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

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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!

Confession

As Catholics we have a very special gift from God: the opportunity to go to confession and have our sins forgiven! This is what Jesus came to do, to forgive our sins, and He gave us this opportunity to have them forgiven at any time. Because of this, it is very important that we take advantage of this sacrament.

Why should I go to confession if I can just ask God for His forgiveness?
I have no doubt in God’s ability to forgive us when we are contrite, but Jesus instituted this sacrament Himself, so we should follow His instructions. Read John 20:19-23. The passage ends with Jesus telling His disciples “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them , and whose sins you retain are retained.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that, folks. In addition, St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:18 says “..and all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation.” Here St. Paul is specifically referencing reconciliation!

Who does the forgiving of sins?
Only a priest or bishop can minister the sacrament of reconciliation. Notice how the disciples had to receive the Holy Spirit in John 20 before Jesus told them to forgive sins. So in confession it is Jesus forgiving your sins, through the priest. The priest is only the instrument of God.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops blog has a top ten reasons why you should go to confession list, should check it out!

Personally, there might not be a better feeling than leaving that confessional after having your sins forgiven. The sacrament gives me hope when I feel like all that I do is mess up and sin. Give God’s mercy a try, it’s infinite… 😉

Come to think of it, asking God for forgiveness is kind of like asking your grandma for food. They both are dying to give it and they’re really good at it 😀

Tips:
Have a regular schedule for going. Pope John Paul II suggested going once a month.
Keep track of your sins if you have a bad memory (like me) by writing them down or something. But make sure to do some sort of celebratory destruction of your paper or whatever you use afterwards , because they are truly forgiven and you don’t have to worry about them anymore!
Do your penance right away before you forget.
Having the same priest for confession is a good idea so he can help guide you. Ask him questions and for advice.

Also see:
Sin

Sin

The concept of sin is essential for Christians and Jews, but often, from what I’ve experienced, many people aren’t completely sure what sin even is. Popular culture makes sin something that people shouldn’t do, based off of what the culture thinks. Sin seems pretty relative according to this definition, and with this in mind, what it really is is quite different.

Sin is rejection of God and His ways. I’m sure that you are aware of the first sin, as it is presented in Genesis, with Adam and Eve choosing to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and bad, even though God forbade them. It seems pretty straightforward there, as they literally chose to do something that God didn’t want them to do.

Sin is the abuse of the freedom that God gave us. Imagine if we did not have free will. Now in that case, how could it be possible for us to sin? Sin always requires a conscious choice. This is so much so that it is possible (emphasis on possible, this is all theoretical) for an ingrained alcoholic to not sin for drunkenness, since they have lost their self control. What would be a sin in that case were all of the choices that alcoholic had made beforehand of becoming drunk.

Unless you are Jesus or Mary the Mother of God, you’re a sinner. You, me, all of us. Well, that stinks doesn’t it? Yea. And God is very clear that of all things, worshiping Him and following His commandments are most important. Check out the first commandment:

“I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation, on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.” -Exodus 20:2-6

But despite this whole sin problem, there is always hope. Immediately after the sin in the Garden of Eden, God made an awesome promise for us all, saying to the serpent:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” -Genesis 3:15

Look at that! There’s a promise of Jesus, offspring of Mary (the woman mentioned), who will crush the serpent!

What is the need for Jesus, son of God, to come to be with us? Sin is the answer, Jesus came to atone for our sins, which He did on the cross. Because we turned against God by sinning, God gave us another chance with the salvation promised to us by Jesus. Before Jesus, sin offerings were sacrifices of animals in the Temple in Jerusalem. #weaksauce. But Jesus was our perfect and holy offering for all of humanity in order to give us a chance at salvation again. #score! Jesus forgave the people of their sins, and get this: He also instituted a sacrament to forgive us of our sins even today! #noway!

“Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” -John 20:23

Sin still is a problem, but look at what solutions we have been given for this problem! So what are you waiting for? Get thee to the confessional! #rightnow

Also see:
Confession