Off We Go

Tomorrow begins one of the most exciting times of my year: FOCUS conference. This year it was re-branded as SEEK Conference, but it’s all the same.

Seek 2013

I was given the opportunity to attend FOCUS Conference my freshman year, exactly 3 years ago, and it essentially sealed the deal on my conversion, not only to Jesus, but to the Catholic faith. It all seemed to come down to two major points:

1. I got to hear the Church’s take on all of the hot-topic issues. Some of the most renowned Catholic names in the English language were there, from Matthew Kelly to Dr. Edward Sri, Curtis Martin to Fr. Benedict Groeschel. Theologically, everything was there. There was the Jewish convert, the Protestant convert, the atheist convert, and anything else that you could think of. I was able to hear so many different conversion stories and reasons for converting that a few really hit home with me. More than anything else, I never before had made the connection that Dr. Edward Sri made for me- if Jesus founded the Catholic Church, why would anyone want to be in any other church? It was as if a light bulb turned on above my head at that moment.

2. Perhaps the more moving part of FOCUS conference was the witness of thousands of college students on fire for Jesus. The conference actually took place over New Years Eve, and I remember us all kidding with each other of how much of a “rowdy” bunch we would be at this hotel. The next morning the staff of the hotel literally thanked us and told us that that was perhaps the easiest New Years Eve that they’ve ever had at the hotel. But don’t get me wrong, we had fun. We played so many ridiculous games, stayed up ridiculously late talking, randomly started beat boxing and rapping uber nerdy stuff, and got to meet other Catholic college students from all over the country and listen to their stories.

As us Illinois students gathered together for prayer at the end of a night, I remember a handful actually crying. I was pretty confused, shouldn’t they be happy? But I soon realized why they were crying: these were tears of joy. A few of my fellow participants had never experienced the love of God in such a tangible way before, and it was overpowering for them. The Holy Spirit was moving so powerfully during that conference, opening up hearts and renewing them. We had a wonderful opportunity for confession, and I remember the line going as far as I could see in the conference center. And this wasn’t a line of grandparents, this was a group of THOUSANDS of COLLEGE KIDS in line for confession. #mindblown It was such a powerful witness to see that we all struggle with similar issues, and only Jesus has the power to forgive and renew us. We learned how much Jesus desires to offer us forgiveness, just like the woman caught in adultery story (John 8:1-11). So confession isn’t a guilt trip, but rather an opportunity for forgiveness: freely and willingly given.

Recently, CatholicVote named the growth of FOCUS the one of their Top 10 Reasons for Hope in 2012. I can see why. There is a significant movement of young Catholics who are devoted to their faith and put God before everything else. FOCUS bible studies reach about 10,000 students on college campuses across the USA, and its only growing. The powerful combination of following the great commission, staying faithful to the Church, joyful and authentic Christian lives and friendships will continue to change lives like mine, especially this week. This year, over 6,000 students will be at conference, our biggest one yet! Please keep us all in your prayers, especially those attending for their first time!

God is Love, Part 1

Have you ever read a papal encyclical? They are letters written by the Pope, often to the entire Church! As I read this one, I decided to write up a nice (and quite thorough)  summary of it for you, so enjoy!

The first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI was Deus Caritas Est, or God is Love. Please go ahead and read it yourself if you have time, it is pretty easy to read in my opinion, and it is so good that it was hard to keep myself from just copying and pasting the entire thing!

As I read through this encyclical, it became ever more apparent to me how important this message is today. The message that God is love, that man is meant for love, and that true love integrates the whole person- not just body or soul. We love God by loving our neighbor, and through this we can always continue to learn more of God’s love for us. This first part is a summary of the first half of the encyclical, which focuses on “The Unity of Love in Creation and in Salvation History.”

Pope Waving

“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16). Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should … have eternal life” (3:16). In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core of Israel’s faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth. Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.

While God is often talked about in hateful ways in recent times, the Holy Father wanted to stress in his first encyclical that the central point of Christianity is God’s love for us, as shown through the person of Jesus Christ.

Let us first of all bring to mind the vast semantic range of the word “love”: we speak of love of country, love of one’s profession, love between friends, love of work, love between parents and children, love between family members, love of neighbour and love of God. So we need to ask: are all these forms of love basically one, so that love, in its many and varied manifestations, is ultimately a single reality, or are we merely using the same word to designate totally different realities?

The first type of love that the Holy Father defines is “eros,” which is merely enjoying material things and bodily pleasure. He continues:

Eros, reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man’s great “yes” to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into our overall existential freedom; no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere. The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness.

Man is a being made up of body and soul. Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united; the challenge of eros can be said to be truly overcome when this unification is achieved.

As you can see, the Holy Father isn’t necessarily saying that eros is bad, but rather that applied by itself, it does not respect the entire human person, and therefore leaves a sense of want in its wake. He also mentioned that another type of love is philia, which is the love of friends, which in scripture often refers to the love between Christ and His apostles. Next he turns his attention to the Song of Songs, pointing out that in the ancient Hebrew text there are also two different types of love: dodim, which is insecure and searching love, and agape, which is concerned for the care of the other and willing to sacrifice. He explains:

 Love is indeed “ecstasy”, not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Lk 17:33)

The Holy Father cautions us from making a clear distinction between the two loves, characterizing agape as “Christian” love and eros as “non-Christian” love, because they actually are both connected:

Yet eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to “be there for” the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf.Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34).

Continuing that thought, he concludes that the different types of love, whether based on faith or worldly things, do not inherently contradict each other, but rather purifies the other:

Biblical faith does not set up a parallel universe, or one opposed to that primordial human phenomenon which is love, but rather accepts the whole man; it intervenes in his search for love in order to purify it and to reveal new dimensions of it.

The Holy Father next discusses the image of God that is portrayed in the scriptures. First of all, we learn that there is one God, who created all things (Deuteronomy 6:4). From this, we gather that God wills our existence. We also learn from the scriptures that God loves us, with a personal love- so much so that the prophets described it using metaphors of marriage, with idolatry portrayed as adultery. The next paragraph, on how God loves us with both eros and agape, is so good I might as well copy the whole thing:

We have seen that God’s eros for man is also totally agape. This is not only because it is bestowed in a completely gratuitous manner, without any previous merit, but also because it is love which forgives. Hosea above all shows us that this agape dimension of God’s love for man goes far beyond the aspect of gratuity. Israel has committed “adultery” and has broken the covenant; God should judge and repudiate her. It is precisely at this point that God is revealed to be God and not man: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! … My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst” (Hos 11:8-9). God’s passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice. Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is God’s love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love.

He continues by saying that from these very scriptures, we can see that God desires unity with us all, and not in some sort of Hindu way but rather a personal way:

Man can indeed enter into union with God—his primordial aspiration. But this union is no mere fusion, a sinking in the nameless ocean of the Divine; it is a unity which creates love, a unity in which both God and man remain themselves and yet become fully one. As Saint Paul says: “He who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Cor 6:17).

From the scriptures we not only learn who God is, but also who man is. Man desires love as well!

Of all other creatures, not one is capable of being the helper that man needs, even though he has assigned a name to all the wild beasts and birds and thus made them fully a part of his life. So God forms woman from the rib of man. Now Adam finds the helper that he needed: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). …man is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become “complete”. The biblical account thus concludes with a prophecy about Adam: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Two aspects of this are important. First, eros is somehow rooted in man’s very nature; Adam is a seeker, who “abandons his mother and father” in order to find woman; only together do the two represent complete humanity and become “one flesh”. The second aspect is equally important. From the standpoint of creation, eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfil its deepest purpose. Corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is monogamous marriage. Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love.

Next we see how Jesus Christ is the new revelation of God’s love, which is constantly renewed with the sacrament of the Eucharist: the reality of God’s love for us all which unites us as one.

When Jesus speaks in his parables of the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, of the woman who looks for the lost coin, of the father who goes to meet and embrace his prodigal son, these are no mere words: they constitute an explanation of his very being and activity. …His death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form. By contemplating the pierced side of Christ (cf. 19:37), we can understand the starting-point of this Encyclical Letter: “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). It is there that this truth can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition of love must begin. …Jesus gave this act of oblation an enduring presence through his institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. He anticipated his death and resurrection by giving his disciples, in the bread and wine, his very self, his body and blood as the new manna (cf. Jn 6:31-33). The ancient world had dimly perceived that man’s real food—what truly nourishes him as man—is ultimately the Logos, eternal wisdom: this same Logos now truly becomes food for us—as love. …Here we need to consider yet another aspect: this sacramental “mysticism” is social in character, for in sacramental communion I become one with the Lord, like all the other communicants. As Saint Paul says, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:17). Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians. We become “one body”, completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to himself.

The Holy Father stresses the connection between love of God and love of neighbor, quoting the first letter of John which says that someone who says that they love God but do not love their neighbor is a liar. He answers a common question on the difficulty in seeing God by saying that we often can see God through the witness of Christians and the Church in general:

True, no one has ever seen God as he is. And yet God is not totally invisible to us; he does not remain completely inaccessible.  He has become visible in as much as he “has sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 Jn 4:9). God has made himself visible: in Jesus we are able to see the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). Nor has the Lord been absent from subsequent Church history: he encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist. In the Church’s Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive his presence and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives.

The Holy Father encourages us by noting that love isn’t just a sentiment, but a continual process of faithfully following the God’s will:

In the gradual unfolding of this encounter, it is clearly revealed that love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. Acknowledgment of the living God is one path towards love, and the “yes” of our will to his will unites our intellect, will and sentiments in the all- embracing act of love. But this process is always open-ended; love is never “finished” and complete; throughout life, it changes and matures, and thus remains faithful to itself.

Next he concludes this part of the encyclical:

 Love of neighbour is thus shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave. Only if I serve my neighbour can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me. The saints—consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta—constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbour from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its real- ism and depth in their service to others. Love of God and love of neighbour are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God who has loved us first. Love is “divine” because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a “we” which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).

Why do Catholics have to go to mass on Sundays?

For many of my young adult peers, going to mass on Sundays is considered “soooo last century.” Along with more than a few other Catholic things. But just because something is old doesn’t make it wrong or not necessary.

St. John the Baptist from Choir Loft

 

The most obvious first step in understanding mass on Sundays is looking back to the book of Genesis, where in the creation of the world God rested on the 7th day. This day is called the Sabbath, the Lord’s day or the day of rest. Long story short, the Sabbath was originally Saturday for the Jews, but Christians switched the day to Sunday. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent, St. Justin was the first Christian to mention the tradition of worship on Sunday in writing, and Tertullian explicitly stated in 202 AD how Sunday was the day that Christians celebrated the Lord’s Resurrection. Perhaps the most powerful argument for going to mass on Sundays is the third commandment: keep holy the Sabbath.

But how do we keep the Sabbath holy? Is it enough to just pray at home? At the last supper, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, He said:

“Do this in memory of me.” -Luke 22:19

In a few other passages, Jesus gave us the model of the structure of mass. The model always consisted of Jesus teaching and explaining the scriptures, followed by the whole assembly sharing a meal, presided over by Jesus. A few examples are at any of the feedings of the thousands, the last supper, the rode to emmaus, and the appearance to the apostles after His resurrection. This is exactly the same as the Catholic mass, with the two main parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

We can learn from the examples of the early Christians in scripture, too. In the book of Acts, we see in chapter 2 that “they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” in verse 42 and that “every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes” in verse 46, which seems to imply not only a weekly mass but DAILY mass. Another gem is in Acts 20:7, where the author writes “on the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread.” Sunday is the first day of the week. Pretty self explanatory, huh?

Some practicals:

Going to mass allows you to witness a miracle.

Going to mass is an opportunity to receive our Lord and Savior in the Eucharist.

We get to worship God at mass.

We can learn from the scriptures, sing psalms, and hear from the pastor as he encourages us in our journey.

Going to mass is a great opportunity to practice your handshaking and hugging abilities, as well as learn a little Latin, while being surrounded by friendly people who say “God bless you” when you sneeze, and you still keep the blood flowing by standing, sitting, and kneeling.

Any other reasons why you go to mass? Do you have any questions for me? Feel free to drop me a comment 🙂

Did Jesus quote Deuterocanonical Books?

Canon of the Bible

How many books are there in the bible? Well, if you ask different Christians, you will get different answers to this seemingly simple question. See, the Protestant bible has 66 books, while the Catholic bible has 73. Both groups have the same canon for the New Testament of 27 books. It’s in the Old Testament, the Jewish books, that there is a discrepancy. Protestants have 39 books, while Catholics have 46. There are also little bits and pieces of other books that Protestants have removed from their bible.

So how do we know what books should be in the bible and what shouldn’t be? Of course, it’s not like Jesus told us what books to put in the bible. If so, it would be a much easier question. I’ll keep it all pretty simple here. The Old Testament was kept as the Jews had it, as Jesus Himself said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” -Matthew 5:17

And so the gospels and the early Christian letters were also added to the Old Testament to form the New Testament of the bible. I believe that all of these were written in the first century, but they were not officially compiled into one canon that was agreed on by the whole Church until late in the 4th century, largely thanks to the work of St. Jerome and St. Augustine. By the point, the whole canon of the bible was set. And it was set with the 73 books that Catholics are familiar with.

So why did Protestants remove 7 books from the bible? For the most part they must have had theological issues with the content. For example, in Maccabees, there is a passage which backs up prayers for the dead and purgatory very clearly. Another reason as far as I know is that they believed that the Old Testament should be the same books that the Jews have. The issue is that over time, the Jews removed these 7 “deuterocanonical” books from their scriptures. Therefore, the Catholic canon has the books that the Jews had at the time of Jesus, and the Protestant canon has the books that the Jews currently have.

The 7 missing books in Protestant bibles:

Tobit

Judith

1 Maccabees

2 Maccabees

Wisdom

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus

Baruch

-and a few other odds and ends chapters in Daniel and Esther

 

One of the most powerful ways of proving that the deuterocanonical books are legit is by showing that Jesus quoted them Himself. Thanks to scripturecatholic.com, we have an entire list of all of the times that deuterocanonical books were referenced in the New Testament as well as by the Church Fathers.

Here are some examples:

Matt. 2:16 – Herod’s decree of slaying innocent children was prophesied in Wis. 11:7 – slaying the holy innocents.

Matt. 7:16,20 – Jesus’ statement “you will know them by their fruits” follows Sirach 27:6 – the fruit discloses the cultivation.

Matt. 9:36 – the people were “like sheep without a shepherd” is same as Judith 11:19 – sheep without a shepherd.

Matt. 22:25; Mark 12:20; Luke 20:29 – Gospel writers refer to the canonicity of Tobit 3:8 and 7:11 regarding the seven brothers.

John 5:18 – Jesus claiming that God is His Father follows Wisdom 2:16.

Luke 21:24 – Jesus’ usage of “fall by the edge of the sword” follows Sirach 28:18.

Personally, I especially enjoy reading Wisdom and Sirach- they contain a lot of wisdom (haha). And Judith is an opportunity to read about a heroine in the bible.

Hope

Life is tough. I don’t even want to list things, you get the picture. Heck, even Lupe and Kendrick Lamar get it. No more do we have to “prove” that the world isn’t going to satisfy us. This world is unfair. And we all recognize that.

This isn’t the way that it was supposed to be. Who’s going to argue with that? We all know that living in peace and harmony is possible. It all comes down to loving. This selfish “pleasure and wealth gospel” that we’ve been fed from those in power doesn’t satisfy us. We just had an election. What are the issues? The economy. That was the issue. That’s it. Isn’t there anything else that we value anymore?

The shooting. God bless them all. That’s horrible. And like Propaganda said, I ain’t got an answer. Give it a listen. Awesome song, amazing final message at the end.

Listen to our president’s words in the aftermath of the shooting.

I think this is the most proud I’ve ever been to have him as president. He isn’t perfect. I don’t agree with many of his policies, in fact some of them threaten Catholics like me. But that was genuine remorse. I absolutely loved what he said:

“This is our first task, caring for our children. Our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how as a society, we will be judged.”

Our president got it right! What comes first is not the money, but caring for others, especially those who have most need of it! Protecting them and making sure that they have the rights that they deserve. Perhaps one day President Obama will put into practice his words and end all government funding of abortion, and lead the charge to guarantee the rights of all human beings to live, whether in the womb, out of it, or on their deathbed.

But either way, the world goes on. And evil happens. God gave us all free will, and unfortunately we all choose to sin sometimes. Some people sin more than others, in worse ways than others. So how can we have hope? Where does our hope come from? Surely, we all will suffer and deal with adversity at some point in our lives. Why should we keep going? Why should we strive to make the world a better place?

We can learn a lot from Jesus. Sometimes it is hard to remember, Jesus lived in the same world as we do (that’s what’s so awesome about Christmas! God humbled Himself enough to be with us in order to sacrifice Himself for us!). He had it as bad as anyone, not only was He killed without a good reason, but He was basically tortured. And yet He still persevered. He told us that it was going to be difficult:

“In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” -John 16:33

But we should always have hope! God will never leave us, and even when it seems like there is no more hope, He is there by our side, just waiting for us to recognize it. Nothing can separate us from His love:

“I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 8:38-39

As Christians, we should not grieve as others without hope.

“We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep. Indeed, we tell you this, on the world of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words.” -1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

No matter what happens on earth, we can be hopeful for what is to come.

“Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” -Philippians 3:20

Just reflect on the inspired words of the Mother of God. This passage never ceases to amaze me with its hope and joy as Mary cries out in praise of God for bringing into the world a savior:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” -Luke 1:46-55

 

Read more: “Saved in Hope” by Pope Benedict XVI