Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ Category

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

August 31, 2009

Within our Catholic Faith, we have many Traditions.  Fundamentalist Protestants will oftentimes point to today’s Gospel and claim that it condemns the Catholic Church because at first glance it seems to condemn tradition.  Jesus, in today’s Gospel condemns the Pharisees saying: “You hypocrites . . . You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

Another text that is often pointed to, in order to argue against Tradition, is Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians where he warns his audience against false reasoning according to “human tradition.”  Reading these two texts out of context may give one the idea that Scripture condemns all tradition.

These passages of Sacred Scripture have to be understood within their proper perspective and within the larger context of all of Sacred Scripture.  In condemning erroneous human traditions, neither Jesus nor Saint Paul is condemning Apostolic Traditions; quite the contrary is true if we look at the context of the rest of the New Testament: Jesus orally entrusted the deposit of divine Truths to the Apostles and commanded them to hand those Truths on.  We get the word “tradition” in English from the Latin: “traditio,” which means: “to hand on.”

Right before His Ascension, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead the Apostles into all Truth and He instructed the Apostles to go out to the whole world, baptizing all nations and teaching all that He had commanded them.  Jesus never gave the Apostles the command to write anything down.  It wasn’t until later that the New Testament authors began to write; and it wasn’t until much later that the list of the Books of the Bible was actually agreed upon: the books in the Bible were not the only Christian writings of the day.  Nowhere in any of the original texts of the various books of the Bible is there a list of all the books that are supposed to be in the Bible.  It wasn’t until the fourth century that the Canon (or the approved list of Books in the Bible) was agreed upon.  The only thing that the early Church had was Tradition: some of it was oral tradition, some of it was written in various Letters.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there are several places in the Bible that actually command the following of Apostolic Traditions.  Saint Paul commends the Corinthians for following apostolic traditions in his First Letter to the Corinthians.  (cf. 1 Cor 11:2)  “I praise you,” Saint Paul writes, “because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you.”  When Saint Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he commanded them: “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.”

The reason that Jesus condemned the Pharisees in today’s Gospel was not so much that they kept human tradition; but rather because they held on to human traditions and disregarded God’s commandments.  A good example of what Jesus is talking about here is demonstrated in another Gospel passage, where Jesus condemned some of the Pharisees because they used these human traditions as an excuse not to care for their elderly parents.  The Pharisees were neglecting the Fourth Commandment to honor father and mother, one of the 10 Commandments directly revealed by God through Moses, and they used a tradition as an excuse to justify breaking this Commandment.

Jesus continues in today’s Gospel: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”  What Jesus is really teaching the crowds is that all the outward religious practices in the world do little good if the heart is not converted.  Jesus wants us to give Him our hearts.

Saint James, in our Second Reading this morning says it like this: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”  The Word of God, and the Traditions that we hold need to have an effect on our lives and on our hearts.  It is good for us to come to Church on Sunday, but Sunday Mass should not be something that only affects us for one hour a week.  What we do here on Sunday should affect our entire week it should affect our entire lives.  Don’t check your faith at the door of the Church as you walk out.  You receive the Living God in Holy Communion; and that union with the Lord should transform your hearts.  We are supposed to take the grace that we receive from the Lord and let it shine before the whole world.  I’m not saying that everyone has to leave here and go get on a soapbox and preach to anyone who will listen.  I am saying that others should be able to tell that we are Christians, just by the way that we interact with them: our lives should preach louder than any words we could ever use.

Let us try to conform our hearts ever more completely to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; and let us ask the Lord to help us to worship Him with all our hearts: Lord Jesus, help us to love you above all things; help us to give our hearts entirely to You, as you give Yourself completely to us in the Holy Eucharist.  Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine.  Amen.

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

August 25, 2009

“Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’”  That is first line of our Gospel today.  The line sort of comes out of nowhere: which saying is too hard?  Over the past four weekends we have been hearing the sixth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel proclaimed at Mass.  We have to look back to the Gospel of the past few weeks to put today’s Gospel into context.

Jesus has just been telling the crowds that He is the bread come down from Heaven.  He has told His disciples that He will give them His own flesh and blood as food and drink.  This week we hear the response of the crowd: they murmur; they complain: “this saying is hard; who can accept it?”

For almost 1600 years, there was only one manner in which this Scripture passage was understood: it was understood literally.  The Catholic Church, for two thousand years has held and taught that when Jesus Christ told His disciples that He was going to give them His flesh to eat and His blood to drink, He meant it.  Further, we hold that Jesus fulfilled this promise at the Last Supper, and He continues to fulfill the promise to give us Himself as food in the Eucharist, each and every time we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

In the sixteenth century, those who broke away from the Church began to question the reality of Jesus’ presence in the Holy Eucharist.  The so-called Protestant reformers again grumbled at this hard saying: How could Jesus give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink?  From the time of Jesus and the Apostles, the literal understanding of John chapter six has always been held by the Catholic Church; after the “Reformation”, several interpretations of Jesus’ words sprung up almost immediately.  Today, there are dozens of interpretations of what Jesus meant when He took the bread and said “This is my body.”  Some Protestants think that He only meant it figuratively, as though Jesus were using some kind of metaphor or analogy.  Some Protestants believe that Holy Communion is only some kind of symbol of Jesus’ presence.  There are many different theories held by Protestants, concerning what Jesus meant when He indicated that His flesh was true food.

The proof that Jesus did not intend this saying figuratively is today’s Gospel: the sixth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel.  Jesus said that He is the bread come down from Heaven.  The crowd doubted.  He said it again, and again, and again: each time even more forceful than the previous time: “I am the bread of life”; “I am the living bread”; “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”; “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

Jesus knew that the crowd was murmuring; He knew that they were having a difficult time accepting what He was saying.  He didn’t back-peddle or soften this teaching in any way.  He reasserted it again and again.  In seven verses of this chapter of the Gospel, Jesus repeated the same teaching, until the crowd could bear it no more.  They took Him literally, and they refused to believe.  They walked away.  This teaching was just too difficult for them to accept.  “As a result of this [teaching],” we hear in today’s Gospel, “many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him.

If the crowd understood Him to be speaking some sort of parable, they would not have left Jesus.  They left, because they took these words of Jesus literally.  If Jesus had only been speaking figuratively or symbolically, why did He let His disciples walk away?  If He were merely talking about a symbol, why didn’t He stop them from leaving Him?  If by “eating His flesh” He only meant somehow that you had to “believe in Him” as Protestants hold, then why wouldn’t He have stopped them?  Why wouldn’t He have said: “No, wait.  You’ve got it all wrong.  I didn’t mean ‘eat my flesh and drink my blood’ literally.  I am using a metaphor.  It’s just a sign; it’s just a reminder of my presence among you.”  No.  Instead of stopping His disciples from leaving, He let them go.  Not only did He allow the disciples walk away: He turned also to the twelve Apostles (those who had been with Him from the very beginning of His ministry; those who constantly accompanied Him) and He asked them if they would leave Him also.  Jesus is so insistent on this “hard saying” that He allowed those who followed Him to leave if they were unwilling to accept it.  He is even willing to lose all the Apostles.  But Saint Peter, the Rock upon which the Lord said that He would build His Church, spoke up: “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  In other words, Saint Peter is saying: “I don’t understand how this teaching can be true, but if you say it, it must be true.”  The Apostles witnessed all the miracles that Jesus had performed.  They had faith, and that faith kept them close to the Lord, even when He taught things that were difficult to understand.

If ever you are challenged by Protestants about your belief in the Eucharist point them to this passage.  They will raise many objections, but keep asking the question: “Why did Jesus allow them to leave?”  The passage only makes sense if Jesus meant what He said literally.

Let us also remember to always be grateful for the great gift that we have in our Catholic Faith and in the Holy Eucharist: Lord Jesus, we thank you for the gift of our Faith; we thank you for giving Yourself to us in Holy Communion.  Lord, help us to believe ever more fully and love You ever more deeply; help us to love others as ourselves for love of You.  Amen.

August 23rd

August 25, 2009

This is the fifth Sunday in a row on which we have heard the sixth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel proclaimed at Mass.  As you already know, this chapter contains what is known as the “Bread of Life” discourse.

In this discourse, Our Lord reveals what He will fulfill at the Last Supper, on Calvary and ultimately in the Eucharist: He gives His flesh to us as food and His blood as drink.

The Catholic Faith is the only Church that takes Our Lord’s words literally.  Every Christian denomination tries to soften or water-down those words of Our Lord.

Even in Our Lord’s own day those words (“My flesh is true food”) caused scandal: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Most Protestant denominations take the Lord’s words in John chapter six to be figurative or only symbolic.  This is clearly NOT the way that the Lord meant them, and today’s Gospel reading is the proof.

Our Lord says several times that He IS the Bread come from Heaven and that unless we eat His body and drink His blood we will not have life.  The crowd takes Jesus’ words literally and they find His teaching to be too difficult to accept.  If Jesus was only speaking figuratively, then He should have corrected their misunderstanding when they began to grumble and murmur at His teaching.  Not only does He not correct them, He continues to say the same thing in even stronger language.

As a result on His insistence that His flesh is true food, some of His own disciples “returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him.”  If He were only using a metaphor, why wouldn’t He stop the disciples from leaving?  Why wouldn’t He say: “Wait, you misunderstood me; I wasn’t speaking literally.”  He didn’t stop the ones who wanted to leave; instead He let them go and asked the Apostles if they, too, would leave.

For fifteen hundred years (until the Protestant “Reformation”) there was only one way to understand what Jesus did at the Last Supper: it was the fulfillment of what He taught in John’s sixth chapter.  The Catholic Church continues to faithfully teach this Truth, which was taught by Christ and handed on through the Apostles.

God bless,

Father White

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

August 25, 2009

I am sure that we all know fallen away Catholics.  Every single one of us probably knows someone who has quit practicing his or her faith: whether it is a friend or a family member.  Many of you have likely heard the excuse: “I can worship God just as well at home.  I don’t need to go to Church.”

There is an element of truth in those statements.  God is everywhere.  We can pray to Him no matter where we are and He does hear us.  That being said, those who say those types of things cannot possibly understand what happens at Mass.  They do not realize the great gift that God wants to give to them in the Holy Eucharist.  If they did, they would never say that they don’t need to go to Church.

When one doesn’t understand the Catholic Faith, it can seem like a list of rules: “Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal; go to Church on Sunday, etc.”  When one isn’t practicing the Faith, the rules can feel like a cage: restricting what one can do and cannot do.  God does not give rules to restrict us; He loves us.  He wants us to be happy and He knows what will make us happy and He knows what will make us miserable.  He created us.  He knows how He made us and He knows best how to fulfill us.  Through the Church we have rules, but these rules aren’t to restrict or control us; they are to help us grow closer to God and avoid what draws us away from Him.  Yes, the Church asks us to keep holy the Lord’s Day, but when we understand what the Mass is, and all the graces available to us through it, why would we willingly stay away?  We wouldn’t.

Next time you hear someone say that they don’t need to go to Church, ask them if they understand what they are missing by not going to Mass.  Mass is not just some obligation: Mass is an opportunity for an intimate encounter with Almighty God.  Jesus, Who Is God, says in today’s Gospel: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”  Mass should not be a miserable experience I endure because I have to.  It is meant to connect us to God in a far more exalted way than we can attain to on our own.

In next week’s Gospel, we will hear about how the Israelites misunderstand what Jesus is saying when He talks about the “bread of life”: they are looking for earthly food that will fill their stomachs, but Jesus wants to do more for them than just give them earthly food; He wants to satisfy their souls.  Our hearts were made for God.  Nothing but God can ever satisfy us: “Our hearts are restless,” Saint Augustine says, “until they rest in God.”  All the money and possessions in the world will never make us happy; the only thing that will ever fulfill us is belonging entirely to Jesus Christ.  Many people have a misconception of the Saints.  There is often a stereotype that the Saints were unhappy people.  The truth is just the opposite.  The Saints are the only people who were ever truly happy and content.

There is a spiritual hunger that every single human being experiences.  Some people think that they are unhappy because they are not married; some people think that they are not happy because they are married.  Some think that they would be happy if they had the right job or more money or a bigger house.  The desires of our hearts are infinite; actually, our hearts desire the Infinite.  It is not that if we have more, we will be happy; our hearts actually desire God, Who Is Infinite.  Oftentimes people try to substitute things for God, thinking that material things will fulfill them.  This type of desire is precisely the hunger and thirst that Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel.  We all desire happiness.  We all have restless hearts, which ultimately are seeking a deeper union with the Lord; whether we realize that is what we are thirsting for or not is another question.  What Jesus is really saying, when He says that He is the bread of life is: “Without me, you will never be happy.”

We were made in the image and likeness of God, and God is love.  We were made for love.  No one loves you as much as God loves you.  He wants to satisfy your hearts.  He wants you to love Him more than you love anything else in this world.  He wants to communicate Himself to you and He does just that in Holy Communion.  In the Eucharist, we receive Jesus Christ whole and entire: body, blood, soul and divinity.

Yes, we can pray anywhere and everywhere, but only in Holy Communion can we be so perfectly united to our God.  At Mass, the sacrifice that Our Lord Jesus made of Himself upon Calvary is re-presented to the Father.  The Mass is the most perfect prayer that can be offered, because it is the offering that the Son made of Himself to the Father on behalf of all of us.  There cannot be a more pleasing prayer.

Besides participating in the most efficacious prayer possible, we are also given the greatest gift that the Father could possibly give: the gift of His only Begotten Son.  St. Augustine once said of the Eucharist that “Although God is all-powerful, He is unable to give more; though supremely wise, He knows not how to give more; though vastly rich, He has not more to give.”  How could someone be aware of this great gift that God wants to bestow and say: “I don’t need that.  I’ll just say some prayers at home.  It’s just as good”?

It is important to pray for those who have left the practice of their Faith.  Let us keep them in prayer and also ask the Lord to enlighten our minds and our hearts, that we may ever more fully appreciate the great gift of the Mass.

Lord Jesus, we entrust to Your care all those who have fallen away from the practice of the Faith and from Your Church; we ask You to inspire them to come home.  Lord, help us to ever more deeply appreciate the great gift that You give to us at Mass: the gift of Yourself.  Amen.