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The Cost Of Discipleship (And Knowing When To Shut Your Mouth!)

Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.  But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.  “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.  For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’   “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;  and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.  (Matthew 10: 32-40)

As many of you know, being a follower of Christ has a price.  If we are to fully live and teach our Catholic Faith, we’re bound to ruffle some feathers.  Our Lord makes this fact very clear in the above “pep talk” to the Apostles.  What sometimes gets missed is the fact that the Lord is most likely using hyperbole in order to make His point.  Rather than telling us to “go out and make enemies of your family and friends”, He is reminding us that the Gospel message can be challenging and will often cause division.  We can’t be afraid to proclaim the “Good News”, but we also have to know when to “shut up”.

Father John Corapi’s recent decision to leave the priesthood has been discussed “to death” on many blogs, including mine.  I’ve made my point (and I won’t rehash it here) and there’s not a lot left to say except “please pray for all concerned”.  While some people agreed with me, others vehemently (and I do mean vehemently!) disagreed with my comments.  I tried my best to respond charitably and I apologize if I failed.  In an attempt to  “stop the bleeding” and get people focused on the bigger picture, I made some folks angry.  While there’s a time for boldly proclaiming the truth, there’s also a time to shut my mouth and for me…

the time is now!

Until something significant arises, I’m going to reiterate that we should pray for Fr. Corapi and all concerned and I really mean it!  Don’t think for a minute that God can’t fix this whole ugly mess.  I’ve recently been getting the feeling that this situation could still have a happy ending.  Will it?  Not knowing all the details and the mindset of the players, I really have no idea.

I’ve learned a lot over the past few days.  Many of your comments really caused me to think.  Was I being charitable?  Was I causing division?  Was my pride getting in the way?  Should I have spoken out?  When should I stop speaking out? 

Now I’d like to ask you a question.  Has there ever been a time when you needed to defend the Catholic Church or caution someone about sinful behavior, even though you expected to be met with resistance?  What was your approach and how did it work out?

I’d really like to hear your comments.  I think it would help many of us as we try to spread the “Good News” of Jesus Christ in a bold, but compassionate way.

Catholicism Rule Of Thumb: The Message Is More Important Than The Messenger!

Whenever someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?  What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul?  Ministers through whom you became believers, just as the Lord assigned each one.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.  Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth.  The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor.  (1 Cor 3:4-8)

Those of us who constantly try to learn more about Catholicism generally have our “favorite” sources.  We have our favorite authors, priests, websites, devotions and even Saints!  Some speakers inspire us while others “bore us to tears”.  What works for one person often doesn’t work for someone else.  While there’s nothing wrong with favoring certain sources, we want to be sure that we’re following the message and not just the messenger.  

As evidenced by the above Scripture passage, this problem is nothing new.  St. Paul is reminding the Corinthians that, although he and Apollos are preaching the “Good News”,  it is actually God who is doing the work.  He was attempting to prevent the people from becoming followers of human messengers and encouraging them to focus on the message of Jesus Christ.

What’s the harm in having a favorite Catholic preacher, you might ask?  Usually nothing, as long as we keep things in their proper perspective.  If we start to focus more on the messenger than the message, however, there could be negative consequences.  What happens if our favorite speaker starts to depart from Church teaching and veers too far to the right or too far to the left?  How about if that person is involved in a public scandal?  What do we do when our beloved parish priest gets transferred?  If we’re not careful, becoming too attached to one person could do serious damage to our faith.

What’s the solution?  Simply to remember that God uses many fallible instruments to accomplish his work.  Try to avoid putting any minister, no matter how holy they seem, on a pedestal.  Focusing too much much on the messenger can cause us to miss the Lord’s message.  Some prefer Scott Hahn, others like Father Mitch Pacwa and some are inspired by listening to their parish priest.  The important thing to remember is that they’re all presenting the “Good News” of Jesus Christ…

and that’s what REALLY matters!

Letting The Holy Spirit Guide You To The Truth

But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming (Jn 16:13).

Now that we’ve established that God wants us to know the truth and that the Church is the guardian of that truth, we need to look at some important words from Jesus.  In John’s Gospel, the Lord tells us that the Holy Spirit will guide us to the truth.  Initially a comforting statement, further reflection makes us wonder how this is possible.  What if you and I both ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and end up with different versions of the truth?  In reality, this is a common problem which occurs in many Christian churches.  The idea of personal infallible interpretation of the Bible (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) falls apart the minute any 2 Christians disagree about a doctrinal matter!  If the Holy Spirit is guiding us to ALL truth, then no two believers could ever come up with conflicting beliefs.  There must be something else to Our Lord’s promise…

If the Church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tm 3:15) and the Holy Spirit will “guide us to all truth” (Jn 16:13), then doesn’t it follow that the guidance of the Holy Spirit must lie with the Church and not with individuals?  As we continue our search for the one, true Church, we need to find a Church which claims to teach authoritatively under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

Tomorrow: A look at Church authority (Matthew 18:15-18)

How Do We Find The Truth?

But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tm 3:15).

Yesterday, we looked at the Biblical passage stating that God wants everyone to be saved and to know the truth.  Now, let’s look at how we go about finding the truth.  As Christians, we know that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth and the Life”, but how does that fact help us to live our lives in accordance with His Will?  We need a set of guidelines to help us make moral decisions, based on His truth.

Fortunately for us, the Bible gives us the answer.  While many Christians believe that the Bible is the ultimate resource for determining the truth, the Bible actually tells us otherwise!  In his letter to Timothy, St. Paul reveals that the Church is the “pillar and foundation of truth” (see verse at beginning).  While that provides us with some useful guidance, it begs the question, “Which church?”  After all, there are thousands of Christian churches that put forth conflicting teachings.  By definition, you can’t have multiple, conflicting “truths”.  What now?

In order to determine which Church will lead us to the truth, we need to investigate further.  Tomorrow, we’ll let the words of Jesus point us in the right direction!

Tomorrow: (John 16:13)

What Is Truth (And How Can We Find It)?

I don’t normally make it a habit to quote Pontius Pilate, but his cynical quote really fits this topic.  “What is truth?” is a question that every Christian should ask himself, as its pursuit should be our main mission in life.  In the dictionary, truth is defined as “conformity with fact or reality”.  When it comes to faith, the Modern Catholic Dictionary (Fr. John Hardon, 1999, Eternal Life Press), defines revealed truth as “disclosure by God of Himself and His Will to the human race”.  While that answers the question of “what is truth?”, it still doesn’t tell how to discover the truth.

I recently wrote an article for Catholic Lane entitled, “A Biblical Roadmap To The One, True Church“, in which I presented 10 Scripture passages which take us from Point “A” (There is ONE absolute truth) to Point “B” (the Catholic Church contains the fullness of that truth).  Over the next several days, I’ll be discussing each of these passages in detail.

If you’re Catholic, you should be familiar with these passages as they provide a strong validation for our beliefs.  If you’re not Catholic, I recommend that you use them as a standard by which to measure your own church.  As I state in the article, it is my belief that only the Catholic Church fits all of these Biblical requirements.

I hope you’ll join me as we search for the truth in order that we can echo the words of David, “Teach me, LORD, your way that I may walk in your truth (Ps 86:11)!

Tomorrow:  1 Timothy 2:3-4

Listening To The Voice Of Jesus

The Gospel from today’s Mass (Jn 10:1-10) reminds us of the importance of listening to the voice of Jesus, but what if we can’t hear His voice?  Unfortunately, there are many competing voices speaking to us on a daily basis.  The voices of comfort, fear, greed, and the media are often heard loudest in our ears and drown out the voice of the Lord.  If we can’t even hear Jesus speaking to us, how can we obey Him?  As my friend Matt Swaim states in his book, Prayer In The Digital Age (Ligouri Publications, 2011), “Silence is the great fear of the modern age.”

Obviously, we first need to focus on hearing the voice of the Lord.  According to St. Ignatius of Loyola, “It is true that the voice of God, having once penetrated the heart, becomes strong as the tempest and loud as the thunder.  But before reaching the heart it is as weak as a light breath that scarcely agitates the air.  It shrinks from noise and is silent amid agitation.”  To put it simply, if we don’t make an effort to listen, we’re not going to hear the Lord’s voice.

Daily prayer and meditating on the Bible are critical to being able to hear the Lord’s voice.  Unfortunately, and I know that it’s difficult, but sometimes you have to turn off the tv!  While there’s nothing inherently wrong with watching tv, listening to the radio or surfing the Internet, we need to make some quiet time for the Lord each day.  Otherwise, we’ll never hear Him speak.

Once we begin to hear His voice, the next thing we have to do is obey His instructions.  Although it sounds simple, this is often difficult especially when He  tells us to stop doing things that we enjoy.  Unfortunately, many of our sinful habits are also a lot of fun!  However, as Catholics, we are blessed to have a body of clear Church teaching that guides us and keeps us on the right path.  In an attempt to determine God’s will for their lives, many people erroneously ignore the teaching of the Church.  That, my friends, is a mistake that could lead to disaster!

Although it may be difficult at first, making some “quiet time” for the Lord will gradually get easier.  You’ll even find yourself looking forward to the time you get to spend each day with your good friend, Jesus.  You’ll also begin to feel a sense of peace that comes from following God’s will. 

Give it a try and see what happens…

I spoke about this topic on today’s edition of Following The Truth.  You can listen to the podcast here:

Listen to internet radio with Gary Zimak on Blog Talk Radio

“How Can I Unless Somebody Instructs Me?”

One thing that sets the Catholic Church apart from other Christian denominations is her guidance in regard to interpreting the Bible.  While the Church doesn’t go “line by line” and give us an exact interpretation, she does give us a framework as a guide.  And, believe me, 2,000 years of Church doctrine really comes in handy when dealing with some of the more complex Bible passages!

In the First Reading from today’s Mass (Acts 8:26-40), we read of the Ethiopian eunuch’s struggle as he read the Scriptures.  Philip, prompted by the Holy Spirit, questioned the eunuch about his understanding of the book of the prophet Isaiah.  The question, “Do you understand what you are reading?” caused the Ethiopian to reply, “How can I unless somebody instructs me?”   Philip proceeded to explain that a particularly challenging passage (Isaiah 53:7-8) was actually referring to Jesus.  After this, the man requested to be baptized and was filled with joy.

There are a couple of key points to the story.  First, we have Biblical evidence that  “help” is needed to understand the Bible.  Rather than a line by line interpretation,  our “help” consists of 2,000 years of Church teaching as stated by the Church fathers, the Saints, and the Magisterium.  Interpreting the Bible in a vacuum has been the cause of division among Christians and even the justification of immoral behavior.  If we try to interpret the Bible without any outside influence, we will probably get ourselves in BIG trouble!

The other point is that the message of Jesus is contained not only in the New Testament, but also in the Old Testament.  While that message is often hidden and requires some digging, Philip’s interpretation of Isaiah’s writing brings that fact to light.  Without the proper instruction and education, this fact could easily be missed and the writings of the prophet written off as being obsolete.

As I always tell you, stick with the Church and her teachings and you’ll be in good shape spiritually.  There is a benefit to being around for 2,000 years and being guided by the Holy Spirit !