The Reformation is over. Kinda.

From left: Bishop Dr. Christian Krause and Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy sign the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, 1999.

From left: Bishop Dr. Christian Krause and Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy
sign the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, 1999.

“Justification by faith alone is the article on which the church stands or falls.” – Martin Luther

It’s been nearly 500 years since the split of the Church in the west, which was started largely by Martin Luther and his claim of salvation being obtained only through faith alone. Unfortunately, this split the Church and many other doctrines were changed by the Protestant Reformers before long. But the good news is that there is finally some hope for reunification again! This is going to take a loooonnnnggg time, but the most critical issue, the one mentioned in the quote above, has been resolved! The Lutheran bishops and the Catholic Church made a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999, and even the World Methodist Council adopted it as well in 2006.

Praise God for softening both sides towards each other so that they would be open to clear dialogue on the issues at hand. It seems like a large issue that separated the sides over the years is the language used. Words like “righteousness” and “justification” have many different meanings and contexts in scripture, so of course on a charged issue it would be easy to rush to judgement instead of having a complete understanding of both sides before drawing a conclusion. In the end, both made great points, stressing how only by God and faith someone can be saved, but also how our good works play a critical role in cooperating with God’s grace in bringing about the Kingdom of God in our lives. I’m not a theologian so that’s the best summary that I can give 😉

There is still quite a bit in the way of the complete reunification of the churches in the West, but this is a very important and exciting first step that resolves the most critical issue!

Here are some of my favorite parts:

Paragraph 1:

The doctrine of justification was of central importance for the Lutheran Reformation of the sixteenth century. It was held to be the “first and chief article” and at the same time the “ruler and judge over all other Christian doctrines.”

Paragraph 5:

The present Joint Declaration has this intention: namely, to show that on the basis of their dialogue the subscribing Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church are now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ.

Paragraph 15:

Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.

Paragraph 19:

We confess together that all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation.

Paragraph 22:

We confess together that God forgives sin by grace and at the same time frees human beings from sin’s enslaving power and imparts the gift of new life in Christ.

Paragraph 25:

We confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. By the action of the Holy Spirit in baptism, they are granted the gift of salvation, which lays the basis for the whole Christian life.

Paragraph 28:

We confess together that in baptism the Holy Spirit unites one with Christ, justifies, and truly renews the person. But the justified must all through life constantly look to God’s unconditional justifying grace. They also are continuously exposed to the power of sin still pressing its attacks (cf. Rom 6:12-14) and are not exempt from a lifelong struggle against the contradiction to God within the selfish desires of the old Adam (cf. Gal 5:16; Rom 7:7-10). The justified also must ask God daily for forgiveness as in the Lord’s Prayer (Mt. 6:12; 1 Jn 1:9), are ever again called to conversion and penance, and are ever again granted forgiveness.

Paragraph 31:

We confess together that persons are justified by faith in the gospel “apart from works prescribed by the law” (Rom 3:28). Christ has fulfilled the law and by his death and resurrection has overcome it as a way to salvation. We also confess that God’s commandments retain their validity for the justified and that Christ has by his teaching and example expressed God’s will which is a standard for the conduct of the justified also.

Paragraph 37:

We confess together that good works – a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love – follow justification and are its fruits.

Paragraph 40 (BOOM!):

The understanding of the doctrine of justification set forth in this Declaration shows that a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics.

Paragraph 41 (BOOM!):

Thus the doctrinal condemnations of the 16th century, in so far as they relate to the doctrine of justification, appear in a new light: The teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent. The condemnations in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church presented in this Declaration.

Paragraph 44:

We give thanks to the Lord for this decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church. We ask the Holy Spirit to lead us further toward that visible unity which is Christ’s will.

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Jon’s Testimony: A Jew on the Path to Catholic Conversion

The following is a testimony by my friend Jon, who I got to know over the past year at Montclair State University.

Jon and I

Coming into my Junior year I began with my Jewish religious beliefs, but would later come into an encounter with Jesus Christ at Montclair State. My first thoughts of Newman Catholic my first two years was that they were a Catholic cult on campus like I had felt before attending a couple of Catholic services. I WAS SO WRONG with everything, but my roommate Jeff, who will take no credit even though he deserves it a lot, has shown me a way to live my life through Catholicism and to a closer understanding of who Jesus is. We had made an agreement with each other that if he came to a Hillel (Jewish) service that I would come to a Newman Catholic event, and obviously I am still here today. My first event was mass and adoration at the Newman Center and it was an awesome experience between Father Jim’s homily to the atmosphere of the Newman Center. My main reason for coming back was the awesome people that were completely accepting and really welcoming, something that I hadn’t experienced too much in my own faith. Over the entire spring semester my connection with Jesus became stronger, thanks to getting involved heavily with Newman events ranging from weekly Sunday mass, Thursday mass and adoration, CIA, and more.

Throughout the semester I had attended mass as it was a fun environment and a way to pray with friends. My faith towards Judaism had not been present in my life. It wasn’t until my 21st birthday when I realized that I needed a change in my life. Leading into my birthday I had a toga party with my fraternity and got drunk and passed out. The next day and over the night there was a huge snowstorm and my car had been towed from my fraternity house and they kept trying to wake me up but couldn’t. I woke up and felt awful and I decided that the darkness and evilness had done me in for the last time.
When elections for E-board came for the 2014-15 year I ran for treasurer and won. I decided to run due to the fact that I wanted to give back to MSU Newman Catholic for all they have done for me, being in a dark place and showing me a light at the end of the tunnel. The other reason was to spread the Gospel of Jesus and evangelize on the MSU campus.

An instance that occurred on Palm Sunday would confirm everything for me. It was a typical mass on Palm Sunday during personal prayers after Eucharist when it hit me LITERALLY. I felt a jolt back with my body and it was a feeling like no other. I had no idea what it was at first but it was the cross hitting me on the head throwing me back in my chair. After mass I talked to Father Jim about it and he told me to contemplate it, which I did the next few weeks leading into the Easter season. More events like this encouraged me, for example at next meal I ate, my fortune cookie said “Among the lucky, you are the chosen one.” Through bible studies, masses, and talks with Father Jim as well as the missionaries, I have taken it upon myself to engage in conversion and RCIA for my senior year.

Later in the semester, speaker Leah Darrow came to MSU and gave a testimony. Three words during it stood out to me and returned to my head multiple times: “Jesus is home.” This is something that I have thought about whenever praying. Her father told her when she was in her darkest moments of her life. Using that quote I came up with one of my own, “Newman Catholic and the Catholic faith are home.” This year has 100% been up and down, but it is clear now to me which way to go from here on out.
I can see my life being turned around in everyday life. God and Catholicism have shown me the way I want to live the rest of my life. I am proud of being a Jew and my faith tradition, but as a Jew it is my job to follow the Messiah. I believe that Jesus is the Messiah and I am excited to enter into His Christian Catholic Church.

Missionary Life: Year 1 Reflections

Wow. So crazy as it seems, I’ve already completed an entire school year as a FOCUS Missionary. Life just flies sometimes, doesn’t it? Here are some observations and thoughts about the year!

  • In college I learned that life moves even faster than normal. Those 4 years were a blur… At graduation it still seemed like I moved in as a freshman the day before. Well, as a missionary, time goes EVEN FASTER. Jeepers, I was booked and busy. Sometimes a bit too much haha.. but constantly meeting with different people and going to different events and having intentional conversations will do that sort of thing!
  • I can’t share Jesus when I don’t know Jesus or live like Him. I definitely do know Him and try to live for Him, but I still could still grow closer to Him. Becoming more Christlike gives me more credibility in sharing the Gospel, and also gives me an even greater zeal to share it! Prayer is the foundation of evangelization.
  • I am a doer, a fixer, a go-getter. And yet despite everything that I did, I still got rejected, and relatively often. It’s a struggle for all who try and evangelize… but I have to remember that ultimately only God can touch someone’s heart, no matter what I do. I began to rely more and more on prayer by the end of the year, praying for the people in my life, because I knew that personal conversion is a matter between that person and God, and my job is simply to introduce the two parties and foster that relationship 😉
  • There were so many fun crazy things that I got to do as a missionary: relive the college experience WITHOUT GOING TO CLASS, so many retreats and conferences, seeing nearly every single state in the Northeast, hiking trips, the March for Life was only 4 hrs away, trips to NYC, Catholic Underground, meeting so many religious orders, being in spiritual direction, building such great friendships with the students, speaking in front of groups about JESUS, and literally see lives change before my very eyes.
  • I really couldn’t have done any of that without the support of my mission partners, who donate to and pray for my mission. Their generosity has shown me a glimpse of the charity of God Himself.
  • I got a kick out of seeing probably more Chicago Bulls hats than any other hat on campus… and it’s in New Jersey! Go Bulls!
  • Numbers are great, individual souls are priceless, and faithfulness to God is most important. I’m reminded of the Mother Teresa quote, “God doesn’t ask us to be successful, He asks us to be faithful.” Praise God that we did have some success in terms of conversions of students either back to their Catholic faith, from a different denomination home to Catholicism, or from another/no faith to the Church.
  • I could have been an engineer this year. Looking back, if I did that, so many things would have been different, in my life as well as in others. It’s amazing how much God works when we go out of our way to follow Him, even in a single thing.
  • Young people’s apathy for religion is unbelievable. This isn’t necessarily their fault as much as it is the fault of previous generations who should have taught them its importance. But either way, if there are belief systems out there that say that their way is the only way to live life, wouldn’t you at least want to check them out to see if they are true? Relativism has largely crippled any desire of the youth to search for eternal truth.
  • The lack of religious convictions by the youth has also given way to incredible boldness and zeal by my peers. My fellow missionaries and student leaders are courageous souls determined to shine the light of Jesus everywhere they go, because they know just how desperately our peers need that light. The greater the darkness, the more bright the lights of heroes shine.
  • Looking forward to next year! Who knows what God will do next 🙂

End of year BBQ

When I Called Out, You Answered

homeless

A couple of weeks ago I was hanging out at Yale in New Haven, CT with a couple of friends. We were walking down one of the main streets and about to go into an ice cream place when a man called out to us.

“Hey, can any of you help me out? Even change will do.”

I just averted my eyes and kept walking. I don’t remember if I had money or not on me, but either way I completely ignored him, saying a quick prayer to try to feel a little better about myself,

“Lord, be with him.”

Then we continued on. I have to give a lot of credit to one of my friends, afterwards he actually went up to the homeless man and asked him his name. Me? I just kept walking, an ice cream cone in hand and fully determined to have a good time with my friends.

I’ve been thinking and praying about this event ever since. What sort of human being am I? Deliberately choosing not to even acknowledge someone who cried out for help. And even more hypocritically, I prayed asking God to be with him. But as a member of the Body of Christ, I am one of His hands and feet! When I don’t show up for people in need, then people think that God doesn’t show up. God gave me that opportunity to reveal His love for that man.

On top of it all, I’m a freaking Catholic missionary! It would absolutely make my day if one day a student cried out asking for help with life’s problems or something and I got to help him or her. I pray for those opportunities every day, but often they don’t present themselves. Now, this time, I had someone who really was in trouble and I did nothing to help. Not even acknowledging them as a person. Am I really helping to bring peace on earth when I act like that, or am I just kindling even greater social tensions?

Jesus told us that we serve Him personally when we serve the poor and needy. This isn’t just a nice suggestion but a matter of eternal consequences.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” – Matthew 25:35-36

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40

I need to foster a greater respect for the dignity of the poor and needy in my own life, especially the homeless.

The good news is that I have had really great experiences as well, for example last winter in Chicago I ran into a man who shared my name, Chris! He was very nice and yes he asked me for some money but I actually talked with him. It turns out that he used to work at O’Hare and was laid off. He is a veteran of the military as well, he showed me his drivers license to prove it because he was so excited about it. I asked him where he stayed and he said that he stays at the shelter that the Franciscans provide in Chicago. That was super crazy and I got all excited when I heard that because one (maybe two soon) of my college friends is a sister with the Franciscans of the Eucharist that helps out the poor in the city. He mentioned Fr. Bob, the CFR priest who helps them out.

If only all of my experiences were like that! Either way, this video inspired me to post my own experience that I’ve been praying about over the past couple of weeks. It really goes to show how much we don’t notice the homeless and how much more love we could potentially give them, instead of ignoring them.

Being Faithful Isn’t Manly?

Football Praying

Whether on the college campus or not, in America I’ve noticed that the public doesn’t seem to think that having faith is manly. People seem to think that people who pray are a bunch of sissies who have problems controlling their feelings. A “real man” takes care of things himself and leaves nothing to chance, they claim.

Obviously I’d beg to differ. As a man myself, I have found that my faith has taught me how to grow as a man and be the best one that I can be.

First off, a man must be rational. This is the first task of any man, to wrestle with and find the truth so that they can live the best life possible. What sort of man lives his life according to some sort of fairy tale searching for the fountain of youth or Atlantis? A man ought to live for the truth, not some sort of fake reality- someone who lives in their own little world isn’t a man… the proper description would be insane. There is a God and an eternal reality for us all, and this can be known through philosophy and reason. After wrestling with this and coming to know the truth, the best way to live as a man is to keep that in mind at all times so that we can learn to be responsible protectors of creation and providers for those in need. And who is a better example of this than Jesus, who taught us that the things of God are worth so much more than the things of the world. Just take a look at the beatitudes in Matthew 5!

A man is responsible, he doesn’t just let his life slip away due to alcohol, drugs, pornography, or any other addictions. A man lives with clear convictions and holds to them even if that means that he might have to suffer for them. A man is accountable for his actions and strives to be the best son, father, coworker, citizen, teammate, etc. everyday. Who is a better example of this than Jesus, who followed God with all that He did so that He could teach humanity how we can live best.

A man is humble and a team player. Nobody wants to be on the same team as a ball-hog or work with a coworker who never communicates with the rest of the team. People who are angry and unreasonable ruin relationships and leave a trail of inefficiency behind them. They are a cancer to whatever group they are a part of. Through faith, we learn that we need to encourage others at all times and realize that our talents are merely gifts from God to be used for the benefit of all of humanity instead of being used for selfish gain. Jesus taught us this by never showing off His power any more than He needed to, but simply trusting in God that eventually the disciples would learn to be faithful and follow Him with their whole hearts, without forcing them to.

A man protects those entrusted to him, especially his family, friends, and nation. A man doesn’t just lie down and let evil happen to them, but sacrifices even to the point of death for those under his care. With a secular philosophy, there isn’t much reason to do this at all. In that case, it’s a dog eat dog world where the poor get poorer and those defenseless get taken advantage of without men who stick up for those in need. But we all know that a real man never wimps out of protecting others. Jesus is a fantastic example of this because He gave up His very life freely so that we all could be saved from eternal damnation. God didn’t just sit back and say, hey, I’ll let someone else do the work.. maybe John the Baptist or Elijah! No! God Himself came down as Jesus, walking the walk instead of just talking the talk.

A man provides for his family and those in need. What do you call the boss who lives extravagantly while his employees are barely making minimum wage? What do you call the father who fathers a child but leaves the mother to raise him or her all alone? What do you call the dad who finds time to drink with his friends every night while his children never get to see him? These are obviously selfish and horrible examples, but by living with faith, we can learn to put others first before ourselves instead of forgetting that essential way of life. Jesus gave us a great witness to that when He bent down to wash His disciples’ feet, showing them that the last will be first, and the first will be last.

A man honors his God. As a father, you expect your children to respect, obey, and have a relationship with you. If they don’t, it is very disrespectful. In a similar way, we need to apply this to our relationship with God. God is our Father. Do we respect Him in how we act and talk about Him? Do we speak with Him? Do we love Him? Just a like a good father, God loves us unconditionally and desires to have this relationship with us. Who is better to consul and comfort us than our loving Father?

What I really seem to have focused on is how having faith helps us to be the best men that we can be. It seems to me that without faith, there is no need for virtue. And without virtue, there is no manliness. Come to know Jesus and live for Him, and I promise you that He will constantly challenge you to become a greater man than you were before.

This is an awesome clip I wanted to throw in here with some of the Seattle Seahawks players- who will be playing for the Super Bowl next weekend- talking about their faith.

Be honest, are you happy with how your life has turned out so far?

I saw this post on Reddit a few months ago and I thought it was so interesting to read the posts, so I wrote it down to blog about at some point. You can check out the responses from Reddit here.

Yea! Life is awesome!!!

Honestly… I often think of my life as a movie. Not a super exciting action movie,  or even a movie where anything extremely dramatic happens like people dying, or having to run to save my life from zombies, or even from war. It’s a very regular movie about a white kid from the suburbs. 😀 But what makes life exciting is the individual decisions I’ve had to make, the things that I’ve got to experience, the friendships and family time. I definitely see a tale of good and evil (though perhaps less pronounced), just like any good old movie.

Just like any good movie, I have so much purpose in my life! A lot of that comes from recognizing the differences between good and evil and trying to always be on the good side so that I can make this world a better place. This purpose and meaning gets me through the hard times. Despite being a super happy excited guy who gets along with everyone (haha but I’m not afraid to talk and even disagree with regards to religion and politics 😉 ), I have had some rough times in my life as well, just like everyone else. I wasn’t born the person that I am and I sure as heck won’t die who I am right now either. But the joy of it all is that opportunity to continue to grow to become who I (and everyone else!) was meant to be, a saint!

There were people out there who helped me when I needed it the most, and I want to be that person for others as well. Often what makes me the happiest isn’t when I’m trying to help myself but when I’m trying to help others. Seeing changes in other’s lives is absolutely priceless and as a Catholic missionary I get to see that regularly! I just praise God because it was really His work not me and I marvel at how not only are they are living in relationship with Jesus now, but this will lead to a lifetime of them doing the same for others! It’s one of the most fulfilling things ever!

Even in the hardest times, thanks to those great friends and role models that I’ve had and the working of God in my life, I’ve come to know that God has my back at all times, even when I’m in the darkest moments. I know that even if this phase of life doesn’t go so hot, I can hope in life with Him forever. That keeps me grounded. I think we see people all of the time have a couple of unlucky breaks, and then all of a sudden their life spirals out of control. But with faith in Jesus, even the most unfortunate things in the world could happen to me, and I still have hope. Despite everything that can happen to me in this life, if I live it to the best of my ability loving God and others, everything will be okay.

I’m not living for many of the things that people think of when they think of being successful: being famous, powerful, rich, hot, whatever. So that kind of puts my “happiness” more dependent on my relationships and quality of life. Honestly I know that I’m probably not strong enough to be happy without having someplace to live, some friends, and to be liked by most people. But my happiness shouldn’t even depend on that. It’s more realistic this way anyways: what our culture feeds us is just lies to make us buy more stuff or support a cause that they want us to. These things don’t fulfill us the same way as authentic love does. Jesus’ beatitudes reveal that even the poorest of the poor will have joy in the Kingdom of God, and that’s what ultimately lasts.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Jesus in Matthew 5:3-10

I’ve been blessed, but I sure as heck have made mistakes, too! Mistakes humble me and make me remember that I’m not perfect or a “finished product.” In these mistakes I have hope in Jesus’ forgiveness and I especially love being able to go to confession so that I can be forgiven as Jesus instituted that sacrament to do. Talk about a weight off of my shoulders.. and knowing of how easily God forgives us encourages me to forgive others too, the people who have wronged me in the past. The way to peace in the world starts with forgiveness.

In sum: The gift of life has been a joy and I’m so thankful. I feel so blessed. I’m sad that many others on that Reddit thread don’t enjoy life as much, but hopefully one day they’ll find Jesus, the source of eternal joy.

“I keep the Lord always before me; with the Lord at my right, I shall never be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure, for you will not abandon me to Sheol, nor let your servant see the pit. You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at  your right hand forever.” – Psalm 16:8-11

The Hardest Part

… is often the most simple.

Let me be frank. I love Jesus. I love being a part of His Catholic Church. And sometimes the only thing that I really care about is whether or not people are Catholic Christians living in relationship with God. I just want to run around the world making lots of Catholics! I am a missionary for crying out loud, haha. But God reminded me of something very important this week.

I was leading one of my bible studies and a new guy was there who I met recently, so I was pretty excited to get to know him. I knew that he wasn’t Catholic going into it, and that made me even more excited because this way I can not only share Jesus with him but I am hoping that one day I can actually share His Church with him too! Doubleplusgood!

The group of us had a great study and were just chilling talking about semi-related topics after I basically gave them a Gospel presentation when this guy said something that was simultaneously a great compliment and a revelation. “You know, Chris, you’re probably the first Catholic that I’ve ever met that actually loves Jesus and lives like a Christian.”

Oh.

He went on as I walked him over to our Newman Center on campus, sharing how he’s encountered a bunch of Catholics and even attended a Catholic college for a couple of years, but they all didn’t actually practice the faith and were always becoming agnostics and atheists. I have a hunch he was telling me all this to convince me that because many Catholics are not faithful, I should leave the Church and become a Presbyterian like him. But I took his point a different way: he wasn’t worried about theology as much. The reason why he wasn’t even remotely interested in becoming Catholic is because he’s never seen Catholics act like Christians. He’s never seen Catholic saints!

Ohhhhhh!!!

Thank you God for this minor yet ridiculously simple revelation. You don’t convert the average Joe to Christianity (or specifically Catholicism) through your theology. You convert them by demonstrating how through your faith your heart has been converted to Jesus. Often this is not what we want to hear: we want to hear how we can change people’s lives without actually changing our own, by some sort of formula or logic. No. Give Jesus saints and He WILL change the world.

You know, half or more of this blog is apologetics. I’ve got a scientific, rational mind. I feel very comfortable arguing for the existence of God, the reality of Jesus, and the authenticity of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. But what this blog, argumentation, logic, and mere words cannot ever do is replace a life lived completely for Jesus. Bl. Mother Teresa has probably converted more people through less words than anyone else in this past century. She did not draw people to Jesus through her fancy speeches at the United Nations or Harvard but by her entire life lived in complete surrender to God. People are curious what it is about Jesus that made her give up everything for Him, so they look into Jesus more. People nowadays can’t see, hear, or touch Jesus (besides the Holy Eucharist you nerds), but they sure as heck can see, hear, or touch you and I as members of the Body of Christ!

Pope Francis and all these wonderful popes in recent memory have been working to make the Church as beautiful as she should be for Jesus, and of course the Holy Spirit is doing all of the heavy lifting, but you and I need to answer this call! We need to wholeheartedly embrace the Gospel. Preaching it is good, but if it isn’t lived, it is not effective. People nowadays don’t listen well anyways, but maybe they’ll notice a witness.

“The new evangelization will show its authenticity and unleash all its missionary force when it is carried out through the gift, not only of the word proclaimed, but by the word lived.” – Bl. Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor

“We shouldn’t just wait for the wounded to come to us; we go out and reach for them.” – Pope Francis

Mother Teresa in Calcutta