Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I absolve you...

Recently I found a lump at the base of my jaw. The doctor looked it over and told me that I had a tumor in my parotid gland. He wanted to biopsy it to see if it were malignant or benign. I asked what the difference was.

A malignant tumor will kill you if left untreated. A benign tumor will not. The doctor recommended having both types of tumors removed. I asked if a benign tumor wouldn’t kill you why would someone have it removed. The doctor explained that if left untreated a benign tumor would continue to grow and would eventually become disfiguring. A benign tumor could also turn malignant at any time. It is best to remove it when it is small.

I had the tumor removed and it was benign. I am now left with a hardly noticeable scar and a divot at the base of the jaw where the tumor was removed. Praise be to God.

Like the tumor there are two types of sin – mortal and venial. Ask a priest what the difference is and he will tell you that a mortal sin will kill you, a venial sin will not. He will also agree with the doctor that both types of sin should be removed. A venial sin, if left untreated, will continue to grow and become disfiguring. A venial sin can lead to mortal sin. It is best to remove it when it is small.

“So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” – John 20, 19-23

Jesus understood the fallen nature of man. Baptism washes away the stain of sin but man is a weak creature and will sin again. Like a tumor, sin causes the death of the soul. Someone living in sin has been separated from the full love of God by their own choosing. Jesus knew that he had to provide a way to remove this tumor and allow us to come into full communion with God in this lifetime. Full communion with God is the only path to true happiness and God wants his children to be truly happy in this life and the one to come. Jesus gave his authority to forgive sins to his disciples and the Sacrament of Reconciliation was instituted.

Priests are doctors of the soul. They have the authority of Jesus, passed down through apostolic succession, to truly forgive a person of the sins in their life. A mortal sin is one that fully separates a person from the saving grace of God. Almost all of the mainstream Protestant denominations believe in “once saved, always saved”. This basically means that Jesus died once for all sins, past, present, and future, and that once you accept him as your Lord and Savior your place in heaven is assured. In this belief there is no punishment for sins committed after your acceptance of Christ. If there is no punishment there is no reason to have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You are free to commit any sin that so pleases you and as long as you have accepted Christ you are safe.

Does this concept work in your family? Is your baby boy free from punishment for anything he does just because he loves you and accepts you as mommy or daddy? If he is you have some long nights, gray hair, and probably an ulcer or two ahead of you come the teenage years.

It doesn’t work in God’s family either. Jesus did die once for all and redeemed all of mankind for the price of sin both past and future. But one thing that God respects above all else is the free will he gave man and the angels. He will forgive us our sins and bring us into full communion with him or he will allow us to separate ourselves through sin. It is our choice. God does not condemn anyone to hell. He finds us there. We choose hell when we choose ourselves over God.

The only sin that God will not forgive is the sin we do not ask forgiveness for. Again, God respects our free will. If we choose to retain our sins he will allow us to retain them and then bear the punishment for those sins. If the sins are mortal we have fully separated ourselves from God and the punishment for those sins is death and an eternity in hell. Venial sin does not fully separate us from God but does severely restrict the saving grace God will give us. If you die with a mortal sin on your soul you go to hell. If you die with a venial sin on your soul you go to purgatory when you are purged or perfected and the sin you have is burned away like the chaff of wheat.

God wants us in full communion with him and he is ready to pour out saving grace to us. He has provided us a way to restore our soul or wipe the slate clean so to speak. We can receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, better known as confession, and be healed.

Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest? Can’t I just go to God directly? The simple answer is that Jesus told us to do so. If it weren’t necessary he wouldn’t have gave that authority to man to begin with. If we could simply go to Jesus with our sins that would have been the instruction he left. Tell my children to pray to me privately and forgiveness will be theirs. But that isn’t want he said. He gave his disciples the authority to bind or loose sins and then he instructed them to tell people to confess their sins to each other.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” James 5, 16

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the two sacraments of healing. We can confess our sins to a priest who stands in the place of Jesus. They act as a conduit connecting heaven and earth allowing the healing forgiveness of Jesus to flow down and restore our broken relationship with God. The priest can do this because he has been given the authority to do so by Jesus through the apostolic succession of the bishops. No other man or woman has been given this authority. This makes the priest the only doctor who can remove the cancer eating away at our souls. Tumors should be removed as soon as they exist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the greatest treasures the Catholic Church has.

Holy Orders

When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves;  for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”  And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” – Luke 22, 14-20

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” – John 20, 19-23

Jesus is the Great High Priest. He came to establish his Church here on earth. Knowing he was to return to the Father Jesus handed down his authority to his chosen twelve apostles. They were to continue his ministry and teaching making disciples of all nations. He laid hands on them and breathed on them, passing on to them the Holy Spirit and all authority he had received from his Father in heaven. He appointed one to be head of all, not to rule them but to serve them.

And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 16, 17-19

The word in the original Greek was “petros” meaning “rock”. "Peter" was more of a title than a name. Simon the Rock. It was the faith of Peter after Pentecost that Jesus built his Church upon. Ironically, about fifteen feet below the teaching chair of the Pope in the Vatican you will find the grave of St. Peter. Upon his bones rests the head of Christ’s Church on earth. The Church is quite literally built upon Simon the Rock. Upon this Rock I will build my Church.

To Jews numbers had specific meanings. Seven means to swear or take an oath. Forty means to test. Any time you see the number twelve in the bible it refers to government; the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve judges, the twelve apostles. When Jesus chose twelve to be his inner circle disciples he was establishing the governmental leadership for his church. Jesus handed his authority down to them and they in turn handed their authority over to replacements before their deaths. Thus was established the hierarchy of Church leadership.

When we hear the word “hierarchy” we think chain of command. The Pope controls the bishops who control the priests, etc. This isn’t exactly how the hierarchy of the Church works. The word hierarchy has its roots in, you guessed it – Greek. Hierarchy = ιεραρχίας which is the combination of the Greek words ιερό σκοπό which when translated means “Holy Orders”. Heir-Archy = Holy-Orders. Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony make up the Sacraments of Service and are directed towards the salvation of others. People who receive the Sacrament of Matrimony are called to serve their spouses and children with the primary responsibility to get their families to heaven. Men who receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders are called to serve all of the people of their parishes, Catholic or not, with the primary goal of getting them to heaven.

There are three different types of holy orders in the Catholic Church. They should not be looked upon as levels or ranks like what we have in the military. A General in the army can order around any private on any base he visits. A bishop cannot order around any priest anywhere he goes. The Catholic hierarchy is not a chain of command in that fashion.

The first level of Holy Orders is the deacon. A deacon’s ministry is three fold. As the minister of the Word he is the herald of the Gospel and peaches and teaches in the name of the Church. As a minister of Sacrament, deacons baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services. As a minister of Charity, deacons are leaders in identifying the needs of others, then marshals the Church's resources to try and meet those needs. Deacons are also dedicated to work toward eliminating the injustices or inequities that cause such needs. For more information on the deacon please read my previous blogpost: What is a deacon?

The second level of Holy Orders is the priest. All priests are first ordained as deacons and remain deacons for the rest of their life. In addition to their responsibilities as a deacon they have priestly responsibility to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and distribute the sacraments of reconciliation and healing. They can be assigned to a parish or a religious community or they can serve in some other administrative or executive role within the Church. When assigned to a parish the priest is actually the stand in for the bishop. Because the bishop cannot be at every parish every day the parish priest represents the bishop when saying Mass and conferring the sacraments.

The third level of Holy Orders is the bishop. When Jesus ordained his twelve disciples he made them bishops. When they handed that authority over to their replacements they ordained new bishops. As the Church grew so did the need for bishops. New bishops were ordained to fill the need. The Catholic Church has an unbroken line of succession going all the way back to Jesus himself. This is what is known as apostolic succession. The bishop is both the head deacon and the head priest and is responsible for all souls within his diocese. Authority to teach, preach and distribute the sacraments come from the bishop and the bishop is the only one who can distribute the Sacrament of Confirmation.  

Peter was the first Pope, a word simply meaning “Father”. The Pope is the head of all bishops but this does not mean that he rules over them. He is called to serve and lead them. The bishops in union with the Pope is known as the magisterium and is tasked with the responsibility to teach what Christ handed down and to ensure what is taught by his Church stays true to what he taught.

As with all Sacraments, Holy Orders are an oath to the death. Like with baptism, when a man is ordained his soul is indelibly marked for eternity. Once ordained, always ordained even if one goes astray. Just as you cannot unbaptized someone you cannot unordain someone of their Holy Orders. Their faculties can be removed but the indelible mark on their soul is there forever. For a man to be ordained and then teach something contrary to what Jesus taught, or in other words something against the official Church teaching, that would cause the man to renege on his oath and cause him to fall into mortal sin. All who accept Holy Orders are bound by their oath to be obedient to the teachings of Jesus even when they don't personally understand the teaching.

Because they are shepherds to Jesus' flock a great responsibility is placed upon them. Extraordinary grace is granted to them to help them through their ministry. Pray for your clergy. They are the frontline foot soldiers against the evil one and darkness engulfing our world.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Until death do us part.

Marriage is the oldest of all of the sacraments. It was instituted by God in the twilight of the sixth day of creation.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.

The man said,
            “This is now bone of my bones,
            And flesh of my flesh;
            She shall be called Woman,
            Because she was taken out of Man.”

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” – Genesis 2, 18-24.

God authored marriage and therefore is the ultimate authority as to what marriage is, who it is between, and how long it lasts. Man has never been good at acknowledging or respecting God’s authority in anything. Changes to God’s plan started with Moses, the law giver. Moses’ people turned their backs on the law and demanded the ability to divorce. Moses eventually gave in to the pressure and allowed his people to divorce. The type of divorce Moses allowed is not the same as how we define divorce today. Read my previous blog post for a deeper dive into biblical divorce – Biblical Divorce.

When tested by the Pharisees, Jesus reaffirmed God’s definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman for life. The people preferred their definition over God’s and made themselves the ultimate authority on what marriage is, who it can be between, and for how long it lasts.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 19, 3-9.

God defines marriage as being between one man and one woman for life. Marriage is called to be open to life – procreative, one flesh union. Two becomes three in unity. The family is the foundation of all society and marriage is intended to furnish the stable base where all human interaction starts. We are all called to be brothers and sisters living together in love.

This definition is too restrictive for man to follow. We have taken it upon ourselves to continue in the footsteps of the people of Moses and redefine what marriage is. We have three basic kinds of marriage among Christian people today.

The first is the civil marriage. It is a marriage defined and performed by the state. Thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling who can be married in the United States is now open. No longer is marriage strictly between one man and one woman. Same sex marriages are now recognized. It is still between one person and one person but the door has been opened to legalize polygamy and multiple marriages in the near future. Civil marriage is a contractual marriage. A contract is the free exchange of goods and/or services for an amount of time. They are not lifelong. A civil marriage can last for a lifetime, and many of them do, but they can be terminated at any point in time by a simple divorce. The divorced pair are then able to marry someone else without restriction. Sadly, in a recent poll, this is the type of marriage over 56% of Catholics support. There are groups within the Church who are demanding that the Church get with the times and accept this as the definition of marriage. She is in the same position that Moses was after the exodus.

The second type of marriage is the blessed marriage. This is a marriage that is fully recognized and approved of by the Church, which for one reason or another does not rise to the level of a sacramental marriage. One of the elements of a sacramental marriage is missing and therefore this type of marriage does not receive the full measure of sacramental grace that is received when one is in a sacramental marriage. This often happens when a Catholic marries without the proper form or matter or marries someone who is not baptized or of another faith. A couple can have their marriage blessed by the Church only if some element that keeps the marriage from being considered sacramental is missing and there is nothing that can keep it from becoming sacramental exists. A Catholic woman who marries an unbaptized man can have her marriage blessed. A Catholic woman who marries a divorced man cannot. An unbaptized man can always become baptized. A divorced man can never really become “unmarried” as we see a marriage being for life. If the divorced man’s wife dies he then becomes free to marry again and then that marriage can be blessed and even become sacramental.

The reason a person should have their non-sacramental marriage blessed is so they can receive the other sacraments. A couple who has a blessed marriage can receive the Eucharist (if the requirements to do so are met). They can receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Healing. Those living in an unblessed civil marriage cannot receive these sacraments.

The third type of marriage is the sacramental marriage. This is the type of marriage all Catholics who are called to the vocation of marriage are called to. Marriage is one of the three sacraments that are universally accepted as a sacrament among the mainstream Christian religions. The main difference between the Protestant sacrament and the Catholic sacrament is that Protestants can divorce and end the marriage. For a Catholic a marriage is for life.

This series on the sacraments centers on how they are “oaths until the death”. The Catholic Sacrament of Marriage is probably the easiest of the sacraments to see how this principle applies. Catholics believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, open to the creation of new life, for as long as both people are alive. A Catholic marriage is a covenantal marriage, not a contractual marriage. A covenant is the total giving of one’s self for the total receiving of another for life. The only thing that can end a covenant is the death of one who has entered into it.

The Baltimore Catechism defined a sacrament as, “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace." This is the main difference between a blessed marriage and a sacramental marriage. God gives grace to couples living marriage as he defined it, not as man defined it. There is nothing we cannot accomplish with the grace of God. A sacramental marriage living with the grace of God is a good and holy thing that all marriage should be modeled after.

If you are an American Christian do not fret over the recent Supreme Court ruling considering the definition of marriage. Man has been trying to redefine marriage since the time of Moses. It only deals with a civil marriage. For a Catholic, marriage is so much more. For us, marriage was instituted and defined by God, the ultimate authority in all things. Supreme Court justices come and go and their rulings change with time. God is eternal and his love for us never changes.