Friday, February 27, 2009

Why do Catholics celebrate Lent?

Lent is an extremely important season for the Catholic Church. First, it is a season, the Church leaves “Ordinary Time” and our clergy hang up their green vestments and put on their purple; signifying repentance. Lent contains the only day each year that Mass is not celebrated (Good Friday). Catholics put ashes on their foreheads, pray, fast, abstain from meat, and do many other things. The outward signs of Lent are unmistakable; but why do we do them?

Lent is a time for Catholics to imitate Jesus and follow him from the garden of regular life to the desert of self-denial and sacrifice. Jesus literally went to the desert in Mk 1:12-15 for forty days and forty nights. Here he prayed, fasted, and was tempted by the devil. Afterward, he was hungry.

Jesus did this just before beginning his public ministry where he spoke to the crowds, performed miracles, and eventually offered himself as a sacrifice for all of us. The time in the desert was a time of preparation for the work to come. If Jesus needed time out to pray and fast, how much more do we need that time?

Lent was a time of preparation for Jesus and it is for us as well. We prepare for the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper which we celebrate on Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter). As Jesus was hungry after fasting, we are hungry for him and he doesn’t leave us empty. Individuals coming into the Catholic Church use Lent as a final preparation. Candidates have spent months learning about our faith and on the Easter Vigil (Saturday before Easter) they will be baptized, confirmed, and receive the Eucharist. Lent is a time of preparation of our souls as we repent for our sins. We remember on Good Friday that it was our sins that Jesus suffered and died for.

Lent is the preparation of many things, and the crowning of them all is Easter Sunday, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Lent has been around since at least the fourth century but the writings of that time indicate that the practice began with the apostles. The customs from place to place and from time to time have changed, and will continue to change, I imagine, but the basic idea of denying ourselves to take up our crosses remains the same.

I pray that you embrace this Lenten season, that you may grow closer to our God through your prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, and that you may see resurrection with Jesus on the last day.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Why do Catholics not eat meat and fast on Friday’s in Lent?

Catholics are called to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent and Ash Wednesday. We are also called to fast (eat only 1 meal or two small meals in one day) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In addition the custom is to pick something in our own lives to “give up” for the 40 days of Lent. Today I want to talk about why we do.

The theories on why Catholics don’t eat meat (but can eat fish) vary from the spiritual to the conspiracy. People say some outlandish things on this topic! Regardless of the history of these Lenten traditions, the purpose is consistent. Jesus commands each of us to deny ourselves, take up or cross, and follow him (Mk 8:34). By denying ourselves some of the pleasures of this world we do as Jesus commands; even if it’s in a small and temporary way.

A person may ask how Lenten sacrifice helps a Catholic; and that’s a great question. Many Catholics simply go through the motions of giving up something for Lent because they were raised that way and they’ll feel guilty if they don’t. I’m sorry, but this attitude will only push a person farther from the cross, not closer to it. If you asked me, sacrifice without purpose is meaningless. So how do you take your Lenten sacrifice and put it to good use?

First, offer your sacrifice for something specific. Paul gives us a great example of this in Colossians 1:24. Personally I offer my sacrifices so that I may grow in intimacy with my Lord, for the souls in purgatory, and for the conversion of all people to Jesus’ Church. Think about what is meaningful to you, what are your passions? Offer your sacrifice for that.

Second, DO something! When you feel an urge for a steak on Ash Wednesday say some prayers for your intention. If you gave up TV, use the time for something to further your intention. What good does it do to give up TV and sit on the Internet all evening? If you give up something that costs money, save the money you would have spent and donate it to a cause that furthers your intention. The opportunities are limitless but the point is to DO something. Turn your sacrifice into action; don’t let it be meaningless!

I encourage you to think this Lenten season about your own reasons for abstaining from meat, or any form of abstinence or fasting that you may do. Are you doing these things because you were raised that way? Or because you think you’re supposed to? Or do you make sacrifices to grow in holiness? Do you work to turn your sacrifice into action? Or do you do them because you’ll feel guilty if you don’t?

Lenten sacrifice can be a great way to dive into holiness or it can be 6 weeks of pointless torment. The choice is yours.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why do Catholics put ashes on their heads?

When Catholics attend Mass on Ash Wednesday, we are marked with a cross on our foreheads using ashes. Why?

Ash Wednesday is the kick-off to the season of Lent. Lent is 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter and is our time of preparation so we may be more ready to accept our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, sacrifice, but mostly repentance. Lent is a time for us to grow in awareness of our sinfulness and our desperate need for a savior.

What does this have to do with ashes? Let's look to the Bible to see what significance ashes may have considering a theme of repentance.

O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth, roll in the ashes. Mourn as for an only child with bitter wailing, For sudden upon us comes the destroyer. (Jer 6:26)

I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes... (Dn 9:3)

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes (Jon 3:6)

Ashes in Old Testament times were a sign of repentance. Why? One reason is that they're uncomfortable and reflect our willingness to pay a price for our sins (same with sackcloth, which is like wearing clothes made of burlap). Another reason is the reminder we hear when we receive the ashes "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return". Lent is a time to remember our fragile lives do not last forever and we are called to constant repentance for we know not the hour or the day the Lord is coming.

This reminder is even more significant since the ashes we use come from the brunt palm branches blessed and used at the previous years' Palm Sunday celebration. On Palm Sunday we remember the crowds laying palms before Jesus, they cheered for him, they celebrated him, they wanted him to be king.

Less than a week later they called for his death by torture.

The ashes of the palms call us to remember how our praises have turned into a rejection of Christ in our own lives, and to remember that we will soon be called home to him.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What happened when the Pope met Pelosi?

Pope Benedict XVI met with the US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi a few days ago. Pelosi is an outspoken advocate of abortion, has told NBC’s Meet the Press that the Catholic Church has long debated whether fetuses are humans, and is perfectly happy to call herself a Catholic in good standing.

I guess accepting the teachings of a church are not a requirement for being in good standing. But I digress…

Pelosi’s office has made a press release proclaiming her meeting with the pope as a positive encounter. No disagreements or divides between her beliefs and the pope’s were discussed in her release. Instead it focused on their conversations about his upcoming trip to Israel and other upcoming events. That’s a bit odd since the Vatican released a statement that didn't mention any of the discussion points Pelosi's release brought up and instead read in part:

"His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural
moral law and the Church's consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from
conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially
legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to
work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just
system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its
development."

I wonder why Pelosi's statement didn't mention this conversation. Maybe because she has a 100% record of supporting abortion and the pope is firmly opposed to her position?

John Allen, a reporter for the National Catholic Register, has a clear commentary on the Vatican's focus on life issues concerning the visit with Nancy Pelosi:

"routine Vatican declarations after diplomatic meetings also generally sum up
the range of issues discussed rather than concentrating on a particular point.
In that sense, the statement can only be read as a rejection of Pelosi's
statements last summer, and, in general, of her argument that it's acceptable
for Catholics in public life to take a pro-choice position….by issuing an
unusual public statement after the session with Pelosi -- which insisted that
all Catholics, including legislators, are obliged to work for the defense of
human life from conception to natural death -- the pope also made clear there
will no let-up in the pressure on pro-choice Catholic politicians to change
their ways."

It’s probably no secret that any politician wanting to make good with Catholic voters would love nothing more than a picture of themselves shaking hands with the pope. Many have in the past. What’s impressive to me is that not only has the Vatican denounced Pelosi's position on abortion, but no photos have been allowed to be released by the Vatican. It seems the Vatican has no interest in being a photo-shoot for a "Catholic" politician who won't listen to the teachings of her Church. To the pope I say "Good for you!"

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Are You Smarter Than a 7th Grader?

Lia is a 12-year-old 7th grader in Toronto Canada.  She competed in a speech contest this week and her speech has made a few people pretty upset.

Lia decided to speak about abortion and the rights of a fetus.  Several teachers asked her not to, her mother tried to find her something else to talk about, and the school told her that if she persisted in using this topic she would be disqualified.

I guess that didn’t bother her too much.  She went ahead with the speech.  She was disqualified but the judges reversed their position under pressure from the student body and Lia has wound up winning the contest.  She will be sharing it again today in a regional competition.

I say kudos to you, Lia!  I’ve put a “rehearsal” of her speech below.  This video is on YouTube and has over 165,000 views so far.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Contraception Myth #39: Only Catholics condemn contraception

I was once asked by a Protestant friend of mine why Catholics reject contraception. He said “it’s the least defensible position of the Catholic Church.” I’ve come to find that it’s one of our most defensible; but when I looked into it, I found out that the Catholic Church wasn’t always alone in condemning contraception.

That may be true today, but it wasn’t until the 1960’s that the last Protestant denominations bowed to public pressure to allow contraception. Before 1930 no Protestant denomination allowed contraception. None, not even one. All Christians were united against it and condemned it as a moral evil. This was taught and practiced by Christians all the way back to the beginning of Christianity. And, if you’re interested, Christianity’s Jewish ancestors condemned it too!

Granted contraception wasn’t always as sophisticated as it is now; but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. Read Genesis 38:9-10 to read about Onan’s experiment with contraception and what God did to him. Contraception has been around as long as people wanted to separate sex from creating babies.

In 1930, the Anglican Church allowed for contraception in the rare case that a women’s health would be at risk if she were to get pregnant. Newspapers were filled with irate Christians, Catholic and Protestant, who denounced this evil. But Pandora’s Box was opened and one after another each and every Protestant denomination fell to a social convention. In thirty years, Protestantism turned its back on a tradition as older than Christianity itself.

The next time a non-Catholic Christian asks you why Catholics don’t allow contraception, ask why their faith does. Ask why their faith walked away from tradition in the name of convenience. Protestants accept contraception today for social reasons. Catholics reject it today, as all Christians did before, for moral reasons.

Let me know your thoughts! Post a comment and share what you think of contraception and Church teaching.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Why do Catholics reject Sola Scriptura? #2

This topic was addressed a while ago in another post (hence the #2 in the title). I’d like to revisit Sola Scriptura today to share some more thoughts on it. Specifically, I’d like to look at where it came from in history.

Ironically, Sola Scriptura, which is Latin for “Bible alone” or “Scripture alone”, is often used to decry Catholic beliefs not explicitly in the Bible as “invented”. The basic premise is that if a teaching, like purgatory, isn’t explicitly stated in the Bible, then it must have been invented by man, and not the Holy Spirit. Sola Scriptura requires that all Christian teachings be found in the Bible for them to be true.

I say this is ironic because Sola Scriptura itself is a man-made, invented doctrine that never existed until Martin Luther in the early 1500’s. Even then, it wasn’t “inspired” so much as it was all he had left after he rejected the Catholic Church. Let’s do a quick timeline:

  • 33 AD: Jesus is crucified
  • 33 AD: Oral tradition begins
  • 40’s – 90’s AD: Over 250 books, letters, etc are written by the apostles and others about Jesus and Christianity
  • Late 300’s AD: 27 writings from the above 250+ are selected for the canon of the New Testament by the Catholic bishops
  • 1517: Martin Luther posts the 95 Thesis

What’s interesting about the above timeline is that oral tradition came before the Bible by over three hundred years. Before 398, when the Catholic Church finally settled the canon of the New Testament, do you think Christians used the Bible alone? That would’ve been hard, considering there was no Bible as we know it today.

The question becomes: Why did Luther propose Sola Scriptura in the first place? The above timeline shows that he didn’t do it because that’s how it was done in the beginning. Look at Acts 15 for an example of how the early church handled disputes; they held a council with Peter at the head; they did not open their Bibles and debate from there.

Luther came up with Sola Scriptura because he had no other choice. Both the Jewish tradition and Catholicism are built on a, so to say, three-legged stool. In the Jewish tradition there was the Torah (scripture), the Law of Moses (oral tradition), and the prophets (teaching authority). Catholicism has the Bible (written tradition), oral tradition, and the Magisterium (teaching authority). Luther rejected the Catholic Church’s teaching authority and oral traditions. What’s he left with? Scripture alone, or Sola Scriptura.

What’s odd to me is that Sola Scriptura only makes sense if you assume Catholic oral tradition and teaching authority are in error. Yet people try to use it to disprove Catholic oral tradition and teaching authority. This is an example of a Self Fulfilling Prophesy. Sola Scriptura must be an effect of Catholic error. Therefore, it can’t also be a cause of Catholic error.

There’s no scriptural basis for Sola Scriptura. There’s no historical basis for Sola Scriptura. If you’re looking for a man-made, invented tradition, look no farther than Sola Scriptura. Please stop using it to try to disprove Catholicism.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bible Myth #68: The Bible alone is all anyone needs

If that were true, why does the Bible say in 1 Tim 3:15 that the Church (not the Bible) is the pillar and foundation of truth?

If that were true, why didn’t the books in the New Testament get picked until 400 AD (by Catholic bishops, no less)?

If that were true, why are there so many conflicting Protestant beliefs when there’s only one Bible and one Spirit supposedly interpreting it (and why do they not agree with the original Christian Church on so many points)?

If that were true, why did Jesus come when only one person in ten could read? Seems odd to give us a book for ten percent of the population.

If that were true, why didn’t Jesus himself write anything?

The Bible is critical to our salvation. It’s absolutely necessary and it’s irreplaceable. But it’s not everything we need. We also need the living authority of the Church to interpret and fully benefit from the Bible (called Tradition). Without this authority (on earth) then everyone becomes their own, well, pope.

Martin Luther wrote after the Reformation (and after the Lutherans split into Calvinists and so on and so forth) that “There are as many theologies as there are heads.” What a curious thing for Martin Luther to say. It seems he didn’t want everyone to follow their own interpretation of the Bible; he wanted them to follow his interpretation!

The Bible alone is like the Constitution alone. If each of us could interpret the US Constitution on our own, we would have anarchy. What do we have? An authoritative body (Supreme Court) to interpret the document. The Supreme Court interprets the Constitution to prevent everyone from abusing it and interpreting it for their own gain.

The Church is the same way. The Church, according to the Bible, is the “Pillar and Foundation of truth”. Which Church? The original Church that determined the tradition that determined the books in the Bible. Which Church is that?

The Catholic Church.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Why do Catholics think Peter was the first pope?

Some folks think that Peter was picked by the Catholic Church long after his death to be the one who was the “first” pope. They figure this whole pope thing is all made up anyway and this is just more proof. After all, Paul was a great speaker and traveler, why wasn’t he the first pope? James was well loved and was the bishop of Jerusalem, who better to be the head of the early church than James? Why was Peter supposedly the first pope?

Because Jesus said so. In Mathew 16:18 Jesus said he’d build his Church upon Peter. That’s not a statement to be taken lightly. Jesus also said he’d give him the keys and whatever he binds will be bound in heaven. The keys are a throwback to Isaiah 22:19-23 where King David is given a royal steward who has keys and who also can open and no one will shut.

The royal steward is the one who rules while the king is away. When David went to war, or on diplomatic missions then the royal steward made all the decisions for the kingdom.

At the Ascension, Jesus left earth in his physical form. By doing so, he passed authority to make decisions to his royal steward, Peter.

You can see. Peter was the first pope because Jesus told him to be.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Why do Catholics think priests can do things in persona Christi?

Ok, now I know Catholics are crazy, pagan, idolaters. Did you know this teaching of in persona Christi means that a priest, a sinful man, can do things just like Christ did? Catholics actually believe that when a priest is ordained they pretty much become a little Jesus that can go around doing what Jesus did!

No we don’t believe priests are a “little Jesus”, but we sure do believe they can act in his person. How else would the sacraments be possible? Mere humans can’t turn bread & wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ; but Jesus can. Mere humans can’t forgive sins; but Jesus can. Mere humans can’t baptize with the Holy Spirit; but Jesus can.

Here’s what the Catechism says about in persona Christi. It’s well worth the read since this is a huge part of the priesthood and the belief of Catholics. A lot of what we hold dear hinges on this teaching.

In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis.

It is the same priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person his minister truly represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself (virtute ac persona ipsius Christi).
Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ. (1548 CCC)

Here’s the idea: Jesus Christ is the one high priest prefigured in the Old Testament XXX. As the high priest, Jesus is the authority behind all other, earthly priests. The priests of the Old Testament were figures of Christ. They performed bloody sacrifices (with animals) to atone for the people’s sins. They had to do this day after day after day because their sacrifices were a figure, a picture, or a symbol, of Christ’s perfect sacrifice.

Priests today act in the person of Christ, in persona Christi, so they participate in the very acts of Jesus. Ok, stay with me here. Priests today do not re-do what Christ did. We do not re-sacrifice him. During the Eucharist we participate in the sacrifice of Christ. We are witnessing the crucifixion of Christ, not a new one, the original, each time we go to Mass. The priest stands in the person of Christ, and Christ works the sacrament through the earthly priest.

Other sacraments work the same way. When a priest hears confession and says the words of absolution (and some amazing words they are) it is not the man speaking the words, it is the man speaking in the person of Christ who has just forgiven the sins. A priest may be a wonderful fellow, but he can’t forgive sins on his own; just like I can’t.

Think of a priest as Jesus’ stunt double; who stands in for Jesus when a sacrament is being bestowed. We see a man, we hear a man’s voice, but it is Jesus who works.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Under the Weather

(Mandan, ND) I cannot write today...I'm under the weather! Runny nose and all! I'm going to take a nap!

Until Tomorrow...If I feel better!

Why do Catholics promote vain and repetitious prayer?

Catholics just don’t get the Bible, do they? In Matthew 6:7-8 Jesus himself clearly says that vain and repetitious prayers are out! Why babble on and on, over and over like “the pagans”? The fact that Catholics have those repetitious prayers, like the rosary among others, is just a one more thumb in the nose to the very words of Jesus.

I’ve heard this said. Well, ok, it wasn’t this exactly but the sentiment and theme are certainly captured above. The core question is: Why do Catholics have repetitious prayers when the Bible clearly says vain and repetitious prayers are bad?

The answer is that there’s a big difference between “vain and repetitious” and “repetitious”.

Matthew 6 is referring to the pagan practice of repeating a pagan god’s name over and over to get the god to come down and do something for them. The pagan believed they gained power over the god by finding out the god’s name. In case anyone’s confused, Catholic’s don’t do that!

We do, however, repeat prayers for several reasons. One is to assist in meditation. For example, the rosary is a meditation on the life of Christ. Another reason is for familiarity. Repeated prayers are learned. Why repeat the creed over and over? It’s the core of our faith, we should know that thing frontwards and backwards. Why write it out if no one even knows it? Why not repeat it as a renewal of our beliefs? Do you say “I love you” to your bride at the altar and never again? I bet you repeat it; along with other things important to you.

Another reason why we repeat prayers is that Jesus did, and we Catholics are into imitating him. Isn’t it funny when Jesus contradicts the Bible just like Catholics do? I get a kick out of that!

In the garden, Jesus prays three times for the cup to be passed by him. If he had listened to himself, and to 21st century Protestants, he should’ve prayed only once, right? Why repeat himself?

Why did Jesus say, at the Last Supper, to “do this in remembrance of me”? Isn’t he inviting repetition? Why doesn’t he say “do something spontaneous that reminds you of this in remembrance of me”?

And what did Jesus say right after verses 7 and 8? I know what you’re thinking “there you go with that whole context thing you Catholics keep talking about”. Sorry, but I can’t resist!

What he did in verse 9 and following was to immediately recite the Our Father, or Lord’s Prayer. What prayer, through all time, has been repeated more often than the Our Father? If Jesus is condemning repetitious prayers, why did he immediately follow this condemnation by telling us a prayer and asking us to repeat it?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in a comment; we’d be happy to hear your thoughts.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Why do Catholics have a pope?

Did you know that Catholics let some old guy in Rome tell them what to do, how to act, and what to believe and he’s not even in the Bible? The word “pope’ never once appears in the Bible, why is it that the Catholic Church thinks this guy’s more special than anyone else?

I’ve heard the above before, and the sarcastic side of me likes to say “the word ‘pope’ is found right next to ‘alter calls’”. In other words, nope, “pope” isn’t in the Bible. But is the papacy unbiblical? Let’s go to the Gospel of Matthew to find out:

"I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." (Mt 16:18-19)

Jesus is going to build a church on a rock and give out some keys. What does that all mean?

One of the biggest misunderstandings about the Bible is that you can take a New Testament reading and understand it all by itself. A person may look at Mt 16:18-19 and say Jesus meant this or that based on the passage alone. Catholics don’t do that.

Catholics approach the Bible with the understanding that all passages in the Bible are inter-related; specifically, that the writers of the New Testament understood the Old Testament. The New fulfills the Old, and the Old foreshadows the New. To understand Mt 16:18-19, let’s look at the Old Testament and see what Jesus is talking about.

Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt." Then Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph's hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put the gold necklace around his neck. He had him ride in his second chariot; and they proclaimed before him, "Bow the knee!" And he set him over all the land of Egypt. (Gen 41:41-43)

Now Isaiah 22:19-23

"I will depose you from your office,
         And I will pull you down from your station.
    "Then it will come about in that day,
         That I will summon My servant)Eliakim the son of Hilkiah,
And I will clothe him with your tunic
         And tie your sash securely about him.
         I will entrust him with your authority,
         And he will become a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.
    "Then I will set the key of the (house of David on his shoulder,
         When he opens no one will shut,
         When he shuts no one will (open.
   "I will drive him like a peg in a firm place,
         And he will become a throne of glory to his father's house.

In the Old Testament passages above we see royal stewards for first Pharos’s and then David’s kingdom. In both passages we see an item (a signet ring & a key) being given to the new steward. What does Jesus give Peter? Oh yeah, keys.

Is it a coincidence that both Isaiah and Matthew reference this whole opening and shutting business? Whatever he opens no one will close and what he closes no one will open. What does this mean? It seems like the decisions of the royal steward are binding. The royal steward has authority given to him by the true king.

In the Hebrew world, kings had stewards. The steward was given the authority (keys) of the king to rule when the king was away.

Jesus is saying in about the most obvious way possible, to Jews of that time anyway, that Peter is to have all authority over the kingdom on earth while Jesus is away. Where is Jesus? He’s in heaven. Where’s Peter? On earth!

Don’t let anyone tell you that because the word “pope” isn’t in the Bible, that the papacy isn’t biblically based. It certainly is.