Archives for February 2010

Resources: Catholic Answers

This is a great time for learning the Catholic faith, both for those interested in exploring what Catholics believe and for Catholics to deepen their own knowledge and understanding. In addition to the resources of the parish, books and Catholic media — the Internet is rich in quality content. It has been, and continues to be, very helpful to me. Sometimes I am just looking for an answer and other times just soaking it in.

A few words of caution are in order. Mixed in with the real gems are those who preach, out of ignorance or purposely, against the teachings of the Church. It is not safe to assume that a website speaks the truth simply because it has “Catholic” in its name. There are obvious groups such as “Catholics for Choice,” “Gay Catholic Forum,” “Roman Catholic Womenpriests” plus other less obvious groups who dispute core, infallible facts and settled truths. In time these heretical and schismatic groups, like the devil himself, will surely fail.

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

From time-to-time I hope to bring some Internet resources to your attention that I have found to be trustworthy and invaluable. One of my very favorite websites is Catholic Answers (Catholic.com). Catholic Answers is really a “mega” website combining several useful elements:

  • A library of excellent articles
  • Radio shows (live online and archived)
  • This Rock magazine (back issues are online)
  • Discussion forums

I particularly enjoy the discussion forums and so do a lot of other folks! They were visited over a million times last month alone. All together, there are over 20 million pages of archived discussions. CAF (Catholic Answers Forumsforums.Catholic.com) is the largest discussion community out there. It is organized into a dozen different areas with sub-forums in most.

Everyone is welcome, Catholic or not, as long as respect is shown. You often see those in consecrated life participating (I have read that the staff vets those claiming religious titles).

One forum is different than the others – Ask an Apologist. In this moderated forum, a small number of very knowledgeable apologists respond factually to submitted questions. Sometimes docents respond to questions which were previously answered. The apologists include many well known names: Fr. Vincent Serpa, Michelle Arnold, Peggy Frye, Jim Blackburn, Jan Wakelin, Jimmy Akin, and Karl Keating. AAA is a reliable place to get answers on Church teachings.

Lent

No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Lent has begun. During this part of the liturgical year we prepare ourselves for Easter through reflection, repentance, prayer and conversion. Conversion of our hearts away from sin and to God. Marcel LeJeune has a nice FAQ over on the Aggie Catholic blog summarizing the Lenten season.

Catholics fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from meat on all Fridays during Lent. These acts of penance increase the self-discipline needed toward holiness and bring us closer to God.

Lent is a season full of tradition and a rich liturgical calendar. Important dates include Ash Wednesday, the Sundays of Lent, Feast of St. Patrick, Feast of St. Joseph, The Annunciation of the Lord, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter. Many parishes also offer a wide variety of special programs and activities.

Every day in Lent is important but a few are extra important to me: Ash Wednesday because it marks the beginning, Holy Thursday because it remembers the last supper from which Jesus gave us the Sacrament of Communion, Good Friday because it remembers the high price paid for our salvation and of course, the resurrection of our Lord on Easter.

This year I also have a special interest in the Easter Vigil Mass during which the Catechumens from my RCIA class will be baptized and confirmed. After Easter these folks, together with those of us who were recently confirmed, will again meet for several weeks of mystagogia. It is a special time of reflection on our journey and sending as fully active and participating members of the Catholic Church. I am looking forward to it.

Family, sex, life

These topics, which to my mind are really one topic, are often cited by secularists, liberals, radical feminists, some Protestants and even “cafeteria” Catholics as issues with Catholic Church teachings. Some see the family as an outdated notion, or one that can be formed, dissolved and formed again to suit changing personal interests. Sex is for enjoyment as long as it is consensual and “safe.” The number of partners and sexual orientation is irrelevant. Life begins and ends when it is convenient – often no sooner than natural birth and lasts until it is decided the quality of life has reached some personal threshold.

The Catholic Church could not disagree more!

One viewpoint elevates the plans and desires of the individual. The other recognizes God’s will as paramount in respecting the sanctity and dignity of all human life. Some are disobedient to God (see What harm is a little sin?) and erroneously assume – with Satan’s subtle encouragement – that obedience would be a hardship. By following their own path into the darkness they are lost and will not find the true happiness they seek.

The Church teaches marriage as a vocation. It is not a shared housing arrangement of “friends with benefits.” It is a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman to each other and if so blessed, their children. Family life provides the structure in which children can be properly nurtured and grow.

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (and be joined to his wife), and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” In the house the disciples again questioned him about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Catholics enjoy sex! It strengthens the loving bonds of husband and wife and may bear the happy fruit of offspring. Contrast that with the many “recreational” abuses of sex that are sinful and harmful to the participants. They are disordered and often unnatural. Sometimes the harm is obvious and soon apparent, other times more subtle, accumulating over time. Some examples include premarital sex, contraception, pornography, masturbation, adultery, homosexual acts, promiscuity, immodesty and abortion.

Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children. Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young.

CCC 2353

Few issues are as poignant as abortion. The Church teaches life begins with the miracle of conception through the action of the father, the mother and God. That newly created life is as existent and sacred as all human life, regardless how unplanned or inconvenient it may be. For parents to exercise a supposed “choice” to “terminate” their child is intrinsically a grave evil.

The other side of life is equally important. Euthanasia is the unnatural and purposeful ending of life. It replaces God’s will with our own to determine when and how life may end.

Men’s Fellowship

Long before I had any interest in joining the Catholic Church, my friend Jack (then a recent convert) invited me to the Friday Morning Men’s Fellowship. I didn’t accept his offer for a while, but he was so persistent. When I did finally go, I found it to be friendly and interesting. On the other hand, I had no interest in converting, so in some way it was an exercise in observing Catholics in their natural habitat.

After attending that first time I was back once or twice. My real interest did not come until I was in RCIA for a while and past that point of just “testing the waters.” By then I was interested in everything Catholic. I started attending the Men’s Fellowship and have not missed any since — including January 8th when conditions were so cold and icy that few made it.

The group meets in the PLC at 7:00am with about 50 or so in attendance. Everyone grabs their name tags, a cup of coffee, and a donut then greet each other while folks continue to arrive. Bill opens each meeting with a joke and announcements. A prayer is offered, and a speaker presents a topic of his interest for 10 to 15 minutes. After that each table discusses whatever they wish. My table reads and discusses a chapter from the Bible (we are currently working our way through Sirach).

One of the many nice things about the Men’s Fellowship is that you meet a lot of people and particularly get to know the guys at your table. Some of us hang around for awhile to continue our discussion or to chat about other topics.

A few weeks ago Tony was passing around the speaker sign-up sheet for the next six months. I don’t know what came over me – temporary insanity I assume – but I signed up for the first open space. That date quickly arrived – last Friday.

I decided my talk would be about those times “when the Holy Spirit insists.” That is, those times when you feel really compelled to do something, even when you would rather not. It seemed like a good topic as we approach Lent. The two recent examples I had from my own life are my conversion and this blog.

Rigsby (my good friend and RCIA sponsor) re-introduced me and offered the prayer. I then talked about my background and why I left my Protestant church (basically what I wrote about in How I came to be an ex-Protestant). That was followed by why I felt that I had to create this blog. Finally, I read a sample from the blog on why I decided to convert to Catholicism (How in the world did I end up here?).

If you have been reading this blog you already know that no one would mistake my efforts with those of good writer. Trust me, I am an even worse public speaker! I didn’t want to read a prepared speech, so my notes were just the points I hoped to make. It did not take long before I got a bit lost and ended-up skipping a bunch of them. On the positive side, I took about the allotted time, so maybe that was a good thing. I hope that it made sense and am grateful these things are not recorded.

My plan to read something in conclusion was so that no matter how scattered I might be in the rest of the presentation, I would at least end with something coherent. For the most part that worked. The only monkey wrench with the piece I read was trying not to get too emotional reading it. I made it through but I didn’t always have the steady voice I was aiming for in several parts (especially the very end).

Communion, like no other

Catholics attend Mass (at least) weekly. A central part of Mass is the Liturgy of the Eucharist during which we receive Communion. Of the seven sacraments (see The Sacraments), the Sacrament of Holy Communion is received most often.

Jesus was very clear and not ambiguous when he gave the first Catholic bishops (the Apostles) this sacrament:

Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”

Jesus was not speaking figuratively. He meant what he said – “this is my body.” Jesus also said “do this in memory of me,” commanding the Apostles and their successors to repeat this act of consecration and giving them the authority to do so. Catholic bishops and priests maintain that authority through an unbroken line of succession.

When a Catholic bishop or priest at any Mass worldwide consecrates bread and wine, those elements are literally transformed into the body and blood of Christ. This moment is often observed by the ringing of sanctus bells in many Catholic churches. The Holy Body and Precious Blood maintain only the appearance of bread and wine, just as they did at the last supper. To claim anything else is to dispute what Jesus said!

By consuming His Holy Body and Precious Blood we unite ourselves with Christ, grow in likeness to Him, sanctify our own body, remove the personal guilt of venial sins and receive other graces. Jesus also made the importance of this clear:

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

How wonderful this gift is! This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.

His Body and Blood may be consumed only by those of the proper disposition. The recipient must fully understand and accept the sacrament without qualification (i.e. be Catholic), may not have separated themselves from God (i.e. committed any non-absolved mortal sin), must have fasted and be eligible (i.e. not received Communion earlier that day – in most circumstances). Again, scripture is clear:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

His Body and Blood must be, and are, respected with the greatest possible reverence. There are protocols as to how the Host is distributed. Procedures have been established for unfortunate accidental situations. This IS the Body and Blood of our Lord and we act at all times in accordance of that fact and nothing less.

Finally, every Catholic church has a tabernacle in which undistributed Eucharist is reserved (stored). This is often near the altar with a red lamp nearby. This tabernacle lamp is lit to indicate and honor the presence of our Lord. When the lamp is lit, we kneel briefly on our right knee (genuflect) out of respect before entering a pew for worship.

When you have received Him, stir up your heart to do Him homage; speak to Him about your spiritual life, gazing upon Him in your soul where He is present for your happiness; welcome Him as warmly as possible, and behave outwardly in such a way that your actions may give proof to all of His Presence.

St. Francis de Sales

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