Why Be Catholic?

A Short Answer to a Big Question

In the book “”Mere Christianity,”” C.S. Lewis depicts the various Christian denominations as rooms opening off of a hallway. The hallway represents belief in the common doctrines of Christianity, and is not meant as a place to remain. Rather, Lewis recommends a search of the various “”rooms”” to find out which one is true. This is all the more interesting because he was not a Catholic, but a member of the Church of England. He says, “”And above all, you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling.””

Here is a list of considerations in this search adapted from Lewis’ book:

1) Are these doctrines true? This, of course, means you must actually know what the doctrines are. Many people claim to be Catholics, but do not really believe the teachings, and even encourage others to disobey the Church’s interpretation of the Gospel. If someone tried to sell you a duck, but the animal lacked feathers and a bill, you would naturally protest that the animal in question was clearly not a duck at all. In a similar way, an alleged Catholic without a the attributes (doctrines) is not really a Catholic at all. This does not apply to Catholics who do not agree with a doctrine but are trying to understand it so they can accept it. Don’t become a Catholic if, after studying the Catechism, you simply do not agree with the doctrines.

2) Is holiness here? This is a second question because holiness exists in many places; it is not limited to one Church. There are holy Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Christians and possibly even holy atheists.God blesses whom He will, and His Grace extends to many people of many cultures and beliefs. But in the true Church, holiness should abound. This does not mean the majority must be holy, but that those persons that live closest to the ideals of the Church, as expressed by doctrine, are always holy.

3) Does my conscience move me toward this? If the first two are true, this question will almost certainly be answered in the affirmative. Do not take fear of commitment as conscience, though.

If the above are all true, but you still feel uncomfortable, consider the following possible reasons:

1) Does it offend my pride? Do I value my independence so much that obedience to Church teaching repels me? Am I concerned that I won’t “”stand out”” in such a large Church, or that my talents and value will not be recognized?

2) Does it go against my taste? Are the members too “”common?”” Do I wish to avoid the poor? The ignorant? Does it bother me that the members of the Church shake hands or hug each other at times? Am I offended by the many rites and rituals? The decoration of the church buildings?

3) Am I reluctant because of simple prejudice? Have I always been sure that this Church contains only bad or stupid people?

The process of choosing a Christian denomination is intensely personal. The process can take decades or weeks.

If you really want to seriously consider becoming a Catholic, here are a few points to consider (with the above questions in mind).

1) The doctrines of the Catholic Church are written down. Anyone can obtain the Catechism and read it. There are no “”secret teachings.”” The doctrines are based on our interpretation of the Bible and the beliefs of the Apostles that knew Jesus before and after his Passion, Death and Resurrection. The fact that most Catholics are woefully ignorant of Church teaching does not mean it is hard to find.

2) Once you know the teachings, find other people that know them and try to put their beliefs into action. Seek the ones who integrate the doctrine into their lives through charity, prayer, their speech, their thoughts. You will find them holy. They also tend to be great company.

That’s about it. Write to let me know how your search is going. Regardless of our final denomination, God is pleased with our sincere efforts to do the right thing.

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The Door Has Closed


The door has closed;

your house is dark;

the curtains drawn.

I know you are in

there, hiding

in an inside room

with no windows.

I knock

but you do not open.

I ask for entry

but you will not receive me.

How can you be so cruel?


It is you who are cruel,

I let you in to be my friend

but you

never thought me good enough.

Even now,

you hold tools in your hands,

your rough hands,

brutal tools, tools to tear down:

hammers to break me

and bars to pry

my treasures from my house.

Some of your work

was welcome,

but you went too far,

and I am hurt,

and afraid that you

will leave me



It is true.

I have utterly destroyed

some of your house.

You can mend the walls;

paint over the damage;

sit on the broken chair

and sing loudly

to drown out my song.

But you will know

deep down

that your house

is a prison.

It is true.

I would leave you


And having nothing,

there would be

no reason to stay

where you are.

And nothing to keep you

from living

with me.

William E. Rushman, February 1998

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John Francis

“”You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; I know well that your works are wonderful. My bones were not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place: when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.””

Psalm 139:13-15, cf

Naming of John Francis

In Catholic tradition, children are given the names of Saints or virtues. Examples of this include names like Andrew, Peter, Faith, or Hope. Many cities are named in the same way, such as Corpus Christi, Texas (Body of Christ), Sacramento (CA) means Sacrament, and San Gabriel, near where I grew up, is named after the archangel Gabriel.

Here is how we named John Francis:

John – For St. John the Beloved Disciple. May he be especially loved by Jesus.

Francis – For St. Francis of Assisi. May he reform the Church through love.


Pictures of John Francis
12 weeks 20 weeks Movie at 12 weeks Movie at 20 weeks
20 hours after birth on December 29, 1997: John Francis Christopher and John Francis Maria and John Francis
January 3, 1998: Movie Large picture  
Links to:     Pro-Life and Pro-Family site list

 We need links for explanations of ultrasound imaging and SONAR�

Ultrasound images of babies in the womb are made by bouncing sound waves off of the baby. The time delay between the time the sound is emitted and the time the sound waves bounce back can be divided by the speed of sound in the tissue medium (mostly water) to determine distance. By this method, three-dimensional images can be made of the developing infant. This is a very “”up close and personal”” SONAR system, similar to that used in fish finders and submarines. SONAR stands for SOund Navigation And Ranging. In the ultrasound pictures, notice that everything is curved. This is because the ultrasound transducer (sound emitter) scans back and forth to “”see”” the picture. Early SONAR actually used to have a moving transducer. Please, someone send me a site that has a better explanation!

As you view these pictures, remember that abortion is performed legally from conception through birth. The relatively new partial birth “”abortion”” is performed after the baby is partially delivered by stabbing the head with a sharp instrument. Los Angeles Times Magazine had a cover article about late-term abortions a few years back (January 7, 1990: “”Abortions of Last Resort“”). Karen Tumulty profiled the work of two doctors in Los Angeles, California that do abortions in the last trimester.

Get the facts. Spread the word. End abortion.

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Here is a fish,

pulled from the river.

It is better than

the fish in my pond.

I dozed by a stream,

slept by the river,

while many more fish

went by.

There were still others

but I was occupied

with writing in sand

and caught nothing.

If I am watchful

I may catch another

and we will feast.

William E. Rushman, December 1997

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Conversion 2.0

Last updated: November 22, 1997

“”Contrary to the common belief, a conversion is not caused by the emotions; emotions reflect only a mental state, and this change concerns the soul.””

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, “”Peace of Soul””, page 199

“”[Our] real selves are all waiting for us in Him.””

C.S. Lewis, “”Mere Christianity””, Ch. 11

“”Cheap grace is grace without discipleship�””

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “”The Cost of Discipleship””, page 47

“”the desire that began to grow lukewarm may grow chill altogether and may be totally extinguished unless it is repeatedly stirred into flame.””

St. Augustine, from the Letter to Proba (Chapter IX)

“”Remain faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.””

Revelation 2:10c


You’ve come to believe in Jesus, and joined a church. Perhaps you were already baptized and came to a new realization of faith or started going back to church because of a spouse, friend or child. At first it was great or at least good, but now you feel like a musical instrument going out of tune. At first, you were learning new things and changing your life. Old habits and likes were discarded and new ones embraced. Now, Sunday Mass doesn’t have the same joy it had before, and you don’t really look forward to fellowship time either.

Before, you felt like you were waking up from a long sleep; now you wonder if your conversion was only a dream.

Possible Causes

The causes of difficulties of this sort can be grouped into six categories:

  1. Bad intentions from the beginning, possibly unconscious
  2. Bad approach to conversion or an incomplete intention
  3. Wishful thinking
  4. Pelagianism – trying to do things mostly by our own effort
  5. Simple trials
  6. Demonic attack

We can examine each of these, providing examples and possible approaches for a cure.

Bad intentions from the beginning

This does not mean sinful intentions only. Many young adults with small children are seeking a church that will provide a religious influence. Most religions teach respect for parents, and so they may be hoping to have their authority bolstered by a yet higher authority. This is not a specifically Christian problem. Many secular Jews are embracing the more ritualistic aspects of their religion without really even accepting the reality of a personal God. The problem with this is that conversion is a personal process between God and us. We cannot convert for the sake of our children, spouse or friends. In fact, such “”conversions”” are not conversions at all.

If this applies to you, try to forget about everyone else but you and God. Do you want to know Him? Do you believe He loves you right now? Are you willing to do anything to get as close as possible to God? Do you believe that Jesus died and rose? Humbly acknowledge that your intentions were wrong and pray for a real conversion.

Some intentions are actually evil. There are actually people that join churches to get closer to certain people for purposes of gain. Others want to be known as “”church-going people.”” It will be very difficult for such persons to ever have a sincere conversion. True repentance is the only advice.

Bad approach to conversion

Jesus said that a man about to build a tower must first determine whether he can actually complete it. Conversion begins with sorrow for our sins and continues with a gradual and eventually complete abandonment to God. If this seems extreme or harsh, your conversion was probably based on the unrealistic expectation that you could keep at least some small part of your life for yourself. You can’t. God will demand more and more of your life. He will expect you to give up cherished illusions about yourself that you were never aware of. In some cases you will think He is killing you. He is. He is trying to kill the old person so He can make you the person He created you to be.

Did you hold back? Did you think that God would just make life easier for you if you worshiped Him?

If this sounds familiar, try this: Write down your expectations of God. Did you hope He would heal your marriage but let you keep your little circle of friends? Fix your finances but not expect generosity to the poor? Write down what have been disappointments and then give them to God. Accept them as God’s will so long as you are not the direct cause of the problem. If your marriage is bad and you spend your evenings drinking with buddies and playing poker, God is not to blame, and He is not helping you to grow by this.

There is no part way for the Christian, in spite of the many books that promise riches or popularity through “”Christian principles.”” Christianity is not about being a better you. It is about becoming a part of the Body of Christ, and becoming the very hands, feet, eyes and heart of Jesus Christ in the world today.

The Gospel of Matthew offers a few root (pun intended) causes for post-conversion difficulties in this category. The problems listed in the parable of the sower and the seed (Mt. 13:1-23) are worthy of meditation:

  1. The path represents those who do not really understand the demands of the Gospel and so they cannot endure.
  2. The rocky soil represents those who convert only on the surface, without ever allowing God to penetrate into their inmost being.
  3. The seed sown amid the thorns is like the one who takes the Word of God to heart, but does not completely break with the ways of the world, and succumbs to lust, greed or worldly cares.

St. James said it best:

“”Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”” (James 1:22)

Wishful thinking

Sometimes we spend more time wishing than praying. Many wishes go about disguised as fervent prayer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this a wish-dream. We say to God: “”I wish I had more patience!”” or “”I wish I could stop being so critical of others!”” Wishes are for pagans, not Christians. We worship a Father and Son that have promised to send the Holy Spirit, Divine Life itself, into us. Nothing is beyond God. I might wish to win the lottery, but I must truly pray that God will change my cold, dead heart into His holy one. Wishing is insincere and keeps God at a distance.

We must be honest with ourselves. If we have not improved, perhaps we did not truly pray at all. To pray for a virtue is to accept whatever is necessary to obtain it. It means committing to whatever path God chooses for us to obtain the necessary graces.

“”‘Make no mistake,’ He says, ‘if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that� Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect� This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.'””

Mere Christianity, Chapter 9.


The Pelagian heresy (5th century) taught that people are capable of good works without God’s grace. The Council of Carthage, in 418 A.D., stated that without God’s grace, it is absolutely impossible to perform good works.

Sometimes we tire of doing good and striving for holiness because we are the ones doing the work. We hope to have the help of God as we progress in the Christian life, but we know that “”God’s work must truly be our own.”” Unfortunately, we just can’t keep it up. There are numerous facilities for healing burned-out ministers and priests for this reason. While there are certainly problems enough in living the New Life, our primary problem is always that we do not love God as we ought.

God made us to surf the waves of life, not drill like moles through mountains of difficulties. God has created us with such awesome abilities that we get carried away and try to do things on our own.

Our only hope is to completely confess our inadequacy before God. He alone will win the victory for us. As the Council of Carthage stated, the grace of Christ not only discloses the knowledge of God’s commandments, but also imparts the strength to will and execute them.

“”I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”” (John 15:5)

Simple trials

Life is hard enough. Hard enough for us to be refined like gold in the fire. Hard enough for us to be molded by the Father’s hands into a perfect vessel for His delight. There is so much in us that must be purged out, and our lives are so short. The process can be exhausting, especially if we have prayed for humility, that most dangerous of virtues to desire.

If you find that the rigors of everyday life, work and family and relationships, are just wearing you down, try to examine yourself more often. To what degree are your faults aggravating the situation? If you find yourself in quarrels, be honest about your part in it. If you are completely without fault in your eyes, pray for clearer sight. If you know your own part of the responsibility, be grateful for the insight, and pray.

Many problems are truly not our fault, or are caused by mistakes made in good faith. Some of these might have been avoided if our prayer life was better.

As we journey farther from the point of our initial conversion, we face taller, more forbidding mountains of difficulty. Our spiritual life must grow past the sweet milk of our youth and gnaw on the hard bread of the pilgrim. If you are not much of a reader, especially of Scripture, it is past time for you to start. If you are not much given to prayer on your knees before the Blessed Sacrament or a crucifix, now is the time. Don’t wait for a retreat or a tent revival. Find a place or way to place yourself before God in daily private and fervent prayer. Beg God to have pity until He cannot resist you because Jesus told us to do it. Pray quietly the way that Jesus did in Gethsemane so that you can endure your own Calvary.

If you think of yourself as a reader, you probably need more mystical prayer. If you think of yourself as a deeply spiritual person that doesn’t need to read, you very much need to read. In any case, know the Scriptures, especially the Gospel and Epistles (letters). St. Augustine said, “”Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of God.””

Demonic attack

There are cases where a Christian, or a community, is attacked by demonic forces. Some modern minds deny the presence of personal evil in the world, but the Church has never wavered on the issue, and Jesus was very clear about this. The Saints that were afflicted in this way responded with prayer and fasting (penance) according to the recommendation of Jesus in the Gospel (Mark 9:29).

Most of us pose so little threat to the kingdom of evil that no attack of this kind is likely. Direct attacks of this kind usually have the reverse effect anyway: it would only make us run to the Father for safety.

There is a spirit of discord in friendships and communities that tears at the bonds of the Body of Christ. The recommendation is the same: prayer and penance. Many times the problem can be avoided by discernment and wisdom, but these only reach their greatest powers in souls in union with Jesus.

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NFP – Natural Family Planning

Questions about Natural Family Planning and the Church’s teaching

Question: A friend at work asked something which is difficult to explain. He asked why do Catholics think artificial birth control is wrong and NFP is correct. If the argument against birth control is that it isn’t natural and impedes the Lord’s will for us to procreate, how is that different from NFP and also preventing children? That is ultimately the outcome. I explained the reasons for NFP, but he considered them to be mostly benefits rather than the underlying theology of the reason why it is wrong. What is the difference?


There are some false premises in the question I’d like to address first.

1) The argument against artificial methods is not that they are not natural, but that they attempt to prevent conception without the exercise of human reason and self-control. They are inherently anti-life, and frequently actually result in the death of the conceived child. The IUD prevents implantation, and this prevention is considered the “”second line of defense”” for the Pill.

2) The Church does not teach that the Lord’s will is for us to procreate. If that were true, we would not value the vows of chastity taken by nuns, brothers and priests. Married couples are to be open to children, through natural birth, adoption, foster care or other ways that children come into our lives. Sometimes, we have to avoid conception in order to be faithful to our parental duties. Too many children, or children coming too close together can make parenting difficult for us, and so God gave us a way to regulate this.

3) The vast majority of couples using artificial means are trying to prevent children. An unconfirmed report claims the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta declared some time ago that pregnancy is the number one venereal disease. Children in this country are hated by many because they impinge on personal freedom. Perhaps that is why so many die from abuse, accidents, neglect and murder. The vast majority of NFP users are regulating the birth of children, and end up having several children at the times they select. NFP allowed us to space ours about two years apart, except for our twins. Sometimes, NFP is used to conceive when this has proved difficult. So for most NFP users, preventing children is not the outcome. We just space them out better, and stop when additional children could not be assured adequate care due to our limitations.

More thoughts on this question:

The encyclical Humanae Vitae (on Human Life) is required reading on this subject. Very well written.

At the outset, there are two issues:

1) The decision to conceive (or not)

2) How this decision will be carried out (the method).

The decision itself has nothing to do with the method. The method is irrelevant if the decision is based on greed, selfishness, pride, vanity…

OK, now let’s assume that the decision is sound. For instance, a couple might decide to delay conception because they are still establishing themselves financially. For Carol and I, we wanted to get our household established spiritually, getting closer as a couple before having our first… These are typically short-term reasons. We have decided to stop trying to conceive because we feel that five children is the most that we can raise while giving individual attention to each. These are highly personal decisions. Some couples may opt not to have any because of unresolved emotional conditions that do not preclude sacramental marriage but do make parenting risky, such as childhood abuse or substance addiction. It is possible that the circumstances may change, or God may override the decision. Sure, God could override a tubal ligation, and probably has, but He seems to respect our free will too much to go that far…

The reason for using artificial birth control is usually wrong, as it is most frequently used outside marriage, which of course is a moral problem for Christians. There are times when the reason may be sound, but these are the minority. There is a parallel to violence here: there are a few cases where violence might be required for a good reason (self-defense?), but generally we don’t recommend violence as a solution. Actually, we nearly always condemn it. So it seems that if a method is usually used for evil purposes, the method is at least suspect according to the way humans think.

Once the motivation for delaying conception is established as good, we have to look at why artificial means are considered different from natural. It has a lot to do with free will, farming and theology:

1) Free will – We are free to choose. We can decide to conceive or not, using NFP. Since NFP cannot absolutely prevent pregancy, we say, “”Lord, we don’t believe this is the time for a(nother) child, but your will be done.”” Being Catholic, we are supposed to be open to the possibility that the Lord will override our decision for the best reason. In NFP, this rarely happens. Apparently, God takes free will very seriously.

2) Farming – Nowhere in Scripture does it say that a farmer must plant every field in every season. The farmer uses the reason placed in the mind of man to determine what is best for all concerned. Farmers will let a field lie fallow for a year so that the soil can recover. Sometimes they plant an alternative crop like alfalfa that actively “”heals”” the soil by putting Nitrogen back in a natural way. The natural methods of farming, using crop rotation, trees as windbreaks, and non-toxic pest control are ecologically sound, and allow the land to continue producing for hundreds or thousands of years. God allows the farmer the free will to do as he pleases. The farmer may choose to avoid planting for a bad reason, but the natural methods were given by God, just as muscles were. Muscles can be used to lift other people up, or to beat them down. The muscles themselves were created by God, and are therefore good. Further, God allows us to be co-creators with Him. The farmer plants and waters, but God gives life to the seed, and to all of creation. God creates the conditions that allow new life or prevent it, whether in the seasons in the year or the cycles in a woman’s body. We are encouraged to work within these conditions, in cooperation with God.

3) Theology – One of the joys of being human is the ability to exercise our reason. In a group, intelligent discussion is life-giving. The ability of man to harness nature in a good way is an example of the way that God lifts us up to the status of gods. Isn’t it wonderful that at a time when world population is a problem, science (human reason again) has found a way to regulate conception without any ongoing cost, special drugs or surgery? NFP is available to absolutely anybody at anytime. It asks nothing of the couple that they don’t already do: all couples sometimes abstain because their bodies (or circumstances) tell them to. Think about it: after childbirth, a couple has to abstain for six weeks… or would a good husband insist on sex when his sick wife’s body is racked with fever? In addition, the intellect often has reasons, too. Business trips, busy schedules or not being married are reasons to abstain.

For Catholics: artificial birth control methods are against Church teaching. Since we believe that the Church’s teaching comes from Jesus, using artificial means is a grave sin. If you don’t believe the Church speaks for God in matters of faith and morals, talk to someone in the Church that teaches, such as your pastor, catechist (teacher), or knowledgeable friend. Some priests do not accept the Church’s teaching, so you may have to work to find one that can help you. It is easy to find churches that condone just about anything, but this is hardly the way to get closer to God. The Catholic Church is not pick and choose: real dissent according to conscience is very rare. Most of the time our will is offended by the teaching, not our conscience.

In short, NFP, uses only what God directly gave us: a natural rhythm like the seasons or tides, and our self-control. It makes no one rich, though, and it doesn’t glorify the medical profession. In fact, NFP was worked out by doctors that never got much credit… For Catholics, artificial methods are not allowed because of our call to obedience in matters of faith and morals.

I hope this helps. Remember to separate the purpose of an act from how it is accomplished. The end does not justify the means. Sometimes the end isn’t so great, either.

Some people feel Eccl 3:1-8 applies: “”There is a time for everything…

a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.””

Part of an interview with Mother Teresa

The Catechism of the Catholic Church Humanae Vitae (On the Regulation of Birth)

The NFP Files – Very good site, a great deal of useful information and links – Atlanta, GA organization to promote the Church’s teachings

NFP Forum

By the Catholic doctor the Billings method is named after.

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Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead?

After the Resurrection, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away, and two “”men in dazzling garments”” said to them, “”Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, he has been raised.””

We must answer the same question today. Why do we seek the living among the dead? Our master has died and we go on living in the flesh. He rises to glorified life and we “”die in our sins”” (John 8:21-24). Do we expect to find Jesus in the world? Make no mistake, the parable of the sheep and the goats ( Matthew 25:31-46) commands us to seek Jesus among the poor, the imprisoned, the sick and the outcast. Jesus nowhere commands us to seek him in the rich, the powerful, in money or even in casual friendships. Jesus nowhere commands us to be nice people that live just like our neighbors. “”Be perfect,”” is the command, not try. We are called to a heroic life, not a (literally) mundane one. About thirty years ago the monk Thomas Merton commented to some novices about the movement at that time to “”go to the world”” (to find truth). He said that the people most likely to consider going to the world an absurdity are the worldly, because they know how empty it is.

In 1 Corinthians 5, St. Paul reminds us that we can’t really leave the world, of course, but that we have to live apart in a sense. In 2 Cor 6:14, he further exhorts us not to “”yoke”” ourselves with the worldly, and in particular not to even eat with a false Christian. In Titus 3:10-11, he includes heretics under this. St. Paul was fearful at times that the churches he founded would lapse back into paganism because of their associations with the worldly and heretics (1 Cor 6:11). He had good reason to fear: his own people had sinned in the time of the Judges and Kings in the same fashion, sometimes even sacrificing their own children to the false god, Molech.

Returning to Thomas Merton, he described the world we are to leave as the world that “”has illusions about itself.”” This world is a vain and pretentious place, with so many worries about appearances and position. I’ve worked in “”cubicles”” in several offices, and have seen people actually measuring to see whose cubicle was slightly larger, since cubicle size (supposedly) indicated status. Cars and clothes are advertised with illusion, not price versus performance. Conspicuous consumption is the rule, and the rich thrive on our foolishness while the homeless suffer. Many of us spend more time working on our looks than we spend in Mass or Scriptural prayer, and the television eats up even more of our lives. On the other hand, some people worry about their appearance at church, and count converts to see who evangelizes best. Oh yes, let’s not forget the Christians who say they won’t play that game, so they do nothing and pride themselves on their “”salvation by faith.”” Pride and vanity are there at every turn, “”like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”” (1 Peter 5:8). What then is to be done?

“”He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: to do justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”” (Micah 6:8 cf). This is the answer. Not to run off to the hills and collect firearms like some. Not to sell out and be indistinguishable from the worldly, like most. To stand like the stone of witness. To stand like a stone of contradiction. To be the city (of refuge), built on rock. We are the Light of the World (Matthew 5:14), because we are the Body of Christ. Individually we receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion (John 6:52-58), but the world receives the Body of Christ when we live in it, although the world struggles against us as the flesh struggles against the spirit. For us to receive Holy Communion, it must resemble bread: for the world to receive Christ through us, we must resemble Him whose Body we are. We are to be bold, for we have a bold calling: to be “”a chosen race, a royal priesthood”” (1 Peter 2:9). We have been set apart so that we might both be and bring a message. We are called to bring a wonderful message of freedom and joy to a world addicted to things that can never satisfy.

“”Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?”” (Isaiah 55:2). How can we give the message that God is sufficient for all our needs if we are continually going to the world for ours? Our living is from Christ, our worth is from Christ, our hope is in Christ. Why do we seek the living among the dead? Most of us will pay extra for quality, but what if the best quality came for free? “”All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat. Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!”” (Isaiah 55:1).

St. Peter calls us “”aliens and sojourners”” in this world (1 Peter 2:11), and C.S. Lewis said we are like soldiers dropped in behind enemy lines. St. Paul says that a good soldier never gets involved in “”civilian”” affairs. We have been saved, and at a cost, so let us not enslave ourselves again (Galatians 5:1, 1 Cor 6:20).

Nothing in the world compares to the “”burning of our hearts within us as He spoke”” (Luke 24:32). Let us not be like Esau, Jacob’s brother, who sold his role in the history of salvation for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25:29-34). He cared little for his birthright, do we care little for our heavenly inheritance?

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Why should I go to Church?

Occasionally, missionaries come to our door. Their denomination is not important for the purposes of this essay. We extend the proper courtesies to them when we remember (and ask forgiveness from God when we forget) the Gospel: “”whoever gives a cup of water to a prophet receives a prophet’s reward””, and spend a little time in discussion. Personally, I try to pick their brains for missionary experiences and, specifically, the things people say when these missionaries arrive at their door. Common responses are:

  1. We don’t want any.
  2. We have our own religion.

For our purposes, let us look at response 2, for many people that say this either don’t go to church, in which case the statement may be misleading (they may not have a religion at all), or aren’t really that involved in their own. For those people that are very active (spiritually and physically) in their church are frequently very interested in strange people that knock on their doors for two reasons: strangers can be evangelized, and Jesus is the one knocking (whatsoever you do for these�). I’ve had both experiences. Sometimes missionaries leave our door with new ideas, or at least new questions to think about. Sometimes they are like the folks from the local non-denominational (which is really a small denomination) church who came to our door. They asked us to look at a video about Jesus, which was a fairly good one, and also asked if we were active in a church. When they found out we were Catholic, they seemed to relax into a kind of easy fellowship, although the one asked a few probing Bible questions (about the authorship of Hebrews, it was), to see if what he had heard about Catholics not reading the Bible was true. I would say that all of us at our door had an experience of Jesus. I certainly felt that he was present in our conversation…

To get back to the point, that little encounter at the door was an example of the Church. If we are going to discuss going to church, we had better start with whether you believe in the Church at all. St. Paul makes it clear that we are the body of Christ. If you believe that, what does it mean? A human body doesn’t have a bunch of unrelated cells that just happen to be in a lumpy sort of shape we call “”human.”” St. Paul didn’t use the analogy of cells, he used hands and eyes and feet, but go with me on this one. What are the attributes of human cells?

  1. They stick together. I don’t know how, but they do. When they separate, they die. Scientists can do amazing things, and they can make human cells live away from the body for a while. It takes a scientist to spoil a perfectly good analogy. Never mind, let’s talk about how the cells are in a natural state.
  2. They are specialized. There are skin cells, brain cells, muscle cells. “”Each according to their own gifts.””
  3. They work together. There has to be a point where different kinds of cells join. It may be more correct to say that different kinds of tissues join. Whatever.
  4. They all have the same basic structure, with some interesting exceptions. Cell wall, nucleus, mitochondria, and DNA.
  5. Speaking of DNA, they all have the same genetic “”plan.”” Any cell is recognizable as belonging to a particular body. When we can’t tell, it is because our technology can’t do it, not because a lot of people have the same genetic pattern. Sure, there can be twins, etc… You get the idea. The body is known by its DNA pattern in the cells.

Ideally, all Christians have the same “”DNA,”” which is the Passion and Resurrection. Through baptism, we replicate. Technically, Christians are the only species to replicate by asexual meiosis. Someone will have to mail any necessary corrections on that… (It is not mitosis, because there is some recombination of the material, since we tend to pick up good things from each other�)

Jesus said that he would be present “”where two or three are gathered in my name.”” There may be a reference there to the Jewish “”quorum,”” where a certain number of people had to be present for some prayers. Fifteen, I think, and perhaps only for kaddish, I’m not sure. Corrections from rabbis are always welcome. When Jesus sent the disciples out two by two, he saved them from isolation, and made them a small Church.

The independent Christian is an oxymoron. All people are dependent on God, and since Jesus taught us that we are his presence in the world, we are dependent on each other. Since we are dependent on each other, we are dependent on the Church, the Body of Christ.

You may wonder why the importance of mutual support, friendship, camaraderie and fellowship have not been emphasized here. Why not mention the important advantages of a large institution to people? What about all of the positive impact a small community can have on the individual?

These things are not put forward here because they can be true for many institutions. There are many fraternal organizations that have positive attributes, clubs for persons of similar interests, political parties for those with a common agenda. None of these is the explicit presence of Jesus Christ in the world, a sign of contradiction, a sign of Love, the “”stone of witness.””

We do not become part of the Church for an earthly benefit, but to receive the mercy and holiness that God yearns to rain down on us. We desire to be a fruitful vine in the field which God tills, plants, tends and one day harvests.

Many have died to increase the fertility of that field. Many Christians believe that the Martyrs (indeed, all those now enjoying the Beatific Vision) are no less a part of the Church. To be part of that Church is a glorious thing, and none that fully enter into the Christian Church will ever want to go back to “”having their own faith,”” again.

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Questions from Sexual Morality talk on Feb 11, 1997

More material on the topic of Sexual Morality may be found on the following pages:

Premarital Sex and “”fooling around””

What Do Christians Believe?

Reflection on Matrimony

Natural Family Planning

The Seven Deadly Sins

Testimony of

Why Go To Church?

Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead? (Not specifically on sex)

Also recommended (notes from classes):


More on Marriage



The following are some questions from the high school students in the C.C.D. program at Blessed Sacrament Church. The questions have been edited for clarity and profanity has been changed to general terms. Similar questions have been grouped, and one response written. You can send more questions anonymously through the guestbook. Time ran out during the talk, and so we didn’t get to discuss the questions that were written down, even though they were very important, so here at least are some answers. We may get a chance to get together in smaller numbers later, and we can discuss these then, too. Some additional places for information are at the end of this page. Not all of the questions were on sexual morality. There are additional questions and answers on our home page.

For non-Catholic readers: we consider you our brothers and sisters in the Lord, although separated. Most Christian churches are in agreement on these matters. Where we mention the bishops and the Pope, consider whom you trust as a leader instead. If your pastor/religious leader believes that premarital sex is okay with God, read the New Testament verses quoted about this subject elsewhere on our site and pray about it. Please write with any other questions or comments.

If you are looking specifically for the sexual morality questions, click here. However, some of the questions in between may help explain the later answers.

How did you come here to talk to us? What inspired you?

I became Catholic at age 12. I felt like the Church wanted me to grow and prepare for a role in the Church, but that there wasn’t much work for me at the time. I know now that was wrong. Young Catholics are not the Church of the future, you are the Church now. Everyone, of every age, contributes in his or her own way. At your ages, you are the Body of Christ, the Church. When I talk to you, I hope to wake you up to the knowledge that you are precious to God, and that he is striving to make you holy. I hope that you will not make the same mistakes I made. I think I would have done better if I had known that I was “”bound for Glory.”” I want to tell you the Good News: “”God has created you for abundant life, let it start today!””

The greatest joy in my life is to help anyone get a little closer to God. Please let me know how I’m doing.

How do we know when we have faith in God?

The Scriptures speak of a “”peace that passes all understanding.”” Some people think they have this, but they are just very sleepy. None of us can really judge our own faith, but there are some things that can give us clues.

Look at your closest friends. Do they love God? Do you love them?

Do you find that most people are very kind? Are you impressed with the goodness of people in general?

Do you find it almost impossible to miss Mass, except when really, really sick?

Do you read Scripture? Do you enjoy it?

Do you pray often? Do you thank God for his love and gifts?

Do you obey God? If you fail, do you ask for forgiveness and try to heal the damage?

If the answers to these questions is yes, praise God and don’t worry. All you can do is trust God, and hope for the best. If you worry about it, remember that Jesus loves you, and died for you. You must be worth a lot to God.

I would like to know if somebody stopped coming to church for a while and then came back, could they still receive Holy Communion?

In the Catholic Church, one of the most serious obligations is to be at Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation. The Sunday commitment is as old as the Church. If we miss Mass because we don’t care, we must go to Reconciliation (Confession) before receiving Holy Communion. If the reason for not attending Mass is because a parent refuses to take you or because of illness, there is no sin on your part, and please do receive when you can. Once you start driving, or if a way can be found to get to Mass, you must go (provided something you can’t control doesn’t stop you). If you aren’t sure where you stand, go to Reconciliation and ask the priest about it. We are all glad to see you again, no matter what the reason for your absence.

I have stolen over $2,000 using someone else’s credit card. I’ve begged God to forgive me, but I still feel guilt. I thought that one way to get rid of the guilt would be to donate all the things I stole to charity, but I don’t want to. Will I still be forgiven?

First of all, be thankful that you have guilt. It is like a pain that makes us go to the doctor for a cure. Let’s try putting this in medical terms:

First, you did something (the crime).

Then you feel pain (guilt).

The doctor says the pain is a serious condition, and something must be removed. (give it back)

You don’t want to have the operation (you want to keep the stuff).

If this were medical, you would eventually die, right? It is the same thing with the soul. You will have to decide what you want from life: stuff or God. Lots of people prefer material things to God. They have that choice. You must choose what you want. If you want to follow God, you can’t profit by your sins. Make an appointment with Fr. Jim, or a priest of your choice, and tell him the whole story. Do whatever he tells you without fail. The priests cannot tell anyone what you say in confession, so don’t worry about that. Once you are forgiven (better yet, start now), read Scripture, pray constantly, and avoid people that commit these crimes, or situations that tempt you.

You can’t be forgiven if you aren’t sorry. Feeling guilty is not the same thing as being sorry. There are two kinds of sorrow for sin: being sorry because we are in trouble, and being sorry because we have sinned against the God who loves us. When we sin, we are betraying our best friend.

You will have to decide: God or money. You cannot love both.

Will we be tested on the Ten Commandments to see if we obeyed them before we are allowed into Heaven?

We do believe that we will be judged, and all of Christian morality is based on the Ten Commandments. Jesus said that love of God and love of neighbor covers all ten, though, and some very good leaders in the Church say we will be judged on our love for God. The new catechism talks about the Ten Commandments, and you might be surprised how much we consider to be contained in them. If you really try to follow Jesus the best you can, love as much as you can, and ask for forgiveness when you fail, you will certainly go to Heaven. In short, everyone is judged by what they know, and according to their faith in Jesus. It is not like a test at school.

What is the first commandment (of the Ten Commandments)?

I AM the Lord your God, you shall not have other gods.

God is supposed to come first in our life, before anyone or anything: boyfriends, girlfriends, sex, getting a wife or husband, a baby or anything else you might think of.

Is it bad to sin? How bad?

All sins are offenses against God, who loves us. Jesus suffered the penalty for sin by dying on the cross. That is where you will find the answer: as soon as you can, find a crucifix and kneel in front of it in prayer. Look at what sin did to Jesus. Spend some time meditating on the Agony in the Garden, the beating of Jesus, the nailing, and the hours hanging on the cross. After that, read the newspaper and try to find the ways that people suffer because of sin: broken marriages, murder and suicide, robbery, beatings, lies and starvation. These things are sins, or come from sin. We have made a mess of our world because of our sins. You can make it better by turning your heart to God.

Is premarital sex wrong? Why? What if you are in love?

The Church teaches that sexual pleasure can only be enjoyed in the Sacrament of Matrimony (marriage). Some people say that it is only natural to have sex outside of marriage. This is true. It is also natural to have fleas, worms, and not have toilets that flush. The difference between people and animals is that we don’t have to do what is natural. We can change our lives by inventing things like houses, toilets, medicine and shampoo. God gave us the ability to rise above the natural, and marriage is one of the ways He gave us to do it. St. Paul tells us to stop being natural, and become like Christ: supernatural.

When people say they are in love, they may mean it, but it usually doesn’t last. A better name for this feeling is “”infatuation.”” This means that you are very interested in the person. Usually, this infatuation comes after a couple have already started committing sexual sins with each other, but often before having intercourse. Take a look at your friends and people in your school. How often do these couples stay together for 5 years? Ask married people if they were ever “”in love”” with someone else before they married their spouse. Most of us have feelings of being “”in love”” with several people before we actually marry someone. If you really believe being in love makes premarital sex O.K., you will probably have sex with many people, which is not God’s plan, and really is not as good as a Christian marriage. The plan, as Jesus said, is that a man and woman commit themselves to one another for life, and grow in their friendship and love through their whole marriage. They will have a balanced life together, with romance, friendship, work, affection and prayer all present in powerful and passionate ways. As a married person, with friends that are married, I’ve seen what Christian marriage can be, and I’ve seen how it can fail. Premarital sex is one way to start a marriage off the wrong, even if the sex was with the person that you eventually married. It blinds us to seeing the other person as they are, and really getting to know them. That is why so many people are so upset after they get married and find out that the other person is not very nice. If they had spent time getting to know them instead of having sex, they would have known better than to marry them.

What do you think about a guy getting a girl pregnant before marriage?

Before marriage, sexual pleasure is wrong. Sometimes when people sin, a child results. This is sad for the child and the parents. Much of the time, the girl kills the baby either by abortion or by murder after the child is born. If you have sex before marriage, you take the chance that a child will be created without a family to love them. Some girls say, “”I want to have a baby so someone will always love me.”” Think about this: how do you feel about your parents? Your child will probably feel the same about you. Do you cause your parents problems? Your child will do the same for you. My wife and I have found raising children hard enough even with the love and prayer and friends we have. It is much harder for a young woman with no income or loving husband to give her love to a child. What do you think about it?

Is teen pregnancy a sin?

No. Sexual contact/pleasure outside marriage is a serious sin. Some people marry in the Church when they are only fourteen or fifteen (in other countries where they are more mature than people that age here). They can have sex and babies without sin because they are married. We have friends that married that young and are celebrating 50 years of marriage. They have a beautiful marriage and family, because they obeyed God.

Can you have a white wedding gown even if you have been involved sexually with someone…?

There was more to this question, but the answer is very simple… The Church has nothing to say about the color of wedding gowns. Generally, they are white to symbolize purity. If the bride has committed sexual sins with the groom or anyone else, she is to confess them to the priest as soon as possible after the sin, and then stop committing the sin(s). If she has been forgiven, and really wants to live a holy life with her husband, she is pure and the white gown makes sense. If she doesn’t want to be forgiven or plans to keep committing sexual sins after marriage, there is no point in getting married.

Is it possible to receive a “”second virginity?””

There are two kinds of virginity: physical and that of sexual pleasure. If a woman is in a car accident or a fall, it is possible for her hymen (the physical virginity) to break. I know several women whose hymens broke in accidents when they were very young. This is not what most people mean by virginity. When we say a woman “”loses her virginity,”” we usually mean that she gave it away, either to a husband or not. Sex outside of marriage is a sin, so it can be forgiven. That is a kind of “”second virginity,”” since God forgives the sin. If God has forgiven a woman, it would be wrong for anyone else to continue to think about it.

In the case of rape or incest, the woman (or girl) may lose her virginity physically, but since she did not want to have intercourse, there is not sin on her part. In rape, the man or woman committing the sexual attack is committing one of the most evil of all sins, and the victim is not to blame. It is possible that a woman might tempt a man to commit rape, but the entire fault is his if he does so.

By the way, a recent poll showed that most high school (male) students believe that rape is not wrong at least some of the time, and 1/3 of college men said they would rape a woman if they could get away with it. Almost half of the female high school students thought rape was acceptable if the man had spent a lot of money on the woman. Think about this, ladies, next time you date. And the gentlemen reading this had better examine themselves and see if they have the appropriate respect for women.

Is abortion wrong? Why is abortion wrong for raped women?

Abortion is a sin because it is the murder of the unborn child. Regardless of the reason a woman is pregnant, the child is a human being with a right to life. Whatever penalty we want to impose on a rapist, it is wrong to execute the child, who is also a victim of the rape. Abortion is the only situation where we execute the victim instead of the person that committed the crime. This may seem hard on the woman, but forcing her to murder the child in her womb is worse, and people do apply a lot of pressure in these situations (for the woman to abort).

Why is artificial contraception wrong?

First of all, I’d recommend reading Humanae Vitae, written by Pope Paul VI. In short, it separates the sexual act from one of its purposes: procreation. Not every sexual act creates a child, so using the normal cycles of a woman’s body to avoid pregnancy is acceptable and healthy. Natural means that involve avoiding sex at certain times do not absolutely make pregancy impossible, and so there is not a separation. There is a longer response on this site, too, in answer to another question. Check out the catechism, too.

What is masturbation?

The deliberate stimulation of the sexual organs for sexual pleasure outside of marriage. This is a paraphrase from the new catechism. Notice that it doesn’t say anything about being alone. Sexual pleasure in dating is frequently a kind of mutual masturbation. In marriage, it would mean alone or with someone other than the spouse.

Why is it bad to have sex after you get married, then get divorced?

If a couple is married in the Church, and then get divorced, they can still have sex, because the Church still considers them married. If you are talking about them having sex with someone other than the person they married, that is called adultery. Adultery is bad because it violates the sixth Commandment, and it means breaking our promise to our spouse. Jesus taught us that marriage is for life.

Why is it wrong to be a stripper?

The Church teaches that sexual pleasure outside of marriage is a sin. If a woman makes money by giving sexual pleasure to many men, what do you call it?

What do you do when you #@!%@! in class? (get sexually excited)

The actual term used in the question indicated that the question was asked by a young man, so I’ll answer from a man’s point of view. Sometimes a man’s body gets excited for no apparent reason, and there is no reason to worry about it. It is not a sin. If you are thinking about sex, and this happens, it is a good reminder to stop thinking about sex, and start concentrating on your class. Just ignore it and it will go away. This is not always easy. The “”Jesus prayer”” may help you. When you get these sexual feelings, make a decision to reject them, and pray “”Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner,”” over and over again, really thinking about the words. If you really mean it, the problem will go away for a while.

Why is it wrong to be gay (homosexual)?

It is not wrong or a sin. The Church teaches that it is wrong to have sexual contact outside of the marriage of a man and a woman. Having homosexual desires is not a sin. Acting on them is a sin. We don’t really know why some people have these feelings, but we do know that many people that are not homosexual sometimes have sexual feelings for someone of the same sex. This doesn’t mean they are becoming homosexual. All kinds of weird things run through our heads, and it is best to ignore the strange ones. Many Catholics have problems with their sexuality and still live holy lives.

It is a serious sin to hate or harm homosexual people. They are still created by God, and He loves them. It is good to hate sin, but we have to love the sinners, because God loves them and we sin, too.

How do you get AIDS? Why is there no cure? (Many specific questions…)

You can get AIDS by sexual contact, sharing needles (for injecting drugs) or by contact with AIDS-infected blood. If you follow Jesus closely, you are almost certainly not going to get AIDS. It used to be that a person that received donated blood was in danger, but the places that take blood donations check it very carefully now, so you don’t have to worry. In sexual contact, a person having contact with semen (the fluid the man’s sperm is in) is most likely to get AIDS, so heterosexual men are less at risk than women and homosexual men. You may have been told that condoms prevent AIDS, but they break and some kinds do not stop the AIDS virus. If people obeyed God, this disease would not spread they way it does, since it depends on multiple sexual partners and drug use. It is not a punishment from God, but a consequence of human choices, like drunk driving accidents and lung cancer (from smoking). Many people in the Church are trying to help people with this disease, including Mother Theresa’s order of nuns. We are required to love the victims of the AIDS virus.

Most STD’s (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) are not curable for a very long time. Syphilis was around for a hundreds of years before it was curable. Herpes still is not curable (I know people who have it and will never be cured). Most of the diseases associated with sexual contact come from bacteria, and penicillin (and other antibiotics) will cure them. Herpes and AIDS are viruses, and medicine still can’t do a lot about them. Many famous people died from STD’s before a cure was found. Many people will die of AIDS, too. Pray for a cure, but don’t do anything that will put you at risk, either.

Is smoking bad?

It is wrong for you to damage your body. Only a doctor or scientist can tell you if smoking will damage your body. You should ask your doctor or a health teacher at school for the facts on smoking and make your decision. It is an expensive habit, too, and that should be part of your decision: is it right to spend the money God gives you on smoking?

Why can’t you take natural herbs created by God?

You can. Health food stores sell all sorts of things. I don’t know if they work, and the Church has nothing to say, since we are not a medical group. You can ask a doctor for their opinion, read lots of books and studies, and make up your own mind.

Perhaps you were thinking of drugs that are illegal. Many drugs, some of them legal, are used to help people escape their problems or get extra pleasure. Sometimes people die from using these, or lose their minds. Often, the use of drugs keeps people from becoming as successful as they were meant to be. These drugs lead to crimes, such as child neglect, murder over deals gone wrong, spouse abuse and rape (73% of rapists use drugs or alcohol before the assault). Alcohol and drugs also make you more likely to be victimized (55% of women raped were under the influence of drugs at the time). When we are drunk or under the influence of drugs, we are not ourselves, and so we are not able to serve God or our brothers and sisters.

What if I don’t agree with you?

Keep praying, and talk to other people in the Church that you can trust. Make sure, though, that they are faithful Christians. Some people seem to want to mess other people up. I don’t know why. If anything I’ve said here doesn’t agree with Church teaching, or the teaching of our bishop, I take it back. It is very important to obey the teaching of the Pope and bishops. We have to trust someone…

More information

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Bible

Read More

What do Christians believe?

Written for a Non-Sectarian Periodical (1996)

Christianity, the basics.

Christianity was founded by Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish teacher/holy man that taught as he traveled from place to place. About 2000 years ago he spoke and performed miracles in what is now Israel. His mission, as the commonly accepted accounts were written, was to the Jewish people only, although some gentiles (non-Jews) believed in him. Christians believe Jesus is God become Man. While some groups claim to be Christian while denying this “”dogma””, the things Jesus said would be wrong for anyone but God to say. C. S. Lewis’ “”Mere Christianity”” covers this issue well. There are many opinions as to what this means, but the most accepted is the doctrine of “”The Trinity,”” which is not explicitly stated in the Scriptures, but has been taught by the Catholic Church since its beginnings in the First Century. The primary written authority for Christians is the Bible, which is a compendium of writings in the form of myths, legends, poetry, religious and civil law, mystical writing, persecution (survival of) writing, history, advice and letters of authority. There is some dissent regarding seven of the more than seventy books in it. It sounds like a lot of reading, but many people read it all the way through (at nine years of age, I read it through for the first time). There are various other writings widely considered important and to some degree binding, such as the Patristics (“”Writings of the Fathers””) and the Didache (“”did-ah-kay””, a liturgical book), the precursor to the modern books used in the Catholic Mass, or principal religious service. Catholics believe that the primary authority for Christians is the teaching of the Apostles and their successors, the bishops. Acts 2:42 reflects the Catholic view. A Catholic would say that the Scriptures come from this “”deposit of faith,”” called “”Tradition.”” So from a Catholic point of view, the Bible’s authority rests on that of the Church, not the other way around.

From the beginning of Christianity, there has been considerable dissent, so not all Christians agree on all points. Jesus himself was at odds with the Jewish religious authorities of his time, and one of his own followers even betrayed him, turning him over to these same authorities, who in turn passed him to the occupying Romans for the death sentence. Almost all Christians believe Jesus Christ (Christ means “”annointed”” or “”chosen for a purpose””) was crucified (nailed to a wooden structure), died and was laid in a tomb or cave. He rose from the dead (most believe he somehow freed many that had died before him from death as well) and appeared to his closest friends first, and then to a few hundred people that had followed him during his three years of preaching/teaching in Palestine. Almost all Christians (literally, Christian means “”little Christ””) believe that he then left this world in body while remaining present in a mystical way. Common to all is the belief that those close to God in their earthly lives will be resurrected into the same kind of life Jesus enjoys after earthly death. These blessed dead will enjoy the company of God according to their desires, without end. Some Christian sects are quite specific about what this is like and who “”goes there.”” Others agree with St. Paul (a very widely accepted biblical writer) that no one can know what it is like to experience the “”beatific vision.”” Some Christian groups believe only those who have literally been immersed in water (baptized), have made a profession of faith in Jesus and died without rejecting this profession can go to the blessed state of Heaven, though others, such as the Catholic Church, believe it is possible to know God without being a Christian (although baptism should be done) and that God will judge in ways we don’t understand. Most Protestant churches preach that salvation cannot be lost (“”once saved always saved””), but others acknowledge that people can turn their backs on God even after baptism (this is the Catholic view).

Christianity grew under almost constant persecution in most places around Palestine for around 20 years from the resurrection of Jesus. Thanks in part to the Roman roads and the common language of Koine (Greek), Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire. Early on, revelations experienced by certain Christian leaders indicated that non-Jews could become Christians without first becoming Jews. This and the understanding that Jesus had to be God incarnate (God enfleshed) forced a break with the Jewish religion. Though the Jewish church had been somewhat influenced by the Greeks, Christianity embraced many Greek ideas, especially Stoic philosophy, as means of expressing Christian beliefs. Christianity therefore came to contain elements of both Eastern and what is now regarded as Western thought. It was a mystery religion combining mysticism and philosophy that encouraged rigorous logical debate. This, in turn, encouraged an incredible diversity, with solitary hermits seeking constant prayer and visions in the deserts and intellectuals participating in public debates with any willing parties. Persecution in various degrees lasted until 312, with nearly every bishop of Rome (pope) martyred during this time, through three hundred years. During the persecutions, becoming Christian was tantamount to a death sentence, but it continued to grow.

Once Christianity was legalized by Constantine and made the state religion in Rome, various heresies (severe departures from generally believed ideas) began to appear. Many of these became tools in political power struggles in the dying, divided Roman empire. Some denied that Jesus was ever really here, that humanity was too “”dirty”” for God to become a real human. Others claimed to be successors to Jesus and attracted powerful allies. Some of these heresies reappeared through to modern times, bringing us to divisions in Christianity, which must be addressed.

By the year 1054, there were essentially three Christian Churches: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Coptic (Egypt). The Eastern Church has about 100 million members, the Coptic has far fewer, and the Roman Church has about 800 million or so. These Churches still have the most in common with each other, even to the point of recognizing each other’s episcopal (bishop) authority. With the rise of nationalism in Europe, more and more rulers began to challenge the substantial power Roman popes exercised over them. Some rulers even went to war against the Pope and seized Church property. The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century broke the power of the Roman Church eventually and gave it to the rulers of the emerging European nations. The newer denominations of Christianity began to focus on specific areas of belief, such as Baptism and Communion (a reenactment of Jesus’ last meal with his followers). The earlier Churches honored both the Bible and the traditional teachings passed on through documents, letters, councils and practices. The new Protestant Churches abandoned tradition as an authority and began to look exclusively to the Bible only as the “”Word of God.”” It is fundamental to Protestant thought that there can be no earthly authority to interpret the meaning of the Christian Scriptures. During this time seven books of the Bible (Maccabees 1 & 2, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch) were removed for the Protestant versions. Within a few hundred years’ time, Protestantism had fragmented into more than 2000 denominations/sects. Protestant Churches abandoned the idea of priests as a continuation from the time of Jesus and instead focused on the universal priesthood of all Christians. Some Churches consider themselves Christian but have relatively recent origins outside the previous descriptions. An example of this is the Church of England, which has been very close to the Roman Church in practice and broke away from the Roman Church for more clearly national reasons. Their priesthood is very similar to that of the Catholic Church, although their priesthood is not recognized (see Anglican Orders).

From a Protestant point of view, the only explicit source of Christian doctrine is the Bible, although the practice in their own church is often continued without question. Since these Christians believe that any Christian can interpret Scripture (with the Holy Spirit), it is no surprise that there are endless arguments over nearly every word. In the Roman Catholic Church, the magisterium (teaching body) is the ultimate authority for the interpretation of the Bible, as well as tradition. This hierarchical structure tends to give both form and limits to dissent, with the result that there is a staggering amount of written material from its (almost) 2000 year history. So, while it ought to be obvious that every Christian should know the Bible well, Roman Catholics (or those interested in its teachings) have the additional resources of thousands of other books with varying amounts of authority, although none as high as the Bible. The definitive book of Roman Catholic teaching is the “”Catechism of the Catholic Church, “” with the “”Code of Canon Law”” a recommended addition. These books reference hundreds of Christian writings from the last 2000 years. As has been said, there can be no book of authoritative teaching (save for the Bible) for Protestants, by definition. The closest thing might be “”Mere Christianity,”” by C.S. Lewis, but some Christians will take exception to this.

To specifically answer some of the questions suggested…

What does Christianity offer to its followers? A way to eternal union with God, starting now. Jesus said, “”You shall know the truth, and it will make you free.”” True following of Jesus means living as he would have lived in your circumstances, changing them if he would have. Union with God in this life generally means a life free of superstition, but also without the terror of having to plan everything years in advance. It has elements of both acceptance of the current state of things, the things we can’t change, and the belief that when one must act, it is done with the help of God. This is related to the Trinity, or three-personed God. Christians see God in three personal ways: the Father (Creator, Judge, Ancient One), the Son (Jesus, the Redeemer, the Model, the Healer, the Friend and our Brother), and the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Love between Christians, the Enabler, the Force). This is one God in three persons; a mystery. It is strongly present in the Bible. Really following Jesus always causes radical change inside the person, as would be expected if the Creator of the Universe is in intimate contact with them. Many great Christians followed other religions/philosophies first and then came to Christianity. Many people find the strength in Christianity to defeat or at least control their addictions and passions. Christianity is not about destroying desires, but does teach self-control. Friendship with the Prime Mover and the enlightenment that must follow eventually are major benefits.

Why be Christian? If it isn’t the truth, not much reason. Since Christianity, unlike the Eastern religions, makes many bold proclamations about what is true (as does Islam and Judaism), religions such as Buddhism and Christianity cannot both be right since they are opposed on some major issues, such as whether God is personal, and whether reincarnation is true. The fact that Eastern religions do not deny others is not relevant. Logically, two truly opposing statements cannot both be true, God cannot both exist and not exist. If a person thinks two literal opposites can both be true they won’t like Christianity. That is not to say that Christianity is not full of paradoxes, but it never states two opposite “”states”” or “”truths”” as literally correct, such as “”God exists”” and “”God does not exist.””

Some basic comparisons with other religions, followed by basic tenets:

Goal: To know, love and serve God, now and eternally. This is fundamentally the same as all the monotheistic religions, with the exception of Deism. A large number of nominal Christians in the United States are actually Deists, as were the founding fathers of the country. Religions which believe God is without personality (more of a collective term for the Universe, or all the spirits) frequently espouse a unity with this “”Ultimate Reality.”” These would include Taoism, Buddhism, and some Hindu sects. Christianity is quite strong on the point that one’s personality is retained after death, rather than being incorporated into a Godhead, as in some Hindu sects. Religions such as Confucianism and Shinto emphasize ethical behavior based on reason, as does humanism. Christians, likewise, are expected to use their reason to solve ethical problems. Most Christians believe that errors in judgement are not sins, and that doing the wrong thing thinking (truly) that is is the right thing is a mitigating circumstance.

Attainment: Like most religions, Christianity places the largest value on love of others, frequently shown by charitable works. This is the origin of hospitals and orphanages. However, Christianity says that this is not enough to warrant eternal life, which is given as a gift from God. The charitable works are supposed to emanate from gratitude for the gift of salvation. Another way of putting this is that Christians are supposed to imitate Jesus, who lived a life of service, healing, feeding and teaching. He is one of the few religious founders that never was a warrior. Needless to say, this aspect of Christianity is often missed by the followers of Jesus…

Basic beliefs, based on a Creed defined at the First Council of Nicea, in 325. Here are the tenets of Christianity according to it:

We believe in one all-powerful God.

God made all things whether we see them or not.

We believe in Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. (Note: begotten indicates equality and not the creation of a lesser thing. Consistency of substance. This is not related to the birth of Jesus.)

For our sake Jesus became a man to save us.

Jesus suffered, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day.

Jesus ascended into Heaven.

Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.

We believe in the Holy Spirit.

In addition, all Christians believe that God forgives sins without any price being required of the sinner. Catholics (which make up the majority of Christians) add the belief that those in Heaven are still part of the Church and pray to God on behalf of those on Earth. Some other points that the vast majority of Christians believe:

Jesus was born of a virgin, meaning without benefit of a human male.

At some point, humanity “”went wrong”” but was not always depraved. This condition can only be fully remedied by God on an individual basis.

Jesus will not return in a subtle way, but in awesome power. No one knows when this will be but God.

One life to a person. Humans are created, develop a direction, die, and then live their ultimate choice forever. The Catholic Church goes further and reasons that there must be a transition from this life to the next, which varies in degree according to the amount of union with God the individual had attained to in this life. This transition is referred to as “”Purgatory.”” All Christian Churches believe that there is a resurrection of the body as well. It is generally accepted that this resurrection is the same in nature as the resurrection of Jesus, although a gift from God rather than a personal accomplishment.

The Bible is the Word of God. Most Christians have no idea what this really means. On a continuum, fundamentalists usually think everything should be taken literally, with few exceptions. Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics believe Scripture should be read in context, so that clearly poetic sections have metaphors, while other books within it are to be taken as binding as written, such as statements by Jesus about love of neighbor. A number of theologians believe that almost nothing of the Bible should be taken seriously, and that practically no words of Jesus there are reliable. This is a theological view and not the teaching of any Christian Church, with some arguable exceptions.

Faith (trust in God), Hope and Love are the most important things. The greatest of these is Love. This Love is not the kind seen in movies, but a pure love beyond price or the physical. These three are known as the theological virtues.

There is a personal force for evil in the world. This person was created by God and turned to evil of its own free will. It is by nature a created thing and therefore inferior to God, and must eventually fail.

As in Islam, the worst sin is Pride. Pride is comparative and competitive. This vice causes a person to want more than another, and all other sins can proceed from it. Sexual sins get all the press, but pride is the far greater problem for humanity.

The capital (or deadly) sins are: Pride, Greed, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony, and Sloth.

The cardinal (pivotal) virtues are: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance.

The gifts which accompany the Holy Spirit are: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, Fear of the Lord (this means an awesome respect rather than craven fear).

The fruits which accompany the Holy Spirit are: Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Generosity, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Modesty, Self-Control, and Chastity.

The above references to the beliefs of others are not infallible: the ultimate facts can best be found by open-minded inquiry with the groups mentioned, through personal contact and reading of their materials. Especially in matters pertaining to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, the author submits completely to the Magisterium, and recants any statement deemed misleading or incorrect by that authority.

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