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Don’t Be Afraid To “Cross The Line” For Jesus!

 

“There was a preacher once who was saying to the congregation, ‘It is wrong to steal horses.’ The congregation answered, ‘Amen,amen.’ ‘It is wrong to steal cows.’ ‘Amen, Amen!’ Then he said, ‘It is wrong to steal chickens.’ And someone shouted back, ‘Now he is meddling.’ Up until that point, conscience was not touched.” (Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen)

I recently wrote a blog post about the need for Catholics to take action against some of President Obama’s policies, mainly his health care plan and the HHS mandate. My analysis was clear and to the point – there are provisions in this plan that oppose Catholic teaching and, following the lead of our bishops, we must speak out and take action. While I expected some opposition (mainly from non-Catholics), I wasn’t prepared for what I received…FROM CATHOLICS!

Here’s a sample…

For the first time, a health care plan addresses the lack of health coverage for 60 million Americans who had been up to now left to die on the side of the road until the Good Samaritan bill was passed.

OK, not bad…some editorializing, but still respectful. Things start to go downhill with the next response…

I don’t think that our religion should have anything to do with politics. That is what is so great about our religion, it is the one true church but we aren’t taught to force our religion on people. If we did we would be looked at just as the Protestant church is. The Supreme Court ruling does go against some of the church’s teachings, but it is also for many of the teachings. Let’s not forget that 6 of the justices are Catholic.

A little more direct, but not really nasty. Then I got this one…

Certainly, everyone is entitled to their opinion but I find it improper for Gary Zimak to have the gall to think he speaks for all Catholics. This man is not a Bishop, Priest, or even a Brother for the Church. From where does his authority spring forth? I am wary of any person who speaks or writes in the name of God and doesn’t use Scripture…Yes…abortion is wrong. Yes…its even murder. However, Barack Obama is not a supporter of abortion! Some people do support it and use it as an after-the-fact form of birth control. That is murder. But then others, like Obama simply say that government will not regulate it by making it against the law.

This gentlemen finishes his comments with…

The conservative right (which I would never call religious) are the ones who DO NOT CARE ABOUT THE POOR as Jesus did. They love money, not God or their fellow man. Zimak derided the recent Supreme Court decision. Why? He is a rich white man! He doesn’t care about how the needy are finally getting health care reform that will help the poor and middle class! I am disgusted by those who would use Catholicism to further their own personal agenda. Those are the people Jesus called “Vipers!”

As a Catholic evangelist, I often write and say things that are met with resistance. As long as I stick to generalities (“God loves us”, “We can all be a little nicer”, “Prayer is effective”, etc.), then everyone is happy and nobody gets offended. However, the minute I start to challenge people’s beliefs or practices, the negative comments begin to flow. A few years ago, I wrote an article, “Ten Facts Most Catholics Don’t Know (But Should)”. For the most part, it was very well received. However, when one diocesan newspaper picked it up, the readers went crazy! My assertions on the all male priesthood, the Bible being compiled by the Catholic Church and all salvation taking place through the Church were met with the following comments…

“I wonder if Mr. Zimak realizes who his audience is. Some American Catholics are critical thinkers.”

“It is with dismay that I read the article by Gary Zimak in the guest commentary. He purports to be the founder of Following The Truth ministries. I am doubly troubled that you him as an authority of sorts. May I please know the authority by which this lay apostolate says he speaks for the Roman Catholic Church regarding women priests? What in fact are his credentials for representing the Vatican in any way?”

“We were rather startled by the guest commentary by Gary Zimak in the July 30th issue. We think that Mr. Zimak is a questionable source at best…As for No Salvation Outside of the Church, perhaps someone should explain the teachings of Vatican II to Mr. Zimak. He seems to have stopped his belief in Catholic teachings at the Council of Trent.”

“Then there was Gary Zimak’s statement that “Women will never be priests”. (Gary, didn’t your mother tell you ‘never say never?)”

“I wondered what you had in mind when selecting the piece for publication. It provided no new insights, but instead the same old worn out points that are often made by some finger-shaking, pre-Vatican II conservative ‘traditional’ Roman Catholics…Certainly, the piece did not contain any new, enlightened points of view that would pique the interest of forward looking, contemporary Christians searching for new understanding.”

And my personal favorite…

“Today I read ‘Ten Facts Most Catholics Don’t Know’ with the smirking picture of the author…”

Our Catholic Church teaches that we MUST evangelize. This requires us to charitably share the truth with others. Depending on just how much of the truth we share, however, we’re eventually going to be met with resistance. It happened to the prophets, it happened to the Apostles and it happened to Jesus. Our Lord warns of this with His chilling words:

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:51-53)

As Catholics, we must be willing to speak the truth, even if it makes someone angry. We live in a world that is filled with darkness. Many people do not want to learn the truth because it is in direct conflict with a sinful and selfish lifestyle. While the world may not WANT to hear the truth, the world NEEDS to hear the truth and it is our responsibility to proclaim it. A close friend (and excellent writer), Shane Kapler, wrote an excellent article in which he discusses the “Caricature Jesus”. In Shane’s words…

We prefer an imaginary Jesus, who forgives our failings but makes no demands. The imaginary Jesus never gets upset – unless it’s at religious bullies, and they’ve got it coming, don’t they? He came to relieve suffering (because pain, not separation from God, is the ultimate evil) and to teach us that if we’ll just be “tolerant” enough of everyone else’s opinion (translation = truth does not exist in fact; truth is what we individually believe it to be), peace will finally come.

Unfortunately, despite some people wanting to believe otherwise, the teachings of Jesus Christ as presented through His Church are very concrete and real. They cannot, and should not, be watered down or ignored simply to avoid conflict. As Catholics we have the duty to speak the truth, even if it means “crossing the line”. Jesus warned us of the hatred that we’d experience, but He also promised a great reward…

You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:22)

Attention, Catholics…Quit Complaining And DO SOMETHING!

 

As Catholics, we’re very good at complaining. We complain about our priests, bishops and deacons being too lax or too strict. We complain about the teachings of the Church being too hard to follow. We complain when we’re asked to contribute to the support of the Church. We also complain about President Obama and his administration’s anti-Catholic policies.

I have to admit that yesterday’s decision by the Supreme Court upholding President Obama’s Affordable Health Care plan was painful. However, nothing that this administration does should come as a surprise. President Obama is a supporter of abortion, same sex “marriage” and his HHS mandate makes clear what he thinks about freedom of religion. What boggles my mind is how any Catholic can be surprised by anything this administration does. What’s even more mind-boggling is how any Catholic (and there were many) voted for him, knowing of his support for abortion alone!

While we may feel frustrated and defeated, complaining and belittling Obama and his Catholic “partners in crime” (Pelosi, Biden, Sebelius, John Roberts) isn’t really going to do any good. Complaining about your priests, deacons and bishops not speaking out is also not very productive. Rather than simply complaining, let’s look at some PRODUCTIVE steps that every Catholic could and should do:

1. Vote like a Catholic! – Anyone who tries to tell you that faith and politics don’t mix is flat out wrong. If we are not voting based on our Catholic principles, then we are NOT living our Catholic Faith. And that is a BIG problem. Our vote should be an expression of our Faith. Casting the other issues aside for a moment, any Catholic who votes for a candidate who supports the legal MURDER of the unborn could be putting their salvation in serious jeopardy. While I have no right to judge anyone’s motivation, I would not want to appear before the Lord (upon my death) and attempt to justify why I voted for a candidate who supports abortion!

2. Pray – While we do not know how or why prayer works, we know that it does. Turning to the Bible, we see that Our Lord prayed on many occasions. In his letters, St. Paul frequently urged his readers to pray and often did so himself. Prayer is effective! We should pray every day for an end to abortion and for God’s Will to be done on earth. Yes, the world is a dark place…yes, there is much evil taking place every day, but we can’t just sit back and complain. We have to pray!

3. Learn the Teachings of the Church – As Catholics, one of our biggest weaknesses is not knowing the teachings of the Church. Far too many Catholics simply go through the motions and don’t understand their faith. How can we live out our Catholic Faith when we don’t understand it? Furthermore, how can we share the teachings of the Church with others if we’re in the dark? I guarantee that, if you approach it with an open mind, studying why the Church teaches as she does will reveal something shocking…the Church is always right!

4. Speak Out! – When our co-workers speak of the beauty of same sex “marriage” or the “right to choose” to murder the unborn, we shouldn’t remain silent. In addition to knowing why the Church teaches as she does, we MUST defend her teachings. I refuse to believe that most abortion supporters know what the practice involves. One would have to be cold and barbaric to condone the cold blooded murder of a child. As knowledgeable Catholics, it is up to us to share the truth with others. Sure, we have to be charitable, but we need to let people know the truth. There are many abortion and same sex “marriage” supporters in the world who would change their position if they knew exactly what they were supporting. We need to be a light in the darkness and proclaim the “Good News” to the world!

5. Get Involved – There are many ways for us to get involved in combating these threats to our beliefs. Praying outside of abortion clinics, volunteering at crisis pregnancy centers, contributing to pro-life charities, circulating petitions in defense of the family are all productive ways to combat the evil in the world. Instead of simply griping about “the world being crazy”, it’s time to get involved!

Above all, remember to stay positive (in spite of what you may be feeling). The Lord knows what He’s doing. While we may not understand why evil exists, we do know that God permits it to happen. One of the reasons is due to the gift of free will. God will never force anyone to follow His Will. Rather, He allows us to choose good or to choose evil. As evidenced by the crucifixion, God can always bring good out of evil. Therefore, don’t become discouraged, keep fighting the good fight, stop complaining and…

DO SOMETHING!

5 Facts That Must Be Ignored Before Accusing Catholics Of “Mary Worship”!

 

I love the Blessed Mother! There…I said it and I’m glad I did! As a Catholic, I’m so blessed to be a member of the Church that truly honors and respects the Mother of my Lord and Savior. I must admit that, even though I’m a cradle Catholic, I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, for most of my life I didn’t understand Mary’s role or care about her too much. What a mistake! Now, after several recent accusations of “Mary worship” on my Facebook page, it’s time to stand up for my “Mom”. And, even though I love her and want to defend her honor, I have no intention of getting nasty. Rather, I’d prefer to present 5 facts about Mary. Before you accuse Catholics of worshiping Mary, I ask you to take a long hard look at these facts. They have a way of poking holes in the theory that we place too much emphasis on Mary. If you still want to accuse Catholics of worshiping Mary, then I suggest you ignore these facts!

1. God Sent The Savior Through Mary – I list this one first because it’s really tough to downplay Mary’s importance while acknowledging that the long awaiting Messiah came to earth by being born of a woman…and that woman was Mary. Out of all the ways that Jesus could have come to earth, why was Mary chosen? If Mary was important to God, shouldn’t she mean something to us?

2. Jesus Performed His First Miracle At Mary’s Request – This is another good one. Oh I know, Jesus didn’t need Mary to turn the water into wine at Cana. She just happened to be there. OK, why then did St. John list Mary FIRST in his list of wedding guests?

On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage with His disciples. (John 2:1-2)

If Mary is not important in this saga, why is she listed BEFORE the apostles and BEFORE Jesus? St. John the Evangelist was not known for inserting extraneous details. Mary is listed first because John wants to call the readers’ attention to her presence at the wedding.

But what about “the rebuke”? You know, the argument that Jesus was telling Mary to “butt out” when He stated:

“O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4)

Jesus was a devout Jew and an obedient follower of the Ten Commandments. Why would He publicly dishonor His mother in violation of the Fourth Commandment? Secondly, if this was such a “put down” by Jesus, why did He go ahead and perform the miracle of changing water into wine? Wouldn’t that have been the end of the request. Of course it would, unless He wasn’t putting Mary down. When His mother interceded on behalf of the couple, Our Lord decided that His time had now come. Don’t you think Jesus is trying to tell us something? Isn’t is probable that Jesus waited until Mary’s request, in order to show us her intercessory power? Doesn’t that explain why St. John listed her first among the guests?

3. Jesus Gave Mary To John From The Cross – As He suffered and died on the Cross, Jesus made a very profound statement:

When Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27)

Why, while struggling to speak as He hung on the Cross, would Jesus have spoken these words if they didn’t mean anything? Could He have been making small talk? Obviously, there was a reason that Our Lord did what He did. The Church has always believed that John represented each member of the Church and that, from that moment on, Mary became our spiritual mother. Scripture tells us that, on that day John accepted Jesus’ gift and “took her to his own home” (John 19:27). Shouldn’t we do the same?

4. Jesus’ First Graces Were Given Through Mary – This is a fact that frequently gets overlooked by those who wish to downplay Mary’s importance…and it comes straight from the Bible! After accepting God’s offer to become the Mother of the Savior, Mary traveled “in haste” to visit her relative, Elizabeth.

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the child leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:41)

According to this Bible passage, before Jesus was even born, Mary’s voice was used to deliver the graces to Elizabeth. Why? Because she’s not important? Isn’t there some other way, these graces could have been dispensed?

Not convinced? Listen to what Elizabeth had to say (also directly from the Bible)…

“For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:44)

It’s pretty hard to deny the importance of Mary’s presence and voice in dispensing these graces to Elizabeth. Did the graces originate from Mary? No, they obviously came from Jesus. However, He chose to have Mary make the journey and use her voice to deliver them. Why? Because He wants us to realize that she is important!

5. Jesus Christ Is The Sole Mediator Between God And Man – Now, this doesn’t make sense. How does this help to support the Catholic position? This is why we Catholics “have it all wrong”, isn’t it? Sorry if I’m bursting anyone’s bubble, but Catholics absolutely believe that Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between God and man. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) clearly states this belief:

Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all men, especially sinners. (CCC 2634)

This Catholic teaching is supported by the following Bible passage:

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. (1 Timothy 2:5-6)

Although Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between God and man, that doesn’t preclude others (including Mary) from being involved in a subordinate mediation, or intercession. Saint Paul, who made the above statement, is obviously aware of that fact since he several times urges his readers to pray for each other (Romans 1:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:25, 1 Timothy 2:1). The Catechism refers to this type of intercession as being a “participation in the intercession of Christ” (CCC 2635) and is put into practice each time we pray for one another. Asking Mary to intercede for us in no way takes away from Jesus’ role as mediator between God and men.

While I’m not naive enough to think that listing these 5 facts will render me immune from further accusations of “Mary worship”, I do think that they will have an effect if looked at with an open mind. Sacred Scripture does not contain a lot of words about Mary, but what’s there is powerful. Theologians have spent 2,000 years studying her Biblical appearances and will continue to do so. We can learn much by studying Mary’s role as documented in the pages of the Bible. If anyone wants to accuse me of being a “Mary worshiper”, I ask you to first look at these 5 facts. If you still want to point a finger, you’ll need to ignore these factual statements…

because accepting them will seriously undermine your credibility!

Join The Fraternity Of Kindness

 

(Listen to Following The Truth on BlogTalkRadio every Friday at 8 PM Eastern as Gary discusses the book, “The Hidden Power Of Kindness” by Father Lawrence Lovasik!)

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-2)

In my life as a Christian, one of the most difficult things for me to do is to love everyone. Even though Jesus commands me to do this (John 13:34-35, 15:12, Matthew 5:43), loving everyone does not come easy for me. While it’s easy for me to love people who are nice to me, I have a REALLY hard time loving those who don’t love me back. Although it’s difficult, I need to take the Lord’s command seriously IF I expect to get to Heaven! Fortunately, I recently ran across a very simple method of putting Jesus’ instruction into practice.

In his book, The Hidden Power Of Kindness, the late Fr. Lawrence Lovasik urges that we all become members of the Fraternity of Kindness.

This “organization” has no officers, no meetings and no dues. In fact, its rules are simple. There are three little don’ts and three little do’s. Brilliant in their simplicity, these do’s and don’ts will put us on the right track for loving everyone:

DON’TS
1. Don’t speak unkindly of anyone.
2. Don’t speak unkindly to anyone.
3. Don’t act unkindly toward anyone.

DO’S
1. Do speak kindly of someone at least once a day.
2. Do think kindly of someone at least once a day.
3. Do act kindly toward someone at least once a day.

If we violate any of these rules, Fr. Lovasik suggests the following actions:

1. Make a brief act of contrition (ex. “My Jesus, mercy!”)
2. Offer an apology, if possible.
3. Say a little prayer for the one to whom you have been unkind.

Although the Fraternity of Kindness is not an official group, living by these “do’s and don’ts” will allow you to follow the Lord’s command to “love one another” and keep you on the road to Heaven. Just don’t forget to ask the Lord for the grace necessary to carry them out. If we try to do this on our own, it’s not easy, but…

“With God nothing will be impossible!” (Luke 1:37)

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)

Empty Churches – Where Should We Draw The Line?

 

“Religion is popular only when it ceases to be truly religious. Religion by its very nature is unpopular – certainly unpopular with the ego.” (Archbishop Fulton J Sheen)

Recently, an interesting article was brought to my attention. Appearing in The Morning Call (Allentown, PA), the point was raised that organized religion was on the decline throughout the area. More and more, organized religion is coming under attack, as evidenced by the recent YouTube video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”. While the idea of individuals creating their own personal version of Jesus’ teachings is nothing new, this philosophy is now creeping into organized religion. Evidence of this can be seen in a comment made by Rev. Tony Sundermeier, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Allentown (in the above article):

“We create a space for different ways for people to engage with God. I still think people are spiritual and religious. It’s just not orthodox Christianity they’re looking for.”

Reaching Out or Dumbing Down?
In an attempt to reach out and bring people back to church, some Christian churches are bending over backward to give the people what they want, rather than what they need. If the teachings of Jesus are too challenging, let’s change them so that they are more appealing. Strong evidence of this can be seen in the churches that proclaim the “health and wealth gospel”. Sometimes referred to as prosperity theology, the message is that faithful believers will be rewarded with financial wealth. While this can be an attractive message, it is certainly not the message lived and proclaimed by Jesus Christ. Additionally, some churches water down their teaching to make it more “user friendly” and appealing. In other words, let’s make going to church fun. If we take away the negativity and challenging doctrine, then people will come back in droves. Sadly, I’ve even seen this in some Catholic parishes and it is a big mistake. Christians deserve the truth and not a watered down message that “feels good”. For, although it might feel good now, a diluted set of religious doctrine isn’t going to help us get to Heaven! The question that must be asked is, although it may attract more people to church (and even this is debatable), what good does it do to remove the difficult, but necessary, aspects of Christianity?

What Does The Bible Say?
While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I do know that the Bible provides some valuable clues about truth. In his letter to Timothy, Saint Paul states that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2:4). That statement implies that absolute truth exists, God wants us to know that truth, and learning and obeying it will allow us to get to Heaven. Given that statement, it’s easy to see why distorting that truth could be problematic. While I understand why this is being done, what is the point of getting people in your church if you’re not going to give them the teaching that they need to one day achieve salvation?

There is no doubt that the truth will cause division, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be spoken. What does Jesus have to say about the truth?

“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Lk 12:51-53)

Furthermore, the words of Jesus as He commissioned the Apostles affirms the importance of always preaching the whole truth:

“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 behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20)

Note that Jesus didn’t say to share only His pleasant and less challenging teachings…He said to teach ALL that He commanded. This includes unpopular and difficult teachings, even if they’re met with resistance. Jesus encountered this difficulty first hand when He taught about the necessity of the Eucharist for salvation. In His Bread of Life discourse (Jn 6: 22-71), when He proclaimed that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life within you” (Jn 6:53), many of His disciples said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (Jn 6:60). Instead of backing down or modifying this crucial teaching, Jesus let many of His disciples walk away from Him. (Jn 6:66). Why? Because He couldn’t compromise the truth!

A Catholic Response
As Catholics, we are blessed to have the fullness of truth and, under no circumstances, can we change the truth in order to make it more palatable. Although we should become creative and try to meet people “where they are”, the “Good News” can’t be changed. For, in doing so, we’d be hurting people rather than helping them. Although it’s a challenge, we need to educate people about Church teachings. As many of us cynics have discovered, the teachings of the Church really do make sense once they are prayerfully explored with an open mind. That’s the great thing about truth…it’s TRUE!

Isn’t This The Clergy’s Job?
As lay Catholics, what can we do to combat declining Mass attendance? Isn’t this the job of the priests and deacons? In actuality, we should all be concerned about this matter. If you think about it for a minute, it’s not easy for the clergy to reach out to those who no longer attend Mass. Furthermore, the Church teaches that evangelization is the responsibility of ALL baptized Catholics. In his apostolic letter, Porta Fidei (The Door of Faith), Pope Benedict XVI observed:

The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers: by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us.

In order to share the truth with others, the first thing we should do is learn, understand AND LIVE the teachings of the Catholic Church. Then, as charitably as possible, we should share these teachings with others. Our Church is blessed to have the fullness of truth and it would be wrong to keep this treasure to ourselves. With whom should we share? Everyone around us – our family, friends, coworkers and any others who we encounter in our daily lives.

Using The Internet
Do you spend a lot of time on the Internet? Why not use it for sharing the faith? One of the great things about the Internet and social media is the ability to reach those who no longer go to Church. Here are some simple and concrete steps that we can all take to share the truth with others:

Share good Catholic articles with others via email.

Post inspirational quotes on Facebook or Twitter.

“Like” solid Catholic fan pages, groups or posts on Facebook.

Create your own Catholic website, podcast, Facebook group or Twitter account.

Whether we do it on the Internet or face to face, we must never stop proclaiming the true teaching of the Catholic Church. In the end, that truth is what is going to save souls. Sometimes people will get offended and “walk away”, but that shouldn’t deter us from delivering the “Good News” IN FULL. It happened to the prophets, it happened to the Saints and it happened to Jesus…and that’s some good company!

“No one is truly poor but except the one who lacks the truth.” (St. Ephraem the Syrian)

Today’s Guest Blogger…Saint Athanasius!

 

Sometimes Catholics are accused of being “non Biblical”. We are chastised by some of our fellow Christians who believe that the Bible (as interpreted by the individual believer) is the SOLE rule of faith for Christians. I’m honored to have a guest blogger today. Saint Athanasius (296 – 373 A.D.), one of the early Church Fathers and bishop and Doctor of the Church will provide an answer in support of the Catholic position that the Word of God is transmitted by Sacred Scripture AND Sacred Tradition:

“The very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, was preached by the apostles and was preserved by the Fathers. On this was the Church founded, and if anyone departs from this, he neither is, nor any longer ought to be called a Christian.” (Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)

Thank you, Saint Athanasius, for reminding us that Sola Scriptura (the Bible alone) was never practiced by the early Church . Happy feast day and please pray for us!

Why Everyone Should Be Catholic!

Disclaimer: If you’re expecting a long, detailed theological dissertation, let me apologize in advance.  Being somewhat of a simple minded person, I’m going to present a basic reason why I believe everyone should be Catholic.   On a very broad level, everyone should be Catholic because the Catholic Church contains the fullness of truth.  However, since this can be a little abstract, I’m going to offer a reason that is a little easier to grasp. 

One of the great things about being a Catholic is our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Just to make sure that everyone understands me, let me elaborate a bit.  In the Eucharist, what looks like a round piece of bread (or a wafer) and what appears to be wine is actually Jesus.  You got it, it’s REALLY Him – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity!  It’s not a representation, it’s not some sort of spiritual presence, but it is actually Jesus Christ.  As a member of the Catholic Church, I get to pray before Him and receive Him every day!  If your “fluff meter” is going off, I suggest you back up and read this last paragraph again.  I wasn’t speaking figuratively and I wasn’t referring to anything abstract.  As a Catholic, I take Jesus at His word (John 6:22-71) and believe that He is fully present in the Eucharist.  It’s Him!

This past Saturday night, as I do each week, I visited the local adoration chapel and prayed before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  Before doing so, I put out a notice on Facebook asking for prayer requests.  As usual, I got a few responses, but most ignored the offer (By the way, don’t tell anyone,  but even though many of my Facebook friends ignore the invitation, I pray for them anyway.  After all, what kind of friend would I be if I saw Jesus face to face and didn’t put in a good word for them?).  Interestingly enough, one person replied with a “thanks, but no thanks” indicating that he’ll talk to Jesus Himself.  While that is strongly encouraged and definitely possible, I replied that unless you’re Catholic and believe in the Real Presence, you’re passing up meeting the Lord in person and settling for a “phone call” or “email”  instead.  As expected, he disagreed and made a comment about tolerance and love.  We did agree to pray for each other, but I got the feeling that I should write some more.

As baptized Catholics, we are all called to evangelize (sorry, fellow Catholics, but it’s true!) and that means sharing the “Good News” of our Faith with others.  Unfortunately, some people don’t want to hear what we have to say.  There’s no getting around this.  It happened to the prophets and it even happened to Jesus.  As Catholics, we believe that we have the fullness of truth and that our Church was founded by Christ (Matthew 16:18).  Why wouldn’t we want to share that truth with others, especially if it gives them a chance to TRULY meet Jesus?  Again, no “phone calls”, “letters” or “emails”, I’m talking about a chance to REALLY meet HIM!  I would have to be a real jerk to keep that to myself! 

My statement that “everyone should be Catholic” doesn’t mean that I think I’m better than anyone or part of an exclusive club.  Rather, it means that I’ve found the “pearl of great price” and I want to share it with others.  In other words,  I’d like to invite everyone to become a member of the Church founded by Christ.  In the meantime, if you’re not a Catholic and you don’t want to be, you better believe that I’ll be tolerant of your beliefs.  In fact, I’ll be happy to pray for you and ask you to pray for me. We can even discuss the beliefs that we share in common.  And when I visit Jesus each week, I’m still going to put in a good word for you. 

If you decide that you want to meet the Lord in person, contact your local Catholic parish or send me an email (gary@followingthetruth.com).

The 5 Biggest Mistakes Catholics Make (And How To Avoid Them)

There are many different approaches to living the Catholic Faith.  Some people prefer more traditional devotions such as novenas and formal prayer while others choose to speak to Jesus using spontaneous prayer.  Some like the Charismatic movement while others pray in silence.  As long as your approach is faithful to Church teaching and brings you closer to Christ, it really is a matter of personal choice. 

However, over the course of my life as a Cradle Catholic, I’ve discovered 5 big mistakes that will definitely hurt your faith.  I have personally made most of these mistakes and the results were not pretty.  Instead of getting closer to Christ (and being a good example for others), I ended up heading in the wrong direction.  In order to spare you some agony, I present my list of the 5  biggest mistakes Catholics make and how to avoid them.

1. Checking The Box– “What do you mean I’m not a good Catholic?  I go to Mass on Sunday!”  This was my philosophy for most of my life.  I went to Mass every week and thought that I was fulfilling my duties as a Catholic.  After all, there are tons of Catholics who don’t even go to Mass!  Unfortunately, even though I was physically going to church and saying the prayers, my mind was a thousand miles away.

Those of you who are married, in a relationship, or have close friends realize that speaking to a person once a week doesn’t help to build a close relationship.  If you want to get closer to someone, you need to speak with them often.  The same principle applies to our relationship with Christ.  If all we do is show up for Mass each week, we’re never going to REALLY know Him.  This situation becomes even worse when we don’t even pay attention at Mass.  If we want to become good friends with Jesus, we must talk to Him (in prayer) frequently.  We should listen to Him speak through the Bible and we should encounter Him in the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession as often as we can.

2. “My Faith Is A Personal Matter” – “I can’t impose my personal beliefs on others.”  Sometimes known as “religious indifference”, this is rooted in the belief that one religion is as good as the next.  People who fall into this trap believe that our religious beliefs are personal and shouldn’t be “forced” on others.  While we shouldn’t force our beliefs on others, we should “always be ready to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15) and be willing to “preach the gospel to all nations” (Mk 13:10).  Before He ascended into Heaven, Jesus instructed the Apostles:

“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 commanded you.”  (Mt 28:19)

In other words, what one believes really DOES matter!  Jesus instructed the Apostles to teach ALL that He commanded, not just some things.  Our Lord founded the Catholic Church (Mt 16:18-20) as the vehicle for our salvation.  The Church has the fullness of truth and her teachings should be shared with others.  As proof of this, St. Paul tells us that “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2:4).  It is our job as Catholics to share in this mission and to share the “Good News” with those whom we encounter in our daily lives. 

3. The “Do It Yourself” Approach–  “I don’t believe in medals and novenas.  That’s a bunch of superstition.  Saying the rosary is for old people.  I speak directly to God!”  Does that sound familiar?  If you want to ensure that your faith never gets any stronger, the best way to do that is to ignore the Blessed Mother, the intercession of the saints, devotions, approved apparitions, sacramentals (such as the scapular, medals and holy water) and try to do it all by yourself. 

The Church gives us sacramentals and devotions to help us get to Heaven.  The same can be said for approved (please note that I say “approved”!) apparitions of Our Lady and Our Lord.  If we try to do it all by ourselves, we’re going to fail.  Why?  Because we’re human and that makes us prone to laziness, love of comfort and doing the wrong thing.  Not exactly the qualities that will help one attain eternal life!  If we avail ourselves of some Divine assistance, however, all things are possible.

For many years I chose to ignore approved Marian apparitions, as I thought they were an unnecessary distraction.  I now realize that this wasn’t too bright on my part.  If the Church rules that certain appearances of the Blessed Mother are worthy of belief, why would I choose to ignore her message?  If I really wanted to get closer to the Lord and be a better Catholic, shouldn’t I listen to her advice?  It really makes sense to me now and I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this powerful gift.   

Another form of this mistake is forgetting to ask for help.  I once told my spiritual director that I was trying to stop worrying and trust God more.  I mentioned how hard I was trying, but without much success.  He replied, “Did you ask God for help?”  I was speechless because I honestly never thought of doing that!  Don’t try to become a better person on your own.  Ask the saints to intercede for you and ask the Lord for some extra grace.  You’ll be amazed at the results! 

4. Ignorance Is Bliss – “What I don’t know won’t hurt me”.  If we don’t take the time to learn the teachings of the Church, it’s almost certain that we’re going to be going against God’s will.  How can we truly obey the Lord’s commandments if we don’t know them?  Proponents of this brand of Catholicism go through life practicing contraception, downloading music illegally, missing Mass on Holy Days of Obligation, drinking to excess, etc.  The trouble with this approach is that we’re not doing what Jesus wants us to do. 

As Catholics, we are blessed to have the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC).  This book provides an excellent summary of what Catholics believe.  Sadly, many Catholics have never looked at this great resource.  One of the most eye opening sections involves the explanation of “Thou Shall Not Kill” (CCC 2258 – 2330).  Aside from the obvious meaning, the Church expands the commandment to cover respect for the souls of others (avoid setting a bad example that may lead others astray), proper attention to our health (gluttony, excessive use of alcohol or tobacco and even speeding can be grave sins!) and the preservation of peace (be on guard against anger and verbal abuse).

Not only can this mistake cause damage to your spiritual well being, it can even afect your salvation!  As Catholics, we are responsible for the education of our conscience.  While, objectively speaking, God will not hold us accountable for what we don’t know, we are expected to make an attempt to learn what the Church teaches.  According to the Catechism:

This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.”  In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits. (CCC 1791)

5. The “Either-Or”  Fallacy – Either you know the facts and follow the laws of the Catholic Church or you do nice things for people.  We can’t deny Communion to anyone because Jesus dined with sinners, not just those who were holy.  The Mass MUST be in Latin because that’s the way things were done years ago when Catholics “cared about their faith”.  Those who fall into this line of thinking are making the false assumption that in order to be a good Catholic you must either follow the rules OR be a good person.  In reality, we must do BOTH!

Throughout His public ministry, Jesus made it clear that we must worship Him with our hearts as well as our lips.  In the Sermon on the Mount, He warned against rattling off “empty” prayers:

In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. (Mt 6:7)

Unfortunately, many individuals incorrectly interpret this as a condemnation of formal prayer or, worse yet, as a dismissal of the need for any law or rules.  That viewpoint completely ignores the words of Jesus who says just the opposite!

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.  Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:17-19)

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn 14:15)

In order to live our Catholic Faith, we first need to understand the rules.  Once we understand the rules and expectations of being a Catholic, we have to live them.  The “either-or” fallacy just doesn’t “cut it”.  In order to be a good Catholic, we must do both!

So there you have it …My list of the 5 biggest mistakes that Catholics make and how to avoid them.  What do you think? Agree? disagree?  Did I miss any?  Let me know…