Thursday, January 15, 2015

I'll Confess . . . and So Should You

I've often found it difficult to go to a priest for the sacrament of Confession. Pride, shame, embarrassment, despair, repeat offenses—all these can be obstacles to confessing sins.

But understanding Confession makes it a lot easier, and can even make a person desire Confession. Like cleaning a wound, the temporary discomfort is worthwhile after experiencing the healing joy, peace, and confidence in knowing Jesus has forgiven you through the priest.

Yes, it is through the priest that Jesus Himself forgives.

Jesus shares the power to forgive
The origins of Confession are found in John 20:19–23:
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

It is significant that this was Jesus' first interaction with His hand-chosen disciples (the apostles) after His resurrection—on the very same day. If it seems to you like He was establishing a means to distribute the forgiveness He had just obtained for us through His death and resurrection, you're right. He was. It continues today through the successors of those very apostles—that is, our Catholic bishops, and priests who are authorized to assist them.

Forgiveness initiates healing
Strictly speaking, however, forgiveness is not the end goal. Don't think our sins simply need forgiveness in a forensic sense, a legal acquittal of guilt. This acquittal is absolutely necessary, but there's more to it. Our objective is to not merely be declared clean, but to be clean—to be healed.

This is why the Church does not label Confession as a Sacrament of "Forgiveness," but a Sacrament of Healing. Our sins not only break laws, they injure our souls and our relationship with others and God. Confession, then, is not a quick Band-Aid fix, but a visit to Dr. Jesus, our great Physician. With every trip to the confessional, we tell the priest our symptoms, our ailments, our sins, and Jesus forgives us immediately, but He also initiates a healing process of grace for our wounds. And He strengthens us against future temptations.

God is a Father who judges, not a Judge who fathers
God is not a TV courtroom judge looking to put the smackdown on us when we break rules. While it is His fatherly role to judge, we see God primarily as our loving and merciful Father who wants us to grow in our familial life with him. He knew we would still fail, and fail often, after our initial conversion to Him, so He gave us the sacrament of Confession—not to beat us up, but to lift us up. It's like pulling a child back onto his feet when he falls down learning how to walk.

Don't consider your confession a mere laundry list of transgressions, but ways in which your relationship with God (and others) has been ruptured.

We are not alone
When we sin, it affects not only us but others, even when it's not readily apparent to us. Similarly, when we repent and confess our sins, it's not just a private matter between you and the priest, but with Jesus and the entirety of the heavenly host. Be encouraged!

After His parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus said, "Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:7).

After the parable of the Lost Coin, Jesus said, "Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (verse 10).

In Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son, after the son came home to confess his sins against his father, asking for mercy, the father shouts, "‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry" (verses 22–24).

Just do it
We should not be afraid to confess our sins in the confessional with these things in mind. Moreover, the priest is bound by a seal under strict penalty never to divulge or even make use of anything he learns through your confession. So what happens in the confessional stays in the confessional.

Be not afraid. If you are Catholic, go to Confession and spill your guts so Jesus can heal your soul.

If you're not Catholic, what are you waiting for? Contact your local priest and inquire about how to enter, or be reconciled to, the Church. Jesus obtained forgiveness for you, personally, 2000 years ago as we reckon time; you just have to knock on His door and pick it up. Our Lord is waiting for you.

Why I Don't Like Bible "Verses"

I grew up reading the old King James Version of the Bible. I've had many of them. At 41 years old, I still have one of my earliest Bibles from when I was in the first grade. The rich leather scent of its imitation-leather cover fills my head with memories of my early encounters with Holy Writ.

But it wasn't until I started reading the New King James Version (NKJV) in my early 20s that I enjoyed reading the Bible. Before that, I "studied" mostly in that I looked up Bible verses that were referenced in sermons or in literature in order to "prove" whether they said what the preacher or article said they said. I had certain key references I remembered, wrote down, and marked in my Bible to support the beliefs I had. But I didn't always just sit down and read large portions of Scripture straight through.

Here is my theory as to why, and I think it may apply to many others without their realizing it: The way the traditional KJV text is laid out, a line break is inserted after each verse, so that each verse begins a new line of text. (The same can be said of the Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible.)

This, combined with a culture of prooftexting by many Protestants and "Bible Christians," led me to view the Bible as a collection of "verses." I was actually taught by leaders in my church (before I was Catholic) that the Bible was like a giant jigsaw puzzle, that you have to assemble all the scattered verses together on a specific topic to understand the "truth." A little here and a little there, you know. Consequently, topical studies were commonplace.

In religious discussions or debates, it seemed people in my tradition ended up slinging Bible verses at their opponents, and they were met by return fire, so that it was raining fiery Scripture verses—and whoever launched the most and best verses came out the victor. That may be an exaggeration, but not by much.

At one point, I read an enlightening book by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart entitled "How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth" (as a Catholic, I disagree with certain of the writers' interpretations, but at the time, the book helped me tremendously to appreciate the art and science of biblical interpretation).

Alongside that book, reading the NKJV (and later, other versions, such as the NIV, RSV, and NAB) helped me to understand that most of Scripture is not a collection of phrases or "verses" to be culled out; rather, it is composed of individual books that follow a train of thought. That's why editors of modern translations group the text into logical paragraphs.


To me, reading paragraphed text makes it less tempting to engage in prooftexting—that is, to pick out a verse (usually out of context) to "prove" a particular interpretation of Scripture. Instead, it makes it easier to see a statement within its broader context within a paragraph, which can be understood within the context of surrounding paragraphs. When considering a verse within the writer's flow of logic, understanding comes much easier. That's why I prefer studying and reading entire books of the Bible rather than culling together scattered verses from all over to make them fit the picture you think the jigsaw puzzle reveals—because, with exceptions such as the Book of Proverbs, the individual books were written with a logical progression of thoughts, in linear fashion—not as a series of standalone verses. We should read them as they were intended to be read.

Otherwise, you get silly interpretations such as this (which I once held):

To help avoid a prooftexter's mentality, there are many who prefer single-column Bibles (shown above) rather than the more traditional two-column layouts. Right now, I still like two columns for easier reading, but I don't think I am stuck on that opinion. I can understand the attraction to single-column text. After all, nearly all other books we read are shown in a single column of text.

Is the Rosary a "Vain Repetition"?

“God is not interested in chants, endlessly repeated phrases, or the superstitious fingering of beads,” writes Fred Coulter, president of the Christian Biblical Church of God, in his book Lord, What Should I Do? Having already mentioned the Rosary, he continues, “Such methods are mechanical and have nothing to do with true biblical prayer. In fact, ritual prayers are evidence that we are just too busy to really pray from our hearts.

“The truth is that God does not want us to pray in any of these ways.” (p. 84).

To support his assertions, Coulter then quotes Jesus who says, “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they think that by multiplying their words they shall be heard. Now then, do not be like them; for your Father knows what things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:5–8).

Coulter continues by recounting the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18), who “called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, ‘O Baal, hear us.’ But there was no voice, nor any who answered” (verse 26).

“This account...,” says Coulter, shows that “we need not pray like the heathen” (p. 86).

Is it reasonable to liken Christian prayers, such as a 15-minute Rosary, to the prayers of the prophets of Baal? Should Catholics worry that it is wrong to pray the Rosary—or any other prayer that is repeated or involves repetition?

Absolutely not—not if you’re a Bible-believing Catholic. Coulter understands neither the Rosary nor Scripture.

First, let’s start by agreeing that everything Jesus says is true. There is never, ever a reason to argue with Him. He is Truth itself. But then let’s see whether Coulter is in fact “believing His Bible” or imposing a popular Protestant spin on the words of our Lord.

Back to what Jesus actually said. Does He condemn the prayer of repetition? By no means. Rather, He condemns “vain repetition.”

Consider Jesus’ own example. He prayed in the garden that “this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). He prayed it a second time. Then He “prayed a third time, saying the same words” (verse 44). Not just the same intention, but the “same words.”

The Lord also accepts worship from heavenly creatures—whom Coulter agrees are sinless—as they “rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). Reciting the Rosary is definitely less repetitive than the prayer of angels.

Coulter says the “keys for truly sincere prayer that God will hear and answer are contained in the Bible, not in the precepts, superstitions, traditions or inventions of men” (p. 84). And, though he makes disparaging reference to “pre-written prayers,” he also says to “[u]tilize the book of Psalms in your prayers, as many of them are actually prayers. Read them aloud to God, adding your own thoughts or comments” (p. 92). Good. Catholics do that every day. I wonder: Does Coulter ever pray Psalm 136?

Read it aloud to hear its repetitiveness. In it, the phrase “for his mercy endureth for ever” is repeated 26 times in each of its 26 short verses!

The truth is that, in itself, nothing is wrong with repetition. It can serve to emphasize a prayerful thought, or to express that which is beyond the grasp to find other adequate forms of expression.

The Catholic Church, however, always faithful to our Lord’s teaching, does warn against “vain repetition,” even with regard to the Rosary. Listen to Pope John Paul II in his 2002 encyclical on the Rosary as he quotes Pope Paul VI:

Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas, in violation of the admonition of Christ: ‘In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard for their many words’ (Mt 6:7). By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord’s life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord. In this way the unfathomable riches of these mysteries are disclosed.
Properly prayed, the Rosary encourages the pray-er to meditate on the various scenes and truths of the gospel, while simultaneously voicing the prayer Jesus taught us (the "Our Father," or "Lord's Prayer"—Matthew 6:9–15) and the words of Elizabeth and the angel Gabriel to Mary, the mother of Jesus (included in the "Hail Mary"—Luke 1:28,42). Just as Mary encountered the great mysteries of the gospel and "kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19; cf. 1:29; 2:51), so do we contemplate the mysteries of Christ alongside her.

Rather than a prayer that shows we "are just too busy to really pray from our hearts," it is a prayer designed to pray from our hearts. It's a meditation on the gospel.

So never let so-called “Bible Christians” cast doubt on Catholic teachings or approved devotions, because, after 2000 years, the Catholic Church has never ceased being the preeminent “Bible Church”: the Church that Jesus built.

(To learn how to pray the Rosary, download this one-page PDF from Rosary Army).

Monday, January 12, 2015

Come Home

I want everyone, even you, to be Catholic.

It doesn't matter whether you have same-sex attraction, whether you aborted your baby or someone else's, whether you're a non-Catholic Christian, a Jehovah's Witness or Mormon, an anti-Catholic, an agnostic, an atheist, or just an all-around jerk—as long as you are human, you bear God's image, and I want you to be Catholic. Jesus loves you, and He wants you to be Catholic, too, because 2000 years ago He built His Church so that you could be a part of His Body. It is through His Church that you encounter Jesus up close and personal, allowing you to have a true relationship with your Savior and Father in heaven through the Holy Spirit.

If you were baptized in any Christian denomination, you are already connected to the Church of Jesus, but unless you are Catholic, you are not yet fully reconciled with the Church—and you are missing out.

Come home, and see the Lord—body, blood, soul, and divinity—in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Come home, and hear the voice of Jesus absolving you of your sins—no matter how bad they are, no matter how often you've committed them, no matter how broken you feel—in the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession).

Come home, and don't think you have to reinvent the wheel of Christian theology. Just as the Church made an authoritative judgment in her Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) about whether Gentiles need to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses, so she has continued to proclaim the truth of Christianity to this day. And truth does not change. The Catholic Church does not restore truth; she preserves it. And you can count on it.

If you are not a practicing Catholic, check out the Catholics Come Home Web site and see what you've been missing. Read some conversion stories. Listen to or view EWTN on TV or online. If you are already Christian, be sure to explore Scott Hahn's excellent biblical studies and presentations at And if you need to be argued into the Faith, that's fine—visit Catholic Answers.

The most valuable advice I can give is to obtain a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If you just can't wait (or can't afford it), you can read a searchable version online.

I'm a convert myself, and on this blog I will post my personal comments - - Catholic comments - -  as I navigate our darkened world by the light of Jesus. 

Is Masturbation a "Gift of God"?

Over the years, I've read and enjoyed a couple of old books by Christian writer and preacher, Charlie Shedd (namely, Letters to Philip and Letters to Karen), but I am very disappointed with one I've come across here at the house entitled The Stork Is Dead, written in 1968 for teenagers about sex. Mrs. Billy Graham wrote a blurb for it, saying, "Thank God for a book that tells it like it is about sex as God meant it to be."

Yet in the book he has a chapter called "Masturbation - - Gift of God," in which he explains how to evaluate whether your fantasies are okay, how masturbation "can be an important part, a very personal, strengthening part of your self-identity," that "teenage masturbation is preferable to teenage Intercourse," that "you will need some release," that "masturbation is a gift of God," that you should "thank God for it and use it as a blessing."

This unenlightened, dangerous, and sinful advice quite naturally leads to his next chapter, "Doing Wrong the Right Way," in which he advises teens who choose to fornicate with each other to "go somewhere. And the place I recommend is right down to the drugstore. For safety's sake, go together! I believe in double protection for unmarried teenagers. That means you both use something." He includes a thank-you letter from just such a young unmarried couple who took his advice.

I understand well, as we all do, how difficult it can be to remain pure in our over-sexualized culture. But the illuminating truth about sexuality needs to be taught, exemplified, and respected. Christians do us no favors by compromising. Acceptance of masturbation leads to all kinds of further confusion, misunderstandings, and deviancy - - and heartache, broken spirits, and broken homes.

The truth is that the sexual act belongs in the exclusive context of marriage between a man and a woman, who are responsible for caring for any children that may spring forth from their union. The act serves to both unite the married couple and say yes to the possibility of new life. It's for bonding and babies, love and life. If this natural purpose is frustrated or severed by masturbation, fantasies and fetishes, pornography, prostitution, fornication, artificial contraception, abortion, hooking up, fellatio for its own sake, homosexual or polygamous "marriage," pedophilia, bestiality, incest, etc., or any other such perversion of what is clearly natural and intended by God according to how our bodies and souls have been made, then trouble will ensue for us individually and for our culture.

Just as an automobile needs to be operated according to its nature in order to work properly, so it is with our own selves, as composite beings of body and soul. We have to operate according to our design or we will crash and burn.

This is not to say that we have no hope if we are guilty of some or all of these sins. Our Lord Jesus is faithful to forgive our sins and save us from them if we will just repent and confess them. Not only will He forgive us and thereby declare us clean, He will - - if we let Him - - give us the grace we need to actually be clean. It is never too late on this side of the grave to start living the pure life required of us. And any purity we obtain is credited to His work.

There is plenty of other junk in the Charlie Shedd book. As we sort through all the excess books in our possession, this one will skip the Goodwill box and go straight to the trash bin, where trash belongs.