Abortion, a simple case.

One of the first attractions I had towards the Catholic Church were the many Anglicans I met that were in the Anglican Church because of the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion. For me abortion has always been a simple matter, man and woman, in cooperation with God, conceived a child. To take this life is wrong. We as a society have taken the argument as far away from this simple fact as is possible.

Argument #1: The couple are not married, made a poor judgement that led to conception, have no means, monetarily nor mentally to raise a child. We should just abort the child and forego a life of misery for all involved.
Response: Who made us God? Can we see the future that clearly? I cannot deny we have statistics that clearly forecast a chance conception ending in poverty and a broken family, but is that the fault of the couple or the society that refused to provide the structures by which they could succeed? The Church does provide excellent adoption counseling, helping mom to a happy family that is desperate for a child. But we need to do more. Every parish should have a free day care for those in need, letting mom and dad work or finish school. Will mom grow up with everyone knowing she was pregnant without being married, yes, but please, this is hardly a scarlet letter in todays society.

Argument #2: It is a woman’s choice what is done with her body.
Response: I totally agree, choose not to have intercourse, as once the deed is done and the life in conceived, your body is no longer private, there are two where there was one. What about the child? How can one person make a life or death decision for another? If my mom “chose” to shoot me dead after I threw the football that knocked over her favorite piece of art when I was 8 years old, would the police simply discard my body and bid mom a good day? I think not! But of course this argument goes further, debate is made on whether the child in the womb is alive or simply a mass of tissue. The bible does not remain silent here.

The phrase “conceived and bore” is used repeatedly (see Genesis 4:1, 17) and the individual has the same identity before as after birth. “In sin my mother conceived me,” the repentant psalmist says in Psalm 51:7. The same word is used for the child before and after birth (Brephos, that is, “infant,” is used in Luke 1:41 and Luke 18:15.)
God knows the preborn child. “You knit me in my mother’s womb . . . nor was my frame unknown to you when I was made in secret” (Psalm 139:13,15). God also helps and calls the preborn child. “You have been my guide since I was first formed . . . from my mother’s womb you are my God” (Psalm 22:11-12). “God . . . from my mother’s womb had set me apart and called me through his grace” (St. Paul to the Galatians 1:15).   taken from https://www.ewtn.com/library/PROLIFE/PFLBIBLE.HTM

This is a life from the moment of conception, to believe otherwise is to discard scripture, and before you walk that road, remember the parts of the Bible that you enjoy, are we ready to cast those off as well? This of course will not sway the atheist, nor the heretic, but we must still protect the innocent in the womb, as they have no means of helping themselves.
Bottom line, any pregnancy is a life that deserves to live and at least have a chance. The Church should do more, without a doubt, to help parents adjust and thrive with unexpected addition(s) of children. Perhaps if we, the Church, were more proactive, led the way to create the daycare needed, supply the financial aid needed, maybe society would see that we are ready to care for these families and not be so eager to discard these innocents.

Birth Control…blessing or thief?

Birth Control

The second issue I want to speak about, after the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, is birth control. None of the issues that keep people from becoming Catholic are easy, but this may be the hardest. Pope Paul VI published his encyclical “Humanae Vitae” on July 25, 1968, which very clearly explains the Church’s view on this matters and this blog is based on that encyclical.

The problem. Today’s world can be harsh. In the third world we are flooded by pictures of starving, crying children. Most of these cases are caused by corruption in government, but no matter what the cause is, we suffer while we watch and feel helpless. Wouldn’t it be better if these innocent ones never came to exist in such a terrible reality? Wouldn’t it be better if all mothers had access to birth control, therefore preventing this tragedy? Even in our first world existence, we look at the cost per child. The web (arbiter of all truth…) puts each child’s cost to be $234,000.00, and I can tell you if you have children that have dreams of college, that figure would not touch for years in a “quality” institution. Shouldn’t we as parents, plan our children to what we can afford? Also there is the very real issue of parenting being very hard work. During the time we were raising our three, I think I became more enraged than did Stephanie when someone asked if she worked OR was a housewife. I would quickly reply that she works her tail off at home, more so than most in the work force! Parenting is hard, shouldn’t we then limit the number of children thereby keeping our wives (yes, and husbands) sane?

Society’s solution. Birth control. Let us use our God given intelligence and limit the number of children we bring to this world. Big families should be scorned, as the parents are irresponsible thinking they can care for so many children. Couples should seriously think of not having children, this is a laudable sacrifice made for societal good. The poor should possibly be forcibly sterilized preventing them from perpetuating their struggles in poverty.

The Catholic Answer. No birth control other than natural family planning. Each individual must maintain the discipline needed to remain chaste until marriage. Each married couple must know their fertility cycle and abide by the realities of natural law. Children are a blessing from God and should be seen as such.

From the outset, it would seem the the Catholic response is folly, but let me prime the conversation with scripture.

1Cortinthians 1:18   For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.”

Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (1 Co 1:18–19). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Lets keep this passage in mind as we talk about this issue, because we have been misled by society.

Lets put his issues in order, what are we dealing with, exactly? Why do we get married? Clearly scripture informs us there are three reasons:
1) Procreation
2) So that we might have a “helper” through life
3) Mutual love

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring, and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory” (CCC 1652). “Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children” (CCC 2367).

So it’s easy to see, we marry to procreate first and foremost.

Pope Paul VI defines the purpose of marriage clearly in Humanae Vitae:

The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 223). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

This is what we are doing, cooperating with God in producing life itself. When you put it that way it seems daunting. We may not have thought of the solemnity of the process. We have reduced it to “lets have a child”, at best, and “got knocked up” at worse! “Lets take council with God and bring a new life into existence” is a phrase few of us think about, much less speak about before we have sex. Maybe it should be though. Whether you are atheistic, Presbyterian or Catholic, this is what you are doing by participating in the “marital act”, that is entering into an intimacy that might well find it’s result as a new life. This is undeniable, as even the “best” birth control is only 99% effective. And what of natural law, sexual activity was designed by God to conceive life, this is undeniable. So what are we really doing by taking all but the 1% chance of conception away? We are thwarting God’s Natural law.

For the natural law, too, declares the will of God, and its faithful observance is necessary for men’s eternal salvation.

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 224). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

So there is the hard fact, we wrestle with God when we attempt to prevent His will. Marriage is thought to be between a man and a woman; but it is so much more. Marriage is first and foremost a sacrament, it is of God. One of the hardest things I have had to do in my life is to lay down a ministry, something I wrongly for years thought of as “my” ministry. It was God’s ministry, and when God asked me to lay it down, unless I was attempting theft, I had to lay it down and walk away. Holy Orders is a sacrament, and whether it be Anglican, Baptist, or Methodist, ministry (whether it be a sacrament in the protestant realm is for later discussion) is done by God’s behest, it is not a personal earthly possession. Our marriages are the same, they are not our own, they are of God; sacramental. Again Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae states:

Married love particularly reveals its true nature and nobility when we realize that it takes its origin from God, who “is love,” the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 225). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

When we take the sacrament from God, when we steal our marriage and hold it captive, it is but a shadow of what it should be. We must turn our marriages back over to God. We cannot get married without God’s permission, we cannot get divorced without God’s permission, and we cannot create life or abstain without God’s permission. God is very much in our marriages, we simply seem to ignore His presence. (As a side, lets not get free will confused here, we chose our spouse, hopefully led by God, but even if not led, we can still ask God to bless our marriage, even if it is not our soul mate (we make a willful mistake) as intended by God. We are free to chose whom we shall marry, but after the sacrament is confected, we are in covenant with God and are liable to judgement if we stray from that covenant.) So we participate in God’s plan for marriage, participating in His love. Humanae Vitae speaks of this love:

It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 225). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

This is agape love, sacrificial love. Never thinking of oneself, but always of the other. This is a hard love, and few are proficient in it, but it is the goal we strive for.

So how does this translate to children? We are to practice sacrifice for our families. This is difficult I know, raising kids can be exhausting. We are called to give our all for this, as it is God’s plan. This means that we will be exhausted, we will do things that we thought impossible in taking care of and raising these gifts from God.

So we pledge ourself to sacrifice, but how many??!! How many will be in your family? How many are in your family now? Sadly, those of us who were/are astray from the Church and practiced birth control may never know this answer. How much of my family am I missing because of my insistence that my plan was better than Gods? This is what we do when we “limit” with birth control. We take our own feelings and intellect and tell God that we have a better knowledge of this life and what is to come; we pridefully slap God’s hand and tell Him “no more”! God asks us to sacrifice for our family, and we reply telling our God exactly how much sacrifice we will partake in. This does not allow God to be our king, perhaps He is our mayor, or our trusted guide that we shall tip if He shows us a good trip. This reality shook me, and as I read further in Humanae Vitae I was not comforted looking back on my protestant marriage.

Finally, this love is fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being. “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents’ welfare.”

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 225). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

Okay, I’ll admit, I had to look up “fecund”. My trusty online dictionary, even though I know everyone probably knows the definition says this: “producing or capable of producing an abundance of new growth”. Abundance of new growth. Our marriages are factories of God’s glory, producing new souls who are all capable of untold works. Glory that cannot be imagined, because only God sees what is to be!

But what about the money? The cost of raising these kids?? Twenty years ago, if you were to tell me that I would find over $300,000.00 to put my kids through college, I would have laughed at you. I did this with my highest salary being $85,000.00 a year. Does not make sense does it??!! God does not care about math, He simply grants us what we need.

In Humanae Vitae, the Church gives us a new look at marriage. If we are honest, it is a look that requires our humble submission. A submission that knows that God knows best. He gave us our lives, and we are to hand those lives right back to Him. This is faith.

But still there are a thousand questions, all but one are answered in “submit”. The one that is not answered though is “what of the health of the mother?”

On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result therefrom—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 227). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

If the health of the mother requires a procedure that accidentally, or by it’s nature might cause infertility, then the Church allows for that. If there are concerns that have no medical solution other than sterilization, the Church allows for natural family planning. This does take discipline but is an effective method of limiting births all the while keeping the creation of life in God’s hands.

Marriage is an adventure, and yes, sometimes plain hard work. But place your lives and your marriage in God’s hands and watch the miracles happen.

The Sacraments, it’s not how, but why.

Sacraments

I received my call to the priesthood early in life, I was 6, then again at 10, then again at 15. The problem with having a call that early, while being protestant, is that nobody, including yourself, has any idea what to do with it. But that story is for another post, this one is for the sacraments. Finally, at age 30, I would answer God’s call. I thought I was an old man, too old to enter seminary. Stephanie thought I was too shy, and could not have any hope of speaking in public. (but somehow we both knew the call was of God) Just after I went to seminary, I was asked to preach on Sunday, a kind of farewell to the parish of St. John Fort Worth combined with a hello from the ministry to come. I will never forget, as I was staying at my grandmother’s home, a home I now own, sitting on the steps too the second floor, reading over my sermon just before church. I had the sermon finished, all I needed now is to get familiar with it. Stephanie came and stood in front of me, asking how the sermon prep was going. I could tell she was not at ease, I assured her that the sermon was a piece of cake (most of it was a story that I simply had to read, maybe a paragraph of actual preaching) She confided that she was nervous that I would freeze, or make a fool of myself, as I simply was not a good public speaker. As I went to the pulpit that day, looking over the congregation, I caught Stephanie’s eye, and could see that she was much more nervous than I was. I gave a good sermon that day, not because of my own talent, but because God had already begun the sacramental work within me.

I changed, and continued to do so, in preparation for the sacrament of ordination.

How does this happen? How do the sacraments affect a change? The word sacrament is “sacramenta” in Latin, or, translated into English, mystery. Mystery better explains that there is no explanation to how the sacraments work; all we do know, is the sacraments were given to the apostles.

1 Corinthians 4:1 1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (1 Co 4:1–2). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

These mysteries happen on a spiritual level. So let us resolve that we will not know the “how”, but maybe we can solve another riddle; why? Why would God create such a practice, one that is done in mysterious ways. The answer is through a question, why are we here? We exist because God wanted to share His love. He wanted to share creation and His love with others, with as many as possible! But there was a problem, we broke creation. There was also the problem that we continue to sin. Something had to change, and it wasn’t going to be God.

Change is difficult for us, I know that the best of Christians have difficulty changing. We all know as we sit here today, if we are to be honest, we need to change, to fix what we know is wrong with our lives, but we can’t see the path to that change. We don’t have the strength for that change, we can’t understand how this change will take place. This unknown future will usually imprison us in the past.

Lets make certain we know how important our changing is. What happens to the church that does not change with God’s will? What happens to the person that does not change towards God’s will? We cannot afford to stay stagnant, we must always change, and change in the right way, this is where God stands ready to help, this is the sacramental life.

This change will be a mystery to you on how it happened, but you will see a very real and visible result in your life if you choose to change and give yourself to the sacramental life. Where to start?

God knew that we were broken, but He wanted us to share His love. He had to fix us, replace what was lost. Through the saving works of Christ, His Son, God gave us baptism, our first mystery.

Matthew 3:6-17 5 Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Mt 3:5–6). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Jesus participates in baptism, showing us the way. Baptism includes water and the Holy Spirit

So what is the change?? Adoption by God.

John 3:1-61 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Jn 3:1–6). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Jesus tells us that what is born of flesh is flesh, but what is born of the Spirit is the Spirit. Many call this forgiveness of original sin, replacing what was lost. What was lost, humankind, is now back in God’s family. Why did God make us? To share His love with us, that we might be loved and love God in return. Most of us have this change when we were too young to understand. So our first mysterious change is often one that goes under the radar, we have an inward mysterious change but no outward and visible sign.

God knew this, so He planned the sacrament of confirmation.

Acts 8:14-25 14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; 16 for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Ac 8:14–17). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

The apostles laid hands on those who had already been baptized. What was the change? They were filled with the Spirit and began to evangelize. Confirmation fills us with the Holy Spirit and gives us the power we need to fulfill God’s mission which was chosen for us individually. For some of us this is a great change. When I was a child, my priest told me I would be a priest, but when I became a teenager, I thought it would be better to earn money, so I ran from my calling. These years were alright, but they were not why God put me here, so though they were alright, they were unfulfilling. What is God telling you? What has He told you to do? We should realize that submission to God’s will is the only answer that will allow us to live life abundantly.

So we have been adopted into God’s family, and given a job to do and the Spirit to do this work! Unfortunately this is a job that many avoid at all cost. The old joke about the pastor with squirrels in his bell tower is based on reality. This pastor had troubles with squirrels eating the electrical wiring in his bell tower. The pastor called several rodent specialists, only to pay them for a remedy that never seemed to work. Finally an older cleric, after hearing the pastor complaining vociferously about his rodent problem, suggested confirming them. Confused, the pastor asked the elder priest what he was talking about. The older man replied “everybody knows when you confirm members of your congregation that they immediately leave and are never seen again!” If all of us did what the Lord intended, we would have to have a reservation system for mass! We have been given the Spirit, a Godly mystery, which has occurred within us, but we don’t act, why?

CHANGE! God asks us to change our lives, our calendars, and we don’t like that kind of meddling at all! Are there times I wouldn’t rather be in Architecture? Sure, but God has called me elsewhere in life; and it is His life, not mine. This is difficult, because we all have a strong draw to the comforts of this world, the devil has made the road to hell quite exquisite, full of wonderful treats that side line us from God’s will. Just as an aside, if the secular life is so good, why are so many on anti-depressants?

But it’s tough, and God knows this, so He has given us mysteries so that we might be strengthened for our ministry. First and foremost, we need a helper!!

Genesis 2:18-24 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; 22 and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Ge 2:18–23). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

God made man a helper, and yes the reverse is true, woman’s helper is man. This life is hard, don’t try this alone! Of course you might bring up clergy, but they are married to the church, their family, a parish full of brothers and sisters that should support them as if they were their own flesh and blood.

So, what is the change? The two become one. God knew that life is difficult, and the first thing we all want to do is leave when the going gets tough, so God made a permanent bond between the two, so that at the end of the day when things get tough we know someone has our back, and is there to comfort us.

Ephesians 5:22-33 22 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church; 33 however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Eph 5:22–33). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Care about each other, this is the only way! Because the hard part is the change God is bringing about in you! So we are strengthened for the change with our spouse, but God gave us more.

Again as we know the love of our spouse is a great foundation and comfort, the love of God is all the more a strength and comfort. He wishes to be with us daily, in a very real way, the Eucharist.

Mark 14:22-24 22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Mk 14:22–25). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Jesus celebrated Passover, but it was so much more.

1 Corinthians 11:20-29 20 When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.

Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (1 Co 11:20–30). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

This is not just a meal…

John 6:48-58 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Jn 6:48–58). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Jesus, even while losing disciples, still held to His teaching. So what is the change? Bread and wine turned to the body and blood. A mystery! Why did God make us? To be with us, to love us. The Eucharist is nothing if not God with us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Change is tough, but Christ is with us, through the Blessed sacrament of the Eucharist. We partake in the Eucharist, the two become one, for strength in our callings. We can also visit the Blessed Sacrament for strength and clarity. So to help in our Change towards God, we are strengthened by God Himself, and helped by our spouse.

But sadly we do still fail, we fall into sin frequently, but God is ready with the sacrament of reconciliation.

James 5:16 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Jas 5:15–16). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Confess your sins! Speak them! Why is this so important? If we don’t speak to another we rationalize our sins; another good Christian, especially a priest will not let us play those games. We are also held accountable, by the other, for what we have done.

But why a priest??

John 20:19-23 19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Jn 20:19–23). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Because Jesus knew that we would not (but also could not) forgive ourselves, we needed an outward sign of the mystery going on within. The priest is a very real conduit to God Himself, and he, through Christ, has been given the authority to forgive.

Failure comes in all forms though, and all too often our broken bodies fail us—we need healing. This can come through unction.

James 5:14-16 13 Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Jas 5:13–15). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

As we change and as we minister, we find that it is hard work! Long hours do break the body. Unction brings the Spirit within you for the purpose of healing you so you can continue your ministry.

So God wants us to change, towards Him. He brings us into his family through Baptism. He gives us our marching orders and strengthens us to do His will through confirmation. He gives us a helper through marriage. He then makes certain that He is with us through the Eucharist. He helps us with our earthly struggles through Reconciliation and Unction.

But we are still missing one. Those He has chosen to safeguard these mysteries. Those in Holy Orders.

Mark 3:13-19 13 And he went up on the mountain, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons: 16 Simon whom he surnamed Peter; 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Bo-anerges, that is, sons of thunder; 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Mk 3:13–19). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Why would He appoint? Why not just teach? Jesus knew the day was coming all too quickly when He would no longer be walking the earth, His sacrifice would come. Who then would keep the faith? The sacrament of ordination would do this by imparting the Holy Spirit and giving men the spiritual power they needed to perform the mysteries of the Church; but also to be Jesus’ hands and feet, so that God could yet in another real way be with His people. But why the priesthood? What about Apostolic Succession?

Acts 6:1-7 1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them.
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Ac 6:1–6). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

The apostles clearly ordain more clergy. Though clerics are called to a very serious ministry, they are no better and no different than anyone else. Priests simply have a different job than most. This ministry does come with a call from God to a higher standard; priests are to be shining examples of a godly life.

1 Timothy 3:1-13 1 The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. 2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3 no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; 5 for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil; 7 moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
8 Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain; 9 they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then if they prove themselves blameless let them serve as deacons. 11 The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons be the husband of one wife, and let them manage their children and their households well; 13 for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (1 Ti 3:1–13). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Priests do fail. They are human. Be assured the sins of the priest have no bearing on the validity of the sacraments they confect. All priests are not alike, nor are they all called to the same ministries.

God is calling us all to change, towards Him. But He does not expect to do this on our own. He has left us the mysteries of the Church, the Sacraments, to be our guides, our companions, our very real connection to the Father, and our strength.

Of Marriage and Divorce

Continuing my series on hard subjects that keep the faithful from the Catholic Church.

This week we will look at divorce. When we look at the statistics of how many marriages end in divorce we can be not only discouraged, we can wrongly begin to question the Church’s teaching on the subject.

If you have lived long enough, you know of a couple that just “were not meant to be married”. You know them, the couple that did nothing but fight. If you invited them to a party you knew the festivities would be marred by at least an argument if not a full blown fight. But these are your friends, and they are miserable. Usually sides are taken by friends and the debate hardened. The answer? They simply don’t belong together….for the children sake, let them get a divorce. A few years pass, both “exes” (is that even a word??) go their own way and find love again. They marry for a second time and both are so happy it makes the whole divorce worth while.

I have known this couple. They are still really happy…separately. We are all human, we make mistakes, we have all fallen short of the grace of God. So what does it matter to the Church if we find real happiness in this life, repenting from a bad choice to marry the wrong person? The problem is marriage itself; but let me explain, from the beginning.

Pope John Paul II wrote the Apostolic Constitution “Familiaris Consortio” in 1980. It was and is a beautiful explanation of married life. It is married life that we must get to know before we can make an educated decision about divorce.

The “supernatural sense of faith” however does not consist solely or necessarily in the consensus of the faithful. Following Christ, the Church seeks the truth, which is not always the same as the majority opinion.
John Paul II. (1981). Familiaris Consortio. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

From the beginning, St. John Paul II lets us know that this is not a debate, this is Church teaching. The “supernatural sense of faith” spells out for us that God created us and all we can possibly know, He wrote the book on creation. But there are those of us, firmly pointing the finger back at myself, that do not care for instructions books. I find it a wonderful challenge to get the new gadget, that has “some assembly required”, and put it together without the manual; I figured it out myself!! Prideful? You think? I have paid for my pride though, Stephanie would love to relay each and every story of my failures over a glass of wine, just invite her over!

So why are we so prideful to think that we can figure this creation out ourselves? Blame the majority. That wonderful mob mentality that lets us know we are right…because look how many agree with me! I love democracy, mainly because if we make a mistake in leadership it only takes 4 years to realize it, learn, and make a better call next time. But the faith is not like our earthly nation. It is not left up for us to tinker with God’s plans.

It follows that only an education for love rooted in faith can lead to the capacity of interpreting “the signs of the times,” which are the historical expression of this twofold love.
John Paul II. (1981). Familiaris Consortio. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

I sat as a protestant and watched Canterbury burn, thinking we would learn from our mistakes, but the correction never came, the church simply built upon it’s mistakes. Love was not allowed, as schism begat schism. Sides were taken, and separations were deemed necessary. Seems strangely like a divorce.

Love, agape love to be exact, is the only thing that will lead us to God. The love that is willing to make sacrifices.

What is needed is a continuous, permanent conversion which, while requiring an interior detachment from every evil and an adherence to good in its fullness, is brought about concretely in steps which lead us ever forward
John Paul II. (1981). Familiaris Consortio. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Conversion. To turn from the wrong path and take the right one. This always requires sacrifice. Here is were we need to ask ourselves “how important is creating a godly and loving environment”? Look at the world…just the married world…what condition is it in? Is it OK? Adultery, pornography, serial divorce, children that have no concept of discipline, children acting out, homes built only on possessions and wealth, I could go on. The married life is not all it’s cracked up to be, this is why so many of our youth are opting out of marriage, just “shacking up” as it were. I guess this is where we start. If you think the married world is fine right now, you may not get the true point of this article. But if you agree with me that marriage is on the ropes in modern society, then lets start the conversion, our conversion.

The total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving, in which the whole person, including the temporal dimension, is present: if the person were to withhold something or reserve the possibility of deciding otherwise in the future, by this very fact he or she would not be giving totally.
John Paul II. (1981). Familiaris Consortio. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Marriage was always meant to be the giving of the man and the wife to each other as total, holding nothing back. Lets stop here for a second and ask the question. “If those we know that were divorced had given fully of themselves, making whatever changes necessary for the other (spouse), how many would be divorced”? Total personal self giving is the first rule of marriage. If the wife cares more for the husband than herself, and the husband cares more for the wife than himself, how can a marriage go wrong? Total self giving.

So why can’t we do this outside of marriage? Just moving in together? If the couple, usually one of them, will not take the chance of entering into a legal and sacramental agreement, then are they giving totally of themselves? They are holding open their options, and that is not love…

And the same sin which can harm the conjugal covenant becomes an image of the infidelity of the people to their God: idolatry is prostitution, infidelity is adultery, disobedience to the law is abandonment of the spousal love of the Lord. But the infidelity of Israel does not destroy the eternal fidelity of the Lord, and therefore the ever faithful love of God is put forward as the model of the of faithful love which should exist between spouses.
John Paul II. (1981). Familiaris Consortio. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

So we have the happy couple, sharing in love. As we know this usually will develop into a family; and this family unit is more important to the well being of mankind than you can imagine.

Hence the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride.
John Paul II. (1981). Familiaris Consortio. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

The family shows God’s love to the world. It is the beacon that educates all about a loving God that wants to share all with His creation. Vatican II tells us that “The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realization of ecclesial communion, and for this reason too it can and should be called “the domestic Church.” The most basic building block of the Church is the family. The Church is therefore in existence to help families flourish. This is a solemn responsibility that too many churches ignore.

So we now understand that marriage plays a central role in all creation. It’s importance as the beacon of God’s love can not be underestimated. And following closely behind, the importance of raising children to know and love God. This institution is not something that we should toy with!

A short time ago the heater went out on my trailer. The heater is propane fueled, with an electric fan. Explosive gas and electricity, all in a small space! So I don’t like instruction books, do you think I humbled myself to use one? Or just wing it and put my family at risk of a fiery death while we sleep? I used MANY instructional sources to make certain I did the job correctly!

Without marriage, God’s ability to make His love known to the world is severely handicapped, lets do this one by the book.

Lets also not forget that marriage is a sacrament. Sacraments are an external and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Sacraments happen once, and they never go away. Given the right form and matter, they are Divine in nature, let no man try to undo them. A priest can consecrate the Eucharist, but to do so a second time over the now Body and Blood would be heresy. The blessed sacrament would not be any more so Body and Blood, it would remain the same as it was before the second words of consecration. So what happens to a married couple that separate and are remarried? They cannot remarried, the first sacrament of marriage prevails.

But wait right there! The Church does allow divorce in some cases, right? True, but only if there is found, after careful deliberation, that there was never a valid marriage. Lets say that a couple falls in love and marries, only to find that the husband was already married to another. What happened? Nothing. The sacrament was not conveyed, as a sacrament of marriage already was. The woman was never married and is free to remarry, the husband would be told to go back and care for his wife, that he for what ever reason hid. Marriages can be annulled for several reasons:

  1. Coercion (shotgun marriage)
  2. Physical or Mental abuse
  3. Pre-existing marriage
  4. Spouse becomes an atheist and is a threat to the family
  5. Spouse is a serial adulterer

There are advocates within the Church that look at each case, and present them to a tribunal in each diocese. This process takes time, and sometimes they do not agree with those who petition, but all are treated fairly. Those petitioning cannot be remarried nor in any kind of intimate relation while this process progresses, as they are still married until the tribunal makes it’s judgement.

Most divorces stem from one or both of the couple not willing to change for the other. If conversion occurs, the marriage can and should be saved. Divorce should not be an option, it should be a last resort in extreme conditions.

Married couples carry a large responsibility in conveying the light of Christ to the world, lets not let God down on our duties.

Birth control, blessing or thief?

Birth Control

The second issue I want to speak about, after the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, is birth control. None of the issues that keep people from becoming Catholic are easy, but this may be the hardest. Pope Paul VI published his encyclical “Humanae Vitae” on July 25, 1968, which very clearly explains the Church’s view on this matters and this blog is based on that encyclical.

The problem. Today’s world can be harsh. In the third world we are flooded by pictures of starving, crying children. Most of these cases are caused by corruption in government, but no matter what the cause is, we suffer while we watch and feel helpless. Wouldn’t it be better if these innocent ones never came to exist in such a terrible reality? Wouldn’t it be better if all mothers had access to birth control, therefore preventing this tragedy? Even in our first world existence, we look at the cost per child. The web (arbiter of all truth…) puts each child’s cost to be $234,000.00, and I can tell you if you have children that have dreams of college, that figure would not touch for years in a “quality” institution. Shouldn’t we as parents, plan our children to what we can afford? Also there is the very real issue of parenting being very hard work. During the time we were raising our three, I think I became more enraged than did Stephanie when someone asked if she worked OR was a housewife. I would quickly reply that she works her tail off at home, more so than most in the work force! Parenting is hard, shouldn’t we then limit the number of children thereby keeping our wives (yes, and husbands) sane?

Society’s solution. Birth control. Let us use our God given intelligence and limit the number of children we bring to this world. Big families should be scorned, as the parents are irresponsible thinking they can care for so many children. Couples should seriously think of not having children, this is a laudable sacrifice made for societal good. The poor should possibly be forcibly sterilized preventing them from perpetuating their struggles in poverty.

The Catholic Answer. No birth control other than natural family planning. Each individual must maintain the discipline needed to remain chaste until marriage. Each married couple must know their fertility cycle and abide by the realities of natural law. Children are a blessing from God and should be seen as such.

From the outset, it would seem the the Catholic response is folly, but let me prime the conversation with scripture.

1Cortinthians 1:18   For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.”

Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (1 Co 1:18–19). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Lets keep this passage in mind as we talk about this issue, because we have been misled by society.

Lets put his issues in order, what are we dealing with, exactly? Why do we get married? Clearly scripture informs us there are three reasons:
1) Procreation
2) So that we might have a “helper” through life
3) Mutual love

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring, and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory” (CCC 1652). “Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children” (CCC 2367).

So it’s easy to see, we marry to procreate first and foremost.

Pope Paul VI defines the purpose of marriage clearly in Humanae Vitae:

The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 223). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

This is what we are doing, cooperating with God in producing life itself. When you put it that way it seems daunting. We may not have thought of the solemnity of the process. We have reduced it to “lets have a child”, at best, and “got knocked up” at worse! “Lets take council with God and bring a new life into existence” is a phrase few of us think about, much less speak about before we have sex. Maybe it should be though. Whether you are atheistic, Presbyterian or Catholic, this is what you are doing by participating in the “marital act”, that is entering into an intimacy that might well find it’s result as a new life. This is undeniable, as even the “best” birth control is only 99% effective. And what of natural law, sexual activity was designed by God to conceive life, this is undeniable. So what are we really doing by taking all but the 1% chance of conception away? We are thwarting God’s Natural law.

For the natural law, too, declares the will of God, and its faithful observance is necessary for men’s eternal salvation.

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 224). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

So there is the hard fact, we wrestle with God when we attempt to prevent His will. Marriage is thought to be between a man and a woman; but it is so much more. Marriage is first and foremost a sacrament, it is of God. One of the hardest things I have had to do in my life is to lay down a ministry, something I wrongly for years thought of as “my” ministry. It was God’s ministry, and when God asked me to lay it down, unless I was attempting theft, I had to lay it down and walk away. Holy Orders is a sacrament, and whether it be Anglican, Baptist, or Methodist, ministry (whether it be a sacrament in the protestant realm is for later discussion) is done by God’s behest, it is not a personal earthly possession. Our marriages are the same, they are not our own, they are of God; sacramental. Again Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae states:

Married love particularly reveals its true nature and nobility when we realize that it takes its origin from God, who “is love,” the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 225). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

When we take the sacrament from God, when we steal our marriage and hold it captive, it is but a shadow of what it should be. We must turn our marriages back over to God. We cannot get married without God’s permission, we cannot get divorced without God’s permission, and we cannot create life or abstain without God’s permission. God is very much in our marriages, we simply seem to ignore His presence. (As a side, lets not get free will confused here, we chose our spouse, hopefully led by God, but even if not led, we can still ask God to bless our marriage, even if it is not our soul mate (we make a willful mistake) as intended by God. We are free to chose whom we shall marry, but after the sacrament is confected, we are in covenant with God and are liable to judgement if we stray from that covenant.) So we participate in God’s plan for marriage, participating in His love. Humanae Vitae speaks of this love:

It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 225). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

This is agape love, sacrificial love. Never thinking of oneself, but always of the other. This is a hard love, and few are proficient in it, but it is the goal we strive for.

So how does this translate to children? We are to practice sacrifice for our families. This is difficult I know, raising kids can be exhausting. We are called to give our all for this, as it is God’s plan. This means that we will be exhausted, we will do things that we thought impossible in taking care of and raising these gifts from God.

So we pledge our self to sacrifice, but how many??!! How many will be in your family? How many are in your family now? Sadly, those of us who were/are astray from the Church and practiced birth control may never know this answer. How much of my family am I missing because of my insistence that my plan was better than Gods? This is what we do when we “limit” with birth control. We take our own feelings and intellect and tell God that we have a better knowledge of this life and what is to come; we pridefully slap God’s hand and tell Him “no more”! God asks us to sacrifice for our family, and we reply telling our God exactly how much sacrifice we will partake in. This does not allow God to be our king, perhaps He is our mayor, or our trusted guide that we shall tip if He shows us a good trip. This reality shook me, and as I read further in Humanae Vitae I was not comforted looking back on my protestant marriage.

Finally, this love is fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being. “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents’ welfare.”

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 225). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

Okay, I’ll admit, I had to look up “fecund”. My trusty online dictionary, even though I know everyone probably knows the definition says this: “producing or capable of producing an abundance of new growth”. Abundance of new growth. Our marriages are factories of God’s glory, producing new souls who are all capable of untold works. Glory that cannot be imagined, because only God sees what is to be!

But what about the money? The cost of raising these kids?? Twenty years ago, if you were to tell me that I would find over $300,000.00 to put my kids through college, I would have laughed at you. I did this with my highest salary being $85,000.00 a year. Does not make sense does it??!! God does not care about math, He simply grants us what we need.

In Humanae Vitae, the Church gives us a new look at marriage. If we are honest, it is a look that requires our humble submission. A submission that knows that God knows best. He gave us our lives, and we are to hand those lives right back to Him. This is faith.

But still there are a thousand questions, all but one are answered in “submit”. The one that is not answered though is “what of the health of the mother?”

On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result therefrom—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 227). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

If the health of the mother requires a procedure that accidentally, or by it’s nature might cause infertility, then the Church allows for that. If there are concerns that have no medical solution other than sterilization, the Church allows for natural family planning. This does take discipline but is an effective method of limiting births all the while keeping the creation of life in God’s hands.

Marriage is an adventure, and yes, sometimes plain hard work. But place your lives and your marriage in God’s hands and watch the miracles happen.

Holy Scripture or just good stories??

Last post, I asked something of my readers. I asked them to ask their pastor about their church’s stance on some hard issues.
Divorce
Abortion
Contraception
War
Obedience
Sacraments
Inspired scripture
To do this, we must start with he last item, which is truly the first item! Inspired Scripture. If we believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, that it is without error, then we stand on one side. If we believe that the Bible is a collection of stories that are meant to loosely guide us through life, you are on another side. The first side is traditional Christianity, which does come with some responsibilities and obligations, the latter side is modern religion, which comes with little responsibility and no obligations. Strangely enough, most Christians fall in-between these two sides.

We look at scripture, and lets take a particularly provocative verse, like:

1 Corinthians 14:34 34 the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (1 Co 14:34). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

There we have it, women are not allowed to speak in church, end of story. How do we deal with this? Those that believe that scripture is the Word of God must deal with this verse, those who believe the Bible is a collection of stories will say that Paul (who wrote the letter to the Corinthians) was simply a misogynist, as were many men of that time, and we should ignore certain parts of his “ranting”. Both of these explanations are kind of hard to deal with, so many of us take a middle road; we just chose not to deal with this verse. Lets pretend it’s not in the Bible, lets not read it at home, lets make certain this verse is not in our lectionary, and for heavens sake lets not read it in church!

It’s plain to see then, if we take the middle or “storybook” side for an approach to scripture, we have no real take on the hard topics in the Bible, we just ignore them. Therefore, no amount of writing I do in explanation of these hard issues will do any meaningful good, as if you don’t listen to God, you certainly won’t listen to me! My bet is that most in the middle are not comfortable, they have this feeling that ignoring these hard questions is not right; all the while recognizing them is too difficult to comprehend. What to do? Lets start with the catechism.

CCC 138 The Church accepts and venerates as inspired the 46 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New.
Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 38). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.
CCC105 God is the author of Sacred Scripture. “The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”
“For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.”

Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 31). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.

The Bible IS the Word of God. Lets start here. There were times in my childhood that my parents said things I didn’t like nor did I understand, now that I am older, I understand and am thankful that my parents were there to guide me. God is our Father, He is guiding us through life, ,most Christians could not imagine a day without Him. So we start with “I don’t understand”. God inspired Paul to write what he did about women in the church, it is the Word of God, I don’t like what it says on face value, but I must deal with it, as it is the Word of God. This is the process we must adopt when reading scripture.

So lets put that to practice. Paul tells women to be quiet in church. This is the Word of God. We have some questions, no doubt. Look first to the saints and scholars, what does the Church Catholic say about this verse?

The universal Church is also present in gatherings of the faithful, most especially at celebrations of the Eucharist: “This Church of Christ is really present in all legitimately organized groups of the faithful, which, in so far as they are united to their pastors, are also quite appropriately called churches in the New Testament” (Lumen gentium, 26). This explains why St Paul is particularly keen on ensuring that at liturgical gatherings everything should make for the edification of the faithful (v. 26) and be done “decently and in order” (v. 40).
Saint Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians. (2005). (p. 107). Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers.
We learn here that St. Paul is simply trying to gather the church in good order, making it possible for all to hear and participate in worship. Have you ever been to mass where the person next to you insists on providing emphases to the pastors sermon? Or his prayers? Many will find the need to groan or say “uh huh” to every word the pastor says…it’s very disconcerting and distracting! We can start to see that possibly Paul is speaking to specific women here in Corinth, not all come, we begin to see that Pauls concern is with good order in mass, not in silencing women.

We should not get side tracked here, I cannot go through the entire proof of what Paul is doing in this verse, but please take my word for it, he is not telling all women to be silent in church. What should we take from this exercise? Running away from scripture that strikes us as “problematic” or “objectionable” is a bad practice. We miss so much of God’s word and truth when we do this. We confront it, just as scripture confronts us! We study, we ask our pastor, we deal with God’s Word!

But what happens if the results of our diligence does not end up as satisfying as the one we just wrestled with from Paul? Then we have a decision; change our life, or change God. We may have to change our practices, our voting habits, our views on issues, and yes, maybe even our own ways of living. It’s hard. This is why so many opt for changing God. Ridiculous you say? Nobody could change God you say? Of course you are right, God is unchangeable, but people will change the god they worship in a heartbeat. They redesign and reform their religion to suit them. If I worship a god of my own making, who do I worship? Myself.

In the coming weeks we will be looking at hard issues. I we do not stand on Scripture and the tradition and teaching of the Church, then what? Lets get our minds ready to here the words of our Father. Let us be ready to say “yes sir” to His bidding.

For those I left behind…

I don’t know why, but lately, I have been thinking about those I left behind in the Anglican Church. I pastored many churches as an Anglican and an Episcopalian, and a few of those churches I really thought that I made a difference. Churches and their pastor become a family of sorts, they grow together and become a community; many of those communities I still hear from even today. As I began to lean Catholic, I notice a change, that community looked at me differently, they let me know that if that step was taken, towards Catholicism, I would be taking that step alone.

As I look at the issues involved I began to understand that being angry at those who stayed did not answer this situation, I could never bring myself to be angry at those whom I counted as friends. What I found is that this is a situation best solved by shedding light on some facts, the first being, changing churches is difficult.

Your changing families! There were times, when I was a teen, that I might have considered changing families, but once maturity came, I found my family was the best part of life, and would not give that life up unless I had a very good reason. Right there! There is our first problem. Many will stop my analogy right at “leave my family for good reason” and say, “we should NEVER leave our families! Family is indeed a responsibility, one that is not always fun; but yet we don’t leave just because “for better or worse” tends to hover over the “worse” side of family life. So many stay with family through issues that can elevate even to abuse, but they stay. To make this more of a point, we are talking about a church here, not an abusive husband, nobody is getting abused! So we stay, we stay loyal and we stay with our church. But are we sure nobody is getting hurt? At church we love Jesus and He loves us, how can anybody get hurt? On this very shallow end of the pool nobody seems hurt, but the Christian pool gets much deeper than this. Is Christianity universal salvation? Just love God and He will love us? I can do what I wish and God will smile down from heaven? Now I have gone from preaching to meddling! IF we believe God smiles on us all no matter what we do then the particular church you attend does not matter; pick the one that makes you happy! IF we believe that God takes offense at sins, and rejoices in good works; then chose your church carefully.

IF we believe God cares how we live our lives then we enter into discernment. Are we living life to God? More importantly, are we raising our children to live to God? IF we believe God cares how we live our lives we must tackle:

The uncomfortable questions:
++Divorce
++Abortion
++Contraception
++War
++Obedience
++Sacraments
++Inspired scripture

How does the church you attend treat these issues? These are issues that take many out of the Catholic Church, and keep many from joining the Catholic Church. Among these issues are the reasons I chose to leave the Anglican Church and submit to the Catholic Church. So what does your church say about these issues? If you are non-denominational, then it will depend on your pastor. If you are protestant, some have central teachings and some do not; from my experience your pastor will be the arbiter of theology. If you are Orthodox then the councils of the Church combined with the bishops of the Church answer these questions. If you are Catholic, the pope, councils and traditions of the Church will answer these hard questions.

So who is your pope? Let me be clear, who is it that dictates what you believe about the hard issues? Is it your pastor? Is it you? Whoever it is, ask how they came to their conclusion on these hard issues. Did he/she come to this teaching from a scriptural basis, or just his own feelings? Are you willing to bet eternity on feelings? Possibly your willing to gamble that God has a “sense of humor” about His wishes for our life? The Lord will overlook these hard questions if we have lived decent lives? I found I could not make this wager, so I left.

Over the next few weeks I will try to explain the Catholic Churches beliefs on these hard questions, hoping that if informed, many will make the correct decisions on whether to stay, or leave.