Monday, October 22, 2007

Why Do Catholics Keep Jesus On The Cross?

Twice, I've had close friends inform me that Catholics do not believe that Jesus rose again from the dead. Despite my assurances that we do indeed believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, my friends were certain that I was wrong. Where they got such incorrect information I do not know.

So for the record, yes, Catholics believe Jesus rose from the dead. I promise you, I wouldn't get up early on Sunday morning to attend mass if I didn't believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead! I'm far to lazy to attend a weekly memorial for a nice human(which is all Jesus would be if he hadn't risen from the dead)

More often I get asked by non Catholic Christians, "Why do you, Catholics, keep Jesus up on the cross?" The perception, among some Protestants is that we Catholics spend too much time thinking about Jesus' death and not enough time contemplating his resurrection. If this is true then Catholics are in good company.

In 1st Corinthians, chapter 1, verse 23. Paul says, "...but we preach Christ crucified..." But Jesus is risen, what is Paul speaking about? Doesn't he know that we shouldn't be concentrating on Jesus's death? Again in Cor 2:2 Paul writes, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified."

Some have expressed distaste at the thought of depicting Jesus at his most vulnerable. Guess what? This should make you uncomfortable. Every lash that he took, every blow that drove the nail into his hands was caused by you and me. Our sins hung Jesus on that cross. The crucifix is the ultimate expression of the lengths that a loving God will go to reach us. For me, gazing at a crucifix is a humbling experience.

There are some Protestants who take offense at the crucifix because they view it as idolatry. In order for a crucifix to be an idol then Catholics would have to honestly believe that Jesus Was the crucifix. We don't. The crucifix is merely a representation of his death and suffering. Catholics don't view the crucifix as Jesus himself. Ironically those who get upset over the crucifix being an idol don't worry about carrying pictures of their loved ones. Photos are representations just like the crucifix. If the crucifix bothers you then to be honest you should empty your wallet and albums of all photos.

Just for the record, I take no offense at the bare cross itself. I understand that it as a symbol of Christian faith and I own a couple of bare crosses myself. I personally, though, think that the bare cross is a very empty symbol for Christ's resurrection. After all, Jesus came down dead from the cross. So, if one got nit picky, then the empty cross would actually symbolize defeat. Jesus rose from the tomb, not the cross. In order to represent his victory over death(which is what some Protestants claim the empty cross does) one would have to wear a little copy of the tomb or a tiny rock.

All Christians, both non Catholic and Catholic, exist in a world that is not always friendly to our faith. Instead of tearing apart one another's symbols maybe we should just be happy to meet a fellow believer.

Missing Baby-Sad Outcome

According to the local news the mother confessed to storing her deceased infant in the attic of her house. What a horrible outcome, especially when you consider that she reported the baby missing the day that the child's father returned from the Middle East!

The 25-year old mother finally confessed that she found her baby dead one morning and became frightened. Neighbors reported smelling something rancid for several weeks but couldn't find the source.

This is a small community so gossip does get around. My son works with some people who live close to the deceased infant's house. They told him(again this is second hand) that the grandmother had been sick several weeks and had stopped visiting the house. Apparently up to that point the grandmother had been assisting in the care of the children. According to my son's co employees, the grandmother took and passed a lie detector test, so it appears that only the mother carried out this crime.

What a sad outcome for this little baby, our community and everyone who loved this child.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Eucharist


Have you ever read either the bible or a book written by a Christian author and had one of those ah-ha moments? Well, this certainly happened to me this afternoon. In fact, I sat straight up in the bed that I was reclining with my youngest daughter and hubby as they were watching football and shouted, "Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!" Now they are both pretty used to me being a bit crazy but this struck even them as strange. My husband asked what was wrong. I informed him that nothing was wrong, but a bible verse had just been made clear to me.

I was reading David Currie's book, Born Again, Born Fundamentalist. David Curie, like me, is a convert from Protestantism. Unlike me, he is much better educated, having received a degree from Trinity International University and studied in the Masters of Divinity Program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

From the very beginning of the book he is respectful of Protestants, a point that wins him accolades from me. Curie writes of his fundamentalist parents: I had no doubts that my parents were following the truth of God in the best way they knew. They taught me that commitment to the truth is always worth the effort, regardless of the sacrifice. Later he writes about the Theologians that were often invited to eat dinner at his childhood home: I found these men to be Christians of the highest character, intense and earnest in the commitment to God. Curie is not embittered by his fundamentalist background or education.

So what had he written that gave me such a jolt? Well, it started with his quoting John 6:26-59 To save room in this post, I will put the exact biblical quote in the next post but you can certainly look it up yourselves. Remember as you read that many of Jesus' students(Not the original 12 disciples) left him over this teaching.

This is what Curie writes about the passage:Let's review the passage. First, Jesus defines what we must do for God: we must believe in Jesus. The Jews then ask for a sign from Jesus to prove he is worthy of belief. Jesus responds by claiming that he is 'the bread of life'. This is an analogy just like "I am the door' or "I am the vine." It could be understood in a multitude of ways, unless Jesus goes on to explain his analogy. He does exactly that: "This bread is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world." Jesus says the bread of life is his flesh. Lest we not understand whether he means flesh in the real, physical, touchable way, he tells us next that it is the same flesh that will be given up on the Cross! He goes on to say that this flesh must be eaten by his followers.This analogy has been clearly explained. There is no doubt about its meaning.If the flesh that we eat for eternal life is meant in only a 'figurative way' or 'spiritually speaking' then so is the flesh of the crucifixion! Jesus equates the two. Either they are both literal, or they are both figurative.

I'll put the biblical passage up in a separate post, Monday. I have to get ready to go to Mass tonight and tomorrow is Sunday. But here is the one verse that you should pay special attention to:John 6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.

My own view is that in order to make this whole passage figurative, one must ignore the verse in red, in which case you are doubting that Jesus is predicting his death!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Don't Catholics Worship Statues?

While cleaning out my shed, I found a tattered, black and white photo of my father. I was ecstatic. You see I have never met my father, although from what I have been told he was a wonderful man. Five weeks after giving birth to me, my 21 year-old mother received notice that my father had been killed in action. He had been sent to Vietnam when my mom was seven months pregnant, so he never got a chance to hold me or even get to know me.

Of course I revere this photo. The image of my young father, dressed in his uniform, and smiling broadly at the camera is something that I will always treasure. By looking at the photo I have a means to both honor and remember him. Am I somehow worshipping my father’s photo by giving it a prominent place on my mantle piece? Of course not. I know that it is just a picture, no matter how treasured, and that my real father is no longer alive.

The same concept is true of Catholic artwork. No one thinks that a bit of plaster is the real Virgin Mary. Paintings, statues and religious artwork have no actual power.

Some will argue that there should be no religious artwork at all. They will point to Exodus 20:4 that states you shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth. Let’s pretend for a moment that this verse wasn’t completely taken out of context. Read literally it would mean that we can use no visual images at all, not artwork, not movies (which are visual representations of living things), not even photographs. Remember the verse itself makes no exception for non religious artwork.

God, himself, commanded the Israelites to make statues to adorn his temple. Exodus 25:18-20 Make two cherubim of beaten gold for the ends of the propitiatory, fastening them sot that one cherub springs direct from each end. The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, covering the propitiatory with them; they shall be turned toward each other, but with their faces looking toward the propitiatory. Considering that these statues were connected to the ark, it is hard not to call them religious in nature.

The verse though is actually taken out of context. The next verse reads Exodus 20:4 You shall not bow down before them (idols) or worship them. For I, the Lord, am a jealous God…. This makes defending the Catholic practice very easy. We do not worship idols or statues. You can not accidentally worship something, worship has to be purposeful or else what is the point?

I will occasionally have conversations with some non-Catholic’s who will point out that Catholics do certainly kneel in front of statues. Kneeling by itself is not an act of worship. This can be proven by many examples. Men are certainly not worshipping their intended bride when they kneel while proposing. We are not worshipping the sides of our beds when we pray before we retire. For many years society knelt in honor of royalty. This was not a form of worship but of respect. Today, bowing is common in Asia, yet no one believes that Asians are worshipping their friends and family.

Even in the bible we find people bowing down without intent to worship. Some examples are Genesis 19: 1-Lot bows his face down to the ground before the two angels and he is not corrected by them. Genesis 18:2 Abraham also bows to the ground in front of angelic guests. Again this is not worship but a way to exhibit hospitability and respect due to guests. In II Samuel 9: 8 we are old that Jonathon’s son bows to David. Just from studying the bible alone, we can deduce that bowing or kneeling is not, by itself, an act of worship.

Just as I can look at the photo of my father and remember someone that I never knew, Catholics can contemplate religious artwork and be reminded of the holy men and women who have passed on into heaven and whose lives remain an example for us all.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sacramentals-Batteries For The Soul

Romans 1:20 Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse

There are many people who are moved emotionally and spiritually by nature. Mountain vistas have often moved me to contemplate the divine. Perhaps it is the immensity of ranges such as the Rockies or the softer, rounder curves of the smaller Appalachians, but I find it difficult to deny the existence of God when I am looking at such scenes.

Does the fact that I feel God’s presence when I am observing nature mean that nature itself is somehow divine? No. It merely means that, for me, the beauty of nature assists me in being open to the God’s ever present Grace. Nature doesn’t produce that Grace, God does.

God loves us intensely. He wants to reach our hearts. But we sometimes underestimate how well he understands human natures. He didn’t create one dimensional creatures but sensual beings who depend on all five senses to process the world around us.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus used mud and spit in John 9:6 to heal a blind man? Was it because mud and spit somehow have magical properties? No, of course not. The power to heal came from Jesus, himself, not the mud and not even his spittle, but God is not above using material from our world to connect with us.

Being human, there are moments when we feel distant from God. Perhaps we have too many bills or are worried about our marriage. In reality, God is still as close as always because we have his ever present grace with us. The problem is with us, not God. Some people, during these moments, put on religious music to recharge their soul, to reconnect with God. Sacred music, of course, does not produce grace but it can put us in a more receptive frame of mind.

Sacramental (Not sacraments) are items such as holy water and blessed candles, and rites such as exorcism and actions such as genuflection that moves us to cooperate with and receive God’s grace. In other words, they help recharge us and make us mentally more receptive to receiving God’s grace.

The Catechism states: 1677 Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life.
1678 Among the sacramentals blessings occupy an important place. They include both praise of God for his works and gifts, and the Church's intercession for men that they may be able to use God's gifts according to the spirit of the Gospel.
1679 In addition to the liturgy, Christian life is nourished by various forms of popular piety, rooted in the different cultures. While carefully clarifying them in the light of faith, the Church fosters the forms of popular piety that express an evangelical instinct and a human wisdom and that enrich Christian life.

Due to the fact that I get many questions concerning the use and reasons behind Catholic Sacramentals I have decided that in further posts I will explain individual sacramentals, such as holy water.

My goal is not to convert anyone, simply to edify. I realize that some Catholic acts such as genuflecting or lighting candles can seem strange or even ritualistic but hopefully future posts will at least enlighten my non Catholic friends as to why we Catholics do these things.

By the way, if you like the title of this blog, thank my youngest son, Christopher. After reading this article for me, he came up with the title.