In Defense of the Immaculate Conception

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

Introduction

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

Immaculate Conception

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

Logic

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

Biblical argument

Old Testament

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

Luke 1:28

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

Hail full of Grace, the Lord is with you.

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

Romans 3:23

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

Conclusion

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


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

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.

Singleness: Is It a Vocation

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

Introduction

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

What is Vocation

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

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

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

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

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

Differences Between Singleness and The Sacramental Vocations

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

Basic Differences

1. Make Vows and Promises

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

2. Commit to the Life They Enter Stably

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

3. Exclusivity

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

4. Communal Relationship

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

5. Live Under Rules

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

6. Under Authority

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

Theological Reason

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

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

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

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

Singleness and Lay Led Ecclesial Communities:

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

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.

Catholicism: 5 things I love

Introduction

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

1. Eucharistic adoration

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

2. Silence

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

3. Universal lectionary

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

4. The Rosary

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

5. The concept of Saints

Hebrews 12: 1 states

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

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

Conclusion

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

Nativity Pastor Father White, Social media, and Criticism.

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

Introduction

Social Media and How We Handle Criticism

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

Catholic Twitter

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

My history with Church of Nativity

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

Falling in Love

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

The End of the Love Affair

Small Group

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

Mass Online

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

Emails Sent

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

Father White

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

Conclusion

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

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. 

Catholic church’s promotion problem

177 project

Project spotlight: 177 project

Last Friday, I attended Eucharistic adoration at St. Nicholas church. This event intrigued me. It included performances by Tom Young and Taylor Trippoli. Who are they, you might ask? They are Catholic Contemporary Music artists. I’ve written about the existence of such artists and their struggles before. I criticize Contemporary Christian music (CCM) for failing to have an authentic expression. Rather, the industry seems to push commercialized generic music produced by mega churches. Catholic artist tends to write lyrics that feel more authentic, and real. However, their minority status causes Catholic artist to have difficulty with exposure. I was pleasantly surprised to hear about an event featuring Catholic artists. Yet, I was disappointed with the level of promotion.

How I heard about the event

I heard about the event through social media. When I studied at Yale, I joined a Catholic Young Adult group. Even though I am now back in Virginia Beach, I never unfollowed the group. Therefore, I will occasionally get updates about events. A post about the 177 project caught my eye. I saw that they were traveling to other dioceses. I visited the website and saw that they were coming to St Nicholas Catholic Church. This surprised me because I had not heard it mentioned. I found no event info on the Richmond diocese website nor the parish’s website. The Catholic Church claims to be universal, yet it has a myopic view on promotion. Rather than coming together, parishes would rather promote their events. The vision of the 177 project encompasses the New Evangelization and deserves the promotion.

the 177 project’s vision

The 177 project is an initiative from Adoration Artist designed to help spark a renewal in parishes across the country. They seek to bring renewal through hosting nights of worship. These nights include Prayer of the rosary, confession, Eucharistic adoration, and music. The artists belong to an organization call Adoration Artist. This organization seeks to invest into Catholic artist. They invest by providing them with resources and exposure. In the hopes that they can turn their gifts into a career. As Tom Young said, “it’s nice to be able to command my music talents with my faith as I usually have to write commercial jingles to get by.” All artist struggle with exposure, but Catholic artist most of all due to lack of parish support. I think the lack of support needs to change. The church should promote because music unites everyone. Also, it creates a community event, where Catholics get to hear music that reflects their values.

Music Unites Everyone and is Ecumenical

Vatican II recognizes the Holy Spirit working in other Christian denominations. Believers baptized in the trinitarian format are incorporated into the unity of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church works with other Christian denominations to come together in unity. Music helps facilitate this goal because music has universal appeal. Both Protestants and Catholics enjoy spiritual songs.

Creates an Event to Invite Others

Catholic parish life is commonly devoid of outreach activities. I read a tweet once that said, “can we decide whether the Mass is welcoming or not. If not, can we have community events.” A major liturgical divide among Catholics centers on the question, should the Mass be accessible to outsiders? If you answer yes then you change the liturgy to be appealing to outsiders. This is the main argument in the book, Rebuilt by Father White. However, if the Mass is for baptized Catholics then when and where do we invite our non-Catholic friends. A Night of worship with adoration makes the Catholic faith accessible to the outsider.

Catholics Get to Hear Music that Reflects Their Values

So much of Christian music is written by Protestant artists. They may share our faith in Christ. Yet they often don’t acknowledge or understand sacramental theology or Marian devotion. Therefore, whenever possible Catholics should support the artist that uphold these values. Unfortunately, Catholics only know hymns and not contemporary music.

Conclusion

In short, I think the 177 project and Adoration artist offer good contributions to the Church. I hope Catholics will come together and worship regardless of parish affiliation.

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.