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 JesusPictures-photos.blogspot.com

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