How big is your Jesus?

jesus i trust in youOne of the things that persuaded me to become Catholic was the idea that Christ established a Church that has continued into the present day. Once I understood Apostolic Succession and the magisterium, I found this more compelling than the alternative view I had been implicitly raised with and unknowingly accepted.

The alternative view is that Christ started a church but then left it for some unknown reason to fall into error. An even worse implication might be that he was too weak or unloving to keep his church from error. Yet, he somehow guided this church to codify the Bible infallibly, and to define a few key doctrines correctly (ie, Christ’s divinity, the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the Trinity), but there was little else that this church did that was correct.

I do remember having that conception of the church, so let me explain it, at least how it seemed to me. It fit with how I imagined Christ’s ministry while he was walking on the earth. He was an itinerant preacher, wandering from place to place, preaching the Gospel and performing miracles. He appeared to be outside of the established Jewish hierarchy, railing against it to discredit it, to encourage people to abandon it and to follow him. Catholics (and, presumably, Orthodox) are the modern-day scribes and Pharisees under this view. The modern-day Christian preacher is analogous to Christ, who is calling people out of Pharisee-ism (ie, legalism, doing activities that obligate God to provide salvation) into a true relationship with Jesus.

I don’t know if I can speak for others. But that’s how it looked to me.

I see now that my picture of Christ’s relationship to the Jewish hierarchy of his day was wrong. Why? Because that hierarchy was established by God, going back to Moses and Aaron. Christ was not discrediting the hierarchy itself or its authority. He was only discrediting the poor conduct and lack of faith of its individual members. For example:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice…” (Matt. 23:1-3)

Sitting on Moses’ seat means that the authority structure was established by God. Would Christ encourage people to abandon or disrespect that authority structure while it was still active?

The Catholic claim is that the priesthood of the New Covenant is a continuation of the priesthood of Melchizedek, not of Aaron (again, per Hebrews 7). Christ is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, not Aaron, and he established a hierarchy that is founded on, and operates through, himself. The Apostles and their successors participate in and express Christ’s priesthood, just like the Jewish priests participated in and expressed Aaron’s priesthood. Today, we say that Catholic priests operate in persona Christi, which is Latin and means “in the person of Christ.” So when, for example, I go to confession, I am confessing to Christ, not to the priest. The order of Melchizedek forms the backbone of the Church (read more about this here, starting at 1544).

Christ has kept this hierarchy, and the Church it supports, free from error in regards to its teachings on faith and morals. To me, this is a miracle. It is the very sort of miracle he would perform for us. To me, it means that he is a lot bigger and more loving than I originally thought.

It such a peaceful feeling, to enter into that which has already been established.


Book review: Catholics and Protestants–What Can We Learn from Each Other?

I’m reading Peter Kreeft’s book, “Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other?” So many gems and great discussion starters here. I think it will be a great help to both sides. Kreeft is a convert to the Catholic Church, from Presbyterianism. It might be tempting for Protestants to think he is going to be very partisan, and to make a case against Protestantism, but he doesn’t do that. Among other things, he describes what is excellent in Protestantism, and how (some, perhaps many) Catholics need it. He is rather critical of the Catholic Church for not doing a good enough job emphasizing the need for a personal relationship with Christ, but he does not downplay what the Catholic Church brings to the table.

Probably the most important point he makes is to say that the issue of justification has been solved. In other words, Catholics and Protestants don’t believe differently about justification, even though we thought we did going all the way back to beginning of the Reformation. It was, in fact, the impetus for the Reformation. So the central issue that sparked the Reformation has been solved.

People of good will on both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide will benefit from this book. At the very least, it can provide many talking points for people to use as spring boards for open and honest discussion.


The Eucharist is literal: John 6:22-71

The following video has some great Biblical exegesis as to why the Eucharist is literal, not figurative. Among other things, it compares the “bread of life discourse” in John 6, to other Bible passages where Jesus was speaking figuratively, people thought he was speaking literally or they did not understand him, and he corrected them (“We brought no bread,” “I am the door,” “Destroy this temple and I will raise it in three days.”). No correction happened in John 6 when the people indicated that he was speaking literally, but correction happend at those other times.

Plus, in every other passage regarding the Eucharist (ie, Last Supper, Paul’s admonition at 1 Cor 11), there is no indication that that the Eucharist was figurative. 1 Cor 11 is especially interesting to me. Since St. Paul was correcting the Corinthians anyway for the way they were treating the Lord’s Supper, it would have been a good time to explain or at least indicate somehow that it was not literal. But he didn’t do that.

I don’t know who this guy his, but I’ve watched a number of his videos. The name of his YouTube channel is “How To Be Christian.” He argues each topic thoroughly, and completely from the Bible. Check him out and see if you agree.

Another way to think about problematic members in the Catholic Church

As I discussed before, the Catholic Church has problematic members. We can think of them as weeds according to Matthew 13. I hope I am not a weed, but given that others probably think I am, I can’t rule out that possibility. After all, none of us is the final judge of who is or who is not a weed. That is for God alone.

Today I want to look at the Church’s problematic members in a different way.

Because of the Church’s claims about who she is, it seems that she is judged more harshly for having problematic members than when problematic members are revealed in other churches or organizations. Wouldn’t you agree that this is true? For example, sexual abuse exists in Protestant churches, but for some reason it just doesn’t get the same media coverage or fanfare as when it happens in the Catholic Church.

If I am right about this, it might be evidence for the Church’s claim about who she is, rather than evidence against that claim. Consider what happens with colors. The same color looks different depending on its background.

two colors in the middle are the same

I created this image in Word to show what I mean. The smaller squares are the same color. I created the first one, then created the others by copying and pasting them, so you can know with 100% certainty that they are the same exact color. The one on the right looks darker than the one on the left, because it is on a lighter background. You can do this yourself in Word just to verify it.

We can apply the same principle to the Church. She shines more brightly, so her problematic members provide a starker contrast:

Insurance companies, child advocacy groups and religion scholars say there is no evidence that Catholic clergy are more likely to be involved in sexual misconduct than other clergy or professionals. Yet ongoing civil litigation of decades-old cases against a church with deep pockets keeps the Catholic Church in the headlines.

“There is no plausible evidence that Catholic priests are gangs of sexual predators, as they are being portrayed,” said Pennsylvania State University Prof. Philip Jenkins, eminent religion and history scholar, and a non-Catholic who’s studied the church’s abuse problems for 20 years.

It is not that her members are worse sinners, it is that she is more holy.

New Testament verses that point to the First Commandment

Catholics believe that we have an obligation to God to worship him on Sundays. Some Christians or other people might not agree with this obligation. Does this mean that they believe worship is optional? Think about it for a moment: if worship is not obligatory, then somebody could legitimately choose to never worship God. This is unthinkable for a Christian.

Let’s go one step further: if somebody permanently opts out of worshiping God, are they sinning? Matthew, Mark and Luke all show Jesus affirming the first commandment to love God (Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27). Notice the imperative: “You shall love the Lord your God…” It is not optional. How do we show love for him? Through worship. There are other ways as well, but we can’t neglect worship.

Here are some other verses from the New Testament that point to the first commandment (there were more than I thought there would be!):

1 Cor. 16:24:

If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.

2 Tim. 3:1-5:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people. (emphasis added)

2 Tim. 4:8:

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

James 1:12:

Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.

James 2:5:

Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?

1 Peter 1:8:

Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy.

1 John 2:5:

 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected.

1 John 2:15:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.

1 John 4:21

And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.


Weeds in the Catholic Church

Sometimes people object to the Catholic Church because they see that some of her members are problematic: hypocrites, dissenters, abusers, etc. And it is true that those people exist.

Before I became Catholic, I saw them too. So I hope nobody reading this thinks I did not see them, that I’m blind or ignoring that they are there. I did see them.

At first I felt intimidated by Catholic art.

Thankfully, I had the grace to realize something important about them: their presence does not change the Church’s claims about who she is. Once I saw the history of Christianity like a tree, so many other things fell into place, this being one of them. For me, it boiled down like this: if the Church is who she says she is, I must become Catholic then reconcile my other issues in light of that. And I had other issues, but my issues with problematic members melted away very quickly in light of Matthew 13. (My objections about Mary vanished almost instantaneously one night shortly after enrolling in RCIA. I’ll tell that story another time).

Here are a few issues that took me longer to work through: at first the liturgy seemed very strange and foreign; I often felt sad about going to mass alone; I resented the RCIA process because as a baptized Christian it seemed inappropriate for me to be there (and I later learned that my instincts were correct); it took me a while to get used to going to church with some people who had very different political views than mine; I felt intimidated by Catholic art and had to figure out my relationship with it; I had to figure out the difference between the elements of what was required to be Catholic vs. Catholic culture. There are probably other things but this is all I can think of right now. So yea, I had some hurdles to overcome.

It was clear to me that once I discovered the correct foundation, everything else that seemed strange, foreign, or even wrong has to be dealt with after that. Doesn’t that make sense?

I know that problematic people in the Church are a stumbling block for many, so let’s return to them. What does Sacred Scripture say about them? Here is what Jesus said about weeds in Matthew 13:

‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’

So yea, weeds are there. Jesus said that we can’t pull them out, since doing so would damage the wheat. He also said that they need to grow up together until the harvest, and at that time they will be separated. This means that while we are alive there is time to learn about God’s ways and grow in holiness. This applies to me as well as people I think are problematic. And I’m pretty sure that some of them think I’m a problematic stumbling block! lol So right there we see that it is subjective. What I mean is that I’m not the final judge of who the weeds are, and neither is any other person. Thanks goodness for that.

The Lord knows those who are His (2 Tim. 2:19). I pray I am among them.

What I love about Protestants and Evangelicals

Even though I am Catholic and proud to be Catholic, at times I have fallen into Catholic triumphalism, which is not a good thing.

I admit to feeling a certain amount of frustration with Protestants/Evangelicals at times. I could list the reasons for it but won’t since the frustration is not justified. I’ll just say that I have handled it with varying degrees of success. For example, I recently had a conversation with my mother (an Evangelical) about the difference between Catholic and Protestant, and was happy with myself for how I handled it. But there were times in the past where I engaged online with Evangelicals and other Protestants, and I was not nearly as charitable as I should have been. I regret those times.

However, when I see how sincere they are in their faith, it touches me. As a Catholic I know they are Christians by virtue of our common baptism, our common Christology, and other doctrines we share such as the Trinity. In addition to those things, here are a few other things I think they have right. These are just off the top of my head. There are probably others:

  • They are on fire for the Lord.
  • They are not afraid to evangelize the world.
  • They respect and know the Bible.
  • I love their heartfelt prayers, such as the Sinner’s Prayer.
  • They are patriotic.
  • They stand for unborn human life and God’s definition of marriage.
  • The Protestant work ethic is real, and good.
  • I love the worship music they create, such as this song:

It is worth noting here that I was baptized in middle school at the local Presbyterian church, after going through their catechetical program. And was not re-baptized when I entered the Catholic Church in 2012. As I was preparing to enter the Church, this really made a positive impression on me, since my baptism was personally very meaningful for me as a Christian.

I realize that there are gradations and distinctions among Protestants and Evangelicals, so I don’t mean to be saying that they are all the same. I also don’t want to give the impression that I am advocating indifferentism. I just thought it would be good to write something sincere and good about them so that any reading my blog can understand my heart a little better. It seems like there is a fine line between acknowledging the important areas where we agree while not advocating that our differences are irrelevant. I am still figuring how to walk that line.

In the mean time, I hope you enjoy these great worship songs created by Protestants: