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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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Twelve Strategies to Help You Cope With Being Catholic

If you are active in the Church, you are going to have bad days. Here are some tips for making it until you are with the Lord in Heaven.






  1. Big picture – One of the recent popes was asked how he could handle all the pressure of leading the Church. He said that every night he went to sleep with a final prayer: “”Lord, it’s your Church, I’m going to bed.”” It’s good for us to remember that we have a small but important part to play in the life and work of the Church, whether we are the parish electrician or pastor. The Church is not really in our hands: we are in the hands of God, who has promised that “”the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”” God has the big picture, and we have to trust Him.
  2. Perspective – It sometimes feels as if we are unique in our problems. For us, the whole world might be the parish or diocese. Elijah the prophet once felt this way, too. “”I alone am left,”” he said to God. The LORD replied to him that there were prophets unknown to Elijah that God was keeping faithful. In the history of the Church, there has always been a vast army of faithful people that served God in humble and quiet ways. In his book, “”Orthodoxy,”” G.K. Chesterton says that though historians usually view kings, queens and presidents as the important figures of history, God does not necessarily see it that way. The “”little people”” are the really important ones, for each one lives a life that is bound for glory, if they will be faithful to the end.
  3. Prayer – We must spend time in prayer. Though we must, of course, pray for patience and perseverence, we should spend most of our time in simple companionship with God. We can contemplate God’s love for us, the changes He has wrought in our lives, the history of the Church or some particular teaching of the Church for which we are thankful. In the Mass, we can be caught up in the mystery, marveling at the bread-made-flesh. As we think about the Sacrifice at Calvary, we can offer our own small sufferings in imitation of our Lord, like a small version of the Passion. Through all this, try to remain in constant prayer. Keep a running conversation going with God, in whatever way works. If you can’t think of anything, pray “”Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.”” Sometimes, fall silent, and let God comfort you.
  4. Scripture – St. Augustine said, “”Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of God.”” It is also ignorance of the struggles of the early Church. As you read the book of Acts or some of St. Paul’s letters, you can get an understanding of the politics and conflicts that plagued the infant Church. There have always been termites in the house of God, but they won’t last past the end! In the Old Testament, the same kind of problems existed. Moses was challenged as leader numerous times, the prophets were afflicted by kings and false prophets, and slipping into pagan ways was always a threat. Read Scripture and see how Moses, Jeremiah and Gideon coped with their problems.
  5. Magisterium – The teaching body of the Church is alive and active. The new catechism is well worth reading, as are the various letters from the popes (encyclicals). Some people think the recent Church teaching is OK, but it was bad before that. The papal proclamation Sublimus Dei was written in 1537, and its beauty and justice will shock you. The Magisterium has not usually been followed by the majority, but it is reassuring to know that the teaching of the Church (real teaching, not some weird idea peculiar to a small group) will always be without error. If you are frustrated with the Church over a real teaching, such as abortion or interfaith communion, and you think it should be allowed when the Magisterium says it must not, then you are wrong, and need to repent! Concentrate on Prayer and Scripture, above, and find a patient, faithful spiritual director or catechist to help you understand the teaching.
  6. Saints, saints and laughter – There is a great song by Geoff Moore and the Distance, “”Home Run.”” He refers to the Church Triumphant (the saints in Heaven) as previous players in the Game (baseball is a metaphor for life). He depicts them as watching us from the grandstands, chanting (doing the wave?) and cheering us on. It’s a reference to St. Paul’s comment, “”Since we are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses…”” The saints in Heaven have been through all this before, and they are praying for us. The saints on earth are praying for us whenever they pray for the welfare of the Church. Find the saints among us, and be one, too. Find at least one day a week to spend with some holy people (not the phony kind of course). Share your struggles, your hopes, your mistakes, and listen to theirs. Find the humor in these situations whenever you can, and learn to laugh at yourself. C.S. Lewis says there is a kind of mirth only possible among the saints. Good times with our brothers and sisters is the closest we get to Heaven while still on earth.
  7. Love – “”Above all these, put on Love…”” writes St. Paul. The greatest is Love. If we love with the Love of Christ, some frustrations will disappear. We will not have many of the false expectations that a lack of love allows. Thomas Merton (and many others) say we tend to see ourselves as the center of everything, and fail to see others as “”real”” people. Love helps us remember why we are doing what we do, and warns us when we are doing something we had better not. If we don’t love the people we serve, we should change ministries. There are no jobs in the Church that don’t require love.
  8. Study – The more we know, the less we can get caught up in our own little circle of illusions. Study Church history, study Scripture, go to talks (usually offered by your diocese). Study the history of your country or state. Study the history of other countries, especially ones ignored by most people. Take an art history class. Read really good books, not the drivel that passes for literature, but works of lasting greatness that speak to the core of human experience. Watch people, and try to understand them, and see what you have in common. Above all, study yourself! “”Know thyself,”” is good advice now, as it was for the Greeks, 2500 years ago. Know your predominant fault, and get a spiritual director to help you delve into who you are. We are often our own worst enemy, so we had better know ourselves.
  9. Change – If the pain of our problems is too great, and our relationship with God and others is being damaged, we need to change – either ourselves or the situation. Perhaps we need to reduce our expectations to something reasonable, or maybe we just need to leave a ministry that we just can’t cope with. We should not make a habit of running away from problems, but sometimes it is the right thing to do: “”Those who fight and run away live to fight another day.”” (I don’t know who said that. It is not in Scripture). If nothing else, our problems should draw us closer to God. If not, we are the problem! Look at your life: Do you have a history of running away? If so, maybe you are being called to personal change, not situational change. If you tend to keep trying, maybe you need to learn when to leave the situation and try something else. A word about obedience: If you are under a vow of obedience, all you can do (sometimes) is ask your superior for change. If your request is refused, accept it as God’s will. This may apply to lay people in problem parishes. Generally, we should “”bloom where we are planted.”” If the pastor is really a problem, we just have to do what we can, when we can. Changing parishes is rarely the right thing to do, although there are cases when it is the only way to cope.
  10. Act! – Sometimes, situations are serious enough to require action even though it may add to our stress. We can often depend on our brothers and sisters to help us, but there will be times where we will be alone in our convictions. If we are close to God through continuous prayer, obedient to Church teaching and humble enough to know our own faults and merely accepting the situation is likely to cause physical or spiritual harm to others, we may have to act. Whatever we do must be done in charity and without thoughts of revenge or judgement of others. Act according to the problem at hand, and don’t attack the person(s) responsible. Motivated by love, we must strive above all for fairness and never act out of hearsay or rumour. Occasions where bold action is required are extremely rare and are very dangerous for our souls since they can lead to pride and self-righteousness. Martin Luther is one of the best examples of this, as is Peter Valdes (see Waldensians). In both cases, a holy desire to right wrongs missed the mark and caused great damage (although some good may have come from it). The most dangerous ministry in the Church is that of reformer: Avoid it if you can.
  11. Remember Heaven – In the end, we will all be perfected (provided we persevere in faith) and join with our brothers and sisters in perfect union with God and each other. As we “”work out [our] salvation in fear and trembling,”” we should keep our “”eyes on the prize.”” All of us are destined for Heaven or Hell, and we are helping each other to one destination or the other. There is no problem now that will not be put right in the end, when Jesus returns in glory.
  12. Humility – Conflicts often arise because of the collision of our Pride with the Pride of others. According to most traffic laws, the one responsible for a collision is the one that could reasonably avoided it. By crucifying our pride and humbling ourselves, we can avoid most conflicts. Many of the Saints known for their great preaching and teaching were known also for their humility when challenged by others less gifted. When St. Thomas Aquinas was reading to his community, his superior corrected his pronunciation of a word. Thomas re-read the word according to the superior’s correction, even though it was wrong. When asked about it later, Thomas said that the correct pronunciation was less important than obedience to the superior. Thomas practiced humility. Of course, Jesus is the perfect example of humility. “”He humbled himself and took the form of a slave… being obedient unto death: death on a cross!””

The case could be made that Jesus did all of these. While Jesus has no peer among men, He is one person of the Trinity, and His relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit is a model for our relationship with our brothers and sisters.

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Humility, Obedience and Charity

On reading this again, it is apparent that it also applies to any job: it describes a Christian attitude to work. Please let us know what you think.

Most of us have known someone that worked in the Church and yet displayed a less than Christian attitude in the midst of it. You know the type: the woman that dusts the windowsills and gets very upset when flower-holders are installed that get in her way. She makes everyone miserable while congratulating herself on the faithfulness of her service to God. Or how about the man that has read the Scriptures at church every third Sunday for 19 years, and now can’t cope with a change in the placement of his chair, or the Bible translation he is to read?

If you are starting to be active in the Church, through lectoring, singing, teaching, or whatever, you would be wise to consider the bad example of so many and begin to pray earnestly to avoid the pitfalls of Church service.

Many priests, nuns and brothers take vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. These are known collectively as the Evangelical Counsels, because the Gospel recommends them. A married friend of mine, married a very long time, says that we all take these vows: Poverty because we can’t have everything we want, Chastity because we can’t have all the pleasures we want, and Obedience because none of us can do everything we want. Lay people sometimes have problems relating to these counsels, though, so I would like to suggest another three that can be derived from Scripture, and will help us serve our brothers and sisters in the Church without succumbing to the temptations of “”Church work.””

Humility

Worldly people often sneer at monks, priests and nuns and say “”That’s easy for them! They don’t have to fight for their bread every day like us!”” As lay people, we can take pride in our accomplishments and think that we are tougher than people who have “”escaped the world.”” We can begin to consider ourselves as more important than others, and more capable of dealing with the “”hard realities of life.”” This is called Pride, the worst sin of all.

If we work in the Church, we may be tempted to examine the importance of what we do relative to the work of others in the Church. We may begin to think that we “”own”” the ministry we are engaged in. Even our pastor may be afraid to dislodge us, because he needs the help, and doesn’t want to lose us. We may become petty tyrants over altar cloth or prayer services. We may even lose sight of our Lord in our obsession with His work.

In humility, we do not minimize our work, but we do evaluate it in the “”big picture.”” If we are successful in business, we may realize that we have a duty to be fair and honest as a witness to the worldly. In humility, we acknowledge that the cloistered brothers and sisters support us by their prayers constantly, as they pray for the whole Church. We offer our help humbly, to the Church, to the young people starting out in business, to our customers. We remember that all good comes from God, and that He can take it away, too. We are stewards of the money we receive, and we must spend it as God desires, not just for our own entertainment.

Performing Church work with humility brings joy to us and to others. We take pleasure in knowing that our pastors or other leaders can ask us to change times, locations, methods or duties without worrying about our reaction. “”Remember that he whom you serve is the Lord.”” This does not mean that we never say “”no””, but that “”no”” comes from a good reason, not from pride or habit. We may feel that a change in the time of our service would impact our family in a bad way, or that some practice will be irreverent. Honest and open communication in a spirit of Love really works among holy people. If you are not blessed with holy leaders, do the best you can. Whenever possible, “”defer to one another out of reverence for Christ.””

Humility puts us in a right relation to God and others. This is an essential starting point for service in the Church.

More: Padre Quadrupani

Obedience

A good question when buying a car: ask the salesperson what kind of car they drive. If they won’t buy the brand they sell; why not?

Any Catholic that works in any kind of ministry is engaging in a kind of teaching ministry. The Eucharistic Ministers teach the sanctity and importance of the Eucharist, and testify to the Real Presence. Altar servers teach the sanctity of the Mass, as do the singers, altar society and ushers. Those that work to help the homeless or that protest abortion teach us about the sanctity of life. Every Christian action in ministry is the Church fulfilling its role as herald of the Truth.

Once we commit ourselves to humility, we know that God makes demands of us, and that we are subject to the teaching of the Church founded by Jesus Christ. If we do not obey Church teaching, and are not repentant, we are not good servants, and still have pride. Like the car salesperson, if we won’t live the teachings of the Church we claim to work for, we are hypocrites, saying one thing and doing another. Of course, we may say the Church is wrong, but then we are spreading doubt, not faith, because if we say we know better in our twenty or forty years than the Church does in all the Saints and ages, why should anyone put faith in any of it? Like so many parents say as the children wander about at the open door: “”In or out, in or out!””

Get a copy of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, and read it. If anything bothers you, study and search for an answer. Try hard to accept it. Talk to a priest, or several people that you know have given the matter thought and can express themselves clearly. Mail me if you have to, but keep knocking until you get an answer you can live with!

As any parent knows, obedience is difficult to develop. We have strong wills. Pray for the humility to be obedient.

Charity

Once we are on the road to humility, and are committed to obeying the teachings of the Church, charity (also known as love) becomes possible. Without humility, we may invent our own kind of (self-serving) love. Without obedience, our love will be lost for lack of a shepherd. In humility, we accept God’s definition of Love. In obedience, we commit to carrying out the demands of Love. Love perfects zeal, brings endurance and oils the parts of the Church, which is us. In love, we can bear patiently the faults of others. Love is a great power, and allows us to serve God through others past the point of exhaustion. A life filled with God’s Love is a great light to the world, and draws many people to Jesus.

A life of service rendered to God’s people in Humility, Obedience and Charity will be truly fertile: attended by conversions, beauty and joy. Why would anyone desire less?

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Natural Law

The background for this question is rather lengthy and due to the fact that I think in absolutes, could I get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to the following question? When you are born, has God given you the ability to know the difference between right and wrong? Thanks

Hi, thanks for writing. Yes. Now the explanation, even though you only wanted yes or no: The ability isn’t developed, of course, and neither the intellect nor the body have matured to the point where there is a capacity for sin. This is strictly my opinion, of course. The Church does consider both intellect and will, though, and the will is fully formed in any human, although it may “”change”” over time. Out of curiosity, have you been considering an Original Sin question? Your original question is usually related to this topic.

Good evening, Sorry for the delay in responding. Sunday is my first day of work ( I only have to work half a day….midnight till noon. ) then no work until Wednesday. Anyway on to your Inquiry and where I was coming from. My wife and I were having a discussion, (That’s how it started anyway) about a baby put up for adoption and it’s chances in life regardless of whether the child’s parentage included MBA’s or crack heads. My wife’s spin on this was that you are in essence a victim (My word, not hers) of your environment and upbringing. At this point I should have just smiled and agreed, not in my nature I guess, so I had to throw in about children coming from good homes and turning out evil and ghetto kids rising up and making something of themselves regardless of surroundings. Should I have stopped at that point? Probably, but I went on to say that God has instilled to you at birth the knowledge to know the difference between right and wrong, without this you couldn’t ever make a choice between taking the high road or stumbling along blind. At this point she called into play my parenting skill (that hurt a lot) and asked ‘What are parents for then if children already know the difference’. Too late, by then I was hurt and angry and feeling no need to argue my point. So Ed, boxing up your Original Sin question I do believe that my original question would relate. Hey, when I can sit down and compose my thought on the matter I have a question about Age of Accountability. Thanks for your time.

Hi, thanks for writing back. A quick review of some Catholic theology: in humans, we look at two aspects of human nature, the will and the intellect. The will does not exist as a material object, it is spiritual and is the closest thing to our ‘self’. The intellect, though, is material, and develops over time. The will directs the intellect somewhat, and the intellect informs the will. In time, the will seems to take a kind of ‘orientation’, and the intellect (hopefully) grows and sharpens. There has been the old discussion of ‘nature vs. nurture’, but this doesn’t really take God’s help into account, unless we count it as nurture. To complicate matters, we have no immediate (in the sense of ‘non-mediated’) experience of anybody, including God. All nurture is through the media of language, touch, sight, sound, etc… Our only immediate experience is of ourselves. So, what you were describing is called “”Natural Law,”” and it is an ancient idea. Here is a good link, by the way: http://www.christusrex.org/www1/CDHN/salve.html#NATURAL So in this sense, we are predisposed to know and desire the good, but we lack the intellectual development at birth. In other words, the intellect is not sufficiently developed to inform the will. This is where parenting comes in: the parents take the place of intellect and may even override the will of a child. Done correctly, parenting slowly turns over the control of the child to the child. For instance, at five, I might compel my child to eat green beans, but at some later age, it would be inappropriate. In my case, much of my training at a young age was bad, but I had a sense that something was wrong. When I found another way to live, I took it. This could be an example of how we can turn out better than expected. On the other hand, there are so many temptations, and a child raised well may choose comfort or wealth over virtue. And this illustrates another problem: along with issues of parenting and environment, the world is full of wonderful things like food, sex and play, and these things can be abused in the pursuit of pleasure. This is a far too simple explanation of a very complex reality, but perhaps you can find something useful in it. This sort of information has been very useful in raising our six children, and it is what I’ve tried to teach them as they grew, along with a couple thousand other necessary things. Please do write anytime, I enjoy thinking and writing about this. Peace, Ed

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Third Sunday in Easter


Third Sunday in Easter


 


Acts 2:14,22-28                       Peter boldly proclaims the Resurrection


 


1 Peter 1:17-21                       Conduct yourselves reverently; you have been delivered


 


Luke 24:13-35             Disciples recognize him in the breaking of the bread


 


Called to be the Body of Christ


Since we are called to be the Body of Christ, we are like the Eucharist for the whole world.  Through our presence, peace and unity should come.  We fail in our task to the degree that we are not changed into the Body of Christ.


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


Reflection on Eucharistic Prayer III


Find a part of this prayer that symbolizes part of your life as a Christian.  Meditate on this with your sponsor, and then share with the group if you wish.


 


 


 


 


The Rightly Formed Conscience


Spiritual growth requires prayer and discipline.  In prayer, we beg God to make us like Jesus.  Spiritual discipline frees us from distractions to prayer, and keeps our spiritual senses attuned to God.  A rightly formed conscience allows us to tell the difference between what we want to hear God say, and what God is truly saying to us.


 


A rightly formed conscience is available to everyone, and is not a matter of intellect.  If you think you know the right thing to do in most situations, and can’t understand why the Church teaches differently than you believe, you don’t have a rightly formed conscience.  If you genuinely believe that you have a reason to disobey Church teaching, and are absolutely sure you are right, you don’t have a rightly formed conscience (but you do have a problem with the sin of pride).  Part of a rightly formed conscience is to always know that we are more likely to make an error in our judgement than the Pope and Bishops (the Magisterium, which means “teaching ones”).  We have no individual infallibility in matters of faith and morals, as the Magisterium does, and so we must trust the authentic teaching of the Church when we disagree with it.  This requires a powerful act of faith, especially when we must give up something we want in order to submit to the teaching of the Church.


 


More information on the rightly formed conscience


In the Catechism, look at:


1776, 1778 (Newman), 1779 – 1802


2240, 2242, 2243


 




Father, you are holy indeed,


and all creation rightly gives you praise.


All life, all holiness comes from you


through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,


by the working of the Holy Spirit.


 




From age to age you gather a people to yourself,


so that from east to west


a perfect offering may be made


to the glory of your name.


 




And so, Father, we bring you these gifts.


We ask you to make them holy
by the power of your Spirit,


that they may become the body = and blood


of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,


at whose command we celebrate this eucharist.


 




On the night he was betrayed,


he took bread and gave you thanks and praise.


He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:


Take this, all of you, and eat it:


this is my body which will be given up for you.


When supper was ended, he took the cup.


Again he gave you thanks and praise,


gave the cup to his disciples and said:


Take this, all of you, and drink from it:


this is the cup of my blood,


the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.


It will be shed for you and for all


so that sins may be forgiven.


Do this in memory of me.


 


(Memorial Acclamation)


 




Father, calling to mind the death your Son endured for our salvation,


his glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven,


and ready to greet him when he comes again,


we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.


 




Look with favor on your Church’s offering,


and see the Victim whise death has reconciled us to yourself.


Grant that we, who are nourished by His body and blood,


may be filled with his Holy Spirit,


and become one body, one spirit in Christ.


 




May he make us an everlasting gift to you


and enable us to share in the inheritance of your saints,


with Mary, the virgin Mother of God;


with the apostles, the martyrs,


and all your saints,


on whose constant intercession we rely for help.


 




Lord, may this sacrifice,


which has made our peace with you,


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The Crusades

Here is an entry on the Crusades from Funk & Wagnalls, 1995.  It is important to remember the time in which this occurred.  From the point of view of a pope at this time, to have Jerusalem attacked and taken by the Turks would have been horrible.


 


Interestingly, St. Francis lived at the same time as the Fifth Crusade, when it was very much in decline.  He hoped to convert Muslims to Christianity in order to make the Crusades unnecessary or be martyred, but achieved neither.  At least one sultan converted after seeing Francis’ faith, but the conduct of the Crusaders sickened Francis and he returned to Italy with great sorrow.  This was also the time of St Thomas Aquinas, who used reason, rather than force, against the Albigensian heresy.  From the point of view of a non-believer, heresy is a disagreement, and for the Church to act against it is evil or repressive.  But for those who believe in Jesus, the Albingensian idea that both Christians and Jews are followers of Satan is a bit much, and would not lead to a healthy situation in any country.  Interestingly, there are many Albigensianism (Gnosticism) ideas in the New Age movement.  Note that while the Albigensians dismissed Christianity, they did claim to follow Christ.  They believed that Christ was not truly man, though, since they regarded the body as evil.


 


My comments, where they appear, are in italics.


 


Ed


 


 


Crusades, military expeditions undertaken by Western European Christians between 1095 and 1270, usually at the request of the pope, to recover Jerusalem and the other Palestinian places of pilgrimage known to Christians as the Holy Land from Muslim control. The name crusade (from Latin, “cross,” the emblem of the Crusaders) was also applied, especially in the 13th century, to wars against pagan peoples, Christian heretics, and political foes of the papacy.


 


Background


The origin of the Crusades is rooted in the political upheaval that resulted from the expansion of the Seljuk Turks in the Middle East in the mid-11th century. The conquest of Syria and Palestine by the Muslim Seljuks alarmed the Western Christians. Other Turkish invaders also penetrated deep into the Christian Byzantine Empire and subjected many Greek, Syrian, and Armenian Christians to their rule. The Crusades were, in part, a reaction to these events. They were also the result of ambitious popes who sought to extend their political and religious power. Crusading armies were, in a sense, the military arm of papal policy.


Beyond all this, the Crusades coincided with a time of dramatic growth of European population and commercial activity. The Crusades provided an area of expansion to accommodate part of this growing population. They also offered an outlet for the ambitions of land-hungry knights and noblemen. At the same time, the expeditions offered rich commercial opportunities to the merchants of the growing cities of the West, particularly the Italian cities of Genoa, Pisa, and Venice.


Crusading thus had a broad appeal to numerous Europeans. Some went on Crusades out of greed, some out of religious fervor; almost all Crusaders sought adventure, and many of them believed that their participation would virtually guarantee personal salvation.


 


The First Crusade


The Crusades began formally on Tuesday, November 27, 1095, in a field just outside the walls of the French city of Clermont-Ferrand. On that day Pope Urban II preached a sermon to crowds of laypeople and clergy attending a church council at Clermont. In his sermon, the pope outlined a plan for a Crusade and called on his listeners to join its ranks. The response was positive and overwhelming. Pope Urban then commissioned the bishops at the council to return to their homes and to enlist others in the Crusade. He also outlined a basic strategy: Individual groups of Crusaders would begin the journey in August 1096. Each group would be self-financing and responsible to its own leader. The groups would make their separate ways to the Byzantine capital, Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), where they would meet. From there, they would launch a counterattack against the Seljuk conquerors of Anatolia along with the Byzantine emperor and his army. Once that region was under Christian control, the Crusaders would campaign against the Muslims in Syria and Palestine, with Jerusalem as their ultimate goal.


 


The Crusading Armies


In broad outline the First Crusade conformed to the scheme envisioned by the pope. Recruitment went forward vigorously during the remainder of 1095 and the early months of 1096. Five major armies of noblemen ultimately assembled in late summer, 1096, to set out on the Crusade. The majority were from France, but significant numbers also came from southern Italy and the regions of Lorraine, Burgundy, and Flanders.


The pope had not foreseen the popular enthusiasm that his Crusade aroused among nonnoble townspeople and peasantry. Alongside the Crusade of the nobility a popular one materialized among the common people. The largest and most important group of popular Crusaders was recruited and led by a Picard preacher known as Peter the Hermit. Although the participants in the popular Crusade were numerous, only a tiny fraction of them ever succeeded in reaching the Middle East; even fewer survived to see the ultimate triumph of the Crusade at Jerusalem.


 


The Conquest of Anatolia


The armies of Crusading nobles arrived at Constantinople beginning in November 1096 and continuing through May 1097. The Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus pressured the Crusaders into turning over to him any former Byzantine territory that they captured. The leaders resented these demands, and although most of them ultimately complied, they became suspicious of the Byzantines.


In May 1097, the Crusaders attacked their first major target, the Anatolian Turkish capital at Nicaea (modern Iznik, Turkey). In June the city surrendered to the Byzantines, rather than the Crusaders. This confirmed the latter’s suspicions that Alexius intended to use the Crusaders as pawns in order to achieve his own goals.


Shortly after the fall of Nicaea, the Crusaders encountered the principal Seljuk field army of Anatolia at Dorylaeum (Eskisehir). On July 1, 1097, the Crusaders scored a great victory there and nearly annihilated the Turkish force. As a result the Crusaders met little resistance during the rest of their campaign in Asia Minor. The next major obstacle was the city of Antioch in northern Syria (now Antakya, Turkey). The Crusaders besieged the city on October 21, 1097, but it did not fall until June 3, 1098. No sooner had the Crusaders taken Antioch than they were attacked by a fresh Turkish army from Al Mawsil, which arrived just too late to relieve Antioch’s Turkish defenders. The Crusaders repulsed the relief force on June 28.


 


The Capture of Jerusalem


Resting at Antioch for the remainder of the summer and early fall, the Crusaders set out on the final leg of their journey in late November 1098. Now they avoided attacks on cities and fortified positions in order to conserve their forces. In May 1099 the Crusaders reached the northern borders of Palestine; on the evening of June 7 they camped within sight of Jerusalem’s walls.


The city was at this point under Egyptian control; its defenders were numerous and well prepared for a siege. The Crusaders attacked briskly. With the aid of reinforcements from Genoa and newly constructed siege machines, they took Jerusalem by storm on July 15; they then massacred virtually every inhabitant. In the Crusaders’ view, the city was purified in the blood of the defeated infidels.


A week later the army elected one of its leaders, Godfrey of Bouillon, duke of Lower Lorraine, to rule the newly won city. Under his leadership the army then fought its last campaign, defeating an Egyptian army at Ascalon (now Ashqelon, Israel) on August 12. Soon afterward the great majority of the Crusaders returned to Europe, leaving Godfrey and a small remnant of the original force to organize a government and to establish Latin (Western European) control over the conquered territories.


 


The High Tide of Latin Power in the East


In the aftermath of the First Crusade, Latin colonists in the Levant established four states. The largest and most powerful of these was the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. To the north of that kingdom lay the tiny county of Tripoli on the Syrian coast. Beyond Tripoli was the principality of Antioch, centered in the Orontes Valley. Farthest east was the county of Edessa, largely populated by Armenian Christians.


The victories of the First Crusade were in large part due to the isolation and relative weakness of the Muslim powers. The generation after the First Crusade, however, saw the beginning of Muslim reunification in the Middle East under the leadership of Imad ad-Din Zangi, ruler of Al Mawsil and Halab. Under Zangi, the Muslim forces scored their first major victory against the Crusaders by taking the city of Edessa in 1144 and then systematically dismantling the Crusader state in that region.


 The papacy’s response to these events was to proclaim the Second Crusade late in 1145. The new expedition attracted numerous recruits, among them the king of France, Louis VII, and the Holy Roman emperor, Conrad III. Conrad’s German army set out for Jerusalem from Nuremberg, Germany, in May 1147. The French forces followed about a month later. In Anatolia the Germans fell into an ambush, from which only a few escaped. The French army was more fortunate, but it also suffered serious casualties during the journey, and only part of the original force reached Jerusalem in 1148. In consultation with King Baldwin III of Jerusalem and his nobles, the Crusaders decided to attack Damascus in July. The expedition failed to take the city, however, and shortly after the collapse of this attack the French king and the remains of his army returned home.


 


Saladin and the Third Crusade


The failure of the Second Crusade left the Muslim powers free to regroup. Zangi had died in 1146, but his successor, Nur ad-Din, was able to expand his realm into a major power in the Middle East. In 1169 his forces, under the command of Saladin, took control of Egypt. When Nur ad-Din died five years later, Saladin succeeded him as ruler of a Muslim state that stretched from the Libyan Desert to the Tigris Valley and surrounded the remaining Crusader states on three fronts. After a series of crises during the 1180s, Saladin finally invaded the kingdom of Jerusalem in force in May 1187. On July 4 he decisively defeated the Latin army at Hittin in Galilee. In the aftermath of this victory, Saladin swept through most of the Crusader strongholds in the kingdom of Jerusalem. Jerusalem itself surrendered to him on October 2. At this point the only major city still in Crusader hands was Tyre in Lebanon.


On October 29, 1187, Pope Gregory VIII proclaimed the Third Crusade. Western enthusiasm for the plan was widespread, and three major European monarchs enlisted in its ranks: the Holy Roman emperor, Frederick I; the French king, Philip II; and the English king, Richard I. The kings and their numerous followers constituted the largest Crusading force that had taken the field since 1095, but the outcome of all this effort was meager. Frederick died in Anatolia while on his way to the Holy Land, and most of his army returned to Germany immediately following his death. Although both Philip and Richard reached Palestine with their armies intact, they were unable to recapture Jerusalem or much of the former territory of the Latin Kingdom. They did succeed, however, in wresting from Saladin control of a chain of cities along the Mediterranean coast. By October 1192, when Richard finally left Palestine, the Latin Kingdom had been reconstituted. Smaller than the original kingdom and considerably weaker militarily and economically, the second kingdom lasted precariously for another century.


 


The Later Crusades


No subsequent Crusade achieved anything like the military success of the Third Crusade. The fourth one, which lasted from 1202 to 1204, was plagued by financial difficulties. In an effort to alleviate these, the leaders agreed to a plan to attack Constantinople in concert with the Venetians and a pretender to the Byzantine throne. The Crusaders succeeded in taking Constantinople, which they then plundered shamelessly. The Latin Empire of Constantinople, created by this Crusade, survived for less than 60 years and contributed nothing to the defense of the Holy Land.


In 1208, Pope Innocent III proclaimed a Crusade against the Albigenses, a religious sect in southern France. The ensuing Crusade was the first to be fought in Western Europe. Lasting from 1209 to 1229, the Crusade caused much bloodshed and the Christians failed to bring the Albigenses under their control.


The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) began with the taking of the Egyptian seaport of Damietta in 1219. The strategy called for an attack on Egypt, the capture of Cairo, and then a campaign to secure control of the Sinai Peninsula. Implementation of this strategy, however, fell short of the goal. The attack on Cairo was abortive, and promised reinforcements failed to materialize. In August 1221 the Crusaders were forced to surrender Damietta to the Egyptians, and the expedition broke up.


 


Frederick II


The Crusade of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II differed in approach from all the others. Frederick vowed to lead a Crusade in 1215 and renewed his pledge in 1220, but for domestic political reasons kept postponing his departure. Under pressure from Pope Gregory IX, Frederick and his army finally sailed from Italy in August 1227, but returned to port within a few days because Frederick had fallen ill. The pope, outraged at this further delay, promptly excommunicated the emperor. Undaunted, Frederick embarked for the Holy Land in June 1228. There he conducted his unconventional Crusade almost entirely by diplomatic negotiations with the Egyptian sultan Al-Kamil. These negotiations produced a peace treaty by which the Egyptians restored Jerusalem to the Crusaders and guaranteed a 10-year respite from hostilities. Despite this achievement, Frederick was shunned as an excommunicate by both the clergy and the lay leaders of the Latin states. At the same time, the pope had proclaimed a Crusade against Frederick, raised an army, and proceeded to attack the emperor’s Italian possessions. Frederick returned to the West to cope with this threat in May 1229.


 


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Catholic Doctrine Survey


Catholic Doctrine Survey


 


From the NCD†, Chapter V


† National Catechetical Directory, “Sharing the Light of Faith”, from the United States Catholic Conference


Copyright 1998 William E. Rushman http://www.primenet.com/~rshmnw rshmnw@primenet.com


 


This is not a test, but a survey of your knowledge of basic Catholic teachings.  There is no score and it is not corrected.  If you are unsure of the answer, please put something, and then share your questions with your teacher, sponsor, spiritual director, or pastor.  Another suggestion is to look in the new “Catechism of the Catholic Church.”


 


Part I


Choose the answer you think is most correct, although more than one of the answers may be correct.





1.   The Trinity is


      A)  A mystery.


      B)  Three persons in one God.


      C)  Our three Gods.


      D)  Jesus, Mary and Joseph.


 


2.   God is


      A)  all-good.


      B)  just and merciful.


      C)  infinitely wise.


      D)  perfect.            


      E)   All of the above.


 


3.   The universe was


      A)  always here.


      B)  made from cosmic dust.


      C)  created by God out of nothing.


      D)  created and destroyed over and over again.


 


4.   Why were we made?


      A)  So God would have worshipers.


      B)  So we could be glorified in Jesus Christ.


      C)  To know, love and serve God.


      D)  God was lonely.


 


5.   Generally, we come to know God through


      A)  human reasoning.


      B)  visions and ecstatic prayer.


      C)  through created things and people.


      D)  A & C.


 


6.   Our final goal must be


      A)  Heaven and the vision of God.


      B)  Faith in God.


      C)  Union with God.


      D)  To be rewarded for our good acts.


      E)   Other.


 


7.   Jesus became human


      A)  through Mary.


      B)  in appearance only.


      C)  just like everyone else.


      D)  once, but isn’t now.


 


8.   Jesus is


      A)  dead.


      B)  a great moral teacher.


      C)  the only means of salvation.


      D)  a man like us in all things.


 


9.   Jesus came to


      A)  judge us.


      B)  teach us.


      C)  save us.


      D)  save the good people only.


 


10. Jesus will


      A)  come again to judge us.


      B)  wait for us in Heaven.


      C)  punish our enemies.


      D)  come again to take us to Heaven.


 


11. Jesus is


      A)  both fully human and fully God.


      B)  a man who became God.


      C)  God, not a man at all.


      D)  only human, not God.


 


12. We


      A)  can’t be like Jesus.


      B)  are supposed to be “little Christs.”


      C)  must learn the words of Jesus.


      D)  are to live as Jesus lived.


 


13. The Holy Spirit


      A)  continues the work of Jesus in the world.


      B)  keeps us from getting sick.


      C)  saves us.


Read More

3rd Sunday in Advent


Today’s Readings:


Isaiah 35:1-6,10                    Those redeemed by the Lord will have everlasting joy


 


James 5:7-10                         Be patient in waiting for the Lord’s coming, like the prophets


 


Matthew 11:2-11                  John the Baptist: a prophet indeed, and something more!


 


Reflection:


 


Jesus does not merely praise John the Baptist; he states his role as more than a prophet.  John not only called people to repentance as the Old Testament prophets did; his role was to prepare the way for Jesus and identify him as the Messiah.  When James says to be patient in waiting for Jesus to return, he points to the example of the prophets, the last of which is John the Baptist.  What did John do while waiting for Jesus to appear?


 


·        He lived a life of ascetic discipline, praying and fasting in a desert place.  Historians tell us that a group of very dedicated Jews, called Essenes, were active at the time of John, and were probably involved with the Dead Sea Scrolls.  They were something like monks, in that they did live in community and devoted themselves to prayer and study of the Scriptures.


·        He spoke God’s word to the people without reserve.  When King Herod sinned with his brother’s wife, John reprimanded him publicly, a dangerous thing to do.  John was uncompromising with the Pharisees, too.  When they came to him to be baptized, he challenged them to really reform, and not just make another show of it, which they were known to do.  John’s approach in this area is reminiscent of the Judges of Israel, to whom the people went to find out what God expected of them.  The soldiers, tax collectors and ordinary people went to him for guidance.  He told them to be fair and just, to be honest and share what they had with the poor.


·        John pointed out Jesus to the crowds at the Baptism of the Lord, but he also told his own disciples privately, including Andrew, who became an Apostle.  When his friends worried that Jesus was becoming more popular, John expressed his joy in his role as “best man” for the wedding of Jesus and the Church.


·        Humility.  “What you suppose me to me I am not.”  John openly declared that he was not the Messiah.  When the ministry of Jesus was under way, John sent his disciples away to follow him.  When people protested to John that Jesus’ disciples were baptizing more people, he said that he had the joy of a “best man” that could hear the voice of the Bridegroom.


 




Activity:


Group 1:


Personal holiness: The Catechism cites lax ascetical practice as one of the causes for sin (2733).  The call to holiness causes much conflict in Christian discussion groups, because many feel it is an unreasonable expectation.  They try to reason it away.  In the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, the Church clearly repeats the call of Jesus for us to be “perfect.”  Remember that the people listened to John because he was known to be holy.  A few related Scriptures:


Mark 2:21-                       “No man pours new wine into old wineskins.”  Conversion!


Matthew 24:44-                “Happy that servant whom his master discovers at work on his return!  But if the servant is worthless…”


Matthew 5:29-                  “If your right eye is your trouble, gouge it out!”


Group 2:


Stand up for what is right:  Many Church teachings go against popular wisdom or what is considered good in our society.  In the past, out-of-control profit-seeking caused poisoning of the air and water.  Slavery  existed for hundreds of years in “Christian” countries.  Today, the murder of babies is considered a “right” by our government.  Christians are ridiculed for opposing pornography and sexual perversion.  The Church must proclaim the truth, and we are the Church.  If we don’t feel we should be public witnesses to the teachings of the Church, then perhaps we don’t really believe it.


Some related Scriptures:


James 5:19-20                  “…the person who brings a sinner back from his way will save his soul from death and cancel a multitude of sins.”


Matthew 18:15-18            “If your brother should commit some wrong against you, go and point out his fault.”


1 Timothy 6:17                 “Tell those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be proud…  Charge them to do good…”


Titus 3:10                         “Warn a heretic once and then a second time; after that, have nothing to do with him.”


Group 3:


Evangelize.  While we are waiting for Jesus, do we point the way for others? Are we “the light of the world?”  Do our lives show the power and benefits of the Church’s teaching, or do our friends see us do things they know the Church preaches against?  Every time we sin publicly (even just with one other person), we have “un-evangelized” others.  Before we excuse ourselves from having to “behave like a Saint,” think about the following:


Matthew 5:13-                  “You are the light of the world.”
“You are the salt of the earth.”


Matthew 5:20                   “Unless your holiness surpasses that of the Pharisees you shall not enter the kingdom of God.”


Matthew 5:29-                  “If your right eye is your trouble, gouge it out!”


Matthew 5:44                   “Love your enemies…  You must be made perfect.”


Group 4:


Humility.  He must increase, I must decrease. 


Do we try to have “disciples?” 


Do we want to hold on to our friends tightly, even in defiance of God? 


Are we as joyful as John when our friends put Jesus ahead of us? 


Perhaps someone in this group can briefly relate the story of Philemon, Paul and Onesimus, where Philemon lost a slave, but gained a brother.
Group 1:


Many of us were taught things by our parents and society through word and example that are contrary to Church teaching.  Discuss (briefly) how this is true for you for the Church’s teaching in the catechism:


2110, 2111, 2113, 2115 -2117, cf.      Superstition represents a perverse excess of religion.  Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading and the wearing of charms… contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.  All practices of magic and sorcery are likewise gravely contrary to the virtue of religion.


 


2180    On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.


 


For the catechumen, will you accept and support this teaching?  This means will you empty out what you have been taught if it conflicts with this.


 


Group 2:


Many of us were taught things by our parents and society through word and example that are contrary to Church teaching.  Discuss (briefly) how this is true for you for the Church’s teaching in the catechism:


2272    Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.  The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life.  A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication by the very commission of the offense…  The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy.  Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.


 


For the catechumen, will you accept and support this teaching?  This means will you empty out what you have been taught if it conflicts with this.


 


Group 3:


Many of us were taught things by our parents and society through word and example that are contrary to Church teaching.  Discuss (briefly) how this is true for you for the Church’s teaching in the catechism:


2349, 2350, 2353, 2364,  cf.   Unmarried persons may not engage expressions of affection that belong to married love.  Those that are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence.  Adultery is a mortal sin.


 


For the catechumen, will you accept and support this teaching?  This means will you empty out what you have been taught if it conflicts with this.


 


Group 4:


Many of us were taught things by our parents and society through word and example that are contrary to Church teaching.  Discuss (briefly) how this is true for you for the Church’s teaching in the catechism:


2368, 2370,  cf.           …Every action which… proposes… to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.


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