Thursday, June 25, 2009

Denominations : Is it our fault?

Ever since I started this new journey of faith, which eventually led me to the Roman Catholic Church, I have had the opportunity to talk to many people who cling to various faith traditions.  They have been Baptists, Christian Reformed, Pentecostals, Agnostics, Non-Denominatonals, and of course Catholic.  Some of these experiences have been great, including great conversation and dialogue, while others have not been so fruitful, which have included personal insults and damaged potential relationships.  Even though some of the experiences have been less than optimal, I am still very interested in continuing conversation with my Non-Catholic and even Non-Christian brothers and sisters, because I believe that Truth is completely worth it.

Not too long ago, I had a very good conversation with my friend who was raised Baptist.  He has been with me through a great deal of my experience in joining the Catholic Church.  He is not Catholic, but like me, loves to discuss things of God.  During this discussion, which was a very polite exchange of ideas, we started to discuss the Protestant Reformation, and the divisions that it has caused throughout the Body of Christ - which is His Church.  He made the argument that the reason why we are in the predicament that we are in (with 30,000 different denominations) is because of the Catholic Church.  He stressed that the state of the Church was horrible, and it is going to be up to the Catholic Church and Catholics to fix it.

There is no doubt that during the time of the Protestant Reformation, the state of affairs of the Church were less than desirable.  At the same time, is it really a logical stance to think that it is up to Catholics to fix the mess that we are in?  Immediately, I went on the defensive and suggested that Protestants and Catholics are going to have to work together if we are ever going to restore the Church to the unified body that it was intended to be.  We should not put aside our differences, but work through them one by one and at least come to a better understanding of each other and why we believe what we believe.

However, later on, I reflected more on what my friend said.  I think that he has a point.  In many ways, it is going to be up to Catholics in order to fix the divisions that exist among the Christian Community.  Is it solely our responsibility?  No, but a great deal of it will and does fall on our shoulders.  Thinking back to the Early Church, what was it that caused the conversion of a whole pagan empire to Christianity?  It was the very witness of the Christians who sang songs and hymns while being burned at the stake or devoured by lions.  The many spectators may have thought that the Christians were crazy, but they did not doubt that the Christians believed exactly what they said they believed.  I wish that the world could look at us Catholics and say the same thing today.

After listening to one of Fr. John Riccardo's talks, he mentioned a Catholic study that was taken by Georgetown University.  In this study, there are many statistics regarding Catholics and what they really believe.  Here are just some of the unfortunate statistics:

- 23% of Catholics attend Mass on a weekly basis
- Of those asked why they missed Mass at least once in the past 6 months, most reported that it was due to their busy schedule or lack of time
- Of the Catholics who attend Mass on a weekly basis, 39% of us go to confession less than once a year, if  ever

If we truly believed that Christ is Lord and Savior, and that we can go and meet Him every Sunday, heck every day for that matter, why don't we?  If we truly believed that through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God will forgive our sins, why don't we go?  What kind of a witness are we being to our Non-Catholic and / or Non-Christian brothers and sisters?  As Catholics, do we truly carry a heavier load of responsibility to heal the divisions that exist within the Church?


Friday, June 19, 2009

Heresy or Not....

Do you know what a Heresy is? Would you be able to recognize one if you saw it? Well okay, let's put it to the test....

Is the following statement heretical, or not?

"God became man so that man may become a god"

If you believe it is or is not a heresy, please explain why.

God bless...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why Confession is Better Than Counseling...

Reason #1 - Much better Rates
Reason #2 - The Priest doesn't want to see you again
...taken from Fr. John Riccardo

Friday, June 12, 2009

Journey Home - Part 2 - Christian Maturity

Well this post is long overdue.  It is a continuation of my journey home story that I started with Journey Home - Part 1 - Choosing a Tradition.

After high school, I decided to attend Aquinas College in Grand Rapids MI.  Looking back now, it was one of the best decisions of my life, and I recognize the hand of God at work there.  I was pretty immature when I started college.  Most people would have looked at me and thought that I was mature, and in some ways, I was.  But in the most important way - my Christian and spirtual life - I had a lot of growing up to do.

Even though I had attended all of the Christian schools and had all of those religion classes, my faith life was very weak.  I knew a lot about God and I knew Scripture very well, however my life did not reflect that  knowledge.  My decisions and my behavior and the things that I got into would have made people wonder if I knew Christ at all.  Don't get me wrong, if you would have seen me or if you would have known me then, you would not have been able to tell the sinful life that I was living, but I definitely had things that I had to yet overcome.

It was not until my Sophmore year of college that things started to turn around for me.  My new roommate, Xaviar, had a big impression on my life.  Xaviar was truly a God fearing man.  I knew that he put God first in his life.  One of the things that he asked me when he first started Aquinas was which church did I go to.  Xaviar, coming from Jamaica by way of New York, was not familiar with the area, and wanted to know where he should go to worship God.  Now at this time, I was not going to church that often.  I may have gone a total of 5 times my freshman year of college, but that was about it.  Trying to be a good role model, him and I started to visit churches in the area, and ended up finding a really good Pentecostal Church that him and I felt comfortable going to.  I stayed a member of Renaissance C.O.G.I.C. until I became Catholic.

Xaviar was not the only person that had a huge influence on my spirtual development in college.  My lovely wife to be, then just my friend, had a great impact as well.  Her and I were literally the best of friends.  I saw her go through relationships and she saw me go through relationships.  She was a cradle-Catholic (meaning born and raised Catholic), but I decided to look past that.  Of course her and I would get into deep theological conversations regarding Scripture Alone and Faith Alone, and unfortunately, I would always win those arguments - which just delayed even further me joining the Catholic Church.  When our relationship became more romantic in nature, I made it clear to her that if we were to ever get married, I would never become a Catholic.  Well, you know what they say..."never say  never".

Without going into too much detail, something happened while I was in college that made me reevaluate how I was living and the decisions that I was making.  This event's outcome would have changed my life forever.  All of the dreams that I had would have had to stay just that - dreams never to be realized.  Is it really just human nature to turn to God especially when you need Him?  If it is human nature or not, I really needed Him, and needless to say, my prayer life increased tremendously.  I prayed for His Mercy - knowing full well I didn't deserve it.  I prayed to completely change my life and the decisions that I was making.  I prayed long and hard for a very long time.  And He decided to give me His Mercy.

From that point on, my relationship with God changed.  I went from being an immature Christian with head knowledge only to a mature Christian living his faith.  I stopped making bad decisions and I put all of my head knowledge to work.  I started to live my faith.  God became a guiding light for me.  Not just someone that I went to when I was in trouble, but someone that I could go to anytime.  To thank him and to apologize for my sins and to seek his forgiveness and mercy.  I did not become perfect, but my attitude about life and how I was going to live it became more of a reflection of the gift of faith that I received from my mother and all of the Christian Religious Education classes that I received.  I knew right from wrong, and at this point, I was going to try harder to do what was right.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Celebrating Justin Martyr

As a nation, we celebrate the lives of many of the heroes of our country.  We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan 19, Lincoln's Birthday on Feb 12, and Washington's Birthday on Feb 22.  This past Monday, was the celebration or Feast Day of St. Justin Martyr, my confirmation saint.

There is no better way that I can think of to celebrate the life and death of this great man than to attend Mass.  On my drive to Mass over lunch, I thought and reflected on the impact that this one man had on my life.  Little did he know, that 1900 years after his death, an African American man in Michigan would be inspired to join the Catholic Church based on many of his writings.

I was first introduced to Justin Martyr through the book, The Four Witnesses.  Being one of the Four Witnesses, the others were Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Ireneaus of Lyons, I had a chance to catch a glimpse of what his life may have been like in the Early Church.  After spending some time reading his letters to the Emperor of Rome regarding the unjust treatment of putting Christians to death, I found that I enjoyed his literary style and his courage.  Not only that, but he took the time to explain to the Emperor exactly what it was that Christians believed and practiced behind closed doors.  To my surprise, it was pretty Catholic. 

In one of his letters, he remarks:

Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honour and love only what is true, declining to follow traditional opinions, if these be worthless. For not only does sound reason direct us to refuse the guidance of those who did or taught anything wrong, but it is incumbent on the lover of truth, by all means, and if death be threatened, even before his own life, to choose to do and say what is right.

And regarding the Eucharist (Holy Communion), he says:

And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.   

And then his comments regarding the Mass....

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.  

Thank you Justin Martyr for your sacrifice and the courage to write these things down in the midst of persecution.  You faith has become my faith.

God bless...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Are Heresies a Blessing....?

There is one verse, above many others, that I think that I struggle with the most:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Since I believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, I have to submit and believe all that is included within it. That does not mean that I / we will not struggle with some of the teachings that it contains. I believe it, yes, but I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it.

What about heresies? Is there an occasion to be happy about heresies that plagued the Church of God? While doing some research on the development of doctrine, I came across two quotes by St. Augustine (born 354 A.D.) that shows that there is an occasion to be happy about heresies:

For while the hot restlessness of heretics stirs questions about many articles of the Catholic faith, the necessity of defending them forces us both to investigate them more accurately, to understand them more clearly, and to proclaim them more earnestly; and the question mooted by an adversary becomes the occasion of instruction. (St. Augustine, City of God Book 16 Ch 2)

Seems as though St. Augustine had the right frame of mind when considering heresies. They are opportunities for instruction - however those opportunities are not just limited to the heretics themselves, but also to the believer.

There have been plenty of heresies throughout the history of the Church. Each one of them has forced the Church to dig deeper and deeper into the teachings of Christ. Using both Scripture and Sacred Tradition (and most importantly, guided by the Holy Spirit into all areas of truth John 16:13), they have formally declared the difference between an article of faith and a departure from that faith. What is in complete alignment of the teachings of faith, and what is outside of it.

Augustine also writes:

For many things lay hid in the Scriptures: and when heretics had been cut off, with questions they troubled the Church of God: then those things were opened which lay hid, and the will of God was understood. (St. Augustine, Exposition of Psalm 55, Chapter 21)

Treasures of Scripture which lay hid, are opened up when challenges that trouble the Church of God come about. I guess that is just like God - to have a good thing, a blessing, come out of an unfortunate heretical situation.

God bless...