Why Praise and Worship is Important to Catholics

Left side is man raising hands praising and right side is a church choir practicing

Introduction

Catholics tend to criticize praise and worship music. I’ve heard it described as sappy emotionalism that has no place in worship. Catholic rightfully criticize its presence in Mass. Yet, praise and worship may have a legitimate place in Catholic spirituality. St. Paul speaks of spiritual songs in Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God

According to this verse, we are to keep the words of Christ in us. St. Paul offers two ways of doing so by teaching and admonishing each other and through singing. According to Paul, we are to sing: 1. Psalms, 2. Hymns, and 3. Spiritual songs. Most Catholics are familiar with singing Psalms and hymns because it happens at Mass. Yet, I’m sure the concept of spiritual songs would confuse most Catholics. I argue that hymns are distinct from Spiritual songs. I also argue that one needs both in order to “let the word of God dwell in us.” Praise and worship songs fall under the category of spiritual songs. I will use both spiritual songs and praise and worship interchangeably. First, I need to explain the difference between Hymns and Spiritual songs.

What are hymns

Hymns are a piece of music that the church uses to give glory to God. In a Catholic context, a piece of music qualifies as a hymn when it also qualifies as Sacred Music. A hymn qualifies when it is: 1. Holy, 2. Has beauty of form and 3. Is universal.1 Traditionally the church only allowed for Gregorian chant and Polyphony. Since Vatican II, the church has allowed newer composition. Newer compositions do not automatically include modern songs. To understand why we need to understand the philosophy behind beauty of forms.

The criteria that allow Forms to be Beautiful 2

The philosophy of Thomas Aquinas helps define these criteria. If you hate philosophy, you may want to skip this section as the concept can get pretty confusing. Aquinas stated that a person conceptualizes beauty. A person bases beauty on actuality, proportion, radiance, and integrity.

Actuality

Aquinas argues that everything is beautiful in proportion to its own form. Every object that exists has a form. A form helps distinguish different objects. For example, the body of a human takes a different shape than the body of a dog. When a human possesses all the correct body parts, that is beautiful according to form. The object must have action. In other words, the object must be doing a thing that makes it different from other objects. A dog must be acting like a dog. A human must be acting like a human. So to summarize, actuality requires existence, a form, and action. All this is necessary for anything to have beauty.

Proportion

This pertains to the idea that all the parts relate to the whole in a balanced way. Going back to our human example again. We can imagine a human with all the typical body parts, but those parts are out of proportion. For example, if one arm is longer than the body, then it would be impractical and not beautiful.

Radiance

Radiance refers to the shine that comes from the object and seizes the attention of the beholder. Music has radiance when it captures the attention of the listener.

Integrity

An object has integrity in two ways. The object must be perfect concerning it’s being. Likewise, the object must be perfect in operation. In other words, the object is not missing anything.

Hymns conclusion

So, Aquinas laid the groundwork to argue for an objective nature of beauty. So the church states reference the above criteria to determine beauty of form. If an object has beauty of form then it will have universality. Holiness refers to the purpose of the music, which is to give glory to God alone. So a perfect hymn must honor God, be beautiful to everyone. At the very least it must honor God and be in harmony like choir music.

Are praise and worship considered spiritual songs

These are songs inspired by the Holy Spirit. They are spontaneous and have no proportionality. They incorporate multiple instruments. Modern praise and worship music incorporates all of these characteristics. One such example would be Bethel, who will often sing spontaneously. They also create a mashup of two different songs. Catholic artist also performs this style of music. One artist that comes to mind is Emmanuel worship. Some people will mention that praise and worship are repetitive and emotional. This serves the purpose of spiritual songs. Spiritual songs help us reflect on God and his relationship with us. Hymns on the other hand help give God honor and praise. Thus spiritual songs are more meditative. Repeating over and over that God is a good father may sound simplistic, but it helps internalize the truth.

Conclusion

My frustration as of late stems from Catholics wanting to have their cake and eat it too. Some want traditional chants and to look down on praise and worship. Others want the mass to incorporate praise and worship. The songs may not be appropriate to function as a hymn. The former while correct denies the power of praise and worship. The latter waters down the Mass. I would like to see a balance. I would like to see beautiful harmonized music during Mass. The church can also have monthly spontaneous worship events. Yes, I can listen to praise and worship in my own time. Yet, there is something exuberant about worshiping spontaneously with the body of Christ.

Let's talk emotional manipulation

One day last week I wasn’t feeling good. I had a lot of things I wanted to get done, but instead of doing any of them I sat at the kitchen table playing mobile games on my phone. What makes mobile games so addicting? The short, non-complicated answer is that these games were made to trigger the dopamine receptors in the brain so that you would get a reward response. Game makers know how to market their games in order to be addicting. They do this because their ultimate motive is to make money. So they use techniques to emotionally manipulate you into buying the game. These techniques include among other things lights, sounds, and instantaneous rewards.
Also on Sunday, July 30th, I took a non-denominational friend to the Wave. (don’t freak, I went to Mass on Saturday night). First a little background. The Wave is a local megachurch mainly in the Hampton roads area; however, it is branching out into other parts of Virginia. The main campus is located on Great Neck Road,  Virginia Beach.  It was one of the first churches I ever attended and it is where I made my first public declaration of faith. Admittedly I am a bit nostalgic for this church even though I now know better.
When we drove up to the Wave, we were greeted by parking attendants. We asked politely where the handicapped spots are located (the visible ones in the front are taken). The parking attendant told us that there is more handicapped parking on the side. We went there and sure enough, there was one spot left. We headed inside, but not before my friend started taking pictures. I asked, “Are you taking pictures of the building.” “Yes,” my friend replies, “I’ve never seen a church look like this.” Previously my friend had remarked that the church looked like a car sales company. The building is two stories high and the front is cover in glass and the sides are white. No religious imagery at all. The only sign that is indeed a church is the words, “Wave church” above the building. We went inside. There is a lobby area. In front is a giant information desk and to the left and right are couches for people to sit including a newcomers lounge. We passed the information desk and entered into the sanctuary, which in actuality is a large auditorium. In front of the auditorium is a large stage and above the stage are three large screens. One look on my friends face and I could tell that she was overwhelmed, but excited. She took another picture, this time of the stage. The service began. An upbeat song began to play. People were jumping up and down and waving their hands. The songs were accompanied by smoke and stage lights After about 30 minutes, there was the offering message and an announcement video. Then we were told to greet one another and say that “they sang  like an angel.” After that, the message or sermon started.
Regard the message, I really enjoyed it. It was titled, “crashing through walls” and centered around James 1:2, and James 1:12. The pastor talked about the importance of endurance and how you can’t get anywhere without it. I want to take a moment to ask a question that I would have asked the pastor myself if given the chance. Where does endurance come from?  If it is necessary for the Christian life and it is the result of our own effort then how are we saved by faith alone like they profess to believe? If it comes directly from God then why do we need to work through trials at all?
Despite those questions, which didn’t come to me until later, there was a moment where I almost got sucked in. It was towards the end of the sermon, where the pastor said, “I want everyone to raise their hand and repeat after me, ‘I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.'” It is in that moment that I was once again swept away. I experienced an emotional high. I had been manipulated to feel certain things in that moment and everything had led me up to that point. The music, the lights, and the message were all designed, just like mobile games, to make me make that declaration to follow Jesus.  It is designed to get me to come back every Sunday so that I can get my fix for the week. The strategy is highly effective as thousands of people pour in every Sunday.  The question remains if church is reduced to an emotional experience, what happens when I, the consumer, am no longer moved? Can the gospel or good news be reduced to marketing tactics? Even if it can, should it be?
Catching Foxes podcast recently said that the greatest sin in youth ministry is emotional manipulation. They talked about how the goal of the minister should be about forming relationships and not be solely motivated to help kids encounter Christ. As I think back on my past experience at the Wave, I think that the greatest problem is that the Wave’s motivation is to seek the lost and to help foster an emotional encounter with Christ. These motivations are not intrinsically bad, but it creates a watered down product that ultimately shallow and worldly.
Christianity is much more than a worship band, stage lights, and lounge chairs. It is about sacrifice and reverence; two characteristics that the marketing business world can’t understand.

1 john 1:5-2:2, a reflection on sin, darkness, and walking in the light.

Reflection
“God is light, in him there is no darkness, If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth.” Why then do we as Christians want to encourage people to embrace darkness? We feel pressure to encourage what we know as sinful in order to emphasize what we believe to be the mercy of God. We do not have a cotton candy savior. We have a savior, who wants to make us uncomfortable, who wants to challenge us,  so that we rely on him for the grace to endure. Jesus speaks truth with grace; he doesn’t sugar code the truth. When the woman was caught in adultery, we often ignore that he told her to sin no more. Instead we like to focus on the part where he saves her from stoning. Yes, Jesus saves us, but he would much rather transform us.
So what is a sin? According to the Catechism, sin is, “an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.” (CCC 1849). It is also “sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it.” There are sins listed in the bible. For brevity purposes I will stick to the New Testament. My favorite is Galatians 5:19-21, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
So how do we confront people, who struggle with sin? How do we help those in darkness transition into the light and walk in the light? The first mistake we make is that we condemn them, ostracize them, make them feel worthless and unloved. If we don’t make the first mistake, we typically make the second, we hide the truth. These actions are sinful and do separate us from God and each other. The balance is found in grace based transformation. We don’t have to identify with the sin. You are not a liar, you are not a homosexual, you are not greedy or drunk, instead you are an adopted son/daughter of a God, who loves you very much. If you know this, believe this, and live this then you cannot return to that way of life. 1st john verse 9 understands that we will slip up, we will give in, but the reality is that, “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” We must acknowledge and allow God to work through us. God cannot cleanse us until we acknowledge that we are dirty.
 

Kids program's scriptural foundation

In my last blog post, I talked about the need for optional kids programs during Mass. When I posted the blog post on my Facebook, I got some people telling me I was dead wrong, because Canon law demonstrates the bare minimum and not what we should strive for and  there is no scriptural foundation for age segregation. This post is an attempt to show that an argument can be made. In fairness, I’ll begin by responding to scripture that seems to go against kids programs.

Scripture that seems to go against kids programs

  1. Matthew 19:13-14 : Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray.  The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.
    1. an argument against kids programs goes something like this, Jesus is teaching us that he desires the children to come to him and be blessed by him. Jesus is fully and physically present during Mass; hence, we should not stop little children from attending Mass.
    2. A reply in favor of Kids programs: This passage doesn’t teach anything regarding how a parish should be structured. At minimum, Jesus is showing that children deserve the opportunity to receive the gospel. It says that the children were brought to him. In other words, Jesus is choosing a specific time and place to minister to children. By engaging children at their level, we are removing the hindrances. We are acting like Jesus and choosing a particular time and place, where children can be blessed.
  2. Deuteronomy. 29:10–14: You stand assembled today, all of you, before the Lord your God—the leaders of your tribes,[d] your elders, and your officials, all the men of Israel, 11 your children, your women, and the aliens who are in your camp, both those who cut your wood and those who draw your water— 12 to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God, sworn by an oath, which the Lord your God is making with you today; 13 in order that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you and as he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 14 I am making this covenant, sworn by an oath, not only with you who stand here with us today before the Lord our God, 15 but also with those who are not here with us today.
    1. An argument against kids programs: This passage shows that in the OT assembly, children were gathered together with men and women to hear Moses renew his covenant with God and we should continue to follow the Old Testament example.
    2. a reply in favor of kids programs: This scripture is narrative and not prescriptive. This means that this scripture is telling how it was, not how it ought to be. Yes children were present in the assembly, but that doesn’t mean they ought to be. We do not have to conduct Mass in a similar way to the Old testament assemblies.
  3. Joel 2:15-16:  Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sanctify a fast;
    call a solemn assembly;
    16 gather the people.
    Sanctify the congregation;
    assemble the aged;
    gather the children,
    even infants at the breast.
    Let the bridegroom leave his room,
    and the bride her canopy.

    1. Argument against kids programs: Here the prophet Joel is instructing the Israelites to gather all people including children and infants into the assembly so that the congregation may be sanctified. Hence, we should follow Joel’s advice and allow infants and children into Mass.
    2. reply in favor of kids programs: The book of Joel is a prophecy and as such it uses metaphorical language to convey a point. The main point here is not that  children and infants should be in assemblies, but that all of Israel needs to repent in order to avoid God’s wrath.
  4. Ephesians 6:4: And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
    1. Argument against kids programs: This passages shows that parents specifically fathers have a duty to raise their children in the faith. Thus as such children should attend Mass with their family so that they can receive the instruction and disciple from the father.
    2. reply in  favor of kids programs: Yes parents, especially fathers, do have a duty to instruct their children in the ways of the Lord; however, kids programs should not and are not a substitute for  this duty, but merely help fulfill this duty. As we will see, scripture is very clear that churches also have the duty to instruct.

Scripture in favor of Kids programs:

  1. Leviticus 10:8-11: And the Lord spoke to Aaron: Drink no wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons, when you enter the tent of meeting, that you may not die; it is a statute forever throughout your generations. 10 You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean; 11 and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them through Moses.
    1. argument in favor: This passage shows that Aaron and his sons were also given the duty to teach the people of Israel, which presumably means children as well. Hence, at least in the Old Testament, the church shared the responsibility of teaching children
    2. reply against: yes the church has a duty to teach, but this duty is fulfilled when the whole assembly is gathered together.
  2. Ephesians 4:11–13: the gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
    1. Argument in favor: this passage shows that in the New Testament’s model of discipleship, each believer is given a different gift and each member of the body works to equip the saints. Hence, members of the church body help equip children to work in ministry, it is not just the sole responsibility of the parents.
    2. Reply against: yes, but there is no reason  why this can’t take place during Mass, we don’t need separate kids programs.
  3. Titus 1:5, 2:1-10: 1:5 I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done; 2:1 But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine. 2 Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.3 Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us. 9 Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, 10 not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.
    1. Argument for: In verse 5, Paul explains to Titus that he is to put the churches in order. Presumably then the rest of the letter is Paul giving Titus advice on how the church should be ordered. In chapter 2, Paul gives Titus tailored messages to different groups. This shows that Paul recognized the importance of having a different message for different groups based on age and wanted to have his church ordered that way. More specifically Paul instructs Titus to allow the older woman to instruct the younger. Kids programs extends these instructions to allow the older generation to present a specialized message to the younger generation. One that they can understand.
    2. reply against: This passage says nothing about specialized instruction for children. If anything it is implying that older women should be mentors to younger women. Furthermore, these specialized instructions can be given to an entire congregation together by simply reading the letter. There was no need to separate back then and there is no need now.
  4. 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things”
    1. argument in favor: the bible attests to the fact that children are unique and cannot be expected to think and behave like adults. Hence the bible is the source of the recognition of the need to teach a different message to children
    2. reply against: yes children are unique, but they are capable of comprehending adult things and can only learn through exposure to Mass.

Verdict: There is no biblical passages that outright justifies separate kids programs during Mass. However, Titus 2 and Ephesians 4 helps make a convincing argument that there is room for separate age appropriate instruction. The big question is whether such separate instruction is beneficial during Mass or whether it is better to keep the children with the parents? I think ultimately it depends on the parents’ and kids’ relationship. For instance, some parents may not be knowledgable about the faith, or may not have the teaching gift and thus separate kids programs can help them. Another way of thinking about it is that kids programs allow parents time to worship without distraction, which in turn helps them to be better instructors to their children. When parents are spiritually thriving so are their kids.

Your kid's kicking me doesn't sanctify me

Lately I’ve been a little lazy on Sunday morning and have not managed to make it to the 8:45am Mass. Luckily my parish offers multiple times to attend Mass including a 10:35am Mass.  Now somehow the 10:35am has become unofficially know as the “family mass,” which means there are a lot of families with young kids attending. Because of  this, I have gotten exposure to the challenge of paying attention with loud annoying kids in the background. Normally it is the typical crying, screaming, and running around, but two Sundays ago, I sat next to a family with a kid, who was maybe about 2 years old.  My sympathies are with the mother, who tried everything to keep her unruly kid in check. This included the usual toys such as action figures. Somehow he had made it to the seat next to my wheelchair and was laying on the seat with his stomach down. His legs and arms were flailing. He had managed to kick me not once but twice. Having enough, I grabbed his foot and whispered “no” The mother, who was rightfully paying attention to Mass, finally realized what he was doing, scoped him up and scolded him telling him he would get time out. This is unfortunately one of the many instances that has gotten me thinking about the Catholic church’s need for kids programs during Mass.
When talking about kids programs, two very common objections come up.

  1. I don’t want to abandon my kid, after all did Jesus not tell us to let the little kids come to him? The Mass is a community celebration, and kids are a part of our community by virtue of their baptism, so they deserve to be there.
  2. If we let our kids go into separate programs, we are teaching them that they don’t belong in the sanctuary, that they don’t belong to Mass and we cannot teach them the proper way to behave during Mass.

I will address the first objection in a minute, but I have a few questions for people, who espouse the second objection. Where in my story above did the little boy learn anything about the Mass or learn proper behavior and respect? If anything he learned that Mass is a boring place, where he gets in trouble. Now  maybe there are 5 star parents out there, who have taken an active role in their child’s faith formation at an early age. I have seen those parents and those children and obviously kids programs are not for them. The sad reality is that more and more often parents simply don’t have time to make faith formation a priority. Instead just getting to Mass is a big accomplishment. I firmly believe that if you make church a place where children want to come, parents in turn will find it easier to come to Mass.
The first objection is a cultural lie that Catholics have been taught. Cannon law even contradicts it.

“Merely ecclesiastical laws bind those who have been baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it, possess the efficient use of reason, and, unless the law expressly provides otherwise, have completed seven years of age” (CIC 11).

So children under 7 years of age are not obligated to  go to Mass. Cannon law goes on to state:

But, by their baptism, children also have certain rights: “Since they are called by baptism to lead a life in keeping with the teaching of the gospel, the Christian faithful have the right to a Christian education by which they are to be instructed properly to strive for the maturity of the human person and at the same time to know and live the mystery of salvation” (CIC 217).
“According to their own vocation, those who live in the marital state are bound by a special duty to work through marriage and the family to build up the people of God. Since they have given life to their children, parents have a most grave obligation and possess the right to educate them. Therefore, it is for Christian parents particularly to take care of the Christian education of their children according to the doctrine handed on by the Church” (CIC 226).

Ok so there are two things we can learn from this. 1. Children under the age of 7 have a right to learn about their faith and the sacred mysteries; 2. the parental vocation requires parents to take a role in the faith education. However, nowhere in Cannon law does it say that the church cannot foster the parental vocation by providing optional kid’s programs during Mass. The church fosters other vocations such has priest and nuns, but when it comes to parents, the church’s response has been silent.
Even if I am able to convince churches of the need to develop quality kids programs, there are several other obstacles to the development of such programs

  1. a major culture change would have to take place within the congregation in that people would have to use and accept such services in order to justify the time and expense
  2. lack of volunteers
  3. lack of quality Catholic resources

It is my hope that more and more Catholic parishes will make children programs a priority so that parents can pay attention during Mass and so that children can learn to worship in an age appropriate way. Kids programs are one of the many ways that the Catholic church can create a more welcoming environment.

Have you had a transformational experience?

If you’ve ever taken the time to read the daily Mass reading on a consistent basis, you may have noticed that The Catholic church at least tries to organize the reading around a theme. For instance, for liturgical year C cycle II, the 16th Sunday in ordinary time, the readings were Genesis 18:1-10, Psalms 15:2-5, Colossians 1:24-28 and Luke 10:38-42 and for July 18th we have Micah 6:1-4, 6-8 and Matthew 12:38-42. In both Genesis 18:1-10 and Luke 10:38-42, we are presented with people,  who are trying to entertain an important guest. In Genesis, we have  Abraham, who is visited by three men. It is heavily implied that these men have been sent by the Lord. He invites his guest to rest while he prepares a meal for them. He quickly delegates various responsibilities to the different people in the household. After the meal has been prepared , Abraham sits with his guest and enjoys their company. The guest bless Abraham by saying that when they return his wife, Sarah will be pregnant with his child.
In Luke 10:38-42, we are presented with Mary and Martha. Martha, like Abraham, is entertaining an important guest, Jesus Christ. Martha is described as being distracted, anxious and worried about entertaining her guest. She wants her sister Mary to remove herself from the feet of Jesus and help her. Jesus rebukes her and states that Martha has chosen to worry about many things when only one thing is needed and that Mary has chosen the good portion. Why is it that Martha gets rebuked by Jesus for wanting to delegate her responsiblities and yet Abraham essentially does the same thing and gets a blessing?
The key has to do with resting and enjoying the moment. Abraham, unlike Martha, was not anxious, worried, or distracted. He served his guest while still managing to sit and listen to them. Paul tells us in the Colossians readings that we too can serve his church without anxiety or worry because of the mystery, which is that we have Christ in us.
So how do we practically go through life without anxiety and worry. Well in the mist of our serving, we need to have Mary moments, where we have a transformation experience with Jesus.  This brings me to July 18th’s gospel. In Matthew 12:38-42, Jesus rebukes the scribes, who ask for a sign. Jesus, in verse 42, mentions the queen of the south. He says, “At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here.” Once again, Jesus is reminding us that he is the wisdom that we should seek. He is the Son of God. If we go out of our way, like the queen of the south did for man’s wisdom; how much more should we be willing to travel to experience the wisdom that comes from Christ? Unfortunately though, there are so many people, who have never been inwardly transformed by the wisdom of Christ, because for whatever reason we don’t rest in him.
I’ve had the joy of having a transformation experience. The best way to describe it is to use emotional language, but it isn’t really a feeling. It is an assurance deep inside yourself that there exist something greater than yourself; a sort of peace that passes all understanding. Suddenly a weight has been lifted and you feel free and you have no fear or worry. It is the place where the world disappears and you are alone, but yet not alone. it is in this place that you can feel God wrap his loving arms around you. It is not something that is limited to a one time experience, but rather it is an experience that we should carry with us everyday.
God’s mercies are new everyday and each day offers a new opportunity to go into that deep place, where you can taste heaven and feel yourself sitting at the feet of Jesus. God desires to share himself with you and he has gifted his church with numerous opportunities to experience him intimately. The first way is through the unbloody sacrifice of the mass, in which God represents himself in the form of bread and wine so that we may consume him and be one. The second way is through adoration in front of the consecrated bread. It is here that we have a direct line to experience the presence of Christ directly. I liken the difference to talking to your lover on the cell phone verses going on a date. While one can have intimacy over the phone, it is another level when you can be in the real presence of your lover. Similarly when we pray, we are talking to God on the cell phone, but when we pray in adoration, we are essentially going on a date with Jesus. Confession can also be a moment for transformation in which we feel God’s love through hearing the words, “you are forgiven.” Lastly sacramentals such as the rosary and praise and worship can offer opportunities to have a transformation experience. Ultimately each person is different and experiences God in different ways; however, we should always strive to rest in Christ and to be transformed by his presence, which is real and inviting.

False dichotomies

Loving the sinner versus holiness

So I’ve been wanting to talk about this issue since my first blog post. It seems that I can’t go a day without hearing some controversy regarding the proper application of Catholic teachings. This all started when Pope Francis released his apostolic exhortation, “the Joy of Love” in which he advocated mercy for those in irregular unions, by suggesting that they may partake in the sacraments of the church. It continues with more and more Catholic churches and Catholic individuals embracing the LGBT community. Here are a couple of examples:
https://www.facebook.com/ladygaga/photos/a.89179709573.79898.10376464573/10154330349204574/

In the first example, we have a Facebook post from Lady Gaga espousing her Catholic faith. She says that she was moved by the homily in which the priest reminded everyone that, “the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect.” This is actually a misquote from Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium, which states, “Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” It is an interesting message from Lady Gaga as she has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights. In the second example, we have a story about the Philippines (a traditionally Catholic country) electing a transgendered individual. What does this mean? Is Pope Francis responsible for the watering down of Catholic values in favor of inclusivism and mercy? Is there room for mercy and love, while still respecting the universal call for holiness or must the Catholic church promote one over the other? Lastly, what does it mean to be an “LGBT” Catholic? I will strive to answer these questions.

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Peace be with you: what does it mean to have peace?

I attended daily mass Tuesday as part of Spirit and Truth. Father Daniel opened with an interesting question, “What are we worried about?” Some of the answers were failure, death, hurting others, and the state of society. Then Father Daniel asked, “what is the  peace Jesus promises to the disciples when he says, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.’?” I replied that, “it is a peace that passes understanding, a peace that transcends our surroundings, because we trust that Jesus will provide.” I was able to answer the question, because I’ve been lucky enough to experience this supernatural peace. Father Daniel challenged us to strive to carry this supernatural peace daily, My struggle is that even though I have experienced this peace, it has never lasted. I believe the peace stealer is either disappointment in oneself or disappointment in others.
Disappointment in oneself can be remedied by recognizing that we cannot disappoint God. He knows us intimately. He knows the number of hairs on our head. He is omniscient so he knows what we are going to do before we do it. Yet despite all of that, He still chose to die for us. God’s love is unconditional. This is the reality of Go’d’s love. By virtue of Baptism, we have been justified and sanctified. We are cleansed and have become new creations. We do nothing to earn this. Likewise, we cannot maintain it on our own; we need to rely on God, who doesn’t fail. So the next time we feel that we are a disappointment, or a failure, we can know that we haven’t lost the love of God and that we can trust  him to pick us back up. This truth leads to peace.
Disappointment in others can be a tricker situation. It comes from our need to feel accepted by others and our innate sense of righteousness. When we are rejected for whatever reason, we feel wronged. However, the reality is that we shouldn’t let others dictate our sense of worth nor should we feel the need to punish others for being equally broken people. The latter is what I struggle with; I want people to hold themselves to the same standards that I hold myself. However, God doesn’t do that with me. Imagine if God demanded that I meet his level of perfection. Luckily God doesn’t demand that of me. Yes, I know what you are thinking, “be perfect as my heavenly father is perfect.” This perfection is the result of cooperating with God, through the merits already won for us by Jesus Christ through his punishment on the cross. God doesn’t punish us for not being perfect; instead, He punishes Himself through Jesus Christ and in turn makes us perfect by our direct cooperation with Christ.  Thus if God doesn’t punish me for my imperfections, then who am I to punish others. Note that Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross does indeed remove the punishment of sin; however, in order for this to be effective , it must be applied through faith, charity, and the sacraments of the church. (For more information see Thomas Aquinas, summa theologica, tetria Pars, Q 49 article 3)
God wants us to have peace, which can only come from placing our faith, hope and trust in Jesus Christ. We should not allow disappointment to rob us of this peace. So the next time you are at Mass and hear the words, “peace be with you,” reflect on the peace that Christ wants to give you; a peace that passes all understanding.