Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Original Sin, Catholic Baptism, Human Nature

Catholic Catechism Reflections (pgs. 113 – 116)
We simply can’t unwash a glass, unring a bell, or undo an act that’s already been done. No matter how much we’d like to believe that human nature wasn’t tainted by that first sin, we can’t. It’s a lie. We are no longer innocent, not because we’ve done anything wrong, but because human nature changed that day, giving way to temptation. Children born to sinful parents could no longer bask in the glory of God. They too became tainted by original sin.
Babies are not born sinful. They are merely a product of their parents, as we all are. They are touched by the weakness that all people must strive to overcome in their efforts to have an eternity with God. Spiritual battles must be fought on all fronts. From the moment we begin living until the day we die, our nature is subject to trials, temptations and injustice. We respond, sometimes for God and sometimes against Him.
Baptism cleanses little babies, giving them the grace to remove the circumstances of their birth, a state – not an act, of original sin. Salvation through the birth, death and resurrection of Christ atones for all sin. Catholic Catechism teaches the importance of being cleansed as infants to allow more of God’s grace to help us, as we deal with temptation throughout our lives. Grace like love multiplies, thereby making infant baptism extremely powerful.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit should never be underestimated. Children are exposed to so many things, and ensuring that they have as much grace as possible to deal with these things, is the least we can do in our efforts to raise them properly. These are gifts that make the battle to eternity a little bit easier on mankind. We are who we are, but we are never abandoned or alone in the midst of our humanness. Christ Himself came down to earth as a true God and true Man. He knows the state of human nature, and He helps us conquer it to be with Him forever in eternity.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Understanding Original Sin as Explained in the Catholic Catechism

“When you make a decision, consult death.” That’s what I read last night in Imitation of Mary. At Mass yesterday the priest said in no uncertain terms, that what we do here today has consequences for how we will spend eternity later.  His was a message of hope pertaining to the Ascension of Jesus. In light of what I’ve been studying in the catechism, I took it rather hard.

You see for the past several days, I’ve been reading and rereading about how freedom was tested with the first original sin. Pride and self preference create barriers that make it impossible to be friends with God. “The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed; the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject “to its bondage to decay.” Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: “man will return to the ground,” for out of it he was taken. Death makes entrance into human history.” (CCC pg. 112)
We have no alternative but to accept the transgression of events as they happened. We know that through these events, God showed mercy on His people by sending His Son, Jesus for our salvation. But do we realize how precious the gift of Jesus is? Do we truly acknowledge Jesus present in each and every one of us? Do we grasp how much we must be loved by God to have been given an out for our own failures?
In light of the answers to these questions, our behavior toward one another should automatically be affected. God didn’t just say, “I’ll have mercy on you.” His actions proved it. His love for His creation is unfathomable! Our natural response should be one of humility, appreciation and love – not words uttered in haste as we say our prayers, but actions moved by faith as we live out our prayers each and every moment of our lives. It’s easier said than done, I know. But why should we let that prevent us from trying in the first place? Success really isn’t about taking home the gold. It’s about getting past the fear that keeps you from going for it, when the odds are clearly stacked against you.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Man’s Response to Satan’s Power

“The devil made me do it,” a common utterance when we purposely or accidentally make a bad choice is descriptive, but inaccurate. While the devil is allowed to tempt us, he has no power over us. We alone are responsible for the choices we make of our own free will.

Catholic catechism states clearly that, “The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful in the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign.” (CCC pg. 111) After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, disrupting the pure peace created by Him, angels also exercised their free will and many of them chose to deny God as their one and only king. They literally chose to turn away from God’s goodness, opting instead to follow Satan, the Father of Lies into the depths of Hell.

Once we do that, to the point of no return and final death, it’s over. If we give up all opportunity to repent of our sins, we alone make the decision to separate ourselves from God for all eternity. It sounds like a terrifying message, but it can be thought of as a message of hope too.

If we recognize the powerlessness of Satan to corrupt us, we will make choices that automatically build up the Kingdom of God here on earth. Many saints have done it, even against insurmountable odds. We too have an opportunity to make the world a better place by exercising our baptismal promises to reject Satan and all his empty promises.

This is where I get a little baffled though. How many people in the name of God sin to promote God’s Word? The prolife radical who bombs the abortion clinic is not really building up God’s kingdom. The overbearing parent who disciplines her child by torture is not honestly serving God and teaching that same child God’s ways. Satan sneaks up on us, convincing us that our motives are pure enough to overcome any injury they may cause. Don’t believe it!

Unless we have purity of heart and intention, unless we exercise mercy as surely as we were shown it from the cross, unless we act prudently when we stand up for truth and goodness, we can easily be led astray without ever knowing it.

Pride, envy and ego have no place in God’s kingdom. “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord. Standing up for justice and what’s right is good and noble. How we stand up for what’s right determines a whole lot more than any message we might express. It also reveals our character and willingness to submit to God’s power, will and authority.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Catholic Evangelization

How much do you know? Seriously, how much do you really know about Catholicism or anything else? I’ve been participating in a lot of different conversations lately, and it’s amazing to me how much people know, but don’t know they know.

Most Catholics know what is and isn’t expected of them when it comes to practicing their faith. They’ve heard more than a few lessons on faith, sin, sacraments, and going to Mass on Sunday. When they participate in these events, they are subject to gaining in depth knowledge, and then some of them even read about lives of the saints or other spiritual books for a pastime. Many of us pray the rosary regularly and participate in ministry.

Yet we are often perceived as being non-evangelical. I have a theory about this. I think that many Catholics don’t know what they know and are afraid to share it. They feel intimidated for any number of reasons. They hold back for fear of getting it wrong. They trust scholarly priests to teach the faith and feel unworthy to broach the subject themselves.

Catholics are probably one of the most learned faith groups in the world. We have the tools and means to convert people, certainly as much as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. If we are active participants in the Catholic religion, we know more than we can even imagine about our faith. All we have to do is join the conversation.

I’ll tell you a bit of a funny story about this now. I was heavily involved in the pro-life ministry one time when two Mormon missionaries came knocking at my door. I was in the process of sorting out pro-life t-shirts at my house. We were selling them at the church that weekend. My Mary statue greeted my visitors like she does everyone.

These two missionaries came to share their faith with me. I smiled and showed them my t-shirts, asking if they wanted to buy one. I told them that Catholics are also involved in all sorts of ministries. They looked at my Mary statue and began questioning our “worship” of her. I quickly told them that we do not worship, but honor her because no other woman on earth was chosen to be the Mother of God.

As the discussion continued, I invited these young boys in for a cool drink. We sat for over an hour discussing the Catholic faith and why I could never convert to Mormonism. By the end of the conversation, one of these boys mentioned that he had Catholic relatives. He even said he might go visit my parish to see the tabernacle I spoke so highly of.

It wasn’t my intention to convert anyone that day. I just shared what I knew with two people willing to listen. When these two young boys left, I sat dumbfounded wondering how I knew so much about my faith and was able to express it. I’d certainly never done that before. And then I realized, I didn’t know what I knew, but once I found out, I recognized more opportunities to do it again.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Book Review: Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures by, Pope Benedict XVI

Continuing with our discussion of sin and its clash with culture today, I’d like to share one of the best books I’ve ever read on the subject with you, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures by, Joseph Ratzinger – Pope Benedict XVI. In his book, Pope Benedict discusses in depth the role morality must play in our culture. “In today’s pluralistic societies, where various religious, cultural, and ideological orientations coexist, it is becoming ever more difficult to guarantee a common basis of ethical values shared by all and capable of providing a sufficient foundation for democracy itself. (Chapter 2, pg. 61)

While it is true that societal values have changed over the years, it is also true that the survival of human dignity depends upon our willingness to defend the significance and importance of our Christian faith. “The moral drama, the decision for good or evil, begins with our eyes, when we choose whether or not to look at the face of the other. Why is infanticide almost unanimously rejected today, whereas we have become virtually inured to abortion? Perhaps the only reason is that in the case of abortion, one does not see the face of the one condemned never to see the light of day.” (Chapter 3, pg. 65)

Spirituality must be renewed, according to Pope Benedict XVI, if we are to divert the tragic circumstances meant to collapse our culture in the name of freedom. Freedom is not the absence of God, but the recognition of Him that allows us to remain at peace in the world, regardless of suffering and hardship in our lives. True freedom denies the power of sin, refutes the efforts of Satan, and relies on the glory of God. I highly recommend Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures to everyone. It is a message for our times, one that will continue to have an impact for many generations to come.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Reality of Sin

Today’s topic, sin, is one of those uncomfortable subjects everyone deals with regularly in their lives. We like to make excuses for doing the wrong thing, justifying it as a “necessary evil.” Oh how I hate that term. It’s sort of like “constructive criticism.” We take license to make a poor choice, but in the process, we give up our real freedom as members of the Body of Christ.

Sin is real. That’s all there is to it. It’s as real as the air we breathe and the bodies our souls inhabit. “Without the knowledge Revelation gives of God we cannot recognize sin clearly and are tempted to explain it as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure, etc.” (CCC pg. 109)

Society has taken a lot of liberties with sin over the centuries. We need not look far to realize that several social norms of the times were and are just plain wrong. Many of them are even legal or have been in the past – abortion and slavery. The laws of the land do not justify individual consciences though. When I finally face Jesus, I will not give him a rundown of the laws of my country. I will answer for myself alone, regardless of the laws implemented on earth.

This is why we must stand against the errors of society in our midst. We must be the voice of reason that does not excuse sin and defends those oppressed by it. We cannot afford to buy into the lies that make sin appear to be anything less than it is: a thwart against the God we claim to believe in. And even if we stand alone, it is better to stand alone with God, than in a crowd without Him.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Praying for Our Priests

I received a prayer card in my bulletin this past Sunday. On the back of it was, A Prayer for Our Priests. The cards are being distributed by Knights of Columbus to honor The Year for Priests – June 19, 2009 to June 19, 2010 currently being celebrated in the Catholic Church.

Please copy this prayer, share this prayer and pray this prayer as often as possible. Our holy Mother Church has so much to offer when we have priests who serve her faithfully, and the power of prayer should never be underestimated.

Prayer for Priests
We thank you, God our Father, for those who have responded to your call to priestly ministry. Accept this prayer we offer on their behalf: Fill your priests with the sure knowledge of your love. Open their hearts to the power and consolation of the Holy Spirit. Lead them to new depths of union with your Son. Increase in them profound faith in the Sacraments they celebrate as they nourish, strengthen and heal us.

Lord Jesus Christ, grant that these, your priests, may inspire us to strive for holiness by the power of their example, as men of prayer who ponder your word and follow your will.

O Mary, Mother of Christ and our mother, guard with your maternal care these chosen ones, so dear to the Heart of your Son. Intercede for our priests that, offering the Sacrifice of your Son, they may be conformed more each day to the image of your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
St. John Vianney, universal patron of priests,
Pray for us and our priests.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Conquering Evil and Dealing with Suffering

Evil has been conquered my friends. That’s the Good News we hear and know so well. Knowing it and doing something about it are two distinctly different things. I know 2 + 2 = 4, yet that doesn’t mean this equation changes my life at all. I apply and use it when necessary; I forget about it the rest of the time. Sometimes I even prefer using this equation: 3 + 1 = 4.

Knowing the Good News requires more than an automatic response from us. We cannot sit idly back and only apply it when we see no other alternative. We cannot substitute it to meet our own needs and desires. “There is nothing more opposed to the spirit of submissiveness (to God) than the worldly prudence that wants to see and examine everything.” (The Imitation of Mary, pg. 99)

As people, we are limited. We do not and never will have the power to become our own gods. The only way to deal appropriately with sin and suffering in our midst is to change our hearts with true conversion, accepting fully – not on our own terms, the love that brought forth the reality of the Good News in the first place. When this happens, our lives will undoubtedly change for the better, even during those times when suffering plagues us.

“For the “mystery of lawlessness” is clarified only in the light of the “mystery of religion.” The revelation of divine love in Christ manifested at the same time the extent of evil and the superabundance of grace.” (CCC pg. 108) Bad things happen and it is only by focusing on the complete fullness of God through faith, that we will maintain the courage, strength and endurance to overcome our fears, weaknesses and frustrations, allowing all things to work for good in our lives.