Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Catholic Prayer

Catholics are often accused of worshipping false gods because we pray to Mary and the Saints. Most of this confusion comes because of how we use the word “pray”. For many non-Catholic Christians the word “pray” is synonymous with the word “worship”. Given this extremely narrow and modern definition of the word it is understandable why many non-Catholics believe we worship people other than God. The Catholic Church is not a modern creation. It is over two thousand years old. To us, the word “pray” has a much broader and deeper definition.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines five types of prayer. These are:

1: Prayers Blessing and Adoration

2: Prayers of Petition

3: Prayers of Intercession

4: Prayers of Thanksgiving

5: Prayers of Praise

A detailed explanation of these forms of prayer can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part Four, Section One. I offer the following as a basic definition for sake of this discussion:

1: Prayers of Blessing expresses the basic movement of Christian prayer. Our blessing ascends in the Holy Spirit, through Christ, to the Father. We bless him for having blessed us. A prayer of blessing also asks for the grace of the Holy Spirit to descend upon us from the Father through Christ. “Blessing” is the English translation of the Latin word “benedictionem” which means “to say well of”.

 Prayers of Adoration acknowledge that man is a creature before his creator and exalts the greatness of the Lord who made us. True adoration is worship and due to God alone. Many who accuse Catholics of worshipping Mary have no problem telling their significant other or children how much they adore them.

2: Prayers of Petition come in the form of supplications and lamentations. Supplications are prayers asking for our every need, from forgiveness, to strength, to healing, and even our worldly desires.

Lamentations are passionate expressions of grief or sorrow. Jesus prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane are a perfect example of a lamentation.

3: Prayers of Intercession are like prayers of petition except we are asking for the needs of others. Jesus is the one and only intercessor to the Father and our prayers of intercession are directed towards Jesus. We can ask others to pray for us, to add their prayers of intercession to Christ on our behalf. When I had my heart surgery I had thousands of people praying to Christ that he would intercede with the Father and grant me a safe surgery and a complete recovery. I attribute the speed at which I recovered to God answering those prayers of intercession.

4: Prayers of Thanksgiving are prayers of gratitude to a Lord that provides all things to his people. Everything we have, including our very breath, is a gift from God and we offer constant thanks in the form of prayer.

5: Prayers of Praise offer glory to God simply because He Is. In Prayer of Praise we recognize and acknowledge that God is God and is due all glory, honor, and praise we are capable of.

Even for non-Catholic Christians who believe the word prayer is synonymous with the word worship will realize that they offer these five types of prayer when they pray. Catholics believe prayer is all of the above and more. For us it is also a means of spiritual communication. God has a family consisting of his believers here on earth as well as all persons living in heaven. The definition of a Saint is any person, angelic or human, living with God in heaven.

Just as I can ask any of you to pray for me to our Lord I can also ask any of my brothers and sisters in heaven to pray for me as well. This is where prayer as a means of spiritual communication takes place. God alone can hear our prayers. If I direct a prayer to a Saint in heaven God allows that Saint to hear my prayer and intercede on my behalf. Saints can offer prayers to Jesus for me just as any of you can offer prayers to Jesus on my behalf. Saints are perfected persons living in heaven in God’s sight. Their intercession for us is great.

Mary is a very special person. She is the mother of Jesus and the greatest of all of the Saints, either angelic or human. Jesus loves his mother and will do whatever she asks of him. I can pray to Christ and my prayer will be heard but if his mother prays for me he will give the request much greater attention. Because of this we pray to Mary for her intercession to Christ on our behalf.

Catholics do not worship Mary. We venerate her as the mother of Jesus. Sometimes that veneration can be so strong that it could be mistaken as worship. Mary is not God and not worthy of our worship but she is the greatest example of what a human person is called to be like. When we honor Mary we honor her son through her. If someone were to honor and respect my mother I would go out of my way to make sure that person knew how much I appreciated the action. How much more do we please Jesus when we honor and respect his mother?

Be a blessing to all you meet and allow them to be a blessing to you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Forgive us our trespasses...

Johnny and Billie were playing catch in the back yard on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Johnny was younger than his brother and couldn’t catch as well. Billie teased Johnny about this and Johnny grew angry. When Johnny could no longer take the teasing he threw the ball as hard as he could at his brother. The ball sailed over Billie’s head and crashed through the kitchen window. The boys ran to the front of the house in the hope that they wouldn’t be caught. The boys’ dad came out of the house and looked at the window. Shaking his head he went back into the house and nothing was ever said to either of the boys.

When the boys came down for breakfast the next morning they found the kitchen full of ladybugs. They were everywhere. They were on the walls, on the table, even crawling on their pancakes.

“Where did all of these ladybugs come from?” Johnny asked.

“They came through the broken window.” Johnny’s mother said with a grumble.

“The repair man is coming.” Johnny’s dad said calmly

Later that night Billie went into Johnny’s bedroom. “You will be doing the dishes for me tonight.” Billie said to his brother.

“I will not.” Johnny replied.

“If you don’t do the dishes for me I will tell mom and dad you broke the kitchen window.”

Johnny hung his head and went downstairs to do the dishes for his brother.

The next night Billie visited Johnny again. “Tonight you will take the trash out for me.” Billie said. Johnny knew better than to argue. He just hung his head and took out the trash.

Wednesday night Billie told Johnny to walk the dog for him. Johnny grew angry and exclaimed, “No I won’t”. He walked out of the room, went downstairs, and found his parents.

“Mom, dad, I broke the kitchen window.” Johnny said through tear filled eyes. “I am sorry.”

“We know.” Johnny’s father said. “I was in the kitchen and saw you do it.”

“So what are you going to do with me?” Johnny asked.

“Son, we love you and we forgive you for breaking the window. But it is still broken and you need to repair the damage you have caused.” Johnny’s dad said both sternly and lovingly. “The repair man is coming in the morning and it will cost five dollars to fix the window.”

“But I only have a dollar and a nickel in my piggy bank.” Johnny said dejectedly. “I know, I counted it on Sunday.”

“Go get your piggy bank and let’s have a look.” His father said with a slight grin on his face.

Johnny ran up to his room and brought his piggy bank to his father. He pulled the plug out of the belly and began to shake the bank. Five, one dollar bills spilled out onto the carpet. Johnny’s eyes got big and his mouth hung open.

“I only had a dollar and a nickel in there, I swear!” he exclaimed in disbelief.

Johnny’s father picked up the money and gave his son a hug. “I will make sure the window gets fixed in the morning.” His father said. Johnny hugged his father tight with a smile that went from ear to ear.
As Johnny ran back to his room his mother looked at his father and raised an eyebrow.
"I put the extra four dollars in there last night." His father said. "I figured he would break and admit it tonight."


A cornerstone in Protestant theology is “once saved, always saved”. Many believe that Jesus died once for the forgiveness of all sins, past, present, and future. Because all sins have already been forgiven there is no need to confess them and seek forgiveness once you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Any transgression they commit has already been forgiven.

Sin is any thought or word, spoken or left unspoken, or any action done or one we have failed to do that damages the relationship between one’s self and God and God’s people. When one damages this relationship a debt is incurred.

Forgiveness is a word that means “to let go”. God is love and forgiveness is a fruit of love. In his perfect love for us God is willing to let go of the debt we owe him when we sin. The key words here are “willing to”. God is “willing to” let go of our debt. It is not automatic as the once saved always saved people believe it to be. If Jesus died once for all sin (which he did) why are all sins not automatically forgiven?

Forgiveness is a fruit of love but it is also a gift given in love. For a gift to be effective the gift has to be accepted, opened, and used. If I give you a gift for your birthday and you hand it back to me and tell me you don’t want it you have not received anything. If I give you a gift and you put it in the closet without opening it you have received nothing. For my gift to you to be effective you have to accept it, open it, and use it.

Forgiveness is a gift given in love. For forgiveness to happen we have to accept it, open it, and use it. Another gift God has given us is our free will. God is willing to give us the gift of forgiveness but he also respects our right to deny this gift, to shelve this gift, and to not use this gift. The only sin God will not forgive is the sin we will not allow him to forgive. This comes in two flavors; despair and arrogance.

Despair happens when we believe that our sin is so great that even God cannot forgive it. God is willing but we cannot believe he can so the gift of forgiveness is never received. Arrogance happens when we believe that we don’t need God’s forgiveness. Instead, many times we believe that it is God who needs our forgiveness instead. In neither case is the gift of forgiveness accepted and therefore the sin is never forgiven. This is always by our choice, our will, and not by God’s. Once saved, always saved violates the principle of free will for it denies the individual the ability to reject God’s forgiveness.

Like with the broken window, although the debt of our sin is forgiven there is still damage to be repaired. When the sin only damages our relationship with God that relationship has to be repaired. God’s love for us is perfect and cannot be damaged. The real repair work is on us and our side of the relationship. This is done through penance. Penance is defined as voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong. It is our way of telling God our Father that we are sincerely sorry for what we have done. Penance needs to be serious enough that it stands as a deterrent to us not co commit the sin again but not so grave that it causes further harm.

In addition to causing damage to our relationship with God our sins can also cause damage to the relationships with God’s people. For example, if I lie to someone with the intent to defraud them I not only damage my relationship to God by violating the eighth commandment but I damage my relationship to the person I have lied to. I have to seek forgiveness from God but I also have to seek forgiveness from the person I have lied to.

We are called to forgive as God forgives. Indeed, we are called to forgive even if forgiveness isn’t sought by the person who harmed us. In this case forgiveness actually serves two purposes. It does release the person from the debt incurred by their action if and when they ever are willing to accept our forgiveness. When we forgive we are also released from the affects that sin can cause on us.

When someone sins against us it often creates feelings within us that generate evil intentions. We hate the person for what they have done. We hope that they will get theirs. We pray for bad things to happen to them. In the extreme we seek revenge. All of these responses have an evil intent. When we give in to evil and respond with malicious intent in our hearts we damage our relationship with God. When hate in our hearts is not released and purged it can turn into poison and affect everything we do.

When we truly forgive someone who has harmed us we “let go” of all of the built up evil inside of us. We are released and a huge weight is lifted from our hearts. Forgiving someone and letting go of all malicious intent is not the same thing as forgetting the damage done. We are not called to forgive and forget. We are called to forgive. To forgive does not mean we have to open ourselves up to have the same damage happen again.

The evil one uses our sin that is kept in darkness against us. It gives him power over us in much the same way that Billie used the broken window to get Johnny to do his chores. Once we bring our sins into the light he loses that power over us. Once Johnny told his dad what he had done Billie lost the ability to blackmail him. As a Catholic we bring our sins into the light in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We confess our sins to a priest who is acting in persona Christi capitis – in the person of Christ the head. In effect, we confess our sins straight to Christ.

Why can’t I just confess my sins directly to God? Like Johnny’s father God the Father already knows our sins. He sees all we do. We can go directly to God in an act of perfect contrition, that is, if we bring the sin completely out of the darkness of our hearts and are truly sorry for it. For most of us that is very difficult to do. It is easy to say sorry to God and not actually mean it as long as we are not held accountable for it. The sin never really leaves the darkness of our hearts. As long as it is in our hearts the evil one can use it against us.

When we confess to a priest we bring the sin into the light where it cannot be hidden. Jesus gave authority to forgive sins and that authority has been bestowed upon the priest. When the priest gives absolution it is not the man but Jesus through the man granting the forgiveness and burning the sin away in the light of his love.

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is an extremely dangerous part of the Lord’s Prayer. We are petitioning God to only forgive us as much as the forgiveness we offer to others. Mercy will be received in the same measure it is given. If we refuse to forgive someone for a wrong committed against us, if we live with a grudge, or if we harbor evil intent towards someone we are giving God permission not to grant us his forgiveness. If I want to be forgiven for the wrongs I have done toward God I have to wipe the slate clean for everyone who has wronged me. This also violates the principle of “once saved, always saved”. If I am saved simply by my acceptance of Jesus as my Lord and Savior then it doesn’t really matter if I grant my brother forgiveness for anything he has done against me. I am forgiven. Who cares about my brother. God will forgive him as well once he accepts Jesus....

 I cannot do any of this on my own. I do not have the perfect love for my brother that God has for me. God knows this and will give me the grace I need to forgive my brother if I honestly wish to do so. All I have to do is look in my spiritual piggy bank. God will have put the five dollars in there for me to pay the repairman. God grants me the grace, the special favor, to forgive the same way he forgives. How great is our God?

Be a blessing to all you meet and allow them to be a blessing to you….and forgive, forgive, forgive.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Glue that Binds us Together

Today I dropped my favorite coffee cup and broke the handle off of it. Hoping to restore it to its full usefulness I reached for my old standby – epoxy glue. If you have never worked with epoxy before it is a two part glue that, when mixed properly, creates a bond that is virtually unbreakable. Part A is the resin and part B is the hardener and they need to be mixed together at a 50-50 ratio. Too much of one or the other and the bond does not form as strong.

God designed marriage in the exact same fashion from the very beginning of creation. When you combine part A and part B, one man and one woman, together in a sacramental marriage a bond is formed that no man can break. Like epoxy, two part A’s combined or two part B’s combined cannot form this unbreakable bond. Only when combined in the way God designed can this unbreakable bond form.

Some of the more successful attacks the evil one uses appear to be based in logic and compassion. This is what we see when we look at the same sex marriage debate. For the most part, same sex couples just want to live their lives in peace with the person they love and are committed to and have that commitment legally recognized. This is fair, compassionate, and logical. There is a great need to have these relationships legally recognized and protected mainly because there have been great atrocities that have occurred because they were not. I have seen firsthand these atrocities occur so I stand in solidarity with same sex couples who seek to have their commitment legally recognized in the form of a civil union. This is both right and just and does not go against my faith or the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Those words will come as a surprise to many simply because the actual teaching of the Catholic Church is either not known or not correctly understood. It is true that we do not believe that same sex marriage is possible. God created marriage and designed it from the very beginning to be one man and one woman for life. At the same time this also means that the Catholic Church does not believe that divorce and remarriage is possible either. The Catholic Church does support committed relationships and people of the same sex loving one another. Indeed, we are commanded by God to love everyone and not only love them but have Agápe love for them. Agápe is the highest form of love. It is sacrificial. One is willing and many times does give up their life for another. Show me even one truly committed relationship where the people in that relationship do not have this type of love for each other.

I love my wife and children with Agápe. I love my friends and family with Agápe. I love my brother aspirants with Agápe. I will make sacrifices for them and even give up my life for them if called to do so. I am trying to love all people with Agápe but this is the hardest thing any of us can ever do. I can only be married to one of these people, my beloved wife. If I love all of these people with Agápe and I would give up my life for any of them why then can I not marry any of them? If marriage is only about love and commitment there should be nothing stopping me from doing so.

When it comes right down to it, it is all about sex. Two unmarried people, no matter their gender, who love one another and are living in a committed relationship to one another, that have not engaged in intercourse have not sinned. They are still free to receive the Sacraments if all the other conditions are met. Two unmarried people, no matter their gender, who love one another and are living in a committed relationship to one another that have engaged in intercourse have committed mortal sin. Mortal sin separates us fully from the saving grace of God and will result in our eternal death if we do not repent. This is why the Catholic Church is so animate about this subject and it applies to opposite sex couples as much as it applies to same sex couples.

Sex does not justify marriage. Sex fulfills marriage. When one man and one woman are bonded together in a Godly marriage they form a one flesh union. Even couples who cannot have children form this one flesh union. Same sex couples engaging in intercourse cannot form this one flesh union any more than mixing two part A’s or two part B’s can make epoxy work. This is by God’s design and not by man’s desire. If the marriage cannot be fulfilled with the one flesh union the marriage cannot be completed. Epoxy can only form glue when both parts are removed from their containers and mixed together to form one liquid. Marriage can only be fulfilled when one man and one woman come together in a one flesh union forming a bond that is unbreakable for life.

What the Catholic Church does and always will oppose is changing a definition God provided to one of man’s choosing solely to justify our desires. I want to marry whomever I will. I want to have sex with whomever I want. Putting desire before commandment is exactly what the evil one wants us to do. When we choose self over God we willfully separate ourselves from God and that is the end goal of the devil. God condemns no man to Hell. He finds us there by our own choosing.

Be a blessing to all you meet and allow them to be a blessing to you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Alone in my Iniquity

The Lord called out to me
"Serve me" he said
But I threw in my lot
With murders and prostitutes
So he left me alone in my iniquity
Then the Lord called out a second time
"Serve me" he said
But I chose to stay
With thieves and adulterers
So he left me alone in my iniquity

And my iniquity left me alone
In a state of financial ruin
Living in the shadow of death
In despair and depression

Then the Lord called out to me a third time
"Serve me" he said
This time I said yes
So he forgave my iniquity
Restored my life
Brought me back from the brink of death
Gave me a joy I have never known

Now I call out
To murders and prostitutes
Thieves and adulterers
Those in despair and depression
The Lord will forgive your iniquity
And restore your life

All it takes is a "yes"