Tag Archives: Apologetics

Saints Peter and Paul

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Most of us Americans picture the early Christians of Rome being physically underground but spiritually free. Then, everything changed in 313 when Constantine’s edict of Milan reversed the course of history, allowing Christians to be physically “above-ground” but spiritually oppressed by the Emperor and Pope who inadvertently became strange bedfellows. The idea of the pre-edict-of-Milan Christians being “more free” is attractive to the American Protestant way of thinking precisely because of the separation of Church and State and preference to reject authority making demands upon one’s own personal way of worship.  1

But those who come to this conclusion are now realizing that the premise must be true. And the premise is essentially the million dollar question of early Church history: Was the hierarchical Church and charismatic Church separate in her very earliest days in Rome? If separate, it means that we Catholics have Apostolic Succession but the Protestants have the Holy Spirit. If united, it means Catholics have both. Why? Because the earliest saints in all of their ecstasies, miracles and tongues would have been subject to their bishop who was either in Rome or in union with Rome.

The funny thing is that this question may sometimes be personified in the life of St. Peter and St. Paul. In most people’s minds, St. Peter represents the hierarchy where St. Paul represents love. Protestants will hesitatingly admit that Peter lives in an unbroken line of Popes (as long as they first point out that Paul corrected him in Galatians.) The Catholic response becomes: “Ok, you guys got St. Paul but we got St. Peter!” (This is essentially “You guys have the charisms but we have the Magisterium.”)

Stop reading my blog if I ever turn my blog posts into a travel log, but I sincerely believe the answer to this question comes from an archeological find.  I was directed to this find by others, and I made it a point to visit a certain location as I spent Holy Week 2016 in Rome (and Easter Week on the coast of Italy.  Yes, it’s hard to be a priest in exile.)  I think the answer to the “million dollar question” is found in a small building called St. Pudens, located less than a kilometer away from the enormous St. Mary Major.  St. Pudens is sunken, as it is surrounded by a Rome that has been rebuilt around her several times.  I took this picture from ground level:

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This first century building was the home of a Roman senator named Pudens. After being converted by St. Peter or St. Paul, he was baptized as can be seen from this painting inside his “home,” attended to in his baptism by none other than the juggernaut Apostles Peter and Paul:

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He turned his home into a home-Church, as a staging area for the electrifying Christianity of both St. Peter and St. Paul. As Rome became the Central Nervous System for all of Christianity, Peter and Paul needed a influential bridge to the empire and the people. This was fulfilled by Senator Pudens (later St. Pudens in the Catholic Church.)  In fact, Pudens was so important to early Christianity that the Apostle Paul mentions him in his second letter to Timothy:

Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers.  The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”—2 Tim 4:21

What this reveals is that the Roman Church was united in her hierarchy and charisms.  This senator-become-saint in his home-become-Church remains a physical symbol of the spiritual union between the hierarchical and charismatic Church. Yes, St. Pudens is dwarfed by the enormous St. Peter’s Church in the distance of the Vatican, but Pudens is still an active parish, containing the relic of the wood upon which St. Peter offered not his first Mass but rather his first Mass in Rome as seen in the first picture below. 2

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Yes, this Church is still a functioning parish of the diocese of Rome! It is mostly Vietnamese today.  There is a painting above the altar of Pudens with Peter and Paul:

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Yes, Paul corrected Peter in Galatians, but this does not mean they were not dear friends!  If you have ever known any middle-easterners, you know that they could yell at each other and still take a bullet for each other.  It is we who have the broken culture in thinking that a silent-backstabbing is better than an honest disagreement.   The hierarchical and charismatic Church remained beautifully united in Saints Peter and Paul,commemorating a first century relationship of brotherly love, respect and evangelization of Peter, Paul and Pudens.

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I have been to Rome about five times, but I haven’t been there in seven years. I arrived with the hopes of finding St. Pudens, but ignoring St. Peter’s as if in a lover’s quarrel with the Vatican. (I literally was afraid to look at the Vatican with all the stuff coming out of it these day.) But that first night in Rome, when my priest friend and I came around the corner and saw the Vatican lit up at night, I literally fell to my knees at the sight of it, praising and thanking God for the Church.

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I know Christ tells us to not be seen praying in public, but it was dark that night on the Tiber and few could see me. Kneeling, I asked my Australian priest friend (who studies there in Rome) if I could pray for the Church there for a minute. He said yes and put his hand on my shoulder. I had definitely not planned on this. That enormous, glorious building—that I had planned on not looking at as if pouting—completely overwhelmed me with the sense of the glory of 250+ Popes and martyrs shining through it and all around it that night. I felt God transmitting to me a confidence in His Church in an overwhelming feeling of His power.

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We returned home, but the priest with whom I stayed in Rome had a spectacular view of the whole city from his roof at night. This overwhelming feeling of God’s power strangely continued every time I went up the roof over those two weeks to pray whenever I looked at St. Peter’s, alit. Every time I looked at the shimmering shining solid St. Peter’s at night, I did not see an individual Pope like I thought I would “see.” I “saw” my bride, adorned with the blood of thousands of Roman men and women who died—in some sense—for me to have the fullness of Faith. I saw that building every dark Roman night like a New Jerusalem already on earth, transcending certain individuals with the Faith that I love so much, uniting Apostolic Succession and extraordinary charisms in her saints, charged with the very glory of the crucifixion.

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  1. In fact, Protestant Biblical scholar Elaine Pagels pointed out in 1981 that early Gnostic communities believed that “one’s own experience offers the ultimate criterion of the truth, taking precedent over all secondhand testimony and all tradition.” This was quoted by Kathleen Kautzer in her book (and pay attention to this title) “The Underground Church: Nonviolent Resistance to the Vatican Empire.”  This should set the stage for the false-dichotomy tackled in this post.

  2. The second picture below is the plaque next to the relic.  My best attempt at a translation is: “In this temple, St. Pudens was the first host of St. Peter, prince of the Apostles, whose Christian faithful approach to receive the most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.”  You can email me any corrections if my Latin is off.  

St. John of the Cross and The Buddha

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The above picture is a remake of the spiritual life as drawn and described by the greatest ascetical theologian of the past millennium, St. John of the Cross. St. John of the Cross was a 16th century Carmelite whose feast day we celebrate today in the TLM (a couple weeks out in the new calendar.)

If you look at that picture (which is hard to see but phenomenal if you can expand it) you will see that the man or woman who sets out to seek God is called to a narrow path that not only despises any earthly attachments that prevent union with God, but also despises any self-centered heavenly attachments that keep one from God. If one succeeds, one arrives “upon this mountain where dwells only the glory and honor of God.” Not to sound emotional, but I get chills in what it says before that point: “eternal invitation.” In other words, St. John of the Cross believed that God would admit us to the heights of union not only in heaven but also on earth.

But this was only for those who went by the rare path, which (in the above picture) reads nada, nada, nada. As you know, that means nothing, nothing, nothing. That means no candy bars and it means means no spiritual pride for those who want to arrive at the flame of living love upon Mount Carmel. Nothing means nothing except God. God alone. Soli Deo.

To some Catholics in the past 50 years, nada sounded like Buddhism. Why? Two reasons. First, because the third Noble Truth of Buddhism is that suffering can be extinguished by extinguishing desires. At first blanche, they didn’t seem too far off: St. John of the Cross also proposed a way of total extinction of unruly desires. The second similarity is that Nirvana means nothingness.  Nirvana is the ultimate goal of the Buddhist who has taken the spiritual life seriously. So if Nirvana means (in a certain sense) nothing, then how is Nirvana really any different from the Catholic saint’s nada, nada, nada?

St. John Paul II did his first thesis on St. John of the Cross, and later as Pope he helped to shed light on potential syncretism by reminding the Catholic that Buddhism carried a “negative soteriology.” “Soteriology” is the study of salvation. By “negative,” St. John Paul II did not mean “grumpy” but that Nirvana as salvation ended in nothingness, where the goal of the threefold nada for St. John of the Cross was…

…God Himself. St. John of the Cross lived the primacy of the spirit over the body (Romans 8) but not within some form of ancient Manichaeism or modern masochism or enlightenment Cartesian Dualism. He lived the nada, nada, nada to arrive at todo, todo, todo…everything. Where Nirvana’s termination point is nothing, the termination point of the Carmelite is everything:

So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.—Col 3:21-23

In Buddhism, Nada is both the means and the end. In Catholicism, nada is only the means (and at that, quite a different path because of what it means to be baptized and follow Christ in love, not simply a selfish ascetical struggle.) Nada is simply the means for John of the Cross, not the Nirvana extinction point, for John wanted his readers to arrive “where God is pleased to dwell.” Where is that? Upon Mount Carmel where all selfishness and spiritual pride has been extinguished. There, an even more ancient John “heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.”—Apocalypse 21:3

Yes, Buddhism is extinction. Catholicism is where God is pleased to dwell with man forever.

I have read about 300 of the 400 pages of the collective works of St. John of the Cross, but the best summary I could give came from a simple youth group board I saw at Nativity parish in Colorado: The more you pour out, the more God pours in.

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Colbert vs. Mother Teresa

In this short video, Stephen Colbert (comedian-turned-theologian) says “Faith ultimately can’t be argued; faith has to be felt.”  Let’s cut through his poor philosophy and consider reality:

1) Feelings are often no different from biochemical pleasures.  God uses feelings in all stages of prayer, but it is not central to the substance of the soul where the Blessed Trinity resides.  If faith must be “felt” as Colbert said, then where does that leave Mother Teresa who couldn’t feel anything for 60 years of prayer?  But false-positives abound, too:  If I drink an enormous Chemex hipster coffee and feel like a saint who could take on the world, did I just “feel” an increase in my faith?  Of course not.  That is because there is some correlation between good spiritual “feelings” and the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norephinephrine. That’s why we called coffee in seminary “liquid consolation.”  But we were joking.  Sadly, Colbert was not.  Back to neurotransmitters:  These reuptake mechanisms are also found in more intense pleasures (like cocaine.) So, “feeling your faith” doesn’t increase faith anymore than cocaine.  Even atheistic scientists will agree with me here:  Spiritual “feelings” are frequently nothing more than the release of biochemicals in the brain. I make no moral judgment against either feelings or pleasure here.  God created both and can affect both in prayer, but it’s not the central tenet of faith.

2) One’s opinion of truth is only as good as the evidence that one has to support it. Few doubt this truth in science, but if religion refers to truth, then this is true in religion also.  Regarding feelings and logic together, Colbert does admit that “they do not defy each other but complement each other. ”  He then says, “Logic itself will not lead me to God.”  This is partly true,1 but there’s a glaring omission in the above video:  The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical binary event (true or not true) upon which hinges our entire creed.  “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”—1 Cor 15:17.  Colbert inadvertently disparages the starting point of Christianity, namely, that the Resurrection and Divinity of Jesus Christ can be given some real evidence. Or rather, we can not prove that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, but we can disprove the contrary with pretty air-tight historical arguments found in books like Kreeft/Tacelli’s Handbook of Catholic Apologetics.

For all the Social Justice Catholics that promote Colbert, we have to admit it’s ironic that Colbert puts the emphasis on feelings—something the poor don’t have the luxury of always enjoying in their daily walk with Christ.  The Christians being crucified by ISIS may not “feel” their faith, but they have a hope in the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ based in a historical event.  But I guess feelings are good for a multi-millionaire hanging with the Jesuits of Manhattan.

Yes, for Colbert, “faith ultimately can’t be argued; faith has to be felt.”  In this philosophy, random biochemicals in the brain must take precedent over truth. Besides this conclusion being false for both Jesus on the cross (not good feelings but lots of truth) and St. Thomas Aquinas (who says very little of feelings and lots of truth) there’s actually another odd problem with Colbert Catholicism:  It’s the most boring version of Catholicism we have heard since the 1970s.  Almost all of my Gen-X friends raised by progressive-Catholic baby-boomers have left the Catholic Church.  Inclusive-Catholicism turned out to be exclusive-Catholicism, precisely because it was founded on the feelings of a few ex-hippies instead of the Truth.

Most normal people long for one of two ways of life:

Feelings=Pleasure=Religion of hedonism (max out on pleasure.)

or

Logic=Truth=Religion of Catholicism (max out on truth and love, but it hurts just a little on the way to heaven.)

At the end of the day, here are our best two options: An-unbridled-pleasure-fiend or a total saint.  I don’t believe in a middle-ground—practical or theological—where you get neither.

This isn’t to say that Catholicism is cold-cut syllogisms without any affections of love of Jesus Christ.  Nor does it mean that all pleasure is bad.   God made feelings and God made pleasure.  But at the end of the day, we have to decide if we’re going to live for feelings or the truth.  2

So, what is faith, then?  “Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.”—Heb 11:1.  Evidence means just that—evidence, as I wrote above in regards to the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ.  But if Colbert wants this at a more personal level, the word “faith” in Greek (πιστις) is actually also the same as trust.  It means a trust-of-life, not just a single statement of salvation.  It means daily decisions, not just a single act of consent of the intellect (Protestantism) or emotions (Colberism.)  You see, if faith is trust, then this includes loving and hard decisions in the body all day long, including chastity, for “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”—2 Cor 5:10.

Jesus rarely said “Believe in me.”  He frequently said “Follow me.”

Mother Teresa’s faith went deeper than both emotions and logic.  For 60 years she did not “feel her faith.”  Yet she got up at 3am or 4am to pray for two hours before her Eucharistic Lord and served Jesus in the poorest of the poor in the streets of Kolkata for decade after decade.  Mother Teresa was living trust in the body when the feelings weren’t there.  These were decisions she lived out in her body, and yet her emotions were so dark that she had to make constant acts of faith in God via her will—acts that were above and beyond the dark night of the soul that lasted a grueling 60 years.  This is a tough marriage to a Divine Spouse!  She often complained lovingly of her silent lover…

In fact, at the risk of scandalizing my readers, I’ll point out what she once wrote to a friend:  “Pray for me, pray that I may have the courage to keep on smiling at Jesus—I understand a little the tortures of hell—without God.”  I used the word “scandalized” because you should be surprised that Mother Teresa felt herself (not made herself, but felt herself) to be “without God.”  And yet, she made constant acts of faith—essentially hope against hope—of having no feelings of God, yet seeking Him anyway.

Since her death, many people who felt on the verge of suicide have since found strength in the ways of Mother Teresa.  People who had struggled their whole life with very personal sins and thought God abandoned them found hope in Mother Teresa.  Why?  Because, they reason,  if God loved Mother Teresa even when she couldn’t feel Him, then His love must still be there.  If God could love Mother Teresa as she was, maybe He loves me in my serious sin.  They are right.  And it is still His kindness that leads us to repentance.

In fact, in that same letter, Mother Teresa explained her suffering for the life of the world:  “I have no words to express what I want to say, and yet last First Friday—knowingly and willingly I offered to the Sacred Heart—to pass even eternity in this terrible suffering, if this would give Him now a little more pleasure—or the love of a single soul.”

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  1. St. Thomas Aquinas found this debate so important that it’s his very first response in his 3000 page “summary” of the Catholic Faith: “It was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man’s whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation.”—ST I.1.1 respondeo

  2. Colbert, if you ever read this, I’ll happily discuss this on or off the air in your studio.  Our mutual friend, Fr. Z (not the blogger), can hook us up.  

Jesus and Religion Part III

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For a few weeks, I’m living in the Muslim quarter of Kolkata. I wear my Roman collar around here, and what’s peculiar is that I rarely get snarky looks from the swarms of Muslims and Hindus packed into this city. Actually, I was shocked at how much respect the Muslims gave me on Qatar Airlines even as I wore my cassock.

On the other hand, a certain generation of Catholics in the United States treat me very differently when they see the cassock. That generation of Americans always stops me with a unconvincing rictus to tell me some combo of the following:

1. I’m glad that what you’re doing “works for you.”
2. I used to be Catholic (usually an altar boy or a nun or both.)
3. Here’s what’s wrong with the Catholic Church (p, q, r, all very predictable.)
4. Here’s what’s wrong with priests (x,y,z, ditto.)
5. My god’s bigger than your religion because we’re all brothers and sisters.

I think this happens to me almost every week.  No joke.  I usually just smile and nod.  So, I don’t know what wounds that generation is dealing with, but philosophically, here’s the ironies they’re speaking to me:

1. Here’s the dogmatic truth of no-dogma that you must accept.
2. Here’s the pathway of no-judgment while I judge you harshly for wearing a cassock
3. I’m absolutely sure there’s no absolute truth.
4. You must promote tolerance.

That last one is funny, considering that I’m a priest and they preach to me.  I don’t preach anymore.  Not that I’m afraid of a good old- fashioned debate.   I just can’t get a word in edgewise anymore when I get around that group who inadvertently subscribe to ecclesial totalitarianism.  (Hint:  They are not younger than me.)

What if I knocked on your door, and asked to you to accept the love of a man who:
1. Is named Jesus
2. Is very kind
3. Has dark skin
4. Has a great smile
5. Has a batting average of .258

…would you care that I’m describing Jesus Montero of the Seattle Mariners?

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In other words, do facts also matter in matters of faith?

As a quick disclaimer let me say that I’m not saying that a single intellectual error means that a person is worshiping a different Jesus Christ than me. It’s simply an open question: Do the facts of a person have to be accurate in order to enter into a relationship with Him? Does doctrine matter in the realm of a relationship with God, or is accepting Jesus nothing more than emotions?  If so, I’m sure that mentally-accepting Jesus Montero would make a person feel good, especially if he got that batting average up.

Another disclaimer:  Catholicism is not against relationship.  Catholicism is about how a relationship can exist with roots that are real, roots that I can’t make up or change.  That’s to say:  A family.  A family exists with both relationships and rules love and traditions.  Religion comes from the Latin word religare which is a verb that means “to have roots.” Also, the word “tradition” comes from the Latin traditio which means “to hand down.” What is handing down?  Teaching.  The word teaching is nothing more than the modern English translation of two words we all seem to have the strangest allergy to:   “doctrine” or “dogma.”  Perhaps this is all proof that it is  fascism—not Catholicism—which tries to shut down the intellectual life.

When someone knocks at your door to tell you about a man named Jesus, that’s nice, but you have to realize that he actually got his ideas of Our Lord from someone who got those ideas from another someone who may or may not be traced back to Christ in an unbroken tradition. Or, the smiley-knocker at the door got his theology directly from the Bible, aka his own private revelation…hence the 30,000 denominations in the USA (and 5 new ones every week) that are each “Bible-only.”

The only other option is a living, guarded, Apostolic authority which is ever-ancient and ever-new.

People say that an unbroken apostolic tradition of teaching would take a miracle to triumph over the telephone game. Yes, God’s good at those. Apostolic tradition is the one no-spin zone of doctrine, the one “non-denominational” Church. In fact, universal is really just a synonym of “non-denominational.”

So, how much change in doctrine begins to paint a different Jesus Christ from the friend and Savior of the Apostles? I don’t really know but let’s look at the two men in the opening picture of this post.

To the left we have St. Francis Xavier, the 16th century co-founder of the Jesuits.  He was recruited by his university buddy, St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Xavier was sent by Ignatius as a soldier for Christ to the far East to become arguably Christianity’s second greatest missionary, right behind the Apostle Paul.  Xavier preached to hundreds of thousands of people especially in the country from which I write, India.

On the right we have an astoundingly wealthy American preacher.   Joel Osteen is modern health-and-wealth apostle of the 21st century. Watch a few minutes of him on YouTube to know him yourself.  (I know he’s an extreme example, one whom even most of my Protestant friends wouldn’t buy…pun intended.)

In any case, I don’t pretend to know the state of anyone’s heart before God, but even a cursory study of the respective theologies of Xavier and Osteen reveal a belief in a different God/god.  Even if you’re not convinced that St. Francis Xavier be perfectly in line with the Apostle Paul (like I am) you still have to admit that this chasm of “Christians” and their respective beliefs seems to prove that Jesus without religion is a human-communication-impossibility.  In other words, you’re going to get sucked into someone’s spin zone whether you like it or not.

Apostolic succession is logically the only guarantee of an accurate interpretation of the Holy Scriptures which she (the Catholic Church) produced after being God-breathed into the Evangelists.

So, when Jefferson Bethke tells you about “Why I hate religion but love Jesus,”  just realize this:  It’s a human-communication-impossibility.  Bethke has simply created another religion with Bethke as Pope.  If you think this is an exaggeration, just consider that one of the top searches on him is “Jefferson Bethke tattoos.”

In end there is no spin-free zone outside the Apostles and their succession.  So, I’ll stick to the “original religion” of the Catholic Church, even if she includes some hypocrites along the way.  She also produces some St. Francis  Xaviers.

Jesus and Religion Part II

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The world over is home to about 7 billion people.  Did you know that most of these people (4 billion) have never heard of Jesus Christ?  These 4 billion have seen neither hide nor hair of any Christian willing to share the Gospel.

The area most neglected is in the blue areas of the map above.  Most of those 4 billion live here.  Some missionaries refer to it as the “10/40 window”  because here, between the 10th and 40th latitude, live the most unevangelized peoples.  I am currently in this window for a few weeks.

Considering the urgency of such a missionary call to evangelize the Far East, we Catholics might be tempted to agree with Jefferson Bethke’s critique of religion (see previous post on his  “Why I hate religion but love Jesus”) especially when there is an urgency to spread the basics of the Gospel.

Must we really talk religion when people don’t know about Jesus?  I have seen significant religious cowardice this past year, so I understand why Bethke is so wary of hypocrites.   I really get that.  But, the difference is that I still believe wholeheartedly in the Catholic Church.  Here’s why:

Jesus founded an Apostolic Church, despite the problems he knew would come. In fact, the very first priest scandal was Judas…and yet Jesus chose him.

Well, that’s old news.  You already know that.  But the positive of an Apostolic Church recently struck me in yesterday’s liturgy of the hours.  Listen to Peter’s initial explanation of Christ to a group of Gentiles:

“They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third day and made Him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.” (Acts 10:39b-42)

In the bold font above, St. Peter is saying that the Apostles are not like “all the people” who will soon be speaking of Jesus.  Rather, God the Father “made [Jesus] to appear not to all the people but to us,” the Apostles, precisely because they were “chosen by God.”

In other words, the Apostolic nature of his explanation is his carte blanche of credibility into their hearts.  Why?  Because they alone received the fullness of His teaching, and they alone remembered that Jesus said “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12)

When I share the Gospel with a person on a plane, I will usually try to introduce that person to the overwhelming love of the Father in sending His Son for us.  Only later in the flight do I get to a love of the Church and her moral teachings.  And I guess that’s not a bad plan since Jesus did say “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

But Peter is more Church-based in his first explanation of the Gospel.  He found it necessary in the above quote from Acts 10 to mention himself and the Apostles even in his very first message of Jesus to the pagans!

St. Peter shows post-modern missionaries that the Apostolic Nature of the Church is not inappreciable to reaching the lands of the 10/40 window, but central.  This is why we need not be so ashamed to be both lovers of Jesus and lovers of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Why then are there so many more American Protestant families in the 10/40 window than American Catholic families here?  Won’t you consider coming to share the Gospel here?  They need not only part of the truth, but the fullness of the truth.  See http://www.familymissionscompany.com

Jesus and Religion Part I

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There’s a video that went viral on YouTube by Jefferson Bethke called “Why I hate religion but love Jesus.”  It has almost 30,000,000 views, and there have been formidable Catholic rebuttals online, in conferences, in podcasts and newspapers.

Surprisingly, none of the Catholic apologists whom I have read (which admittedly is only a few) have pointed out that the word “religion” is promoted as a good thing in the New Testament:

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:26-27)

The word for religion above is the Greek θρησκὸς and θρησκεία. Even a Protestant Greek dictionary I have on my iPod translates θρησκεία as “religious worship” and even adds that this word refers to that which is “especially external, that which consists in ceremonies.”

I snapped the above picture this morning.  There is a Eucharistic host in exposition in the monstrance just off the shot on Bose street at the Missionaries of Charity Motherhouse.  Adoring Christ (almost in the same spot where Mother Teresa knelt) was this Indian girl off the streets.  Prostrate, she adored her Lord.   She was directly above the tomb of Mother Teresa.

It is interesting that religion, according to St. James, is both external ceremony and taking care of orphans.  What is the connection there?

I believe that the answer comes from the Apostle Paul:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)

The Latin translation from the Greek “living sacrifice” is hostiam viventem.  Notice where else in this post is used the word host:  Jesus in the Eucharist.  The girl is adoring the Host, but by being in a prostrate state of sacrificial love, she herself has become a host too.

In other words, it is in the Mass that you adore the Host (the sacrifice of Christ perpetuated through time) and then you become a host (a living sacrifice) by serving the poorest of the poor, the unborn, your own children, the rejected, or simply fulfilling your duties in faith and hope and love.

Although a living sacrifice is a terrifying thing from a Jewish point of view, it is our spiritual worship.  May we show our brothers and sisters that we can be people of both religion and love, as the Apostles believed 2000 years ago as they offered the Mass and served the orphans.