Thursday, December 25, 2014

Evidence for the Historical Jesus, by PhilVaz (BibleCatholic)

For all my Christian brothers and sisters who have been accused of circular reasoning for only believing in Christ "because the Bible says so".  Phil has gathered and assembled some great info from multiple sources based on the most common, and not as common, arguments.  The following link will take you directly to his website:

Evidence for the Historical Jesus

In Christ,

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Scripture Short - Church is the Body of Christ

“He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.” (Col 1:18)

“As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1Cor 12:20-27)

“For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body.” (Eph 5:29-30)

“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” (Rom 12:4-5)

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!” (1Cor 6:15)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Scripture Short - Apostolic Church with Succession

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18)

“You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.” (Jn 15:16)

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” “ (Jn 20:21)

“…and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Lk 22:29-30)

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (Jn 10:16)

“Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Lk 22:30-32)

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (Jn 21:15-17)

“For it is written in the book of Psalms,
‘Let his homestead become desolate,
and let there be no one to live in it’;
‘Let another take his position of overseer.’” (Acts 1:20)

“Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:24-26)

“See, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the Lord; and Zebadiah son of Ishmael, the governor of the house of Judah, in all the king’s matters; and the Levites will serve you as officers. Deal courageously, and may the Lord be with the good!” (2Chr 19:11)

“For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” (Mal 2:7)

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.” (Eph 2:19-20)

“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,” (Eph 4:11)

“And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?” (1Cor 12:28-29)

“The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task.” (1Tim 3:1)

“Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money;” (1Tim 3:8)

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching;” (1Tim5:17)

“And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.” (Acts 14:23)

“…and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well.” (2Tim 2:2)

“I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you:” (Titus 1:5)

“Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.” (Acts 6:1-6)

“Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.” (1Tim 4:14)

“Do not ordain anyone hastily, and do not participate in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.” (1Tim 5:22)

“For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands;” (2Tim 1:6)

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Sex-Abuse Crisis: What are Christians Doing About It?

It appeared to be a random “drive-by” smear on the Church, since the reference within it only popped up in the comment boxes of eight other Catholic blogs whose authors had written some specifically “Catholic” article. I clicked each link and, sure enough, the full comment was identical to the one I had received. I removed the comment from my own blog, but the basic message of it, when you strip away the passive-aggression and the curious paraphrasing, is actually an important one. This is what he/she wrote:

“Hi- I would like to request prayers for the victims of rape and abuse by members of the Catholic Church. Many of them were children when they were attacked or abused. This is also an ongoing crisis, with new victims each year, worldwide. I will remember them and their stories forever, but for the healing to truly take place, it will take the voices and efforts of many.

To paraphrase a poem by an Indian schoolgirl, "Too many Catholics, in too many countries, speak the same language -- silence." Thank you.”

The actual quote that was paraphrased is from the poem “Silence” written by Anasuya Sengupta. “Too many women in too many countries speak the same language of silence”. It gained notoriety after 1995 when Anasuya, a college student in Delhi at the time, sent it to Hillary Clinton. I am certain that the author would approve of her poem being used to give voice to victims of abuse. But why “Anonymous” would direct it only at Catholics seems like a smear against the Church instead of an effort to actually be a voice for victims.

But for all practical purposes, I could assume that “Anonymous” has been a victim of abuse by a Catholic, hence the paraphrase. It could very well be that [her] case was swept under a rug and left to fester in silence. If that’s even remotely the case, then this deserves to be heard on behalf of all of victims who have no voice and whose horror stories have been relegated to the closets. I happen to personally know a small handful of victims who were sexually abused (not by clergy, but by close relatives.) It is for these, and all the “anonymous” victims and “Indian schoolgirls” of the world, that I address the crisis of sexual abuse, where it’s occurring, and what is being done about it. And the Catholic Church will be a primary focus in honor of “Anonymous”, since it happens to be the only institution, religious or otherwise, where facts could be found, and are available to the public, regarding its own cases, and the proactive measures taken to prevent current and future abuse. Public schools are coming close to facing the problem head-on, but I don’t know of any actions taken on their part thus far.

If you replace “Catholic Church” with “Christian Community” in the prayer request, you get a truer sense of the message. A quick web search, for example, will show that Christians of all sorts are facing the sad reality of clerical abuse.

If you replace it with “Public Education System” or “American Public” or “Human Population of the World”, the message becomes truer still. In the U.S. alone, national statistics show that over 62,000 children are victims of sexual abuse each year (see Table 3-8 in THIS report, as well as Exhibit 3-e). This makes up nearly 10% of all types of abuse. Though the numbers have decreased slightly (63,527 in 2010 to 62,936 in 2012), that is a staggering number of children who have been victimized in such a horrendous way.

Even sadder is the fact that more than 80% of these abuse incidents happen at home by one or both "parents" (not necessarily biological, but step-parents, transient romantic relationships and common-law situations, etc.). The Child Welfare report showed that between 80.3 and 81.5% of all abuse (including sexual assault) occur at home by at least one parent (Page 21, Perpetrator Relationship and Pages 61-73, Perpetrators, Chapter 5). Another study confirms this, showing that 19% of those interviewed children were sexually abused away from home. This is a horrific statistic. That means over 50,900 cases of sexual abuse, in the home, were reported in 2012!

And just when you though it couldn’t get any more grim, these statistics are only those which have been reported to child welfare agencies. These figures don’t include the [who knows how many?] cases that have never been reported, or those that came up later by anonymous victims responding to surveys conducted, such as by public education entities. In a news release titled “Sexual Abuse by Educators”, one school system reported that, in a 1991 survey of high school graduates from North Carolina, “17.7% of males and 82.2% of females reported sexual harassment by faculty or staff during their school career and 13.5% of those surveyed said they had engaged in sexual intercourse with a teacher” (Grayson). The article goes on to report an estimated 4.5 million children, nationwide, have been victims of sexual harassment or misconduct by public educators.

A 2004 report by the US Dept. of Education testifies that “nearly 9.6% of [public school] students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career” (Shakeshaft). Dr. Charol Shakeshaft would later go on to state, “[T]hink the Catholic Church has a problem? The physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.” This was noted in a moving column written by Tom Hoopes which was shared by CBS news.

But enough about parents and schools right now. Let’s talk about the Church, the abuses, whether this is an ongoing crisis, and what is being done about it.

According to the studies that have been conducted, there was a sudden surge of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy between the 1960’s and 1980’s, and most of that prior to the 1980’s. A broader look estimates that 4% of Priests, from 1950 – 2002, have been accused of abuse. To compound this crisis, many cases were not being reported. It was in 2002 that a case finally came to light in Boston, and the media spotlighted it in a way that gave voice to all the victims who had not seen justice. The story became front page news, and reports from other victims started to surface. It was now clear to the Church that things had been swept under some rugs, and cases were uncovered that had been improperly dealt with, where abusers went unpunished.

The Archdiocese of Boston later credited the media for their work in bringing the crisis to light. “The media helped make our Church safer for children by raising up the issue of clergy sexual abuse and forcing us to deal with it.” Cardinal O’Malley continued, “All of us who hold the protection of children as the highest priority are indebted to the media’s advocacy on this issue.” (Archdiocese of Boston, “Ten Years Later”)

But what led to the abuses in the first place, and why the surge of abuses in that time frame?
There are several factors that all contributed. First of all, seminarians were not being screened as well as we now know they should have been, and they were entering seminary at younger ages. Worse than this, however, was the failure on the part of Bishops to act. Many of them were not aware of the scope of the problem. Those that did act simply followed the then-prevailing view that sex offenders could be rehabilitated. Obviously that was not the case, and we now know it. To complicate the matter further was the prevailing mentality that the Church should be “loving” instead of bound up in “rules”. While Canon Law required investigation, and expulsion of priests found guilty, the “love” mentality prevailed, and some in the Church all but forgot that punishment is more loving in the long-run.

Austen Ivereigh, in a book published by Our Sunday Visitor, provided a quote by Dr. Thomas Plante that sheds some light for us:

Thirty years ago, most priests entered seminary during high school, did not participate in a comprehensive psychological evaluation prior to admission, and had no training in sexuality, maintaining professional boundaries, and impulse control.” Plante continues, “Today, most applicants to the priesthood are much older…They have often had satisfying and appropriate intimate relationships before entering the seminary. They have completed a psychological evaluation that specifically examines risk factors for sexual problems. They now get good training in sexuality and issues related to managing sexual impulses. It is not surprising that the majority of the sex-offending priests that we hear about in the press are older”. (Plante, “A Perspective on Clergy Sexual Abuse”)

Ivereigh went to great lengths to provide quotes regarding the crisis from Bishops of the Church. I’ll cite three of those here:

The following is from the full body of US Bishops in June 2011:
Since 2002, the Church in the United States has experienced a crisis without precedent in our times. The sexual abuse of children and young people by some deacons, priests, and bishops, and the ways in which these crimes and sins were addressed, have caused enormous pain, anger, and confusion. AS bishops, we have acknowledged our mistakes and our roles in that suffering, and we apologize and take responsibility again for too often failing victims and the Catholic people in the past. From the depths of our hearts, we bishops express great sorrow and profound regret for what the Catholic people have endured.”

The Archdiocese of Boston, in “Ten Years Later” reflects, “As an archdiocese, as a Church, we can never cease to make clear the depth of our sorrow and to beg forgiveness from those who were so grievously harmed. We also must acknowledge and express our gratitude for all that survivors and their loved ones have done, and continue to do, to help make the Church, and all of society, safer for children. We are humbled as many survivors have offered forgiveness to the Church and encouraged others to re-establish their relationship with the God who offers all of us the gifts of love and healing.”

Pope Benedict XVI, in a March 19, 2010 “Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland”, writes, “It cannot be denied that some of you [Bishops] and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to the allegations. I recognize how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgment were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness.

So, where does that leave us? Has the crisis been resolved and have the abuses ceased? According to an annual CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) report, an average of 8 “credible” accusations have been made per year from 2005 to 2013 in the United States. The Media Report website details these numbers year-by-year in a research they conducted. While that may seem like a tiny little number in a body of 77.7 million U.S. Catholics, it is still too many. Even just one victim is a victim too many. And that number is only reflective of U.S. Catholics. We still have over 62,000 other cases of child sexual abuse per year to deal with in homes, schools, neighborhoods and other Christian communities.

There are several things the Church has done to address the crisis of sexual abuse, not only in regards to its own clergy, but in regards to the entire Catholic community.
- In 2002, the U.S. Bishops commissioned a report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. The first part of the report was published in 2004 and was titled “The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholics Priests and Deacons in the United States”.
- The second part came out in 2011 and detailed the causes and context of the abuses. Ivereigh notes that the “report examined all plausible allegations of abuse of minors by clergy in the period between 1950 and 2002. The researchers used a very low standard of proof for the charges – ‘not withdrawn or known to be false’ – rather than proof of guilt.” The report found that 4% of clergy were accused in that 50-year period, 80% of the alleged abuses took place between the 1960’s and 1980’s, and there were an average of 200 accusations per year.

- In 2001, Pope John Paul II issued the motu proprio “Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela” which introduced two vital reforms on the direct reporting of abusive priests to the CDF and on fast-tracking the laicization process of abusive priests.

- The Church established a zero-tolerance policy in 2002, such that any one act of abuse which is admitted or established will lead to the immediate removal of the cleric from ecclesiastical ministry.
- Bishops have also visited with victims around the United States.
- In many conferences around the globe, immediate reporting of abuse to civil authorities is mandated, with immediate suspension of the accused cleric.
- In 2010, Canon Law was further updated to allow for quicker justice for victims.
- Bishops and the Popes have written heart-felt letters of apology, which in turn have led to further investigations into seminaries and dioceses by other Bishops.
- By 2012, “Safe Environment” training was in place in 193 dioceses in compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children. This led to 2.1 million clergy, employees and volunteers, and 5.2 million children being trained to recognize abuse and learn how to report it. Background checks have been conducted on 1.88 million volunteers and employees, 166,000 educators, 52,000 clerics, and 6,000 seminarian candidates.
- Each diocese has adopted a Code of Conduct to provide clear guidelines and has designated victim assistance coordinators and abuse review boards staffed by people of relevant professions.
- The Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection assists dioceses in setting up Safe Environment training programs.

- The Vatican also maintains a web page titled “Abuse of Minors: The Church‘s Response”, which catalogs the response of the Church to the abuse crisis.

While these efforts on the part of the Catholic Church are proactive and can effect real change in making the Church a safe place for our children, Ivereigh wisely points out, “The crisis is not over until every bishop’s conference across the globe ensures that allegations are never again swept under the carpet.

He continues, “The appalling crime of clerical sex abuse of minors is a profound betrayal of priests’ calling and the Gospel. For many years, the Church, like other institutions, failed to grasp the extent of sexual abuse and its compulsive nature; decades ago, it mishandled accusations and failed to punish perpetrators. But in the past 10 years, it has gone further than any other institution in putting in place vital reforms to ensure it can never happen again. Those reforms have made the Church transparent, accountable, and one of the safest places for young people…In the United States the system of safeguarding is exceptional, and recommended as a model for other institutions to follow. Increasingly, that can also be said of the Church in other countries, too.” (Austen Ivereigh, “Clerical Sex Abuse”)

What of other organizations, schools or churches? Well, we don’t really know because none of them have conducted such a detailed survey like the Catholic Church has.

As seen earlier, we do know that public school systems are at least looking at the crisis and gathering information. In 2007, Associated Press conducted research on the issue in schools, but found “that sex abuse of children in U.S. schools was widespread, and mostly unreported (or “covered up”)”, says Ivereigh. “It found ‘2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, surrendered, or sanctioned from 2001 through 2005 following allegations of sexual misconduct.’ Professor Charol Shakeshaft of Virginia Commonwealth University studied 290,000 cases of alleged abuse between 1991 and 2000; out of a sample of 225 teachers who admitted sexually abusing a pupil, not a single one had been reported to the authorities.” (Ivereigh, emphasis mine).

It would be nice if more institutions and organizations were digging into the crisis, and my prayer is that more will. While we would hope our society would not fall into the moral depravity of child molestation, Tom Hoopes points out a very sad reality in his aforementioned column:

Yet, outside the Catholic Church, the reaction is increasingly accommodation instead of outrage. The April 17, 2002, issue of USA Today featured an article titled ‘Sex Between Adults and Children’ – a euphemistic way of referring to child molestation. Under the headline was a ballot-like box suggesting possible opinions one might hold on the subject: ‘always harmful, usually harmful, sometimes harmful, rarely harmful.’ The newspaper’s answer: ‘Child age and maturity make for gray areas.’” He goes on to mention Mary Eberstadt’s “Pedophilia Chic”, the North American Man-Boy Love Association, and the heroic treatment given by Hollywood to accused child molesters.

The sex abuse crisis is a very real crisis that goes far beyond any one church or community. It is everywhere and will never go away until EVERYONE does something about it. “Anonymous” is spot on in [her] prayer with these words, “for the healing to truly take place, it will take the voices and efforts of many”.
The Catholic Church has done, and continues to do, something about it. Schools are just beginning to look into it. What are other Christians doing about it? What is YOUR church or community doing to protect our children?

I would like to thank Austen Ivereigh and Our Sunday Visitor Publishing for the copious amount of research put into the clerical sex abuse crisis. Ivereigh’s original research can be found in the OSV-published book, “How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice: Civil Responses to Catholic Hot-Button Issues”. The book can be purchased at the OSV website HERE.

*Image uploaded by blog author and not associated with the "quote" in any way.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Scripture Short - Church is Catholic and Perpetual

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20)

“And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mk 16:15-16)

“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Lk 10:16)

“…The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles…Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ...” (Acts 10 [the whole chapter])

“For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Is 9:6-7)

“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever;” (Dan 2:44)

“To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.” (Dan 7:14)

“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk 1:32-33)

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” (Mt 7:24)

“He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” “ (Mt 13:24-30)

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18)

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (Jn 14:16)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Deeper Relationship with Christ

God has given me a most wonderful experience in growing closer to Him, and I simply must tell you about it.

I had been feeling dull for some time, as though the world was honing away at my steel faster than God was sharpening it. I knew that it wasn’t a problem of God not keeping up, that it was with me; that I was becoming lazy in my faith life. Ever so gradually I had allowed myself to skip out on a prayer here, a prayer there, a mindful presence of the Lord from time to time. I was allowing myself to become too lax, too comfortable. It was nothing immediately noticeable, but looking back over the past couple years it was clear. I tried to get back into prayerful habits and exercises of piety, but continued to fail time after time. What I needed was a retreat. Just like the armies of man-made warfare who are too worn to continue, I was worn from spiritual warfare and needed to back off from the front lines and take time to heal, to rest, to revive, and to rekindle that deep personal relationship with God. I needed to relearn how to listen to Him intently and allow Him to love me and heal me and guide my life.

I’ve been on several retreats in my life, of various formats and focuses. I’ve even staffed several, and spoken at a couple. I’ve been a group leader, a “table parent”, “prayer staff”, participant…you name it. All of these retreats were aimed at realizing God’s love for us, His Will that we ultimately join His Heavenly Kingdom, His desire for us to do His Holy Will here on earth and in Heaven, and at understanding the wonderful tools given us to help us on our journey. But from all of these, this particular retreat stood out as being more deep and unique, in a profound way.

This retreat is one based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The Order that put on the retreat is Miles Christi (Soldiers of Christ) aptly named in light of St. Ignatius' desire to convert his military service to Christ after suffering wounds in battle in the 16th century. Other groups also put on the retreat and the Exercises have been receiving accolades since the 16th century, by no less than nine Popes. While the traditional form is a 30-day retreat, the one I went on was just less than three days.

The Exercises focus on the interior life, on the state and condition of the soul. Meditation on Christ, in His presence while contemplating His Holy Will for us, is the key used to identify specific sins in our lives, root them out, and grow closer to Christ and form a stronger bond with our Lord in our resolve to avoid those sins. A series of short talks are given to introduce the respective topic, and these are followed by prayerful meditation in the Lord’s presence in the manner recommended by St. Ignatius.

Another key aspect of the retreat is the silence. A silent retreat (where the retreatants do not speak to one another and separate themselves from the outside world, their cell phones, computers, etc.) forces us to go to our interiors and focus on Christ within us. It also places our focus on where Christ is drawing our attention, especially those areas we need to work on. It is precisely these areas of growth that we so easily ignore in our day-to-day lives by distracting ourselves with other things. The Spiritual Exercises exclude those “other things” and we are then faced with dealing with the issues that God wants us to deal with and following His guidance for our healing. While it seems scary at first, it is a truly healing experience by the time the Exercises are completed.

I cannot begin to tell you in full detail how wonderful and powerful and beneficial this retreat was for me. Christ drew me to evaluate my life, both past and present, and showed me several sins that seemed to stem from a common core…sharing a common root. From there I accepted God’s healing grace of forgiveness and resolved to cut the ties to the vices which had led me into sin. I resolved to stop repeating those sins against Him. By putting my resolutions in writing, Christ gave me a way to hold myself accountable for either avoiding sin, or slipping back into sinful ways. He also guided me to choose acts of piety that would strengthen the virtues I was lacking in and combat the vices I had been steeped in. He showed me in an examination of my conscience that spiritual fitness is very important, more so than physical fitness, since our souls are eternal. The Lord gave me, through the Spiritual Exercises, the tools, motivation, and resolve I needed to serve Him in a fuller way and to live the life He has called me to live, in the manner in which He has called me to live it.

Whether you are just a regular Catholic living your faith for God, or you have been searching for ways to deepen your relationship with Christ, or whatever, this retreat is for YOU! I hope you will all consider going on this retreat, or at least some other form of retreat, to refocus your life on Christ and reaffirm your commitment to live for Him and avoid the sins that pull us, however slowly, away from our Lord.

For more information on the Spiritual Exercises, please visit:
Ignatian Spirituality -
Catholic Retreats -
Loyola Press -
Miles Christi -

Image courtesy of

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Why 'Giving it to God' May Not be Working for You

Have you ever had a problem that was really wrecking your life, or maybe even just a small problem that was causing you grief, and you felt a need to “fix” it? I’m sure most of us have. I know I have.

Now, have you ever been told to “give it to God”? I would guess that many of the people reading this have, or they already knew to do this from their youth (in which case you owe your parents a debt of gratitude). If you have never been told this, consider this “Lesson One: Give it to God”. (But that’s only the beginning.)

For those who knew to do this, did you notice how, after giving it to Him, that particular problem never, ever, EVER resurfaced again to come back and haunt you?
 Me neither. In fact, in my own little world of experience, it's those very problems I have given to the Lord that come back to me, sometimes with the most vengeance, requiring more self-discipline to even want to give it back to God again. Why is that?

I'm going to have to tell on myself a little bit, but for the sake of the few who can relate and really want to know why “giving it to God” isn't working how you expected, I'm willing.

I like to eat. And I don't just mean that I enjoy eating meals. I like to EAT. I eat for sustenance. I eat for fun. I eat when I'm stressed. I eat when I am depressed. I eat to celebrate. I eat when I'm bored. I eat things that taste delicious. I eat things that taste curious. And don’t you dare think that a little thing like “being reasonably full” is enough to keep me from dessert or a second helping!  I think you get the idea. 

So, let's say that I have decided that eating too much is a problem for me. It’s fairly obvious, right? So, here I go: “Lord, I am an overeater and I use food for something above and beyond (or below and beneath) what you have created it for. I have a food problem and I am giving to you. I want to honor you with my body, and with the things I put into it. I want to treat your gift of sustenance with respect, and not abuse it. Please, Lord, heal me of this eating problem.

Problem solved, right? Sure, for about two days. Then, after dinner one night, one of the kids drops a glass bowl on the tile floor. He's barefoot, and the barefoot baby is toddling into that same area just as glass is scattering across the floor at 100 miles per hour. Stress. Not cool. Now I'm anxious and angry. Throwing an adult hissy fit about the broken glass everywhere as I clean, I manage to get it all swept up...with a toddler in one hand, a broom in the other, and a scared five-year-old frozen in his tracks, too afraid to move a muscle.

Now I'm stressed out and guess what I do. As soon as the kids are in bed and I can finally relax, I go straight for the pantry to get some “comfort food” to calm my nerves. I'm not hungry because we just ate dinner, but I need something “to help me relax”. Is any of this sounding familiar to anyone? You could replace “eating” with “having a smoke”, or “having a drink”, or “avoiding my family for the rest of the night because seeing or hearing them will toss me over the edge”, or any other number of things that we call “coping mechanisms”.

Looking back at this scenario, is eating too much really my problem? In that prayer I said two days ago, did I “give my problems to the Lord”?
 No! All I gave God was a coping device, and that coping device was only superficially treating a symptom, and He knew it, and that's where the glorious part comes in. God doesn’t want to just remove my coping device, and He doesn’t want to just heal a superficial symptom. Coping devices aren’t all bad (unless we abuse them) and symptoms aren’t bad either. In fact, those symptoms can be really helpful signals to us sometimes.
No, He wants to heal my *problem*. He wants me to get to the root of the issue and address it, deal with it, work through it, and then give Him my trust that He will help me through the core issue.

God knows our needs before we tell Him. The Bible says so. He knows what my real problem is, even if I don't. And He knows in my heart that I really want to “give it to the Lord”, even if I don't know what I'm supposed to be giving Him. So what does He do? He gives me the opportunity to discover what my real problem is. As I place myself in His presence and go to Him with my struggles, asking Him why I fail in dealing with them and why I go back to munching on snacks for comfort (or whatever it is that I do to cope), He speaks to me in my reflection of the event.

I over-reacted. I lost my temper and self-control. I self-soothed with food (or whatever). Eating was not my problem; it was my crutch. Why did I need that crutch? I needed it because I was injured/wounded somewhere. Where? OR maybe I just like “comfort” too much and it has made me lazy…too lazy to actually deal with problems. Do I have a disordered attachment to always wanting to be comfortable? Do I have suppressed anger about something? What might it be and where might it have come from? Do I need to work on being less lazy and less attached to (addicted to?) comfort?

Maybe it's an anger issue from a stressed childhood. Maybe it's insecurity from being rejected at a crucial developmental milestone. Maybe it's past abuse of one form or another. Maybe it's something hidden deep down that you need help seeing (professional help, I mean). Or maybe it really is just a disordered attachment to wanting constant comfort. Whatever it is, THAT is what you should be taking to the Lord.
 If all you give to Him are your coping mechanisms, or even just the symptoms, you will never see an end to those problems. Sure, you may deal with them in healthier ways and work at avoiding your specific crutch. But my bet is that you will see similar and related issues pop up again and again, and you will find other crutches to lean on as those same symptoms resurface time and again. And if you spend any decent amount of time really reflecting on your past and present, you will start to see trends.
But once you start seeing trends, it gets easier to identify the root of the problem. And once you have identified the root of the problem, you are NOW ready to “give it to the Lord” and allow Him to help you work through it.  (Notice I said, "help you work through it", and not "fix it for you".  God expects us to participate and use our free will in this.  He forces nothing on us, even if it's for our good.)

By walking us through all these questions and helping us reflect on our reactions, how we felt in certain situations, how we feel now, etc...God helps us get to the root of the problem. He shows us what to give to Him. And if we don’t figure it out at that time, He doesn’t give up on us. In fact, he allows us to continue to suffer the symptoms of the problem, which lead us to find other crutches, which *should* be a big red flag waving at us that we have still have not gotten to the root of it, and *should* encourage us to continue searching for that issue which we need to bring to our Lord. And to top it all off, God doesn’t mind if we use HIM as our crutch instead of those cookies. And if we do use Him instead of the snacks (or whatever else), He is all the more willing to gently lead us to a real solution by pointing us to the real root of the issues. That’s really magnificent, isn’t it?

In my next article, I’m going to tell you all about a retreat I recently returned from that has been life-changing for me. One of the reasons it was so powerful for me was exactly what I just talked about. Christ showed me how to find the root of my problems and He has begun freeing me from the havoc that they were causing in my spiritual life.

If “giving it to God” has not been working the way you expected, take some time to reflect on why that might be, and whether you are really bringing the root of the issue to Him.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici,

Monday, November 3, 2014

Scripture Short - Church is Holy

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18)

“ ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.’ ” (Jn 14:16-26)

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (Jn 16:13)

“He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.” (Col 1:18)

“As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1Cor 12:20-27)

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!” (1Cor 6:15)

“Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:22-32)

“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” (Rom12:4-5)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Did God Give us a Religion, or a Relationship?

I’ve been seeing several comments lately that pit “relationship” against “religion”, as though there’s a new trend with Christians trying to distance themselves from “rules” that they might be expected to follow. “Having a religion is against my relationship”, or “God gave me a relationship, not a religion to follow”, or “I have a personal relationship with Christ, I don’t need a religion’s rules to tell me what to do”. There are various ways of saying it, but the main message is that “Christ gave us a relationship with Him, not a religion to follow”.

I’d like to offer a few questions for you to consider about that, and I pray that anyone reading this will honestly answer them to themselves.

Where in Scripture does it say that religion is a bad thing? Did Christ ever give us any rules? Did Christ abolish the commandments? Where does it say that we are no longer bound to Christ’s words in Lk 22:19 (“do this in remembrance of Me”) or 1Cor 11:23-25? Where did Scripture nullify our obligation to obey James 5:16? Since James 1:26-27 defines good works and freedom from sin as “religion”, does that mean that caring for orphans and avoiding stains of the world are “against our relationship” with God?

Consider also the example that Christ gives us. Christ has a true relationship with God, and He was very religious…attending the Jewish festivals, admonishing His followers to obey the authorities who “sit on the Chair of Moses” (Mt 23:2-3), etc… Are we not to follow Christ’s example and obey Him?

The reality, however, is that He gave us BOTH. In fact, our relationship with Christ is an aspect of our religious adherence to Him and His commands. You could also say that our religion [Christianity] involves having a relationship with Him. Not just that, but I will go so far as to say that the degree to which we practice our religion is directly related to the depth of our relationship with Him. We cannot have a deep, personal relationship with Christ while ignoring or renouncing the religion that He gives to us. They are hand-in-hand.

I like an example given by a fellow Christian who compared it to Marriage: “It’s against my relationship with the person I love to get married.” It makes about as much sense. Isn’t the depth of your relationship with that person indicated by how united you are to that person? If you refuse to bind yourself to that person, do you really have a full and deep relationship with them? You are literally saying, “I love you, but not enough to fully unite myself to you.

"Religion", from the Latin "religio" means to bind oneself [to something]. In this case, our Christian religion is the binding of ourselves to Christ.
Absolutely, we are called to have a personal relationship with Christ! Part of that relationship involves giving ourselves to Him and subjecting ourselves to Him and His Holy Will. Part of His Holy Will is for us to be in communion with His Body, the Church (Col 1:8; 1Cor 6:15, 12:20-27; Eph 5:30; Rom 12:4-5; cff. Jn 10:16, 17:17-23; Eph 4:3-6; etc…).

God gave us a religion in the Old Testament, no one argues against that, as Paul states it very clearly in Acts 25:29 and 26:5.

Scripture tells us that the old is but a shadow of the good things to come (Hebrews 10:1). Christ tells us that He came “not to abolish the law” but "to fulfill” the old law (Mt 5:17). So, what does that fulfillment of the old look like? Scripture gives us several clues, such as in in James 1:26-27, Mt 26:27, Mk 14:22, Lk 22:19, Jn 14:21, and 1Cor 11:23-29. It is up to us to participate in the fulfillment of bind ourselves to God and the religion Christ has given us [Christianity] as a fulfillment of the Old Law.

Christ did tell us to follow a religion, via the establishment of His Church and the command for us to go forth. He first established a Church (Mt 16:18). Then He said that His Church (His Flock) would be ONE and that its members would listen to His Voice (Jn 10:16, 17:17-23).
He said that the leaders in His Church would speak with His Voice, saying whoever listens to His Church listens to Him, and who does NOT listen does NOT listen to Him (Lk 10:16).
Then He gave the leaders of His Church the authority to bind and loose "whatever", including our sins (Mt 16:19, 18:18; Jn 20:21-23).
He also told us to go to His Church during matters of unsettled dispute (Mt 18:15-17).
He gave His Church the great commission to spread the Gospel, baptize us, and teach us to obey all He commanded (Mt 28:19-20).

So, yes, He expects us to follow His religion [Christianity] through His Church whom He gave the authority and duty to convert us to Him. And part of the beauty of His Church is that it’s “the pillar and bulwark of truth” (1 Tim 3:15) and it speaks with the very voice of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28) who leads the Church into all truth, for all time (Jn 14:26, 16:13; 1Jn 2:27; Mt 28:20).

With all that from Christ through His Church, why would anyone NOT want to be part of His Church, practicing the religion that He gave us? What is a relationship with Christ if it doesn’t involve accepting what He gave us? How deep is our relationship with Him when we renounce some of the things that He established and commanded?

Just for fun I did a word search on "church" in the Bible. The link opens to the King James Version, but you can select whichever translation you like. For KJV, there are 111 references to "church". Check it out.

Here’s the one on “religion” which was linked above:

I think a better statement would be, “It’s against my relationship with Christ to reject the religion and Church Christ gave me”.

Father Vincent Serpa, O.P. of Catholic Answers sums it up nicely in answer to a similar question:

The Catholic Church has no founder other than Jesus Himself and it alone has the authority to interpret Scripture. It was the Catholic Church that compiled the New Testament and determined which books it would contain---all by the authority that Jesus gave it.

It is only though the Church that He founded that we can know Him personally, have faith in Him and rest assured that what it teaches is true. It matters immensely that one belong to it and not any number of others that He did not found.”
(Link to the Q&A with Fr. Serpa, O.P.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Scripture Short - One Church

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church...” (Mt 16:18)

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (Jn 10:16)

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:17-23)

“…making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:3-6)

“…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” (Rom 12:5)

“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus,” (Rom 15:5)

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them.” (Rom 16:17)

“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” (1Cor 1:10)

“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1Cor 12:13)

“…make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Phil 2:2)

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” (Col 3:15)

“As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1Cor 12:20-27)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Final Judgement, Heaven and Hell (by Danny Manthei)

*Theological interpretations and understandings aside, the teaching on Hell and the Last Judgment can be summarized in this way:


1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."612 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.613 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."

1034 Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.614 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,"615 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!"616

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire."617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few."618
Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where "men will weep and gnash their teeth."619
1037 God predestines no one to go to hell;620 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance":621
Father, accept this offering from your whole family. Grant us your peace in this life, save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen.622


1038 The resurrection of all the dead, "of both the just and the unjust,"623 will precede the Last Judgment. This will be "the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man's] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment."624 Then Christ will come "in his glory, and all the angels with him. . . . Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. . . . And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."625

1039 In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man's relationship with God will be laid bare.626 The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life:
All that the wicked do is recorded, and they do not know. When "our God comes, he does not keep silence.". . . he will turn towards those at his left hand: . . . "I placed my poor little ones on earth for you. I as their head was seated in heaven at the right hand of my Father - but on earth my members were suffering, my members on earth were in need. If you gave anything to my members, what you gave would reach their Head. Would that you had known that my little ones were in need when I placed them on earth for you and appointed them your stewards to bring your good works into my treasury. But you have placed nothing in their hands; therefore you have found nothing in my presence."627
1040 The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory. Only the Father knows the day and the hour; only he determines the moment of its coming. Then through his Son Jesus Christ he will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end. The Last Judgment will reveal that God's justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God's love is stronger than death.628

1041 The message of the Last Judgment calls men to conversion while God is still giving them "the acceptable time, . . . the day of salvation."629 It inspires a holy fear of God and commits them to the justice of the Kingdom of God. It proclaims the "blessed hope" of the Lord's return, when he will come "to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed."630

(Click LINK for word-searchable Catechism of the Catholic Church)
For more on the 4 Last Things:  We're All Going to Die! 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Refuting Mike Gendron's review of Rick Warren: If a Chicken Eats a Fish, it MUST be a Duck!

Have you ever noticed that some folks tend to identify themselves by what they are *against*, instead of what they are for? I do it. You probably do it. People you know probably do it. Christians often (in my experience) get accused of this every time we speak out against sin. We'll be referred to as "anti-[insert some pet sin masked as a right or a good here]" when the reality is that we are actually "pro-[insert the virtue which contradicts the corresponding sin here]". A classic example: "anti-choice [to abort an unborn child]" is actually a fallacious name given to Christians who are pro-life. "Anti-contraception" would likewise correspond to a Christian being pro-natural law.

Now, when a Christian is contending for the faith in a secular world, our arguments are often going to appear to be defined by what we are *against*. However, a good litmus test can reveal that we are actually arguing *for* something, and working to discover the truth. That litmus test is objectivity, or an openness to observing objective facts. We take the good with the bad, evaluate the whole lot honestly, flesh out the facts, and try to arrive at objective truth. Something else to consider is that defining yourself as *against* something isn't inherently bad, in and of itself. There's nothing wrong with being "anti-sin", so long as you ground that in the reality that we are anti-sin based on our being pro-God and our being made in His image. 

Where we can run into fallacious reasoning is where we define ourselves by what we are against, and then measure everything else by that same ruler.  We end up making false correlations. And here I am talking specifically about anti-Catholics. I once read a forum thread where a person asked [paraphrasing], "At what point does a non-Catholic become anti-Catholic?" The answer was [again paraphrasing], " the point where they no longer simply disagree with Catholic doctrine, no longer seek to understand our differences and explore the facts, and instead make a choice to be against anything that smells of Catholicism regardless of all else". This attitude leads to statements such as:

-Catholics use incense, so incense is bad [or pagan, or ritualistic, or whatever].
-Catholics confess their sins to a Priest, so confessing sins is bad and un-Biblical.
-The Pope called for unity of all Christians, so unity is bad.
-Joe Schmoe Evangelical watched a 30-minute Catholic prayer he's now a Catholic...which is bad.

Never mind any objective facts. Never mind that God prophesied that, in our worship of Him, His people would use incense (Mal 1:11). Never mind that God's Word tells us explicitly to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). Never mind that Christ Himself prayed for unity among His flock (Jn 17:20-23). Never mind that Joe Schmoe Evangelical can enjoy praying the Psalms and meditating on God's Word and can recognize the beauty and reverence in a service that he might otherwise disagree with and with which he admits he doesn't really understand. No, if it bears any hint of "Catholic", then it's bad. Woe unto the fellow who falls in to this thinking and later has to give a historically sound and credible explanation of how the Canon of New Testament Scripture was first defined in the 4th century.

I ran across just such a line of thinking the other day when a friend of mine posted a link to a recent newsletter from Mike Gendron. As I read through it, thinking of all the things I'd like to refute (despite the repetition it would be), this portion stuck out to me like a sore thumb. It's titled, "Is Rick Warren a Closet Catholic?"

Rick Warren, for those who, like myself, are not familiar with him, is an evangelical pastor at a California mega-church called Saddleback. Aside from watching the video that Gendron suggested we all watch (linked below), that's about all I know of him. Gendron's comments in this part of the newsletter seem to start off on the premise that the Catholic Church is bad, and anything remotely Catholic is also bad, and anyone who likes anything remotely Catholic must be Catholic, and therefore bad. That's the only conclusion that makes sense to me because, just by the plain words Gendron writes in his review, the only other conclusion is that he is actually acclaiming and promoting the Catholic view. And given the remainder of the newsletter, I don't think that's the case.

Mike begins with the question:

"Is Rick Warren a Closet Catholic?"

Maybe, but by the little I know about him I highly doubt it. Maybe he is beginning to see the beauty in Christ's Church and will convert someday. Or maybe he is just respectful of Catholics and looks at the Catholic Faith objectively instead of through a tainted lens. Maybe he is willing to take all the facts and weigh them objectively instead of jumping into fallacious reasoning. Maybe he is able to see the good in things that he might otherwise not like...kinda like how we can see the good that came about from Christ's suffering for our sins. Maybe he is willing to recognize that Catholics believe in Christ, just like he does, and he sees some good in that.

Mike continues,

"The Eternal Word Television Network, a Catholic station, conducted an interview with Rick Warren that reveals how much he embraces the Roman Catholic religion and his push for ecumenical unity."

Great! He's off to a good start because Christ and the Apostles and the Christians of the subsequent centuries ALSO pushed for unity (Jn 10:16, Eph 4:3-6, Jn 17:17-23, 1Cor 1:10, and a host of others, Cyprian, Tertullian, Hillary, up through today).

"During the interview, Warren praises all the Catholic mystics and the Pope over and over again. At the 24:20 mark, Warren says "he watches EWTN more than any Christian channel." He said if you don't understand the roots of your faith you're like a tumbleweed."

And I would have to agree with him, and I would think Mike would agree with this as well. If you don't understand the roots of your faith, you are liable to be tossed about anywhere and everywhere...kinda like a ship tossed on the ocean or a house built on sand rather than on a firm foundation, right Mike? And what's wrong with praising the efforts of the Pope and other historical Catholics who have served God's children? [By the way, who are these "mystics" Mike is talking about? And what would be wrong with praising their service to God?] Is it wrong to find the good work that God can accomplish, even in sinners, and recognize that?

"One of his favorite shows on EWTN is "Chaplet of the Divine Mercy." After a stressful day, he comes home and watches it with his wife Kay. He said "I sit back, relax and worship." He said one episode was a Catholic prayer service in front of the Monstrance."

Again, this sounds wonderful. Here is a man who wants to worship God through prayer, asking God repeatedly to have mercy on him, and on the whole world. Sounds like he is repeating the beautiful Scripture passages of Psalm 51, Mt 15:22, Mk 10:47-48, Lk 16:24, 18:13, 38-39. And all the better while looking upon a monstrance which contains the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Savior, at least according to Christ (Mt 26:26, Mk 14:22, Lk 22:19, 1Cor 11:24).

"About the 25:30 mark, the interviewer says he was struck by three images in Warren's office - Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King and Billy Graham. Warren said the only one missing was Pope John Paul "because those four people were the greatest influences on the 20th century" and he has tried to learn lessons from each of them."

Again, this is great that a man can recognize God's Work through His people and try to emulate their living according to God's Will and learn how to love through the Christian witness of those people. That's really neat.

"Watch the interview HERE. "

You bet I did, and I hope you will, too!!

Photo:  Egyptian Fayoumis named "Chuck"...the best Roo I've ever had

Friday, August 29, 2014

God's Effect on My Life: A Personal Testimony

I always considered myself a good Catholic Christian, but I didn’t live it. Although I have been described as a “good guy”, “nice”, “kind and quiet”, I gave myself over to sin in one form or another, especially in pride. My friends from school tell me that they thought of me as a good Christian, so I must have masked my sinfulness pretty well, or it just got covered up in my shyness and insecurity, or I just blended in with the rest of a culture that doesn’t really see many sins as being sinful. I look back and see an arrogant narcissist, pre-occupied with my own wants at anyone’s expense, yet too insecure to let it make me into a snob, and only able to really hurt those who were closest to me, or who trusted me with their emotions. I can honestly say I did not hurt all the people in my life, but there those that I did, and making amends has been a process that has spanned years, and will probably never end.

My friends in school were few, but the friendships were strong, and they were with people who approached me, because I was not the one to approach anyone; whether for shyness or pride is anyone’s guess.

My memory will always be seared with the reminder that I completely abandoned most of my childhood friends when I was in high school…not because I didn’t like them anymore, but because I was too insecure to reach out to people, and too full of myself to change that. One of the many examples I recall is a great and fun girl who lived immediately across the street from me in grade school. By the time I was in high school, I bet I never said one word to her…not even a “hey”, until the very last day of my senior year, at least not that I recall. Why not? Because I didn’t truly have “life” in me. I had been baptized into the Life of Christ, the Bible way, but in my choice to sin I had turned my back on that grace of supernatural life. I had effectively taken the gift God gave me and said, “thanks, but I’ll just put this aside for now because the world has things for me that seem more appealing, and I’m not brave enough to live the life you want for me right now”. That’s not what I literally said, of course. But it’s what I *effectively* said through my actions. That was the reality of what I was living. We cannot serve God and mammon, and I was serving mammon in one form or another.

One day, perhaps my second or third year of an 11-year college “career”, just out of the blue, I felt a sudden urge to “come clean”. It was shortly after a night of “smoking a little pot” and recollecting some of the horrible decisions I had made, and knowing that these things were not compatible with a Christian life. I sat myself up straight on a breakfast barstool, and squared myself with my parents. “Mom and Dad, I don’t want to lie anymore, and I want you to know all the times I’ve lied to you. I want you to know everything about me.” And then I let them have it…telling them things that no parent wants to actually know about their child’s behavior. I don’t remember if I told them *everything*, but it was closer than anyone would ever want to come to putting it all out there, and then some. I laugh when I remember the look on my Dad’s face. Heck, it’s making me laugh just writing this. But the point is, it was cleansing. It felt good, despite the humiliation of publicizing it all. The relief of telling it to another person helped me understand why God set it up for us to tell someone else our sins. I had already told God what I had done, and He knew it long before I confessed it to Him. But the relief I felt didn’t come until I had told the people that had been hurt by my actions. This helped me understand what I would later read in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, and in James’ epistle. (Cff. 2Cor 5:17-20 and James 5:13-16.)

After this experience I began to really explore my faith. I learned how to pray and how to communicate with God. I learned how to approach Him, not only in humility and reverence, but also as a Father and as a God with whom I have a real relationship. I realized that I could never have a deep personal relationship with ANYONE while I was attaching myself to sin. So, I gradually began working to put off sin from my life and learned to turn to God for all my needs. This was a long process that continues to this day, and will continue to my death. I call it “living one’s faith”.

Fast forward a few more years. I had gotten involved in the parish at the university I was attending and I was getting ready to give a talk on Reconciliation to a group of retreatants. It occurred to me that if I were going to give a talk on the subject, I had probably better go experience it the way God had planned for us. It had been 7 years since the last time I had gone to Confession, and even that time might not have been genuine on my part. So, I made an appointment with a Priest and gave him seven years-worth of my worst choices in careful detail, along with the half-hearted confessions of the years past.

Here, I feel I should make a special note. There may be some of you Catholics who have made a poor confession, or flat-out told a Priest that you weren’t contrite for your sins, or that you didn’t personally view those things as being sinful. If you did, you probably (hopefully) heard the Priest say, “I cannot absolve you at this time”, or something like that. This happened to me in my Junior year of high school at a LIFE retreat, during Reconciliation which had been offered as part of the retreat. I told the Priest that I didn’t think I really had any sins to confess, so he walked me through the Examination of Conscience. I noted that I had committed a particular sin, but that I didn’t see it as sinful. He then “withheld absolution”. I saw it as a punishment at the time, but looking back I am thankful for it. That was the greatest act of mercy and kindness that the Priest could ever have done for me. He prevented me from falsely believing that my sin was okay just because *I* thought it was. He prevented me from presuming on God’s mercy when I had no right to presume it (as I simultaneously rejected God in my choice to sin). And he forced me to go back later and contemplate what he had said and why my actions would have been “sin”, and figure out why *I* didn’t believe they were. It forced me to look inside myself and look deeper at God’s Law and kindled in me a deeper respect for the authority that God gave His Church when He declared, “…whose sins you forgive are forgiven…whose sins you retain are retained.” (Jn 20:21-23).

Back to my 7-year confession: It took what seemed to be hours (and I honestly don’t recall how long it was), but when we were done, and he had spoken the words of absolution, I felt like a new man, clean, like 100 pounds had been taken off my shoulders. I was refreshed, alive, and on fire with the Holy Spirit. It was wonderful, and it changed my life. I fell in love with confession, in love with God, in love with His Church and His Sacraments, in love with all that He has given me. I was made new, refreshed with the Grace of Christ within me. (As an aside, my talk on Reconciliation was apparently a powerful one according to those who heard it, and those who only heard *of* it. It wasn’t because of me, but because of the Spirit which was now within me.)

That’s not the end, not by a long shot. But that shaped the path for me that I would follow for future trials. I would go on to face spiritual warfare, depression, loneliness and despair, suppressed anger, and many of the other things people go through in life. My faith journey didn’t make me invincible to these things, but it did give me a clear path to walk, with clear directions, and a sure source of comfort and healing and support. It was that Reconciliation with God and His Church that helped me know where to turn for life’s hardships, and the Sacraments that God gives us through His Church give me the strength to carry on to this very day. In a way so much more profound than just the physical, God brought me home to His Body, the Church, and my life will never be the same.

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Scripture Short - Confession of Sin

“[T]hen whoever is guilty in any of these cases shall confess that sin that he has incurred, and as his sin offering for the sin he has committed he shall bring to the Lord a female animal from the flock, a ewe lamb or a she-goat. The priest shall then make atonement for his sin.” (Lv 5:5-6)

“And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, When a man or woman commits any of the sins that men commit by breaking faith with the Lord, and that person is guilty, he shall confess his sin which he has committed; and he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it, and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong. But if the man has no kinsmen to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for the wrong shall go for the priest, in addition to the ram of atonement with which atonement is made for him. And every offering, all the holy things of the people of Israel, which they bring to the priest, shall be his; and every man's holy things shall be his; whatever any man gives to the priest shall be his.”” (Nm 5:5-10)

“...[A]nd they were baptized by him [John the Baptist] in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mt 3:6)

“And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And he stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.” (Mt 9:2-8)

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”” (Jn 20:21-23)

“Many also of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices” (Acts 19:18)

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2Cor 5:17-20)

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (James 5:13-16)

“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 18:18)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1Jn 1:9)

“If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one—to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal; I do not say that you should pray about that.” (1Jn 5:16)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Dying Wish of my Brother, Danny Manthei

My brother died on Sunday, August 10, 2014. Just a week prior, on the feast day of St. Alphonsus Liguori (August 1 or 2, depending on the Liturgical calendar you use), he wrote a letter which he intended for all the Catholics in his area to read or hear from their respective Priests.

Part of his dying wish was that all Catholics would be encouraged to learn their faith more deeply and thoroughly in order to grow closer to God and prepare for our eternal destination. By this time, he had held a catechesis meeting with the local parishes, and led a discussion with a local Confirmation class, which I had the honor of sitting in and listening to. Shortly after writing this, on Tuesday, August 5, he had a friend record a video message in which he delivered a catechesis/apologetics lesson, followed by a Q&A session.

I made minor edits [in brackets] to this letter, but the message was not changed in any way. This is my brother's death-bed letter:

[Recipients' names redacted]

It is my dying wish that your parishioners will either read this letter in the bulletin or hear it from the pulpit. I give you full permission to edit this document so that it would be suitable to you and give you complete freedom to make necessary changes.

As I lay here dying from Stage IV cancer, I am going over the shortcomings in my life, knowing that I will soon stand before my just judge.

One major regret I have is the fact that I never shared my gifts that God gave me. God gave me the great gift of being able to store and recall information and regurgitate every Catholic book I’ve ever read. I know how to prove from history alone that we belong to the original Church and that none of our teachings have ever changed.

In the past I was too much of a coward to evangelize and now I will soon stand before my Lord. When I found out I was dying, I got a small group together at my house, averaging two parishioners per parish at each of the three parishes here in [name redacted] County. We have only had one meeting and these people are pumped up and notice some of the same things I do.

1. To me it seems we view our Church as a democracy instead of what Christ truly established (Matthew 16:18). Many times I have heard of complaints against our priests over small and insignificant matters, such as not being able to understand the accent of the priest during a homily, or the priest exercising his proper authority over his parish. To this I say, without a priest you cannot go to heaven. Not even the Blessed Virgin Mary can consecrate the Eucharist or hear your confession. St. Alphonsus says that the priest has a dignity higher than the angels because only he can bring you Jesus in the Eucharist, which John 6 tells us is necessary for our salvation. All the Saints gave the utmost respect to their parish priests, and I, all to often, see people wanting to run the parish and push the priest out of the way.

2. While I am certainly no one to judge, I do notice that in Mass the communion lines are always full, but the confessional lines are always empty. This tells me there are two possibilities: either you don’t know what sin is or you no longer believe in the true presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. In John 6, Jesus makes it crystal clear that it is not a symbol. St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:29 that we damn ourselves by taking communion without discerning whom it is we are receiving. My own opinion is that most of us have forgotten that the piece of bread actually becomes Christ, and that when you receive Him, you become one with Christ. Do you not realize that when you walk out of Mass you are a living, breathing tabernacle with Jesus' DNA in your blood? The greatest gift Christ gives to us is Himself at every Mass, and only the Catholic Church does and believes this. If you don’t believe that it is truly your Lord, then why receive Him? Why are you Catholic?

3. Something I have heard continuously from fellow parishioners is the idea of universal salvation, which is basically the idea that everyone gets to heaven as long as you are a good Christian, and that it doesn’t matter which denomination you belong to. I don’t know about you, but I am grateful for the grace of being Catholic. We should all be so grateful of the grace to belong to His church. We are the only one, true Church with all the tools that Christ gave to us in order to be saved. We are not a denomination! Read Matthew 16:18, where God the Father selects Peter to be the first Pope, and Jesus ratifies this decision. Jesus calls us, “My Church”! He doesn't say “a church” or “churches”, but “My Church”. Jesus doesn’t claim ownership in many things, but He does establish His Church. While the various 40,000+ denominations have some truth, we have the fullness of it.

Allow me to share with you some of the rich history of our faith that makes me so proud to be a Catholic. For instance, did you know we put the Bible together in 382 AD at the Council of Rome and finished defining the New Testament Canon in 397 AD at the Council of Carthage. We told the world which books were the inspired scriptures by comparing them to our oral traditions handed down from the Apostles. Jesus gave us the authority to do this. Today 40,000+ denominations all have 40,000+ different interpretations of the Bible.

Also, the first time the word “Catholic” was used was all the way back in 107 AD by St. Ignatius of Antioch. He does not explain what the term means, which leads one to assume that everyone already knew what it meant.

There is evidence of Papal Authority being exercised in writing as far back as 90 AD by our 4th Pope, Clement. St. John the Apostle's Revelations and the 4th Gospel had not even been written at this time. There was a rebellion against the bishop of Corinth and St. John happened to be within walking distance to this area. Instead of St. John the Apostle reprimanding the people of Corinth, the letter comes from Pope Clement, in Rome.

In the year 150 AD, Justin Martyr describes the Mass word for word in writing to the Roman Emperor. And, again in 215 AD, Tertullian describes the Mass just as we have it today. Everything we believe now can be seen in the first 50 - 100 years of Church history written and defended by the Church Fathers. There is not a shred of evidence supporting rumors of protestant beliefs until Martin Luther comes along 1500 years later. And even Martin Luther believed in the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

I want each and everyone of you to be proud to be Catholic: to learn your faith, know your faith, and live your faith. Look at the state of our world: abortion, euthanasia, wars, etc. Do you want to reclaim our country? Only the Catholic Church can change the world. That is why Jesus established it. Don't wait until you are on your deathbed [to act].

With deepest love for all of Christ’s flock,
On the Feast Day of St. Alphonsus of Liguori, 2014,

Danny Manthei