Mother of God Solemnity, a Defence

Mary, Mother of God

Introduction

On January 1st, All United States’ Catholics are obligated to attend Mass for the feast of Mary, the Mother of God. In other countries, this feast is known as a solemnity. I used to joke about the United States Council of Bishops making it a holy day of obligation. I thought it was to prevent Catholics from partying and drinking too much. In reality, the choice of January 1st has historical precedent. In this post, I will define solemnity and Holy day of Obligation. Next, this post will describe the importance of Mary, Mother of God and why the Church chose January 1st.

Solemnity

The Catholic encyclopedia defines solemnity as a feast that deserves extra attention. Solemnities occur because either they are important for the entire faithful or they celebrate a local saint. A lot of parishes take their name from saints. Thus the feast day of that saint becomes a solemnity for them. The Church considers Mary, Mother of God to be so important to the faithful. Thus, The Church also celebrates it as a solemnity. In the United States, the solemnity of Mother of God is also a Holy Day of Obligation. In fact, all Holy Days of Obligation are solemnities, but not all solemnities are Holy Days of Obligations. There are ten Holy Days of Obligation.

Holy Days of Obligation

Canon 1246 states that Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation. In addition to Sunday, The Church gives ten other days. These include: the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary Mother of God, Her Immaculate Conception, Her Assumption, Saint Joseph, the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and finally, All Saints 1. Canon 1246 gives power to Bishops to abolish certain holy days of obligation with prior approval. This explains why Catholics celebrate Mother of God in the United States.

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Why January 1st?

The Catholic Church celebrates this solemnity on January 1st. In the Byzantine Church, the celebration of the second person always occurs after the primary person 2. For the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the primary person would be Jesus. The Church celebrates Jesus on December 25th. Thus, any celebration of Mary’s motherhood would occur after December 25th2. Different locations celebrated the Solemnity of Mother of God on various different dates. The Coptic Catholic Church celebrated on January 16th 2. The Catholic Church in France celebrated on January 18th2. The Roman Church celebrated on January 1st2. The Roman church chose this date because they wanted to replace the pagan feast of the God Janus 2.

In the fifth century, disputes arose about the nature of Jesus’ divinity. The major question centered on whether Jesus inherited two natures. Mary contributed to his human nature and God contributed to his divine nature. The Council of Ephesus met to debate and decide this issue. They declared Jesus had one nature that was fully human and divine and thus Mary was the Mother of God. The Solemnity was extended to the entire Latin Church in 1931, the fifteenth century of the Council of Ephesus 1. When choosing a date, The Church went with the ancient practice of Rome. Pope Paul VI explains,

This celebration is assigned to January 1st in conformity with the ancient liturgy of the city of Rome2.

So we Catholics celebrate Mary, Mother of God on January 1st. We should understand The Church is not trying to prevent late night parties. Rather, The Church deems it important and desires to honor the Roman traditional date.

Celebrating the solemnity today

So what can we as Catholics today learn from celebrating Mary, Mother of God. First of all, we remember Mary’s yes to God. When we remember her yes, we are strengthened to make our own yes to God. We remember Mary’s humanity. We can acknowledge that Christ was fully divine and fully human. One must understand Christ’s nature to understand the incarnation and our own salvation.. Last, when attending Mass on the New Year, we make a conscious effort to put God first before starting a New Year. So this New Year, don’t sleep off a hangover, spend some time with your spiritual mother by attending the solemnity of Mary Mother of God.


  1. https://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/holy_days_of_obligation.htm 
  2. https://www.ewtn.com/saintsHoly/saints/S/solemnityofmary.asp 

Putting Christ back in Chrismas

Top picture is a Christmas landscape with snow, trees, Christmas decorations. Bottom picture is a nativity scene with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in a manger

Introduction

When we think of Christmas Eve, we typically think of family gatherings, gift giving, and a nice meal. If we have young children or are young children, we might prepare for St. Nick to visit. We rarely make time for or appreciate the real reason for the season, which is the birth of Jesus Christ. On Christmas Day, the son of God came down in the form of a baby. He was born in a dirty manger. Have we really stopped in the midst of the busy holiday season to ask why? What is the significance of the incarnation for Christian theology? Also, why does it continue to be important for us today?

Significance for Christianity

I touched on this in my last blog post, 6 Reasons to Believe in Christianity. I believe that the incarnation is one of the top reasons to believe in Christianity.

Redeemed Humanity

In the incarnation, God took on humanity’s nature. This action restored the grace that humanity had at the garden of Eden. When Christ destroyed death for one, he destroyed death for all. St. Paul puts it this way,

“For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ” Romans 5:17

Jesus’ victory over death applies to all humanity as a gift. How one accepts this gift is a point of contention between Protestants and Catholics. This topic of soteriology is too broad for this post.

Reveals God the Father

Not only does the incarnation ensure our salvation, but it also reveals who God is to all. Jesus reveals that God is not some mystical guy in the sky. Rather, God is a real tangible person. St. Athanasius argues that neither creation nor the law is enough to remind us of God. Thus, God being a good king would not let us take other masters, but would come down himself.1 Jesus puts it this way,

Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:9b

Jesus confirms that through him God the father reveals his true nature.

Made Eye Witness Accounts Possible

Lastly, the incarnation made eyewitness accounts possible. Jesus was a real historical person. The twelve disciples claimed to have seen the resurrection. Yet they also knew Jesus Christ as a human being. All of the disciples died rather than recant that Jesus was the son of God. It is easy to die for believing something someone told you. Muslim martyrs do this all the time. It is harder to die for a claim known to be false. The disciples knew Jesus. Thus, if the disciples had any doubts about his claims, they would’ve had a harder time dying for the cause.

Significance Now

The above are great reasons to believe in Christianity, but what if you are already Christian? Why is it important to recognize the incarnation now? What does it have left to teach us?

First, it teaches that we can have a relationship with the divine. The Bible puts it this way,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15

Jesus understands where we are coming from since he has also been tested in a similar way. I once presented the above reason to a Muslim. She was quick to object. She said if God created us wouldn’t he know us. I must admit she had stumped me. Yet I’ve come to realize that knowing and experiencing are two different things. I can know that fire causes pain when touched. Yet I cannot sympathize until I experience being burned myself. I want my God to not just know humanity, but to experience humanity.

Second, it shows that God is not afraid of our mess. Sometimes we can think that we are unlovable or unworthy. The incarnation teaches that if God can enter the mess of a stable, he can enter the mess of our hearts.

Third, it teaches the importance of all life. God entrance into humanity took the form of a vulnerable child, who society did not welcome. Thus, Christians should welcome the poor, the lonely, the immigrant, and the unwanted. The incarnation teaches us the importance of accepting and protecting all human life.

Conclusion

Christmas is the celebration of love, and joy that stems from the coming of Jesus Christ, our savior. Jesus didn’t come as a warrior king ready to do battle. Rather, he entered this world as a newborn baby. The incarnation is significant. It serves as the foundation for salvation theology. It reminds us to love and welcome the outsider. Lastly, it teaches us that God embraces our mess. Christmas is a time when you gather around your family for a nice meal and presents. Yet please also don’t forget to acknowledge Christ’s birth.

1. [st Athanasius On The Incarnation, http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/theology/incarnation_st_athanasius.pdf]

Six Reasons to Believe in Christianity

Why Christianity, My Journey From an Atheist to a Believer

Introduction

I remember when I first became a Christian. The topic of religion made me very excited. I wanted to talk about Jesus with everyone I met. One Christmas, I gave my family all Christian themed gifts. I listened to the pastor’s sermons online. Over the years I have mellowed out. My life is no longer a walking billboard for Christianity. As a Catholic, I still very much practice Christianity. So when wrestling with the fundamental questions about life, why did I chose Christianity?

Matthew 21:12-13

Before I began, I want to start with scripture, Matthew 21:12-13.

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[a] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’[b]”

Jesus flipping over tables

Here Jesus displays genuine anger. Jesus is taking action. He is overturning tables and kicking out the money changers. We don’t normally think about this image of Jesus. Rather, we depict Jesus as a peaceful lamb. Sometimes we assume he is passive and meek. Yet, just like he did with the money changers, Jesus wants to disrupt our lives. He wants to set us apart.

This relates to my own journey. I had to address the question, “was I going to let Jesus disrupt my life.” I do not regret my decision. Below are 6 reasons I chose to become a Christian and follow Christ.

1. Higher purpose

I first began to open up to any religion when I needed to discover a higher purpose. I failed molecular genetics. Thus, I realized that I could no longer rely on success to dictate my purpose. I was a perfectionist. A book, Lethal Harvest, showed me the dangers of living for yourself. In the book, one character, an atheist, loses his life in pursuit of his work. I did not want my work to represent my value as a person. So I began to search for a purpose beyond myself. Philosophically speaking, the lowly cannot rise to a higher level. Instead, that which is higher must come down and raise the lowly. In other words, in order to have a purpose that transcends yourself, you need a divine being. I am not saying unbelievers have no purpose, but rather any purpose they have is self-made. This realization does not point me to Christianity, but it does point me to a belief system.

2. Familiarity

Upon realizing that I needed to adopt a belief system, I took to the internet and researched. I found the Unitarian Universalist church. In this church, all belief systems were correct. As a member, you could join different study groups. These groups covered various different belief systems. I chose to join the Christian study group due to my familiarity with Christianity. I grew up Catholic and grew up learning the basic stories in the Bible. The group got together to “study” the Bible. In reality, we really just questioned the Bible for an hour. One notable exchange occurred when discussing the nativity narratives. We debated about whether an angel visited Joseph. Some people purposed that Mary had drugged him and disguised herself as an angel. Despite the ridiculous theology, this group got me to open up the Bible for myself. They showed me, Christian love when I was in the hospital. Thus I felt comfortable with them. Yet as I continued to read the Bible for myself, I could no longer pretend that Jesus was just a good moral teacher.

4. Accepting the Incarnation

One of the key beliefs of orthodox Christianity is the incarnation. This belief implies that Jesus is fully human and fully God. I first came to this realization by reading John 14:6.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In this passage, Jesus is not saying he is one way to the Father. Rather, Jesus is saying he is the only way. I asked my pastor to share his thoughts. He could only reply that the Bible misquoted Jesus in John 14:6. My logic would not allow for this response. Either the Bible contains the truth or it does not. My pastor implied that the gospel of John was untrue. Since I believe in the integrity of the whole bible; I left the Unitarian faith.

On The Incarnation

I continued to wrestle with the concept of the incarnation. In graduate school, I read St. Athanasius On The Incarnation. This work affected my view on the Incarnation. Athanasius says that God made us in his image and that we had the Word in us at the beginning of creation.1 However, we lost the Word when the fall occurred.1 The fall corrupted humanity. In order to restore our incorruptible nature, Christ needed to assume a human body.1 By redeeming one body, he elevates all bodies1. Athanasius also purposes that Christ, the word of God, came down so that we would know about God.1 He argues that neither creation nor the law is enough to remind us of God. Thus, God being a good king would not let us take other masters, but would come down himself.1

Athanasius’ work helped me. I understood why the incarnation is important for our salvation. The concept of the Incarnation is a unique aspect of Christianity. The only other religion that believes in an incarnation is Hinduism. Yet in Hinduism the deity, Vishnu does not take on the physical nature of the people and animals.2 Thus, unlike Christ, Vishnu cannot restore our incorruptibility.2 Hence, Vishnu must incarnate himself multiple times to “save” humanity.2 In my opinion, I would rather God restore me completely than be trapped in an endless cycle.

5. Christian Rock Music

During my conversion period, I was exposed to Christian rock and Metal music. The songs had themes of never giving up and fighting a spiritual battle. While in the hospital, these songs gave me hope. Two songs, in particular, come to mind: Belief by The Letter Black and On The Front Lines by Light Up the Darkness.

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Both songs paint pictures of overcoming pain through belief and faith. Sarah, from The Letter Black, sings, “I am not afraid anymore of what I don’t know.” Likewise, Light Up the Darkness sings,

“I’m not defeated

I will stand tall

My armor is fitted

I will not fear

You held my hand

You led me here

You can defeat the enemy”

These messages of hope would influence me to choose Christianity over other religions.

6. The Holy Spirit

I remember the first time I surrendered to Christ publicly. The pastor had asked if we were ready to stop striving. Something in me broke. I could not stop crying as I walked to the ground of this one thousand person church. After being prayed over I felt a lightness that I had never felt before. Over the course of the week, I noticed that I no longer doubted God’s existence. I now know that I had a radical encounter with the Holy Spirit. This encounter has led me to continue in my Christian Catholic faith

Conclusion

When confronted with an existential crisis, I began as a logical assessment. This led me to Christianity. Yet, I also needed to have a radical encounter with the divine. I believe there are logical reasons to believe in Christianity. Yet, one must also allow God to show himself. I hope that my own journey encourages you to explore religion itself and discover what is true.

 

 

1. [st Athanasius On The Incarnation, http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/theology/incarnation_st_athanasius.pdf]
2. [https://www.comparativereligion.com/avatars.html]

In Defense of the Immaculate Conception

Statue of Mary, white stone looking upward with prayer hands, green trees in background

Introduction

On December 8th, Catholics celebrate The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The church requires all Catholics to believe in the four Marian Doctrines. The four Marin doctrines are The Divine Motherhood, Perpetual Virginity, the Immaculate Conception, and The Assumption. People often misunderstand these four Marian doctrines of the Church. Protestants accuse the Catholic Church of elevating Mary beyond what scripture allows. In honor of Mary’s feast-day, I will attempt to defend her immaculate conception.

Immaculate Conception

We must first define the concept of the Immaculate Conception. This belief states that Mary was born without original sin. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, they separated themselves from God. This fallen state is passed on to future generations and is known as original sin. Mary did not suffer from this separation and thus she was able to live a holy life.

Logic

The Bible does not explicitly mention the Immaculate Conception. It also does not say that Mary was free from sin. However. logic can help us arrive at this conclusion. We know that God’s grace destroys sin. That sin cannot exist in God’s presence. If that is true, then if Mary is carrying the son of God in her womb, the sin in her would need to be destroyed. We also know that Jesus’ death on the cross makes us holy and redeems us. We know that this saving act is not stuck in time. Rather, Jesus’ salvific act exists outside of time. If this were not true, then Jesus could not save future humanity. Similarly, Jesus’ saving act could be applied in anticipation of the cross. Mary receives the benefit of salvation before the Cross occurs. She receives it from Jesus, not by her effort, but by God choosing her. She, in essence, is the first disciple. Most Protestants argue that this logic while sound contradicts Roman 3:23. I will address the Bible next.

Biblical argument

Old Testament

First I want to look at a pattern established in The Old Testament. When a wife was barren, she would go to the temple and pray for a child. Often she would receive instructions from God that she would need to follow. She would normally dedicate her child to God. One such example occurs in Judges 13:2-5. In this passage, an angel of the Lord tells an unnamed woman that her child will be dedicated to God from the womb. He tells her that she must not drink wine nor eat anything unclean. This woman had to be ritualistically pure in order to dedicate her son to God. How pure must the Virgin Mary be in order to have the son of God? Well, if Luke 1:28 is an indication, then Mary was sinless.

Luke 1:28

The bible implies the Immaculate conception in Luke 1:28.

Hail full of Grace, the Lord is with you.

The Greek word for full of Grace is kecharitōmene. The thing one has to understand about biblical Greek is that every verb has a tense, an object, a voice, and a mood 1. When one looks up the meaning of the word in the Bible, it will not address the tense, object, voice, or mood. For example, in English, a dictionary will give you the tense, whether it be present, past or future. Biblical Greek does not work that way. When you look up a passage in a concordance, you get the definition of the root word. In Luke 1:28 the root word for “full of Grace” is charitoō. Strong’s Greek to English dictionary defines, charitoō as ‘to grace’. In Luke 1:28 the verb tense is written in the perfect past participle tense. Verb tenses in Greek work differently than the tenses in English. The past tense in English refers to an action that was done in the past. In biblical Greek, the tense refers to the type of action 1. The Greek perfect tense refers to a completed action with ongoing effects 1. Thus in Luke 1:28 the verses are actually saying something like, “greetings Mary, who was graced and is being filled with grace.” If God fills a person with grace continuously then sin cannot exist in that person (Ephesians 2:5,8)2.

Romans 3:23

Some people point to Romans 3:23 as the reason to not believe in the Immaculate Conception. St. Paul writes that “all have sinned…” People argue that by saying all have sinned, there is no room for Mary to be sin free. However, let’s compare this to Romans 5:12. Here Paul writes, “Death spread to all men because “all have sinned.” This ‘all’ that Paul is using cannot be taken literally. To do so would contradict the Bible. In Hebrews 11:5-6, the Bible states, “Enoch pleased God and was taken by God.” If he was taken by God then he did not die. Therefore death did not spread to all men. Thus, we must acknowledge that Paul uses ‘all’ as an exaggeration and not literal fact. If Paul is consistent then the same applies to the all used in Romans 3:23. Like Enoch is an exception for death to all, Mary is the exception for all have sinned.

Conclusion

The argument for the Immaculate Conception has a strong biblical base. Mary was the first disciple. She was the first person to be saved by Christ and the first person to say yes to him. For these reasons, she holds a high place of honor in Catholic Spirituality. I desire to go from grace to grace as she did. The sacraments enable me to be in a state of grace. Thus I can strive to say yes as she did.


  1. http://www.ntgreek.org/learn_nt_greek/verbs1.htm 
  2. Nick Hardesty, “In Defense of The Immaculate Conception: Part 3,” Catholic Stand (December 15th, 2014): http://www.catholicstand.com/defense-immaculate-conception-part-3/ 

Singleness: Is It a Vocation

Lay-led Ecclesial communities: a solution to the singleness vocation

Introduction

The term vocation calls to mind either sacramental marriage or religious life. As I get older, I find myself wondering, is God calling me to marriage or religious life. I’ve briefly considered consecrated virginity. However, more often I wonder if there room in Catholic theology for singleness as a vocation. In order to address this question, I first have to explore the Catholic notion of vocation. Second, I will explore a common argument against singleness as a vocation. Third, I will explore how lay-led ecclesial communities to help address singleness.

What is Vocation

Catholicculture.org defines vocation as a call from God to a distinctive state of life, in which the person can reach holiness. Note that the definition never defines a particular state in life. Hence, one can be single and still reach holiness. A quote from Lumen Gentium supports this viewpoint.

Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity;(4*) by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society.

Regardless of our station in life, we are all striving for holiness. Thus, holiness is my ultimate vocation. The church services everyone, but has a special compassion for those with no family. In Famillaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II writes,

No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who “labor and are heavy laden.”

Yet, there seem to be distinct differences between the sacramental vocations and singleness. These differences have led many to believe that singleness cannot be a vocation.

Differences Between Singleness and The Sacramental Vocations

Msgr. Charles Pope in his article, “Is There a Vocation to the Single Life? I Think Not and Here’s Why,” describes his objections to singleness as a vocation. He begins by highlighting the basic differences between tradition vocations and singleness.

Basic Differences

1. Make Vows and Promises

Msgr. Charles Pope states that in marriage and in religious life, the party or parties make promises to themselves and the church. He argues that the state of being single does not require the person to make any vows or promises. They can choose to make vows and promises. Yet the vocation is found in the vows and promises they make, not in their singleness.

2. Commit to the Life They Enter Stably

Singleness is open to change. A person remains single until something better comes along. Thus they find the right person and become married or they make a commitment to the church.

3. Exclusivity

Traditional vocations offer exclusivity. When you are married, you promise to be with your partner forever. If you take religious vows, you promise not to date anybody. Yet when you are single, you are not required to be exclusive. You can form relationships with multiple people.

4. Communal Relationship

When one enters into religious life, one makes a lasting bond. Similarly, in marriage, a couple pledges to be in communion with each other until death. Singles are not bound to form lifelong communal relationships with others.

5. Live Under Rules

Priest and those in religious life have a structure to their day. They cannot merely do what they please. For example, a priest must pray the liturgy of the hours. Similarly, married couples have rules that govern their family. For example, they cannot wake up and decide to go on vacation. They need to consult the needs and desires of their spouse and children. A single person does have rules they live by. Yet these rules were arbitrarily picked by themselves or given to them.

6. Under Authority

When a priest enters into religious life, he subjects himself to the authority of the bishop. Similarly, a married person subjects themselves to the authority of their spouse. A person, who is single, does not subject himself to anyone’s authority. A person, who is single, does not need to report to anybody.

Theological Reason

According to Msgr. Charles Pope, all these basic differences point to a theological principle. This principle is called Nuptial Meaning of the Body. This states that God made the body for others. In marriage, this happens during the sexual union. In religious life, those individuals give their bodies to the church in a symbolic way.

So can one reconcile both viewpoints? Is it a matter of interrupting vocation to broadly or narrowly? What can singles do?

Vocations verses vocation: Where Does Singleness Fit in Catholic Teaching.

I think the confusion comes when we conflate vocations. In reality, every good Catholic has a vocation to holiness. However, we also have gifts and talents that can affect our vocations. Last we have a vocation as a committed life. Msgr. Charles Pope is right to suggest that singleness cannot be considered a committed way of life. Yet he is wrong to imply that singleness has no vocation. Although I believe people are reading that into the article. Singleness is a state of being, where a person is called to be holy. Religious life or marriage are options and are not guaranteed to the individual. Single life has a vocation but is not a vocation by itself.

Singleness and Lay Led Ecclesial Communities:

So how can a person, who is single, find a vocation in the Church. Lay lead ecclesial communities such as the ones founded in the renewal can help those, who are single. In my community, we have a commitment to one another. One cannot break this commitment without discernment from the whole community. Furthermore, we, as a community, have a pattern of life and community rhythm that governs our life. I am required to respect and obey the leadership in the community. Thus these communities offer commitment and stability. Singleness by itself fails to offer.

Catholicism: 5 things I love

Introduction

In this post, I will be writing about the five things I like about Catholicism. I was inspired to write this while watching LizzieAnswers youtube channel. For those who don’t know, Lizzieanswers was a popular youtube channel, who became Catholic famous when she announced her conversion. On September 1st, 2018, she posted a video titled What I still hate about Catholicism. As a convert, I find it easy to look at my past experiences through rose-colored glasses. Instead of critiquing the Church, I thought I would describe the five things that I appreciate about Catholicism and then next week talk about the things I miss about Protestantism.

1. Eucharistic adoration

I remember my first Eucharistic adoration. I was a non-catholic at the time. My Catholic friend had invited me. I had wanted to meet a blind priest, Fr. Mike Joly. Unfortunately, at the time we went the priest was unavailable to do adoration. Thus instead of the usual benediction, they offered an hour of silent prayer. In my protestant church, silent prayer was not a thing. I saw how everyone was kneeling and praying. It felt reverent and holy. I would grow to love adoration. I have my most spiritual encounters in the adoration chapel. It’s like a date with Jesus, who is the present body, blood, soul, and divinity.

2. Silence

Protestant. churches are very loud. Music is everywhere: before the service, during the service, and after the service. On top of the music, people are greeting each other and chatting. There’s not much room for silence. Catholic church’s prioritize silence. In the past, sanctuaries have been so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Over the years, churches have gotten laxer about noise, but you can always find a quiet place to pray.

3. Universal lectionary

A lectionary is a collection of readings for every Mass. I can go to any Catholic Church around the world and hear the same readings. This is not true of Baptist churches and most other Protestant churches. The Universal lectionary enables me to hear more of the Bible. I also can read ahead of time. I love reading the scripture and praying about it before Sunday mass. I like hearing different priest’s perspective on the same story.

4. The Rosary

I started praying the rosary even before I was Catholic. I challenged myself to memorize and recite 150 prayers of the rosary. I began meditating on the mysteries of the rosary. I fell in love with the sorrowful mysteries: Jesus’ agony, pain, suffering, and crucifixion. I found it easy to place myself in the events and to learn from them. This is extremely different then the prayer taught in Protestant circles. Rather, Protestant prayers are more vocalized.

5. The concept of Saints

Hebrews 12: 1 states

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,

The idea behind the communion of Saints is that those, who have died and are with God can intercede for us on earth. There is a beauty to the idea that death cannot separate the body of Christ from one another. We know that those, who went before us can make it through, and thus we can as well. My favorite saint is st. Monica. Through prayers and tears, she was able to convert her husband and son to Christianity. Her son would be no other than St. Augustine.

Conclusion

As converts, we have a unique ability to see the areas where Catholicism may be lacking relative to other thriving Christian denominations. However, we came into Catholicism to experience the true, beautiful, and the good. Let us not lose sight of how Catholicism offers the true, the beautiful, and the good through various devotions and practices and teachings.

Nativity Pastor Father White, Social media, and Criticism.

Phone with facebook shown and then next to phone is wooden blocks, which spells out social media

Introduction

Social Media and How We Handle Criticism

Social media provides a person with a certain anonymity. This allows them to behave in ways that differ from real life relationships. In online communication, you can ignore or block a person with an opposing viewpoint. This allows a person to create an echo chamber which supports their own viewpoint. Apart from this blog, I don’t post much. I’m not a very witty person and I have a pretty uneventful life. On Twitter, I have a very low follower count. Most of my followers are either friends and family or small Catholic accounts. I got twitter not to be famous, but to follow band members that I enjoy. After attending a Steubenville Young Adult conference, I began following various Catholic speakers. This introduced me to “Catholic twitter.”

Catholic Twitter

Catholic Twitter is an interesting place. Catholics are some of the most opinionated people. They are never happy and there is always a controversy. Everyone got opinionated about a breakdancing priest at a youth conference. There were some who thought the priest should not dance. These debates make following Catholics both entertaining and frustrating. One person I followed, in particular, was Father White until he blocked me. It seemed strange for a priest to block me over a mere disagreement. To understand why he blocked me, we need to understand my relationship to The Church of Nativity.

My history with Church of Nativity

I don’t necessarily recall how I stumbled on Nativity’s website. It reminded me of Protestant church websites. As a Catholic convert, the seeker friendly attitude made me want to explore more. The Church of Nativity offered a praise band, message series, hospitality, and community. These were things I was missing. I quickly fell in love.

Falling in Love

Since the idea of a seeker-friendly Catholic Church appealed to me, I decided to watch Mass. While the Mass was very modern, it had traditional elements. In particular, I fell in love with the Latin chanting of the traditional mass hymns. I also enjoyed the homily as it was well thought out and felt relevant. I got a copy of the Rebuilt book and became a disciple of Father White. I would quote the book whenever I could and I became critical of other parishes and their efforts. On October 2nd, 2016, I became a member of Nativity’s online small group. I also began contributing financially. Unfortunately, the honeymoon period did not last long.

The End of the Love Affair

Small Group

I began to question Nativity’s methods through my interactions with my small group. Out of 5 people, I believe I was the only one to attend Mass regularly. They talked about other churches nearby; they would say things like how it’s not as friendly as Nativity. They would also say that they’d only go to Nativity. I would try to convince them that they should go for the Eucharist and not for the experience. I wondered if Nativity was making Catholic disciples or Nativity disciples.

Mass Online

Also when watching mass online, Nativity offered an online chat feature. I found myself getting into the weirdest conversations and debates. For example, one guy claimed to do his own consecration from home while watching. I was the only one to point out that it was anti-catholic to do so. Also if anyone questioned anything about the mass, the chat would label them a Pharisee. I received a lot of insults when questioning the Palm Sunday liturgy. During this liturgy, Father White did not give a homily. Instead, the gospel reading was done through dubbing of The Passion Of the Christ. After this incident, I began to doubt Nativity.

Emails Sent

I wrote an email to my small group on May 5th, 2017. I stated that due to the liturgical abuses, I was unsure of my place at Nativity. I said that although I do not consider myself the most traditional Catholic, I value the liturgy. I said that I would reframe from making a hasty decision until I visited. I wrote a much more lengthy letter to Father White. I outline the actions that I believed to be liturgical abuses. I expressed that my concern was out of love for Nativity. I never got a response. I continued to support and scheduled a visit on September 9th, 2017. I’ve written about it here. I left Nativity for good on December 3rd, 2017. I still continued to follow Father White on Twitter and Facebook.

Father White

I deeply admire Father White. I admire his ability to take risks and market a message. He gives excellent homilies and has an amazing ability to delegate. I also think he truly loves the church and believes his vision for the church. I no longer wholeheartedly agree with everything Nativity does. I do admire Father White’s opinion. An article he wrote, Liturgical bullies, disappointed me. When I saw this on Facebook, I had to comment. I said, “I wonder if Father White would consider me a liturgical bully since I wrote to him regarding Palm Sunday. I have a problem with the omitting of necessary elements from the mass to make an emotional statement.” I fully expected my comment to be removed; however, to my surprise that did not happen. I realized that I could no longer see Father White’s tweets.

Conclusion

Now imagine if I had lived in the area and become a member of the church. I would hope that Father White would want to address my concerns. I would hope that he would be a good shepherd and leave the 99 to go after me. However, I am not a member so I respect the fact that Father White does not need to listen to me. However, I do feel like as a shepherd of people, he needs to keep an open dialogue with those who disagree with him.

Why Mass under 40 Min?

Why Mass under 40 Min, Pope Francis’ unusual request

Introduction

I attend the 9am Sunday mass on 9/16/18. I got out at 10:05am. I guess I should alert my bishop. My parish is refusing to adhere to Pope Francis’ guidelines about the Mass. Cindy Wood, Catholic News Service’s Rome Bureau Chief, tweeted out the following:

#PopeFrancis in Sicily garners big applause when he says a homily shouldn’t last more than 8 minutes. “A 40-minute homily? NO. The whole Mass should last about 40 minutes!

When I saw this, my blood began to boil. This tweet gave me the inspiration to address the elephant in the room. Why is there a pervasive apathy in Catholic culture to the Mass?

This apathy stems from two intertwined issues. First, the Mass as an obligation and second a lack of understanding about the point behind Mass.

Mass as Obligation

I must admit there are days, where I do not want to attend Sunday Mass. I find it especially hard when I have not slept well or I do not feel well. Yet I choose to still attend, why? Sometimes I feel guilty. However, the guilt is not because I would be neglecting an obligation imposed on me by the church. Rather my guilt is the same response I would have if I neglected a friend. Mass is one of the only times Jesus gets to feed me through his word and body. Just like you wouldn’t want to rush time spent with a friend, why do you want to rush spending time with Jesus.

Yet so many Catholics attend Mass out of obligation. They attend because it is something they’ve always done or because they are afraid of sinning. Now fear of hell is not necessarily a bad reason. After all, fear of hell is an important motivator for imperfect contrition. Yet we should strive for perfect contrition or the idea that we can motivate ourselves out of pure love for God. We should strive to attend Mass out of pure love for God. If that is our motivation then we should be able to spend at least an hour with God.

Protestant Experience

As a convert, I attended Protestant worship services. The top criticisms I heard about those services from Catholics is that 1. They express interest in entertainment only and 2. The attitude of the people are fake. In response to the latter, I know from my own personal experience that I did not fake my attitude. I was genuinely happy to be there. I think a major difference was that I actively chose to be there. I didn’t need it. Most Protestant churches either live stream their services or record it. One does not need to attend to hear the message. If so, then why do so many people attend. I know for myself I attended for the community; I felt like the church wanted me.

Shortening the Mass to 40 minutes is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Catholics need to reclaim a desire for the liturgy and community. Shortening the Mass may make it more convenient, but it will not change hearts. Catholics need to feel like they’re wanted at church. They need to feel like Church is feeding them.

The dual purpose of Mass

The church divides Mass into two parts: The Liturgy of The Word, and The Liturgy of The Eucharist. During the Liturgy of the Word, The lector reads scripture and the priest gives the homily. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist one brings up the gifts. Then, the priest consecrates the host. Finally The extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist distribute the host to the faithful. The priest gives the homily from the ambo and consecrates from the altar. The ambo and the altar represent the two tables by which the church feeds faithful. Hence the point of mass is to feed on the word of God and the Eucharist

The Homily

The Homily assists in the overarching goal of Mass. According to the General Instructions on the Roman Missal,

“Although in the readings from Sacred Scripture the Word of God is addressed to all people of whatever era and is understandable to them, a fuller understanding and a greater efficaciousness of the word is nevertheless fostered by a living commentary on the word, that is, by the Homily, as part of the liturgical action.”

Thus the homily offers a living commentary. This commentary includes a reflection on all the readings, not just the gospels. Priests have the responsibility to present us with this commentary regardless of time-constants. I would rather hear a well-researched well-articulated- passionate long homily, than a short 8-minute reflection. We, as Catholics, should not concern ourselves with the length of the homily. Rather, we should ask does it speak the truth, does it help me understand the scriptures, and does it convict.

Conclusion

The tweet reminded me of the story in Acts 20:9-10

“And a certain young man named Eutychus, seated by the window, was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell from the third story and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, threw himself on the young man, and embraced him. “Do not be alarmed!” he said. “He is still alive!”…”

I wonder if Pope Francis would criticize St. Paul. His homilies were so long that a parishioner fainted out a window and died. We need to have a hunger and desire for the word of God. We need to demand living commentary regardless of how long they take.

Caution These Stereotypical Labels We Use Destroy Unity

Caution These Stereotypical Labels We Use Destroy Unity

Introduction

Labels and stereotypes are funny things. People use them in-jokes to make fun of a person different than them. Sometimes people create true stereotypes. Yet most of the time, People create stereotypes based on exaggeration. One can use labels to divide or put down. Even in the Catholic Church, one uses labels to create division. The Catholic Church’s appeals to unity. Yet. the Church divides through labels such as traditional, Charismatic, or cafeteria. The essence of Catholic spirituality is both traditional and charismatic

Personal experience with labels

In my own life, I don’t fit into the cookie-cutter boxes that social media wants to place me in. Am I Charismatic because I’ve had a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit? Am I tradition because I desire to adhere to the liturgical guidelines of the church. Catholics might label me because I appreciate the vast artistic tradition of the church? I question a church’s liturgical practice, Catholics label me a hater and Pharisee. I lift my hands to pray or speak about a personal relationship with Jesus, Catholics label me Charismatic. For these reasons, I want to explore each label. I’ve already discussed what the label charismatic means. In this post, I am going to define what it means to be a traditional Catholic.

The Stereotypical Characteristics of a Traditional Catholic

1. An adherence to one liturgical style

Traditional Catholic can describe someone who prefers and attends an extraordinary form Mass. For those who don’t know, the extraordinary form mass refers to a mass celebrated before Vatican II. The council of Vatican II revised the liturgy to be more receptive to the modern world.

Changes in the Liturgy

The most profound change was the transition from Latin to the vernacular. Those, who attend the Extraordinary Form liturgy, still hear the scripture readings in Latin. The second change was the cycle of readings. Those who attend Novus Ordo hear more scripture and sometimes different scripture. Priest faces the congregation in Novus Ordo as opposed to facing the tabernacle in the extraordinary form. Lastly, the Novus Ordo reinstates the sign of peace. In *Novus Ordo*, the laity takes an active role including the distributing of the Eucharist.

Misconception

Since most traditionalists have a deep appreciation for the Mass, most resist change. They would like to see a liturgy that contained pre-Vatican II elements. However, one cannot assume that a traditional Catholic must attend an extraordinary form mass. For me at least, it’s not a matter of the form, Novus Ordo is fine. Rather, I have a problem with blatant liturgical abuses.

2. Cares more about the rules rather than Mercy

Often times traditional Catholics and modern day Pharisees go hand in hand. Traditional Catholics care more about the letter of the law rather than making people feel welcome. People often cite,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.- Mathew 23:24

I know that I’ve been guilty of this argument. I used to think that silent sanctuaries were cold and uninviting. But, the longer I stay Catholic, the more I begin to appreciate the respect and reverence. This seems missing from Novus Ordo parishes. We should heed the advice of Jesus and not neglect the respect and reverence due to the Eucharist while still practicing love for neighbor.

3. Nit-picky

Sometimes understanding and articulating the rules comes across as nit-picky. Some people object to the frustration with hand-holding during our father as a nit-picky complaint. However, hand holding introduces a new liturgical gesture into the Mass. In order to introduce a new gesture into the Mass, the council of bishops must approve it by 2/3rd vote. The hand holding gesture has not received the necessary support from the bishops. Thus most traditionalist would argue that one should not hold hands. In my own view, I feel that while one should not hold hands, silence regarding the proper posture leaves room for change. However, as a traditional Catholic, I desire that change comes from the proper authority.

4. Hater of Vatican II

While extreme traditional Catholics exist that deny the legitimacy of Vatican II, I welcome the changes. I believe that reading scripture and having personal participation is important. Vatican II helped open up the church to the modern age and helps promote ecumenicalism. I do object to the “spirit of Vatican II,” which priest used as an excuse to introduce liturgical abuses. In other words, Vatican II is not a problem, rather the implementation is problematic.

Conclusion

Thus, a traditional Catholic as myself possess the following

  1. Loyal to the Catholic Church and the teachings of the Magisterium

     

  2. Lives the life according to The teachings of the Church

  3. admires the beauty of the rich history of the Church

The reality is that all Catholics are called to uphold the traditions of the Catholic Church and to care about the liturgy. Labeling a person, “traditional” due to liturgical preference undermines this call. As someone, who doesn’t fit into these categories, I want to know that I am a part of the Universal Church. We should be uniformly Catholic and not destroy unity through the labeling of the other.

Faith In The Midst of Scandal

Faith In The Midst of Scandal

Introduction

If you followed me on social media, you would see that I have not posted anything regarding the sexual abuse scandal. I have not posted not because I am not confused, angry, frustrated, sad, and disappointed. Rather, I could find the words to express my thoughts. Others have posted on the issue and I felt that my voice would be a repetitive clanging cymbal echoing their sentiments. However St. Gregory the Great once said,

“It is better that scandals arise than the truth be suppressed.”

Hence I will no longer keep silent on this issue; I will express my confusion, anger, sadness, and disappointment

Confusion leading up to the scandal

The application of Amoris Laetitia confused me. I struggled to understand the intercommunion statement given by the German bishops. When Pope Francis made the death penalty inadmissible, I began to question. Yet I continued to trust that the Holy Spirit would guide Church’s magisterium. I continued to believe that these events were an evolution of understanding.

Confusion turned to anger

My confusion turned to anger when I heard about Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual abuse. After I read the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, I became disappointed and sad. Then it went from bad to worse. The media released Viganò”s testimony.

Amidst the onslaught of emotions, I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “Why has the Vatican been so silent”. My second instinct was to run, to leave and never look back.

But The Lord Spoke

As I went to my Friday’s adoration hour, partly out of habit, As I prayed for the Church, the Lord spoke:

People are running away because they can’t love my bride. She may be a prostitute, but I am redeeming her, just like I’m redeeming you.

For like-minded confused and angry Catholic like me, I offer the following advice

Pray and Know the Word of God

We are fighting against darkness and evil in the church and in our lives. Thus, we need to allow prayer and the Word of God to equip us to put on the armor of God.

If you are a victim or know a victim, then it will be hard to view God as a just and loving father. Here the beauty of the Church shines. You need not say something original, you can recite rote prayers such as the rosary. The key is constancy.

We also need to know the word of God. St. Paul in Ephesians describes it as a sword. It is our only weapon. We need to know what it says, not only to hold ourselves accountable but others as well.

Go to Adoration

Jesus is there waiting in the monstrance for you. When describing the Blessed Sacrament, St John Mary Vianney once said,

I just look at him and he looks at me

I always feel more at peace after my holy hour.

Channel Your Righteous Anger

You are angry. You have every right to be angry. Yet, what you do with that anger will define you as a person. Anger is an emotion. After all, Jesus had righteous anger at the money changers, who defiled his church, but it cannot rule over us or consume us.

”Correction given in anger, however, tempered by reason, never has so much effect as that which is given altogether without anger; for the reasonable soul being naturally subject to reason, it is a mere tyranny which subjects it to passion, and whereinsoever reason is led by passion it becomes odious, and its just rule obnoxious.” St. Francis de Sales

The laity needs to correct The Church. This correction is much more effective without anger.

Instead of demanding Pope Francis to resign, we should put our energy and effort into demanding a release of the documents and independent investigations. We need to demand a statement of contrition from all leader. Furthermore, continuously strive for the virtue of persistence.

Practically speaking, one can write to church leadership especially your bishop. They need to know how we feel and how the scandal effects us. The Sienna project offers letter templets as well as bishop addresses to make it easier to write your own letter.

Join a Lay Ecclesial Community

A lay ecclesial community consists of Catholic lay people, who come together to

“strive in a common endeavor to foster a more perfect life, to promote public worship or Christian doctrine, or to exercise other works of the apostolate such as initiatives of evangelization, works of piety or charity, and those which animate the temporal order with a Christian spirit.”1

These communities exist outside of the church’s hierarchy. Lay-led communities, are not a substitute for Mass but can help combat loneliness and despair.

Conclusion

It is hard to have faith as a Catholic, but it is even harder to have faith in the midst of a scandal. We must remember that the devil comes to seek, kill, and destroy, but Jesus comes to give life. We must place our faith, hope, and trust in Jesus. We must demand that The Church act justly so that Christ may transform his bride. We, the laity, must persevere in holiness, putting on the armor of God wielding faith and truth. Faith and truth come from prayer and knowing the word of God. We should strive to build lay driven faith communities. Theses communities function as places of renewal.


  1. Card. Stanisław Ryłko, “Preface,” in Directory of Associations, Published by the Pontifical Council for the Laity