Friday, March 29, 2013

Rome is Where the Heart is: The One True Church (Built on a Rock)


What is it that sets the Catholic Church apart from any other church? Why not just go to the Baptist church up the road or the non-denominational church a few blocks away? Why the Catholic Church in particular? The answer is very simple: no other church in the world can claim that their founder was God, Jesus Christ himself: 

“’And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’" - Matthew 16:18-19 

When Christ uttered these words to St. Peter (our first pope), “… on this rock I will build my church…” he declared with divine authority that it would be the Catholic Church that would teach all nations the good news and bring the hope of salvation to all and that the Church would be a visible sign to the world that Christ remains with the world until the end of the age. When the Catholic Church teaches and speaks, it teaches and speaks with the authority of Jesus Christ. 

Christ bestowed upon St. Peter the authority to lead the visible church and the authority to "bind" and "loose" (Matthew 16:19), which refers to teaching authority. 

"’He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.’" - Luke 10:16 

“… if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” - 1 Timothy 3:15 

The Church is known as the "pillar and bulwark of truth" (1 Timothy 3:15) because the Holy Spirit guides it in divine truth (John 14:26; John 16:13), and when the Church teaches it does so because the Holy Spirit has enabled it to. 

So why should you consider returning to the Catholic Church and not some other church? The Catholic Church is built on a rock-solid foundation and Christ himself promised, “… the powers of death shall not prevail against it”. 

"Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.'

Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.’ And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” - Matthew 7:21-29

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rome is Where the Heart is: The Joy of Salvation (The hope we live for)


The mission of the Catholic Church, as was the mission of Christ whom was sent by the Father, is to bring the reality of God and salvation to all. 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” – John 3:16-17 

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time.” – 1 Timothy 2:1-6 

Jesus Christ is the embodiment of this message of good news and of truth and salvation, and this truth of salvation is found in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church offers to all the means of salvation and the fullness of faith. The Catholic Church unites the faithful with Christ, and through the work on the cross Christ has earned for us unity with the Father. This is the gift that is freely offered to us that we don’t deserve, yet it is offered anyway. We, however, must respond accordingly to share in eternal life. It is a response of faith so that we may be led by grace to walk in this faith and do the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21; James 2:14-26) so that we may be perfected by Him (Matthew 5:48). 

"’All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.’ All are called to holiness: ‘Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ 

In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ's gift, so that . . . doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbour. Thus the holiness of the People of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as is clearly shown in the history of the Church through the lives of so many saints.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2013 

When Christ ascended into Heaven he left his disciples a final instruction: 

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’" - Matthew 28:18-20 

Christ commissioned the pilgrim church on earth to bring the good news of salvation to all. The Catholic Church is that very church that Christ gave this mission to and it is the Catholic Church today that carries out this mission throughout the world today, providing for people the full means of salvation and the fullness of the Christian faith. The good news is this: no matter who you are, what you’ve done, or where you’ve been, you have a home in the Catholic Church. By the work merited for us by Christ’s work on the cross and through the sacraments that Christ himself instituted, your heart will be made anew and you will be a new creation in Christ. 

“Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” - 2 Corinthians 5:17 

“‘The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Saviour, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter's pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it. . . . This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.’ 

The Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism explains: ‘For it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God.’" - Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 816

“Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” - Oscar Wilde

Amen.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Rome is Where the Heart is: The Eucharist (Food for the Journey)


The Eucharist (Food for the journey) The Eucharist is - as the Church teaches us - the "source and summit of the Christian life" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1324). And why is this? It is because The Eucharist which we receive at Mass is Jesus Christ himself; it is Jesus Christ in body, blood, soul and divinity.  

The Sacrament of the Eucharist was instituted by Jesus Christ himself. At the Last Supper, the final meal Christ shared with His most beloved, He left for them the means in which Christ would be physically present in the world until the end of time. 

"The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church which is his Body..." – Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1362

"In the sense of Sacred Scripture the memorial is not merely the recollection of past events but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men. In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real. This is how Israel understands its liberation from Egypt: every time Passover is celebrated, the Exodus events are made present to the memory of believers so that they may conform their lives to them." - Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1363

"… When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ's Passover, and it is made present the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present. 'As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which 'Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed' is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out.'" - Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1364 

The Eucharist makes present Christ's sacrifice on the cross because, as Christ said himself as he took bread and gave thanks, "This is my body, given for you..." (Luke 22:19). Christ speaks of the same body (flesh) in John 6 where he says: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him" (John 6:56). The sacrifice of Calvary and the sacrifice of the Mass are one and the same sacrifice; the manner in which they are offered is alone different. 

The Mass, the Sacrament of the Eucharist, is an essential part of Catholic life. Without the Mass there is no Eucharist, and without the Eucharist there is no Jesus Christ. The instruction that Jesus gave us at the Last Supper “…Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), “… does not only ask us to remember Jesus and what he did. It is directed at the liturgical celebration, by the apostles and their successors, of the memorial of Christ, of his life, of his death, of his Resurrection, and of his intercession in the presence of the Father” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1341). 

The expectations of Catholics regarding the importance of weekly Mass attendance and receiving the Eucharist are outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 2041 to 2043) and are summarised this way: 

The first precept ("You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor") requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honouring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days. 

The second precept ("You shall confess your sins at least once a year") ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism's work of conversion and forgiveness. 

The third precept ("You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season") guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord's Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and centre of the Christian liturgy. 

One must be in a state of grace in order to receive the Eucharist, that is we must not have any unconfessed Mortal Sin within us when we receive the Eucharist. This has long been the teaching and sacred tradition of the Church and founded in the sacred scriptures; the Eucharist is participation in Christ's body and blood (1 Corinthians 10:16) and to receive the bread and the wine in an unworthy manner is to profane against the body and blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:23-29). 

"For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh." - St. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66 (110-165AD) 

To receive the Eucharist while not in a state of grace is a Mortal Sin, as it is also a Mortal Sin to deliberately not attend Mass. 

“Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1415 

"The Sunday* Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin." - Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2181 

*Note: Attending the Saturday evening/vigil Mass fulfils one’s Sunday obligations. 

Why the seriousness of this matter in particular? Apart from being food for the journey through which grace is conferred to us, the Eucharist allows us to be physically united with Christ; we become walking tabernacles of our Lord and so therefore we must walk and grow in holiness to be the vessels that give witness to Christ to the world. The Eucharist additionally prepares us for Eternal Life. In the same way we must be in a state of grace to receive Christ through the Eucharist, we must be in a state of grace – without blemish or mar – in order to be united with Christ in Heavenly glory. 

“Having learn these things, and been fully assured that the seeming bread is not bread, though sensible to taste, but the Body of Christ; and that the seeming wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the Blood of Christ; and that of this David sung of old, saying, And bread strengtheneth man's heart, to make his face to shine with oil, 'strengthen thou thine heart,' by partaking thereof as spiritual, and ‘make the face of thy soul to shine.’" - Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XXII:8 (c. A.D. 350)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus Papam! We have a Pope!


You probably heard the news earlier than what I did (I was asleep when it happened), but at the Vatican just after 7p.m. local time, on the evening of March 13, the smoke bellowed white from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel and the bells started ringing echoing through St. Peter's Square.

"Habemus Papam!" We have a pope!

Pope Francis, as he is to be called, is Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Here's a little bit about him (source: http://www.taylormarshall.com/2013/03/10-facts-about-pope-francis.html):

Pope Francis, Jorge Bergoglio, was born in Buenos Aires, one of the five children of an Italian railway worker and his wife. He's a Jesuit. The first Jesuit Pope ever. 

Pope Francis is known for his humility, doctrinal conservatism, defender of the Church's moral theology, and a commitment to social justice. He has been critical of liberation theology. He is close to Comunione e Liberazione. He has opposed legislation introduced in 2010 by the Argentine Government to allow same-sex marriage. 

In Argentina, he has been accused by anti-clericalists as being "medieval" (another good sign). 

Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 2001. He has served on the Congregation of Clergy, Congregation of Divine Worship and Sacraments, Congregation of Institutes of Consecrated Life, the Congregation of Societies of Apostolic Life, and the Commission on Latin American and the Family Council. He was concurrently named ordinary for Eastern Catholics in Argentina, who lacked their own prelate. So he can, presumably, celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

The choice of the name Francis is an interesting choice. It is of course taken from the esteemed saint, St. Francis of Assisi, and there is a story of a young St. Francis entering an abandoned chapel in a neighbouring town to pray. There he had a vision of Christ whom said to him, "Francis, rebuild my Church". How profound. St. Francis was also a man who lived a life of deep spirituality, meditation, and simplicity, something that I'm sure Pope Francis will certainly try to emulate.

The task set before Pope Francis is massive, there is no question about that. We confidently pray that our new pope, Pope Francis, has the strength and resolve to lead the Church into a new era of faith and prosperity.

Amen.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Rome is Where the Heart is - Part II of II



Part II of II of my presentation at the Flame Ministries International 23rd Annual Congress.

More of the transcript to come.

God bless.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Rome is Where the Heart is: The Communion of Saints


The saints in Heaven literally are our friends in high places. You may remember in your Catholic upbringing being told to pray to a particular saint for a particular cause. If you lost something, St. Anthony of Padua was the saint you prayed to for helping in recovering that lost thing. If you were studying for a test or an upcoming exam, you might have prayed to St. Joseph of Cupertino or St. Thomas Aquinas. Whatever your intention is, there is a saint to call on to pray with you. 

“The intercession of the saints. ‘ Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.’” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 956 

The Bible tells us of those whom have been made complete and perfected through the salvific work of Jesus Christ, have entered Heaven and are fully united with God. There they pray constantly for us here on earth so that we too may join God in His perfect union. 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” – Hebrews 12:1 

This “cloud of witnesses” that the inspired author of Hebrews speaks of are the saints in Heaven cheering us as we run to Christ to be crowned in Heavenly perfection. We are assured that the faithfully departed – the Church in Heaven – is never cut off or disinterested in the affairs of the Church on earth. 

“The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were ‘put in charge of many things.’ Their intercession is their most exalted service to God's plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2683 

“Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.” - Luke 20:38 

“And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” – Revelation 5:8 

The communion of saints help us, the faithful on earth, by praying for us for we are joined in one body, Christ’s body, and it is our joy in this body to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) and to encourage and build up one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Friday, March 01, 2013

Rome is Where the Heart is: Introduction and The Sacrament of Reconciliation


As you may recall I spoke at the Flame Ministries International 23rd Annual Congress in January this year, and I promised to upload a transcript of my presentation. The presentation was done in two parts of the weekend of the Congress, but for ease of reading I've decided to break it down even further and split it up into five parts. Today you'll be reading my introduction to the topic and about the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

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Introduction – Reasons to come home… 

If you’re reading this then you've probably been away from the Catholic Church from a while and you’d have your reasons for that. What you need to be assured of, however, is that no matter how long you've been away and for whatever reason(s), no one is going to judge you for it, nor is anyone going to think any less of you for it. There is good news: no matter how long you've been away, you’re always, always, always welcome back and needn't worry about any sense of unwelcome that you may be thinking. There are very good reasons for you to come back. 

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step” and if you’re thinking about coming back to the Catholic Church, then congratulations; you've already made that first step! Consider this pamphlet a traveller’s guide. This is, after all, your faith and your faith journey, and like in all classical tales about a journey to a place or a journey of self-discovery, there is always a companion. Your companion in this journey of faith is Jesus Christ. He will walk alongside you and perhaps at times carry you. Place your trust in Him; He will lead you home. 

“’Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.’” – John 14:1-4 

You will always have a home in the Catholic Church. 

1. Reconciliation (If you've been away a while...) Catholics are immensely blessed to have a place where we can go to examine ourselves, our shortcomings, and our failings, confess them to Almighty God and receive absolution. Reconciliation means a clean slate; we restore our relationship with God and the Church. If you've been away from the Church for a while and you’re thinking about coming back, it’s definitely a good idea for you to go to confession (referred to as the ‘Sacrament of Penance’ or the ‘Sacrament of Reconciliation’). 

“Why can’t I just confess my sins to God? Why should I have to go to a priest to have my sins forgiven?” 

The thought of going to confession after such a long time away can be a bit daunting and regardless of how many sins you've committed and what type of sins you've committed, confessing them to a stranger can be unsettling for anyone, even those who partake in this sacrament frequently. There are a couple of things to bear in mind:

i. the Sacrament of Reconciliation was instituted by Jesus Christ himself and it was His desire for His followers to have a place to go to confess their sins and be healed of them. 

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 

ii. Jesus Christ gave authority to men to forgive sins. 

“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’" – John 20:21-23 

“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” – James 5:16 

Getting to confession couldn't be easier. All parishes around the world have set times for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and finding out these times can be as easy as doing a Google search for a parish in your neighbourhood, following the link to their website (most parishes have a website these days) and looking up their times for Reconciliation. If the times for Reconciliation don’t quite work for you (and let’s face it: we all get very busy and at times it might be difficult to set aside half an hour to an hour on a specific day), you can approach the parish priest in person or call the parish centre to make an appointment for confession. Priests are bound by Canon Law to cater for the individual needs of the penitent (that’s you) so that your confession may be heard at a time that suits you (Can. 986 §1). It would be a good idea to explain to the parish priest prior to the confession that you haven’t been to church for a while and that the same could be said for attending confession. The priest will be all but too happy to guide you through the steps of confession if you need a refresher.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9

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More to come. Stay tuned!