Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins, the Resurrection of the Body and Life Everlasting

The communion of saints is interesting to think about and even more profound to experience.  Many non-Catholics or even many marginal Catholics will often complain that we pray to the saints, as if we do not believe that we can speak directly to God.  I usually respond to this statement by asking the critic if he or she ever asked a friend or family member to pray for them if they needed help or healing.  Most often the answer is a resounding YES. I then ask them if a person dies does their spirit live on in heaven or do they simply die and that is the end.  The response is usually that they certainly live on.  Then the next logical step is to ask that person who is now living in heaven to pray to God for them.

But the communion of saints is more than just a real good "in" with God.  The communion of saints means that we never lose the very bond of love that we had with our loved ones, even after they have left this life on earth.  It also means that our loved ones will continue to worship and praise the God who made them in the glory of heaven.  Our voices will be joined with theirs in that heavenly choir.

I fondly remember sitting in the pew with my mother and brother and sisters for Mass.  It was a special time and I remember my mother reminding me to fond my hands in prayer or giving me some change to put in the offering basket.  Those were days long, long ago.  my mother passed away in 2000.  But when I go to Mass I know that she is at Mass with me in a very real way.  She, too, is worshipping the same God we worshipped those many years ago.

And now to the forgiveness of sins.  I know many Catholics today who attend Mass somewhat regularly and do not feel the need to ever take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Some tell me they don't believe in telling their sins to another human being.  They say they can just go to God.  And this is true we sure can go right to God, but the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a necessary act of the will that assures us of the forgiveness of our sins because Jesus, Himself, gave us this way of assuring ourselves we have received God's forgiveness.  So many people tell me how heavy weights of anguish and guilt are lifted from their shoulders when they hear those wonderful words of absolution are said to them.  Indeed, I can attest to that myself.  We are all sinners and we need forgiveness.  The Church provides us this gift from Jesus for our benefit.  How sad it is when so many people are afraid to take that step.  I am sure some people have had bad experiences in confession.  I know I have.  And I understand the reluctance of not wanting to be embarrassed by admitting to sins we would rather not discuss.  But the priest has heard them all before.  In fact, just about every priest I have confessed to since my return to the Church has been very pastoral, caring and gentle.

The resurrection of the body and life everlasting is our hope for our future.  We were created as body, soul and spirit.  God created man and woman to live eternally.  It was through sin that this was destroyed.  Yet, through Jesus Christ, the perfection of life was restored and we are told that our bodies as well as our spiritual aspects will be resurrected and we will have that everlasting life that was intended at the beginning of creation.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Believing in Holy Spirit, Holy Catholic Church...

"I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church..."
God is God and God is a triune God--One God in three distinct Persons.  The Holy Spirit often is considered the most misunderstood, or at least the most mysterious.  One day when I was in seminary, the question was asked by our pastoral care professor, "When you think about God, which one of the Trinity comes to mind first, or which do you most often think about in your prayers?"  This was a real good question.  Jesus seemed to be the one who was most often considered first.  However, when one thought about the "power" of God, the Holy Spirit was the most popular in the class.

The Holy Spirit is seen when God acts in our world.  We call upon the Holy Spirit to bring about God's will.  The Creed is short and sweet when it comes to the Holy Spirit. Stated simply, "I believe in the Holy Spirit."  Ask yourself, who is the Holy Spirit to you?

The Holy Catholic Church is included in the Creed.  When I was in my Protestant days as a pastor, the explanation of this part of the Creed was downplayed by reminding the congregation that the word "catholic" meant "universal."  In fact, catholic does mean universal, however, we are saying that we hold to the belief of the Holy Catholic Church of Rome.  We hold to the teachings of the Church that was founded by Jesus Christ through Saint Peter.  Sure, there are problems with many things in the church today--many scandals.  But, in the history of the Church, there have been many scandals.  Yet, it is because of our belief in God, our Trinity that we can have faith in our Church.  God will protect His Church.  We can trust in this.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sits at the Right Hand--Coming Again

He sits at the right hand of God, the Father, almighty and He will come to judge the living and the dead.

Sitting on the left and sitting on  the right are customs familiar to the cultures of the Middle East.  Now I am left handed, so I should take offense--but I promise that I won't!  The left is considered bad, evil and the like.  Even the term for left hand in Latin is sinister.  That term sinister has, indeed, taken on sinister meanings over the centuries.  Those who were not worthy of respect were place to the left of a host, king or other in authority.  The right hand was reserved for the special and worthy person.  Now, who would ever be more worthy of respect and worship than Jesus Christ?  Jesus takes His place at the right hand of God.  Jesus takes his seat of authority.

We are also told in our Creed that Jesus is not yet finished.  He is also in charge of judging the living and the dead.  The power of Jesus reign is before us now.  He is now at the right hand of God the Father ready to judge us.  The glory of God shines forth in this statement and the very divine mercy of God is right before us in that Divine Judge, Jesus Christ.  It was Jesus, himself, who ransomed us from death brought about by sin.  The very death and resurrection that we just professed tells us that!

In returning to the Catholic Church, I gained a deeper understanding and a much deeper awe for this very simple, yet profound Creed.  Yes, in my Protestant days, I studied all about the salvation history of Jesus Christ, but little emphasis was placed on the very simple, yet deep words of the Creed.When I left the Church, I had no idea of how much she really meant to me.  The Church held the Truth all along, but my eyes were quite blind to the riches set before me.  I needed to struggle to come to a meaningful appreciation for our One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church!  The loving and saving power of God is present in every aspect of our holy Church!  And this means that God is truly with us!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Descended and Rose

He descended into hell and on the third day arose again.  Jesus is God, and Jesus descended into the depths of death to preach the Good News of God's very love to the dead.  Who better than to preach the love of God than God?  God, through Jesus Christ holds out the offer of eternal life to those who died without knowing salvation was possible.

Before returning to my Catholic faith, I understood the terms salvation, and I knew intellectually what that meant.  I also took for granted the offer of Jesus Christ to accept the love of God.  Oh, I could preach all about love and the need to love one another, but in my own soul, I had a void.  When I returned to the Catholic Church, the first thing I did was meet with a priest who offered me the fullness of God's love in the form of the sacrament of penance!  Yes, by going to confession I opened up my soul and laid myself out before God.  All that laid dead within me, or was killing me was out in the open.  But more than that, God forgave all of my sins.  That was offered to me by Jesus Christ in his death and descending into the depths of hell...the depths of all that divides our spirits from God.

When Jesus rose again on the third day, Jesus overcame our death to sin and evil.  Jesus restored our lives!  I could not have ever felt that life had Jesus not descended into the depths and offered me forgiveness and wiped my slate clean.  I could never have come to that understanding without coming back to the Catholic Church.  Our Church provides the sacraments for our benefit.  We must not take them for granted.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

...And In Jesus Christ...

As we continue on with the Apostles' Creed we arrive at the second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  In this, we are introduced to the Son of God.  The Son is both divine and human.  God becomes incarnate taking on our limitations of the flesh and along with that our temptations and sufferings.  Jesus is born through the intimate connection of the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit of God.  We know from Catholic teaching that Mary was conceived free of original sin.  In this way God acted in Jesus Christ to prepare the way for the salvation of the world in this first act.

Catholics must be clear on this idea of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Jesus could not be born with the contamination of sin. So, in order to achieve this, God had to prepare the way by initiating the salvation process.  It is often said that Mary is the first recipient of Jesus salvific act.  The purity of Mary is essential for God to enter into the world to save us from our sins.

Once born into our world, Jesus assimilates into his place in the world and in time begins to teach the people around him about the nature and deep love of God.  This teaching becomes threatening to the authority around Jesus--both the Jewish and Roman leaders.  At the hands of the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate Jesus is tortured to make him renounce His claims of God.  Finally he is sentenced to death on the Roman Cross.  Once more an agonizing torture until Jesus breathes his last breath and commends His Spirit to God's care.

Like any human, Jesus' body is removed from the cross and laid in a tomb.  This signifies the last step of life on this earth.  The chapter should be finished and the book complete!  But it is not!  In the next blog entry I will continue with our Creed.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


If I think about the concept of nothingness for too long my mind wanders too far.  We really can't conceive of the absence of everything material and otherwise easily.  Our first encounter of this nothingness in the Book of Genesis in the very first chapter: "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss" (Gen 1:1-1:2a, NABRE).  And God creates from this chaos.  The term often used for this is the Latin term ex nihlo.  This means that God creates something from nothing.

For me, this is an important aspect of God.  Hope springs from this whole concept of an Almighty God who can create everything--all things visible and invisible.  If God is Creator of all, then why could we not put all of our trust in God.  I am sure that of humanity with its free will allows us to trust either in ourselves or others or in God. When I thought about trusting in God or others, I am always reminded in that old saying that suggests that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.  I sure have trusted often in my own decisions or taken advice of others around me, only to see sin and failure.  Experience is clear for me in this.  And when I have studied God's Word in Scripture, I have always found peace and holiness.  There have been times when that peace or holiness took quite a while to happen, but it always has happened.  St. Padre Pio once said, "You can't give God deadlines" (from the book Padre Pio Under Investigation).   

God has created heaven and earth and all that is.  God created us as well.  God knows each one of us inside and out.  The Psalms remind us of this, "You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb.  I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works!  My very self you you knew; my bones were not hidden from you" (Psalm 139:13-15, NABRE).  How amazing this is!  God knows our needs and desires.  God also knows everyone else as well.  Since we are not alone, God also knows how we can achieve those things we must achieve in order to make this world and our own lives the best they can be.  Here is where we must trust in the power of God to create this perfection in and through us.

Each day I must place my whole life into God's hands.  I pray you will trust God, too!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Creed

There are several "creeds" that can be recited in the Catholic Church.  There is the Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Anthanasian Creed.  The word creed comes from the Latin Credo, which simply means "I believe."  The creeds were the result of a group (such as the Nicene Creed finalized by the Council of Constantinople in 381) and their effort to overcome some type of heresy attacking the Catholic Church.

For me, these creeds help me to identify how God is active in our world.  From time to time I will slowly read and pray these creeds to strengthen my faith and to better understand our Church.  After all, I returned to this Church and I really do want to understand how to become a better Catholic.  The better you can understand something the closer you can feel to it.  And for me this is how I have come to love our rich Catholic heritage.

In the next few blogs, I wanted to look into the simplicity of the Apostle's Creed as a prayerful exercise for those of us who have returned, or are considering returning to the Church.  Perhaps this meditation of the Creed will stimulate some thoughts and help us all to better understand our Church.

I believe in God the Father Almighty.
The words "I believe" are not just some pipe dream, or some fantastic thought of what might be one day.  Rather, belief is the living out of your faith.  It is hope in a reality that is promised to us by One who delivers on promises.  Saint Paul puts this much better and more poetically when he says in Hebrews 11:1: "Faith is the realization of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen" (NABRE). Those two words alone, "I believe," took me on along journey away from and back to the Catholic Church.  I left the Church mainly because I was not really well catechized as a child.  Oh sure, I memorized the necessities of the old Baltimore Catechism in the early 1960's, but there is more to forming a child's faith than memorizing abstract thoughts and words.  I had lots of questions and I actually had a decent prayer life as a young child, but the direction was not very strong for me in the early days.

It was what came after the "I believe" that took me a long time to rediscover.  For almost 25 years after I left the Church I wanted to have something to trust and believe in.  I found my way into Eastern thought and New Age philosophies.  Some of them did tickle my fancy!  They all played on my eagerness to analyze philosophies.  I was a young man in search of something to stimulate my mind and not necessarily my heart and soul.  By the way...there is plenty of things out there to trap you into thinking you are a magnificent genius and intellectual.  On each of the roads, I found some relatiely short satisfaction, but ultimately I was left empty inside.

One day in late Spring of 2005, I was invited by a dear friend to attend a daily Mass.  I agreed to go, and then I was immediately struck by the very real tug on my heart as I entered the chapel on a warm Friday morning.  I had been away for nearly 25 years and I had actually become a Protestant pastor along the way.  But when Mass began, I felt the presence of God the Father Almighty.  It was a real and very clear presence.  It WAS REAL!  God the Father Almighty is real.  I could say with certainty "I believe in God the Father Almighty.  And in the days after that Mass the Father Almighty proved why we call him Almighty.

Within only a couple of months I felt led to resign my 5 year pastorate in my Protestant church and go to Confession and accept the divine mercy of God who can move mountains and hear prayers of the many people who wanted me back in the Catholic Church.  God can work in and through so many people and events to complete His Will.  And His Will included my return to the Catholic Church.

In my next installment I will continue to the next few sentences in the Apostle's Creed.

Peace and Blessings,