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.
 

How many renewals does it take to save the church?

One of today’s Mass reading urges me to come out of my shell and speak about something that has been on our mind since attending Christmas Eve service at my home town parish, St Augustine in Chesterfield, Virginia.
In today’s Catholic culture, there is a lot of talk about renewal in the Church. This is because the Church is losing members. There are three main ones off the top of my head.

  1. Charismatic renewal
  2. traditional renewal
  3. Parish renewal

The Charismatic renewal focuses on a renewal by the holy spirit through a reawakening of the gifts of the Holy Spirit given at Baptism and Confirmation in parishioners lives. This is typically accomplished by attending a seminar or retreat, where the gospel is proclaimed and at the end attendees are encouraged to be prayed over to receive a rejuvenation of the Holy Spirit. Popular seminars/retreats include: Life in the Spirit, The Wild Goose is Loose, and Discovering Christ. While I do believe there is enormous benefit to a reawakening of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life, I do not think it fixes the overall problem with the Church.
The traditional renewal focuses on returning to pre-vatican II practices. This includes a variety of things including  ad orientem posture, gregorian chant, uses of latin, use of iconic imagery, kneeling, incense, silence in the sanctuary , and hair veils on women. The rational is that the “liberal” changes and allowances made by United States bishops have negated the spirit of reverence  and universality that used to exist. Since this spirit no longer exists, church just becomes another social club and a poor one at that. People have left the church, because it no longer caters to what people once knew. In order to win the people back, we need to go back to what attracted  them in the first place. While there is some truth to this, I believe it suffers from the glorification of the past and fear of change. Some traditions with a capital T are non-negotable, but others are a matter of preference and culture. Finding a balance between embracing culture and remaining true to an authentic Catholic identity will go a long way to fixing the church. Furthermore if beautiful churches attracted modern man, then the cathedrals in Europe would be full.
Parish renewal takes the complete opposite direction. It seeks to modernize the church in some fashion. It demands a wholesale renewal of the Old School way of doing things. It emphasizes community over reverence. Some changes include incorporating modern praise and worship songs, making the homily center around a central theme, video announcements, causal wardrobe and atmosphere, and video screens to follow along instead of hymnals and missals. While there is much to be applauded for the willingness of these churches to make changes, in the end it assumes that parish life was broken. I believe that this renewal has been somewhat successful, but not for the reasons they think.
This brings me to today’s mass reading, 1st John 1:1-4. I want to focus on verse 3, “we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” It seems to me that John is making a connection between preaching the gospel and fellowshipping. The two go hand in hand. What parishes who buy into modernized renewal get right is the need to foster authentic community. The need to be hospitable, the need to greet others as they walk in, the need to have a message that is relevant and that Parishioners can remember because of the catch phrase.  The need to foster small faith communities, not so more parishioners can have more information hit at them, but so they can learn to support one another. The other key is that this takes effort and commitment. It takes more than just offering the Eucharist on Sunday (not to say that this is not important, just that it is not enough).
This is why I was so discouraged by mass on Christmas eve. There was no effort to be warm and inviting. In fact the doors were locked 30 minutes prior to service. There was no attempt to show how we could connect to community life. This parish is losing it’s english speaking parishioners at an alarming rate. The only reason my family and I attended was for the Eucharist. I will  always attend for the Eucharist. If the church continues to hold the Eucharist hostage as an excuse to not to put in effort, it will continue to lose members.

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.

Liturgical abuses, Catholic identity,and Catholic culture

When we talk about changes Catholic parishes can take to become more welcoming, automatically people become defensive. There are two reasons for this defensive posture. The first reason has to do with culture in that this is the way we’ve always done it and there is no problem with the way we are doing it. These people do not see the church as a way to foster a relationship with Jesus; instead being Catholic is something you do just to do it and it is ritualistic. The second reason is the fear that if we change and implement strategies from other churches and other denominations, we lose what makes us Catholic. The second reason is a legitimate concern. The Catholic identity is very important and must be protected. The problem becomes when we confuse our Catholic identity with our Catholic culture. It is this confusion that can lead to liturgical abuses.

What is Catholic identity?

There are certain characteristics that I believe define a Catholic church and separate it in a good way.

  1. The Eucharist
  2. unity
  3. beauty

The Eucharist

The Catholic church teaches that the Eucharistic sacrifice is the source and summit of our faith. We believe that it is Jesus’ body and blood made manifest in bread and wine. It re-presents  for us Jesus’ death on the cross. This miraculous event takes place during every Mass. This is the distinguishing feature of Catholic worship. In order to have a valid consecration you must have:

  1. Bread and wine in which a little water mixed
  2. the bread must be only wheat and recently made
  3. The communion may be received under  both species or only one
  4. both matter must be present
  5. sacred vestments must be worn
  6. must be celebrated on an altar
  7. must be celebrated by a Validly Ordained Male Priest
  8. The priest must have the intent to make Jesus physically present
  9. the words, “this is my body, this is my blood” must be said.
  10. Must use the Eucharistic prayer listed in the Roman missal
  11. The priest must wash his hands in water after offering the bread and wine, but before the eucharist prayer

We, as Catholics should recognize the importance of having a valid consecration. Thus any changes suggested can’t effect any of these requirements.

Unity

The definition of  the word Catholic means unity. Thus the sacrifice of the Mass should be celebrated in a uniform way in so far as it  follows the liturgical guidelines found in Cannon law and in The General Instructions of The Roman Missal. A violation of these requirements does not make the consecration invalid if the above is followed, but it does make the sacrifice of the Mass and the liturgical celebration illicit. So a typical Sunday service at any Catholic parish, you have the liturgical celebration, which includes the introductory rite, liturgy of the word. and the liturgy of the Eucharist. Each of these different stages have different elements and each element has different requirements.
The structure is as followed:

  • introductory rite
    • the entrance
    • the greeting
    • the penitential act
    • the kyrie
    • the glory to God in the highest
    • the collect
  • The liturgy of the word
    • Silence
    • the biblical readings
    • the Responsorial psalm
    • The Acclamation before the gospel
    • the homily
    • the profession of faith
    • the universal prayer
  • the liturgy of the Eucharist
    • the preparation of the gifts
    • the eucharistic prayer
    • the lord’s prayer
    • the rite of peace
    • Communion
    • the concluding rite

 
Rather than going through the requirement of each part, I will just say a few words about a few observations that I have made by visiting various parishes. I invite my readers to read the The General Instructions of The Roman Missal ( GRIM) themselves for more details.
I think a priest does the congregation a disservice if any parts are omitted or changed. For example, I believe that it is wrong to omit a part of the introductory rite in order to make room for something else. I have attended parishes that did not sing/recite an entrance chant in order to spend more time welcoming new people. The only aspects of the introductory rite that can be omitted are, the Gloria and that is only during Advent and Lent, and the Kyrie, which can only be omitted if it is incorporated into the penitential rite. Likewise I believe a priest does a disservice if he ad-libs the collect prayer or the greeting after the entrance song. Lastly as far as introductory rites go, I would like to see more reliance on using the antiphons in the missal for the entrance songs rather than automatically replacing them with another liturgical chant. There is nothing in the GRIM that says the antiphons chosen by the church can’t be played in a more modern setting.
The liturgy of the word offers another way to emphasize unity. In the Catholic church, the biblical reading come from a lectionary, which is a book of scripture assign for each day. According to the GRIM, the Homily should be “an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.” It should never be given by a lay person and it should never be omitted. All of these guidelines are designed to ensure that not only is every Catholic hearing the same readings, but that every Catholic receives a similar message. Sadly I have seen priest forsake their sacred duty by allowing a lay person to give a homily or even worse I have seen priest use their homily time to talk about unrelated scripture. Priests and churches who allow this to happen may indeed be successful at captivating an audience, but I have to question whether they really are Catholic. Do you really intend to submit to the authority of the church if you chose to deviate from the readings she has deemed appropriate? If you are  not submitting to the church’s authority in this regard, what is stopping you from not submitting to her on other issues? They say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. For example, I have seen a Catholic church use the homily time to do a sort of FAQ about the Catholic faith. This is a great idea, but not to be done during Mass; because, as a Catholic parishioner I am entitled to have the treasures of the bible opened up to me and for a homily to expound on the scripture read.
During the liturgy of the Eucharist, unity can be hindered for two reasons: 1. regional gestures are added into certain parts of the Mass, or 2. the prescribed gestures are not done by the faithful. The most common violation of number 1. is hand holding during the Our Father. Rather than enter into that messy debate, I will give you readers a link to an interesting EWTN article: https://www.ewtn.com/library/Liturgy/zlitur10.htm  .  The second one is violated most when it comes to kneeling during consecration. The GRIM says,

In the Dioceses of the United States of America, they should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer, except when prevented on occasion by ill health, or for reasons of lack of space, of the large number of people present, or for another reasonable cause. However, those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the Priest genuflects after the Consecration. The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise.

 

Beauty

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and thus it is difficult to talk about beauty and unity in the same breath. What appears beautiful to one person may not appeal to another person. I do believe that the Catholic church does have its identity firmly placed in fostering the development of religious artwork; whether it be stain glass, paintings, flowers, or statues. The GRIM says the following about beauty:

the Church constantly seeks the noble assistance of the arts and admits the artistic expressions of all peoples and regions.[108] In fact, just as she is intent on preserving the works of art and the artistic treasures handed down from past centuries[109] and, in so far as necessary, on adapting them to new needs, so also she strives to promote new works of art that are in harmony with the character of each successive age.[110]

On account of this, in appointing artists and choosing works of art to be admitted into a church, what should be looked for is that true excellence in art which nourishes faith and devotion and accords authentically with both the meaning and the purpose for which it is intended.[111]

I would feel very strange if I were to attend a Catholic church with no artwork or statues. However, I echo the sentiment of the GRIM that such artwork should be simple. I have felt the distracting effect of sitting next to a large statue of Mary during Mass.  Too often we have stripped out sanctuaries bare in an attempt to be more protestant, when the reality is that we should be fostering the next generation of Catholics to develop beautiful faith art. Authentic beauty speaks to the soul and helps it transcend.
Just like the song says that we will know they are Christians by their love, we will know they are Catholic if they love the Eucharist, promote unity, and seek out beauty. I believe a welcoming parish need not sacrifice these values.
 

How to build a more welcoming Catholic Church?

When attempting to speak about developing a more welcoming Catholic church, the phrase, “opinions are like buttholes, everyone has one,” comes to mind. There are plenty of books and articles written about how the Catholic church needs to change. Some Catholics argue that a return to pre-vatican II is in order and that if we could reestablish our traditional Catholic culture, we could win back those lost by the changes in the liturgy. Others suggest that we should adopt protestant evangelical style methods of winning the lost. Some take a middle ground and suggest that a greater focus needs to be on establishing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Others don’t see the need to change.
A brief look at Pew statistics shows the unhealthy state of the Catholic Church. The 2014 Religious Landscape Study asked 35,000 Americans about their religious affiliation. 21% identified their current religion as Catholic. Of those 21%, 39% go to Mass weekly while 16% never attend Mass. Out of those 21%, 9% belong to a faith other than Catholicism, but are Catholic by virtue of culture, ancestry, ethnicity, or family tradition. Another 9% consider themselves ex-Catholics. More startling is that among all United States adults, who were raised Catholic, nearly 52% have left the church and only 11% returned to the Catholic church. 89% of ex-catholics stated that they cannot imagine ever returning to the Catholic church.
Clearly there is a mass exodus of people leaving the Catholic church. I believe that the number 1 problem has to do with a disconnect between a personal relationship with Jesus and the teachings of the Catholic church. 68% of Catholics say that having a personal relationship with Jesus is important to their Catholic identity; but 76% of Catholics say that the church should allow birth control. This example shows me that Catholics do not see the relationship between the church’s teachings and their relationship with Jesus.
Having diagnosed the problem, I believe that a strategy to win back the cultural Catholic, ex-Catholics, and to stop the mass exodus has to do with marketing the Catholic church in a way that demonstrates that the teaching of the Catholic church do indeed foster a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This entails several interrelating topics: use of technology, the emphasis on tithing, the fostering of community, enhancing the Mass experience. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be touching on each one of these topics and showing how small changes can improve the attractiveness of the  Catholic church and in turn make intentional disciples.

Feeling paralyzed

Dear readers,
I am paralyzed. I have a ton of ideas swimming around in my head and I don’t know where to turn or what to do. It’s like I’ve been given the destination without the map. May be though I have the map, but I don’t like where it is taking me. I want t go on the highway, instead of the back country roads. On the highway, you feel safe, secure, surround by others, and you can fly. Highways don’t offer much in terms of scenery. It doesn’t offer a sense of culture; instead it caters to the masses. God is challenging me, especially this week to take the back country roads. To dare to take a different path. To dare to follow Him into the unknown. In fact, I believe this challenge isn’t just for me, but for everybody.
Matthew 7:13, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.”
So God is challenging me to examine myself to determine, whether my desires are leading my down the highway or the narrow path. So many times, I’ll think of ways the Catholic church can improve by doing things the way the world does them. While there may be legitimate concerns that I have with the Church’s tradition with  a little t; I have to stop myself and ask, does the practice of The Catholic church put us on the narrow road? I am wrestling with this because I want the Catholic church to be on the highway. I try to rationalize it by saying we can attract more people on the highway. If the church embraces the latest trends then surely it will look more attractive and inviting.
The reality is though that I think deep down inside, I want the Catholic church to be more attractive and inviting, because then it’ll be more comfortable to me the consumer. I truly never learned to die to self. Last Wednesday’s gospel reminds us that we must die to self. “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” We can die to self, only because Christ died for us. Only by considering what it cost him, can we begin to make sense of what it will cost us. I can guarantee that Christ did not die for you to have convenient parking on Sunday, to listen to great music, to hear a great message, or to have fellowship. Instead, he died so that we might have a chance at holiness. Now should we expect a good, welcoming experience, yes, but if we begin to think that is what it is  about, we have missed the point entirely.
In this self-discovery that I need to practice self-denial, God is showing me that I need to be more generous; not just with my time, but my treasure. You see, I’ve embraced the lie that as long as I am volunteering my time and talents, then I can keep my treasure. The reality is that all three aspects are necessary sacrifices in order to be a healthy disciple of Christ. I know I’m not alone in believing this lie. I’m sure that there are plenty of people, who serve their parish through volunteering with out serving financially.
Lastly I want to emphasize that dying to oneself is a gradual undertaking. I do not expect to give a full 10% of my income each month, but I can start with 1%. This is what Matthew Kelly defines as continuous improvements, in which a person takes small and consistent steps to meet a large goal. We, as Catholics, tend to be very rigid with rules and regulations. We focus on applying the rules; however, rules do no change hearts. If we want people to  give, we need to help foster gratitude for their parish community.We need to lead by example, and show why giving is important.
God gave us everything and it cost him his life, what would it cost you to follow him?

Mountain top experience, now what?

So for the gospel reading of August 6th, we have the story of the transfiguration. In this story, Jesus has chosen his closest followers to come with him and pray on a mountain. The gospel describes how Jesus’ appearance changes and he is dressed in dazzling white. Here for the first time the disciples’ are experiencing, not just Jesus the human being, but Jesus in his full glory. Every Christian and every Catholic also will eventually have a similar experience in which they experience the presence of Christ in a real and tangible way. For more info about this, see my blog post, Have you had a transformation experience? What happens afterwords? How should we respond? Why do we have such experiences in the first place?
All these questions can be answered by looking at Luke 9:33-35. Having experienced Jesus in his fully glory, Peter exclaims, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  It is so easy to make the same mistake as Peter. We  can have  an amazing Godly experience and want to stay there forever. We want to pitch our tent. Every time we pray, go to mass or adoration or listen to music, we expect God to speak to us in the same way, to have the same emotional high.
I am guilty of this way of thinking. I remember when I first started taking my Christian walk seriously. The churches I attended were mainly non-denominational churches and sometimes my mother’s Baptist church, I remember watching other people have emotional responses to either the pastor’s sermon, the music, or a particular prayer and I wouldn’t feel anything and wouldn’t know how to respond. I took Spiritual formations at Regent University and there was a moment where the whole room erupted in spontaneous praise, and I did not know what to do. I felt like my faith was somehow inferior because I lacked these emotional responses. Luckily I have the type of personality that doesn’t renege on her commitments and I had made a commitment to follow Jesus.
Finally a member of my spiritual formation small group invited me to her very large non-denominational church. I don’t know what made that night different or why God decided to speak to me, but I finally had that mountain top experience. For awhile I would chase after these emotional highs, and only attend non-denominational or pentecostal services. I evaluated my relationship with Christ with how on fire I was about my faith. Just ask my parents lol, I couldn’t do anything that wasn’t Christian minded. Eventually though I couldn’t keep up especially after becoming Catholic. My Mom remarked that she was glad that the Catholic church has mellowed me out, but it wasn’t just a mellowing, I was becoming cold and dead. So where did I go wrong?
After Peter makes his statement about pitching a tent, God speaks up in verse 35, “This is my chosen son; listen to Him.” God gives us these amazing experiences, but he doesn’t want us to seek after these experiences, He wants us to seek after Him and obey Him. So If you are lucky enough to have one of these transformation or mountain top experiences, learn from Peter, don’t try to pitch a tent there. First of all, it is exhausting to be spiritually high all the time, and secondly we have all of  heaven to have these amazing experiences with God. Instead strive to obey God; don’t go back to the way you were before. If you have not had such an experience, try to persevere in obedience for surely by your obedience you will encounter God. Take advantage of all the different ways one can encounter God in the Catholic Church.
As for me, I am trying to develop Godly habits such as daily prayer, daily scripture reading, and going to Mass and adoration when I can.
A quote from my  Holy Spirit devotion book is really insightful, ” The Spirit reveals the glory of God to us in those moments when we transcend our daily life and catch a glimpse of the grander and Holiness of God. These moments gives us the strength to walk the difficult path of daily life.”
My prayer for you all is the same as in the book, “unfold the veil for a moment, Lord and let us see Your glory.”

Patience like a banana?

I’ll never forget, during the life in the Spirit seminar, when Father Dave Pivonka compared patience to a banana, because both go bad so quickly. In a way, it is true. I never feel like I have enough patience. One minute I am responding brilliantly to a crisis, and the next minute I am frustrated and venting with everyone I see. What throws me off my game? The answer is simple; other people and my inability to control them. It seems I have adapted the uncanny ability to accept unforeseen circumstances provided that it is no ones fault, but the minute something goes wrong and it was someone’s responsibility, then I become frustrated. I know that I am not alone in this. Most of my friends are having their patience tested in one way or another. God’s ways are not our ways. Instant gratification typically doesn’t happen with God; he’d rather test our faith and trust. Never has this point been made clearer, then in August 3rd’s daily mass reading. I must admit that my eyes had not been open until attending mass and listening to Father Charles’ homily.
The Old testament reading for that day was Jeremiah 31:1-7. According to Father Charles, Jeremiah is prophesying that the lost remnant of Israel will be found. Father Charles explains that in a literal sense this prophecy never came to pass and that the remnant of Israel lost in exile would remain lost. However, in that day’s gospel, we can see that the prophecy figuratively came true trough the person of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 15: 21, we are told that Jesus is traveling through the areas of Tyre and Sidon. Father Charles points out that this is the area where the lost tribes of Israel would have relocated. This helps explain Jesus’ statement in verse 24. He says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” We can also see that this is no ordinary pagan woman. In verse 22, she refers to Jesus as the son of David. This shows that she has some familiarity with the Jewish religion. This is not enough for Jesus, who rebukes her by saying, “it is not right to take food away from the children and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:26). This line always confused me because I failed to understand the symbolism behind it. However, coupled with Jeremiah it makes sense. The tribes of Israel, who had managed to survive the exile would have considered themselves God’s chosen people. Over time when Jeremiah’s prophecy had failed to come to pass, they would have considered the lost tribes as inferior. Hence the reason why Jesus refers to the woman as a dog. He  is essentially testing her ability to be persistent. She remains humble and acknowledges  that she is not equal with the children of Israel, but that even she deserves the leftovers (verse 27). It is with this proclamation of faith that Jesus agrees to heal her child and in turn begins the reconciliation process that was foretold in Jeremiah. It is important to note that between Jeremiah’s prophecy and Jesus’ ministry was 600 years.
The point is that God gave the Israelites a vision in which the lost would be restored. It was their job to trust that God would be faithful. However, I don’t blame the Israelites for losing patience, because I know that I could not have maintained my patience for over 600 years. Yet it is not just patience that we need. From the woman we learn that in order to withstand God’s rebukes, we need to be humble, trusting and persistent. So if God has given you a vision, stay humble, be persistent in prayer, trust that God will bring it through, and have patience in God’s timing.  Also remember that God can use other people to rebuke us and that he is waiting to see how we respond. Lastly I am thankful for Daily Mass in which my eyes can be opened to the meaning behind God’s word for us.

Adoration: the treasure of the Catholic Church

I finally returned to the perpetual adoration chapel after a very prolonged absence. I honestly can’t explain why it took me so long to return. Perhaps it was arrogance or even ignorance in that I believed I didn’t need it. However, I was very much wrong. In this blog post, I’d like to share what adoration is and my journey towards adoration
For those who don’t know, Eucharistc adoration is defined as, “adoring or honouring the Eucharistic Presence of Christ. In a deeper sense, it involves “the contemplation of the Mystery of Christ truly present before us”.
There are different types of Eucharistic adorations:
1. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament
This is a church service, where groups of people gather to adore the Eucharist. Like the Mass, it has it’s own unique stricture, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning is marked by the hymn  O Salutaris Hostia and the benediction ends with the hymn, Tantum Ergo, and the divine praises. The middle is the longest part and can be silent prayer or have music.
2. Holy hour
This is one an individual or group of people decide to pray in front of the sacrement for an hour of silent prayer
3. 40 hours
This is a special devotion, where the eucharist is exposed for 40 hours. For example, 3:00 PM Friday to 6:00 AM Sunday. In this devotion there are special rituals such as: reciting a sequence of an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory be 5 times — the last cycle being for the intentions of the Holy Father.
4. Perpetual Adoration
This is when the Eucharist is exposed 24/7 and people take turns being in the presence of Christ.

I truly believe that adoration is the treasure of the Catholic Church. From very awkward beginnings, I have learned to truly appreciate this special devotion and the power it has had in transforming my life. My first experience with adoration was awkward indeed in that I was not well prepared at all for the experience. I was not Catholic at the time. In fact, I was quite the opposite; I was pentecostal of the vineyard variety. So how did I end up at adoration? Well I had been talking to a very close Catholic friend about good preaching. I had asked him, who his favorite preachers where. He mentioned Father Mike Jolly from Saint Joan of Arc Church. I said that I’d be interested in hearing him preach, but didn’t want to go to Mass on Sunday. He invited me to adoration that was geared towards Youth and Young Adults. Later I would know it as a benediction service. Unfortunately the priest was not holding the service that night. This was of course disappointing, but since I was already on my way to the church, I decided to still attend. Turns out that since there was no priest, the service was very much striped down. I don’t remember much except feeling a bit bewildered. All the required hymns were in latin so of course I didn’t know them. Secondly it was silent prayer for an hour. I don’t recall up until that point ever praying silently for that long. I remember feeling very small, like a child. I kept getting distracted and looking around. I also felt different because everyone was kneeling, but I was not due to my disability. Yet in the mist of all these negative feelings, I definitely got a sense of sacredness and peace that was missing in my own church’s Young Adult service.
As a student working on my Masters in church history, I wanted to investigate the reasoning behind Eucharistic adoration. It is through this investigation that I read John 6:48-58. This is also known as the bread of life discourse, in which Jesus tells us that his flesh will be poured out for the whole world and that his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink. Furthermore, we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. I began to believe that this was a direct reference to the Eucharist and that the bread and wine was not just a mere symbol, but is literally transformed into the body and blood of Christ. Hence, I had began to accept the source and summit of the Catholic faith.
Having come to this revelation and not getting very convincing answers from my pastor, I began to explore the Catholic church in earnest. I had heard about Catholic underground, a ministry that offered benediction of the blessed sacrament and even though I wasn’t Catholic, I decided to attend. This was a much better experience than the first time. They had praise and worship music. I still didn’t know the latin hymns, but it put me at ease. I remember that I got the same peaceful feeling. It dawn on me that one doesn’t need artificial lights or a loud praise band to make an impact. While in my previous church I had always questioned my emotional response since the service was designed to elicit emotion, here I knew that my emotional response was authentic because the purpose of the service was to strictly praise Jesus.
While in the process of becoming Catholic, I joined 2096, a weekly adoration group at Saint Matthew’s Catholic church. It was here that I found the support and encouragement to continue my journey as well as meeting life long friends. Unfortunate 2096 would be disbanded and I would soon have to search for other avenues for adoration.
Having unfortunately lost my weekly adoration group, I was also in the process of reading Rediscovering Catholicism by Matthew Kelly. This book was very impactful and one of the things it encouraged was holy hour devotion.  I had never done a holy hour, I had always done benediction with light contemplative music. I was nervous about the prospect of being alone with Jesus in silence for an hour. What do I talk about; what do I wear? Over the years I’ve found what works for me and what doesn’t and I know that it has helped my relationship with Jesus, but also the Catholic church.
I hope that my testimony encourages you to, not only seek out adoration for yourself, but encourage others, who might benefit from the peace that comes from being in the presence of Christ. It can be scary and challenging to sit in silence especially in today’s world of noise, but I promise you that you will have peace, a newfound respect for the Eucharist, and an increase in faith.