On the value of suffering

One “Thanks be to God,” or one “Blessed be God,” in adversity, is worth more than a thousand thanksgivings in prosperity. –Father M. d’Avila

St. Bridget once received and bore patiently a succession of trials from various persons.. One of them made an insulting remark to her; another praised her in her presence, but complained of her in her absence; another calumniated her; another spoke ill of a servant of God, in her presence, to her great displeasure; one did her a grievous wrong, and she blessed her; one caused her a loss, and she prayed for her; and a seventh gave her false information of the death of her son, which she received with tranquillity and resignation. After all this, St. Agnes the Martyr appeared to her, bringing in her hand a most beautiful crown adorned with seven precious stones, telling her that they had been placed there by these seven persons.

Source: https://saintlylives.wordpress.com/2017/03/12/suffering-part-3-of-5-2/

Today we celebrate the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

There are many Ave Maria’s, and this one is one of my favorites. Ave Maria means Hail Mary. It’s taken from Luke 1:28.

If you’d like to read more about the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I recommend this link.

Miracle in the clouds

It was one of my first times on an airplane. Me and my daddy were flying to Oklahoma to visit his family. I was probably about six years old. I got the window seat, and was so excited as the plane took off. We went up to the clouds, and broke through them. I looked around, totally certain that I would see heaven. I fully expected to see pearly or golden gates, a wall and and maybe a castle. I looked and looked, and even tried to look out the windows on the other side. I couldn’t see it, and was very disappointed. It just didn’t make sense to me. I’d seen drawings in books, and it just resonated with me that I’d see heaven up there.heaven-in-the-clouds

So I told my dad that I didn’t understand why I couldn’t see heaven. He said something about how if people could see it, then we would have photographs of it and everybody would know about it. That made sense to me, but I was still disappointed. As years went by, the disappointment faded and was replaced with a sense of joy and thankfulness at having a very simple, innocent faith.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, on Friday, September 2, 2016. I’m sitting on an airplane, going to Oklahoma to visit family. We have taken off, and are heading up to the clouds. I think back to that memory of when I was a child, remembering how it was on a trip to Oklahoma that I thought I’d see heaven, and it makes me smile.

To pass the time, I brought a book to read. It’s called, “How Can I Get To Heaven,” by Robert Sungenis. I turn to where my bookmark is, page 34, where I read the following. I’ll bold the relevant parts:

“Paul prefaces each of these instances with ‘By faith Abraham…’ and the closes with the following statement in Hebrews 11:10: ‘For he was looking forward to the city whose architect and builder is God.'”

OK so now I’m a bit bewildered about the timing of this sentence and the memory I just had. I look out the window and we’ve broken through the clouds. The sun is shining and it’s a beautiful morning. Continuing to read, it says:

“Unlike the Genesis account which merely provides the rudimentary facts of Abraham’s faith, Paul penetrates into the mind and motivation of Abraham, making us privy to an insight we would never have have gleaned from the Genesis account alone. We learn an astounding truth. We discover that Abraham did not just blindly obey; rather, he had a vivid vision of the future heavenly kingdom and of the whole plan and purpose of God’s dealing with him.

OK, there’s that idea again, a vision of a heavenly kingdom. It occurs to me that maybe God has orchestrated what I’m reading at this moment, and I get a little teary. I keep reading:

Abraham’s vision anticipated not merely owning a piece of land on earth, but also his ultimate entry in heaven in the future, ‘a city whose architect and builder is God.’ What kind of faith is is required to envision one’s entrance into the heavenly kingdom for eternity? Surely more than some crude or rudimentary understanding; rather, it is a faith that comprehends the whole purpose and meaning of existence, and that trusts God implicitly for its eventually fulfillment. According to Paul, Christians possess this same faith, since he says in Hebrews 13:14, ‘for here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.'”

I’ve got some serious tears in my eyes at this point, to the point where I don’t want anybody to notice. I put the book down in my lap with the cover up.

how-can-i-get-to-heaven-book-cover

I glance down at it, and notice something that I had not seen before: the sunlight peeking over the clouds. See it?

I was so full of emotion at this point that it was hard to take it all in. God orchestrated this moment to let me know that he remembered my simple faith and he was there with me and my dad. I felt very strongly how much he loves me, how he sees everything and remembers everything, all my pain, sorrow, and prayers. He sees all; nothing escapes his observation, and there will be an accounting, for everything.

The night before, while I was packing, I had intended to pack the book in my underseater bag but ran out of room. So I left it on my nightstand. As I was almost walking out the door the next morning to go to the airport, I felt very strongly a sense that I should bring it, and I almost resisted the feeling since I would have to put the book in my purse and I didn’t want to do that. I was in a cult for 22 years, so I know very well how easy it is to be deceived by promptings and thoughts that seem OK but are not. So unfortunately, my first reaction to such promptings is suspicion. It has been difficult to allow myself to be led by the Holy Spirit. But I decided to listen to the prompting and bring the book. I’m glad I did.

The Bereans used the Septuagint

I know a lot more now about the history of the Bible than I used to. It amazes me at how much I took for granted before I became a Catholic. For example, it never occurred to me that perhaps I didn’t have a right to interpret the Bible however I saw fit, by virtue of the fact that I did not write it, codify it, or translate it. I treated the Bible as if it just grew on a tree. It was there, for sale in a bookstore, right? Wasn’t that all the permission I needed to buy one and determine for myself what it meant?

There was a brief time as a young adult when I thought of myself as a Berean. I remember being a bit prideful that I was “searching the scriptures” to see for myself if something is true (this was in the VERY early days of the cult, when it was still a fundamentalist Bible church).  The Bereans are the group of Jews who are lauded in the Bible for “searching the scriptures” to see if Paul and Silas were right. But I just realized something: the Bereans were almost certainly using the Septuagint. Here are the verses that mention them (Acts 17:10-12):

But the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea. Who, when they were come thither, went into the synagogue of the Jews.  Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, who received the word with all eagerness, daily searching the scriptures, whether these things were so. And many indeed of them believed, and of honourable women that were Gentiles, and of men not a few.

If I am correct then this is significant. The Septuagint contains the entire Old Testament canon… what I think of as the shared part (the part where Catholics and Protestants agree), as well as the seven Deutercanonical books, which Protestants reject as Apocryphal. I see now how naive I was to claim to be like a specific group of people when it comes to fidelity to the scriptures, yet I rejected some of the scriptures those people used.

There is nothing wrong with searching the scriptures, but as Jews, the Bereans had that right by virtue of their lineage. Imagine that same scenario but a group of idol-worshiping pagans instead of Jews. We might wonder why they were using those scriptures, since they had no historical connection to them. Does it make sense that they have the same right to use those scriptures as the Jews? Would they reach the same conclusions as the Jews? I am no longer certain that I had any right at all to use the Bible, since I had implicitly accepted the authority’s declaration regarding the canon, yet felt it was OK and even necessary to reject other authority claims. Maybe that’s OK, but as it looks to me right now, I have a problem with it because it seems contradictory. As a Protestant, was the Bible my book? If so, on what basis?

Two things former Catholics will say

All of the former Catholics I have encountered online have left the Catholic Church for erroneous reasons. For example, many of them were poorly catechized, meaning, they don’t understand what the Church teaches. So they leave believing that they will obtain something that was already rightfully theirs as a Catholic. For example, you will encounter former Catholics who say things like this:

“I left the Catholic Church and gave my life to Jesus Christ.”

Without a doubt, this kind of person falls into the category I just described. A relationship with Jesus Christ is and was rightfully theirs as a Catholic, but for whatever reason they didn’t realize it. For more details on what I mean, see these posts of mine:

I recently came across the blog of somebody who is a former Catholic of that stripe, who is trying to convert Catholics away from the Catholic Church.

One recent blog post was arguing that the idea of having a pope was neither Biblical nor historical. (This, in and of itself, is a common objection that has been dealt with many times, in many ways, over many many years, by many different Catholics.)

In this particular instance, this blogger quoted from a few church fathers to make the argument. I noticed that the quotes discussed the office of bishop. Bishops are male leaders in the Catholic Church who can trace their ordinations all the way back to the Apostles. It was clear from the quotes that the office of bishop was legitimate and necessary. I read this person’s “About” page and a few other posts. I am not 100% certain what sort of Protestant he is, but regardless of that, he is either under and invalid bishop, or not under any bishop at all. From the Catholic perspective, a bishop is valid if his ordination is part of an unbroken chain of ordinations going back to the Apostles. This is called Apostolic Succession. Certainly most Evangelical Christians would agree that they are not under any bishop at all. From reading this persons other blog posts, I have the impression that he is part of a non-denominational church, which means he’s not under any bishop.

This blogger was relying on the historical legitimacy and existence of bishops, yet did not appear to be under a bishop himself. If he is not under any bishop at all, this seems like a big oversight. He was not arguing that the office of bishop was invalid, just the office of pope. The office of bishop was being invoked, yet the person doesn’t seem to be applying it to himself as a Christian. I wanted to respond but couldn’t think of a way to do it. The best I could come up with was to ask, “Are you under a bishop?” or, “Is the office of bishop a valid office?” but even that seemed provocative. I wrote this post instead so you could understand two kinds of arguments former Catholics make.

Related: here is the list of popes (aka Bishops of Rome), going all the way back to St. Peter:

The List of Popes

Catholics, works and salvation

You will often come across people who believe that the Catholic Church teaches “salvation by works.” If you encounter this, ask them what they mean. For example, if they are referring to “works of the Mosaic law,” or “works of the first covenant,” this is not true. The Catholic Church teaches that the Mosaic law is no longer in effect because it has been superseded by the New Covenant.

I am reading a book on the Catholic teaching on salvation to help me understand this point better, because “doing” is important in Catholic teaching, yet I know it is not the basis of our salvation. The book is called, “How can I get to heaven?” by Robert Sungenis. I am not very far into it yet, but so far Sungenis says that when Paul talks about “works” or “works of the law” in Romans, Paul is using those ideas to mean that we can’t obligate God in any way to owe us salvation:

“Paul is condemning justification by law only with respect to contractual obligation…” (p. 21)

Any reward or blessing we receive from God is only due to his grace, not due to an obligation that was somehow created in him by us behaving well. Sungenis goes on to talk about the role of works:

“… however, the law, as expressed and practiced in virtue, fully cooperates with grace in justification.” (p. 21)

He then quotes Romans 2:5-10 where Paul discusses the relationship of works to salvation:

But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

These good works are done under God’s grace, not in order to obligate God, but out of love for him: “…love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10b).

For me, I think starts with the first commandment. We start by believing in God, loving him, then we love our neighbor as ourselves, then we learn what love really is so that we can do it the way God wants. Doing is important; the Bible is clear that we will be judged based on our works, which I think means we will be judged based on how much we loved and acted on that love. As it says at Fish Eaters:

We are saved by Christ’s grace alone, through faith and works done in charity [ie, love] inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Nobody has a right to pregnancy-free coitus

Edit on 8/30/2016: after publishing this, the interaction I had in the comments below helped me clarify this concept. Going forward, you will see me referring to the concept like this: “Fertile couples don’t have a right to pregnancy-free coitus,” rather than “Nobody has a right to pregnancy-free coitus.” The first phrase is more accurate. If you read the comments where I discuss menopausal women, you’ll see how I came to this conclusion.

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In Catholic circles there is an idea known as “the contraceptive mentality.” I’m not crazy about the phrase because it isn’t obvious what it means. At least, it wasn’t to me. It was only in the last four months or so that I understood it, even though I embraced the Church’s teaching on contraception 5-6 years ago, before I even officially became Catholic. Once I figured out what the phrase meant, I coined my own phrase:

Nobody has a right to pregnancy-free coitus.

That seems more clear to me. It makes it easier to see how contraception shifts the thought process surrounding sex. Even though not every act of sex makes a baby, in point of fact sex is a normatively and presumptively fertile act. Contraception shifts the thought process at this point. It makes people believe that sex is normatively and presumptively sterile. Once sex is viewed this way, then link between contraception and abortion becomes apparent. If sex is supposed to be sterile, then getting rid of an unwanted baby is justified on the grounds that the pregnancy was unintended. The use of contraceptives buttresses the idea that sex is a purely recreational activity; sex becomes a baby making activity only when the baby is explicitly wanted. Thus, contraception devalues all human life.

Superficially, it seems like contraception would reduce abortion, but this has not been the case. As Janet Smith said:

“There’s not a country in the world which had abortion illegal… in which contraception gets introduced and widely used, that’s when you get pressure to change the laws against abortion.”

And why is that? Because contraception makes people believe that they have a right to pregnancy-free coitus. Even SCOTUS noted the link between contraception and abortion in its 1992 decision known as Planned Parenthood v. Casey:

“…in some critical respects abortion is of the same character as the decision to use contraception . . . .  for two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.”

That’s SCOTUS, a totally secular organization, making the same connection between contraception and abortion that the Catholic Church makes, but using the link as a way to uphold abortion. SCOTUS’ logic is that contraception gives people a right to pregnancy-free coitus, but since contraception can fail, then people need abortion as a way to uphold that right. It is obviously faulty logic, but people are so committed to purely recreational sex, and the false belief that contraception gives them 100% control over their fertility, that they can’t see how tenuous the logic is.

Two systems of worship in the New Covenant

I made a startling observation while working on the post from July 29. I have observed that there are two systems of worship in use by Christians today. See if you agree. Here is what I see:

  • One group of Christians believes the Scriptures give us liberty to choose the elements of Sunday communal worship and the order in which those elements occur. This group does not mandate attendance on Sunday; mandatory attendance on Sundays is not in the Scripture.
  • Another group of Christians believes that we must follow the tradition of Sunday worship handed down to us from our spiritual forebearers going back to the Apostles. It is a tradition that must contain certain elements every Sunday in order to fulfill our obligation to worship God. Attendance is mandatory (except for a serious reason).

I was really bothered when I saw this. Let me explain why. I will need to draw from the Old Covenant (OC).

Looking at Exodus 26, imagine if a group of people arose and accused Moses of being wrong about the layout of the tabernacle. Let’s say they decided to build their own tabernacle, believing that God had spoken to them or their leader. Does that seem like something God would have caused? No, and I can think of three reasons why:

1) The set of regulations for worship is intimately tied in with the covenant itself.

2) A new set of regulations requires a new authority structure to maintain and uphold the regulations.

3) A new set of regulations for worship means a new covenant.

In fact, all of these are exactly what happened when the OC was abolished. The old set of worship regulations was abolished, and the new set was established. As we see in Hebrews 10:9:

… He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.

Hebrews 9 reiterates that the OC had one set of regulations for worship (“Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship…”). A careful reading also makes it clear that the New Covenant (NC) is pattered after it. The conclusion is that the NC can only have one set of regulations for worship, not two as we see today.

This realization makes me feel sad. I don’t like it, but that’s what I see.

Jesus waits for us

Every Catholic Church has a special gold box in the sanctuary. Near this gold box will be a red candle, sometimes hanging from the ceiling.

The box is called the Tabernacle and the candle is Tabernacle Lamp (click the links for photos).

The purpose of the Tabernacle is to store the Eucharist when mass is not being said, and purpose of the Tabernacle Lamp is to remind us that God is with us… Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23). Rarely, the Lamp will be out, because the Eucharist will not be inside the Tabernacle. This happens on Good Friday, for example.

Jesus is present there, in the Eucharist, he is the bread that came down from heaven… his body, blood, soul and divinity is present there. Yes, Emmanuel, God with us, present tense. Discerning his body is part of our calling as Christians (1 Cor. 11:29).

My eldest daughter is looking for a church. Naturally, I want her to be a Catholic but I also know that it takes time… she was raised in a gnostic cult, after all. I mentioned that she could always go to the Catholic Church, and encouraged her by saying, “Jesus is there, waiting for you.” Because it’s true. He is.

Heavenly Catholic worship music

I’ve previously shared a few beautiful worship songs created by Protestants. Below I’ve embedded something Catholic called Agnus Dei, which means Lamb of God. It’s chanting in Latin, in four part harmony. In English it means:

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

You will recognize some of these words. They were spoken by John the Baptist when he saw Jesus (John 1:29). The words are spoken or sung during the mass as the priest breaks the consecrated host.

As I mentioned before, I am still acclimating myself to Catholic art. Thankfully there is no rush nor is there even an obligation. For example, I entered the Church in a parish that was meeting in a gymnasium it had recently built as part of a larger project. There was almost no art present inside the gym, and to be frank this is one of the reasons I chose that parish. Getting used to Catholic art is definitely one consideration in regards to becoming Catholic. Unfortunately it is never discussed, at least not that I’ve seen. I think converts, or potential converts, need to be told that they can become Catholic without embracing art that they find intimidating or off-putting.

Along these same lines, the kind of music in this video might be a bit of an acquired taste… like a fine red wine. I take a few sips here and there and find that I enjoy it a lot in small amounts. This piece in particular is heavenly and only about 1:30 long. Take a small sip and see if you enjoy it as much as I do! If you can read sheet music you’ll be able to follow along.

Just for clarity: most parishes in the U.S. won’t be singing these words in Latin at the consecration, they will be singing or saying them in English. The way to hear this in Latin during a mass is to attend a mass said in Latin, aka Extraordinary Form (EF).