Adoration with monstrance

Adoration is my favorite devotion, why?

Imagine a date with Jesus.

You get dress up because you want to look nice for the king. You arrive early because you don’t want to keep the king waiting. Sitting across from Jesus, you wonder what to say to the creator of the universe. All of a sudden, he speaks. He asks you, how are you doing? At first, you try to give a generic answer, but Jesus is having none of it. He wants the truth.

Through Eucharistic adoration, I’ve been on that date.

What is Adoration?

I began adoration at the 24-hour chapel. Admittedly I was nervous. Despite being an introvert, staying one hour in silence did not sound appealing. Yet I had wanted to challenge myself. In Matthew Kelly’s book, Rediscovering Catholicism, he challenges the reader to devote one hour to adoration.

Thus, it began as a challenge

Radical Encounter

It turned into a radical encounter with the Lord

And he came to his disciples and found them sleeping and he said to Peter, “So could you not watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you may not fall into temptation; the spirit is willing but the flesh is indeed weak” Matthew 26:40-41

I have been tempted. I have heard the lies whispered in the shadows of the night.

Satan tells me that I am:

  • unworthy
  • unlovable
  • should be anxious about my future

Yet for the one hour in front of the blessed sacrament, I get to lay all of that down in front of the king of the universe. Jesus, who loves me, wants desperately to hear me and spend time with me. He tells me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).

Jesus came so that you can have an abundant life. He doesn’t want you to fall into the lies of the evil one. I challenge you to spend one hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament weekly. Your life will be forever changed.

How to lead a small group

How to lead a small group

Introduction

Small groups are a relatively recent phenomenon in Catholic parishes. Yet in Protestant churches gathering in small groups are a normal occurrence. Parish renewal groups such as Rebuilt and Forming Intentional Disciplesemphasize small groups. They see small groups a way of establishing a community. I served on the board in charge of discussing small groups. This made me realize that Catholics don’t understand the point of small groups.

What are small groups

A small group consists of 6-10 people, who hold each other accountable. Here’s what a small group is not:

  • a bible study
  • a book club
  • a place to go deeper in theology

While I love all those activities, none of those actives by themselves make a small group. Rather, a small group shares life together. They usually began with a meal and prayer. After that, they have no real agenda. The group might do Lectio divina, or watch a video. You should get to the point where you do not need a program. A program should be a jumping off point for relational ministry. Getting through all the questions is not the goal of a small group.

I have been a small group leader for youth, young adults, and adults. I know a thing or two about leading small groups. Below are 5 tips for being a good small group leader.

Tips To Be A Small Group Leader

1. Same page

You want to make sure your leader and co-leader are on the same page. This means you need to talk about expectations. Questions that need to be discussed include:

  • will there be food and who’s bringing it
  • how often will we meet
  • what will we be discussing
  • will attendance be required

If the leaders are not on the same page, then the members will not know what to expect. Likewise, this makes members confused and less likely to come back.

2. Introduce People

Your job as facilitator is to help people enter into a relationship with each other. Thus, you need to facilitate interaction. The first couple of times you meet, you want to have a good ice breaker. Later on, you may want to collect birthdays and contact info. You can send encouragement and prayer to those you think might need it. You can encourage others to do the same.

3. Spiritual Introduction

We all come from different backgrounds, cultures, and ways of life. Some people in the group may have an active prayer life. Others still struggle with accepting Jesus as the son of God. St Paul talks about this in 1st Corinthians 3:1-3a

”But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even yet you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh. 1st Corinthians 3:1-3a (RSV Second Catholic edition)

Until everyone agrees to be on the same page spiritually, the group dynamics will not work. Thus as a facilitator, you must make sure that everyone is ready to go deeper. It is better to start too basic and then get complex.

4. Delegate Responsibility

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is a failure to delegate responsibility. Yet the group will die if nobody takes responsibility and the leader ends up leaving. I had this happen to one of my young adult groups. I had given roles, which people had reluctantly taken, but I failed to invest in those roles. When I moved to Connecticut for three months, the group died. People contribute to groups that matter to them and when they feel the can contribute.

5 . Plan with other groups

One thing I miss about Protestant churches is how small groups became large. Currently, I am a leader of a young adult small group at a local parish. At the introductory meeting, the young adult leader shared his vision. He envisioned having multiple groups throughout Hampton Roads. This was last year. Our group still meets bi-monthly. Yet we have never interacted with another group. It makes us feel disconnected and unsupported. In my Protestant church, we would meet weekly in a small group. Yet once a month all the small groups would get together. We would grab wings or go bowling. It helped remind us that we were a part of a much larger community.

I would like to see the local parish eventually figure this whole small group thing out. The relationships I have formed in those small groups have been valuable to my spiritual formation.

Christian Films vs Bible: Which Tells a Better Story?

Red theater seats that you would find when watching Christian films

Last Saturday, I got together with my friends. We decided to play board games at a local coffee shop. I brought The Catholic Card Game. The creators took the mechanics of Apple to Apples or Cards against Humanity and made it Catholic. They made it Catholic by having all the cards have some Christian or Catholic theme to it. As a player, you can make some pretty fun inside jokes. One of my favorite cards played was, “in the name of Jesus, I command you to stop liking Christian films.”

I have been very critical of Christian films. My friend knew this and used it to score a point from me. The more I understand about film, art, and beauty, the more I’ve come to devaluing Christian films. I am discouraged by the current history of Christian films. The Bible offers the blueprint for telling a compelling story.

I first became aware of Christian film criticism through the Youtube channel: [Say Goodnight Kevin}(https://youtu.be/Bw3Ll_1l7Io). Kevin provides a critical analysis of Christian films. Most of what he says speaks to my heart. The God’s Not Dead review is no exception. Kevin states that the problem in the God’s not Dead review. The filmmakers are more interested in selling a message than telling a story. The characters become one-sided in order to serve the message.

The Bible shows us brokenness and weakness, morally gray people, God’s power, and trials.

1. Brokenness and weakness

In Christian films, the Christian character is usually not broken. Yet God uses broken people all the time. Let’s take Moses for example. Moses was chosen by God to lead the people out of Egypt into the promised land. Moses objected by saying that he had a stutter and could not speak. St Paul talks about a thorn in his side that would not go away. St Paul describes how God’s strength is made perfect in St. Paul’s weakness. Christian films would do well to show God using what society has deemed as weak or broken.

2. Morally gray people

Returning to Moses, he was also a morally gray individual. He murdered an Egyptian guard for attacking a Jewish slave. Likewise, David was a man after God’s own heart, but he committed adultery. Very rarely if ever do we see Christian films display nuance. They never have the Christian character perform a morally questionable action. They also fail to show growth over time.

3. Show trials after becoming a Christian

The book of Acts describes how the apostles were arrested, beaten, and kill for their faith. Yet many more became Christian partially due to their witness. It would be beneficial for Christian films to show 1. What caused people to convert, and 2. Them choosing to stay in the face of trials.

Shiro and LGBT in Children’s media

legs and feet on bed in front of TV which says Netflix

Introduction

Dear reader, I apologize for the late post, but I was gone all weekend. Also, this blog post contains spoilers for the Dragon Prince and Voltron. If you do not want them spoiled, please do not read.

Relational ministry is one of the key components of youth ministry. In relational ministry, one seeks to form a relationship with the youth. This relationship usually begins through discussion of tv shows, movies, or music. As someone, who aspires to work with youth, I find that it is important to know what they are watching. While working with the youth this year, they introduced me to The Dragon Prince and Voltron. Both shows have been heavily criticized for their handling of LGBT characters. In my own personal opinion, a diversity of people in any show, but especially a kids show, is welcomed. I am unique in that 1. I don’t expect media to have Christian values, and 2. I don’t get upset when a show incorporates new world views to consider. I do however get upset when the world views are not fully depicted or have no effect on the story. I realize that this topic can be divisive. When it comes to media representation I tend to take a midline stance on such issues. Yet I fear that carless representation will continue and ruin otherwise good stories. I will discuss the dragon prince characters, Annika and Neha, and Voltron’s character Shiro. Both are not a good depiction of LGBT characterization.

The Dragon Prince

The Dragon Prince is made by some of the same people who worked on Avatar the last Airbender. In a nutshell, The Dragon Prince is a fantasy show about 3 people. They discover a dragon prince egg and go on a quest to return it. Season 2 came out on February 15th. It was highly anticipated and received good reviews. It has been described as Game of Thrones for kids and teenagers. The comparison is not inaccurate. The show covers dragons, magic and political intrigue. Most of the characters are morally grey and have various motivations. It even quotes philosophical ideas such as The Veil of Ignorance. Thus I am sad that such a smartly written show must cater to LGBT diversity PR. The dragon prince avoids some of the mistakes of Voltron. I also have problems with the depiction of the LGBT as normal and without struggles.

Annika and Neha

According to the fandom Wiki, those are the names of the two queen mothers. They first appear in flashback during the episode Break The Seal. In this episode, Viren is trying to start a war but needs the permission of the surrounding land. In his meeting with the nearby kingdoms, the viewer meets Aanya. Viren tells her the story of her parent’s death in order to persuade her to aid in the war. In the flashback of the story, we see Aanya has two mothers. This is problematic.

Problems with representation

My problem is not that two lesbian queens exist. My problem is that they did not develop the concept far enough. As an adult viewer, I have a basic understanding of biology. I know that two mothers cannot give birth to a child with equal genetics. The child does have genetics from a male sperm donor. Perhaps Aanya is adopted rather than biologically related. If this is the case, then how can Aanya have a legitimate claim to the throne. The writers chose to make the queens have a lesbian relationship. By this choice, the show takes on more questions than it wishes to answer. Furthermore, the writers killed off the lesbian queens in a past battle. This makes the reputation feel forced. The writers need to provide answers. If not, they shouldn’t show a lesbian relationship with a child. Otherwise, it comes across as an attempt to convince kids that two women can have a kid normally. The reality is that it is not normal and always involves a third party.

Voltron

If guardians of the galaxy, transformers and power rangers had a baby you would have this show. It centers around 4 main characters. While studying at a military space academy, they discover the blue lion. It is one of the lions that form Voltron. Voltron is the protector of the universe. The 4 Characters are Lance, Pidge, Hunk, and Keith. All 4 people find the lions and throughout the series save cultures from the Galra, an evil alien race. The 4 teenagers end up being led by Shiro, who is a military space officer.

Shiro

The show depicts Shiro as a leader and space explorer, who is happiest while flying. He endures a lot of hardships including PTSD like symptoms. Despite this adversity, he becomes a hero. The only hint that Shiro is a gay character occurs in season 7 episode 1. The main story of this episode centers on Keith and Shiro’s relationship. Shiro is recruiting young teenagers to join the space academy. During recruitment, Shiro discovers Keith’s natural ability to fly. Shiro becomes a mentor and father-like figure to Keith. In this episode, the viewer also discovers that Shiro has the early onset of a muscular disorder. Thus he is being pressured to retire. About 17 minutes into the episode, the viewers get a one-minute interaction. with a fellow cadet Adam, who warns Shiro not to go on the mission. Adam asks, “how important am I to you?” Adam says, “if you go, don’t expect me to be back.” It could be taken as a concerned friend or a romantic partner.

Towards the end of the series, we see Shiro visibly upset over Adam’s death. In the final minute of the show, we see Shiro with another man. They are getting married. The show ends with them kissing.

Problems with representation

This depiction is problematic because of no development. This depiction implies that the only way for Shiro to be happy is to be openly gay and married. Yet Shiro’s priority was not marriage but flying. Shiro never struggled with his gayness and that is unrealistic. Some argue persuasively that it is Liberal PR move.

What I want going forward

I want a story first narrative. Writers should ask, “does making a person LGBT effect the story in a meaning full way?” I also want writers to not shy away from depicting openly gay characters because they do exist in life. Similarly, writers should not be afraid to depict same-sex attraction people, who choose to find their identity in other areas. Shiro could have been the latter. The media would rather try to win brownie points for being progressive.

Sabbath vs Lords day: What is the Big Deal?

Introduction

People always seem surprised when I tell them that I have seldom missed Mass. In fact, the only time I missed Mass in recent memory occurred during a snowstorm. Some people I have encountered view church as optional. They tend to believe that you can call upon the Lord anywhere. The New Testament has certain scriptures that seem to abolish the Sabbath requirement. Yet The Catholic Church makes observing The Lord’s Day a requirement. The Church makes it a mortal sin to miss church without a grave reason. Why does The Church care so much about our presence in a building? After all, Jesus spoke against the Sabbath in Luke 14:1-6. Like all biblical interpretations, context is important. The Catholic Church’s teachings reconcile the Old Testament scripture with the words in The New Testament.

Old Testament

Genesis 2:3

The first reference to a mandatory day of rest occurs in Genesis. Here, God is creating the universe. Then, we read Genesis 2:3

God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation. Genesis 2:3 (NABre).

We as the readers learn key things about the Sabbath. God made it a day of rest. We believe God is all powerful. He did not need the rest. Rather God is choosing to rest. This choice gives an example to humanity. God knows we need the rest. We learn that the 7th day is blessed. Thus when we set aside the 7th day, God blesses us. Last, this verse tells us that God made the 7th day holy. Thus, we should keep our mind on holy things. Thus The Church has decided to make the 7th day a time of corporate worship. When we get to the New Testament this will be further expanded upon. From Genesis, we learn that the Sabbath is a concept that directly comes from God and not man-made laws.

Exodus

The next mention of the Sabbath occurs in the book of Exodus. In this book, God rescues the Israelites from spiritual and physical slavery in Egypt. Once the Israelites reached Mount Sinai, God gives them a code of laws. God designed these laws to help set the Israelites apart from other pagan nations. When dictating these laws, God said,

Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For in six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day, he rested. Exodus 20:8-11(NABre).

So The Old Testament, The Book of Exodus marks the beginning of the Sabbath being encoded into the law. The Book of Leviticus, The Book of Numbers, and The Book of Deuteronomy all mention the Sabbath. In those books, the Sabbath is no longer a mere memorial for the creation of the world. Rather, The Sabbath commemorates God freeing the Israelites from Exodus. The Sabbath has become a form of corporate worship.

Call Upon the Lord

Yet some people point to verses like Psalm 145:18 as proof that one is not obligated to keep the Sabbath. Usually, people who make this argument focus on the first part of the verse, but ignore the second. Psalm 145: 18 says

the Lord is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth

The interpretation depends on how one defines calling upon the Lord in truth. In my Bible, there are two scriptures cited after this passage: Deu 4:4-10, and Isa 55:6. Deuteronomy says,

See, I am teaching you the statutes and ordinances as the Lord, my God, has commanded me, that you may observe them in the land you are entering to possess. Observe them carefully, for this is your wisdom and discernment in the sight of the peoples, who will hear of all these statutes and say, “This great nation is truly a wise and discerning people.” For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?

Thus to have the privilege of calling upon the Lord, the Israelites must abide by the laws and statues. Calling upon the Lord is not merely making a request, it is submitting to the will of God. His will in the Old Covenant was to set aside a day to rest and honor Him.
So In the Old Testament, God instituted the Sabbath in order to provide us with a day of rest. He codified it as part of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:8-11. The Books of Deuteronomy, Numbers, and Leviticus provide information regarding the Sabbath practice. Obeying the Sabbath is necessary in order to call upon the Lord in truth.

New Testament

Yet we as Christians are not bound by only the Old Testament. We also follow the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ. A thorough examination of the scriptures shows that Christ honored the Sabbath. Yet he also challenged the authority at the time. He presented himself as a living sacrifice. He replaced the temple sacrificial system. Yet Jesus did not abolish the Old Testament law, but rather fulfilled it.

Jesus in the Gospel

We know that Jesus did not abolish the Old Testament law based on Matthew 19:16-17.

”If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”(NABre).

Jesus told the rich young man to keep the commandments. Hence, we as Christians are also obligated to keep the moral law. This moral law includes a prescription to keep the Sabbath holy and to rest. If that is the case, did Jesus do or say anything to undermine this commandment.

Luke 14:1-6

On a Sabbath he went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. In front of him, there was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus spoke to the scholars of the law and Pharisees in reply, asking, “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath or not?” But they kept silent; so he took the man and, after he had healed him, dismissed him. Then he said to them, “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?” But they were unable to answer his question Luke 14:1-6 (NABre).

Here Jesus deliberately heals on the Sabbath. This at first glance seems to undermine the authority of the Sabbath. The reality is that Jesus is not saying to not rest or worship God. Rather, the Israelites needed to be reminded about mercy. The Pharisees had interpreted a law to allow the untying of bound animals on the Sabbath. Jesus is extending that compassion towards humans, who are bound by affliction.

Matthew 12

Jesus also spoke about the Sabbath in Matthew 12:5-8

Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the Sabbath and are innocent? I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath

In Matthew 12, the Pharisees rebuke the disciples for picking the heads of grain on the Sabbath. In verse 5, Jesus mentions that the requirements of the temple outweighs the requirements of the Sabbath. If that is the case then Jesus’ presence outweighs the Sabbath as well since he is the son of God.

Jesus establishes a new covenant during the Last Supper. He gives us his flesh to eat in the form of bread and wine. This meal takes the place of the Passover meal. The Sabbath celebrated by the Jews commemorates God rescuing them from Egypt. The early Christian Church established The Lord’s day to celebrate The New Covenant.

Writings of the Early Church

St. Paul writes about the Sabbath in Colossians 2:16-17.

Let no one, then, pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or sabbath. These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ.

Here St. Paul says that the Jewish traditions were shadows of things to come. In other words, the Jewish traditions point to Christ. Christians do not need to celebrate the Sabbath but celebrate Christ. Yet the Sabbath rest is still a moral requirement. In Hebrews 4, the Bible says, “Therefore, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God. And whoever enters into God’s rest, rests from his own works as God did from his. Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience.”

The example of disobedience refers to the Israelites. They were given the promise land as a share of God’s rest but failed to honor the Sabbath.

In Hebrews 10:19-26, the Bible describes how Christ has replaced the Jewish temple worship.

Therefore, brothers, since through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and since we have “a great priest over the house of God,” let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy. We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-26

This passage opens by explaining that we can enter the Holy of Holies. Jesus Christ made a way through his flesh. The term flesh represents His sacrificial death on the cross and His flesh given to us in the Eucharist. The terms sprinkled clean and bodies wash with pure water refers to Baptism. Finally, the author of Hebrews states that we should not stay away from our assembly. The assembly refers to Christian house churches. These assemblies are described in the Book of Acts.

Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart Acts 2:46 (NABre)

Since there were not physical buildings yet, the early Church met in houses. The term break bread refers to the Eucharist. The Bible even tells us what day of the week these celebrations took place

On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread, Paul spoke to them because he was going to leave on the next day, and he kept on speaking until midnight Acts 20:7 (NABre)

The early Christians broke bread on the first day of the week, which would be Sunday. Hence Sunday is now the new day of rest.

Conclusion

The Sabbath foreshadowed the celebration of The Last Supper. The former was a memorial to the Passover meal. It helped the Israelites remember how God rescued them from Egypt. Similarly, The Lord’s day memorializes Christ’s death on the cross. We break bread with one another as Christ commanded us to do. We are still bound by the moral command of the Old Covenant. This entails, “taking up its rhythm and spirit in the weekly celebration of the Creator and Redeemer of his people.” (CCC 2176). Therefore I ask you, what is more, important than honoring God through the breaking of the bread? If nothing is then why are you not observing the Lord’s day?

Three Ways to Restore Joy This Christmas

Introduction

I remember December as a kid. It felt like a time of peace, love, and joy. A time for watching holiday classics and eating cookies. The anticipation of gift giving filled me with joy. Now as an adult I know about all the work that made the magic happen. I know how hectic the holidays can be for people. I believe the west has lost sight of the true joy and wonder of the holidays. Let us restore joy by forgoing the commercialized Christmas.

3 ways to restore joy this Christmas

1. Embrace Advent

Advent is a time in which we prepare ourselves to remember the birth of Jesus Christ and in that remembering, we look forward to the second coming of Christ1. The proper attitude is anticipatory joy1. High liturgical churches emphasize advent. You don’t have to be a member to adopt this attitude. Traditionally a person will give up something. Instead, a person will do a spiritual reading and prayer. A lot of different Advent devotionals exist. I like and use Reedemed online.

Some people may object that waiting until December 25th takes away from the fun of the holiday. If we spend December fasting and doing good works while everyone else is partying then when we miss out. This leads me to my second point.

2. Embrace the 12 days of Christmas

We have all heard the silly song, The 12 Days of Christmas. What we think of as a silly song actually teaches truths about how we are to celebrate Christmas. Church tradition tells us that Christmas is not just one day, but a whole season. Over the years the numbering has gotten off, but the twelve days run from December 25th until January 6th. Some European children receive their gifts from the three wise men on Epiphany Sunday. Rather than enjoying all things Christmas for one day, you can enjoy it for twelve.

3. Nix Santa and embrace Saint Nick

I know this is controversial for some parents. They worry that their kid will be left out or spoil it for other kids. I grew up with Santa and don’t regret it. Santa is not bad. However, inventing a lie to capitalize on childlike wonder is not necessary when the original story is full of the miraculous. His first miracle was to heal a woman of a withered hand.

As Nicholas was growing up, he regularly went to study and learn with his teacher. One day as he was on his way he came upon a woman with a withered hand. Stopping, he approached her, laid his hand on her, prayed to God, and made the sign of the cross. The hand miraculously became whole. 2

St. Nicholas is known as the patron saint of children. He models the values of love and generosity. In some cultures, St. Nicholas brings candy and sweets on December 6th, his feast day 2. We can honor St. Nicholas by baking cookies and sweets on his feast day. We can also give to the poor.

Conclusion

The holidays don’t have to be hectic. We can have wonder, peace, and joy. However, we must be intentional in how we celebrate. We must set aside time to pray, and love others. The commercialized world will tell you that you most do and buy everything. However, the reality is that we are to love those closest to us. By loving others, we restore joy to the holiday season.


  1. Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the General Roman Calendar 
  2. From St. Nicholas Center, where there is more information about the saint, customs from around the world, stories and activities for children, recipes, crafts, and much more to help families, churches and schools learn about and celebrate St. Nicholas. Used by permission. 

3 ways to hear the voice of Jesus

Introduction

Last Sunday marked an end to the liturgical year for the church. This year was filled with sex scandals, confusion, and ambiguity. Yet the Church reminds us that Jesus Christ is king. He is the one in charge; not the corrupt bishops or priests. In our democratic republic, we tend to believe that we are free from tyranny. After all, the American people spoke out against taxation without representation. Thus, Americans tend to value individualism. This attitude conflicts with Jesus’ call to surrender and follow him.

Gospel of John

I want to turn our attention to last Sunday’s gospel reading. The Gospel was:

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” John 18:33-37

Before Mass, I prayed over this gospel passage. “ Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” stuck out to me. I take this to mean that we cannot proclaim the truth of the kingdom until we’ve heard the voice of the King. So how do we hear Jesus’ voice? I suggest three ways.

  1. Pray in silence

Matthew Kelly calls silence God’s classroom. Only in silence can we prepare ourselves to hear the still small voice of God.

  1. Meditate on scripture

The Bible is considered to be the word of God. When we meditate and internalize it, we can then use passages to align our will with God’s will.

  1. Participate in the sacraments

Another way to hear Jesus’ voice is through the sacraments. Priests are in persona Christi or in the person of Christ. This means that when they are performing the sacraments they are representing Christ. Hence, an encounter in confession is not an encounter with the priest, but with Christ himself.

Conclusion

Jesus came to speak the truth in love. He calls us to do the same. Yet we cannot proclaim the truth until we hear the voice of Jesus. We cannot proclaim the truth unless we make Jesus king over everything. Americans may think that they escaped the tyranny of a constitutional monarchy. Yet we remain slaves to our individualistic pursuits of perfection. Only a divine king can help free us through mercy and love.

Protestant churches: Six Things I Miss

Introduction

As a convert, you bring with you an appreciation for your faith upbringing. You accept that the Catholic has the fullness of truth. You still recognize the good in other faith traditions and Christian denominations. I have bittersweet feelings about leaving Vineyard church. Most Catholics often treat my feelings with haughtiness. They usually tell me that I need to study more or pray more. I do wish Catholics had more of an open mind to the beauty of other Christian denominations. I admit that I miss certain things about the Protestant services. Yet I do not want these aspects present in Catholic liturgy. Here I describe six things I miss from Protestant worship service. Just a reminder, I was inspired by What I still hate about Catholcism.

1. Community groups

In most large Protestant churches, you have smaller groups of people that meet weekly. These groups went over what the pastor talked about on Sunday. Yet, the relationships were more important. This small group of women holds each other accountable. Catholic parishes are now starting to implement small groups. I lead a small group of Young Adults. However, it seems that the intentionality is not as present. In the Catholic world, small groups are one of the many ways one can get involved in parish life. I have never heard a priest emphasize it in a homily and I’ve only seen it mentioned briefly in a bulletin. Protestant churches devote whole Sundays to help plug people into small groups. It feels intentional and not an afterthought. Second, Catholic small groups always revolve around an agenda or program. Most Catholic adults experience small groups through the Alpha or Discovering Christ program. These programs offer a good introduction to the gospel message. However, small groups serve a different purpose. One enters into a small group to waste time with each other, to pray and support one another. In Catholic circles, once the program or Bible study ends, the group ends. If we want to build community, we need to see beyond programs and see relationships.

2. Hospitality

Lizzieanswers touched on this a lot in her video. A lot of Catholics don’t want to admit a lack of hospitality in today’s parishes. I think it stems from a genuine fear that Mass will become nothing more than a social club. They see the feel-good services of Protestant megachurches and want nothing to do with that mentality. However, as a newcomer and convert, one can experience a sense of isolation or lack of caring. Especially if one does not have time to get involved. I never felt like an outsider. I always volunteered in youth ministry or adult ministry in some capacity. Through volunteering, I got to know other people in the parish. Most people my age do not have this type of patience. In the world of instant streaming, they want to be connected and feel welcomed. I think the Catholic Church could do more in this area.

3. Intentionality

When something is an obligation it ceases to be intentional. Most Protestants do not see the church as an obligation. In fact, for them, the church is an invisible institution. Thus for them, a gathering of three or more people is the church. Catholics think differently. The church is a hospital for the sick. It is necessary in order to get well. Thus, a lot of Catholics go to church because they need to and not because they want to. Hence, you have lukewarm Catholics not caring for the liturgy. The come late, leave early, and etcetera. I have heard the churches, who celebrate The Latin Mass, have less of a problem with this. People mistakenly credit the liturgical form for this. Rather it may be that the Latin mass attracts a more intentional type of Catholic. I am not sure how to fix this problem except by helping people fall in love with the Mass. Ironically, if a parish offered such a program, it would

4. Energetic

I am on the fence about this one. Some mornings I love the fact that the Mass is meditative and peaceful. I find that I can pray easier in a Mass setting. Yet on certain occasions when the homily is dry, I find myself wishing the service was more lively. When I attend Protestant services I know I’m going to leave energetic and inspired. When I attend Mass, I know that I’m going to leave with a sense of peace and intimacy with God. I do not think that one is better than the other. I do not want the Mass to become more energetic. Rather, I want opportunities to have those experiences in a Catholic context. Sadly I have only experienced the same energy during Catholic retreats and conferences. I have never seen anything offered on the parish level.

5. Music

I am not sure when or why it happened, but the Catholic Church no longer has a reputation for good music. I feel like most Catholic hymnals are filled with bland, boring, and safe songs. After the explosion of new music in the 60s and 70s, there hasn’t been anything new from Catholic composers. Parishes stopped valuing music. Meanwhile, groups such as Hillsong, Bethel, and Elevation produce music that influences millions. I believe the Catholic Church needs to start valuing the arts again. We need to produce good quality music. We need to produce both contemporary pieces of music and return to supporting chant. For me personally, I don’t need a hymn book for Mass anymore because the parish choir recycles the same hymns.

6. Bible Appreciation

A lot of Catholics don’t know the Bible, as well as, Protestants do. One reason has to do with catechesis in the Catholic Church. Most young Catholics learn bible stories that we hear on Sunday. They learn what the Catholic Church teaches. They fall to learn the biblical bases for Catholic teaching. Rather than learning from the Bible itself, they learn from a textbook. I am trying to change that. I requested and got permission to use bibles in my CCD classroom. Every lesson has a scripture associated with it. We talk about said scripture and how it relates to the lesson. Then they are given an opportunity to memorize it. Second, Catholics through history have not needed to defend themselves. They didn’t need to have an answer memorized because everyone believed the same thing.

Conclusion

When I express my feelings, Catholics accuse me of not loving the Catholic Church. They are mistaken. I deeply love the Catholic Church and I understand why she does what she does. I would rather have a meditative peaceful service than an energetic worship concert every Sunday. I do recognize that certain people need community and find these things attractive. As I grow, I long for more silence, contemplation, and beautiful chant. Yet I still look back in fondness for what brought me to Christ in the first place. If Catholics desire unity, then we must be open to learning from and appreciating the other.

Miracles: do they exist anymore?

Do Miracles actually happen?

Introduction

The book of Acts describes the early church. During this time many miracles occurred. One example occurs in Acts 3:7-11. In this chapter, Peter heals a beggar sitting at the temple gate. Yet in today’s society Miracles like the ones in Acts are rare. Likewise, people treat miracles with skepticism. On the other hand, you have evangelicals, who make miracles a priority. Given these two choices, How should one view miracles?

My Testimony

I too have a difficult time with healing and miracles. As a disabled person, who has yet to receive God’s gift of healing, I find the miracle stories hard to believe. I also have had spiritual harm done to me by well-intended Evangelicals. While out shopping, some religious person stopped me and told me that if I believed in Jesus Christ, I’d be healed. When belief is a prerequisite for healing, then a lack of healing must mean a lack of belief. Thus, when I am confronted with healing, I feel a sense of unworthiness. My experience highlights one viewpoint on healing called Name it and claims it. The Catholic Church denies this viewpoint. Instead, The Catholic Church offers the notion of redemptive suffering. Redemptive suffering is a very well rationed theology. However, it can become a crutch.

Name it Claim it

The name claims it theology is related to the prosperity gospel and word of faith. The idea is that if we say certain words or perform certain actions then God will bless us. While all of God’s promises are true, his ways are also higher than ours. We cannot fathom the mind of God. Persons who claim that we can somehow manipulate or control God by the words we say or the amount of faith we have. This seems arrogant. God is not a vending machine. One positive contribution is that it teaches people to expect the miraculous.

Redemptive Suffering

The Catholic Church is not ashamed of suffering. Most icons depict suffering. In our sanctuary hangs a crucifix of Jesus. Outsiders would claim that Catholics are obsessed with suffering. Unlike evangelical Protestants, Catholics pinpoint the moment of salvation at the cross. Christ suffered to save the world. We can take part in this salvific act by uniting our suffering to Christ. St Paul testifies to this in Colossians 1:24

”Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, which is the church”

Of course, nothing is truly lacking in Christ, but God chooses to honor our sacrifice because he loves us. However, if this is true, how do miracles fit in?

It’s important to distinguish redemptive suffering from the gift of healing. The former is a vocation and the latter is a gift from God. When we choose to offer up our suffering as a sacrifice, we are choosing a way of life. We are working the salvation of others. God bestows healing upon us as a free gift. Yes, we can pray for healing, but whether it comes is not up to us.

Finding Balance

Individual Catholics and Christians need to find balance when it comes to healing. God does not bend to the whims of men. God chooses at his discretion who receives healing. When healing does not come, a person’s faith is not the direct cause. Furthermore, we cannot use redemptive suffering as a crutch. The notion of redemptive suffering was not designed to quench the Holy Spirit. Thus even if we feel that our vocation is to offer up our suffering, we should still pray for healing. The world is full of negativity. The church needs a renewal. As a part of this renewal, The church needs to reclaim miracles in order to be hope for the hopeless. 

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.