Monday, April 24, 2006

Our Father

The other day I got to thinking, and since that doesn't happen too often, I knew something of true genius was afoot. No, seriously, I noticed that that at least two of the sacraments are clearly represented in the words of the Our Father. "Give us this day our daily bread" is commonly interpreted as a reference to the Eucharist and "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us" is clearly about Reconciliation. So last night I happened to be at Sojourn, but my mind just can't focus on a 40-minute sermon (especially when, seriously, not much more is really being said than what you'd hear in a 10-minute homily... humility is not hard to understand; it's just damn near impossible to do. That would be my sermon :) . Anyway, moving on... during the sermon I figured if I'm going to be distracted, at least try to think about something related to Jesus, so I tried to see if all seven sacraments are somehow represented in the Our Father. Here's what I came up with... at first I thought some of them would be a difficult stretch, but after writing this out I think it makes sense, but I suppose you can be the judge of that :)

Our Father, who art in heaven... -- Baptism, because through the waters of Baptism and the power of faith we are cleansed of all sin and become adopted children of God. We rightfully refer to our Creator and Redeemer as "Father."

...hallowed by thy name... -- Confirmation, when we choose to publicly profess the Catholic faith, declaring that God and His Church are holy and true.

...thy kingdom come, thy will be done... -- Ordination, when God invests in regular, sinful men the power to celebrate the sacraments, pastor the Church, and see God's kingdom grow in our world.

...on earth as it is in heaven... -- Marriage, because in marriage man and woman "on earth" are joined sacramentally with God "in heaven" in a beautiful symbol of the marriage supper of the Lamb and the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church.

...give us this day our daily bread... -- Holy Communion, which Catholics and Orthodox can truly receive on a daily basis, if we desire (and why wouldn't you? :).

...and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us... -- Reconciliation, in which we are forced to sacrifice our pride, confessing our sins to God and praying for His mercy. When we come face-to-face with our own sin in our stark contrast to Christ's perfection, we know that nobody (even Hitler) is capable of sinning against us as terribly as we have already sinned against God.

...and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. -- Anointing of the Sick, when we receive tangible reassurance that no evil, temptation, illness, or even death can conquer those whose faith is in Christ.

I look at the sacraments not as a mechanical approach to Christianity that manipulates God's grace and assuring salvation to the recipient regardless of their relationship with God. Rather, I thank God for these gifts because having been human in Christ and walking among us, He knows how desperately we need something tangible to help us grow and remain strong in our faith. That's exactly what the sacraments are: tangible signs of God's free grace.

So is God not capable of forgiving the sins of a repentant sinner, regardless of whether they were physically baptized? Of course! The criminal on the cross offers biblical proof, straight from Jesus. Clearly, the sacrament of Baptism is not for God's benefit because he is not tied to these sacraments. Rather, Baptism is for our benefit because we need to know that, "Yes, I have been washed clean," not because my parents had me dunked as an infant or I chose to be baptized as an adult, but simply because God gives us the gift of faith to believe like a child. The best thing my parents ever did for me was have me baptized when I was too young to make the choice for myself. The temptation of pride doesn't even exist because I can truly say I did nothing to earn this gift. Likewise, through the other sacraments we are reminded that nobody is worthy and just how feeble-minded we are that we need the sacraments at all, and in response all we can do is praise God and open ourselves to being a sacramental instrument for God to reach unbelievers.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Well, it's official...

You sure can't beat the Saturday Sacrament Trifecta Special... Reconciliation (most people call it Confession, but that's only one part of the sacrament), Confirmation, and Communion all in one day. Badda-boom, badda-bang. I was actually looking forward to Confession, but that didn't mean I wasn't nervous about it. Three of us went Saturday morning and it had to be hilarious watching us being so cordial with each other. First, one lady had to use the restroom, so she skidattled out of the sanctuary for a minute, leaving me and this other guy. So I said, "I don't know if you have to be anywhere, so if you need to, go on ahead of me."

And he replied, "Oh, I've got all day! You go ahead."

"Well, I might be in there a while..."

"Take as long as you want!"

Then the other lady comes back and I'm sure she was hoping somebody would already be in the confessional by then, but we're still out there talking about who should go first. We really should've played paper-rock-scissors for it.

But it really wasn't that bad. I had a pretty good list written down on my piece of paper (not that I'm trying to brag...), but once I started reading them off, it didn't feel like more than two minutes before I was done. There were a couple of things that I wanted to mention specifically, where I could have simply alluded to them by saying something like, "yeah... I've struggled with lust." After all, that could be a million different things. But getting specific with your sins ain't easy. My voice stuttered and my left knee was jumpin' up and down... I hadn't been that nervous since asking a girl out for senior prom, but I just ignored it all and focused on being as honest as possible (without getting into details, of course). Of course, God provided the grace and courage; I was simply open to it, as opposed to the many times when I'm trying to cover something up or make something I did wrong not sound as bad as it really is.

So after that was all over with, I didn't feel anything real miraculous, but it was very comforting to know that everything I've done was just wiped clean and forgotten. In the past, it's always been difficult to "feel" clean just because I'm aware of my sinful nature and how susceptible I am to straying from God and falling into old patterns. When you can remember much of what you've done and the people your sin has affected remember what you've done, it's difficult to imagine that God can forget everything and make us clean as the day we were born (if not cleaner, since baptism washes away the stain of original sin).

And not only that, but we are counted worthy to receive Christ not just spiritually, but physically. Think about how dangerous the Holy of Holies was. Only one priest was allowed to enter every year so that he could make the annual sacrificial offering of Israel's sins (I'll have to look up what that offering was called). If he didn't perform the ritual correctly, stayed in God's Presence too long, or whatever, the wrath of God would kill him. I've heard they even tied a rope around the priest's ankle so that if he died, another priest from outside the curtain could drag his body out. Now, under the New Covenant, God humbles Himself under the appearances of bread and wine so that every person can enjoy the most intimate communion in God's Presence that was never possible under the Old Covenant. Pretty cool stuff :)

Friday, April 14, 2006

God or the Girl

I've been seeing this show promoted on a couple of Catholic web sites and it looks pretty interesting. It's a documentary/reality show that walks with four guys as they discern their vocation to either marriage or the priesthood. I believe in the end two of them choose priesthood and two choose marriage (gotta keep things neatly symmetrical like that). At least one of the guys has a girlfriend, which must complicate matters a little :) I've heard good things about the show, so hopefully the much-needed positive publicity will encourage more men and women to consider the religious life. We think it's bad in the U.S. with one priest for every 800-1,200 Catholics, but in the Phillippines there is only one priest for every 13,000 Catholics! Even with deacons assisting with some responsibilities, that's gotta be rough. I think things are slowly starting to turn for the better... I don't know anybody personally who is in formation for the priesthood, but at least four friends of mine have friends who are. A few married Catholics I know considered the priesthood, which I used to think was pretty crazy, before I realized most priests are just down-to-earth regular guys who just happened to be called to a different vocation that most of us. Hopefully this show will illustrate that everybody has a vocation that we're all responsible for discerning through prayer, Scripture, serving others, and listening to God. It premieres Easter Sunday on A&E at 9PM. Since I don't have cable, I guess I won't be watching it. Maybe it'll be out on Netflix...

Monday, April 10, 2006

History Sure Is Ironic


You'd probably guess that the guy who first started using religious tracts would be some Calvinist preacher, like Charles Spurgeon or somebody. Well, the other day I ran across a short biography of St. Francis de Sales. I've always been a little curious about this guy since my aunt's church is dedicated to him (not a bad looking sanctuary for a small western Kentucky town either), but I never bothered to look him up or anything. Turns out this is the guy who was sent by his bishop in 1594 to evangelize the Catholic faith in the Calvinist towns of Switzerland, where celebrating Mass warranted death (not unlike the first centuries of the Church). Having stones thrown at you and suffering hypothermia in a tree to avoid becoming dinner for a pack of wolves makes for a thankless job. Since people were afraid to open their doors when he came knockin', he started writing short sermons, having them copied many times over, and sliding them in under the door. Eventually about 70,000 Calvinists returned to the Catholic Church within Francis de Sales' lifetime.

Some of these tracts were very short, the shortest of which seems to have inspired a fast-food chain's current marketing them: "Eat more fish." (ha ha)

Seriously, you can purchase these tracts in a single bound edition entitled "The Catholic Controversy" for only $9.75 from Amazon.com. Here's one tract I found online called The True Church is Visible. And here's some more about his life: either the short version or the long version. :) His Introduction to the Devout Life was written for laypeople to help them grow in love of God while trying to handle a job and family, which I'm gonna have to add to my lengthy Amazon wish list.

Now, you gotta admit there's some irony in Jack Chick using tracts for exactly the opposite purpose that Francis used them for...

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Did St. Francis Die From an STD?

Francis died at only 45 years of age. Later in life his vision slowly deteriorated, sometimes to the point of complete blindness. Due to the pain in his eyes, Brother Elias insisted he seek treatment. So they traveled to Rieti and Francis underwent the excruciating cauterization procedure, but his sight never improved. While nobody can look back and diagnose whether Francis simply died from years under harsh living conditions, an STD, or some other kind of disease, we do know that before turning his life over to God he pretty much indulged in every kind of pleasure life offered. To put it simply, Francis had a lot of sex. Now, considering both the general lack of knowledge about STDs and the inability to protect oneself (outside of abstinence), I can't imagine how anyone could get away with even a moderately sexually active lifestyle with catching something. And at least one common STD, Cytomegalovirus, can result in blindness. Considering his relatively young age at death, you can't rule out the possibility.

Of course, we'll never know for sure and ultimately it doesn't matter, but I do feel that if it is true, such a death only makes Francis' story that much more dramatic and relevant in an age of widespread sexual confusion and promiscuity. It's also a powerful testimony to Francis' redemption from his old "life" to eternal life in Christ. Francis could have died for the world and all the temporal pleasures it offered him, but he chose Christ and died for Christ, teaching his brothers by word and example right to the very end. And perhaps an early death was God's gift to Francis, to finally be taken from this world and into Heaven.