In Defense of the Liturgy: A Catechetical Discussion

eucharistOne of the most common hang-ups against the Catholic Church from an outside perspective is that it is “too ritualistic” or “too rehearsed”. Comments like these lead people to the idea that the Catholic way of worship is completely and utterly man-made. I used to be on the other side of the fence so I do have a bit of perspective to offer on this subject.

First off, it is the understanding of most evangelical Christians that the manner in which we worship should contain a certain degree of spontaneity. Is this spontaneity for its own sake? Not at all, in fact, spontaneity isn’t even the point of evangelical worship, although it is viewed as somewhat necessary. Whether you attend a “service”, a “mass” or the newly-termed “gathering,” the end by which you justify your means rests in the encounter. How might we encounter God? Much of the differences in worship that we find from denomination to denomination depends greatly on a particular group’s interpretation of Scripture. (p.s. Scriptural interpretation is not where we’re going, that’s another blog, or book, altogether…) Believe it or not, the Catholic liturgy is primarily concerned with an authentic encounter with God, as well.

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Catechesis: Everyone’s Divine Calling

catholicbooks For the better part of the last five years, I have been involved in parish youth ministry and catechetical formation in two parishes, as both a volunteer and as a paid staff member. Anyone who has taken up the mantle of working with teens and adolescents can attest to the fact that this ministry is not for the faint of heart. Many sleepless nights and hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament are how I have coped with the stress that comes with it all. Now, in order to be a catechist training, education, and experience are always a plus but the truth is… catechesis is for everyone! If you’ve labeled yourself as “Catholic” in the “about me” section of your Facebook profile, then you are called to be a catechist. Seriously.

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On the Wrong Side of History.

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Being “on the wrong side of history” is a phrase that finds its way into the media from time to time. When asked why someone would support controversial issues, such as same-sex marriage, abortion, and even the legalization of marijuana, this is a defense to which they often cling. Such a defense has even found its way into the pulpit, the sermon, the homily, and even the Christian blogosphere.

There seems to exist a new breed of Christian in western culture. A politically correct Christian of sorts, who will go so far as to redefine their understanding of the faith in order to avoid being “on the wrong side of history…”  Don’t get me wrong, quite the case has been established to support this way of thinking. Extremist groups such as the KKK and more recently, Westboro Baptist Church have both come under the guise of “doing the work of God.” As we learned, both during and after the fact, all Christians supporting these causes were certainly, on the wrong side of history. Add to these two blemishes, the grossly ill-perceived crusades, the sex-abuse scandals, among other things and anyone would seemingly be justified in their opinions towards Christianity.

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A “No Win Situation”.

Converts to the Catholic faith come in many different forms. I, in particular, would be considered a convert of the over-zealous variety. My conversion story (available in a bookstore near you, late 2015) (hopefully) is one of an evangelical protestant who initially set out to settle the debate and disprove Catholicism once and for all. God had a different outcome in mind… In any sense, I was the protestant that most cradle Catholics would never hope to encounter. I was hard-headed and faithful to the teachings of the evangelical tradition. Disdain for the Catholic faith was a part of my Christian upbringing.

Since joining the Church, I will often encounter various forms of my former self. I am not the most learned Convert but I am becoming somewhat of a burgeoning bibliophile in terms of Catholic literature. I hate to read… so this is a big deal. Periodically, I’ll find myself lodged in a debate over theology or social teaching and about half of the time I’ll come out victorious by social media debate standards. The other half results when I either get blindsided, consequently directing my independent reading in a new direction to safeguard against that in the future or I’ll be in a no-win situation. This is when the person I am debating has taken serious issue with the Catholic Church altogether. Part of the time this will result in a blatant refusal of truth on their behalf or my arguments could not stand up against their concerns. In the later of these situations, the best remedy is just to be there.

As a Catholic and an apologist-in-training I will never have all the answers and sometimes the answers will never be enough. There may come a time when you will find yourself with your back up against the wall and the only way forward is to make peace, accept it as a moment to grow in humility and offer up kindness. Whatever ends up happening, we must never stop praying for our brothers and sisters of different faiths (or no faith at all).

Cleaning Up.

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This rainy Friday morning I will be making the trek down to the ol’ Cathedral for confession. I’ve made it a point in my life to partake in this sacrament a bit more frequently. It’s gotten to a point that when I fall short (in what I have done or failed to do) I feel like I am living in a dirty home. Reconciliation is the remedy, it cleans out the home and keeps me from becoming buried alive (hoarders pun, sorry). So the question is… Why is a ‘clean home’ so important in terms of our soul?

1. A dirty home isn’t hospitable for guests.
I remember, growing up, the number one reason that I needed to clean my room or pick up my toys around the house was due to the imminent arrival of guests. People were about to join us, not just regular people but, family or close friends. When we let our souls become overrun with the junk that comes with our sinful nature, we are essentially removing the possibility of an edifying communal experience with others. Reconciliation fixes that.

2. A dirty home left unattended, will become uninhabitable.
This reminds me of passages from both the Second Letter to the Corinthians and the Letter to the Ephesians when Paul reminds us that we are not to fellowship with what is ungodly (pagan in Ephesians). Reconciliation not only reunites our souls into full communion with the Church it also reunites us into full communion with Christ in the Eucharist. Scripture makes it clear that partaking of the Eucharist is the source and summit of our salvation! It is by that very union that we have life! Like a dirty house that hasn’t been cleaned, we will eventually become uninhabitable for Christ. Reconciliation fixes that.

3. Putting off this necessary ‘cleaning’ will often result in MORE shame, MORE guilt, and MORE seclusion.
I can’t tell you how often my pride has kept me from seeking out reconciliation. Mind you, I was raised on “go directly to God” so brushing it under the rug was a skill of mine. Week after week many Catholics attend mass and do not join their family at the table of the Lord. In many cases, shame alone will keep them from even going forward for a blessing. Pretty soon parishioners are missing Mass and eventually leaving the Church altogether. Reconciliation fixes that.

So here I go, even in the flash flood, I will seek out God’s forgiveness. Talk about humbling, I currently have hundreds of reasons going through my mind as to why I should wait, put it off, or not go at all. None of those reasons are good enough. Even though my human nature would keep me occupied with other menial tasks, Christ is calling me. We are all broken. Reconciliation fixes that.

Being Catholic First.

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     I love our Pope; I really just need to start with that. Pope Francis has a big heart for helping the poor, which also needs to be mentioned. Most of the world, regardless of gender, race, or creed feels that Pope Francis is indeed the shepherd meant for the Church at this crucial moment in history. Most of the staunch conservatives cling to the words of the Pope when he spouts off ‘pro-life’ messages while criticizing him as he calls for ‘redistribution of wealth’, and vice versa for liberals. Everyone takes what they like about the pontiff and leave what they don’t.

     In any sense, I am fairly confident in my assessment to say that Pope Francis and the public’s view of him is an accurate depiction for the relationship between the Church and the political party system. When I hear or read the word “Republican”, slogans like “Southern by the grace of God”, images of guns and Bibles side by side, and contradictory ideology that is somehow “pro-life” and “pro-death penalty” simultaneously race through my mind. Many of these values are enough to make most decent Americans cringe. The Republican Party has even gone on to claim that they are the Christian Party. Consequently, most of your pro-life, bible-belt Christians blindly herd themselves into that party. On the other side of the coin we have the so-called liberals, commonly categorized as being “Democrat”. These “pro-choice”, “contraceptive-pushing”, “rainbow-wearing” tree huggers are typically the epitome of “conservative” ridicule. Yet, when it comes to helping the poor, promoting eco-friendly causes, etc. these “liberals” are leading the way.

     To be honest, I think both political/ideological groups still thrive today because people want to be a part of something good. We want to believe that we are making a positive difference in our communities and improving the quality of life for future generations. The main word we need to focus on from here is: compromise.

     As Christians, we tend to gravitate towards one political party or another wherein every decision we make will be criticized by other Christians. You see, joining a political party or subscribing to a certain political ideology is usually more of a moral compromise than it is a commitment to a set of values. The absolute truth of the matter is that a political party does not exist that fully aligns itself with Church teaching. This is primarily because the Church is not in authority over any political body. As Christians we should be slow to pride ourselves on our political affiliations while boldly living and proclaiming the truth of our faith. If we live out our faith in its entirety, we will soon find ourselves becoming less and less “Anti-Obama” or “Anti-Romney” simply because of their political connotation.  When we participate in public exercises of social justice and democracy, let us look to the saints instead of the forefathers and let us cling to Church teaching over party values. When we head to the poles or participate in public debate, let us be ‘Catholic’ first and foremost, no matter the cost. 

Religion = Relationship

Jesus assures us that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. St. Paul asserts in his writings that a freedom exists in the life of a Christian. Wouldn’t it make more sense that St. Paul was not inviting us to abandon a moral and holy lifestyle but to embrace love instead of legalism?

“God did not ask us to follow Him because He needed our help, but because He knew that loving Him would make us whole.”   -St. Irenaeus of Lyons

I think it’s important to consider that religion (adherence to a set of beliefs) and legalism (the position that obedience to the law is the pre-eminent principle of redemption) are not the same. Religion, for most Catholics and orthodox Christian traditions is very much rooted in love and devotion to a merciful God. Additionally, there are many cases when a believer proclaims “Relationship!” over their view of religion with an ulterior motive in mind. It is no secret that the downside to the common, misguided view of religion exists in all of the restrictive rules and regulations.

Love, in its purest form is the gift of self to another, a sacrificial lifestyle. When we choose to view all of the sacrifices required of us in Christianity as obligations and not as acts of devotion, our views take on a legalistic identity. Furthermore, throwing out all of the ‘rules’ for a more basic, free-form gospel is not the remedy for religion but a perpetuation of misinformed opinions. Maybe, if we gave up everything, took up our cross, and followed Christ we would experience true freedom? All because we did it out of devotion and not of duty? As we continue to walk with Christ, we will find that a life lived in Christ is much more demanding of us than a life lived in obligation. All Christians would do well to ecumenically say “it’s not legalism, it’s love” as opposed to “it’s not religion, it’s relationship”. As these two statements are not the same in any regard.