Monday, December 29, 2008

A Life Worthy of the Lord

"Lead a life worthy of the Lord," Colossians 1:10

This phrase actually occurs in the midst of Paul listing some of the things he is praying for the Colossian Church. But it catches my attention. How do we live a life worthy of the Lord? Paul goes on:
fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. We live worthy of the Lord when we are bearing the fruit of good works and increasing in the knowledge of God. What does that look like practically?

Good works are primarily concerned with how we help the poor, the oppressed, the stranger, etc. Too many Christians do not give much, if any, of their attention to these things the Church has come to call the corporal works of mercy. Jesus outlines them for us in Matthew 25:
"I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?" And the King will answer them, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me," (Mt. 25:35-40).

Now I must confess that I am weak in this area. I've done these things before, but not with a regularity with which I want to face the judgment. The fact is that there have been too many times when I've turned away from such needs for all kinds of reasons intended to disguise my selfishness and apathy. God have mercy on me! I hope, then, that in the future I will be more quick to respond in the way our Lord calls us.

It's so easy to become jaded and think it's someone else's problem. But God has called us to represent Him. We live a life worthy of Him when we do the kinds of things He would do. And this is no mystery. He has told us what to do so we know what kinds of things He would do.

Our true spiritual condition is measured by the way we treat the person(s) we like the least. If the poor, the sick, or foreigners make us feel uncomfortable, then these are the people God will bring our way to test our true love and devotion to Him. We cannot love God whom we don't see when we are not loving the brother or sister whom we can see.

Secondly, we are living a life worthy of the Lord when we are increasing in the knowledge of God. This refers to prayer, meditation, study, and practice. First we must pray. We must sincerely ask God to help us get to know Him better. Then we must spend some time with Sacred Scripture. This is, after all, His word. He reveals Himself to us through holy writ. What is He saying? This is what we must explore. We must read it and meditate upon it. We must let it sink down deep into our souls. Then, once we have spiritually digested it, we must live it out.

In addition, we must go to Mass. All Catholics are required to attend Mass at least every Lord's Day and Holy Day of Obligation. But a lover of God- someone who is consumed with increasing in the knowledge of God, will go as often as possible, striving for daily attendance. Circumstances prevent that sometimes, but, again, the issue is as much as possilble. Furthermore, we can spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Here we are given the privilege of beholding Jesus face to face in the Holy Eucharist. How many things will He reveal to us about Himself?

In short, what we have before us in this brief verse is a challenge to build up both the outer life and the inner life of our spirituality in Christ. As we are strengthened through an increase in the knowledge of God, we are equipped for bearing fruit in every good work. As we pursue good works, we find we are also increasing in the knowledge of God. Both go together. One without the other will eventually leave us dry and burned out.

Too often I hear people complain that religion does nothing for them. Perhaps it is more true that they have left true religion largely untried. St. Paul speaks to us today to leave our excuses behind and begin today to live a life worthy of our Lord!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Light and Darkness

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.
1 John 1:5

Today is the third day of Christmas and also the feast day for St. John the Evangelist. The line above from St. John's first epistle catches my attention. John summarized the message of Christ by referring to Him as the light. In fact, He is light in so much as there is no darkness in Him at all.

We are not so. Before Christ enters our lives we are darkness and there is no light at all. But what happens when Christ comes in? "
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it," (Jn. 1:5). Light drives out darkness. Does this mean that in a moment we are completely like Christ- with all light and no darkness? Not exactly.

The fact is that darkness still finds little nooks and crannies in our hearts in which to hide. We determine how much light permeates our lives. John continues in his first epistle to tell us something about the true state of our lives. "If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin," (1 Jn. 1:6,7).

We think we are all right as long as we give God His due. That means that we go to church occasionally, pray once in a while, and generally try to live good lives. But that's not really how it works. While we continue to live for our pleasures and pride, ignoring the plight of the poor, and wasting our time and money on that which does not profit, we do not really know God. We still walk in darkness. It is only when we walk in the light as He is in the light that we are truly transformed and set free.

Does this mean we must be perfect to be Christians? No. But it does mean that we are honestly and earnestly striving for that. It means we are following Jesus to the best of our ability today and that we are trusting Him to enable us to do better tomorrow. It means that we will not tolerate for another minute our forays into darkness. We declare war on sin, and we strive to live virtuously through the strength provided by our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is the part that trips up many. They want Christ for the majority of their lives; for the parts that people see; for the parts that will make their lives feel better. But in the inner recesses of their hearts they do not always want to surrender all. They like the light, but they still want to cling to a little of their darkness. It' s familiar. It's comfortable. It's even desirable. But it's still darkness and they are allowing it to shut out the light.

John is much more concrete. He does not allow himself, or his readers, to live with the ambiguities so familiar to most of us. We either walk in the light, or we walk in the dark. There is nothing in the middle. According to John, it's all or nothing. We either surrender all to Christ, or we do not surrender at all. Our Lord is not content with half-hearted obedience. He will not condescend to the numerous concessions we are demanding. He withheld nothing from us when He gave Himself for our sins, and He will not be content with any less of a commitment on our part.

The moment we recognize a bit of darkness in our lives, He is calling us to follow Him into the light. As we yield to Him, however imperfectly, He leads us in the path of discipleship; the path of eternal life. But if we choose to cling to our darkness while mocking Him with partial worship, we have stepped over into the road of darkness which leads to death.

Please do not be deceived. Things really are that concrete. It is we who make up all the variables along the way to justify our sin. Christ will have none of it.

St. John died in old age a very broken man in body, but very rich and strong in the Spirit. He was known as the beloved disciple. He was closer to Jesus than any other man on earth. He knows whereof he speaks and we would do well to heed his words to us today. I close with this, again from St. John:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,
(1 Jn. 1:8,9)

Friday, December 26, 2008

St. Stephen and Ecumenism

"You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit."
Acts 7:51

Today is the second day of Christmas. It is also the feast day for St. Stephen. St. Stephen was the first martyr. He was killed for his bold and uncompromising testimony before the Jews to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The quote above was part of his concluding statement. It's no wonder they stoned him. One wonders if St. Stephen would have survived this incident if he had been schooled in the modern ecumenical language.

Obviously to say something so inflammatory is going to result in a very negative response. How could he have hoped for something productive with language like that? Surely we have an example here of someone filled with zeal, but lacking in knowledge; or so the modern ecumenists would have us believe. Perhaps we should re-examine the issue. This is Scripture after all. What can we learn here?

Stephen was one of the first deacons selected to meet the growing issue of ministry to the poor. He is first presented to us as "
a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit," (Acts 6:5). He is further described as "full of grace and power," (Acts 6:8), and it was said of his opponents that "they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke," (Acts 6:10). As he began this speech Luke tells us: "And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel," (Acts 6:15). As they were about to stone him, Luke says, "But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God," (Acts 7:55). Stephen died praying for his persecutors.

All of this is reminiscent of what Jesus said when He taught His disciples, "You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you," (Mt. 10:18-20). Luke is telling us that Stephen's testimony before the Jewish leaders was being directed by the Holy Spirit. If that's true, then what should we think of our modern ecumenical approach to religious dialog?

I will readily admit that this does not need to necessarily be an either/or choice. The Spirit may well lead in different ways in different circumstances. We have a number of instances in Scripture where the Spirit directed in entirely opposite directions based on the particular circumstances of the moment. Think about how the Israelites were instructed to utterly wipe out every man, woman, and child of their enemies, but how we were instructed to bear patiently and peacefully with the enemies of the Church. God is not restricted. He is not in a box. In His wisdom, He directs as He knows best.

Having said that, however, one wonders if we are seeing the whole picture, or hearing the Spirit as clearly as we say. It is one thing to seek areas of agreement and begin conversation based on our common ground. It is another thing to either implicitly, or explicitly, state that all religions are on an equal footing before God.

There are differences between Christians and Jews, or Christians and Muslims, or Christians and anyone else. Jesus is unique. He alone is the Son of God, and He alone is the way of salvation (Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12). Denying or downplaying that fact is not an act of love. It is an act of cowardice, and it's result is the potential damnation of those who will never come to the full knowledge of truth because we have hidden it from them.

I am not advocating for the Church to forsake many of its ecumenical breakthroughs. I would not see us go backward in our efforts to reach our neighbors. But I am concerned that many who think they are advancing are actually becoming sidetracked into no longer representing the Gospel with which we were entrusted. Instead, let us take a look at St. Stephen.

St. Stephen was very clear in his proclamation of the Gospel. His opponents understood him well. His death was the seed of the growth of the Church. For we are told that in the crowd that day was a young rising star of Judaism by the name of Saul of Tarsus. This man would eventually have his own encounter with Christ and be forever after known as St. Paul.

With St. Stephen's example in mind, I would like to urge all those involved in inter-religious efforts to think first in terms of truth, the Gospel, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Let us not fear to anger or aggravate those who refuse our teachings. Only let us be clear as to what our teachings are. Through prayer and the Holy Spirit, I believe we will be much more effective than we are when we rely on our own wisdom and understanding.

I don't believe St. Stephen's death was a foolish, vain effort. Therefore I believe he has much to teach us about obedience to God and effective evangelism. A clear, conviction-filled message will go so much further than years of ecumenical efforts have. Let us return to the biblical model and trust the same Spirit who energised St. Stephen to do even greater things through His Church today.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sanctified Extravagance

For our nearly 13 years of parenthood, my wife and I have rarely splurged on something for either of our kids. This has largely been due to the fact that we simply couldn't afford it. But it's also because we sincerely seek to live a simple lifestyle. We don't want our life to be made up of things for a man's life does not consist of his possessions (Lu. 12:15). In addition, we want our children to learn the virtue of contentment and not get caught up in the covetous culture that abounds in our society. All of this made it quite a departure from our normal practice when we made the decision to get our children a big ticket item this Christmas.

I can't say exactly why I wanted to do it. I just did. My wife did too. We were both thinking the same thing when we finally talked about it. Finding the gift was a problem because they are in great demand and hard to find. But we finally did find one. Was it providence, the grace of God?

The surprise and joy of our kids upon opening this gift made it all worth it. And that is why we did it. We don't spoil our kids. I hope I'm right in saying that they understand the difference between receiving nice things as an act of love and expecting nice things because that's what will keep them happy. We did the former, not the latter.

Love doesn't need a reason to give. True love looks for opportunities to give, and to give extravagantly. Love gives even when it can't afford to; even when it "hurts". One can give without loving, but one cannot love without giving.

I began to realize that some of my efforts at frugality were really selfishness in disguise. Love could never stand to hoard mere money at the expense of the opportunity to tangibly express itself to the beloved. This is not to say we should be irresponsible spendthrifts, or to defend the repugnant materialism of our society. It is simply to say that love gives whenever it has opportunity.

I realize in all of this that it is exactly what we celebrate on this Day. Christmas is about sanctified extravagance. Because God loves us so much, He gave extravagantly. He gave all He could. He gave well beyond what He could afford. He was not cautious in His gift. He was extravagant. He gave it all. The gift of His Son tells us continually of the immensity of His love.

Christmas foreshadows Good Friday. Our Lord loved us so much that He gave all He had. He gave His own life so we could have life. There was no limit to His extravagance. Love cannot be contained.

Again, I am not promoting materialism. There are a lot of ways to give. Some of them involve money. To have the means of blessing those we love and to refuse to do so is simply to turn our backs on love. The real issue is that we love our money more than the people in our lives. When we don't have the means, we demonstrate extravagant love in other ways; by using our time and our talents to bless those whom we love. Either way, love continues to find its rightful expression in the extravagant giving.

This Christmas I am brought to see the great love of our God by re-discovering the natural expression of love in my own life. I have chosen to be extravagant in a particular manner to bless my children. The gift is not the blessing. The message of love it conveys is. However, as I look at God's gift, both gift and giver are the blessing.

I serve a God of sanctified extravagance and I want to imitate this action. May God bless us all with such sanctified extravagance this Christmas and always.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Holy Advent

I haven't posted since Advent began. That has more to do with less access to a computer than anything else.

Not too long ago my wife and I decided that we really didn't need internet access in our home. We both are able to get on the internet from work. Furthermore, we have a public library where can go to surf the web. So why pay for it? More importantly, why spend the extra time? This has been one of the ways we are trying to simplify our lives. Another is that we got rid of our cable television. Now we still have videos and DVD's that we watch. But we don't have to put up with the undesirable elements of television, we don't have the incessant noise, and we don't have to pay for it.

This is part of what Advent is all about. It's about re-evaluating the things that are cluttering up our lives. It's a time to re-think what's really important. We are, after all, to be preparing for the coming of the Lord.

One word that has stood out to me this Advent season is the word "holy". To be holy is to be the person God created us to be. It is to be most fully human. It is to be like Jesus. Towards this end, I have been reading a book called "Rediscovering Catholicism" by Matthew Kelly. In the book, he refers to the idea of becoming the best version of yourself. That's holiness. He takes some time to talk about some of the saints who have left us great examples. How did they attain such holiness? Two things, as noted by Kelly. First, they had a clearly defined goal they wanted to attain. Second, they established good habits for accomplishing the goal.

So I want to be holy. How will I attain it? It's a process, but I think I am making some progress. At least I hope so. I am in the midst of re-evaluating what I do every day. What things am I doing that will help me attain this goal? What things are keeping me from it? What will help? What will hinder? With these questions in mind, I am able to develop better habits. With better habits, I hope to become more holy; more in keeping with what God has designed for me.

We are now on the precipice of Christmas. Excitement and anticipation fill the air. While I look forward to a lot of the things that most people do, I am also looking forward to the day when our Lord returns. Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of the Lord. We do this liturgically to prepare to celebrate Christmas. We do this practically to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

Come, Lord Jesus! Come!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent Reflections

I have enjoyed Advent for many years now. Even before I was Catholic, I realized that Advent presented the primary opportunity to prepare for Christmas and counter all the merchandising hoopla so prevalent during this time of the year.

Advent prepares us for the coming of the Lord. We prepare to remember His first coming at Christmas. We also prepare for His second coming in power and glory. We do not know when He will return. But Advent reminds us that we must always be ready. We must always be prepared.

I love Advent for this reason. It calls me from the hustle and bustle of modern life to remember that I am living for something much more. My home is in heaven. The love of my life is my Lord. Yet I can get so caught up in the distractions of this life. Advent calls me back. It helps me re-adjust my perspective.

There are two words that have my attention this Advent: focus, and holiness. The two naturally go together, for we are called to focus on living holy lives.

I am easily distracted. Any number of skirmishes are vying for my attention. There's anxiety over the economy and the future. There are any number of concerns about the children. There is an endless array of issues at work. I can get caught up in any number of them, or all of them together. Or, I can lay them all aside, seeing them for what they are: distractions. Then I must regain my focus. These other things are important, but not nearly as much as the focus I must have on our Lord Jesus Christ.

Then there's holiness. What do I mean by that? I mean an ongoing conversion to become more like my Lord, Jesus Christ. How do I attain it? Through prayer and the Sacraments. Both of these need to be much more than mere ceremonies. When I begin to just go through the motions, I lose the focus necessary to derive the grace provided through these means. I need to wait in God's presence and breathe in the air of heaven. I need to let Him fill me. Prayer needs to become something I do as natural as breathing.

The Sacraments offer unique encounters with Christ. He is fully present in the Eucharist. As I receive Him, I am truly transformed. In Reconciliation I am reminded again that He has not come to condemn me. He has come to forgive. He has come to show mercy, and love. I must then do likewise.

These are some of my thoughts as I embark on yet another journey into Advent. And this brings me to one last word: longing. I find that the more I draw near to Him, the more I am longing for the day of His return to deliver me from this earthly pilgrimage; this temporary exile from my true homeland.

May the Lord grant us all time to rest, reflect, and recall the reason for our being. In these times let us find Him close at hand. May all of you have a wonderfully holy Advent season!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Communion of the Saints For Protestants

I am reading a book right now called "True Devotion to Mary" by St. Louis De Montfort. This is a far cry from anything I would have read in my Protestant days. If Catholics are known for devotion to Mary, this book takes it to all new levels. In fact, among Catholics, this is known as the text for true Marian devotion. But I must confess that my Protestant upbringing still keeps me questioning it all.

When I was a Protestant, I had my favorite preachers. Leonard Ravenhill had more effect on me than anyone else through his books. Reading them at about 16 years of age revolutionized my life. He introduced me to many other great preachers through the ages. Among my favorites were Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley, to name a few. I would read about their lives, do all I could to imitate their devotional practices, and strive to be a man of God like they were. If I could have asked them for help, advice, or their prayers, I would have. If I had the opportunity to sit at their feet and drink deeply from their teaching, I would have. And what do I recognize that as today? The Communion of the Saints.

The only essential difference between what I experienced with those men as a Protestant and what I now believe as a Catholic is that I now believe that death does not separate us from our communion with one another. As today's Gospel points out: God is God of the living, not the dead (Mt. 22:32). So those who die, continue to live in the presence of God. Those who have attained heaven are even more alive than we are here on earth. They hear our prayers and intercede on our behalf so we may eventually join them.

But there's more. Communion with the Saints is more than sentimental expression, or even an imitation of their virtues. It is what the name implies: communion- fellowship. We have the opportunity to get to know these Saints, just like knowing fellow believers here on earth. And what I am beginning to realize is that God has so constituted the Church that there can be no true devotion to God without having a devotion to others as well. This is what is behind the injunction to not forsake the assembling of yourselves together (Heb. 10:25). It is only as we are in communion with the Church that we can truly know God.

God has provided us with many examples in our lives who are worthy of imitation. He expects us to seek out mentors in our spiritual lives so that we can truly make progress. Otherwise, we devolve into our own religion. We worship a god of our own making and observe a spirituality larrgely of our own creation. It is only as we are in communion with others that we are protected from such. We follow them as they follow Christ. Catholics would refer to this as devotion. Protestants observe the principles but refer to it by other names.

With all of this in mind, Marian devotion is making a lot more sense to me. She alone is immaculate among all of God's creation. She is the perfect disciple of our Lord. Her words ring true through the ages- "Whatever He tells you, do it," (Jn. 2:5). Her purpose is not to draw attention to herself, but to our Lord. It is to direct us to the most complete union with Him. We follow her as she follows Christ. We devote ourselves to her because it really is one and the same as devoting ourselves to Him.

Now some may object saying we can go straight to God. We do not need any intermediaries. Strictly speaking, that is true. But practically speaking, it is not. For we all follow someone other than God, even if it's just ourselves. By subscribing to a devotion to a Saint, we find ourselves being mentored and brought beyond ourselves. We find ourselves drawn to God and we discover that there are many ways in which He is wholly unlike anything we would have imagined on our own.

So I see that devotion to the Saints, and especially devotion to the Blessed Mother, pleases God, and that is as it should be. I find myself more drawn to them because I am discovering there is no difference between that and devotion to our Lord.

I once longed to meet the great preachers of Protestantism. My longing was so intense, it truly was devotion to those individuals. And they led me to God. But now I continue my journey looking to the Saints of the Church, and most prominently to the Blessed Mother. And really, I am simply continuing in a path that I have been walking for many years.

"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us that we may become worthy of the promises of Christ!"


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Some Advice For the Republicans

In these days after the election, the Republicans are still licking their collective wounds and the Democrats are still in the euphoria of their honeymoon. The question that the Republicans are asking, and many along with them, is what went wrong? What could have been done differently.

While there can be no doubt that the economy figured big in the election, as it always does, I think there are other issues needing examination as well. Foremost among those issues would be the attempt to move the Republican Party to the left, especially on moral issues such as abortion and gay rights.

George W. Bush won both his terms largely due to the support of socially conservative voters. They voted for him because they believed he would do something to stem the tide of abortion and gay rights. Bush presented himself to his constituency as a stongly pro-life, pro-family candidate.

However, the Republicans did very little to deliver on what they promised. After the mid-term elections of 2002, the Republicans gained a majority in both houses of congress. In addition, Bush appointed two members to the Supreme Court in John Roberts and Samuel Alito, both known as conservative judges. Yet, with all this in their favor, the Republicans did nothing to advance legislation aimed at curbing abortion, or even outright overturning the reprehensible decision of Roe vs. Wade. Democrats with that kind of an opportunity would not have thought twice about it. Why did our Republican representatives drop the ball?

After the recent election it would appear that the Republicans are embarrased about holding to a position that has won them elections in the past. They would rather try to become more moderate. Post election pundits are strongly suggesting that the Republicans abandon their stands on these things and focus more on the economy. What they seem to be missing is that these stands were the reasons they won before. Without them, they will fare even more poorly than they did in this election.

If the Republicans won't support the many Americans who value life and family, then we will go elsewhere to find our representation. That leaves the Republicans without the conservatives they once looked to as their bread and butter and trying to gain people who have been traditionally Democrats. Or, they could wake up to what has brought them this far and they could return to representing the people who have typically supported them.

My feeling is that the Republicans have one more shot to get this right. After that, I'm out, and I'm sure I am not alone!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And Now A Word About Our Next President

Ah, life is settling down now that the election is over. My phone is somewhat silent as I am not being called by machines to tell me who to vote for, or not vote for, as the case may be. And in the aftermath of it all what do we learn?

First of all, I don't think there are any real surprises. President- Elect Obama won the election because people were more enamored with his view of change than anything that John McCain put forth. The question is, what will Barack Obama's presidency look like?

I must confess that I have mixed feelings as we are about to enter another era in our nation's history. We now have the first African-American President. I have to say I am thrilled about that because it indicates that, as a nation, we have taken some serious steps beyond the racism that has plagued us most of our history. Within 40 years we have seen civil rights move from equal access to public places to the White House. I am thankful to see this progress and pray that it will continue.

However, the man, Barack Obama, leaves me feeling apprehensive, most importantly because of his stand against life and family issues. I dread the passage of the Freedom of Choice Act. It will mean the death of countless more babies. It will mean the violation of countless more young and poor girls who think this is a solution when, indeed, it is really creating more problems. It will mean the further erosion of our sense of morality, decency, or even sanity, as we enact crazier laws to further immorality and injustice.

I hope and pray that in these next several days our President-Elect will think soberly, and even prayerfully, about these issues. If he truly wants to be a man of change, then I hope he will find his way to the moral high ground and do what is right rather than what is expedient, come what may.

Let us all join together in praying for this man, for his family, for their safety, for wisdom, for courage, and for a clear moral direction.

Friday, October 24, 2008

One Issue

In these days leading up to our Presidential Election, the candidates are fighting furiously to make their last pitches and attempt to woo the voters who have yet to make up their minds. In Christian circles a lot of rhetoric has flown around regarding abortion and other life issues. The bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States have come out boldly to say that there is really one defining issue that overrides all others- life.

If the right to life is not protected at every level from conception to natural death, it becomes foolish to speak of any other rights. The economy, health care, or the war in Iraq dwindle in comparison to whether or not certain people within society should be allowed to even live. Let me illustrate.

Suppose we had someone running for President who had an ingenious program to cure the ills of the economy, health care, and the war, but this person was unashamedly for eliminating approximately 1.4 million African-Americans within the first year of his presidency. Would we think that it's just one issue and we shouldn't be one issue voters? Of course not! There would be outrage- as there should be. We would see it for what it is- bigoted, discriminatory, hateful, and abominable. Substitute any minority or grouping you like and the result is the same. But for some unfathomable reason, when that group is unborn children, it doesn't seem to be so serious. The fact of the matter is that if a candidate for President wanted to eliminate 1.4 million whales or bald eagles the country would be in an uproar.

How did we get to this place where we value everyone and everything more than the most innocent and defenseless among us? Is it because they don't vote? Is it because they don't spend money on campaigns? Just what is it that has reduced us to such an inhuman standard?

While I cannot expect the sinful element of the world to understand these things, it should be obvious to those of us who hold to the Faith of Jesus Christ. So it is to you I plead that you will not see the issue of life as one issue among many, but simply as the one issue. Everything else pales in comparison. I hope and I pray that you will be faithful to the teaching of our Lord who come to save life, not destroy it. In doing so, I hope that you will vote that life may be preserved.

Are we one issue voters? Perhaps. But in thinking about it, is there really any other issue?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Last Things

I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting

The two last tenets of the Creed deal with the last things. That is, they are about death, judgment, and eternity.

"The resurrection" in this phrase does not deal directly with the resurrection of our Lord. It is about our own resurrection. Our resurrection will occur because Christ has already been raised. As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. We will all die. But we also all be raised. This resurrection will occur when our Lord returns to judge the living and the dead. When we are raised we will be judged. Those who have done good will receive the resurrection to eternal life, but those who have done evil will receive the resurrection to eternal torment (see Jn. 5:28,29).

There is a teaching that those who are Christians will not be judged for their works since they are saved by faith. This is not entirely true. Jesus said we will be judged by our works and so did Paul. In fact, virtually every passage of Scripture dealing with judgment says we will be judged by our works. However, what is necessary to understand is that our works must flow from faith. We are not saved because of what we have done, but because of what Christ has done. If we truly believe that we will do good works in obedience and gratitude to our Lord. As James says, faith without works is dead.

If we remain true to Christ until death we have His promise of eternal life. We believe that we will be with Him forever. This is eternal life, to know God (Jn. 17:3). To be with Him forever is eternal life. This is the goal of our faith. It is the end for which we strive daily in our warfare against sin. It is why we struggle to indeed be holy as our Lord is holy.

No one knows the day or the hour in which our Lord will return. So we must live each day, indeed each moment, as if it is our last. We must always have an eye on eternity and live with kingdom values in view.

This is our Faith. May all who read these posts be brought near to our God to receive His love and mercy in our time of need!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Forgiveness of Sins

I believe in the forgiveness of sins

This the core of the Gospel- the good news. God has sent His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to give His life for us that we could be forgiven and reconciled to Him. This is what makes it good news. It's not that we're sinners deserving God's wrath. It's not that we're going to hell. That's not good news. Rather it is that while those things would have been true were it not for Christ, now we can be forgiven and restored.

In the Nicene Creed this is broadened to be, "I believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." Baptism is important. It is not merely a ceremony or a sentiment. It is a sacrament. That is to say it is something tangible that God uses to communicate His grace to us. Christ has died and risen again. Whoever believes in Him will receive the forgiveness of sins. Baptism is the means God has provided to complete that transaction.

When our Lord Himself received baptism from John, He blessed the water by His presence. Baptism did not affect Jesus, rather He affected baptism. In doing so He provided for water to be the means by which new birth could take place. Thus He says, Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (Jn. 3:5).

When we are baptized, we enter into Christ's death and resurrection. It is as if we step out of time for that moment and find ourselves placed into Christ at the moment of His death and resurrection. Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Ro. 6:3,4).

Baptism washes away all sin. We are completely clean, even cleaner than when we were born, for baptism also washes original sin with which we were born. For those who receive baptism later in life, there is the joy of knowing that they are indeed clean. They have been forgiven. What a joy! What peace this brings to our life.

We also believe that infants can receive baptism. That is because our Lord told us to let the little children come to Me and do not forbid them (Mt. 19:14). Baptism of infants is for Christians. It is done with the idea that the parents will raise the child in the Faith so the child will come to personal belief at the appropriate age. In the Scriptures we are told of a number of occasions when entire households were baptized. This would include any children of any age.

But what if we sin after baptism? Is there no hope? There is! Christ has also given us the sacrament of reconciliation. People commonly refer to this as Confession. It is a wonderful time when we go to unburden our souls. The priest serves in the place of Christ who is always ready to grant forgiveness. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (1 Jn. 1:9).

The Gospel is all about the forgiveness of sins. This is why Christ came. This is what it's all about. Too many people focus on the negative aspects of Christianity. But it's really about something positive. It's about freedom; freedom from sin and freedom to live in holiness as is our call from the creation.

Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest (Mt. 11:28). Wherever you find yourself today, come to Jesus, confess your sins, receive His forgiveness and be made free.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Communion of Saints

I believe... in the communion of saints

The Communion of Saints; what is that? Some would imagine it means that all Christians are one body in Christ. It does mean that, but it also means more. It refers to the idea that all Christians, whether alive on this earth, being purified in purgatory, or alive in the presence of God in heaven, are one body in Christ. It means that we are partakers, or sharers, in Christ, and, by extension, all other Christians. We are one in Christ and one with each other.

Just as a body shares all of its resources with each of its members, so it is with the body of Christ as well. Prayers and merits of the saints benefit those of us still in our earthly pilgrimage, as well as those in purgatory. Our prayers and sacrifices here on earth can be of help to those in purgatory. And even those in purgatory can help those of us here on earth. This is what we mean by the Communion of Saints. It is this ongoing flow of grace between all the members of Christ's body.

The doctrine of the Communion of Saints brings us much comfort. We can still communicate with our loved ones who have died in the Lord. We can pray for them. And they can pray for us. So many things continue unbroken.

This doctrine is also a reminder of our call to live in holiness. It give us pause to ponder our state. Are we in a state of grace? Are we striving to live as saints? Do we take the time to ponder what our sins truly deserve and how we can demonstrate our repentance? Are we living a life of prayer?

The Communion of the Saints also provides inspiration. For we are helped by the prayers of the Saints. Those heroic men and women who died in such sanctity in Christ our at our side helping us in our own spiritual warfare. They are our friends and aides. They are our cheerleaders and benefactors. It is with great thanks that we realize that we do not fight this fight of faith on our own, but we are assisted by numerous saints and angels in the process.

Most prominent among the saints is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of our Lord and our mother in faith. She is ever faithful in her prayers for us and a most effective intercessor as God has granted her the place of Queen of heaven. In addition, we have the help of our guardian angels, patron saints, and all the rest of the heavenly family.

The Communion of Saints reminds us that we have not only been converted to Christ, but we have also been made part of His Church. In Him, we enter into this wonderful Communion. Through Him, and through their prayers, we are made fit for heaven. This world and all that we see and know is only part of the picture. What is not seen is just as real and powerful. We are striving for a kingdom that is unseen. There we will have our eternal reward. Thanks be to God!

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Church

I believe in one, holy, catholic Church

After we confess faith in the Holy Spirit, we immediately move on to the Church. This is because the two are directly related. The Church has come into being through the Holy Spirit. He breathed it into life at Pentecost, guides it continually into all truth, and empowers it for its mission. He will ensure it is kept faithful until the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Church is described in very precise language. It is one, holy, and catholic. The Nicene Creed adds the word "apostolic" as well. We will consider the meaning attached to those words by the Church itself in their formulation and continued faith.

The Church is one. This does not just refer to a generic unity. It means there is fundamentally one Church, and one Church only. Christ founded one Church, not thousands. He promised this one Church would be preserved by the Holy Spirit from error and would endure forever. The fact that there are other groups calling themselves churches, or claiming to be part of this one Church does not change the reality that there is only one Church. Furthermore, this unity is visible and organizational as well as spiritual and familial. That means that there is a visible organization called the Church. One is either part of it, or not. It is very easy to tell.

This obviously flies in the face of so much that goes under the banner of ecumenism and tolerance. Be that as it may, this truth cannot be ignored or modified. Jesus said He will build His Church, not churches. Jesus founded the Catholic Church. Men founded the rest. It is not to say that they have nothing to offer. There are many wonderful, Christian people affiliated with them. But there is still only one Church.

This Church is holy because the Holy Spirit brought her into existence, dwells within her, and guides her as mentioned above. That is not to say that everyone within her is holy. In fact, most of us aren't. But the Church is. It is by our incorporation into the Church that we are able to become holy. But none of us arrived that way. If such were the criteria for entrance, none of us would be here.

Many people, including many leaders, have done some very unholy things in the name of the holy Church. That is sad and unfortunate. Those who have died unrepentant will certainly answer for their ungodly actions. Having said that, it does not give the rest of us license to rebel against God's Church, or to act contrary to her teachings. As our Lord taught us, we are to do as they say, but not imitate their actions.

The Church is catholic. Notice I use a lower case "c" for that description. The proper name, "Catholic Church", is derived from this adjective. The term catholic means universal, or general. It was coined very early in the Church's history to distinguish the teachings of the true Church from those of heretics. What the true Church teaches is received in every place, time, and language. This is the catholic faith and the catholic Church. Heretics arose in one locality and departed in one or more aspects of doctrine from the teaching of the true Church.

The adjective has become an organizational name: the Catholic Church. Either way, it reflects that all of the Faith, without addition or deletion is held here unchanged from the beginning. For those who want to know what our Lord truly taught, they are able to look to the teaching voice of His Catholic Church.

The Church is apostolic. That is, its teaching and authority flow directly in unbroken succession from the first apostles, most notably from Peter, the chief of the apostles. He established his apostolic see, or authority, in Rome. Ever since, the bishop of Rome, who succeeds from Peter, has been looked to for specific guidance in this Catholic Faith. From about the 6th century to the present, he has been known as the Pope.

Since the Church was completely unified in its earliest days, there was no question about being in communion with the bishop of Rome. But since the days when many have split off from the Church, communion with the Pope has been a key factor in determining if someone is indeed part of the Catholic Church.

The Church that Jesus founded, then, is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The Church that can meet all of those criteria is indeed the one true Church of Jesus Christ. All the rest will try to change those words, their meaning, or the need to abide by them. As organizations, they are outside the Church. As individuals it may be that they are part of the Church even though they have chosen to be estranged from her.

St. Cyprian in the mid third century asked, "How can one have God for his Father who does not have the Church for His Mother?" So it is. To have Christ- to know Him deeply, one must be in His Church. So the call is issued as it has been for centuries: "The Spirit and the Bride (the Church) say, 'Come!'"

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Holy Spirit

I believe in the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Blessed Trinity. We do not believe in 3 gods, but in one God who eternally exists in 3 distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As the Nicene Creed more fully bears out, "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets." Because He is God, we pray to the Holy Spirit, we worship Him, and we seek to be led by Him in our daily lives.

The Holy Spirit plays a very vital role in our lives. He makes known to us the will of God. He empowers us to overcome sin and live holy. He intercedes before the Father on our behalf. He provides gifts of various kinds to the Church. He does all of this and so much more.

The Holy Spirit has been entrusted with the guiding of the Church. He was promised for this purpose by our Lord before His crucifixion. He descended on the Day of Pentecost and has been faithfully guiding the Church into all truth ever since.

The Holy Spirit is gentle, like a dove. When He comes into our lives, He will gently lead us into paths of righteousness. But if we persist in refusing Him, He will be grieved and will eventually leave us to our own ways. We can repent and ask Him to return and He will. But this is very difficult. Once the Holy Spirit has been grieved away, we typically are not interested in having Him return. For this reason we must be careful to live according to the Spirit's direction and immediately repent when we realize we have sinned against Him.

Through the Holy Spirit, the Father communicates to us Spirit to spirit. This is a very deep communion. It is unlike anything that people can have with one another. Our God loves us so much that He has designed that we would be his own tabernacles- the dwelling place of His Spirit. This is the reason why our Lord Jesus Christ died and rose again; so that we could receive the Holy Spirit, and know God in this way.

This relationship with God is available to all, but not all receive it. The Spirit comes into our lives at baptism. The more we yield to Him and cultivate a relationship with Him, the better and more clear we hear His voice. If you do not yet know the Holy Spirit, you can when you believe in Jesus Christ and receive baptism. If you have already been baptized, you may come to know the Spirit more by praying to Him, reading the Scriptures and obeying His gentle leadings.

So it is that we pray continually, "Come Holy Spirit."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Judgment

From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead

The article of the Creed on our Lord Jesus Christ finishes by proclaiming our faith in His return in power and glory to judge the living and the dead. In the Nicene Creed, which is the definitive statement of faith in the Catholic Church, this is expanded to say He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and His kingdom will have no end.

Christians believe that Jesus did not leave us for good. He promised to return for us so that "where I am, there you will be also." This is known to us as our Blessed Hope. When we use the word, "hope", we do not mean it in the sense that it is often used of not being sure that something will happen, but we hope it will. Rather, we use the word to reflect a rock-solid belief that it will happen. So it is that everything we do is staked on this hope.

But along with such a wonderful hope is also the sobering statement that our Lord is specifically coming back for the purpose of judging the living and the dead. For those who live close to Him, this is actually a comforting thought. For though we know of our weaknesses and failings, we are confident that His grace is greater than our sin. In the end we believe we will be saved through Him if we hold fast to the faith that was given to us. But for those who have rejected Him, and wandered far from Him, this is a fearful statement indeed.

We are told in the Sacred Scriptures that we will be judged by our works and our words. "The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation," (Jn. 5:28,29). "For every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned," (Mt. 12:36,37).

This makes sense. Our works and our words show what is truly in our hearts. They tell whether faith exists or not. Good works and good words flow from a good heart. Bad works and bad words flow from an evil heart. The tree is known by its fruit. So God will be seen to be fair and righteous and each of us will be given what we truly deserve.

Having said that, the fact of the matter is that every one of us truly deserves God's wrath. We have sinned and should receive the just punishment, which is death. But God, who is rich in love and mercy, has rescued us, as we have discussed in the previous articles, through the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord. So that whoever will turn from his sins and believe in Jesus Christ with all his heart will be saved from death and granted freely eternal life.

How do you know if you are ready? There is a simple test. Do you love His appearing? That is, are you looking forward to this Day with anticipation because you trust in the Lord's word and long to see your Beloved face to face? If so, then you have every reason to have a sure and steadfast hope of salvation. But if not- if the thought of this Day fills you with dread, and you long to put it off, or seek to escape, then it is a sure indication that all is not right with you. There is a need for you to find a place alone with God and tell Him of your fears. Allow Him to search your heart. Confess your sins, and put your trust in His saving love and power.

To be honest, I see a mixture of these attitudes in me. When I was younger I wanted to be sure to get married, have a family, and launch a career before Jesus returned. I suppose that's normal. But it indicates that I still had too much of a love for this present world in me. I still wrestle with wanting to accomplish certain things before I see my Lord. But He is faithfully chipping away at those things so that all I have is a yearning for Him and His kingdom. With that in mind, I gain more anticipation for this day, and with the saints of old I find myself calling out, "Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Amen."

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Ascension

He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty

The ascension is the glory of our Lord. He did not rise only to die again. He rose all the way to heaven. When He arrived there, He was seated at the right hand of the Father- the place of all authority and honor.

The ascension is the final step in our salvation. Having conquered death and risen to life, our Lord then ascended to His rightful place. He came from heaven and to heaven He returned. His work is complete. He sits down because, as He said, "It is finished."

There is more. It is through the death, resurrection, and ascension that we find salvation. We are finally and completely reconciled to God.

In the waters of baptism, we are made one with Christ. We are dead and buried with Him and we rise with Him to newness of life. We die to our old way of life and are born again, a brand new creature in Christ. We are meshed together. We are in Christ and He is in us. In His ascension, we are raised with Him to be seated in heavenly places (Eph. 1:3). In Christ we are seated with God, the Father, from whom we had been estranged in sin, but now are brought back again through the work of Christ, our Lord.

If this is true, and it is, then we are able to come before our God and Father and make our requests known in our time of need. We are able to feel the nearness of His presence. We are able, as it were, to look into His face. Of course, these awesome realities will not be completely ours until our own resurrection at the end of the ages (we will discuss this ina later post). But for now, we may indeed experience heaven on earth.

This is particularly important to remember because this life is often filled with tragedy and turmoil. It is our faith that enables us, not only to endure, but to overcome the obstacles we face now. This world is permeated by sin, and therefore, by death. But our Lord has come that we might have life- and that in great abundance (Jn. 10:10). His ascension is the means by which we know this life is available and also the means by which we are able to experience it.

There was a time when Christians had their eyes on heaven and were thought of as too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. Today, too many Christians have become very comfortable in this world and look for their rewards here and now. While some former Christians obviously ignored some of the realities of our duties here, a recovery of the heavenly perspective would be a very good thing. The result will be that the the more heavenly minded we are, the more earthly good we will be.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Resurrection

The third day he arose again from the dead.

As soon as we confess our faith in the crucifixion of Jesus, we also speak of His resurrection. The two are intricately linked. Jesus conquered death at the cross. But the proof of that is His resurrection from the dead. Dying He destroyed our death; rising He restored our life. In Christ, we who have been baptized participate in His death and resurrection. With Him we die to our old life. With Him we rise to a new life.

It is through the death and resurrection of Jesus that we are saved from sin, rescued from death, and made fit for eternal life. We could not pay this price ourselves. Our Lord Jesus Christ paid it for us. Now we who live by faith in Him are called to walk in the reality of this new life He has given us.

Christianity is not a religion of the dead, but of the living. That is to say that it is not a matter of dead letters on a page, or laws written in stone. It is the living reality of the risen Christ living His life through His faithful. It is a living relationship with the living God. It is the full restoration of everything that was lost through sin. We were created for life and it is to life we are restored.

Today, many people speak of living life to the fullest. But that is impossible apart from Christ. As the author of life, only He knows how it is to be fully lived. As the restorer to life, He alone is capable of giving it. Living life to the fullest is more than fun or pleasure. It is to know the purpose for which we were made and to know the One for whom we were made. In this alone is fullness of life; and this life lasts, not merely for a lifetime, but forever.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Cross

"Jesus... Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried"

The next line of the Creed affirms the historical truth that Jesus was indeed crucified. He truly died, and He was buried. There are those who theorize otherwise. They would say that Jesus only appeared to die. Some would try to deny the event altogether. But it is historically verifiable. He was crucified. Romans were masters at this cruel means of execution. To propose that on this occasion they botched the job would be miraculous in itself. But, they did not botch the job. Jesus was attested to be dead before He was removed from the cross. Then He was buried. There were a number of eyewitnesses as to where the tomb was. They would return to it on the third day after His crucifixion to find He was gone. But, alas, I'm getting ahead of myself.

What does Jesus' death mean to us? It means we have been set free from sin and death.

Death came into the world because of sin. God warned our first parents in the Garden to refrain from eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. "For in the day you eat of it, you will surely die." Death was not a punishment for disobedience, it was the natural consequence of it. It is the same as if we warn our children not to drink poison, play in traffic, or play with fire. The natural consequences are not punishment. They follow as a matter of course. It is the very reason we warn them against it- because we love them. So God loved those whom He had made in His own image and warned them accordingly so they would not die. But they chose sin over God and death over life. Since then, sin, and death, have reigned over all humanity.

But then our Lord Jesus Christ came. He stood strong and stalwart against every kind of temptation that assails all people. He never wavered. He came through completely victorious. The last enemy to be faced was death. But when death seemingly claimed our Lord, He rose victorious again to live forevermore. But again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

At the cross, our Lord took upon Himself the just penalty due to us as sinners. "He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him. And by His stripes we are healed." In addition, it was by dying that He destroyed our death. Through death, He conquered death. On the cross, God "made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that we might be the righteousness of God in Him." The cross was the great exchange. He took what we deserved and gave us grace and life in return.

The cross is the pivotal moment in the life of Christ and in the history of the world. Now for all who believe there is an escape from sin and death and an entrance into the eternal life of the kingdom of God.

Christ calls all who would be His disciples to "deny yourself, take up a cross, and follow Me." It was the way of the Master, and it is the way of all true disciples. There is no other way. The way of the cross is the way of death, which is the way to eternal life. As His death led to life, so our dying to self and sin leads to eternal life in Christ. To all who read these words, heed the words of our Lord and Savior. Take up a cross and come, follow Jesus!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Incarnation

"He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary"

Coming to the article of the Creed dealing with faith in Jesus, we begin to see a more in-depth description. It's because this is the core of our faith. Who and what Jesus is has been the topic of discussion from the inception of the Church. Early on there were those who taught things that departed from the historic faith. Normally their teachings centered on certain aspects of Christ. They typically denied His full deity, or His full humanity. The Church in its wisdom, and guided by the Holy Spirit who was given to lead them into all truth, established the firm teaching that we find contained in the Creed.

"He was conceived by the Holy Spirit". Our Lord's entrance into our world did not come through the normal channels. He had no earthly father. Rather the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary and conceived our Lord within her womb. This was not sexual. It was supernatural. It was completely other.

It had to be this way. From the fall into sin in the Garden, man has been tainted with sin. As the psalmist says, "In sin was I conceived." For our Lord to remain pure from this taint of sin, He could not have a human father.

But this also means that His mother could not pass on sin to Him either. Surely, we know that He took His humanity, that is, His flesh, from the Virgin Mary. The Church stresses that Mary was always a Virgin. She is designated by that title. It is because in her conception, she became a holy vessel. As the Ark of the Covenant of the Old Testament contained the Word of God, so Mary also contained the Word of God. She could not be "touched" by a husband after this event. As surely as God struck down Uzzah for touching the Ark, He would have likely done the same to anyone who touched the Ark containing His only beloved Son.

In order to preserve our Lord from the taint of sin received from Mary, the Church teaches that her own conception was immaculate, that is to say, without sin. By a special grace of God in lieu of the work that Christ was to accomplish, Mary was saved from the taint of original sin. This is how it is that she refers to God as her Savior. She was saved by His grace from ever experiencing sin, rather than, as it is for all the rest of us, being rescued from the midst of sin.

So how is it that our Lord is truly human when He had these special circumstances preserving Him from sin? Well, believe it or not, sin is not native to being human. Remember that God created the first humans immaculate- without sin. Yet, they fell to temptation and chose sin. So it was with our Lord and our Lady. As the new Adam and Eve, they still could have chosen sin, but they did not. Their victory over sin has become the means of our own. That is, that all who believe in Jesus are baptized and enter into His own death and resurrection. In Him, we are made what people once were, and were created to be- holy. Our Lord's opportunity to do this for us was made possible by Mary's steadfast faithfulness throughout her life and in giving her consent to be the vessel to bring Christ into the world.

What does this mean for us? It means that we do not need to be subject to sin any longer. We can come to Jesus to be healed and restored. We can be delivered from sin. We can return to our original holiness for which we were created. We can do this through our Lord Jesus Christ. He who came to earth under such extraordinary circumstances has made it possible for us all to be made like Him and to live with Him forever.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

I Believe In Jesus

"I believe in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord"

In the previous article we professed faith in one God. Here we confess Jesus to be Lord. What's the difference between God and Lord? Absolutely none! We believe that God Himself became a man. This man is Jesus.

This introduces us to two central concepts of the Christian Faith: 1) the trinity, and 2) the incarnation. The trinity refers to the teaching that while there is only one God as we have previously stated, He exists in an eternal relationship within Himself of 3 persons in one God. These 3 persons are known as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Virtually everything that Christians believe comes back to this central tenet of our faith.

God is eternal and God is love. Love needs an object to love and desires to be loved in return. From eternity past, before God created anything, this love relationship existed in the Godhead Himself. God's revelation of this truth has been progressive. He first revealed Himself as one God. Then, in the appointed time, He came to us in the person of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As our Lord was completing His mission on earth, He introduced us to the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, and promised to send Him to guide the Church into all truth.

The incarnation refers to the belief that God became flesh as mentioned above. Jesus is truly and fully God as is made more evident from the Church's more complete statement of faith: the Nicene Creed. There we are taught that Jesus is "God from God, Light from Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father."

In becoming man, Jesus showed us the way back to God, and He Himself was the way back to God. Since we had become separated from God by sin, we were in need of someone capable of reconciling us back to God. Only God Himself could do this as we were lost and bound in sin. Our Lord Jesus Christ, by giving Himself in pure sacrifice became the means of our salvation. Through His death, resurrection, and ascension, He has made a way for us to be forgiven of our sins and restored to right relationship with God.

The key to the transaction is faith. Jesus promised that if we believe in Him we would not die, but have eternal life. However, if we remain in our unbelief, then there is no other hope for us. As Jesus also said, "He who does not believe is condemned already," (Jn. 3:18).

To believe is more than assenting to theological facts. It is to allow Christ to reshape our lives to be fashioned into His image. This is true salvation; to regain the image of God lost through sin. This is to know God and be known by God. This is to love God and be loved by God. This is the answer to the questions that continually plague us. This is the only solution that truly satisfies.

Today there are many who profess to believe in God. There are even many who say they believe in Jesus. But there are fewer who truly allow Jesus to do His transforming work in their lives. To say, "I believe in Jesus," in the Creed is to assent to these truths and commit to these actions.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I Believe in God

The Creed begins at the beginning- with God. God is beyond our comprehension. He has always existed. He is uncreated. He is immortal, all-wise, all-knowing, and ever-present. He is in complete control of every single thing in all of creation. He brought it into being, He sustains it, and He has determined when and how it will end. There is nothing too grand as to be beyond Him and nothing too small to escape His notice.

Christians have come to know this God as Father. This is not merely a warm, fuzzy title. It reflects our relationship. For at the core, our Faith is about relationship; it is about love. God is Father because He created us. He is Father because He has redeemed us. He is Father because He has adopted us. He is Father in that He knows we are children, utterly helpless without Him, and He provides for us all things necessary for our eternal life.

The story of our Faith is the story of how our Father brought us into being so that He could love us. God is love, and love needs someone to love. So we were created that God might love us, but also so that we might love Him. For love desires reciprocation.

In sinful folly, our first parents cut themselves off from this love. But God could not be outdone by human sinfulness or demonic cunning. Long before there was the need, He had provided a means of salvation. Seen in germ in the Old Testament, it came to fruition through the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Having provided a means of reconciliation, our Father now reaches out to us, beckoning us back home into His loving embrace. He is the creator of everything. No one knows better how it all works. He truly does know what's best for us. He is Almighty. He is stronger than everything and everyone. Nothing can thwart His plans. So nothing can keep us from Him if we really want to know Him.

This is our Faith, and this is our Father.

Today, many wander in endless confusion. How did it all start? Well, God made it. What is the meaning of my life? He wants to love you, and be loved by you. Where will it end? God hopes it ends with your eternal life.

To say one believes in God is to embrace all of these things. Even if you can't understand it all, or it's a struggle to believe, faith is to take God at His word, no matter what.

The first thing the Christian confesses is that God is Father. He says this not as much from intellectual certitude as he does from personal experience. He knows that once God was far away and an enemy of sorts. But now he belongs to God's family. He knows that there is one God who is the Father, the Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth.

Monday, September 1, 2008

I Believe

"I believe..."

That's how the Creed begins. Our life in Christ begins in faith. This is more than merely acknowledging certain theological truths. It is to surrender one's life to these truths. "Faith without works is dead," (Jms. 2:26). Therefore true faith cannot be merely intellectual. It has to find its way into the heart. It must lead one to a radical break with the old life of sin and a new life in Christ. It must lead to love; love of God, first and foremost, and love of neighbor.

Faith typically comes in stages. It is more often a progression, not an event. This typically begins with inquiry. One begins to sense his need for God. This usually begins with an understanding that something is not right and there needs to be a change. We typically try to make that change in a variety of ways: a change in diet, exercise, routine, or in more extreme cases, a job, or significant relationship. But the true problem lies deep within us. When we finally realize that, we are ready for more.

Our period of inquiry then leads to the seeking of God. At first, this may come in the form of seeking the answers to the deep questions of life: "Who am I?" "How did it all begin?" Why am I here?" What is the meaning of life?" Why is there suffering?" "Where will it end?" "What happens when we die?" As we explore these questions, we are led inevitably to God. This is where the Creed comes in. It tells us who God is and how we are able to get to know Him.

The next step in our progression is repentance. As we come to understand who God is, we see that we fall terribly short of His standard. This shortcoming is called sin. It is innately in us from birth and manifests itself in various ways. Some people do things that are considered very bad such as drink too much, live sexually immoral lives, steal, lie, or even kill. Others live apparently good lives but are consumed with their own pride and self-seeking. Either way, until they come to know God, they are ruled by sin.

Repentance is to turn away from sin and turn towards God. It is to change our mind and to change our lives. It is to think entirely different. Whereas we used to indulge our sins, thinking this would give us true happiness, we now realize that sin is destroying us and any chance we have at true happiness. We see God and His ways as the only way to freedom- and joy. Therefore, we learn to hate the things we once loved (sin), and we now love the One we had been fleeing before (God).

At this point, we have already begun to exercise faith. It's beginnings are subtle, but we can identify it in our actions. When we begin this work of repentance, faith has already gripped us. Otherwise we would not believe there to be a need for change. As we continue in faith, we learn to know God. We come to love Him, and we pursue a life of obedience to Him as a result.

This is what it means to say, "I believe." It means we have personally appropriated the things that come afterward in the Creed. It means that we have come to know God and we continue to allow God to do the ongoing work of transformation necessary to make us holy just like Him.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Need For The Creed

Our Lord Jesus Christ founded His Church upon the confession of faith of St. Peter. That confession made him the first rock, the first stone in the building of the Church. Peter attained that place because he was first to confess. "Flesh and blood did not reveal this, but My Father in heaven." God birthed faith in Peter and he confessed. "For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved," (Ro. 10:10 RSVCE).

Since then, many more have come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and, in confessing, so have been made part of Christ's one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Over time, it has become necessary to clarify exactly what this saving faith is. Many have come along adding their own perspective and diluting that "one faith once for all delivered to the saints". The clarification that the Church has produced is known as the Creed.

In the very early days of the Church it was loosely known as the Rule of Faith. But by about 200 A.D. it took a form forever after known as the Apostle's Creed. This is still the baptismal Creed of the Church today. It is a succinct rendering of the essentials of the faith. To say that one believes in Jesus is to say he believes in the Creed. This is what Christians for centuries meant when they proclaimed faith in Jesus Christ. This is what was stated when they were baptized.

So what is this Creed? It reads as follows:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary
Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried
He descended into hell
The third day he arose again from the dead
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty
From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead
I believe in the Holy Spirit
The Holy Catholic Church
The communion of saints
The forgiveness of sins
The resurrection of the body
And life everlasting

Now, I am no theologian. But I would like to break this down as best as I understand it. I welcome any input along the way. I will be posting in the next several days on the Creed.

Why the need for the Creed? Because, as it was in centuries past, so it remains today that, we need clarification as to what the Faith truly is. The Church has been the pillar and ground of truth from her inception (1 Tim. 3:15). She remains so to this day and ever shall be. The Creed is her succinct statement of truth. It's truth that we need in our day. We need to hear the concrete word of God spoken through the Church to bring clarity and perspective to the relativism of our modern era. I hope you will join me as we explore together what truth God has revealed through the Creed.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Still Hanging Around

No, I didn't drop off the face of the earth. Like many of you, life gets busy and blogging is one of the things that needs to be let go. Having said that, I must also say that some of this has been intentional. That is, I am actually trying to limit my computer time to make more time for prayer, family, and silence. Sometimes I find that I suffer from the tyranny of all of the things surrounding us, screaming for our attention. It's nice to get away from it all to listen, think, and marvel. I don't think we as a society do nearly enough of that. I know I don't. But I am really enjoying the time that I am taking for it. So while this post is very short, I hope it gives some food for thought.

I'm still hanging around, and I'm sure I'll have more to say at a later time.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Holy Love

For years I have had the misguided notion that love and holiness are polar opposites, and that in God both exist, although in a mystery that can't quite be grasped. But it occurs to me that is wholly other. Love and holiness are two sides of the same coin, and one cannot truly exist without the other.

God is love, and God is holy. Therefore they must really be the same. True love and true holiness strive towards the same goal. They look for the perfection of character necessary to experience unlimited communion with God. Because God loves us, He works to make us holy. If we respond in love as He desires, then we will strive to be holy. Because God is holy, we will also want to be holy.

The problem with this concept arises in our own perceptions. We redefine both love and holiness. We think love means to feel nice things, say nice things, or do nice things. We think holiness is a warped adherence to archaic rules which have become irrelevant to modern living. Therefore we find love and holiness to be opposites. The truth is that both love and holiness are first, a desire for communion with God, and secondly, a desire to help our fellow brothers and sisters in attaining that same goal.

This brings us naturally to thinking about how God, in His love and holiness, deals with sin. God hates sin for the same reason that parents hate cancer in their children; because it is killing them. Again, we have a misconception about sin. We think it's about actions. It's not. Sin is about what is inside of us. The actions are merely the symptoms to indicate this dread "disease" is still at work within us. We think, "Why can't God just overlook the sin and go on with life like we do?". It's because it's much deeper than that, and God knows it even though we want to deny it.

Sin must be wholly eradicated. God has done all the work necessary for that through Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension. He further strengthens us through the Sacraments. But that still leaves us needing to apprehend these things in faith and obedience. As we do, the Holy Spirit is continually working to destroy sin and establish holy love within us.

So how is it then that some go to hell? Is God not able to save them? Or is He unwilling to save them? No. He can, and wants to. But in His holy love, He has chosen to allow us to choose whether or not we will serve Him. If we choose sin, He must separate us from the rest of His people or sin will destroy the whole lot. Think of it in the same terms as when doctors must quarantine someone. It is for the good of the whole.

Because God is holy love, He will have a people of holy love. We all have the opportunity to be part of that people. If we will choose holy love over selfish sin will have what everyone truly craves- eternal life, which is to know God and commune with Him intimately now, and forever.

Monday, August 4, 2008


In today's Gospel we hear that Jesus saw the crowds and He was moved with compassion towards them because they were like sheep scattered without a shepherd, (Mt. 9:36). This is what moved God to send His Son in the first place. He looked at a world lost and wandering in the ravages of sin. He could not remain indifferent to the plight of those whom He loved. So He sent us a Savior. In fact, He came Himself to save us.

This is the Gospel: that God was in Christ Jesus not counting our sins against us, but reaching out to us with divine mercy to grant life where there had been death (2 Co. 5:19). It is the greatest love story ever told. So why is it that so many are so adverse to hearing it.

It is because the story does not stop there. It calls for conversion. What is conversion? It is to be transformed by God's Grace from sinners into saints. It is a process, not an event. This process is difficult- very difficult. In fact, apart from God's Grace, it is impossible.

In fairy tales, the hero dashes in to rescue the damsel in distress and win her love. They marry and live happily ever after. This is why they are fairy tales. Real life doesn't work like that. Marriages that last a lifetime require lots of effort. They require the growth and stretching of both husband and wife. No marriage is trouble-free. There are always issues to be faced.

Our relationship with God is no different. Jesus has come and rescued us and seeks to win our love that we would choose to love Him forever. But this requires effort- lots of effort. Along the way we will be tempted to go astray and re-imprison ourselves in the mesh of sin. We will be seduced to seek other lovers. To resist is difficult. To pursue holiness is a hard path.

This is why so many are so adverse to this wonderful message of the Gospel. They don't think it's worth all the "hassle". They couldn't be any more wrong!

Conversion, as I said, is a process. It begins with the Grace of God in our hearts long before we realize God is at work within us. He is wooing us. He is seeking to draw us to Himself. Then we begin to seek Him. We have questions. We investigate. Finally, we make a decision to follow Jesus. But that is really just the beginning.

From there, we are in need of instruction about the Faith. Then we must be baptized. Then we must continue to receive instruction, learning how to develop a life of prayer and good works in Christ. This lasts a lifetime.

It is obvious to see why so many are so adverse to conversion. Instead, they look to take the easy way out. They ignore God, or they remake Him in their image. Or, perhaps they just choose the "easy-believism" of those who preach that to be a Christian is just a matter of faith and a moment of decision to receive Jesus. This is terribly over simplified, and, consequently, it is terribly deceptive. Real conversion, as I have said, requires effort- lots of effort. It requires this effort for a lifetime, and, we believe, requires some sort of effort even after death as one undergoes the final purgation of all effects of sin.

Does this mean that Christ's sacrifice was insufficient, or He is unable to indeed save us to the uttermost? By no means. It is just the reality that to know God- to be saved from sin- is a joint effort between God and man. He has a part, and so do we. His part is to provide salvation through the work of Christ in His death, resurrection, and ascension. Our part is to respond in faith, love, and obedience. We cannot do His part, and He will not do ours. This relationship is what is called conversion. It is something we are all in need of daily.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Worshiping With Those Who Have Lost Everything

Our family vacation recently took us to Greensburg, Kansas. Greensburg, you may recall, was wiped out by an enormous tornado a little over a year ago. St. Joseph Catholic Church, like all the other churches in town, was completely destroyed. They currently worship in a temporary modular building as they await the completion of their new church building.

As my family and I went in on Sunday morning, we found our way to a folding chair in the back row. Things were so different from what we are used to. There are no pews, no beautiful windows, no Stations. It is stark. Don't get me wrong; the people of St. Joseph have made it as nice as it can be. But it isn't how most of us are used to seeing church. But this is church for them.

I felt privileged to be in their midst. These have truly suffered the loss of all things. I worshiped with people who had lost their homes, businesses, and church. Yet, you wouldn't know it. There was smiles and laughter and hugging and visiting and pleasantries as if life was completely normal.

There is a longstanding tradition within the Church that it is through suffering that we are made holy. We become more like Jesus as we patiently endure suffering. I felt that I was seeing some of that as I worshiped with the people of St. Joseph.

How would I do in their circumstances? I honestly can't imagine I would do as well. I have so much. I have a nice home, church, community, clothes, everything. I have so much. They have so little.

It is more than giving them things or money. They truly do need our prayers. But then, I think we need their's. We, who are so prone to be infatuated with our things, are in greater danger of deifying them. Do we live for this world or the next? The answer cannot be both. It truly is one or the other. Suffering the loss of all things is terribly difficult, but it does help one come to grips with this vital truth of the spiritual life. So who is truly the poorer? I wonder if it isn't all the rest of us who are in need of the prayers of the saints in the making of Greensburg.

Be thankful for all that God has given to you, and then swear off any temptation to cling to it too tightly. Learn to suffer the loss of all things in your heart so that if the day should come that you are called to do it in deed, you will be ready.

May the Lord bless the people of Greensburg and the parish of St. Joseph!

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I will be away from the blogosphere for the next week while I am vacationing. Keep me and my family in your prayers.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

At Home With Demons

The whole town came out to meet Jesus,
and when they saw him they begged him to leave their district.
Matthew 8:34

Today's Gospel reading is Matthew's account of when our Lord came to a place called Gadara and encountered two men who were demon-possessed. The Scripture says they were so fierce that no one could pass through that way. But Jesus simply commanded them to come out and the men were freed. However, Jesus gave the demons permission to enter some nearby pigs which sent them careening down the hill to be drowned in the sea. The local merchants weren't terribly happy, or impressed. Their response was to implore Jesus to leave their area.

This strikes me as almost humorous, but also as very sad. The people had lived with these demoniacs presumably for quite some time. They had become comfortable living with them; so much so that they actually preferred the chaos of the demoniacs over the peace of Christ. How could this be?

But then I think of how it is in our lives. We too have become comfortable with the demonic. Think I'm crazy? Most of us would prefer two hours in front of the television with perversion, profanity, and violence to fifteen minutes in prayer with Jesus. Isn't that the same as being at home with the demonic and uncomfortable with Jesus?

Take it a bit further. We endure the chaos of our fast-paced life. We think this is normal. Everyone lives this way. We are overstressed (which is not the same thing as overworked as work done for the Lord is very satisfying), worried, anxious, and usually in a hurry to do it all. Yet, we have become comfortable with this way of life.

Jesus offers us peace. He offers us rest. He offers us true joy. But it must come in His way. It's not because He's an egocentric tyrant. It's because He truly does know what is best for us. Because of His great love for us, He yearns that we would have all of these blessings and so much more. But it goes even further than this. The simple fact is that God really loves us and longs to simply be loved in return. It's really all about relationship. We were created for this, but we run from it and try to find that same satisfaction in just about anything else. It can't be done. As St. Augustine said, "You created us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You."

If you find yourself in the midst of the demonic chaos of life, stop! Listen for the liberating word of Jesus and respond by welcoming Him in to stay, not driving Him away!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

In The Footsteps of St. Paul

Today is the Feast Day of Sts. Peter and Paul. It coincides this year with the jubilee celebration of the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul. Thus, Pope Benedict XVI has declared this the year of St. Paul. In contemplating his life, I realize that I share some similarities with him.

St. Paul began as Saul of Tarsus. He was a very zealous man for his faith and made great progress over many of his contemporaries. Saul had a superior theological education and was a prominent pharisee when we meet him in the book of Acts as a witness to the martyrdom of Stephen. But once he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he had to start all over. The Church did not care how theologically educated he was, or about any of the rest of his accomplishments. They wanted to know if he was truly a Christian. They wanted to see how it changed his life. Needless to say, there was ample evidence of that. Still, it took St. Paul some 10 years to return to a place of public ministry within the early Church.

I find myself in a similar situation. I do not share St. Paul's theological education, nor his accomplishments, but I do share the fact that I find myself starting over now that I have come into the Catholic Church. It is helpful to remember that if someone of the caliber of St. Paul needed time in formation, then it should come as no surprise that I need it as well.

I find another similarity that I wish were not present. The more I ponder the depths of the Gospel, I realize just how much I was a pharisee, just like St. Paul. I was rooted in the letter of the law. Though I did not intend it, I think I often ministered condemnation rather than grace. I find that I now must un-learn many things in order to more fully learn the depths and the truths of my new faith.

It is my prayer, this day and always, that, like St. Paul, I may become an instrument in the hands of God to reach those lost in sin with His most precious Gospel. As I ponder his life in this upcoming year, I hope that I will find many more ways to imitate him... as he imitated Christ.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

More Thoughts On The Desert

Yesterday, I considered the life of St. John the Baptist. It was a life primarily lived in the solitude of the desert. I continue to ponder the fact that it is the normative practice of God to prepare people for a long period of time in order to use them for a relatively short period of time.

Take the life of our Lord for an example. Here is the very Son of God who is perfect and sinless. What does He need to learn? Yet, it is the will of the Father that He be hidden for 30 years and then minister for only 3. We see a similar pattern in St. Paul. He has been highly educated, a philosophical and theological marvel. Yet, God hides him for a period of time before setting him loose to set the world ablaze with the Gospel.

In my own circumstances, I am finding myself in the waiting process. I don't know that I will ever make a grand impact in any capacity. But I know I hope to fulfill what I believe is the call of God in my heart. Yet, I am waiting. I am not in the place or circumstance that I desire. I am not doing the thing that I feel called to do. But this is where God has me now. What will I do with that?

To this point, I have spent a good deal of time grumbling and complaining. The remainder of the time I am dreaming and planning for what might be in the future. But that's really quite foolish. I don't know what God will do with me in the future. But I do know what He wants now. He wants me to learn to patiently and consistently carry a cross. He wants me to be a man of prayer. He wants me to be a husband and a father. He wants me to settle down and fully live in the now rather than be caught up in the dreams of the future.

I hope that as I continue to reflect on John, Paul, and our Lord, that I will be content to let God be God and simply follow in obedience rather than try to coerce God into letting me write the script. I find myself in a desert place right now. And that's a really good place to be!