Priests, Mass, & the Crucifix

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Read Hebrews 10:11-18

“Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God; now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool. For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.
The Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying…Their sins and their evildoing I will remember no more. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin.”

These beautiful verses from the Letter to the Hebrews teaches the transition from the Temple Sacrifice practiced by ancient peoples, in this case, the Jews (see Leviticus 6:17), to faith in the one perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ, that exists for all time thereby abolishing the need for further animal sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus Himself is both High Priest (see Hebrews 10:1-10) and Sacrificial lamb (see John 1:36)! Because He is most perfect High Priest as God, and perfect sacrificial offering, again, as God, then His is a perfect sacrifice that is able to forgive every sin for all humanity throughout all of human history! Hey, that’s some good news, indeed! So, as far as the teaching goes, sacrifice and offerings are not what is required for salvation, but instead, faith in and acceptance of He who offered Himself for others, Jesus Christ. It is our faith in God, faith in Jesus’ perfect sacrifice, our willingness to embrace Him, and to respond toward God and neighbor with love that is required for salvati0n! Yes!

crucifix-full  As regards some misunderstandings, many non-Catholics don’t understand where we’re coming from with our priesthood, the sacrifice of the Mass, and the Crucifix that depicts the tattered and broken body of our crucified Lord. In fact, many Catholics don’t really understand very well either as far as that goes. It’s really cool, beautiful, and meaningful so I’m going to explain a bit here…

Our priests aren’t really priests in and of themselves as far as that goes. Let me explain. Our priests are priests insofar as they re-present to us the one true priest, Jesus Christ. They act “in persona Christi,” which is a Latin phrase that means, “In the person of Christ.” They are not Christ and they are not Priest, but they do, by the power of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, make Christ, the One True Priest present to us. St Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers.” (qtd. in C.C.C. 1545) So, priests SHARE in Christ’s priesthood and cannot possess it apart from Him. They are priests because He is priest. Their ministerial priesthood is expressed most clearly at the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Many people, again both Catholic and non-Catholic, wrongly think that Jesus is being sacrificed anew at every Mass. “Gee-wiz,” say the critics, “would you Catholics just let Jesus off the cross for crying out loud?! Why are you so intent on sacrificing Him anew each week!” We say, “Each week! We do it every day!” But that wouldn’t be true either. Let me explain. We DO NOT re-sacrifice Christ every day. We instead, every day, participate in His one perfect sacrifice! Some Sacramental imagination is necessary here. Sacraments, to include the Eucharist, are NEVER repeated. “But Stephen,” you protest, I’ve received communion a number of times!” You have, and so have I, but never do we repeat the Sacrament. We participate in it anew each time. We have entered into and participated in the Sacrificial banquet a number of times, but never have we done it twice the same. We cannot because we cannot go back in time! Each time we receive we receive anew.

Imagine this, the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross does not turn the cross into a Divine sling shot that shoots forward Christ’s grace over the centuries to the present day. It is not a gift that travels through time to be received by those who receive it today. Although Jesus was bound by time as a human being, He was still the transcendent Word. Far from the Divine slingshot, the cross is a Divine atomic bomb with a mushroom cloud that spreads throughout and saturates the whole of history. It isn’t a gift brought forward, it’s an ever present cloud of Grace that is entered into by those who believe! It exists in every moment of every day, and by God’s grace we are on made aware of it in a unique and powerful way. Salvation is an ever present reality for us. I wasn’t saved back then, I am saved now…and now…and now! We say that we’ve been saved, are being saved, and will be saved based upon our willingness to cooperate and live in God’s friendship and love.

And that brings us to the Crucifix (and my hope is that you have one). I know that many today have abandoned the Crucifix for what I call the Glorifix or the Risifix. You know, the cross with the glorified, risen Jesus. I think that’s fine if that’s your style, but let’s never forget that Jesus did not sacrifice Himself back then for us now. Again, His sacrifice transcends time and is made present all the time. The C.C.C. teaches, “The redemptive sacrifice of Christ is unique, accomplished once for all; yet it is made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Church.” (1545) He sacrifices Himself now…and now…and now. He dies for my sins now…and now…and now. I’m being forgiven now…and now…and now. And I’m being saved now…and now…and now. Christ went to His cross, embraced it, and offered Himself as a willing sacrifice. This is why Christ is on our Cross and why at the Good Friday liturgy we yell “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” It was St. Francis of Assissi who said, “It was not demons that crucified [Christ]; it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.” (qtd. in the C.C.C. 598)

The early Church knew it and the Catholic Church faithfully still teaches it today. Revelation 5:4-6, John’s vision of the heavenly Jerusalem reads,“Do not weep. The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David,has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals.” Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders, a Lamb that seemed to have been slain.” Our risen Lord remains still the Sacrificial Lamb, our Passover Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. Not who “took away” but who “takes away” the sins of the world. Happy indeed are those invited to the banquet of the Lamb! God Bless.

By catholicevangelist

Great News!

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GOOD NEWS!  GOOD NEWS!  GOOD NEWS! GOOD NEWS!

  I am excited to share some very good news! I know many of you have been praying for me as St. Mary’s Press has been in the review process for my Bible study called, The Journey Begins! This Bible study began about eleven years ago while I taught at St. Stanislaus Parish School, in Modesto, CA. I was teaching 8th grade and wanted my students to know and love the Scriptures as much as I did! So a worksheet a week is what I made and what they got! They would go home, read five chapters in the Acts of the Apostles, answer the questions, the reflection question, and write down their favorite verse to share in preparation for our Bible study each Wednesday. We got from Acts of the Apostles to the Book of Revelation that school year, and The Journey Begins! was born.

Since then I have finished a study of the Old Testament, where students (and their parents and teacher) read five chapters a week. They read all of Genesis and Exodus, and portions of Leviticus, Joshuah, Judges, Ruth, Psalms, and Proverbs. They are introduced to the story of Salvation through Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob, Moses, Joshuah, the Judges, King Saul, David, and Solomon, the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians, and the South to Babylon. All of this prepares them for an introduction to Jesus Christ in the next book in the series (picture on the left). That study has students read just two chapters per week in The Gospel of Matthew and then The Gospel of John.

This study of the O.T., the Gospels of Matthew & John, and Acts to Revelation became the focus of my Masters in Theological Study while at the Franciscan School of Theology, at Berkeley. The series is being used at a few Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Stockton and at Palma High School, where I teach, in Salinas.

Well, the first good news is that SMP published the second in the series of three called, An Introduction to Jesus Christ According to Matthew & John. They shared it in Florida at an education conference to get a feel for interest in it, and I have just received the second bit of good news, that they will now publish the first and third books in the series, An Introduction to the Old Testament, and An Introduction to the Early Church; Acts of the Apostles to the Book of Revelation. This is truly good news for our Catholic schools around the country that take knowledge of Scripture seriously enough to use them, for Catholic school teachers who teach with them, and for those families who work on the workbooks together! This one Bible study tool will exponentially increase Biblical literacy at all levels of the Church in our country!

St. Mary’s Press is a national and international publishing  company so my hope for these books is great! Please pray that schools love and use this workbook! Pray for principals’ courage to adopt these for their schools, for those teachers’ willingness to go beyond their curriculum textbooks to adopt and teach the Bible to their students, and to learn it themselves! The schools who have used this workbook have come to love the Scriptures through it! I get great feedback from students, teachers, and parents who do the worksheets as a family.

These are NOT nor do they contain Biblical commentaries. There are a wide variety of great Biblical commentaries out there that someone could use as they read the Bible, but the purpose of this is simply to increase Biblical love and literacy by reading through the Scriptures and then discussing them in class! I would love to see elementary schools, high schools, home-school parents, parish faith formation programs, and families who take their love of Jesus Christ seriously enough to be guided through God’s Word together, go to St. Mary’s site and check out these workbooks (the O.T. and Acts to Revelation is still in progress).

So, my good news has morphed into a prayer and a request. Please pray for greater appreciation for Scripture in our Church and for widespread use of these workbooks. My request is that you forward this post to your pastor, principal, teacher, and/or Bible study group! Thank you so much for all you’ve done to make this successful so far!

By catholicevangelist

The Sabbath Rest

From Mark 2:23-28

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“As he was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain. At this the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry? How he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat, and shared it with his companions?” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

In today’s Gospel reading above, Jesus and his disciples are criticized by the Pharisees because of their violation of the Sabbath regulation to do no work. In fact, many Jews of Jesus’ day and many Jews and Christians still today take this very seriously. A priest friend told me that upon his visit to Jerusalem five years ago he noticed that the elevators, only on the Sabbath, automatically stopped at each floor level so that the orthodox Jews would not violate the Sabbath by lifting a finger to touch the button! Now that’s taking your Sabbath rest seriously! And it is understandable why many take it so seriously. In the Book of Exodus we read, “Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy” (20:8-11).

The teaching is very clear, God worked for six days and then rested, and the world did not come to a screeching halt because He did! And neither will it come to a screeching halt if we rest. The good Lord gives us 168 each week, but 24 of those hours are not ours to spend. One of those days is God’s, for us to do God’s work. And what is the work God has called us to do? Of course, to love. Jesus commanded His disciples to love God and neighbor (LK 10:27). Sabbath is the day where we repair, nurture, and build the most important relationships in our lives. We love God and love our neighbor. We show that we are not slaves to work, power, influence, and money, but instead reveal that are truly God’s and place our complete trust in Him to sustain us and provide for our every need.

Of course, Christians today don’t take an extreme approach to the Sabbath rest, and Jesus’ teaching today provides some of that reasoning, but I do think that we often don’t take it as seriously enough as we ought, I’m afraid. My life changed radically when I really took this command to keep the Sabbath holy. But before that, let me explain something else. The Sabbath is Saturday. We agree with both Jews and 7th Day Adventists about that. However, Christians have always gathered together on Sunday in celebration of Jesus’ rising. We call Sunday “The Lord’s Day,” and on that day we celebrate the Sabbath. The early Christians were Jews. They gathered at the synagogue on the Sabbath (Saturday) and then gathered in their homes on Sunday to break bread, share the teachings of the apostles, give thanks, and offer prayers. Eventually, Christianity included non Jews and so the Sunday became the only gathering for those Christians.  Today, we continue to gather on the Sunday in celebration of the Lord’s Day and on it celebrate and observe the Sabbath. Something like celebrating my birthday on Saturday event though is was on Wednesday because no one would have shown up on the weekday. It’s not the day of the week that matters most but instead celebrating the day of my birth.

We are called to keep that WHOLE day holy! Going to church is a great way to remember and give thanks to God for the blessings, and to be right or get right with others in our community, but the commandment is not to “Go to church for an hour,” but is instead to keep the Sabbath DAY holy. Yes, the whole day. I realized this in college my senior year. You can imagine how busy I was. I was  taking twenty-one units, doing student government, acting, working, and playing rugby. Every moment of every day was jam packed. There was just no time for God or what God wanted. I made the decision, however, that if I didn’t get it done by Saturday night then it wasn’t getting done at all. Sunday was God’s day. I could only plan the other 144 hours of my week. My whole life changed.

I woke up on Sunday with a clear calendar. I went to Church and didn’t care if the priest’s homily was long, and I even looked forward to Baptisms during Mass! “Go over,” I thought, “I’ve got the whole day!” I spent time at elderly homes–why not? I had the whole day! I read the Scriptures for hours and books about my faith. I’ve never grown so much in my Spiritual life! What a wonderful gift the Lord has given us in this day of rest. God knew and knows we need it! God does not need our rest, WE DO! That’s exactly what Jesus is trying to teach the Pharisees who were critical of His disciples for picking grain. You see, they missed the whole point, and many Christians today still do.

The Sabbath is not God’s way of imposing a burden upon us. We are burdened enough with life and life’s problems as it is. The Sabbath is a wonderful gift from God to give us the rest that we need to get right with God and neighbor. Yes, to love God and love neighbor. And love sometimes requires a bit of work, but that’s okay, as long as that work is being done for God. I said earlier, in this way we re-pair, nurture, and re-build our relationships. The Sabbath is our opportunity to participate in God’s own work of re-creating and renewing the earth. Take your Sabbath/Lord’s Day more seriously, your relationship with God needs it and your friends, family, and neighbors need you love and attention. Nothing says, “I love you” like time spent. I’m quite sure that’s a country song.

By catholicevangelist

Through the Roof!

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From Mark 2:1-12 “When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them,
not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.’”

As we enter into the long weekend, I am particularly mindful of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s contribution to the civil rights movement that helped our nation to move a step closer to the Kingdom of God as envisioned by Jesus–a place of justice and equality among God’s children. There are too many today that have forgotten the Reverend’s work to make their lives better, their freedom’s stronger, and their opportunities greater. Dr. King was to many in America today what the four friends of the paralytic were to him in today’s Gospel.

The Gospel teaches that Jesus’ house was filled with those who wanted to hear him. So much so, in fact, that there was no way to come in through the door. The friends refused to be shut out. They lifted the roof and lowered the man in through it! You can just imagine the scene with dirt and sod falling down upon those already privileged enough to be inside and close to Jesus. They were no doubt sorry for the disruption, but their love for their friend and their faith in Jesus’ ability to help moved them to action.

We don’t know anything about the four friends’ personal prayer lives, their public standing, the sinful of their lives in general. The only thing we know is that their faith was strong–strong enough to have their friend forgiven and healed. God’s world is sadly, filled with sinners, but what matters most to God is not our past sins, but our faith and our willingness to stop at nothing to make our way to the Healer–and to bring others with us.

Martin Luther King Jr. was not without sin, fault, and wrongdoing. Many critics are quick to point out these faults. These sad attempts to disparage his character miss the most important fact that Dr. King’s faith in Jesus Christ and his willingness to stop at nothing on behalf of those who were experiencing injustice is the work of Christ himself and an example to the rest of us. And most importantly of all, this weekend is a reminder that God’s healing work is done not though those without sin, but those who sinfully and sorrowfully continue to say “Yes!” to God and participate in manifesting the Kingdom of God. Enjoy your Monday off!

By catholicevangelist

Like A Mustang

Hebrews 2:14-18
“Since the children share in blood and Flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them,
that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the Devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life. Surely he did not help angels but rather the descendants of Abraham; therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

When I was in the Marine Corps there existed a general lack of respect for most officers. As enlisted men, we felt that the officers often lorded their authority over us, thought themselves better and separated themselves from us, were unaware or unconcerned with our difficulties, trials, and general sufferings, or were simply unconcerned. Their mantra was “If the men aren’t complaining, they’re not happy.” Of course, that attitude never makes things better. Couldn’t it have been the case that we were not happy, we were complaining for good reason, and they should have done or tried to do something about it?
There was one type of officer we did like, however, and those were called Mustangs. They had served a number of years as an enlisted man before becoming an officer. They knew what we were going through, explained things in terms we understood, and helped us greatly in times of need. They were officers, but still one of us…and we loved them!
And that my friends is the type of leadership that our Lord Jesus Christ offers us! Hebrews tells us, “Since the children share in blood and Flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them.” He became one of us! He didn’t think Himself above us, though He was God. Instead He takes on human flesh, loves, feed, teaches, heals, and forgives us right where we are, in our brokenness and need.
And although that is certainly enough to command respect and love, our Lord goes one step further and offers His very life for us. As it goes, He paid a debt He did not owe because we owed a debt we could not pay. He became like us in every way so that He might make atonement for our sins, as did the High Priest in ancient days. One of the people makes the sacrifice on behalf of and for the people.
Hebrews says, “Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” And so, my friends, like those good Mustang Marine Corps officers, in the depths of our suffering He knows our sadness and sorrow, He has been there. When life is tough, He has been there. When we are lonely, He has been there. Jesus never promises that those that follow Him will be without pain or sadness, but rather He will be with them through it, providing strength and grace, and opening the door for eternal life. Who wouldn’t follow that kind of leader? Amen?

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By catholicevangelist

God’s Presence

1st John 4:11-18

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us…We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.”

ImageToday’s reading from John’s first Epistle points very strongly to the primacy of love and the implications for those who are both loved and in love. I meet with a spiritual director regularly, his question for me is always the same, and it starts each session. He asks, “How has God been present to you in this past month?” I then begin to reflect back on the events of the past month–both the good times and the bad, the times of triumph and the times of defeat, sadness, and brokenness.

Invariably, through reflection I become acutely aware that God is with me and sharing His grace and life with me, often through others, in my joys AND sorrows. I discover that through thick and thin, the God of love is always at my side. I never really appreciate that truth or recognize it in the moment, but upon reflection it becomes quite clear. Why does this matter?

Our most difficult times can often put our faith (our relationship with God) to the test. We might begin to believe that God is not with us, that God is not concerned about us or our suffering, or that God has no desire to alleviate that suffering. By reflecting on our past, God’s presence in the good and bad, we become more aware of and confident of the strength of our relationship with God, our faith, and it is our faith that empowers us to move beyond our present suffering with confidence in the God who is love and who has loved us first. As John says, “”Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another…We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.”

With the awareness of our gift of Faith and by nourishing it, we become people of Hope that are entirely confident that God will see us through our sorrows and pain. That confidence is why we have no fear of whatever life brings. You must know of at least one person who despite all the craziness, sadness, and pain, there are able to rise above it and love others all the same! You see, those who are unafraid are free to exercise God’s own gift of Love in a world that desperately needs it. As John says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.”

One grows perfect in love through reflection on God’s active presence in the experiences of their life. Join me in making a commitment to reflection. Let us move from reflection to hope and from hope to love. In this way we follow the example of Jesus Christ, we become like Christ, and we grow in Holiness–the goal of the Christian life. Reflect! Our world needs God’s love revealed through you and I.

I Am Unfit

Read John 1:19-28

John the Baptist today provides us with an excellent example of the humble servant. John was recognized by all as a saintly man, and as one whose life was committed to goodness and truth. He was certainly a prophet, speaking out against the moral injustice of his day. He did these things out of the conviction in his heart–and not for recognition or reward–something that no doubt surprised and confused the religious leadership in Jesus’ day.
They could only see John through their own distorted understanding of ministry and service. They thought to accuse Him of what they sought themselves–their own greatness and glory–and not God’s.
The Gospels make clear, that there were many who called themselves leaders, teachers, and rabbi, and enjoyed places of honor, but John (and Jesus) would have none of it.
John wanted but one thing, for people to hear his voice, to heed it and repent, that they might enjoy the eternal salvation promised to those who love not power, honor, glory, or titles, but God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.
John was not the Christ and made sure everyone knew where he stood, at the feet of our Lord, unworthy to untie His sandal straps.
Would that we might all, lay, religious, and especially the ordained, be mindful of John’s example of humble servant leadership, judge justly, speak truthfully, and point the way to Christ with the example of our lives.

By catholicevangelist