, white Bishops who are desperately clinging to their archaic beliefs of what Jesus taught. This has many conservative Catholics trembling in fear and many uncatholic Catholics giddy with anticipation. Either way there is a whole lot of shaking going on.

Rest assured the Pope is still Catholic and did not become Pope by disregarding the teaching Jesus passed on to his Church. The Pope became Pope because of the tremendous love he has for all people, including all you sinful adulterers civilly divorced and remarried, of whom I used to be. The Pope’s challenge is how to minister to those living in sin and how to get them to turn from their sin instead of turning from the Church. Those who live in sin die in sin and are not part of God’s Holy family. This is a devastating loss and weighs heavy on the Pope’s heart.

The driving factor most of the time in cases like this is because people believe they are being denied something someone else is allowed to have. They feel discriminated against and act like little kids who stomp their feet and hold their breath until they are given what they want. Civilly divorced and remarried Catholics do not feel as if they have done anything wrong and demand that they be allowed to receive the Eucharist just like everyone else. The fundamental error so many make is in the belief that they are receiving something. There is a general misconception of what a sacrament is. So what really is a sacrament and why can’t I have that little piece of bread everyone else is getting?

For those who remember their Baltimore Catechism the memorized definition of a sacrament is;

A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.”

The current Catechism of the Catholic Church defines a sacrament as;

“Efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.” CCC1127

Webster defines a sacrament as;


[sak-ruh-muh nt] /ˈsæk rə mənt/


1. Ecclesiastical. a visible sign of an inward grace, especially one of the solemn Christian rites considered to have been instituted by Jesus Christ to symbolize or confer grace: the sacraments of the Protestant churches are baptism and the Lord's Supper; the sacraments of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches are baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, matrimony, penance, holy orders, and extreme unction.

2. (often initial capital letter). Also called Holy Sacrament. The Eucharist or Lord's Supper.

3. The consecrated elements of the Eucharist, especially the bread.

4. Something regarded as possessing a sacred character or mysterious significance.

5. A sign, token, or symbol.

6. An oath; solemn pledge.

Although definition 6 comes close it does not capture the fullness of what a sacrament originally was. Sacrament is the English translation of the Latin word “scaramentum”. Sacramentum was an oath unto death that rendered the swearer “given to the gods”. It also referred to the thing pledged as a sacred bond. It was the oath Roman soldiers took to Caesar and it was unto death. To violate or go back on your oath cost you your life. And therein is where the rub begins.

Marriage is a sacrament – an oath to the death that cannot be undone. A civil divorce cannot absolve the sacrament of marriage and anyone who moves on to another relationship or a second marriage is by definition an adulterer. This is reaffirmed by Jesus in Mathew 19. Because this is direct teaching of Jesus it is not subject to debate and not something the Church can possibly change. When someone breaks this sacramentum they forfeit that which was pledged, which in the case of marriage is your very life. If you have forfeit your life as payment for the default of your oath you are then no longer free to give it to another. This is why marriage after divorce is not possible.

The Eucharist is also a sacrament. People mistakenly believe that the Eucharist is simply something they receive. What they don’t realize is that what they are doing is giving, not receiving. They are pledging an oath to the death. When you accept the Eucharist you are entering into a covenantal relationship with Jesus. A covenantal relationship is one where Jesus gives himself fully to you and you give yourself fully to him. By eating the Eucharist you are willingly pledging to give your life to Jesus even if that requires you to die for him. When someone breaks this sacramentum they forfeit that which was pledged, which in the case of the Eucharist is your very life, just as it is for marriage. Saint Paul warns us that to eat of the Eucharist unworthily you eat unto your death.

If you are civilly divorced and remarried you have reneged on your oath to the death that you pledged when you were married. The price of this is that you forfeit your life, it no longer belongs to you. When you receive the Eucharist you again take an oath unto death. The problem here is that you are pledging something that does not belong to you. You cannot freely enter into this oath. This is the same reason that someone who has a mortal sin on their soul cannot receive the Eucharist as well. The price of a mortal sin is death and one who does not have life cannot pledge what they do not possess.

With this understanding it is easy to see that the Church is not able to change her teaching concerning this matter and that no amount of hope or prayer will lead the Pope to allow this to happen. Instead we need to concentrate on how to be loving and pastoral and guide people back to that which is right and just. Then we need to pray for the mercy of God for those who blatantly disregard the truth for their own opinions.

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Walk Through the Jungle...Part II

Now let’s look at this story through a Catholic perspective…

We are all born into a fallen race outside of a relationship with God. God has started a family, a tribe, and he wants us all to be part of it.  We know that there is nothing we can do to be worthy of this gift but God wishes to adopt us all as his children regardless.  He has provided us a path for that adoption.

First we begin with a ritual bath called a baptism. This washes away the stain of original sin and restores us to a pure state. The baptized are dressed in a white garment to signify the new child in God they have now become. Baptism cleanses our soul and leaves an indelible mark upon it, consecrating or setting us aside for the Lord.

We then set out on a path through the deep, dark jungle called life. Because we have a fallen nature and an attraction to sin it is not long before we fall into it. Sin is a word that originally means “to miss the mark” and it is any action that is displeasing to God and separates us from him. The price of sin is death and there is nothing we can do to get ourselves out of it. We need a savior.

We know that we are saved by grace through faith. Grace is a word that means favor and faith is a word that means trust. We are saved by a special and undeserving favor through our trust. The tribal chief is Jesus Christ, who died once for all sins. When Jesus extends his hand down to you that is grace. When you extend yours up to him that is faith. When he pulls you out of the pit of your sins you are saved.

But being saved is not enough. Every action has a consequence and the consequence of sin is death. With Jesus’ death and resurrection he conquered death but there is still a price to be paid for our sins. To redeem means to “buy back”. When Jesus spilled out his innocent, divine blood for us he redeemed our souls. He paid the price of all of the sins for the entire world for all of eternity. Jesus is the tribal chief who poured out his canteen on us to wash away the grime and restore our robe to its brilliant white. He is our savior and our redeemer.

Most non-Catholic Christians believe that once they have been saved they are always saved and that there is nothing that can happen in heaven or on earth to change that from happening. They very well could be correct but for that to happen they would have to cease their journey through life. We know that as we travel through life we are going to fall into sin over and over again. Not all sins carry the same weight. Murdering an innocent person is much more serious than stealing a pencil from your place of employment. Both are sins but one has much graver consequences than the other.

In the story there were pits of quicksand that were so deep you could not get out of them on your own. There were also pits where you could touch the bottom and manage to get out. Both pits left you wet, dirty and heavier. The pits with no bottom represent mortal sin, sin that separates man from God that will result in eternal damnation if not forgiven. The pits with bottoms represent venial sin, sins that do not result in a complete separation from God and do not carry eternal damnation if left unrepented. You are left with a partial loss of grace from God as long as you have unrepented venial sins.

Every time we commit a venial sin our soul is weighted down. If left unforgiven we can become so heavy with our sins that we can no longer function and have the joy filled, productive lives we are meant to have. Jesus did die once and paid the price of every sin but that does not mean we are automatically already forgiven for either mortal or venial sins. The “once saved” crowd believes that they are and that they do not need to ask forgiveness for anything they do after they extend their hands in faith that first time. Scripture does not support this idea.

On the night before he was to be put to death Jesus instituted the priesthood and he gave his trusted twelve disciples the authority to forgive sins. If all sins for all times were to be redeemed by his death and resurrection there would have been no reason to do this. All sins from the next day forward would have been automatically forgiven. No need for the disciples to have this authority. Jesus knew that as we continue through life we would need to be forgiven over and over again for our weakness.

The witch doctor in the story represents the Catholic priest. Through an unbroken line of succession going all the way back to Jesus himself the Catholic priest has been given the authority to forgive sins. The witch doctor carried the canteen belonging to the tribal chief and used this canteen to wash away the buildup of muck and grime from the many times of falling in the pits of quicksand. It is only through Jesus direct authority can a priest do this and not through his own folly. The priest connects heaven and earth and acts as a conduit for the healing grace of Jesus to flow to us. This is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

We are never truly alone on this journey through life. The entire heavenly kingdom travels the path with us ready to lend assistance to us when needed. Jesus and his mother Mary are the only two humans who have ever made it through life without falling into sin. Both had extraordinary grace. We can never be like them in that regard but we can use them as the example of how we are called to live. We will be shown mercy in the way that we show mercy and we will be forgiven in the way that we forgive. Hatred is a poison that kills the soul. Forgiveness is the antidote.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Walk Through the Jungle...Part I

Imagine for a moment that you wish to go live with a native tribe down in the Amazon jungle. You pack your bags and fly to the nearest airport. From there they transport you by boat up the river to a landing in front of a dense jungle. The entire tribe is waiting there to great you.

The tribal chief explains to you that if you want to be part of his tribe you will have to undergo a test to prove your worth. Slightly worried, you ask what the test is. All you have to do is to travel through the deep, dark jungle to the other side by yourself. Being the adventurous sort you accept the challenge.

The test begins with a ritual bathing after which they dress you in a while robe. All of the tribe wishes you luck and you are set off into the jungle alone. At first you are very nervous. The jungle is like nothing you have ever seen. There are bizarre and wonderful sounds that both delight you and scare the bejesus out of you. You continue to walk cautiously but soon become accustom to the jungle. After a while you start whistling a pleasant tune while skipping along the jungle path.

And that’s when it happens. The ground under your feet gives out and you fall head first into a pit of quicksand. The quicksand is only knee deep at first but as you try to make your way to the end of the pit you slowly begin to sink. The more you sink the more frightened you become. The more frightened you become the harder you struggle to get out. The harder you struggle the faster you sink. Now you are up to your armpits and full blown panic sets in. There is no bottom to this pit.

As you sink up to your chin you realize two things; first – there is no way you can get yourself out of this pit. Second – You are going to die alone in this jungle.

You cry out for help. You begin to sob and yell louder. Just when you start to lose all hope the tribal chief steps out of the jungle and stands at the edge of the pit. You reach up to him and cry, “Please save me.” He reaches down, taking your hand in his and pulls you out of the quicksand. You stand wet, covered in muck and more grateful than you ever have felt in your life. Your clean, white robe is filthy.

The tribal chief looks at you and shakes his head. He takes his canteen off of his belt and pours water over your head. The water washes away the muck and the grime making your robe white again. He smiles at you and tells you to beware of the quicksand. Before you get a chance to thank him he disappears back into the jungle.

You calm yourself and begin walking down the jungle path again. You try to be cautious, looking carefully at every step. You hear a monkey call to her mate in the jungle canopy far above you. You squint your eyes trying to find the monkeys and as your eyes leave the path you fall into another pit of quicksand.

Your mind immediately goes into panic and you call out for help once again. This time help doesn’t come. You yell over and over as you slowly sink into the pit. As you sink up past your waist you can feel bottom under your feet and you’re able to walk over to the edge of the pit and climb out. You are once again wet and covered in muck and grime but you are alive.

You walk even more cautiously than you did the last time. It does not matter how cautious you try to be, every time you take your eyes off of the path you find yourself in another pit of quicksand. Each time you sink to a different level. Sometimes you sink up to your neck. Other times you sink only to your knees. Every time you call for help no help comes but you are able to climb out of the pits and continue on your way.

Each time you fall into the quicksand you find that you get out just a little bit dirtier, a little bit heavier with the water and the muck. It is starting to become harder and harder to walk down the path. You find yourself just trudging along barely able to move. You get so heavy that you can’t even stand anymore. You slowly crawl along the path, weary and ready to give up.

Just when you have given up all hope and reach your breaking point you crawl into a small clearing in the jungle. Sitting on a log in the clearing is the tribal witch doctor. You labor over to him and take a seat next to him. You tell him that you cannot go any further and you are ready to give up. He looks you up and down and smiles. Then he begins to laugh. He explains to you that every member of the tribe had to journey the same path you had just taken, even the tribal chief. Every member of the tribe fell into the same pits you had. Each had to be saved the first time. Each became weighted down with the grime from the other pits to the point they could no longer move. He tells you that the only two people who ever made it through the jungle without falling into the quicksand was the tribal chief and his mother.

The witch doctor tells you that you were never really alone on this journey. The entire tribe stood in the jungle watching, ready to lend assistance if it were really needed. He pulls a canteen that you recognize as belonging to the tribal chief from his belt and he begins to wash the dirt and grime off of your robe. As the mud and muck trickles away the white of the robe starts to shine through. With the burden of the extra weight removed you now feel energized. The witch doctor puts his arm around you and walks you out of the jungle where the entire tribe is waiting to welcome you to the tribe with a big feast. You have never been happier in your entire life.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sciptural Ping Pong

Are you saved?

This is a question that all Christians should be able to answer with an astounding, “Yes!”
Can you tell me how you are saved? This is where answers can really vary.

As an ex-Lutheran and fluent speaker of Evangeliceese I can tell you that I am saved by grace through faith. Most Protestants would add the word “alone” to the end of that sentence. I am saved by faith “alone”. In making this statement they would be both absolutely correct and absolutely wrong at the same time. How can someone be both right and wrong at the same time? The answer is actually quite easy.

First, I want to begin by defining two subjects that we will be discussing at length so that we can start with the same understanding. The first is the difference between “ordinary” and “extraordinary”. For the sake of this discussion ordinary means the regular way something is done. Extraordinary will be the exception to that rule. For example; the ordinary minister for the distribution of Holy Communion is a bishop, priest or deacon. If the ordinary ministers are not available or there is a great need an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion can be employed. An EMOC is a specially trained lay person who has been given the authority by the bishop to distribute Holy Communion. Extraordinary ministers are not to be used when there are sufficient ordinary ministers present. The Sacrament of Baptism is very similar. The ordinary minister for the Sacrament of Baptism is a bishop, priest or deacon but in an emergency, especially when there is a reasonable fear of death, an extraordinary minister can administer baptism when done in the correct form. This is the exception to the rule and an untrained lay person should never be going around baptizing people.

The Sacrament of Anointing is different. The ordinary minister of this sacrament is only a bishop or a priest (not a deacon) and there is no exception to this rule. There is no extraordinary minister for the Sacrament of Anointing. If a bishop or priest is not present anointing cannot take place.

The second subject to be defined is the word “works” for it is on this word and this word alone that the entire debate hinges.

It was a requirement for the people of Israel (commonly known as the Jews) to gather once a year in the Temple for sacrifice. Not every Israelite could make this journey. There were also times in Jewish history where they were exiled and not able to make it to the Temple. A sect of the Jews called the Pharisees, now the modern day rabbinical Jews, developed a way to be Jewish without the Temple. They called for a strict adherence to the 613 Commandments of the Law handed down to Israel by God through Moses – Mosaic Law. This Law required that certain “works” be done as part of its structure and this is where the game of scriptural ping pong between Protestants and Catholics begins.

The scriptural verse that the Protestant argument for faith alone hinges upon is Ephesians, Chapter 2, verses 8 and 9; “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

In this verse Saint Paul is making reference to the “works of the law”. He is saying that we cannot save ourselves by strictly keeping the 613 commandments of Mosaic Law and performing the works it requires. Salvation is a gift, or grace, given to man by God and that there is nothing we can do to warrant this salvation. In this understanding the Protestants are absolutely correct.

The Catholic understanding of “works” is slightly different. We believe that the “works of love” are essential to our salvation and not the “works of the law”. Our definition of how we are saved is more completely stated as, “I am saved by grace through faith working through love.” How do we get to this idea?

Let’s start with John, chapter 15, verses 1 and 2; “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.

Fruit here are the works of love.

Follow this with the parable of the Talents in Matthew, chapter 25, verses 14 - 30. The servant who took his master’s talents and used them was rewarded but the one who hid them and did nothing was cast out.

Then we can read John, chapter 2, verses 14 through 26; Faith and Works

     “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

      But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

The works Saint John is speaking of in this passage are the works of love, not the works of the law.

We can then finish with Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31 – 46; The Judgment

      “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

      “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

      “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ “Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

What these passages mean to a Catholic is that faith opens the door of salvation to us. We must then prove our faith by doing as commanded and performing the “works of love” for our fellow man and for Jesus by proxy. If we take our faith and do nothing with it we will be separated with the goats during the final judgment.

So who is right? As with many things with the Christian religion the answer is “both and” and not “either or”.

All throughout scripture we see many miracles take place solely based upon the faith of those involved. We see the sick healed, the blind given sight, the lame made to walk and people brought back to life who were dead. We even see one very specific instance where someone was given his salvation because of his faith alone. This is Dismiss, the good thief on the cross next to Jesus. Can God grant salvation based on faith alone? Of course, he is God and can do whatever he wishes to do. The rules were made for man and do not apply to God. The God who created all things certainly has it within his power to grant salvation based on faith alone. He also has it within his power to grant salvation to those without faith if he so wishes. These are examples of the extraordinary way God grants salvation. We are called to live by the ordinary means, not the extraordinary.

The word “faith” in Greek can also be translated as “trust”. If we trust in God we will do as he commands us to. In 1 Samuel 15 we learn that obedience is more pleasing to God than even sacrifice. God has commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He has commanded us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, house the homeless, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit those in prison and bury the dead. These are the works of love that prove our faith, our trust, in God. It is these things we will be judged on at the completion of time. I suspect we will have to answer two questions when we stand before the throne of God; Do you love me? Did you follow my commandments?

If we live strictly by “faith alone” we would have to answer yes to the first question and no to the second. When we do we are left to rely on God’s mercy and extraordinary means of granting salvation. When we can honestly answer yes to both we can be absolutely assured of God’s mercy and love and salvation he promised through the ordinary means. With the eternal resting place of our soul in question shooting for the extraordinary is a gamble none of us should take.

Here is a test each of us should take every day:

Am I Saved?

1: Do you love God with your whole heart, soul, strength, and mind?

2: Do you love your neighbor as yourself?

3: Have you fed the hungry?

4: Have you given drink to the thirsty?

5: Have you clothed the naked?

6: Did you give shelter to the homeless?

7: Did you care for the sick?

8: Did you visit those in prison?

9: Did you bury the dead?

10: Will you send me a dollar?

Questions 1 and 2 are nonnegotiable. If you’re not doing these start now.
Questions 3 – 9 we are not called to do all of the time. God will call upon us to do each of these when there is a need. It is our job to recognize when that need is present and answer when called. If we are the servants we are called to be we will do many of these things without even realizing it. Always be prepared to do a work of love.

Question 10 – Hey, you can’t blame a guy for trying.

Works of any kind without faith are non-salvific. Faith without works of love is disobedient. Obedience is more pleasing to God than even sacrifice.

May the blessings of God be with you and may you be a blessing to all whom you meet.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Just a note to say...

I was listening to my favorite Catholic radio program on the way home from work last night. A commercial came on where the lady speaking told of one of the things her daughter was doing for Lent. She was leaving little affirmations on Post-it notes for people to find. She had left one on her mother’s computer that simply said, “#Pray” to remind her mother that Lent was a time for increased prayer. She was leaving Post-its inside of the hymnals at church that would say “Smile, God loves you.” Just little messages to brighten someone’s day.
The commercial reminded me that Lent isn’t just a time to give something up but it is a call to do more. More does not have to be a lot or a big thing. Small things done with love are great things and it takes very little to make someone feel loved.
I was reminded of when I was five. My mother put little notes like these in my lunch every day. They were just little ways to let me know that she loved me or she missed me. Sometimes they were funny drawing to give me a chuckle. My wife will put notes like these in my lunch now. It doesn’t matter if I am five or forty-five, opening my lunch and finding one of these gems always puts a smile on my face. How much did it take them to do this? The tiny effort made an everlasting impact in my memory.
About a year ago my daughter was approaching the teen years and was struggling to find her identity. I wanted to let her know that she was special to me and that I loved her so I got a bunch of blank note cards and wrote something small but positive in each one; you are special, you are loved, you are beautiful; little words of encouragement to brighten her day. Each night for a month on my way to bed I placed one of these cards topped with a Hersey Kiss on her desk in her bedroom. I did the same for my wife.

Both my girls woke to a morning “kiss” and a note of love. My daughter is a tough one. She hates hugs and only uses the “L” word in relationship to pizza or boy bands. She would never admit that the notes made her feel good. Each morning she would leave for school and the note would be gone. They never appeared in any of the trash cans and would later be found saved in a box on her desk.
Small things done with love are great things.


The  first month passed. I let the habit slip and soon it was forgotten. Hearing the commercial on the radio reminded me of the impact such a small thing can have. I think it is time to revive this labor of love and include all of my children. They will still remember the little notes long after I am gone and perhaps one day will leave notes for their children.
There is absolutely no reason why I can't do as the daughter in the commercial did and brighten the days of total strangers. I am now armed with a Sharpie and a stack of Post-it notes. I will also leave random affirmations for people to find. I challenge every reader who sees this to do the same. Together we can spread some much needed happiness and love.