Sunday, November 1, 2009

My Latest Trip To The Local Latin Rite Church

I ended up working on Halloween night and didn't get home until almost 10PM. I was pretty wound up and didn't get to sleep until late. When I woke up this morning, I decided to make the shorter drive to my local Catholic Church, instead of the longer drive to my Byzantine Catholic Church. I believe I have posted before about the crazy things that go on in some Latin Rite parishes and how that had me searching out other options in the Catholic Church or Eastern Orthodoxy.

I try not to be critical and look for liturgical abuses, but they just seem to jump out at me. For those who are not Catholic or were not Catholic during the 70's and early 80's, these things may seem trivial or even the norm. Some of the things today that bothered me:

  • The Sense of The Sacred - During my growing up years, people came to Mass early and prayed or quietly reflected before the mass. My first experience at a Protestant church had me shocked; people acted like it was a party, yacking it up like they were sitting in their living room. One of the things that bugged me about the Latin Church I found in this decade was that we had lost the sense of the sacred. This morning, I heard more people talking about yesterday's football game or where they were going to watch football today. I heard people complaining about other people in the church. It went on and on and on. And the killer for me today happened when the an annoucement was made today that there would only be one collection today; someone belted out, "It's about time" and most of the church erupted in laughter. Catholics believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist and in the tabernacle and this is how we act?
  • The next thing that just grated my nerves was the Vestment worn by the Priest. Again, for those who are not Catholic this may seem trivial, but the Vestments worn by the Priest have a meaning. For example, on Pentecost, the Priest wears Red to symbolize The Holy Spirit. Today was the Feast of All Saints Day which means the liturgicl color is white. The Priest's vestment was some multi-colored item that looked like it was made in the 60's by someone using LSD. Why is it so difficult to follow the prescribed liturgical norms?
  • Another thing that has crept into the Latin Church is an increasing push by some parishes to make the Mass more "Protestant like". This is exclusively a post Vatican II phenomena. One could write a book on things that have changed, but the one that just seems to bug me the most centers around the Lord's Prayer and Sign of Peace. In many Latin parishes, people join hands for the Lord's Prayer, raise their hands for the doxology and making a ridiculous show during the sign of peace. Again, to someone from a Protestant background, this may seem silly. But you have to understand why an orthodox Catholic is bothered by this. The whole purpose of the Mass is to honor and worship God. It is not for fellowship, catching up with old friends, shaking hands or making a show of being a big happy family. The Lord's Prayer comes right after the body & blood of Christ has been consecrated and is present on the Altar. This should be the most reverent time of the mass and all our focus should be on Christ, yet it has become a focus on "We" instead. The sign of peace comes and you find people walking all over the Church to shake hands, give hugs, etc. Again, it takes away from what our focus should be; the worship of God.
  • There is a publication called the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. It is the "roadmap" on how the Mass is to be conducted. There are prayers that are to be said exactly as they are prescribed. One of the things Vatican II brought into the Church was "poetic license" on the part of some Priests to make things up as they go along. Today, during the Ecce Agnus Dei was just another example of poetic license. The prayer, which takes place as the body & blood of Christ are raised in front of the congregation is to be said as follows" This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, happy are those who are called to his supper." Today's version went something like, "Today is the time when we honor all those saints who have gone before us or those saints who are sitting next to us, happy are we who are called to this banquet". Yikes.
  • In the Latin Church, there has been a spike in the use of Eucharistic Ministers (EM). An EM is someone approved by the Priest to distribute the Eucharist. In the Byzantine Catholic Church, we do not use EM's, however I fully understand why they are used in the Latin Church and have no real issue with it. My pet peeve comes from EM's giving a blessing to those who come up for communion but are unable(not in state of grace, not Catholic, etc). There is an office in Rome called the Congregation for Divine Worship that gave guidance on this very subject in 2008. In the letter, the following points were expressed and intended to serve as the liturgical norm. 1) The liturgical blessing of the Holy Mass is properly given to each and all at the end of the Mass; 2) Lay people, within the context of Holy Mass, are unable to confer a blessing; 3) Furthermore, the laying on of hands or hand, which has its own sacramental significance, is inappropriate here; 4) In a similar way, for others who are not admitted to Holy Communion in accord with the Law of The Church, should not approach Holy Communion or receive a blessing. With all of this said, I continued to see an EM laying hands, offering blessings, etc. Please, say the black, do the red.

I just can't in good conscience attend a Mass anymore with such disregard for the Holy and Sacred Celebration of the Mass. Until the "Reform of the Reform" of Vatican II is completed, I think I will be attending an Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy or Holy Mass said using the liturgical books of 1962(the Latin Mass).

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Life Debate

News From the Front Line

For those who do not know, October is the month that 40 Days for Life runs every day. 40 days is an effort of prayer and fasting for the end of abortion in the United States. One of the lies that abortion advocates use is that everyone has a choice and that choice must be respected. This is all good so long as the only choice being offered up is from Planned Parenthood. If you offer another option, they show their true colors.

Recently in Tucson, a mobile ultrasound bus was brought down from Phoenix and parked across the street from the local abortion mill. The organizers made sure they had all their permits, licenses, etc and that parking the bus was legal. A sign on or near the bus said, "Free Pregnancy Tests". The first person to come out was the Principal at a local school near the abortion mill. She insisted that the bus could not park their and that it must be moved at once. The organizer of the event showed her all the applicable permits and said that the bus was not moving. She stormed away in a huff.

Next, someone from the abortion mill came across the street and also insisted that the bus be moved. Again, the organizer showed all the applicable permits and calmly stated that the bus was not moving. The debate from the abortion mill worker became increasingly nasty and the organizer said, "maybe you should bring your Rabbi, pastor or priest and we can reach an agreement". She stormed away, saying I don't have one.

The first woman who showed up at the bus came over to get a free pregnancy test. She was going into the abortion mill but they charge for the test, so the free test sign caught her eye. One thing that needs to be said is that the inside of the bus is specifically non religious or anti-abortion. There are no signs, no literature, etc talking about the evil of abortion. A nurse administered the test which turned out to be positive and offered up an ultra-sound. Two heartbeats were detected on the ultrasound. The mother of the twins said, I guess I have to make a decision if I want to be mother to twins. The nurse told her, "Either way, you will still be a mother to twins". The women looked up, smiled and said, "You're right."

That's where the story ends. No one knows if she went forward with an abortion or kept her twins. The question that I have to ask is "What's wrong with this service?" Why are the abortion mills afraid of informed consent? I believe it is much easier to kill a blob of tissue than it is to kill an unborn baby.

Consider this statement, "An abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun. It is dangerous to your life and your health". ---1962 Planned Parenthood brochure. See picture at hyperlink

It is interesting that once the abortion mills started making millions of dollars, the statement that abortion kills the life of a baby disappeared.

Christ, speaking to the Pharisees said, "Yee are of your father the Devil, and the lusts of your father yee will do. He was a murderer from the beginning and abode not in the truth because there was no truth in him. He speaketh a lie; he speaketh his own; For he is a liar and the father thereof."

The same can be said about the abortion industry. As mentioned above, Planned Parenthood said abortion kills a baby. Now, it's not a baby, rather a mass of tissue. How about these items:
  • I said I was gang raped, but I lied; I said I didn't know who the father was, but I did; I said I hated my baby, but I didn't. - Norma McCorvey, aka Jane Roe from Roe v Wade.
  • "We spoke of 5,000 - 10,000 deaths per year from illegal abortions. I confess that I knew that figure was totally false. It was a useful figure, widely accepted. So why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics." - Bernard Nathanson, founder of NARAL
"Yee are of your father the Devil, and the lusts of your father yee will do. He was a murderer from the beginning and abode not in the truth because there was no truth in him. He speaketh a lie; he speaketh his own; For he is a liar and the father thereof."

Sunday, May 31, 2009

I Am The Bread of Life

One of the central elements of the Catholic and Orthodox faith is the belief that Christ is really present, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. Belief in the Real Presence is often attacked by non-catholic Christians who are trying to win souls to their belief. I have had people tell me that Catholic worship a cookie because that's all that the Eucharist is. Anyone who has read a Chick tract will be familiar with the phrase “Death Cookie”. Or, I've been told that belief in the Eucharist is non biblical. What follows is a short apology on why Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe in the Real Presence.

The Bread of Life Discourse

"I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever." These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Then many of his disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father." As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Petedr answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” - John 6:48 -68

Most Christians who deny the Real Presence quickly dismiss this passage as it was symbolic. However, the murmuring of the Jews is the clearest evidence that they had understood the preceeding words of Christ literally. Yet far from repudiating this construction as a gross misunderstanding, Christ repeated his words in a most solemn manner. In consequence, many of his Disciples were scandalized and said “This saying is hard, and who can hear it?” But instead of retracting what He had said, Christ rather reproached them for their want of faith, by alluding to His sublimer origin and His future Ascension into heaven. And without further ado He allowed these Disciples to go their way.

The Words of Institution

“And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said “Take; this is my body. And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Mark 14: 22-24

In this passage, Jesus did not say this is a symbol of my body. He said it was his body. Reading in the Epistles, there is more evidence that the Disciples believed in the Real Presence. Consider the following passage:

“For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another comes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink it? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you! For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the nigh when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrances of me. In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves. 1 Corinthians 11:18-29

St. Paul believed in the Real Presence. He repeats the words of institution and chastises the Corinthians on eat and drinking unworthily.

Early Church Fathers

Denial of the Real Presence by some Christian churches is a rather new theory, coming about after the Protestant reformation. Instead of relying on interpretation of scripture from someone 1600 or more years after the event took place, I like to look at what the early church believed on a topic. With regards to the Real Presence, there is a wealth of writings.

“the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which the Father in His goodness raised” - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Epistle to the Smyrneans 6:2)

Clearly he intends this realism to be taken strictly, for he makes it the basis of his argument against the Docetists denial of the reality of Christ's body(Doctrines, 197). St. Igantius's argument would not have been persuasive to his opponents unless belief in the Eucharist as truly the Body and Blood of Christ was pervasive by AD 106.

“We do not receive these as common bread or common drink. But just as our Saviour Jesus Christ was made flesh through the Word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food which has been eucharistized by the word of prayer from the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus. - Justin Martyr (First Apology, 66:2)

“He took that created thing, bread, and gave thanks and said, ‘This is My body.’ And the cup likewise, which is part of that creation to which we belong, He confessed to be His blood, and taught the new oblation of the new covenant; which the Church receiving from the apostles, offers to God throughout all the world. . . . Then again, how can they [Gnostic heretics] say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption and does not partake of life? . . . When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can [the Gnostics] affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him? - St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, writing around 160 AD (Against Heresies, 4:17:5, 4:18:4-5, 5:2:3)

Note that here St. Irenaus supports both the Catholic view of the Real Presence and the Eucharistic sacrifice in the same context. And so it is with all the Church Fathers: Tertullian, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, Cyril of Jerusalem. I read them and found they all believed in the Real Presence and the Eucharist as the New Covenant sacrifice.

I ran across the following quote on day and was surprised at the author of it. The quote goes as follows:

“Who, but the devil, has granted such license of wresting the words of the holy Scripture? Who ever read in the Scriptures, that my body is the same as the sign of my body? Or, that is the same as it signifies? What language in the world ever spoke so? It is only then the devil, that imposes upon us by these fanatical men. Not one of the Fathers of the Church, though so numerous, ever spoke as the Sacramentarians: not one of them ever said, It is only bread and wine; or, the body and blood of Christ is not there present.

Surely, it is not credible, nor possible, since they often speak, and repeat their sentiments, that they should never (if they though so) not so much as once, say, or let slip these words: it is bread only, or the body of Christ is not there, especially it being of great importance, that men should not be deceived. Certainly, in so many Fathers, and in so many writings, the negative might at least be found in one of them, had they thought the body and blood of Christ were not really present; but they are all of them unanimous” - Martin Luther(Luther's Collected Works, Wittenburg Edition, no. 7 p, 391)

I stumbled upon these writings and works as I was deciding on what Church to attend. Only two Christian groups have believed consistently in the true presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist through all of Church history; The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox church. Other issues, such as the papacy and unity, steered me away from the Orthodox Church and back into the Catholic Church. I have continued my study of the Eucharist and am ever more fully convinced that the Catholic teaching is the teaching passed on from Christ to his Apostles. It is eminently defensible and has become a central tenent of my Christian faith. Union with our Lord in the Holy Eucharist brings me peace and joy beyond anything I have had in my life before.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Show me in the Bible where it says priests can't be married

A few weeks ago, a conversation with a co-worker started out with the question listed above. It came out of nowhere and was delivered with a less than charitable tone. The hot topic at that time was a Catholic priest in Miami who was discovered on a beach with his long time lover. For some reason, it seems like I've been doing quite a bit of Catholic Apologetics lately and this question was another one that needed to be addressed.

Had this question come up one year ago, I would have shrugged it off and moved on with the task at hand. However, I felt that it needed to be addressed as this was not the first time this co-worker had asked questions about the Church.

The first thing I stated was that I didn't believe that something had to be written in the Bible to be a belief or practice. Of course this was not well received and I was told that the Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness.” Being the novice apologist, I said “Amen”, I agree completely with that text. However, where does it say in that phrase “Sola Scriptura” or the Bible alone? I was met with a repeat of that same verse and I asked the same question until we moved on to another question.

Not wanting to get into a verse slinging contest, I asked him if he believed in the Trinity. Predictably his answer was “Yes”. I asked him to turn to the page in the Bible that used the word Trinity. Of course, there is no mention of Trinity in the Bible, even though the concept of the Trinity is scattered throughout the Bible. I asked him how he believes in the Trinity if it wasn't in the Bible? He had no answer for that.

I also asked if he had made an “Altar Call” and prayed the sinners prayer in his church. His answer was “Yes”. To which I charitably asked him to show me where that was in the Bible. Again, no answer. While he wasn't convinced that Sola Scriptura was wrong, at least it gave him pause that many of his beliefs, customs & practices are not found in the Bible.

Finally, I asked him if he had read the Gospel of John. Specifically, Chapter 21, verse 25. In that verse, John says “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that should be written.” John lays out that many things Christ did were not recorded in writing. Scripture alone, could be debated another day.

At that point, I moved on to the question of priestly celibacy. I explained that celibacy is a discipline of the church and not a dogma. For the first ten centuries of the church, priests were allowed to be married. However, never in the history of the Catholic or Orthodox church was an ordained priest ever allowed to marry. In short, a married man could become a priest, but a priest could never marry. Also, because it is a discipline and not a dogma, you would not expect to find a direct commandment in the Bible. The Church, as well as many Protestant churches, practices many disciplines such as:

Abstinence from meat on Fridays
Praying the Daily Office

While there is no scripture that says priests must live a celibate lifestyle, there are several verses that talk about the benefits of celibacy. A few I mentioned were:

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchasity, and marries another, commits adultery. The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry” But he said to them, “Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.”
Matthew 19: 9-12

I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.
1 Corinthians 7: 7-9

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord but the married man is anxious about wordly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband.
1 Corinthians 7: 32-34

The subject of Father Alberto Cutie came up. He was a priest who took the vow of celibacy but found himself in love with a woman. Cutie left the priesthood and recently joined an Episcopal church in order to marry the woman and still participate in ministry. Also, the topic of the child sex abuse scandal came up and my co-worker offered up that celibacy was the cause of that. What I said to that issue is that a priest makes a vow of celibacy, much like a man makes a vow to forsake all others when he is married. You would have to be living under a rock to not know that many married men break their wedding vows. We are broken creatures due to the fall of our first parents, Adam & Eve. Allowing a priest to have a wife is no guarantee that he would remain faithful to that vow either. One only has to look at a sampling of high profiled married Protestant ministers who broke their marriage vows:

Ted Haggard (Homosexual activity while married)
Jimmy Swaggart (Activities with a prostitute while married)
Jim Baker (Jessica Hahn affair while married)

On the topic of the sex abuse scandal, it was and remains a horrible atrocity that took place. The handling of it from the local bishops all the way to the highest levels in Rome was shameful. However, it is disingenuous to blame it on a celibate priesthood. For the previous 2 years, both of us worked online child sexual exploitation crimes. During that time, we executed over 35 search warrants and arrested a similar number of people. Most of these arrests where married men. Clearly, deviant sexual behavior was not eliminated by being married. In addition to my unscientific results, the three leading insurers of protestant churches in the United States reported they receive upwards of 260 sexual abuse cases regarding children under the age of 18 each year. Pedophiles are pedophiles regardless of practicing celibacy, marriage, homosexuality or any combination thereof. (

I believe that the discipline of celibacy has a firm foundation in scripture. Jesus said “He who is able to receive this, let him receive it”. St. Paul wrote “the unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord.” Clearly, not all are able to walk that path. To those unable to exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion. The celibate lifestyle is a powerful devotion to our Lord and those who practice it should be admired, not put down.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Why I Came Back to The Catholic Church

My story is alot like many people born into the Catholic faith.  At some point in our life, we drift away from the Church and go on with our life.  During my growing up years, I received all my Sacraments (Baptism, Confession, Eucharist and Confirmation).  I spent many years in Catholic Cathechism classes learning the faith.  During my college years, I had many meetings with a vocations director for the Oblates of the Virgin Mary Religious Order about becoming a priest.  I was seriously entertaining the notion of the Priesthood but I had little support from my family.  They thought I was confused and that it was a phase I was going through.  At some point, I decided to not pursue the Priesthood, finished college and began working in my chosen field.

My wife(then my girlfriend) and I left our hometown and moved to Omaha, Nebraska.  We both found jobs and married 3 years later.  During the years leading up to our marriage, we were sporadic church goers.  We could usually be found in church on Easter and Christmas.  As our marriage came closer, we ended up not marrying in the Catholic Church and had a Minister of the Gospel marry us.  This decision was largely based on the fact that a church wedding was going to cause too many issues for us such as having to invite members of the family we didn't know or care to invite.  However, if we had a big Church wedding, that was going to be the case.  We chose the path of least resistance and skipped the church wedding.

After our marriage, we drifted further away from the church to the point of attending only at funerals.  During that time I never doubted that  God existed or that the salvation story was real.  However, I started to read things about other faiths believing in Once Saved Always Saved and the doctrine of Scripture Alone.  Since I believed in God and was a baptized Christian, I guess I started to believe that I was saved and couldn't lose that.  I also rationalized that I was a relatively good person.  I hadn't  killed anyone, didn't sleep around on my wife and tried to help out those less fortunate than me.  When I did something bad, I would ask God to forgive me and would go on with my life.  This went on for 12 years.  During that time, I would say that I attended church less than 10 times total.  So what happened to get me thinking about my faith again?  

Well, in 2006, my Son was born.  It was at that point that we realized we needed to start attending Church again because we wanted him baptized.  The logical choice was to go to the local Catholic parish, sign up as members and get the boy baptized.  However, we hit a roadblock.  We wanted my Brother and Sister-in-Law to be Godparents.  However, they were no longer practicing Catholics[like we were =)], they couldn't be Godparents.  This didn't sit well with my wife, so we started looking for other options.  We did what two trained accountants would do, we put together a spreadsheet.  We listed all the major mainline denominations with Catholic & Orthodox on the left, sliding down to LDS and Unitarian on the right.  We quickly started eliminating many of them for a host of reasons.  Baptist was out because my wife was Baptist before and it didn't work out.  LDS/Unitarian/Jehovahs Witness were out because they were weird.  We ended up settling on the Anglican/Episcopal church and started attending the local one.  In the beginning, it seemed to be a nice compromise.  The service seemed Catholic enough (liturgical, traditional) but yet was welcoming and open.  We had Ryan baptized and became members of the parish.  At some point, my wife decided that she was going to take classes and be received into the church.  I wasn't ready to make that jump so I didn't do it.  During that time, I found myself attending both the Catholic mass and the Episcopal service.  I was also researching the Episcopal church and finding that I didn't agree with much of what they believed in.

The final straw for me came when the Episcopal Bishop of Arizona came to the parish for his annual visit.  It took all of my will to stay in the pew and not leave during the middle of his sermon.  I've never heard such heresy being spewed forth from a minister of any church.  After that day, I never attended another Episcopal service.   I decided that I was going to look for the church that most closely resembled the church that Christ founded.  Everything was open for analysis and the only things I started with were the belief in the Trinity, Incarnation and the Resurrection.  

The first thing I looked at was to decide if Sola Scriptura was correct or not.  I read too many items to remember and it came down to the following things for me. First, if the Bible is the only source of what we must believe, where does it say that in the Bible?  For something so important you'd think it would be clearly stated.  Nowhere in the Bible is that found.  There are many passages that talk about Scripture being true and  important, but nothing saying it is the sole source.  Second, the books known as the Bible were officially compiled in the 3rd century.  What did the early Christians do to learn their faith?  They learned the faith from the Church bishops & priests, who learned from bishops/priests, all the way back to the Apostles.  Finally, I read passages in the Bible that contradicted Sola Scriptura.  One such passage was 2 Thessalonians 2:15, which stated Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have learned, either by word or by our epistle.  Another thing that jumped out to me was John 21 which said there are also many other things which Jesus did; which, if they were written every one, the world itself, would not be able to contain the books that should be written.  Also, John 14 talks about the Holy Spirit shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you.  For me, the logical answer was that Sola Scriptura was just not correct and that eliminated quite a few denominations for me.

The next thing I examined was the concept of Once Saved Alway Saved and the related belief of Faith Alone.  As with Sola Scriptura, I read too many items/documents to remember.  But there were several key things that convinced me of my belief.  The first thing that I noticed was that many of the Epistles where written to the various churches throughout the world (Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, etc).  The churches were made up of believers in the Christ, most likely baptized believers.  The same type of people who believed and should always be saved.  However, in many of the Epistles, the believers are being told to keep to the commandments and teachings of the Church.  If they were Once Saved Always Saved, why would this be important to talk about?  I read Scriptures that many believers of faith alone talk about such as Romans 10:9 that say if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved and Ephesians 2:8 that says you have been saved through faith.  On the flip side, I read passages such was James 2:24 that said a person is justified by works and not faith alone.  Also, Matthew 7:21-72 where Jesus says that only those who do the will of the Father will be saved.  As I read, I came to the belief that Faith was absolutely necessary to be saved.  However, it seemed to me that Faith alone was not the true way.  In addition to the passage that faith without works is dead, the kicker for me was James 2:19 where it was said that you believe there is one God.  Even the demons believe that and shudder.  Along the same line, I looked into passages about losing your salvation.  I read many passages such as Romans 11:22 which said provided you remain in kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off.  Or Hebrews 6:4-8 which describes sharers in the Holy Spirit who fall away.  Or 2 Peter 2:20-21 where it is said Better not to know truth than to know it and turn away. For me, I took seriously Jesus in Matthew 7:21 when he said not everyone who says to me Lord Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven.  It seemed to me that a wise man would have faith, believe that Jesus is Lord, focus his life on doing good deeds and to living out the commandments.  For if Faith alone saves you, having Faith and doing good works will earn you your salvation.  But if works are also required, just having faith will be an issue at the judgement.

Once I knocked out the issues above, I started to realize that the I was leaning towards the Catholic/Orthodox faith.  So I started to examine beliefs of these churches and focus on the 7 sacraments, which both churches share.  Those are Baptism, Chrismation, Eucharist, Confession, Matrimony, Holy Orders and Annointing of the Sick.  I knew of these Sacraments from my CCD days, but I wasn't sure I really believed things like the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist or Confession of Sins to a Priest.  In looking at the Eucharist, I focused on the Bread of Life discourse from John 6.  In this discourse, Jesus talked about being the bread of life and saying to his followers that unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood you have no life in you.  Jesus says that the saying is hard and it is written that many of his followers walked away from him.  There are some who say that Jesus was not speaking literally, just figuratively.  However, Jesus didn't go out to those you took his statements literally and say this is just a figure of speech.  Further discussion of the real presence came when Paul talks about the institution of the Eucharist and saying that anyone who eats the bread or drinks the chalice of the Lord unworthily shall be guilty of profaning the body & blood of the Lord.  Outside of Scripture, I read writings of the Early Church Fathers, those closest to the Apostles to see what they believed.  I read Ignatius of Antioch who wrote I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life.  I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ (Letter to Romans 7:3 AD 110).  Justin Martyr wrote We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teachings to be true....the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of the incarnated Jesus (First Apology 66 AD 151).  Irenaeus wrote if the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood? (Against Heresies 4:33-32 AD 189).

With regards to Confession, I first looked at Scripture.  In John 20, after being raised from the Dead, Jesus appeared to the Apostles.  He breathed on them and said receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained.  As I thought about this, how would the Apostles know which sins to forgive or retain unless there was some form of oral confession?  Next, I looked to what the Early Church believed.  In the Letter of Barnabas it was written that You shall judge righteously.  You shall not make a schism, but you shall pacify those that contend by bringing them together.  You shall confess your sins. (Letter of Barnabas 19 AD74).  Written in the Didache was Confess your sins in church and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience.  On the Lord's Day, gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure. (Didache 4:14 14:1 AD 70).  Hippolytus writing on the ordination of a new bishop shall pray...Pour forth now that power which comes from you, from your royal spirit, which you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and which he bestowed upon his holy Apostles...and grant this your servant, whom you have chosen for the Episcopate, to feed your holy flock and to serve without blame as your high priest, ministering night and day to propitate unceasingly before your face and to offer to you the gifts of your holy Church and by the Spirit of the high priesthood to have the authority to forgive sins, in accord with your command. (Apostolic Tradition 3 AD 215).  The writings went on and on.  It was clear that the Early Church believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible regarding confession.  I also found it interesting that Martin Luther, Father of the Protestant Movement, wrote in the Book of Concord that Confession embraces two parts: the one is that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution from the confessor, as from God Himself.  

It became clear to me that I needed to stay Catholic or become a convert to Orthodoxy.  Both churches can trace their apostolic succession back to the Apostles, both have valid Sacraments and both have a valid priesthood/holy orders.  The choice for me came down to a few issues, such as the Orthodox church allowing divorce & remarriage, as well as the strong national influences of the Orthodox churches.  Many Orthodox churches do not say the Divine Liturgy in English, rather Greek, Russian, etc.  Based on all those things, I chose to remain in the Catholic Church.  How I became a Byzantine Catholic is a topic for another day.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Last Night I Went To A Funeral

I started attending the Byzantine Divine Liturgy in 2008 after the Easter season.  I've been a Catholic my entire life, but recently had a reversion back to the faith after a long period of time away from the Church.  A long search to find a Catholic Church that looked like the church I left proved to be very difficult, almost impossible.  I started researching Orthodox Christianity and came across a Byzantine Catholic Church in Tucson, Arizona.  

The Catholic Church is made up of 6 distinctive Rites; Alexandrian, Antiochean, Armenian, Byzantine, Chaldean and Roman.  These 6 Rites are further subdivided along ethnic lines to make up over 20 rites in the Church.  All share a common faith, but each has a distinctive liturgy and spirituality.  I am a member of St. Melany's Byzantine Catholic Church, part of the Byzantine Rite of the Ruthenian jurisdiction.  The Byzantine Rite shares the same Liturgy and spirituality as the Orthodox Churches, yet remains in communion with the Bishop of Rome.  

On Good Friday, Theresa & I attended the Vespers of Great and Holy Friday service.  I can not describe how powerful the Liturgy was and the impact it had on those in attendance.  The Liturgy of The Word took readings from the Passion Gospels, ending with the Gosepl of John's account of Joseph of Arimathea taking Jesus from the cross.  At the end of the Liturgy, the body of Christ was  wrapped in a shroud (epitaphios)and processed from the sanctuary to a side chapel where it was placed on a low table which represents the tomb of Christ.  The chapel was decorated with flowers, candles, icons and the crown of thorns.  The epitaphios itself represents the body of Jesus wrapped in a burial shroud and is a roughly full-size icon of the body of Christ.  When everyone had processed to the chapel, the entire room kneeled and prayed the Canon of the Crucifixion and the Lamentation of the Most Holy Theotokos.  Afterwards, everyone came forward to venerate the Icon and left the chapel.  As a tradition, complete silence is observed from that point forward.

A vigil was maintained in the Chapel until midnight.  Everyone was invited to spend some time in prayer, reflecting on the passion and crucifixion of Jesus.  It was impossible to miss the emotion that came out as people reflected on the death of Jesus.  Several people cried, most prayed or read scripture and all maintained the solemn silence.  After an hour, we left the vigil to drive home.  The drive home was quiet and I spent most of the drive thinking about what Jesus did for us when he died on the cross.  This was my 38th Good Friday, but it was my first one where I felt like a close family member had died.  

Glory to Jesus Christ +
Glory to Him forever +