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.

Catholic revert goes to Outcry Tour

What I learned about Ecumenism

So I have a confession to make; I love contemporary praise and worship music and I hate the organ and gregorian chant. I know that saying this makes me sound pretty anti-catholic, but you will not find a stronger defender of the faith. That being said, music is a big part of my spirituality. When I first encountered Christ, it wasn’t through gregorian chant, old school hymns, or organ, but it was through Christian rock music and eventually Christian contemporary music. So despite all my misgivings, when I heard about a concert with Hillsong, Kari Jobe, Jesus Culture, and Elevation worship, I knew I wanted to go.  These are my insights about the night and what it means for ecumenism.
1. People crave authentic worship.
During the concert, we watched a video where they interviewed each artist and got their insight on what church means to them. I don’t remember who said it, but one quote that stood out to me was, “I believe God gave us music so that we could have the ability to move and touch the human heart.”  I firmly agree with this quote. When it comes to it, sacred music should touch and move the human heart. It doesn’t matter the style or setting. The question you should be asking yourself, does the music at my church/parish move me into a closer encounter with Christ? What makes bands like Hillsong so popular is that you can  feel their passion for the Lord in every song. Can the Catholic church ever have this authenticity? I believe so, but it begins by putting away our legalist attitudes about what worship is supposed to sound like and start embracing all forms of music.
2. Music can unify.
The major theme of the Outcry tour is unity. The whole night they talked about how they wanted to focus on worshiping Jesus without focusing on denominational differences. How were they able to do this? They did it through music, which glorified Christ. The didn’t preach or debate or lecture. Instead they just played music and called out to Jesus. They explain how Jesus calls all to be one; how the church is stronger together then divided. If they Catholic Church truly wants all to be one, then the Church needs to support Catholic contemporary artist, who are able to bridge the gap. I remember that the Richmond diocese sponsored a concert with both protestant and Catholic artist and opened it up to the public. I wasn’t Catholic at the time, but I attended as well as my non-Catholic church. I listen to Ike Ndolo sing about the importance of the real presence in the Eucharist.  Imagine if some of my protestant friends heard the message and were moved to investigate. Maybe that planted the seed in me. Music unifies in ways that nothing else can.
3. There are points of dialogue that develop when people come together.
One of the best speakers of the night was the representative from World Vision. He was trying to get people to sponsor a child, but what he said was striking. He said that Jesus did a great miracle when he took the bread and wine and transformed the molecules to do something great, and Jesus can take earthly substances and do the impossible. I don’t know about you, but that sounds awfully Catholic to me and dangerously close to transubstantiation. I remember turning my friend and saying, “he is half way Catholic.” Now imagine if I had been able to engage him further or engage my protestant brothers and sisters further, what would happen? Maybe they’d come to see the sacramental outlook isn’t crazy at all, but that it is God choosing to do impossible things with  earthly elements.
4. Humor makes the message easier to swallow.
Once again the World vision minister stole the show and his message is still very much in my head. Why? Because he was funny and when you are funny, you are engaging. He made jokes about eating at McDonalds or taking bibles from Hotel rooms, or only wearing a light jacket because he is from Minnesota and should be able to handle a little 60 degree weather. Yet when it came time to be serious, he was serious, and I was moved because I was engaged. When is the last time you heard your Catholic priest crack a joke on Sunday during his homily? I’m not saying that I want my priest to be stand up comedian, but somehow we gotten so lost in the amount of honor and respect due that we forget that we can have joy. 
5. Protestants are desperate to hear about the real presence; they just don’t know it. 
When listening to the worship songs, one central theme that stood out to me is wanting to be in God’s presence. I recognized it in the song, Show me your Glory by Jesus Culture. The lyrics state, “I long to look on the face of the One that I love. Long to stay in Your presence, it’s where I belong.” Note the longing mentioned in the song. I remember thinking how sad is it that they have lost the doctrine of the Real Presence, and how lucky I am as a Catholic that I have a 24 hour adoration chapel, where I can be in the real presence of Jesus when ever I want. I can look upon his body made manifest in bread and at Mass I can touch the body with my hands. I don’t need to imagine some incomprehensible spiritual reality, but instead God loves me so much that he comes down to meet me by the power of the Holy Spirit and when I consume him, he and I become one.
6. Commercialize Christianity is alive and thriving and it sickens me.
Come on people, wake up! The whole concert was a walking advertisement for Christianity and we ate it up. I know that hosting concerts is not a cheap affair, and for that reason I will gladly pay a ticket price. However, what sickens me is that they then try to sell t-shirts, hats, books, and whatever merchandise. I would like to know where the money and the merchandise goes. Does any of the money go to charitable organizations or does it go to pay the so called Christian entertainers? If they really wanted to preach the gospel, why not play for free and take a love offering. Invite the homeless and give them the left over hoodies and jackets. This leads me to my next point.
7. Hillsong senior pastor, Brian Houston, has become arrogant. 
While I hate to talk bad about someone I don’t know, I know that first impressions mean a lot. So right off the bat, I walk into the place and they are passing out free books, written by Brian  Houston. Secondly, the first 5 minutes of Hillsong’s introduction is spent talking about their movie set to come out this year (oh goodie). Finally after playing merely two songs, Brian comes out to preach. He decides to do a word study sermon, focusing on the word, “unusual” as it appears in the bible. He first focuses on unusual miracles as found in some translations of Acts 19:11. This would be alright, except for the fact that he spent the first 5 minutes talking about how his church is an unusual miracle. He brags about how his church was not afraid to pursue contemporary music instead of hymns and how they were the only church to have a movie made about them. He even bragged that they reinvented the podium to make room for the worship band. The next 10 minutes were a little better. He talked about Hebrews 11:23, which in some translations, describes Moses as an unusual child. He then brags about how his niece is an unusual child and proves it by showing her dancing (while this is cute and funny, I’m not sure how it is relevant other than giving him another opportunity to brag). Lastly, he talks about how unusual children should be fostered, because God has place a calling on them to do great things and God needs more people to paint outside of the lines. I must admit that this was my favorite part of his whole sermon. He offers to pray for those that feel unusual so that they may discover their God given calling (this spoke to me specifically).
Next came the altar call and this is where I really began questioning Brian Houston’s motives. I generally hate altar calls, and no it isn’t just because I’m Catholic. I see that if they are not done correctly, they can make grace and salvation cheap. An altar call is where one pledges their life to Jesus. By committing their life to Jesus, one is told that they are now saved, their sins are forgiven and they are now a new creation. When done correctly, it can be a powerful experience. Everyone needs to have that conversion experience, where they come to know the Lord personally. The Catholic church recognizes this especially in programs like discovering Christ. The major and important difference is that the Catholic church rightly recognizes that this is not the end; that the journey is not over and one conversion experience is not enough to save you or to keep you from sin.
Anyway back to Brian, so he goes through the standard altar call procedure. He asks those, who haven’t made a personal commitment to Jesus, to raise their hand. Now normally, the people, who raised the hand, would be either be invited down to the front or to a booth, where there are people waiting to mentor them; to help them in their walk and usually give them a free bible. None of that happened. Instead, Brian tells the people that they should: 1.tell someone about their commitment so that they can be held accountable, 2. get a bible, and 3. become a member of the local church. So you mean to tell me that one of the largest and richest churches in the world cannot even be bothered to have a booth with a prayer team, or give out free bibles, or connect people to local churches? Instead the money was spent passing out free copies of his book, Live, Love, Lead. Why? Does Brian Houston really think that his book will have a greater impact than the bible? I hope not, but that my friends is the impression that I’m left with.
conclusion:
I don’t mean to end on a negative note. I also believe a lot more could be said especially about the false dichotomies between body movement and the class room of silence as well as between welcoming the sinner and holiness. However, I did learn the in order to have true ecumenism, we Catholics must put aside our legalism and worship wars and recognized that ultimately what is important  is encountering Christ, whether that be in the extraordinary form Mass, nous ordo Mass, gregorian chant, organ, piano, guitar, drums, violins, Choir, or praise singers. We can learn from our protestant brothers and sisters and they can learn from us. In the end, we all give praise and honor to Jesus, who is king.