Hell demystified

Recently I have had the pleasure of talking to Jehovah Witnesses. I must have been feeling the Holy Spirit that day. When they knocked on my door, I decided to engage them rather than being dismissive. After all, they only want to talk about the bible right? Don’t worry I’m not naive enough to believe their pitch. They gave me a pamphlet about knowing the “truth.” Of course, it is based on their interpretation of the Bible. One sentence caught my eye, “at death humans cease to exist.” Paradoxically they seem to believe that only the righteous will be raised. From the same pamphlet, it says, “most who have died will be resurrected and will live on a paradise earth.” So for Jehovah Witness, there is no hell or heaven, but a kingdom for the righteous that will come when Jesus comes back.

Catholic Confusion

Unfortunately, It seems that Catholics are equally confused about hell. I almost didn’t become Catholic over a misunderstanding regarding hell. One Sunday in RCIA class, the topic of hell came up. This older woman stated that she did not believe in hell for God was love. Confusingly I asked well doesn’t hell exist? What does the church teach? The debate went back and forth. Opinions flew around the room, but nobody could tell me what the church taught. Finally, the older lady looked me in the eye and say, “why do you need to believe in hell?” With that, the class ended. Racing home I vowed to look up what the Catholic Church taught.

Peace washed over me. I smiled as I read the paragraph because It was exactly what I had thought the Church taught. Let me explain.

The Truth About Hell

First, the Jehovah Witnesses are not wrong. There will be a resurrection and final judgment and a new kingdom and new earth. The problem is they deny particular judgment. They also deny hell’s existence. This goes against Catholic teaching.

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death, the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.”615 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

So sorry lady from RCIA. We must believe in Hell because the church tells us it exists. Of course, that reasoning isn’t going to work for my Jehovah witness friends. They need biblical proof.

When Jesus speaks of Hell, he uses the word Gehenna (the Greek word for hell). Here are just a few passages:

But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Mt 5:22,29

Another common image is a fiery furnace.

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Mt 13:42, 50

My point is that Jesus spoke of hell or Gehenna. To deny the existence of hell, you have to say Jesus was misquoted or Jesus is lying. Now you could argue that hell will exist when Jesus comes in power. Thus hell exists after the final judgment. Yet this does not line up with all passages in the Bible.

Biblical Proof of Particular Judgement

The most obvious passage begins on Luke 16:22, which describes the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus lived a life full of suffering and hardship. It describes how when Lazarus dies he is carried to Abraham’s bosom. The story goes on to say that the rich man also died. He was being tormented in the netherworld. While the rich man begs Abraham to relieve him, Abraham cannot because there is a gap between them.

If Jesus did not want us to believe in life immediately after death, why did he tell this parable? Clearly, Jesus was okay with immediate judgment after death.

Jesus also acknowledges life right after death when speaking with the thief. In Luke 23:43, Jesus tells the thief that today he will be with Jesus in paradise. Thus we do not have to wait for the kingdom of God to be fully here. Our place is decided by our actions in this life.

Thus we must say diligent and awake.

Catholic Church and Hell Now.

Having examined the Catechism and the scriptures, it has become clear that Hell exists. Likewise, we know that souls enter heaven and hell immediately. So the only loophole now is who is in hell. The Catholic Church has this to say regarding who is in hell.

God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”:619

The fact that no-one is predestined has led some Catholics to speculate that hell might be empty.

Bishop Barron has famously said that we may have a reasonable hope that hell will be empty. In other words, God wants to save everyone. If anyone is in hell they have chosen to be there, Bishop Barron optimistically believes that nobody chooses to go to hell.

Yet the Bible paints a different picture

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few

Few find the road that leads to life. Thus I believe hell to be full; although, I trust in the mercy of God

My Final Thoughts on Hell

Hell is not a pretty picture. Nobody wants to imagine anyone eternally suffering. Thus I used to have beliefs similar to Jehovah witnesses. I thought God destroyed the souls in hell. Maybe over a long period, but one day there would be no more evil souls. One day I was meditating on this idea when a voice spoke in my mind. It said, “I could never destroy a beautiful soul no matter how wicked.” If you are a mother, I think you understand. You could never destroy your child no matter how bad they are. Sure you may separate yourself from them, but you still love them. God is a good father and he acts the same way. He separates himself from us, which cause us enormous pain, but he wouldn’t dare destroy us.

To Learn more about Bishop Barron’s opinion watch this

Left Behind: What do Catholics Believe?

Does anyone remember the Left Behind series?

Growing up, my mom was a fan. She let me ready the kid’s version of the book.

Those books scared me a lot.

I remember vividly the descriptions of people disappearing. One minute they were there and the next minute their clothes would be in a pile in front of you. I thought that would happen to me. Jesus would leave me all alone.

As someone with a disability, this is equally terrifying. I found myself wondering what would happen to me if Jesus took my parents or caregivers when I was on the toilet.

Thus I stopped thinking about the final judgment.

Theology behind Left Behind

“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended. After that he must be loosed for a little while. . . . And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be loosed from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations which are at the four corners of the earth.” Revelation 20:1-3, 7-8

Protestants, who believe in the events in the Left Behind series, take the above passage literally. They believe in a thousand-year reign of Christ called the Millennium. Christ will establish this reign when he comes again in glory just before he judges all souls at the last judgment.

What About the Rapture?

The rapture is the name for the event where people disappear. There is a debate in Protestant circles. Some people believe that God would not torture his people. Thus, He raptures them before the time of persecution (pre-tribulation). Others believe that the rapturing of the elect occurs after the time of persecution(post-tribulation). For those who believe in pre-tribulation, Jesus comes three times: He comes as an infant; He comes to rescue his elect; he comes to instill his reign and final judgment. Yet the three visitation view is not biblical.

Mathew 25:31-46

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Passage Explained

Jesus never describes more than one coming. In the above passage, he implies that the final judgment takes place immediately after his second coming. Thus Protestants, who believe in a millennium, fail to reconcile the words of Jesus in Matthew with Revelation.

Catholics don’t read Left behind series

I remember I was talking to a catholic once and somehow we got on the topic of end times. I think a new Left Behind movie was coming out. My questions about Rapture and end times confused him. As a Catholic myself, I now know that Catholics don’t say much about end times. Yet every Mass we recite “he (Jesus) will come again to judge the living and the dead.” So clearly we at least believe he is coming back.

Like Protestants, Catholics believe in a tribulation. This tribulation will shake the faith of the believers and they will worship the antiChrist, which is anything that causes humanity to worship itself. After this period of trial, Christ will come and judge everyone both living and dead. At this point, the dead will reunite with their bodies. Lastly, God will transform the material world. (See Catechism 675 -677)

But What About The Millennium?

For Catholics, the thousand-year period is presently here. Jesus reigns from his throne in heaven. The angel binds the devil so that he cannot hinder the preaching of the gospel. When the devil gets loose, that will start the tribulation. Catholics take seriously the command to stay awake and be vigilant for we do not know the hour that the Lord is coming.

End Times: What’s The Point

When properly understood, the end times offer immediate value to one’s spiritual life. For starters, it causes us to be alert and gives us a purpose. We can respect God and his sense of justice. Lastly, we can have hope of life after death. The latter of which can be comforting to those grieving the loss of a loved one. I know that I can have peace in the fact that God will take everyone at once. I hope in and rely on God’s mercy that I may be a sheep and enjoy even with Christ.

For more information, check out this post from Catholic Answers

Can NFP be used as Contraception?

” When all the smoke has cleared, contraception was invented because of our lack of self-control” Christopher West, Theology of the Body for Beginners1

Long before I knew about Theology of the Body or Natural Family Planning (NFP), I was enrolled in my Christian ethics class tasked with writing a final paper. As a new Catholic, I wanted to challenge myself to defend the Church’s teachings on contraception. Admittedly, I had had a hard time accepting this teaching. For the paper, we had to use two different methods of arguing our point. I chose to argue the scripturally and philosophically contraception is morally wrong. For the philosophical piece, I chose to cite Thomas Aquinas’ defense of self-control as a virtue.

Fast forward, I’m reading Theology of the Body. I read the above quote from Christopher West. Laughing on the inside, I think to myself, I could have written that sentence.

Yet Catholics make everything so dang complicated. Note, I don’t mean the Church, I mean individual Catholics. Let me explain.

NFP Week

NFP week occurs on July 21-27 and boy, there was conflicting information. Twitter was an especially confusing place. People accusing others of having a “Contraceptive mentality” simply because they wanted to space out their children.

As someone, who wants only two biological children (I am open to adopting much more), the moral imperative to have as many kids as possible scares me.

Luckily the keyboard warriors of twitter don’t define Catholic theology.

What is NFP?

NFP or Natural Family Planning involves using a women’s natural cycle to determine if a woman is fertile? It can be used to avoid pregnancy or to have a baby. There are many different types of NFP.

Creighton model

This model requires a woman to measure her cervical mucus before and after she goes to the bathroom. Depending on the color and texture, a woman is either fertile or infertile. There are classes a woman can take to help her know what to look for when measuring mucus.

Sympto-Thermal model

In this model, a woman measures whether or not she has cervical mucus. She also measures her temperature every morning at the same time. Based on these measurements, she determines her pre-peak, peak, and post-peak. It used to be inconvenient to have to measure your temperature at the same time every day. Now though, there have been breakthroughs in wearable technology. A quick internet search showed me a band worn under the armpit and an in-ear thermometer.

Marquette Method

This method is the newish one on the scene. It involves testing women’s hormone levels using a fertility monitor. While this method is reliable and easy to understand, it is too expensive for most women. It requires a woman to purchase both a fertility monitor and strips. Yet it is the easiest method to follow if you have the excess money to spend.

Effectiveness

By now, dear readers, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “why to go through all that work if artificial birth control is 99% effective.” Well, the reason I chose to highlight the above NFP methods is that they are 98%-99% effective with perfect use. The keyword, of course, is the perfect use. So let’s talk imperfect use.

In imperfect use, artificial birth control pills are 92% effective. The Creighton model ranges from 95%-98% effective. The Marquette model ranges from 89%-86% effective. Lastly, Sympto-Thermal model is 98%-92% effective.2

I know that is a lot of numbers to throw at you. My point is that, except for the Marquette Model, all of them are on par with artificial birth control. The latter of which comes with negative side effects.

Okay so all things being equal, why is NFP morally better than artificial birth control?

Christians have a moral obligation to choose NFP.

Self Control

But the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

As Christians, one of the signs that we are one with God is our growth in the fruits of the spirit. Check out that last one, yep, it is self-control. We should always strive with God’s grace to grow in self-control. By denying sex for a little while 6-10 days a month, you are practicing self-control.

Why NFP is not Contraception

Sex that creates life necessitates that a woman and a man have vaginal intercourse. Thus, the church requires all sexually acts entail vaginal intercourse. When a couple has vaginal intercourse and the woman is naturally infertile, this does not render the sexual act objectively sterile. Contraception, on the other hand, renders the sexual act objectively sterile. Christopher West puts it this way,

Contraception is the choice of engaging in an act of intercourse but doing something to render it sterile. Couples who engage in NFP, when they have a just reason to avoid pregnancy never render their sexual actions sterile.3

Thus NFP can never be done with “contraceptive mentality.” Sex with NFP is always open to life.

  1. West, Christopher. Theology of Body For Beginners (Ascension Press 2009), pg 113.
  2. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/1115/p924.html#afp20121115p924-b23
  3. West, Christopher. Theology of Body For Beginners (Ascension Press 2009), pg 111.

Female Priest: What is the Big Deal?

Female Catholic Priest: They exist?

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Catholic female priest. I was attending an organ donation religious panel. To my dismay, traditional Catholicism failed to make an appearance. Rather the panel had Judaism, Islam, and Protestantism represented. As I sat with my co-workers, this lady wearing a Roman Collar comes up to our table and sits down. After an exchange of small talk, she declares that she is a Catholic priest.

At this moment, my eyes got wide. She passes her business card, which read, “member of the independent Catholic Church.”

Now I started laughing on the inside about the oxymoron that is independent Catholic. You cannot be independently universal. I sighed and put the incident behind me until this year.

Opening the Door to Women

I taught 7th-grade religious education. When we got to the chapter on Holy Orders, I thought it would be good to interview a priest.

So I asked the youth to come up with questions for the priest. Inevitably the question of why priest can’t be female came up.

The priest said, “well, Jesus selected all males to be his apostles”. So far the answer is correct, but then it took a turn for the worse. “Yet we know that women are equally a part of the body of Christ. We know that some of Jesus’ disciples were women. Thus maybe women will play a larger role in the future.”

Shocked, I push back a little. “Father, I thought priest was male due to being in persona Christi and the fact that the Eucharist is Jesus’ male body.”

He replied, “that is very interesting, I have never heard of that argument.”

It honestly makes me wonder what is taught in seminary.

Argument Against Female Priest

Apostles versus Disciples

All of Jesus’ followers were disciples. Some of his followers were apostles. So- what’s the difference? This is explained in the gospel of Mark

“He appointed twelve [whom he also named apostles] that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons: [he appointed the twelve:] Simon, whom he named Peter; James, son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, whom he named Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus; Thaddeus, Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.

So apostles have authority from Christ and have permission to preach. This is all very good.

Yet some might say, Jesus was just conforming to societal expectations. Jesus chose males because in his time males had authority. We live in a different culture, thus we do not need to follow Jesus’ example.

This ignores how Jesus elevated women.

Jesus Restores Female Dignity

In the gospels, Jesus radically treated women. Women were not objects to Jesus. This can be seen in Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan women at the well. First a little context. Jesus enters the town of Samaria at noon. It’s hot at that time. Nobody in their right mind would go and fetch water at this time.

Yet Jesus sees a figure approach the well. It’s a woman. Instead of ignoring her as the culture would dictate, Jesus chooses to engage with her. He listened to her and respected her. The Samaritan woman became a witness for Christ. Speaking of witnesses, women were the first witness to the resurrection. Mary Magdalene was one of the first people to see the risen Christ. Back in Christ’s time, women were not legal witnesses. If Jesus cared about cultural expectations, his first appearances would have been to men.

Mary as New Eve

Everyone knows that Catholics honor Mary, Jesus’ mother. Most protestants argue that the legitimizing of the Catholic church led to political corruption. The practice of honoring Mary resulted from this corruption.

There’s just one problem; the dates don’t add up. Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity 300 AD. Honoring Mary occurred much earlier.

St. Irenaeus of Lyon (d.202) compared Mary to New Eve.

Just as Eve, wife of Adam, yet still a virgin, became by her disobedience the cause of death for herself and the whole human race, so Mary, too, espoused yet a Virgin, became by her obedience the cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race… And so it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by Mary’s obedience. For what the virgin Eve bound fast by her refusal to believe, this the Virgin Mary unbound by her belief. (4)

This quote stresses Mary’s role as the cause of our salvation through her obedience.

Hence, Mary is honored as helping to bring about our salvation. Christ is the new Adam and Mary the new Eve.

What does this have to do with a female priest?

Well If the early Christians thought Mary should be respected, what better way to do that then make her an apostle. Yet that’s not what happened. Rather the eleven apostles drew lots and nominated St. Matthias. Thus even though Mary was the most likely choice for an apostle, they still went with a male follower.

By making Mary the new Eve, the Church demonstrates its respect for women. Yet, the early church including the eleven apostles maintained an all-male priesthood. To understand why we must understand the relationship between the Eucharist and the priesthood.

The Function of Priesthood

Old Testament

The Old Testament describes the story between God and his chosen people, the Israelites. The Old Testament describes the Israelites as a holy nation and a kingdom of priest. Yet God also set aside the tribe of Levi for liturgical worship. The Old Testament structure becomes fulfilled by Christ.

New Testament

By our baptism, we are made priest, prophets and kings. Yet just like in the Old Testament, there is a secondary priesthood. The Levi was responsible for procuring sacrifices for the Israelites. This function is fulfilled by Christ. Jesus Christ takes on death and defeats it. Because he is God, his saving act has infinite merit.

Yet the question remains, how are the effects of Christ’s saving act applied to us? Jesus’ sacrifice is applied to us throughout time through the institution of the Eucharist. The same body that was shed on the cross is made available to us through the transformation of bread and wine. Christ’s one sacrifice presents itself in the Eucharist. Similarly, Christ is the great high priest that works through the ministerial priesthood. (CCC 1544).

The priest, when performing his priestly duties, acts in the person of Christ. When a priest is acting in the person of Christ, the priest must symbolize what is happening. Thus, when the priest says the words, “this is my body,” the priest must have a body similar to Christ. In other words, the priest must have a male body.

Female Priest: Ultimately a Lie

All sacraments must symbolize what they represent. Water cleans objects. The sacrament of baptism cleanses us of sin. Thus, water is required to represent the cleansing nature of baptism.

In the sacrament of Holy orders, a person pledges to be Christ for the people. Christ was male. Thus, the person must also be male. Having an office exclusively for males may seem strange for today’s society. Yet acknowledging the biological differences between male and female should not diminish the dignity due to women. A woman cannot claim to share in Christ’s physical body for to do so would be a lie.

Christian Rock Music: a Defense

“Can’t you see you’re not making Christianity better, you’re just making rock n’ roll worse.” King of the Hill S08E02

My History With Rock Music

I have always liked rock music.

In elementary school, when my peers were listening to Spice Girls and Brittny Spears, I was listening to Barenaked Ladies and Lenny Kravitz.

I even sang Fly Away for elementary school talent show; hides face in embarrassment.

This love for rock music never left me even though the bands and style of music did change.

Christian Rock: How it Snuck Into My Playlist

In college, I stumbled on a band called The Letter Black. I am not sure why or how this indie Christian band was featured on a secular music review site.

Not knowing what I was getting my self into I took a listen. The song Best of Me took hold of my heart and would not let go. What stood out to me was the lyrics:

If I could find yesterday

I would take You back to where I’m coming from

Cause You can see the way

All these scars have kept me running

And chasing down the past

But I’m not done, I’m turning back

I swear, You’re the only reason I keep breathing

I swear, You keep on giving me the reason to keep believing

Finally I’m worth it, though I’m not perfect

It still feels right, and I keep on giving

Trying to make a difference, in my life

But I know another way to show

Everything I can be for You

You’re all that I’ll ever need

I’ll give you the Best of Me

If I could read tomorrow’s mind

I would know exactly where You’re taking me

If I’m going to slip away

Or if I stay and give You all my trust

You will keep me safe

I know You won’t let me fade

I swear,…

This blew my atheistic mind. Why?

Because I had never considered religion to bring out the best in people. Rather I always thought religion was a crutch for people to rest on.

Yet 1st John 4:19 says

19 We love because he first loved us. (RSV 2nd Catholic edition)

At the time I had a lot of scars (still do). I attempted to find my worth in being perfect. This song explicitly states that she is worth it despite her imperfections and scars.

This message brought healing to my soul.

Overcoming Trauma:

In 2011, I was diagnosed with a herniated disc.

The news devastated me.

I had to leave school and take a leave of absence and spend 3 long months in the hospital.

For the uninitiated, there isn’t much to do in hospitals.

Thus, I listened to Christian rock music.

I need hope that secular music just could not provide.

One time, in particular, stands out.

It was the middle of the night. The nurse comes in to make me go to the bathroom. I had yet to go all day. The circumstances made the hospital staff understandably worried. They catheterized me.

Fear swirled through my head.

“What if I’ve lost my ability to go to the bathroom on my own”, I thought.

With that thought, tears came. The nurse tried to comfort me to no avail.

As the nurse left the room, I decided to turn on music.

No sleeping now, I thought as I cried.

The following song came on the radio: On The Front Lines by Light Up the Darkness

Can You comfort me when I call / Is my voice bouncing off the wall

As the weeping prophet my tears still fall

Not unlike my words upon deaf ears

I’m standing on the front lines with Jesus on my right side

I’m not defeated / I will stand tall

And my armor is fitted / And I will not fear

You held my hand / You led me here

You can defeat the enemy

I hear his cunning whispering words / I despise the enemy’s call

He tries to slay me with his lies

and I cannot compromise on the Solid Rock I stand

I don’t think that song would have the same emotional impact outside of a rock song. If it was a pop song or traditional praise song, It may have very well come across as cheesy. Yet Christianity attracted me, not through everlasting joy, but by the battle motif. Jesus is king standing on the front lines with us. He is battling the principles of darkness.

Is Screaming a Form of Praise?

The Bible talks about shouting a lot. The most famous example is the battle of Jericho.

So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. Joshua 6:20-6:22 (RSV 2nd Catholic edition)

Now we can read this as a historical narrative. Yet I also believe in a personal interpretation.

I believe that the walls represent obstacles in our lives. Things that keep us from our divine given purpose. Thus, screaming and shouting is a permissible form of praise. Our screams anticipate God’s intervention. Thus we can enter into eternal city of the new Jerusalem. Something is freeing about shouting out for God and watching the walls fall in our lives.

Christian rock: a Gimmick?

So does Christian rock music make actual rock music worse?

My answer would be, “it depends.” Artistic intentions play a large role in the integrity of the music choices. If the intention is to make Jesus seem cool or edgy and contrary to what Jesus is really about, then yes it is not authentic. Firstly, be a musician. Secondly, write meaningful messages about faith that can only be conveyed by rock music. Thirdly, don’t do it to try to spread the gospel to the masses or tap into the Christian market. We, Christians, have Christian Contemporary and praise music for that purpose.

Finding Freedom Through Unbound

I am weak! I need freedom from my weakness. This is how I used to think. Now I am attempting to embrace my weakness.

No, I am not throwing myself a pity party, nor am I being self-deprecating. Rather I am attempting to exercise my freedom. Confused? Let me explain.

Society states that what is important is success, wealth, and happiness. Al these things we should strive to grasps or possess. But what if you don’t have those things? Are you helpless? Are you unlovable or discontent?

These are the thoughts I wrestle with and it is easy for me to fall into despair. Yet the good news of Jesus Christ frees us from these thoughts and attitudes. It tells me that it is okay to be weak. The God, who loved me, created me with all my imperfections, doubts and fears. Freedom comes when we receive the good news.

How I viewed Freedom

Often it’s easy to view freedom as walking away from something rather than walking towards someone. I heard the following example:

Imagine you are a slave. You are being bided on when out of the corner of your eye you see a man. He pays the highest price for you. You cautiously go up to the man worried about your fate. Then you hear the words, “I freed you.” The man tells you to go live your life, but don’t fall into slavery.

I know that in my own life that is how I viewed God. To me, God is like the man, who paid the highest price. I thought I was right with God if I did not fall into sin. Yet my thought process is slowly changing.

“ Freedom is not just the absence of slavery to sin, but the presence of a love relationship with God”

My thought process began to change when reading the above quote. While I strive to not sin, to be in freedom requires more. It requires a relationship with God my father.

Freedom Through Unbound

I first read the quote in the workbook for the Unbound course; so what is Unbound?

Unbound is a book and class that offers Christians a practical guide to Deliverance. Now when my small group leader approached me about doing this course, I had no opinion. I didn’t really know about deliverance.

Honestly, If I had known I probably would have stayed away. I tend to be rational and logical. I am not the type of person to diagnose every problem as a spiritual disease.

But I knew nothing and therefore have sat through three lessons on deliverance. So what is deliverance?

Neal Lozano defines deliverance as, “ the breaking of power behind habitual patterns of thinking and acting that limit our freedom to accept God’s love and turn away from that which blocks His love.”1

Thus deliverance is much less about casting out evil spirits. Rather it is about renouncing the lies the spirits make us believe.

What I Want From Unbound

I am excited about the journey. God wants to deliver me from lies of my own making. I have come to realize that I lack trust in God’s promises. I want to be able to say with the Psalmist:

Even though I walk through the valley

of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff

they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 (RSV second Catholic edition)

I want to know that God’s got me regardless of the circumstances. I think renouncing fear will help me trust God’s goodness. Renouncing perfectionism will help me rely on God and not myself.

I am weak, but my God is strong.

  1. Neal Lozano, Unbound: A Practical Guide to Deliverence(Chosen Books 2010), 67

Click here if you want to learn more about freedom.

Misogynistic Attitudes in the Catholic Church

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, “the church is misogynistic.” It treats women differently. It sees women as nothing more than baby incubators.

As a woman, who hopes to work in ministry, I see more men than women leaders. A look at the top Catholic apologetics proves my point; they are all men for the most part.

Yet it has not always been that way.

I remember being challenged and intrigued by St Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. Thus, I believe the church as always given a voice to women in ministry. It’s not always single women either. In fact, my confirmation saint, Elizabeth Seton, was a mother and widow before founding the sisters of charity. She founded the first Catholic free school in America. Oh, and I can’t forget that she was a convert like me.

So there has been and always will be a bunch of amazing Catholic women in the church. So where is this supposed misogynistic attitude coming from?

Confronting Misogynistic Attitudes

So I am facebook friends with this guy, who created a facebook group for Catholic converts. We agree on almost everything except women in ministry. He argues that women cannot teach men. Respectfully I believe this is a misinterpretation of St Paul.

Is St Paul Misogynistic?

A lot of liberal progressive Christian’s dismiss the writings of St. Paul. They claim that his opinion regarding women reflects a misogynistic culture. Yet everyone is cool with St. Paul when he writes,

”There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Basically, you can’t agree with St Paul only when he says things you agree with and only claim cultural misogyny when you disagree. Instead, let’s look at some conflicting passages.

St Paul’s writings

” Women should keep silent in the churches, for they are not allowed to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. But if they want to learn anything, they should ask their husbands at home. For it is improper for a woman to speak in the church. Did the word of God go forth from you? Or has it come to you alone?” 1st Corinthians 14:34

Ok, this looks bad in modern society.

How can a person say that men and women are one under Christ and demand silence? Furthermore, St Paul contradicts himself in the same letter.

1st Corinthians 11:5, “But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved”

If women are to be kept silent, then why are they praying and prophesying out loud to God. Has St. Paul gone crazy?

No, of course not.

1st Corinthians 14:34 refers to certain duties such as giving homilies. Women were not to speak within sacred structured worship. Rather a male clergy was commissioned to preach and teach. This is true of Jewish synagogues and is also true of the early church.

Modern Day Catholic Church: Still Misogynistic?

Catechism on Women

When I began writing this, I wanted to know what the Catechism said about women’s role in the church.

Surprisingly I didn’t find much.

Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other, in their respective beings as man and woman. “Being a man” or “being a woman” is a reality which is good and willed by God: man and woman possess an inalienable dignity which comes to them immediately from God their Creator.240 Man and woman are both with one and the same dignity “in the image of God”. In their “being-man” and “being-woman”, they reflect the Creator’s wisdom and goodness. (CCC 369)

So there is just one paragraph on men and women’s roles. The Catechism emphasizes the shared dignity of both men and women. Yet, it also stresses the being a man or being a woman is willed by God. This seems to imply an inherent difference.

Code of Canon Law: Women

According to the 1917 Code of Canon law and the 1912 encyclopedia article, women were not capable of receiving sacred orders. Thus, women were forbidden from ministering at the altar.

In religious and moral matters, the common obligations and responsibilities of men and women are the same. There is not one law for a man and another for a woman, and in this, of course, the canons follow the teachings of Christ. Women, however, are not capable of certain functions pertaining to religion.

I will address why women are not capable of sacred orders in my next blog post. For now, let’s accept that as a valid claim. Yet women do serve the altar in most modern masses. How is that possible?

Enter Code of canon law of 1983.

Canon law 230 section 2 is the problem. It states that both male and females can serve as liturgical functions on a temporary basis.

Since section 2 does not specify gender; it is okay for females to be altar servers on a volunteer basis.

In traditional Catholicism, altar servers were considered to be a minor religious order required in order to be a priest. Now they are on a volunteer basis.

Future of the Catholic Church

I live in a world where women pretend to be like men to survive. Thus, it can seem wrong to claim that men and women are made differently. It can seem wrong that men may be better at something. So when the church yet again stops women from serving, the world will cry out that the church is misogynistic. Yet we faithful Catholics know the truth. We know that we have a special role to play beyond the altar.

To learn more about amazing women doctors of the church,
check out this article here

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.

Ecumenism: Why I attend Protestant praise and Worship concerts

blue and pink lights shine as people perform on stage. The word Jesus is in the background. The crowd has hands lifted up

# Introduction

What Is Ecumenism

Ecumenism promotes the idea that Jesus calls all Christian denominations to unity. Jesus speaks of this in John 17:20-21

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Vatican II stressed that a valid baptism makes our Protestants one in the Catholic faith. The question remains, what does that look like practically speaking? I have encountered fruitful ecumenical relationships by attending praise and worship events.

Bridge Live Worship Night

I was on the outreach team for New Creation Charismatic fraternity. We had decided to host a praise and worship concert. After reaching out numerous bands, we booked Bridge Live. Ryan Knight is the lead singer and worship pastor. I heard about the night of worship because Ryan and I had become Facebook friends. I decided to attend to support him since his band had supported us.
Unlike most Catholics, I have no problem attending protestant nights of worship. As a convert, I have experience with raising hands, dancing, praying over people, and speaking in tongues. None of those activities freak me out or make me uncomfortable. Thus it is easier for me to blend in and go with the flow

Radical Encounter or Emotionalism

A lot of potential ecumenicalism gets lost due to skepticism. Catholics are skeptical about the advert emotionalism on display at these events. St. Teresa of Avila once said, “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.” God gave us emotions and joy is one of the fruits of the spirit. Thus I would rather believe the joy I receive from these events is authentic. I receive the same joy from adoration of the blessed sacrament.

When I attended the night of worship on July 22nd, I had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit. The pastor had prayed from an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to fall upon us. He prayed that we would bring renewal to our churches. Afterward, the band just played instrumental music while others continued to invite the Holy Spirit into their lives. Most Catholics never have such an encounter. A consequence of making confirmation into an educational program rather than a relationship. Most Catholic apologetics dismiss these encounters as illegitimate. We are better off helping fit such encounters into sacramental theology. Thus, I appreciate and support the efforts of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal

Being Unapologetically Catholic

I have learned that I must maintain my Catholic identity in order to not lose myself too deeply. When asked, I always insist that I am Catholic. This leads to some surprised looks. When the associate pastor introduced me to his wife and kids, he said, “this is Sarah and she’s Catholic.” The wife was instantly curious. She asked a lot of questions. She was curious about the Mass. She wanted to know how I could enjoy both when the Mass is so different. I explained that I was a convert so that I was used to this worship style. Rather I had to get used to the Mass, but there were other avenues in the Church for Charismatic expression. She asked me why I had converted. I shared my love for The Eucharist and how I believed it was the real body and blood of Christ.

Conclusion

Dialogue like the one above I believe is important for bridging the gap. I believe they respected me more because I participated in praising and worshiping Jesus. I prayed for them and with them and they also prayed for me. In the midst of supporting one another, we were able to discuss key differences. I’m aware that it does not always work out this way. I had a friend, who had attended a Protestant service. While there, a member had accused her of not being Christian or reading the Bible. Ignorance does exist. If they never see us or interact with us will it ever be corrected? We need more ecumenical worship events.

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.