Category Archives: Why a Catholic…

Have mercy on me, a sinner![Lk 18:13] [1] Reconciliation Part II: Who Forgives

Definitely, all my sinfulness starts with my basic disobedience to You, God. Since Adam’s time, this is the way I have been: Behold, I was born in guilt, in sin my mother conceived me. [Ps 51:6] I have been mortally afflicted since youth. [Ps 88:16] So, of course, I must beg your forgiveness. With the Psalmist I must cry: Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions. Thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin cleanse me. For I know my transgressions; my sin is always before me. [Ps 51:3-5] Just as in the time of the Temple, You do not desire sacrifice or I would give it; a burnt offering you would not accept. Instead you want obedience, contrition, humility: My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn. [Ps 51:18,19] Thus it was and is still absolutely necessary for me to plead for Your forgiveness, God. All sin is against You and only You can forgive me.

Indeed, those who argue for God-only forgiveness will insist: “What about the first three commandments?” Those are strictly God’s, right? Wrong. Just as You, God, are hurt, are disobeyed, are sinned against in all the other commandments, so I harm you, my sisters and brothers, every time I worship an idol instead of God, particularly if that idol is me; I both give you bad example, but also somehow I draw the human collective a little farther from God, I opt out of the Body of Christ and thus weaken it, I say to the world, God is wrong, follow me, follow my example instead. That’s part of social sin, tearing the seamless garment of Christ, tearing me apart from you, my brothers and sisters and rupturing my link with You, Jesus, through whom I can either participate in and build up Your body or tear it down.

The same is true every time I desecrate Your name, God. God, You must be horribly hurt that we constantly use Your name “in vain,” saying without thought, without reflection as to its meaning, its import, “O God!” when surprised, when angry, as an expletive, in flippant disregard for Who You are. Yet You make it very clear that is absolutely wrong; indeed, You, Yourself, Jesus, taught us to pray: hallowed be Your Name [Mt 6:9; Lk 11:2], but I have become so use to saying that, that I don’t ever think about what it means, what it implies, what it requires. And so, if I use Your name in anger, in frustration, in amazement, in any context where it is obvious that I just am using it to say something, I have hurt you, my brothers and sisters, by indicating by my irreverence, my callous disregard of its meaning, that it’s ok…see, I wasn’t zapped by a lightening bolt. Get your kicks and do it too! That’s how I sin against you, my friends.

Finally, my blatant disregard for the sanctity of You Sabbath, Your Day, God, my shopping, conducting my affairs, my business as if it were like any other day of the week, conveys that same message, that same scandalous, irreverent, disobedient behavior which says to all who see: “Forget God. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t pay attention to my little foibles. Why should He pay attention to yours. I can set up my own rules, so can you, my and your own schedule, my and your own sacred days. We don’t have to follow something set up centuries ago..” And the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom [Mt 27:51], God exposes Himself to me to console, to comfort, to gather us in and what do I do, I scream: Crucify Him, Crucify Him [Lk 23:21; Mk 15:13] and hang the abomination of desolation [Dan 12:11; Mt 24:15] in God’s place. That’s why I must as for your forgiveness, my friends; I have killed your God.

As God Himself has showed me, all sins against You, God, and therefore, I need Your forgiveness; I have pushed You away and I must be reconciled with You. But, at the same time, all sins against you, my brothers and sisters of our God family. To think that God let’s me off the hook when I blatantly dishonor, kill, steal, abuse, lie, slander, and cheat you, brother and sister, is nonsensical, idiotic, does not compute.

And this goes not only for these photo negative, active sin caught on the film of history, but also for neglect of the positive print of love, passive sin, believing I can just have faith without good works, without becoming involved in making the world a better place, in helping those who need my help: If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. [James 2:15-17] Both active and passive sin are here and now, involve me with you, my neighbor. The passive sin neglects the corporal [bodily] works of mercy, of kindness, of goodness, the cup of water works, the providing of food, clothing, care, concern type of works.

Active sin hasn’t even gotten to neglecting…I actively attempt to deceive, crush, obliterate, exterminate you, your rights, your possessions, your reputation, your very self. That’s why I have to start with the works required by the commandments. Maybe that’s what Jesus was pointing to when he knocked my namesake off his horse and asked him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Notice that, while Jesus completely identifies with the Christians Saul is persecuting, these Christians were the ones being persecuted: Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment. [Acts 8:3; 22:4; 26:9–11]. Thus, though You, God, are always the injured party when I sin, that injury is also to the person effected by my sin. Persecuting violates the commandments,…it doesn’t even get to service.

Most obvious is physical injury, the person I wound is you; you are injured; you are killed, you are dead. But the same holds true of mistreatment of you, my parents, of you others whose integrity before You, God, I abuse in casual sex, in depriving you of what you own, of your good name, even of coveting what you have [a slap in Your face who have given me all I need]. In all these, I chose not only myself over You, God, not only following my own will instead of willing to obeying Your commandments, I have also chosen myself, my way, my comfort, my ego-centric world that I imagine revolves around me over you, everybody but me. I over look, ignore, refuse to recognize the situation from your point of view. I refuse, therefore, to do exactly what You, God, ordered me to do: to do to you, my neighbor, what I would want done to me in the same situation, to treat you as I would want to be treated. I have not loved but ignored, brushed aside, trampled over you.

The fact that I am not alone since all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God, [Rom 3:23] and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned, [Rom 5:12], that is, the fact that you, my brother, my sister, sinned against me, owe me a debt, have trespassed on me, does not “balance my books,” obviate the need for me seeking your forgiveness. I cannot think that since you have done evil to me, I can do evil to you with impunity, to “even up the score;” that somehow what I do is not held against me because it is “an eye for an eye.” Do not repay anyone evil for evil…“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord….” Indeed, that way leads to hatred, violence, murder, war, annihilation; that path is that path of terrorists and tyrants. Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good. [Rom 12:17, 19, 21].

This is not fantasy. This is not fairytales or goody two-shoes. Forgiving you is absolutely necessary if I expect to be forgiven by God. Jesus placed the scales of justice squarely in my own tainted, sin filled and guilt-ridden hands: forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors [Mt 6:12]. I must forgive you your sins, your trespasses, your walking over me, if I expect to be forgiven by God. Jesus made this point again and again. And I need to do this not just once, but 70 x 7 times [Mt 18:22]. Which means, in turn, that I must seek forgiveness 70 x 7 times [Mt 18:22]. I’ve noticed that, while I have a pension for ignoring, downplaying, brushing aside my sins against you, I am super quick to take offense at any little peccadillo of yours against me, harboring black and dire thoughts of eyes for an eye and teeth for a tooth, Edmond Dantès, John McClane type revenge.

And I certainly do not come up to Your standard Jesus: Love one another as I have loved you. [Jn 13:34] As You pointed out to me in a previous reflection, while most will identify this as simply a iteration of Lv 19:18, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, I think this takes loving you others to a new level. While in my better moments, I may come up to the standard You set, I have many moments when I do not love myself…to various degrees. I may be just miffed at my blowing something or I may be really angry at myself for “not living up to my standards,” regardless of whether these standards are Yours or simply my ego’s projection. In any event, love one another as You loved us not only purifies such extraneous egoisms, but maintains a constant level of love, a gold standard by which I can measure my love, my agape, my outreach.

Thus, if I apply this gold standard to my actions, I not only recognize when I fall short of treating others as You would treat them, but I am constantly reminded that You identify Yourself with each and every one of “them,” the omnipresent, easy tag for distancing myself from you as my God-family, as I love you, and thus, when I fall short of loving “them,” I fall short of loving You. If I would see You, Christ, in every one of you I meet, I would know that I cannot pretend to serve You, Jesus, directly, whom I do not see, and ignore serving you, my least of these, whose want and need are blatant before me.

Therefore, it is not enough that I set myself straight with You, God. For every sin I commit, I need the forgiveness of both God and you, my brothers and sisters; I need to seek reconciliation of both God and you for our community to be a community, a people of God. I need to seek your forgiveness, my brothers and sisters. Justice demands I make things right with you, I make adequate amends for having wronged you, hurt you, ignored you, deprived you, debased you, demoralized you. And I need your and your and your forgiveness for the times I have personally sinned against you.

Forgiveness, thus, is an absolutely necessary, often forgotten, ignored, even despised as weakness, lubricant of our social structure, of any relationship, be it God and me, you and me, your family and my family, your “hood” and my “hood,” your wealth and my poverty, your sex and my sex, you race and my race, your religion and my religion, your nation and my nation, your world and my world. It is the realization that there truly is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [Gal 3:28] It is a bi-lateral, mutual, common-ground understanding, an agreement, a wisdom revealed, that we are unique and that’s ok, that we share more than we differ, that we, save God[2], are all human and fallible and make mistakes.

No, forgiveness can’t be limited to just God and me as the authorities then and many people now seem to think. Yes, I must seek forgiveness from You, God, I must also seek forgiveness from you, my friends.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] This does not mean that I don’t have to “forgive” God…when He takes a loved one home and leaves me abandoned, inconsolable, enraged, frantic, freaked out, depressed unto despair, when I rant and rave against heaven and cannot see the light of morning, He carries his tantrum traumatized child until my tears flow and my wracked convulsed psyche comes to the peace of the heart, of the soul, that passes all understanding…and I can “forgive” God His wisdom and love.

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Why I’m a Catholic: the Sacrament of Reconciliation: Part I; Who’s Sinned Against

Have mercy on me, a sinner![Lk 18:13][1]

This is why I am a Catholic, Part 2: (1) the Eucharist; (2) Reconciliation; and (3) Truth.[2] While others may have other special things about the Church that entices them to join, to belong, to stay in this lumbering ancient colossus of Scripture and Tradition called the Catholic Church, I have a special love of its God-given ability to forgive sin.

I see three parts to the Sacrament of Reconciliation: (a) who’s sinned against; (b) who forgives; and (c) how are we sure we are forgiven.

Against whom do I sin, over whose laws and lives do I trespass, to whom do I incur debt[3]. In Psalm 51, a psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba,[Ps 51:1-2], states specifically that it is God: against you, you alone have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your eyes so that you are just in your word, and without reproach in your judgment.[Ps 51:6]

Many today still take the same position that David and the Jewish authorities of Jesus’ day did, not seeing each person as a specially loved child of God, not seeing that Jesus is God incarnate and works through the incarnate world. Since all sin is basically and primarily against You, God, they say, “Only God can forgive sin.” They stop there, “See, it’s against God only that I sin. Therefore I have to seek forgiveness from God. And I can go directly to God and ask forgiveness.”

Yes, absolutely, and no, definitely.

Sins against the first three commandments, idols, Your Name and the Sabbath, are fairly easy to identify as being against You, but the other seven seem to be primarily against men.

Yes, absolutely, I sin against God.

(a) Every action against the Commandments, including the last seven, is my choice, my direct disobedience of You, God, my placing myself above You. Thus all sin originates in the first commandment; I make myself an idol, I set myself up as my own god, and I obey my self rather than You. Therefore, David was right: Against You, You alone have I sinned; I have done what is evil in Your eyes, so that You are just in your word, and without reproach in Your judgment. [Ps 51:6]

No, definitely, I also sin against my neighbor.

(b) Obedience to You means keeping the other seven commandments because You tied my obedience to you with my treatment of others. Obedience is linked to my being human in the way You made me, in a community of family, of friends, of neighbors. Indeed, the second great commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”[Mk 12:31; Mt 22:39, Lv 19:18; Jas 2:8] Indeed, in a sense, that “yourself” should be capitalized, “Yourself,” since loving them and myself involves first loving You, but more to the point, since we all come from You, since You are in each of us, loving others involves loving You, is part of loving You, is a concrete way to love You.

In the New Testament, You made very, very clear Your personal identification with everyone, in what I do or don’t do to even one of these least brothers of mine.[Mt 25:40] As John said: If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. [1Jn 4:20] To paraphrase, if anyone says, I am forgiven by God and do not care if I forgive my brother, I do not love my brother whom I sees and thus, cannot love God, whom I have not seen. Jesus took this very personally when Paul persecuted the early Christians: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?…I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. [Acts 9:5,6; 26:14,15] This is brought home even more poignantly when I call upon God to forgive me my sins as I forgive the sins of those who sin against me.[Mt 6:12] So this sin bit ties us, God and me and others, together as a package.

So, Yes, Definitely, I sin against both God and my neighbor.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! [Rom 11:33]…it just occurred to me that God was having me roll this Apologia Pro Vita Mea out in harmony with the liturgical year. The defense of the real presence in the Eucharist was completed in Advent, the season of the Incarnation, the growing within Mary of the Son of God, who became truly man and truly present on our earth. This presentation of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the making holy of the welcoming back of me, the Prodigal Son by the Father, will take place during Lent, the liturgical celebration of Christ’s life and ultimately, his perfect obedience; he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. [Heb 5:8b-9], that is, by which he reconciled us with the Father through atoning for our sins. The final presentation of truth, the validity of what we profess, the guarantee of God’s truth residing in the Church, will parallel the liturgical season of the resurrection and, particularly Pentecost, the reception of the Spirit of Truth upon the pillars of the Church, the Apostles and original disciples.

[3] I am fascinated by the ecumenical interchange of “debts,” “sins,” and “trespasses.” The first two have their solid origin in the Greek; ὀφείλημα, opheilēma, is the word Mt uses [Mt 6:12] in his version of the Lord’s prayer; it means: “that which is owed; that which is justly or legally due, a debt”. Metaphorically, it is used to mean “offence, sin.” It is used only twice in the NT.

Lk uses both “sins” and “debt;” forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us. [Lk 11:4] The Greek word for “sin,” ἁμαρτία, hamartanō, means “to be without a share in,” “to miss the mark,” “to err, be mistaken,” “to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honor, to do or go wrong,” and finally, metaphorically, “to wander from the law of God, violate God’s law, sin.” It is used 150 times in the NT.

Maybe it is this “going wrong,” this “wandering from the path,” that gave rise to “trespass,” i.e. if I wander from the path God put me on, I am likely to wander onto your path, to trespass, to stomp all over you and your righteousness.

Eucharist, Part II: The Reality of the Sacrifice

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. [1] [1Cor 11:26]

One aspect of the reality of the Eucharist is the reality of the sacrifice, the offering, the oblation, new and eternal covenant in Jesus whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, [Rom 3:25] blood which He gave in obedience to His Father in reparation for my sins. I couldn’t do it; I am a sinner. God couldn’t do it; He is the sinned against. The God-Man, Jesus, needed to do it, taking upon himself our sins and becoming our divine/human oblation expressing our sorrow for sin, and God’s acceptance of our sacrifice, our “making holy” of ourselves.

It is very clear that, instead of holocausts and sin offerings, Jesus offers the Father what He wants, what He wanted from the beginning, from Eden: Behold, I come to do your will. His perfect obedience, even to drinking the cup of death, is the one sacrifice for sins; it not only counterbalances but completely obliterates sin which, at its root, each and every one of which stems from disobedience to God. [Heb 10:8-9,12]

In order to take part in His sacrifice, His “making holy,” I need to join Him in some way; it is my sin, it therefore must be a sacrifice on my part. But even if I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over to be martyred, I gain nothing [1Cor 13:3] if I am not connected, not part of Christ, not part of Love incarnate, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.[1Jn 4:8-9] That word life rings a bell… Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. [Jn 6:53, 57]

But that’s not the end of the story: In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.[1Jn 4:10] Through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh [Heb 19-20]. I must become part of His sacrifice, partake in His real flesh and blood, which He offered to the Father once for all on the Cross and which is perpetuated forever in the sharing of Himself at the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

Without His real presence, His body and blood which we partake, all this remembering becomes just a mime, a play, a pious but literally unsubstantial, i.e. without the substance of Jesus present, reenactment of a script instead of what truly happened, what truly happens and truly will happen until the end of time, Jesus eternal sacrifice to the Father in which He invites us to join, He blesses, breaks and gives to me to eat, gives to me to drink.

Neither the author of Hebrews, Paul, or the Church would put such emphasis into our attitude, our reverence, our self-cleansing for an unsubstantial reenactment: Let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. [Heb 10:22] Nor would there be such emphasis on participation: We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near. [Heb 10:25]

Nor would participating in a memory unworthily be cause for condemnation. But if I receive the true body, the true blood and then sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, my joining with Christ no longer remains a sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries. As Hebrews points out by comparison: Anyone who rejects the law of Moses is put to death without pity on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Do you not think that a much worse punishment is due the one who has contempt for the Son of God, considers unclean the covenant-blood by which he was consecrated, and insults the spirit of grace?[Heb 10:26-29] Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.[1Cor 11:27,29]…Without discerning the body, without believing that Jesus is really present, that this bread is His Body, this wine His blood…You have to believe or answer for your unbelief. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup.[1Cor 11:28] It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. [Heb 10:31]

I do not pretend to understand the total picture. I do know that in order for this sacrifice to be real, here, today, He has enabled us, through the priesthood handed down from the Apostles, to do this in His memory, to call again on the Spirit, to enact His Sacrifice and to invite me to join Him in offering to the Father myself, to transubstantiate again bread and wine into His body and blood and offer them again on our altar in West Pawlet, in Moscow, in Johannesburg, in Beijing, yesterday, today, tomorrow until the end of time.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

The Big Three: Eucharist, Part I

The Eucharist is the real presence of You, Jesus, here and now, today, the same as when You first revealed that I must eat Your flesh and drink Your blood to attain life everlasting: This saying is hard; who can accept it? [1][Jn 6:60] But You are and were serious about Your body and Your blood. In John 6, the “Bread of Life” discourse, You gradually bring the crowds and us around from the previous day’s multiplication of the loaves and fishes to the necessity of eating of Your body and drinking of Your blood.

  • You start out by calling the crowd’s and my bluff: you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. [Jn 6:26-27].
  • The crowd and we say Moses gave us manna, bread from heaven to eat, so beat that! You said to them, “…It was not Moses who gave bread from heaven; my Father gives [in the present] you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”[Jn 6:31-33] These were topics You covered before…In Chapter 3, You identified yourself as the one who came down from heaven. [3:13]…In Chapter 5, You confronted the crowds in Jerusalem: You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life. [5:39-40; see also 5:21] Later in John, You will identify Yourself as the Way, the Truth and the Life. [14:6] Therefore, this bread of God is You who (a) came down from heaven and (b) gives life to the world.
  • The crowds, wanting this life through this bread of God say: “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. [6:34-35] Here You identify Yourself explicitly with this Bread of Life which is the Bread of God. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for pointing out the difference between satisfying hunger, coming to or seeking Jesus, the giver, the sustainer of life, and satisfying that thirst, believing in Jesus, that quest for knowledge and understanding.
  • Now You try to get me to see, for although I have seen, I do not believe [6:36] what you explain next: I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.” [6:36-40] Since You begin and end with “seeing” and “believing,” they must form the key to this passage. And Your point?…You came not to do Your will but the Father’s will and He wills that You should save and raise up all whom He gives You, all who see You and believe in You. This poses a problem: those in the crowd there could see You, just like Thomas, when he plays the Missouri cynic, could seen and touch you and believe…but how are we going to be the ..those who have not seen and have believed. [Jn 20:29] Sure, I have these witnesses, John, the other Evangelists, the Apostles, the martyrs, even the people of God then and now who tell me this is true, who believe themselves and encourage me to join them and believe.

But I think that You are speaking to me today when You say: everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day. I think You are challenging me to see You now and believe in You. And I think this is not just seeing You as indwelling in the faithful, in every person I meet who must, to some degree, share Your life in order to be alive. I believe that You want me to encounter You here and now in Your true body and Your real blood, truly present, among us every day, even walking with those who eat and drink and become one in You. But more on this later.

  • You are Jesus, the son of Joseph. Do we not know…[Your] father and mother? Then how can…[You] say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?[Jn 6:42] I notice the irony here. Yesterday, following the multiplication, we were ready to come and carry him off to make him king,[6:15]…now today, because You state that You come down from heaven which we thought likely yesterday, thinking You the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world, [6:14] the one predicted by Moses who must have been sent by God. But now, because You claim to be sent by God, we discount all we thought then and want to bring You down to our human, our ordinary, in fact our all-too-familiar level. Yesterday, we just loved to eat Your free bread. Today, since You claim to be bread from heaven, bread that give life, bread better than manna, far better than the loaves we ate yesterday, that’s going too far!
  • You call our bluff…since we won’t confront You face to face with these questions, these disparaging remarks, since we are still grumbling just like we did in the desert, You chastise us: “Stop murmuring among yourselves.”[6:43] You want to talk, let’s talk; you want to argue, let’s argue; you want to debate, let’s debate…but let’s get it out here in the open for everyone to hear!”
  • Then You say: “Let Me be very clear: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. [6:44] If you want the bread of life, that’s me. Moses did not give you manna, My Father did. And My Father gives you Me; you can’t come to me, you can’t have this bread of life that I am, unless you believe the Father sent Me and flesh and blood…[will] not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. [Mt 16:17] And if He does reveal this to you, if you do believe Him, if You do believe Me, then I will raise you up on the last day.”
  • “Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.[6:45] You have not seen the Father, but if you listen to what He told you through the Torah and the prophets, if you learn from His words, you will come to know Me, for they testify that I come from the Father and have seen the Father.”
  • “Now you believe that God has spoken to our forefathers, that the Torah comes from God. For this reason, It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.”[6:46]
  • “This is important, let me be very clear, whoever believes has eternal life. [6:47] Believe the Father, believe his words in Scripture, believe in Me, and you will have eternal life.”
  • To repeat what I have said: I am the bread of life.[6:48] You must believe this if you are to truly believe in Me as I truly am, as the Father sent Me, as you need Me. Only then will you have eternal life.”
  • “You do remember that, though Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, they died. But this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.” [6:49-50]
  • “But let me be very clear, you have to eat it; you have a choice but you have to eat it if you do not want to die. As I said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” [6:48-51] Up to this point, this bread that came down, this bread that gives life, has been out there, a loaf, a baked good, a thing that both You and I are discussing…now You have the chutzpah to say that the bread that I will give is my flesh…whoa! We’re in a whole new realm. We’ve got a major problem. We just went from theory to reality, from wheat, barley and rye to the flesh of a man, a human being,…and not just any human being, You…that’s a gigantic leap…You’re really testing the limits of our credibility. Not only that, but you tied it into this “life” thing, not just my life, not just the life of this crowd, but for the life of the world. You just upped the stakes from our intimate reality to a cosmic perspective. You’re talking a major paradigmatic shift. Maybe I misunderstood You…maybe you mean this wheat loaf is “like” your flesh, because You are, after all, God, and in taking on Your body, You took on Your own creation, but God is not limited to Your body, God keeps all creation in existence. Maybe, in that way, in a sense, all creation is Your “flesh?” Does that explain it?
  • The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” I gotta admit, this crazy metaphor is scaring a lot of people, including me. I mean, the revulsion of cannibalism just makes me gag. Maybe you want to consider dropping it or at least backing off from it a bit, maybe explaining its one of your parables or, as I mentioned before, the bread is “like” your flesh, that You want us to pretend its Your flesh in order that we appreciate just how much You want us to have life…kinda like the flesh is Your way of saying Your “blood, sweat and tears.”
  • …You won’t back down; You make Yourself even more explicit: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” [6:53] Now is that compromise? Is that an explanation? Does that admit You were kidding with us? Does that admit this whole bit is a metaphor? No! Exactly the opposite. First, you introduce your statement with the “Amen, Amen, I say to you” bit, kinda like saying “This is it, this is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me, God.” But You are God, so when You say, “I say to you,” in essence, You are saying: “This is God speaking here, listen up!” So You give us no wiggle room, You pull a Nixon and stand there and say: “I want to make one thing perfectly clear.” Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how I look at it, You are not like Nixon; what You say is Truth, You cannot say anything but Truth. But putting that aside, not only do you not back down from Your previous statement, You raise the stakes exponentially: either I eat Your flesh and drink Your blood or I do not have life in me. Now that’s silly; I have life in me right now and I haven’t eaten Your flesh or drunk Your blood.
  • Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. You are not talking just this temporal life, this cozy life, this physical life that I am living right here and now. You are talking eternal life, everlasting life, life that doesn’t end when I die…in fact, You go on to say that You will raise me up on the last day. That “last day” sounds rather ominous…I mean, won’t we have another sunrise, won’t things go on just as they have done for all these billions of years. You mean there is a terminal, a final day? The great implosion? All gone? No more time? Yep, but then You counter that with “eternal” life and “raising me up.” You know that I may, most likely shall, have died by that time. What happens then? It seems nothing, or at least not good things, if I don’t eat Your flesh and drink Your blood. This is a major either/or, a line in the sand, a demarcation to end all demarcations! What a choice, cannibalism or eternal death! I mean, even the word we blithely translate as “eats” is actually “not the classical Greek verb used of human eating, but that of animal eating: ‘munch,’ ‘gnaw.’”[2]
  • For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.[6:55] You are just not going to let go of this; like a bull terrier, you’re going to just keep shaking this in front of me, whether I like it or not, until I get it. Well, it raises two questions:
    • (a) Why did You not wait to say all this after the Last Supper? There, when You blessed and broke the bread, and gave it to us saying: “This is my body that is for you… This cup is the new covenant in my blood, [1 Cor 11:24-25], the outward appearance of the bread was not bloody flesh, nor the wine, gory blood. Transubstantiation is a miracle, even one of the great Miracles, right up there with the Incarnation and the Resurrection, but at least it put this eating Your flesh and drinking Your blood into something I can do without throwing up. So coming back to the question: Why did you say all this, seemingly months before the Last Supper?  Hold on…maybe, just maybe, that is Your point. If You announced all this after the Last Supper, people might think the bread and wine were tokens, mnemonic devices to simply remind us of You. After all, You did say: Do this in remembrance of me twice [1 Cor 11:24, 25]; so memory, reenactment is certainly part of it. But without this dialogue, without this discourse on what You really are doing, I might have been off the hook, whipping my brow and exhaling Whew! But here You lay it on the line: flesh = food, blood = drink; if I want eternal life, I eat and drink. Period, end of story.
    • (b) Then there’s the question of Truth. Can I believe what You are saying? A spin-doctor would tell you: I think Your ratings in the polls just took a major dive. Perhaps that is the point: You were not here to win popularity contests. Nor were You here to sugar-coat reality. You were here to tell it like it is, to reveal to us Himself: I am…the Truth,[Jn 14:6] unadorned, simple, in a carpenter’s visage from Nazareth [Can anything good come from Nazareth?][Jn 1:46]; For this [You were]…born and for this [You]…came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to [Your]… [Jn 18:37] Why I can’t accept the Truth, You, and the incredible reality that You are, that You reveal, that You teach,…this is my problem, not Yours. Perhaps that’s again the point: what You’re tell me, what You actually do at the Last Supper, it is incredible – “not credible, unbelievable”,…and I cannot believe it on my own. I must rely on the gift of faith. I can’t get there on my own: You’re standing there, God Incarnate, You’re talking about Your own flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.[Mt 16:17] I must have the gift of faith from Your Father to believe in Your flesh and blood, the transformed bread and wine.
  • Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. [Jn 6:56] You do realize this is kinda spooky…I mean, first, I eat your flesh and drink your blood, seemingly playing first the zombie and then the vampire, and then, as a result of my monstrous actions, I somehow remain in You and You remain in me. How is this possible. You already said my activities would gain me eternal life. But now Your are telling me that You, who obviously must be dead when I do these things, will somehow be eternally alive and not only that, but be eternally alive in me, transform me so that I am eternally alive and somehow I will be in You. Very confusing…..But maybe so only from a human perspective and not from a Divine. First, You will overcome my revulsion by extending Your Divinity not only having taken our form, our humanity, but also further extending Your Divinity to take on the form of bread and wine. If I think about it this way, it is not such a stretch of the imagination. Any God who can become man, can also become whatever He wants to be. The ancients thought God took on animal or plant or monstrous forms; a simple form of bread and wine seems relatively bland in comparison with some of our misconceptions. Secondly, and somewhat in the same vein, if You can be God, man and bread and wine at the same time, what’s to stop You from being in me, and for that matter, enabling me, somehow, to be in You. I mean, I am not going to totally understand how this all comes about, I am not going to be able to grok how You actually make all this happen, but I can encompass in my feeble brain what my heart, my soul in faith understands, that You are God and that for God all things are possible [Mt 19:26] including You making it ok to eat Your real flesh, drink Your real blood and through this miracle, enable me to have both eternal life and to live in You and You in me…Lots to think about; lots to pray about; lots to meditate about; lots to believe…but You make it simple…as You said earlier, everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day. [6:40] Period

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Note on 6:54–58 in the NABRE text. The note continues: “This may be part of John’s emphasis on the reality of the flesh and blood of Jesus (cf. Jn 6:55), but the same verb eventually became the ordinary verb in Greek meaning ‘eat.’”

But why the Catholic Church?

Because all the other Churches and religions to which I have been exposed, and there are many, while each has aspects of Christ’s Church and faith and holiness, each doesn’t have the whole package. In some, those aspects may be more appealing than the same in the Catholic Church, particularly if compared with a particular Catholic parish, e.g. the singing may be better [not only with choirs but everybody participates], the preaching more connectable [more down to earth, less dogmatic, even more understandable from an American instead of a foreigner], the pastor more charismatic [less an administrator and more a chum], even the congregation more welcoming [hospitality being a quality that is sorely lacking in many, particularly larger, parishes.] And that’s just the superficial items. How about the more democratic organization, the fewer and less constrictive “doctrines,” the more conventional stands on social and political issues, more open to personal thinking, interpretations, decisions…to tailoring beliefs to my individual needs and world view.

These aspects and their comparisons to the Catholic Church are real. The Catholic Church has many, many failings and foibles, particularly when viewed at the parish level. Nor does the hierarchical level come off well these days: sex and financial scandals, squabbling and factions. Ain’t easy to judge a Divine Church in terms of its human members.

To me, the difference is in the big one that divides Christianity from all other religions, You, Jesus, and in the big three that divides the Catholic Church from all other Christian Churches, Your Real Presence, Your Forgiveness and retention of sin, and Your Church, with Your Magisterium, Pope and bishops. While the Holy Spirit and I will explore each of these separately if that is His will in future meditations, I need to let You guide me to Yourself, Jesus, first.

All of us search for ultimate answers and many of us find it in the realm of the Spiritual. And this search unites us and takes on a collective form in a shared religion.[1] God hard-wired me this way and then, in Your providence, revealed Your True Self over time, making a covenant with a family, a tribe, a nation, and the world through the Jews. That revelation increased in magnitude and depth until finally, knowing You had created us in His image and likeness, You finally appear in human history in that image and likeness in Jesus, the Divine Image, the Divine Expression, the Divine Word.[2] Only in You, Jesus, do I see revealed the Truth, God, whom You showed us to be our Father, and the Spirit of their Love which You share. No other religion except Christianity can point to incarnational revelation, where You, God, actually became human and dwelt among us as a man. Since I can know through a myriad of witnesses that You walked, spoke, ate, drank, slept, and lived among us, then it is on that basis that I believe, I have faith, that You are the God-Man and what You told us in Your life and words are God’s life and words.

[1] “Men expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what is sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going? From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father. This perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense. Religions, however, that are bound up with an advanced culture have struggled to answer the same questions by means of more refined concepts and a more developed language.” Vatican II, Declaration On The Relation Of The Church To Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, Nos. 1-2.

[2] It pleased God to call men to share His life, not just singly, apart from any mutual bond, but rather to mold them into a people in which His sons, once scattered abroad might be gathered together (cf. John 11:52). This universal design of God for the salvation of the human race is carried out not only, as it were, secretly in the soul of a man, or by the attempts (even religious ones by which in diverse ways it seeks after God) if perchance it may contact Him or find Him, though He be not far from anyone of us (cf. Acts 17:27). For these attempts need to be enlightened and healed; even though, through the kindly workings of Divine Providence, they may sometimes serve as leading strings toward God, or as a preparation for the Gospel.(2) Now God, in order to establish peace or the communion of sinful human beings with Himself, as well as to fashion them into a fraternal community, did ordain to intervene in human history in a way both new and finally sending His Son, clothed in our flesh, in order that through Him He might snatch men from the power of darkness and Satan (cf. Col. 1:13; Acts 10:38) and reconcile the world to Himself in Him (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19).Vatican II, On The Mission Activity Of The Church, Ad Gentes, Nos. 2-3.

So why a Church?

So why the Church? This is actually a whole plethora of questions rolled into one. I’ll ask the Spirit to help me look at two: Why any Church? And why the Catholic Church?

Why any Church? First, I am not talking bricks and mortar. I am talking a faith community, it is the “we” in the “Our”; God is “Our” Father, not just my Father.

There is a difference between belief and faith. I recite in the creeds, “I believe”. What I believe is important, is gleaned from a faith community, perhaps many faith communities, plus my own reflections and thoughts, an amalgam of what I believe. But there is a transition from belief to faith. It’s the transition from “I believe” to “I believe,” the personalization, the identification, the commitment to, the living in accordance with the what, the belief. For the simple reason, faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. [1] [Heb 11:1] “Realization” is the making real to me; “evidence” is sometimes translated “conviction,” but either ultimately stem from videre, “to see,” not just to stand under [understand] and view, but to grok with the eyes of the heart, to peer into the essence of the reality and behold the face of God. Indeed, this is often my problem, I may believe, I may be able to mouth the words, but I haven’t made them my own, I haven’t covenanted with them, I haven’t recognized the God Life in them, I haven’t loved them, I haven’t lived them.

So why a Church? Because such lived belief, such faith, is in Jesus; from the incarnational point of view, it is not sought out there in the heavens or in the recesses of my mind, it is found in community, communion with the Jesus, with His Spirit, and through them with the Father. And not even Them out there, but in these, us least of His brothers and sisters, us whom Paul persecuted, us who gather by twos and threes and welcome Them in our midst. Because God has revealed to us that He is so intimately bound to each and every person through His Son and Spirit, I cannot hope to find Them in the Trinity’s infinite diversity and wisdom, mercy and love if I try to find Them in my sinful self alone. I need to find, to see, to experience Them in Their myriad and every fascinating manifestations in each person I meet and in each community I share. “Religion’s main and final goal is to reconnect us (re-ligio) to the Whole, to ourselves, and to one another—and thus heal us.” [R. Rohr]

Not that I do this well. I sometimes prefer to hole up in my own cubby of a world and pretend that the rest don’t exist, or at least don’t matter. It’s called self-idolization. I’m god and I believe in me and I’m in charge and everything and everybody else either better take note and fly right or get out of the way. Of course, such hubris has, as the Greeks observed, its inevitable fall, its crumbling tumble into reality. And for this I need the faith community more than ever, to bear with me when I build my Babels, to pick up the pieces and put my Humpty back together with mercy, love and forgiveness, and to welcome back the battered and scarred sheep with loving and open arms to again form our community of faith and trust in our loving God. Please forgive me, Lord, Jesus, Spirit, Father, and my sisters and brothers, I blew it again, but I’m back to try once more with Your help.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

God or Church

It was pointed out to me that I put the Church and what it says before everything. Upon reflection, I don’t think that’s quite accurate. I put God first. If the Catholic Church were to collapse and disappear tomorrow, I would still put God first. When I am faced with the fact of He who simply is, I can’t get around, past, over or under Him/Her. When people say I can’t prove God, I reply that they can’t disprove Him and that the arguments for His being Him are more convincing than those against. God places these before me and says: “Choose. Choose to Be, to live; choose truth.” God is and God has shown me who He is in Scripture and primarily in the person of Jesus Christ, though sometimes that’s a bit hazy and Jesus has to remind me have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me…? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. [Jn 14:9] [1]

From Scripture I learned that He has been incredibly, literally, loving and merciful to me, considering how I treated Him. He is the indulgent owner who keeps sending servant after servant to collect his rent from me, my obedience and worship in thanksgiving for all He has given me and my sacrifices for all the evil I have imposed on His creation; substitute “me” or “we” for “they” and Jesus has it right: one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. [Mt 21:35-37, 39]

I always am amazed that Jesus does not judge the tenants immediately but instead asks the chief priests and the elders [Mt 21:23], What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?[Mt 21:40] Just as Nathan condemned David by his answer [2 Sam 12:7], Jesus pronounces the exact same punishment on the priests and elder as they pronounced on the tenants: The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.[Mt 21:43]

But notice that the way this happens in God’s providence is that His Son is actually crucified by us tenants while we were still sinners [Rom 5:8], turns the tables on us and saves us by that very action and then, to top it off, raises Jesus from the dead and us with Him. Yes, I am forgiven for Jesus knows I knew not what I did. [Lk 23:34]

That’s the God I follow, the God who forgives, who comforts, who inspires, who directs, whose footprints, when we walk, are only those of Him, the Good Shepherd, when I have wandered and need to be carried back home.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.