A Parable of Catholic Penance and Indulgence

Catholic Church Saint Ulrich in Bollschweil (B...

In order to understand the Catholic Teaching on Penance and Indulgences let us use a practical example from ordinary life to illustrate what is taking place. One might call this a parable of sorts:

 We have a family (a husband, wife and child) that live together on a small farm. The husband is called away by his Father for an extended visit, leaving the wife and child to run the household in his absence.

 The husband issues some instructions before his departure. To the wife he says: “You will be in charge during my absence. Do as I have taught you. Whatever decisions you make will be honored by me.”

 To the child he says: “Your mother will be in charge while I am gone. Do as she says and obey these simple rules that I will now give you in the presence of your mother.”

 Let us say that among these rules is a forbiddance to drive his tractor. Some time later, the child, knowingly violates that rule. The child drives the tractor into a ravine and breaks the axle. The mother is told of this occurrence and because of the tears and sobbing of the child, forgives the child for the disobedience. However, to make things right, justice needs also to be served. Therefore, the mother (fully aware of the husband’s sense of justice and his unprecedented mercy) wisely tells the child to get a job at a neighbor’s farm in order to pay back the price of the broken axle. The child would then have the tractor restored to the original condition as soon as practicable.

 The child, showing remorse and the best of intentions, begins working in order to save the money necessary for the repairs. However, the mother, in her mercy, sees that the child is working as hard as possible and may get discouraged by the task. Therefore, exercising her mercy (knowing full-well the mercy that her husband would show), relieves the child of the duty of working at the neighbor’s farm and instead gives the child a few simple chores around their own home instead.

 The mother then goes to the bank and withdraws a sum of money from the family’s savings. This is comprised mostly of the money that her husband has earned but partly from the inheritance of relatives that had passed away. This money is mercifully used to repair the tractor and to restore the child to the condition that the child was in before the unfortunate mishap. But the child must accomplish the few menial chores around the house as specified to receive the benefit.

 Now the husband, in the above story represents Christ while His Spouse, the Wife, is the Church as established before Christ’s departure from our midst. The child is, of course, the members of the Church. Since Christ told his Apostles that whatever they bind and whatever they loose would be bound and loosed in heaven[1], the Church has the right, as did the wife, to exercise this power in the absence of her Spouse. She first, exacted a fair penance for the misdeed in accordance to the justice that was due. Secondly, she exacted mercy, in the name of her husband, to lighten the burden on the child while applying the merit (money in this case) as accumulated by her husband and those close relatives who left their money to the estate. Now the Church too has an estate and can use the merits gained by Christ and the saints (His brothers and sisters)[2] to be applied to souls for their aid and comfort.

 


[1] “Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.” __ Matthew 18:18

[2] “For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” __ Matthew 12:50

When Does Life Begin?

Detail - Glory of the New Born Christ in prese...

Some, thinking that I might be addressing the abortion issue, may answer this question with, ‘at birth’ or ‘at conception.’ But such an answer would only speak to the physical reality of our human person and its enfleshed temporal existence. But there is an answer that goes to the heart of all true spirituality. It is an answer that has been revealed by God through Holy Scripture. The surprising answer is that God has known our individual ‘being’ from the beginning – before time itself began. As St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:4, “… he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity.” So in essence our existence, our very personalities were known and loved by God from the beginning: from the depths of eternity. He has brought us forth at our appointed time according to His will but nevertheless known and held in the bosom of God before time began. Did not Christ Himself reveal that our eternal home, the kingdom, has been prepared from the beginning? In Matthew’s gospel Christ prays for unity, revealing the following in chapter 25, verse 34: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Having this knowledge is indispensable to a proper understanding of humanity, self-knowledge, and the knowledge of God. We can never truly plumb the depths of this mystery but even so, can acquire much fruit in our meditation upon it.

God has loved each of us individually and by name, loving us like children who might reflect His glory and carry out His holy will from eternity. Can we fathom the love that God has for each of us? Do we grasp the love that moved God to take on our human flesh? Do we really understand the participation of God in the Person of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us after Baptism and urges us to all holiness and love? In any spiritual journey, the logical starting point is the love of God while the consummation of this love is the end.

To grasp the fact that we are each, individually His: created from nothing, and destined to live in His glory forever, is fundamental to our belief and the basis of all Christian hope and love. Having been given the grace to live, as God would have us live, is a dignity that we cannot seem to grasp. To live in a way that would bring God glory seems to be a task that is superhuman at best. But God is not dissuaded by our proclivity to chase rainbows and turn from Him at every seeming whim. Instead, He quietly and steadily pursues each of us until the end, not unlike Francis Thompson’s poem The Hound of Heaven. No soul would exist that did not have the potential to become a blessed in heaven and God will spare nothing in His pursuit of each and every soul. Should we fail, we have no one to blame but our obstinate refusal to accept His grace and a conscious avoidance of His presence in our midst: for God has left His fingerprints on everything in the cosmos. But His indwelling in our very soul is a formidable mark of grace. We are never without Him nor are we ever separated from His love.

What can we possibly do to ensure that God might reach us and that we might not fail to live up to His plan for our lives? The constant teaching of the Church is prayer and detachment.

Through prayer, especially silent prayer, we discover God hiding in the recesses of our souls, beckoning to us while keeping constant vigil. Having found Him so near, allows the soul an opportunity to willfully increase the room we have allotted Him in our hearts. It also allows Him to fill us with all necessary grace for the rooting out of unhealthy attachments: primarily our attachment to self. Finally the soul is once again reminded of the life that God has desired for us: a life of eternal love – love of Him and love for all creation – including each and every soul that was so lovingly created and known before the foundation of the world.

Evil Incarnate: the Iniquity of our Political Elite

If I were to suggest to you that it is right and good that we should extend the freedom of our countrymen to include the execution of certain classes of people you would likely say to me that I should either have my head examined or be locked up for the good of society. Yet we have gone so far as to enact a law to protect the right of each and every woman to willfully murder the infant in her womb if that should be her wish.

 Supporters of such rights will argue incessantly about when this life form becomes a person but that is only a futile attempt to justify to the rest of society the immorality of their personal desires – or worse yet, a way to curry favor with others and empower themselves. We can all agree, at least, that a fetus is certainly a “life form” because it is absolutely certain that should we find such a thing on the Moon or Mars the headlines would immediately inform us that we had found life on another planet.

 Indeed if we can only find a single cell bacteria on another world it would be heralded and protected, studied and loved for all the potential good that might result from our study. Yet whatever the resulting good might be for these extra-terrestrial bacteria, the potential of a human life might certainly overshadow this scientific discovery: for each human being has at least the potential to become something wonderful or diabolic – but it is the individual’s choices that form them. They could become the next Einstein, Mother Teresa or Stalin. I dare say that bacterium from Mars will be more protected than a child in his mother’s womb.

 It is also a great wonder that we Americans spend more money and have more laws protecting the eggs of sea turtles than we do for the destruction of a child’s life. Is this to say that the potential life of a sea turtle is somehow sacred but the potential human life is of no consequence whatever? Have we lost our minds – or at least our moral sanity?

 I’m sure some naysayers would insist that this is not the same at all. After all, a rational human mother has the “right” to make these kinds of decisions and a sea turtle does not. So we conclude that we have a right (or even a moral responsibility) to protect her eggs because she can’t tell us whether she wants them to live or die. Naturally, our decision is that any mother would want her offspring to live and therefore we must do all in our power to make sure that these eggs remain safe. But if we somehow conclude that it is our proper role to protect a sea turtle’s potential offspring then why is it not acceptable to use the same logic to protect an unborn child? Any mother should want her offspring to live – natural law is proof of this fact.  So the mother that wants to abort her child must be insane.

 These same pro-abortionists are quick to pass laws to protect habitats and stop the extinction of a species as a ‘moral’ mandate. Violation of their laws can get you a hefty fine if you’re lucky or a lengthy stay in jail.

 If we as a society have a right to make decisions regarding sea turtles and other protected wildlife and we can give the right of abortion to a human mother then why can’t we as a society start making additional decisions for mothers: we could restrict the number of births to 1 child as in China. We could tell a mother that she must have an abortion if she wants to live in our quiet little upscale community or we might restrict her from giving childbirth due to her age or intelligence. Why not? After all, having a child past 30 can cause expensive medical costs, raise the chance of having a downs syndrome baby or worse. The liberal bureaucrat can simply claim that the child, in all probability, will not have a life worth living: a divine decision with eternal consequences made by a fool who bases life and death on actuarial tables and at the end of the day goes home to snug apartment and sleeps very nicely, thinking that he has done society a great good.

 The sanctity of human life and the dignity of human life have somehow been monstrously degraded. When we are too old and feeble I am sure that we will eventually follow suit and legalize euthanasia. What then: eliminate those who are handicapped, incapable of work or useless to society?

 How did we arrive at this juncture in a supposed civilized society? The news reporters and commentators have worked hand in hand with the self-proclaimed elite of this country to proclaim evil for good and to denounce good for evil. We have been given the country that we deserve by electing presidents, congressmen, senators and judges that do not respect people except as a source of power.

 They make laws for the people while exempting themselves, they establish rights that don’t exist so that they might be seen as true champions of the people. All the while they continually usurp our rights and buy our votes with entitlements to further their own selfish elitist power.

 We might apply the following scripture to our new elite taken from Matthew 23:25-33.

 “Woe to you scribes[1] and Pharisees[2], hypocrites; because you make clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but within you are full of rapine[3] and uncleanness. Thou blind Pharisee, first make clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, that the outside may become clean. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you are like to whited sepulchers, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones, and of all filthiness. So you also outwardly indeed appear to men just; but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; that build the sepulchers of the prophets, and adorn the monuments of the just, and say: If we had been in the days of our Fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore you are witnesses against yourselves, that you are the sons of them that killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. You serpents, generation of vipers, how will you flee from the judgment of hell?”


[1] scribesAlso called sopher, sofer. Judaism. one of the group of Palestinian scholars and teachers of Jewish law and tradition, active from the 5th century b.c. to the 1st century a.d., who transcribed, edited, and interpreted the Bible.

[2] PhariseesA member of a Jewish sect that flourished during the 1st century b.c. and 1st century a.d. and that differed from the Sadducees chiefly in its strict observance of religious ceremonies and practices, adherence to oral laws and traditions, and belief in an afterlife and the coming of a Messiah.

[3] rapineThe violent seizure and carrying off of another’s property; plunder.

Prayer’s Twofold End

Prayer has a twofold end: worship and petition. The prayer of worship can be divided into three distinct sentiments that are offered to God, adoration, thanksgiving and reparation, while the prayer of petition is principally a request for the effective operation of God’s Grace.  Therefore, even petition is an act of confidence in Him and can be viewed as a form of homage to a loving God Who hears His creatures and pours His Grace upon them.

Prayer further can be distinguished by its form: mental, vocal, private or public. Mental prayer has no outward expression but is a silent conversation of the soul with God. All interior acts that tend to unite us with God can be considered mental prayer. This includes, recollection, consideration, reasoning, self-examination, loving thoughts of God, contemplation or a simple longing of the heart for God. These acts deepen our convictions, exercise our virtue and train us for our heavenly life: the eternal, loving contemplation of God. (See Chapter V, Sect. IV of Tanquerey’s, The Spiritual Life)

Vocal prayer expresses itself in word and in act stimulating devotion by the very sound of the words or the use of pious gestures. Therefore, we are called to be serious, attentive, and pious in the recitation of our prayers and the use of prayerful gestures; genuflection, kneeling, bowing, etc. One must be constantly aware of Who it is that this conversation is between. Further, such attentiveness helps our neighbors, who become more devout when exposed to people who are especially devout in their prayer. Therefore, devout and pious prayer is contagious; an act that reinforces one another’s faith and confidence.

As mentioned earlier, vocal prayer can be either private or public according to whether it is offered by an individual or by a group of individuals. “The prayers of the many cannot go unheeded when they unite in one.” __ St. Thomas’s commentary on Matthew 18:20. It is for this reason that we are urged to join in common prayer frequently and why the Church calls us together for Holy Mass and other religious liturgies every day of the week. The Church has always recommended our participation in Her daily prayer to God for Her people. Even so, a priest is urged to say Holy Mass even though the faithful cannot be present. Even so, this prayer is offered for all the people. Further, priests and religious recite daily the Divine Office, often in private, but always for the entire Church. We too are urged to join this prayer of the Church privately or publicly with a prayer group.

We are prodded to practice all types of prayer on a continuing basis: to offer God our homage and thanks, to make amends for our sins, and to ask for help with our special needs. We are invited to make our prayers mentally throughout our waking day and to join our voices and gestures to public acts of worship whenever possible. The purpose of our prayer life should reflect the reality which St. John the Baptist declared so aptly in John 3:30, “He must increase: but I must decrease.” For prayer is the soul’s preparation on Earth for our life with God in Heaven: a focus necessary to our eventual realization that God is All in all and we are merely unprofitable servants in dire need of His Divine Mercy.

A Letter to My Friend’s Uncle Who Warned Him Against the Dangers of the Catholic Church

MY REPLY TO THIS AVID ANTI-CATHOLIC

 of St. Michael and the

Satan is a liar and it is he who, quite often, might confuse our thoughts. Thus my initial decision, to give you no answer, may have been tainted by his urging: for he despises Truth and wants desperately that we not spread it. But Christian charity or love moved by Grace, should not allow me or anyone else to keep the Truth hidden, though it seems probable that you have no intention of listening to it: for you opened your correspondence with the words, “no matter what you send me it will still be of the devil,” which seemingly closes all avenues of approach. But I cannot rely on my assessment of your state of mind or heart. I must instead rely on the Grace of God to move your heart and your mind. Should I fail God in my poor explanations and my inept use of the Grace already bestowed on this unworthy vessel, it is certain that He shall not fail us. He is always the one who moves our hearts and minds to Him and also to His eternal Truth. Indeed, each and every conversion is effected solely by God’s Grace, though it may be facilitated by simple things and by simple people as well. For God can use any of us as instruments in order to accomplish His Divine Will: including me, I suppose.

Let me start by saying that deplorable satanic cults abound in this modern world and have certainly grown in number and strength these past 50 years. I have always found it fascinating that these cults have a particular hatred for the Catholic Church. This I witnessed and recognized even as a Protestant. I am sure that you have heard of their practice known as the Black Mass. This diabolic ceremony is described as a ‘travesty of the Roman Catholic Mass’ that must be performed with a Consecrated Host (bread that has been changed into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ during a Catholic Mass). In order that they might obtain this Manifestation of our Lord and desecrate Him, the satanic cult members will risk both life and limb to break into a Catholic Church, force open the tabernacle, and steal this Most Precious Sacrament of the Church. Now whether or not you believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not the point of this story. It is merely to show that if Satan were indeed in-league with the Catholic Church, he would surely not attack Her or Her beliefs. “. . . if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself: how then shall his kingdom stand?” _ Matthew 12:26.

Again, I am sure that you recognize that there is no other Church on the face of the planet that concerns Herself more with the release of souls from the clutches of Satan. By this I mean that only the Catholic Church has ancient rites for the exorcism of demons that are practiced to this day. The Catholic Exorcist is a priest that has been chosen for reasons of his personal holiness, maturity of faith, and deep prayer life. Each diocese (every Bishop) is to have at least one on staff. Further to this idea, the vows that each Christian soul takes during the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation require that the person state that he or she “renounces Satan and all his lies.” The point, once again, is not to have you approve of our practice or belief at this time, but instead to open your eyes to a possible inconsistency in your allegation: i.e. that “the Catholic Church is of the Devil.” Once again I would cite Matthew 12:26 in this regard.

            A little further down we see in Matthew 12:30:  “He that is not with me, is against me: and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth.”  Logic dictates that the same would hold true of Satan. I would propose to your intellect that it is highly unlikely that Satan is opposing and desecrating the Catholic Church if She is indeed aChurch ofSatan. Of what benefit is it for Satan to scatter his own flock?

Matthew 12:33  “Either make the tree good and its fruit good: or make the tree evil, and its fruit evil. For by the fruit the tree is known.” Matthew 12:37  “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Christ, it seems, has given us, in the Gospel of Matthew, a two-fold way to discern whether the person or institution is good or evil: by their fruits and by their words. Is the fruit of the Catholic Faith evil? Is the caring for the poor, the homeless, the widows and orphans, the imprisoned etc. evil? Is the Catholic Church’s proclamation of Christ’s Gospel evil? What are the words of the Catholic Church? They are the words of the Holy Scriptures, which She Herself preserved and canonized into the Sacred Depository known as The Holy Bible. They are also the words of the apostles as given us through constant oral teaching. Might She therefore be, as the Scripture above says, justified? Hopefully, you might at least entertain the possibility that the Catholic Church is, at the very least, another Christian denomination, though you might eye Her with uncertainty regarding Her practices.

Now it is apparent that you have problems with much of what you have seen, or heard of the Catholic Church. To you, our Protestant brothers and sisters in faith, who have been separated for these 450 years, little remains of our traditions and beliefs that we once shared. Isolated, as it were, from the Church these past 4½ centuries, many rumors and myths have grown up about our beliefs. Most have no validity whatever, while others are merely taken out of the context in which we practice them. By interpreting as best I can your actual concerns regarding the Catholic Church, I will now try to answer these in the most forthright manner I can, though I am but a novice in this regard.

Catholics claim to have received an oral tradition from the apostles of Christ and I gather that you find this somehow offensive. I would propose that you too, have an oral tradition, though of a much shorter duration, leading back to the Protestant Reformation and your religious leaders. By your insistence on the use of the King James Bible (circa 1600’s) you have limited your resources and your understanding of Scripture by a ‘traditional’ bias that you have inherited from your own denomination. Traditions are the most used ‘authorities’ for what each of us holds as truth. Our family tradition allows us to believe in our heritage. Our national tradition allows us to embrace concepts of freedom and liberty, and develop patriotism and nationalism etc. So it is not that you do not have a religious tradition, the same as we do, it is rather that you do not accept ours.

We do not believe our tradition blindly, as some might believe, but we have Biblical, historical, archaeological, theological, and logical ‘proofs’ for its legitimacy. You have limited our explanation of these to only one realm, which certainly limits a full explanation of the subject. It is much like limiting the knowledge of your family heritage to a great aunt and to no one else. You have further made the task more difficult by limiting our proofs from Holy Scripture to that of the King James Version, which might be likened to listening to your great aunt only between the hours of 6:00 PM and 10:00 PM on a Sunday. It is an undisputed fact that the King James Version omits, or at least relegates to the status of apocryphal, a number of books from the Holy Canon of Scripture that the Catholic Church gave to the world in and about the year A.D. 400. It is also a fact that this version relies on the Jamnian or Palestinian Canon of Old Testament Scripture rather than the Septuagint (circa 100~200 B.C.), which history verifies was used by our Lord Himself and read by Him in the Synagogue – for the Jamnian Canon of Old Testament Scripture dates from shortly after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (circa A.D. 70) and therefore at least 35 years after Christ’s atoning death. There have also been many new rewrites of the King James Version that have seemingly tried to rid the text of some of its more obvious errors, such as the copying of Martin Luther’s “saved by faith alone” sentence, which all modern Protestant scholars admit as erroneous. I do not know which version you use, so I will quote my own Douay-Rheims Bible and you can look up the differences in your own version of the King James. Most often we will have similar translations, as the language of the Douay is also Victorian. At times (though you have said you will believe nothing except what is in your King James Bible) I will include passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). This is because, regardless of your bias, nothing can best characterize someone’s beliefs like their own words. So if Christ has said that by our words we will be justified or condemned (see above), it is only proper and fair to let the Church speak for Herself. I also want to reserve the right to quote the early fathers of the Church who have left historical written records of their faith. For if I cannot present any evidence in defense, this would be much like convicting a defendant without letting the defending attorney call any witnesses.

To begin, I would like to take you to two definitive statements in the New Testament. If the Church is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), as this scripture says, and if the early Christians were urged to hold on to the “traditions, which you have learned, whether by word (oral tradition) or by our epistle (written tradition)” (2 Thessalonians 2:14), why will you not accept that there is to this day a Church that claims to fully reveal the Truths of the Christian faith and adhere to both an oral and written tradition? Didn’t Christ assure His early Church that He would not leave them “orphans” (John 14:18) and that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18)? Therefore, the Church that Christ started should still be with us and should still be ruled by the traditions of both the words (living memories) and epistles (written records) that She received from Christ’s apostles.

I would also propose that the Church that Christ founded would likely be one that:

  1. Has members who at times cause scandal (Matthew 18:7)
  2. Is hated by the world and all men (Matthew 10:22; Matthew 24:9,10; John 17:14)
  3. Recognizes the sins of all men including her own members and hierarchy (1 John 1:10)
  4. Offers an unbloody sacrifice, of bread and wine, to God “from the rising of the sun even unto its going down” (in other words, everywhere and at every time) as Malachi predicted in Malachi 1:11 and as Christ commanded at the Last Supper (Synoptic Gospels) and as practiced by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:29
  5. Has priests as seen repeatedly in the New Testament writings: Acts 14:22; Acts 15:2; Acts 22:30; 1Tim. 5:17,19; Titus 1:5; James 5:14
  6. Exercises the gift given the apostles to forgive sins in the name of Christ (John 20:23) and the gift given specifically to Christ’s Church leader (Peter) in Matthew 16:18
  7. Has adopted Mary as our own mother as was commanded of John by our Lord at the end of Christ’s earthly life (John 19:27), thereby making it mandatory to honor her via the 4th Commandment (5th for you)

There are others, as well, but this list should suffice for now. I am sure you agree that this seems to fit the Catholic Church quite well even if you do not accept all of the points above. Though many cannot abide by Her teachings, bringing scandal after scandal, She refuses to change Her teachings in order to get along in the world. For example, did you know that all Protestant churches forbade contraception before Margaret Sanger (Planned Parenthood’s founder and a promoter of eugenics) waged her successful battle against the family? Not until the 1930’s did any Protestant church succumb to this practice, with the Anglican Church being the first to yield. Others soon followed until the entire Protestant world accepted the practice. The Catholic Church now stands alone against the world in its defiant stand against the deliberate separation of the marital act from procreation. If “of the devil” wouldn’t we want to destroy the institution of marriage and encourage recreational sex? For this reason, the United Nations has tried repeatedly to exclude the Vatican from meetings where world population control was on the table, etc. Since Church teaching is supposed to be “revealed truth,” Christ’s Church might respond precisely as the Catholic Church has on many of today’s issues, stating in words to the effect that: “we do not have the authority to make this change.” I have heard no other Church in the world make this argument. If our Church were a worldly Church, subject to the desires of the people, She would certainly have ditched such unpopular practices as our teaching on contraception, our teaching on the Holy Eucharist, or our teaching on Sacramental Confession, to name but a few. No human being on the face of the planet would come up with these disciplines of their own accord – they had to be inspired by Divine Revelation. Therefore, Catholics are derided for obeying unpopular teachings, which we believe to be obligations of the faith as given us by Christ through His Church. We cannot be ruled by popular human opinion nor will we be able to completely vanquish the hatred that the world bears us as Christ foresaw (Matthew 10:22; Matthew 24:9,10; John 17:14). I am moved to recall the reaction of the disciples that left Jesus after He told them that they had to eat His body and drink His blood. “This saying is hard, and who can hear it?” (John 6:61) and then we were told that they “walked no more with Him” (John 6:67). That is a very human reaction to the teachings of the Church, which makes it quite improbable to convince those who have not, as yet, been moved by the grace of faith, which makes even the impossible possible.

History seems to supply ample evidence of the constancy in our teachings including: The Holy Eucharist, Confession of Sins, and the practice of giving great honor to Mary and the Saints. I would like to start with our teaching on the Eucharist.

John 6 opens with an account of Christ having fed 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. It seems that this miracle might be regarded as a significant sign of what Catholics believe in regards to Holy Communion, when viewed as a prefiguring of Christ’s institution of this Sacrament. In Greek the word for fish became an acronym for Jesus and stood for “Jesus, Son of God, Savior”, and thus was used by early Christians as a sign for their belief in Christianity. Having said this, we have Christ feeding the multitudes with bread (an element of the Eucharist) and fish (symbolic of Himself) at one and the same time – and everyone was filled. There were fragments enough from this miracle to fill 12 baskets, perhaps to indicate that Christ could feed all “the chosen people” (the 12 tribes of Israel) from this 1 meal.

Further in John 6 starting at verse 51 through 59 we read: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen, I say unto you: except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me: and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna and are dead. He that eateth this bread shall live for ever.”

Is it possible that Christ’s words were only symbolic? I would at least entertain such a possibility if it were not for the prefigured feeding of the 5000 and the information given us at the end of this chapter. For Christ, Who came to give His life for our Salvation, allowed those to walk away who could not bear this “hard saying”. He did not call them back to explain the symbolism as he had often done when His parables were misunderstood. Instead, He asked the 12 apostles if they too would leave: an indication that we must have faith in His words even if we do not quite understand how it is possible to eat His Body or drink His Blood – even if it must remain a mystery. Christ, of course, sheds much light on this mystery during His Seder meal (the Pasch) on the night before He died (the Last Supper).

Christ’s words at the Last Supper were direct and unambiguous in all the Gospel narratives: “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood.” He did not say this is a symbol or representation of My Body and Blood but that it IS MY BODY AND MY BLOOD. Does this bother you just a little bit as it did me when I was Protestant? Even if you have an interpretation, which justifies your not believing these words of our Lord, you must admit that it is neither a wild gesture on the part of the early Church nor on the part of today’s Catholics to take Christ literally on this point. Should we be vilified for it?

I would like to digress for a bit in order that you might understand that Catholic’s are not an un-Biblical people; though Protestant’s often portray us as such. It seems to me that one of the big problems between us is how we read and study the Bible, not whether we have read or studied the Bible. By this I mean that there are some huge differences between the Old Testament writings and the New Testament writings that beg to be solved in 2 different ways.

One way might be to see the Old Testament purely as a history of the “old Law” which is overturned by the “new Law” which is realized in Christ. This is fine if we can fully determine what is meant by “the Law:” otherwise we risk discarding much of God’s revelation, which provides light for a proper understanding of the New Testament. Some interpretations tend to portray the God of the Old Testament as a different God from that of the New Testament. He was the God of wrath while the New Testament God was a God of love (a depiction that is understandable considering all the ‘smiting’ that went on in the Old). For some then, the Old Testament revelation and covenants are looked upon as antiquated, as is the Old Testament view of God.

Though none would argue that much has been overturned, there is another way to view the whole of scripture. That is that the Old Testament teachings prefigure the New Testament teachings – Christ fulfilling all within the New Testament. Now it is my contention that God does not make mistakes. I cannot look upon our Omnipotent, All-knowing God as one who tried something and then failed at it – so He decided to take another shot at our salvation. I see it all as a whole and as a single plan for salvation. All of scripture seems to be training mankind for his ultimate end by continually revealing Himself to us. For the end of man, which should be every man’s desire and happiness, would also seem to be God Himself. Therefore, Catholics are more prone to approach the Bible as a process or development of themes that are important to God’s revelation. It becomes then a book of salvation history with man learning his ABC’s long before he understands the necessity of them. It is primarily through the New Testament that man learns of the relevance of the Old Testament, making it necessary to our proper understanding of the revelation given by Christ. In this way we might see much of the old Law transformed or transmuted into the new.

Now why did I digress to speak of these things? It is only to show that an understanding of all corresponding Old Testament pre-figurations is germane to any explanation of a Catholic understanding of things.

Therefore, in my explanation of the Catholic understanding of Holy Communion, started above, I would like you to at least examine some of the Old Testament pre-figurations (types, or models if you will), as additional support for our beliefs. In regards to our understanding of the Eucharist you might want to re-read the institution of the Pasch immediately preceding the Exodus fromEgypt. The lamb was sacrificed and then was to be eaten by all, without a bone being broken. Now doesn’t the Catholic Eucharist fulfill what was started back in Egypt? We take the Lamb of God and eat what was once a Bloody Sacrifice in the Old Testament but fulfilled by Christ in the New Testament in a Spiritual Pasch, where not a bone is broken – a re-presentation of Christ’s Sacrifice. Now the Jewish Sacrifice was taken away once theTemple was destroyed inJerusalemin A.D. 70 and therefore a lamb can no longer be offered by the Jews for their sacrifice as instituted in the Old Law. To this day, the Jewish people celebrate their Pasch with a shank bone placed on their plate, to symbolize the lamb, once sacrificed, which cannot now be truly offered. But a true sacrifice continues to this day in the Catholic Church alone, the once for all sacrifice of Christ, though it is offered perpetually in order that each Christian should have the opportunity to accept its application to their own soul. Protestants also believe that we have to do something: even if it is no more than saying in your heart that you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. But Catholics do not dismiss the fact that God uses material things to impart spiritual good. For example, Baptism confers God’s Grace through water. God is the maker of both the spiritual and the material universe and men are creatures comprised of a marriage between the spiritual (soul, intellect, reason) and the material (our corporeal bodies). We cannot separate our souls from our bodies and God works with us according to the nature that He gave us. He uses the physical to impart spiritual gifts and has done so from the beginning: the Old Testament and the New Testament are full of the history of this. Therefore it is not a new idea, concocted by Catholics, that we get God’s Saving Grace from the Baptismal element of water, that we get God’s Forgiving Grace through a priest, a mere human being, or that we might receive Christ Himself in the form of Bread and Wine. Such is the way a merciful God deals with the human being. For as a concoction of spirit and matter, human beings need to utilize their corporeal senses to see, feel, hear, taste, and smell. And God does not deny us the things that we need. He has given us something within our material reality by which we can lay claim on the spiritual.

What would you make of the Old Testament story of Melchisedech especially the Genesis 14:18 verse? Here we see a man, a priest, who prefigures Christ in offering bread and wine as a Sacrifice and distributing God’s blessing to Abram. It was an act by a mere human being in the name of God. This sacrificial offering and blessing is apparently a very old method God utilized in order to bless His earthly creatures. And although Christ is the High Priest that was prefigured by Melchisedech, our priests today only represent this Eternal High Priest in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar. Yes, it is Christ Himself who is the High Priest, is the Lamb of God Offering, and is the Blessing conferred. It is a mere human priest who represents Christ. The priest, having received the power of the bishop in a long line of apostolic succession, only does as Christ instructed the apostles that last night.  For He commanded them to “Do this in remembrance of Me”: an act that is not just a simple acting out, like a school play. It is a re-presenting of the very same mystery that Christ enacted that evening when He gave Himself to the apostles in the form of Bread and Wine. I do not blame anyone for being skeptical about such an event, for it is purely a Divine Mystery that we accept by faith. That we view this in the same way as early Christians is pretty easily proved.

St. Paul warns the early community that they “eateth and drinketh  judgment” to themselves  if they do not “discern the Body of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:29). The Didache, also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (circa A.D. 80) says the following in Chapter 14: :1And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.  2And let no man, having his dispute with his fellow, join your assembly until they have been reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be defiled; 3for this sacrifice it is that was spoken of by the Lord; In every place and at every time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great king, saith the Lord, and My name is wonderful among the nations.”

Note the connection to confessing one’s sins and the fact that “to break bread” was seen as a sacrifice to be offered to God. The “Lord’s own day” is Sunday, the first day of the week, the first day of the New Creation in Christ. It seems only fitting that the earliest Christians moved the Sabbath to Christ’s own day of Creation. In fact John tells us in the Book of Revelation (1:10) that he was “in the spirit” on the Lord’s Day. This was most probably a great favor given John by our Lord during or after “the Breaking of the Bread:” for it is not uncommon for great saints to experience spiritual ecstasy during the Mass. Our beliefs are not unbiblical nor do they go unsupported in early Christian writing. I could cite writer after writer from the first 4 centuries of the Church with the same belief if this would help. My hope is not that you accept all that we believe on this subject but to at least give us the benefit of a doubt when it comes to these beliefs, which we have held from the beginning. You might also recognize that we have 2000 years of history supporting these beliefs.

Now let us turn our attention to the Sacrament of Confession. I have already explained that Catholics do not think that priests forgive sins on their own authority but rather on the authority of Jesus Christ and by the command given to His apostles (John 20:23).

Is there further Scripture that may lend support to this practice? 1 John 1:9   If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all iniquity.  I am sure that you agree with the idea of confession of sins as related in the above passage. The only difference between us is that we believe that Christ wants us to make our Confession to God in a formal way through one of His ambassadors, a priest, who has received the same “blessing” given to the apostles by Christ, and passed on throughout our Church history by the imposition of hands. It is interesting to note that God had the Jews present themselves to the priests in the “old law” in a similar way. In the Old Testament, lepers were looked upon as sinners, and they were to present themselves to the priests in order to be cleansed. Again, did God make a mistake, or did God prefigure the Sacrament of Confession that Catholic’s practice today. It is also necessary at this time to remind you of how God passes blessings on from man to man through the imposition of hands – a prefiguring of the ordination rite for bishops and priests within the Catholic hierarchy. I will only refer to one such event because I think it profound enough to suffice for my proof.

Please read Genesis Chapter 27 concerning how Jacob “stole” the blessing of Isaac from Esau. Once the blessing was gone (through the imposition of hands) it could not be taken back. God’s blessing surely fell on Jacob and even God would not undo the blessing for He is always true to His promises. Again, God was giving Divine Grace through His own sinful human creatures. Not that the blessing actually came from Esau, but, of course, came from God. We say the same about our Sacrament of Confession and our Rite for the Ordination of priests and bishops. It does not come from the power of the individual but from God alone, and because God always remains faithful to His promises.

In James 5:16 we read:  Confess therefore your sins one to another . . .      Now who are the ones to hear these confessions? Is it just anyone in the community, everyone in the community, or should we take our sins to the authorities of the Church? For in Ecclesiasticus 4:31 (also known as the Book of Sirach) the Old Law even suggests prudence in choosing those to whom we might confess and submit our sins:  Be not ashamed to confess thy sins, but submit not thyself to every man for sin. We happen to think that it is prudent to confess our sins to a priest who has been ordained in a long succession of ordination that stretches back to the apostles: to one who has received God’s ancient blessing and thereby given the same power that God gave the apostles to forgive sin.

So in ending this part, I would at least ask you to admit that Catholics are not unbiblical in their claims – whether you believe our teachings or not. I only want to show that our contention is not only Biblical but logical as well.

My final point has also been covered, in part, in the above writing: i.e. why Catholic’s pay great honor to Mary and the saints. First, let’s be perfectly clear on some of these points: Catholics only worship God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Mary, because she is the mother of Jesus and thereby, the Mother of God, receives great love and honor. She is not the mother of His Divine Nature, which He possessed from eternity, and we do not claim this. However, we do claim what Scripture tells us of her: i.e. that Mary is the mother of our Savior’s human nature, having received this nature from her. We quite understandably give her great devotion and the honor that is befitting a human creature that was picked (from among all people and from all time) by God to be His very Mother. Catholics did not elevate her status: God did this by His election of her.

Christ, who chose Mary from eternity, was prepared, by God, for her task and was therefore, born without sin – an immaculate mother for our God. Though you may not believe that God would or could preserve Mary from the stain of sin from her conception even to her death, there is good theological reason for believing this. For one thing the angel greeted Mary as “full of grace.” Now “full” does not leave room for any extra. She cannot be at once “full” and yet stand in need of “more” grace. We also see from Scripture that nothing unholy can remain in contact with God. Moses had to hide his face from God. Hell itself separated the defiled from God’s presence while sin caused Adam and Eve to hide from God in the Garden – ending their life in Paradise.

Many stories in the Old Testament show us the Holiness that God demands as a prerequisite for God’s dwelling among men. Think for a minute about the Ark of the Covenant: For the defiled to even touch or look upon the Ark was punished by instant death. Likewise, Catholic’s believe that Mary, (as the New Ark who carried the New Law and the Word of God Himself within her womb), was also made holy. Yes, she was saved by Christ, as we all were. But she received a special favor in having His atoning death applied to her at the moment of her conception, instead of lying in wait for it as we did. This is a step above God’s special arrangement for the saints of the Old Testament who slept – in Sheol. God kept them somewhere, knowing that Christ’s Saving Grace could be applied to them in the future. Otherwise, they would have all been in hell, not having Sanctifying Grace in their soul at the time of their death.  So Christ’s Saving Death was applied to people who died throughout the ages and can be applied to all who ever will live. But for Mary – it was applied at the moment of Her conception so that she would be the perfect vessel for the 2nd person of God.

And just like the Ark of the Covenant that contained the word of God (10 Commandments), Mary contained the real WORD OF GOD. Just like the Ark of the Covenant contained a jar of the Manna (from Heaven), Mary contained the real BREAD FROM HEAVEN. Just as the Ark of the Covenant contained the Rod of Aaron that had bloomed (a symbol of his high priesthood), Mary contained the ETERNAL HIGH PRIEST. Early Christians saw the Ark of the Covenant as a Symbol for the Old Testament Church and Mary as a Symbol for the New Testament Church and as a fulfillment of the former. Therefore, I look for a Church that preaches THE WORD OF GOD (the Bible), feeds its people with THE BREAD FROM HEAVEN, and ministers to the people with a valid priesthood in the name of our ETERNAL HIGH PRIEST.

It follows that a continual sacrifice needs to be offered, since a priest is ordained to offer sacrifice for the people. Otherwise, there is neither a need for any priests on earth nor for an Eternal High Priest in Heaven. If it was done once in time and has no need to be repeated or re-applied, then why should Christ retain His title as Eternal High Priest?

Christ came as our brother and by extension this makes Mary our mother as well. Catholics therefore obey the Commandment to love, honor and obey our mother and our father not only in regards to our corporeal relatives but in regards to our spiritual parents as well. Will Mary ask you to do anything that will not be in the best interest of your soul or somehow compromise your obedience to Christ? Is she harmful to our souls? If God entrusted Himself to her care, I feel confident in entrusting myself to her care as well. The Mary I know from Scripture will have nothing to do with evil and will only lead me to her son, Jesus, my Lord and my God. Mary has said little in Scripture but the following 2 lines best characterize her: “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.” as spoken at the annunciation and “Do what he tells you to do.” which she told the servants at the wedding feast in Cana. I think Mary would like us all to make these words our own. I, for one, would like to obey her wishes.

Our honoring saints is not completely unlike our honoring of Mary, though Mary led a life that was supernaturally grace-filled from the start and never lost any of this grace by personal sin. Our saints are quite different in this regard. Many were great sinners (think of Moses and David who were guilty of murder and various other sins). However, in every case the saint overcame his sinful inclinations and found God’s grace that delivered them from the clutches of hell. These men and women have become the heroes and heroines of Christianity. They far more qualify themselves for reverent praise than do our civil and military heroes and heroines to whom we erect plaques and fashion statues to grace our parks and government buildings. These are true heroes and heroines that were weak, as we are weak, and yet overcame that weakness by the grace of God and by their cooperation with this grace. That makes them models of holiness for each of us and for our children. In an age when there are precious few role models for our children, thank goodness that we still have heroic saints to read about and to pray for us.

God is not a selfish God. Yes, He is a jealous God, because He loves us and desires the best for us. He is jealous of our following after false Gods. But He is also desirous of our praise for those whom He has given the ultimate praise: raising them up to His Heavenly home to live with Him. If God praises these saints and His Mother, does He get angry if we praise these men and women for their victories as well? I think not. As stated above, God is not selfish He is instead supremely giving; having given us His only begotten Son. Does God want us to forget His Son’s best pupils? Are we not to congratulate and admire them? Should we not try to learn from them and emulate them? If mere men are flattered when their students are praised or when their work of art is appreciated, would God be any less flattered? The praise that is given to a student or a work of art reflects on the teacher or the artist and praises them as well. Therefore the praises we give to the saints, gives further praise to God as well as thanksgiving for the grace He has bestowed.

Catholics do not think that saints are merely twiddling their thumbs in Heaven. We believe that God uses them to dispense His Grace. Not that God has need of them, but that God is a loving God and knows that they will find great happiness in participating in His Divine Plan. God had no need for angels yet He made them His messengers and servers.  He has no need for us, yet He wants us to share eternal life with Him and desires our eternal happiness. So it is a Catholic’s belief that God allows our participation in His Divine Plan for our true happiness due to His great love for us.

Since our Real Life starts in Heaven – and it is not just bread and circuses – we believe that our saints and God’s angels are active in our earthly life. They dispense God’s grace and they intercede with God for our needs. The participation of angels in God’s plan and in our salvation is obvious in scripture and yet most Protestants will not admit that God might possibly allow us to serve Him in a like manner. Yet, God seemed to think that man merited a Savior and the fallen angels did not. It seems to me that Mary and the saints may have roles in heaven that are at least equal to the roles that angels have played.

Most Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, would have no objection to praying for another, nor would they shy away from asking another to pray for them. This is intercession with God, the same thing we ask of saints. Yet, simply because a saint has begun his or her Real Life in heaven, these same Christians seem to think it somehow unfitting for Catholics to ask for their prayers simply because they have departed this earthly plane. This is not the conjuring of spirits from the nether world as forbidden in Deuteronomy. This is simply intercession of our brothers and sisters in Christ. They who are incorporated permanently into the mystical body of Christ are more capable of praying properly than we are. Their prayers, being in full accord with the Divine Will, might then be more efficacious than our own. Is it possible also that God may even entrust the dispensation of His Grace to those who ask for their help? Again, angels dispensed God’s blessings to men here on earth. Can Mary and our saints also dispense God’s blessings? Catholics reply with an unequivocal yes to this question. The Church has been utilizing these saints from the beginning and has an historical record of its effectiveness: miracles of every sort and kind over these past 2000 years. Thanks be to God for all His blessings and also for the love he has shown to His angels and His saints. A lesser god would never entrust such goodness to his creatures. Our God is neither diminished by His angels nor by His saints. Our God shows us the extent of His love and of His Greatness.

I hope that this helps in your understanding of some of the things that Catholics believe or practice. If you have further questions, please present them a few at a time in order that we might deal with them in an orderly fashion. Thank you for the opportunity given me to attempt this defense of the Catholic faith. For I believe it is through such efforts that God strengthens us in our faith though we may not be very adept in his service. May God bless you in this life and also in the next.

SIDE NOTE: I am happy to note that today marks my 20th year as a confirmed Catholic. It marks the most pivotal moment in my life and I cannot express the joy that this homecoming meant to me. It is my real birthday – the day I was joined to Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church for eternity.

Adherence to a Standard

The basis for all spirituality is adherence to a standard. In the case of Catholic Spirituality the standard is, of course, the definitive teachings of the Roman Catholic Church; including Her moral standard, as well as Her practices.

To borrow one of the late Fulton Sheen’s illustrations, let’s imagine ourselves sitting at a piano.

English: Pianist Mark Eisenman

When we strike any key on the instrument no one can say that we have hit a wrong note. However, in the context of playing a particular piece of music, many wrong notes are possible. The music to be played is a standard that must be followed precisely if we are to receive the applause that follows a successful rendition at a concert.

Our spiritual lives are very much like this. Our saints are like the virtuosos who garner much admiration after a difficult musical performance. We do not see or hear the mistakes previously made during practice nor are we made aware of the depth of the trials that these persons overcame in order to achieve their success. But rest assured that a struggle was a necessary prelude to all that they achieved.

The piano player made mistakes in practicing and worked them out. If they were beyond his ability to recognize and correct, he sought out a maestro or teacher who could give them musical exercises to overcome their shortfalls. But never did they decide to rewrite the score themselves in order that they might more easily play the piece or because they disagreed with some section of the musical piece. They adhered completely to the standard.

Likewise, a Catholic soul who desires to lead a spiritual life, who wishes to attempt Christ’s lofty goal to “be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), must practice holiness like a virtuoso practices his instrument. When he stumbles and falls, he returns to his Maestro (the Church) for correction. It is through this never ending and meticulous process of failure, confession, absolution, and spiritual direction that the soul is purified and our Catholic Spirituality made sound. We don’t rely solely on our own abilities nor do we re-write the teachings of the Church to aid us in our journey. For then we have only substituted our private standard for that of the Church and our spirituality becomes as flawed as the musician who ‘does his own thing’ without regard to the music that he has been asked to play. Just as such a musician will not long be a member of an orchestra, so too those who create their own standards cannot long remain members of the Divine Orchestra the Holy Catholic Church unless one fully accepts the Divine Music and at least attempts to play the performance according to Her Standard.

The first step to a healthy spirituality then is the desire to play in the Heavenly Orchestra and to humbly submit to play only those notes that are written. The next step is to practice according to the rules those things that are difficult and to seek help in correcting those things with which we constantly have problems. Once the soul has begun to faithfully apply himself to this humble obedience (this training of the will) and has sought help through prayer, countless days of practice (making virtues habitual,  and through the utilization of appointed teachers within the Church, much progress in the Spiritual Life is assured.

In music one studies the theory of music, seeks help and listens to others who play well, while in Spirituality the soul studies the teachings, the moral laws and precepts, prays, practices the virtues, and acquaints themselves with the great saints in order that he might acquire their abilities which are not yet possessed in full. Imperfections and failures are certain along the way but with these basics one can proceed safely without danger to ones immortal soul. “For what will it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26) Remember that sloth or laxity is a capital sin that we must always be on guard to fight. Zeal for the Faith and zeal for Christ comes no other way: it requires spiritual exercise and slow, hard work.