Cases for the Catholic Church: Sacraments

Mass before the March for Life

About a month ago, I was talking with someone who remarked, “You know, the hardest part about living a relationship with God is that I can’t talk with or touch Him.” Obviously she’s got a ways to go in terms of developing a prayer life, the best way to communicate with our Lord (and the way that Jesus Himself talked with the Father!), but she makes a great point. Would God really just leave us all alone after Jesus ascended into Heaven?

Jesus promised that He would never leave us, saying “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Yet despite that, He ascended into Heaven, so how does this make any sense? First off, God is still with us always. Even the Father personally guided the Israelites personally in the Old Testament times, He is always loving us and desiring the best for us. In addition, the Father and Son gave the Holy Spirit to the Church at Pentecost (Acts 2).

But it makes sense that God would want to give us a tangible way of encountering Jesus through the Church. Jesus gave us the sacraments as signs of God’s love, ways to physically encounter God’s grace. Jesus gave the Apostles the authority to administer the sacraments themselves, and they have continued to carry on this ministry throughout the ages in the Church.

For those who aren’t familiar with the sacraments at all, I sometimes think of them as “power ups” in real life because of the grace that they give. Baptism is like an “extra” life that you get where it initiates you into the Church and is necessary for salvation*. Confirmation is a power up to grow in your faith which gives you more gifts from the Holy Spirit. Confession is how you get “full health again” and God forgives you of your sins. Eucharist is pretty much where you win the game and get to have a meal ZIP with the creator of the game. Marriage… um I guess that one’s pretty self explanatory, I hope, haha. Holy Orders gives men special powers to act in Jesus’ place in administering the sacraments, helping everyone else get their power ups. Finally, Anointing of the Sick is a way to instantly win the game despite being about ready to die.

Ok those comparisons were pretty hilarious for me… but they show the importance of taking advantage of all of the help that we can get in our lives! In video games we try to get the most power ups that we can so that we can do the best. In real life, we should do the same! God has given us help.. the Holy Spirit, the Church, the sacraments, the Bible, so that we wouldn’t have to live our faith all alone.

Instead of doing an in-depth scriptural and general apologetics study at the end to defend each of the 7 sacraments, feel free to check out this more thorough web site: Catholic Apologetics

Dr. Peter Kreeft also defends sacraments as a whole here.

Previous posts on the sacraments:
Baptism: Why Wait?
Confession
Mass: The Liturgy of the Eucharist
Why do Catholics have to go to Mass on Sundays?
Too Wise to Get Married?
Why Can Only Men be Catholic Priests?

Other Cases for the Catholic Church:
Authority
Universality

Cases for the Catholic Church: Universality

When Jesus founded the Church, it wasn’t a bunch of separate churches with their own individual doctrines, but a body with different parts throughout the world. We can see this from how Sts. Peter and Paul jumped from church to church around the Mediterranean Sea, founding churches that supported each other and had the same doctrine and rules.

It only makes sense that if Jesus founded one Church, it would be for the whole world. The word “catholic” comes from the Greek word “katholicos” which means universal. With that in mind, the Catholic Church is the Universal Church for all of humanity founded by Jesus. Only a single Church founded on Christ can fulfill the Great Commission, baptizing and making disciples of all nations.

One of the most beautiful things about the Catholic Church is its universality. No other Church can claim to have 1.2 billion members from nearly every single country on earth. I can attend mass pretty much anywhere around the world, and though I might not know the language, it’ll be the same liturgy with the same Eucharistic Lord and the same beliefs. Do you really think that a Christian missionary in Mongolia is going to have success asking people if they want to be Southern Baptist? In Mongolia people have nothing in common with the American South. The Church must be able to adapt to different cultures without changing the doctrine or liturgy, which has been shown by the Catholic Church time and time again, on all 6 continents.

The most recent cardinals around the world appointed by Pope Francis give a beautiful testimony to the universality of the Church:

Pietro Parolin, Italy
Lorenzo Baldisseri, Italy
Gerhard Ludwig Műller, Germany
Beniamino Stella, Italy
Vincent Nichols, Great Britain
Leopoldo José Brenes Solórzano, Nicaragua
Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, Canada
Jean-Pierre Kutwa, Ivory Coast
Orani João Tempesta, O.Cist., Brazil
Gualtiero Bassetti, Italy
Mario Aurelio Poli, Argentina
Andrew Yeom Soo jung, Korea
Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, S.D.B., Chile
Philippe Nakellentuba Ouédraogo, Burkina Faso
Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I., Philippines
Chibly Langlois, Haïti

Catholic Population Around the World

Catholic Population Around the World

Other Cases for the Catholic Church:
Authority
Sacraments

Cases for the Catholic Church: Authority

I’m starting a series of posts on why all Christians should be Catholic. I plan on writing a number of different posts covering different angles of this ecumenical issue. This first one is on authority.

Let’s not even take the idea of “church” for granted. Why should we join a Christian church in the first place? How do we decide which Christian church to follow? Don’t you think that Jesus would have helped us out a little bit more with this crucial decision?

Any bible believing Christian would notice that Jesus founded a church. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

Let’s look deeper into that verse, highlighting significant points:

Point #1: JESUS founded the Church. God founded the Church. Not a human being. It wasn’t “made up” by people who wanted positions of power. Jesus founded the Church so that it would play a role in establishing God’s kingdom on earth, offering salvation to all of humanity and sharing the good news of the Gospel.

Point #2: Clearly, Jesus founds A Church. One Church. Not 30,000, but 1.

Point #3: We can also notice that Jesus founds His Church on a single person, Peter. Peter is the leader of the Apostles, charged by Jesus to “feed my lambs” and “tend my sheep” (John 21:15,16), shepherding/leadership/servant roles to oversee the Church throughout the world. Peter of course went on to become the first Pope, the Bishop of Rome. This line of succession of the Popes continues today as they lead the Church.

Point #4: Jesus guarantees that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. So.. no matter what, the Church will stand. It will not be destroyed. It will not falter in the faith. God’s got this.

So there’s a bunch that we can get out of one verse, and it answered the basics of the our original questions. We can infer from scripture that Jesus founded a Church led by Peter, the first pope.

How about a few more questions on authority:

What gives someone the authority to start their own church? Since Jesus founded one Church, what need is there for any other churches? Jesus founded one Church with no divisions (1 Cor 1:10). He founded the Church as one body with one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God (Eph 4:4-5). He founded a Church that is one as the Eucharistic loaf is one (1 Cor 10:17). St. Paul warned against those who create dissensions against what he originally taught the Christians (Romans 16:17) and urged them to be in the same mind and thinking the same thing (Phil 2:2).

What gives someone the authority to determine doctrine? Obviously we can’t just change the doctrine of the Church to be whatever we want it to be, but have to make sure that it squares with God. How is this done? Well, we know that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15). Jesus gave His authority to the Apostles to in Matthew 18:18, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” An example of this was during the first ecumenical council, the council of Jerusalem, in Acts 15:28-29, even highlighting that it is by the Holy Spirit (God!) that the decision was made, which the Church received at its “birthday,” Pentecost. The Church is even shown to represent God in the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11, where St. Peter says “You have lied not to human beings, but to God.” So in sum Jesus gave the Church an authoritative voice in the world representing God, and it can make decisions on doctrine at a council where all Apostles/Bishops are gathered together. (This is very basic, I’m sure I missed some points here.)

What gives someone the authority to interpret the bible? Can anyone do it? If so, how can we explain all of the different interpretations of scripture? Obviously, I’ve been quoting scripture to back up my claims so far. People might argue with my interpretation of scripture. But ultimately I do not interpret scripture myself but learn from how the Church interprets it. We see this in scripture itself in 2 Peter 1:20-21: “Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God.” This means that only by the Holy Spirit can scriptures be interpreted properly, and the Magesterium (teaching body of bishops) of the Church has helped us with this throughout history.

Other Cases for the Catholic Church:
Universality
Sacraments

You Can Tell the State of a Church By…

Whether the members are inviting new people to join them in encountering Jesus.

That’s huge. This is a very simple and easy point… and yet…

IT’S SO HARD!!!

The point of the Church is not to just keep to itself. The point of the Church is not to just take the babies baptized into it and hold their hand until they are buried. The Church’s goal is to set the WORLD on fire with the love of God. If there are people who haven’t heard of Jesus yet in your city or town, then you have a job to do. The point of the Church is to send the members of the Body of Christ (you and I!) on mission.

The point of us “pewfolk” isn’t to just to sit and stand when we’re supposed to. WE ARE THE CHURCH. If your next door neighbor hasn’t heard the Gospel, who do you think is more to blame: your priest or you? Just because we aren’t from a 3rd world country doesn’t mean that our churches can’t be missionary churches. We have to stop accepting complacency in church. In the business world, boards of directors don’t give high fives to CEOs for breaking even, and let’s be frank: our churches aren’t even breaking even. Just because church is “religion” doesn’t mean that everyone should receive a gold star for showing up. Our faith isn’t something that is “nice,” it is something that SAVES LIVES FOR ETERNITY. So let’s see churches strive for a growth mindset. You know, every once in a while we see mega-churches have success, and I think that that’s because they have pastors whose very careers (and paychecks) depend on being able to gather believers in. They do have a growth mindset and a sense of urgency. Do we see that in Catholic churches? Do bishops and priests have that same urgency? Jesus is the director of the board in a sense, and He expects us to “go and make disciples.” Jesus wants the best for the world, He wants as many souls as possible to encounter Him at Mass.

“When the Church does not come out of itself to evangelize, it becomes self-referential and then gets sick.” – Pope Francis

Bishops, Priests, and Deacons have a high calling. Their job is to take care of the flock, their local church. Their job is to make sure that we’re receiving the sacraments (ok not the deacons) and getting instruction in the faith. In many churches, this is lacking. In these cases I have much more compassion for the “pewfolk,” who probably are not only clueless on what to do, but have difficulty even understanding what they believe. In these cases, we need better leadership and catechesis from Church leadership. Praise God, I think that this is improving slowly but surely.

But once a lay Catholic has a firm understanding of the faith and is practicing it, that’s not grounds for sitting around and calling it a life! If we truly have encountered JESUS CHRIST at mass, in confession, in prayer, in scripture, etc., then there shouldn’t be a BRICK WALL thick enough from stopping us from sharing that encounter with everyone that we know!

Now if only he yelled out, “HAVE YOU HEARD OF JESUS?!”

As a leader in the Church, you can see whether you’re doing your job well if you see the laity in your parish taking initiative themselves in sharing the Gospel with others and bringing them along to mass, parish events, and getting them involved. If you see that, then you know that you are successfully sharing Jesus with your parish.

As a layperson, if you have encountered Jesus and have decided to live for Him, then it’s time to take the next steps to fulfill the great commission:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20

Who are the people closest to you in your life? Family, friends, coworkers, fellow students, etc.? Have you shared your faith with them? Have you asked them about their own faith journey? Being vulnerable and kind with them will encourage them to open up with you themselves. The goal isn’t instant conversion, but some sort of growth in understanding Jesus and the message of Christianity. When you think the time is right, then make an invitation. Invite them to mass or some other parish event, depending on where you think they would be comfortable first. Keep making friendly invitations even if they decline, sometimes it takes years for people to try out faith. Don’t pester them, of course. You have to use your own judgement. If you aren’t completely sure how to share the Gospel I’ve got a handy overview for you.

So do you see new people showing up at your church? Go for it and invite new people yourselves! Jesus loves you, but He also loves everyone else who isn’t attending and encountering God!

Pope Francis Favela WYD

“I want the Church to go out into the streets, I want us to defend ourselves against all worldliness, opposition to progress, from that which is comfortable, from that which is clericalism, from all that which means being closed up in ourselves. Parishes, schools, institutions are made in order to come out … if they do not do this, they become a non-governmental organisation, and the Church must not be an NGO” – Pope Francis, WYD 2013

Suffering

In many modern day philosophies, suffering is the ultimate evil, and freedom to do whatever you want is the ultimate good.

We are always hearing people give advice like “just do what makes you happy,” or people saying “it’s my life, I’ll live it how I want.”

But how does this selfish, me-first, mindset play out in reality?

  • The hook up culture alienates men and women, turning them more into goods or services to be desired and used than human beings.
  • Men have zero faithfulness to women so that if they ever get pregnant, they just get out of the picture.
  • Why raise your child in poverty when you could abort and get rid of “the problem”?
  • Many marriages are only measured in months, because they didn’t “sign up” for the hard times, too.
  • If grandma/grandpa is really sick and probably going to die, it’s much less painful (and cheaper) to euthanize instead of paying to have them lay on a hospital bed for another year.
  • If little Bobby in the hospital has an illness and can’t be cured, doctors can euthanize him, even as a child.
  • Hard pornography is available everywhere as is prostitution, without anyone ever thinking about whether the women actually want to be doing what they are doing and sticking up for them.

When it comes down to it, it seems like our culture has no balls. Is anyone willing to stick up for what they believe in anymore? I mean really. We consistently take the easiest way out for EVERYTHING. If we ever have the option to make something in the law less burdensome for us morally, it’s bound to pass through. All in the name of “freedom” or “liberty” or “progress” or “happiness” or “painlessness.” Is this a strong culture? Is this the type of society that we should be proud to be from? Does this bring out the best in humanity, or does it lead individuals down a spiral of mediocrity and selfishness?

This is yet another reason why I love the Catholic Church so much. Is anyone else protesting the moral evils of our time as much as the Church? Has anyone else even had the balls to speak up against popular culture?

When it comes down to it, the idea of avoiding suffering at all costs isn’t even possible. Life doesn’t give us that “option” to control. Suffering is a part of life, and you better find a life philosophy that makes some sense out of it, or even gives you hope through it. We never know if we’ll take another breath, or what’s around the next bend in life.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been in agony. I got injured playing basketball, and my leg ended up swelling up from hematoma. Can’t walk. Can’t sleep. Constant pain. Sounds fun right?

It didn’t destroy me, though. As a human person, suffering is a way of life, and my Catholic Christian religion takes this into account. At every church that I ever go to, right there in the middle behind the altar is a crucifix, like this:

crucifix

Seeing a crucifix reminds me of how God doesn’t just love me, but He loves me enough to be tortured and crucified for me. When I am in agony, I know that He is in agony with me too.

Jesus even desires that I offer up my sufferings for Him and for others. It is a great way to sanctify the difficulties of life.

As a Christian, I understand that life isn’t perfect, but at the end of time all things will be made right. I have heaven and the resurrection to look forward to (hopefully, pray for me!), so I really have nothing to lose in this life as long as I’m all in for Jesus.

I’ve found some joy in my sufferings in being able to offer it up for my family and friends, the students that I work with, the mission trip that I was going to go on, etc. It has also revealed how much love my friends have in helping me out by making me food, getting me water, helping me get around, and more. By serving me, they are serving Jesus in a sense through me. Remember the passage, in Matthew 25:

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” – Jesus

Those selfish philosophies? They have no way to explain how to deal with pain and struggle in life. “Just do what you want” doesn’t work when you’re in agony. You can’t will yourself to stop hurting. Instead, we have to toughen up and move on. Those philosophies also especially fall short when someone else is in need. As a Catholic Christian, I am called to serve those in need and love all. Just because a person or relationship isn’t convenient doesn’t mean that I should just drop them. We are faithful and loving within the bounds of the relationship.

I think I rambled a bit too much with this one. I’ll clarify my points to try and salvage it:

  1. Philosophies that do not incorporate suffering and pain are insufficient
  2. Doing whatever gives you pleasure in life is selfish, our culture needs to put more value on selfless love
  3. There actually is hope and purpose in suffering especially for Christians because of our faith
  4. God bless you, hope you’re having a great day :)

The Moment it all Changed

I look up, my heart beating fast. I just couldn’t bring myself to read anymore right now, I had too much on my mind. Making the most of each breath and appreciating every moment, it became obvious that I couldn’t live the same way anymore. God had spoken to my heart and it had finally clicked. I responded in prayer.

“Lord, even though I’m scared of what this means, I’m yours.”

As I said in my testimony, God rapidly began to work in my life after I got confirmed. The last two years of high school for me pretty much turned how I lived upside down. Shy to downright boisterous. Alone to “popular.” Trying to not get bullied to befriending all the bullied people. Afraid to speak up for what I believed in to going out of my way to share what I’ve experienced. Afraid of new things to going out of my way to bring people together. Worried about what the “cool” kids thought of me to worried about what the “unpopular” kids thought of themselves and encouraging them through friendship.

I’d always believed in God. But it was more of the existence of God, rather than a personal God who cared about me. Who desired that I live with Him. Being relatively out of touch with what goes on inside my head (extrovert problems?), it took a long time for Him to break through to me. In addition, since most other people didn’t seem to care about me much, why would God, the creator of everything, care about me?

After getting involved in my first “youth group” ever in my senior year of high school, an inspiring talk by one of my friends opened my eyes to an idea I had shelved for a long time: reading the bible. I actually was praying at least before bed every day for years by then, but often it felt like a monologue. Seeing every single one of those prayers answered helped. But a critical way of deepening my relationship with God was allowing Him to speak to me through scripture. Nowadays I’d call this the Catholic practice of Leccio Divina, but it’s kind of amazing how I ended up doing this without any instruction whatsoever. It didn’t come easy, though. I began with Genesis and read a couple hundred pages of the Old Testament before getting pretty bored. By this time it was the summer between high school and college, and I decided to skip ahead to the “good stuff,” the New Testament, starting with Matthew.

Look, as a Catholic I heard a Gospel reading every Sunday at mass, and between CCD and homilies, I didn’t learn many new things by reading the Gospels. What really impacted me was reading about the life of Jesus as a story every night for a couple of months straight that summer. I began to think of Jesus not as a historical figure, but as a man that I could resonate with. Just as Harry Potter came alive to me through reading the books, Jesus became more alive than ever to me through reading the Gospels.

My brother and I in Ephraim, July 2009.

My brother and I in Ephraim, July 2009.

By the end of the summer, I was through Matthew, Mark, and on to Luke. My family was up in Ephraim, Wisconsin on a little vacation at the end of July. Every night I got in my scripture and prayer, after everyone had gone to bed in our cabin.

God had worked in my heart so much by this time. I had read pretty much the same story of Jesus back to back to back in Matthew, Mark, and now in Luke. Until that night, it all still felt somewhat academic.

I was reading my chapter for the night, and suddenly I was overwhelmed. It all had become real to me finally. Jesus had many of the same struggles as I had. He desired that everyone came to know of God’s love for them, and that they would honor God as He deserves. Jesus didn’t live a “safe” life, He lived a life of difficulty and reckless abandon for God. Despite all of the failings of His disciples, the threats against Him from the Pharisees, and the general misunderstandings of the people of Israel, He still persevered on with His mission. He followed through, showing God’s love for us in the most tangible way by dying for us.

It all registered for me at that moment, and I knew that I couldn’t live the same way again. I needed to put God first, like Jesus. That is the only way to true life for myself, and for all of my family and friends. Everything else passes away, but our relationship with God lasts forever.

I knew that I might have to make radical decisions in order to live for God. That scared the heck out of me. But in my head, it made sense. If God died for me, the least that I could do is die for Him. Hopefully I won’t have to actually die like a martyr, but in everyday decisions I had so many opportunities to put God first. I tried to stop complaining, to stop sinning, to love everyone- even my enemies, to serve those in need, to encourage the downcast, to share my faith out of love, to appreciate life and live joyfully, to always make time for prayer, to worship God especially at mass and adoration.

I’m not a finished product now. But this was the moment when I stepped out of the boat with both feet. Please pray for me as I continue to try to follow Jesus, God bless you in your journey as well!

14 Reasons Why You Should Become a FOCUS Missionary in 2014

focus

As some of the last interview weekends of the year are coming up, here are 14 reasons why you should join me in becoming a FOCUS missionary this year!

1. There is a desperate need. It’s a safe bet that most of your fellow students have not heard the Gospel. They do not understand who Jesus is and what Christianity is all about. Their best hope is other young people like you, their peers, to witness to the faith and share Jesus with them.

2. It is our calling as Christians to share the Gospel. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” – Matthew 28:19. “Through Baptism, each of us becomes missionary disciples, called to bring the Gospel to the world. Each of the baptized, whatever their role in the Church or the educational level of their faith, is an active agent of evangelization.” – Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

3. You will grow in virtue and holiness. You will be surrounded by support with your teammates, student leaders, the regional support teams, the chaplain, etc. Your daily holy hour and mass will challenge you to continue to strive closer to Jesus. It’s a great way to train yourself to become a saint!

4. You receive unparalleled formation for life. Leadership skills, people skills, managing small groups, support from teammates, and more. New Staff Training in the summer helps to train us with the very best resources that the Church has to offer for new evangelists. Oh and by the way, going to the March for Life doesn’t require you to “ask off,” you can do it as a part of your job!

5. You meet and work with awesome people. Your “co-workers” aren’t just there because they need to pay the bills. Your teammates are young zealous world changers willing to take risks to help make differences in others lives. In addition, you get to meet so many interesting students from all walks of life, and get introduced to other exciting people in the Church making a difference through overlapping ministries (like all the awesome priests, religious, and campus ministers!).

6. You make a lasting eternal impact on the lives of students. Even one soul that comes to know Jesus is priceless. These students will have changed lives in college, but it doesn’t stop there! They’ll also be influencing others for the rest of their lives! You just get to knock over the first few dominoes (by God’s grace!) and sit back as God does His thing. :)

7. It’s a blast! Come on, does it really sound like a boring job? Hanging out at college for a few extra years… No classes… No homework… No exams… All mission. Oh, and have you heard of these things called FOCUS Conferences?

SLS 14

Leaf Fight

Halloween

Fall Retreat

8. Be at the forefront of the New Evangelization, help to reclaim the culture for Jesus! John Paul II approved.

John Paul II hiking

9. Help to save people’s souls. I guess this should be #1, but this list isn’t in order anyways haha.

10. Acquire skills for lifelong mission. We will continue to live as missionary disciples even after being FOCUS missionaries in our homes, parishes, workplaces, etc. By being a missionary for a few years, we will acquire the skills that we need to make the biggest difference afterwards.

11. 2 years fly by and doesn’t set you back in your career. Really. Fundraising will actually help you out with networking a little, too. At my summer internship before senior year, the CEO (of a very large company) was a high school gym teacher for the first 8 years. Nuff said.

12. You will learn to appreciate your gifts and resources more. Fundraising is awesome! It’s taught me to appreciate other people’s generosity so much more. It’s also been a great way to teach me to tithe myself. This experience has taught me to be more generous to others and fiscally responsible in general.

13. You could meet your future spouse. There have been a pretty good amount of couples that met through FOCUS. One couple went to the Vatican and had their marriage blessed by Pope Francis this fall, actually.

14. It will help you to discern your vocation. The first year dating fast (if it applies) isn’t a big deal at all.. and I’m a first year. Clear your mind from this over-sexualized culture and let God speak to you in prayer. You will be most happy in the vocation that God has planned for you.

This was the post that I wrote a year ago when I made the decision, and the following is a video I just made today where I explained the basics:

Apply here: focus.org/apply

Upcoming Interview Weekends:
Chicago, Feb 7-9
Philadelphia, Feb 14-16
OKC, Feb 28-March 2
Denver March 7-9