Tag Archive: faith


 

 

 

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This weekend was powerful. Yes, that is the word to describe it: powerful. This is the third year in a row where I attended a young women’s retreat with the campus ministry of St Augustine, sponsored by the Universities of Miami and Gainsville, FL. Though I’m long past being a college student, these retreats have been so meaningful, revealing things about God and myself.

Last year was bitter. Bitterness mixed with sweetness in the three days I described as “like holy week” a dismal crucifixion of myself leading to resurrection. This year, praise God, was sweetness, and as I said, power. The goal of this retreat was first, listen to God, be open to his call. This is especially important for my vocational discernment, which has had its fair share of ups and downs, mostly due to my own stubbornness. It seems that even when God puts a good, beautiful thing in front of me, I deny it in my own pride. And this hurts Him more than anything. With this retreat, I vowed no more. No more saying I was too unworthy or not strong enough. We aren’t called because we are worthy or because we can do it. If so, the world would be filled with careless priests, nuns, monks and married couples who are very strong and very worthy but horrible at what they do. There is a certain power in weakness, in saying “No, God I can’t do it but I trust you anyway.”

The second goal of the retreat was to examine my spiritual motherhood of priests. How well have I been praying for the ones God entrusted to me? Have I served their needs selflessly- or used ulterior motives? Unfortunately, along with the selflessness, those selfish motives can trail behind, the awful thought of “Aren’t I so wonderful for doing this?” The first morning reflection coincidentally (or not) was on Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac. I decided to take my spiritual sons and offer them back to God, asking him to even remove them from my care-if it pleased him. The best way we can honor what God gives us is to offer it back to Him.

The retreat had a huge overarching theme that hit me over the head: Behold the Lamb of God. It started at Mass. As the priest lifted up the broken host and chalice, saying “Behold the Lamb of God” I looked into his eyes. Focused on the Eucharistic Lord held up before him, there was longing, anticipation, and excitement. My heart began to pound as I imagine the priest’s excitement. It wasn’t until the second Mass that God led me to understand. This anticipation was Christ’s own anticipation, of communing with us, becoming one with his bride. More specifically, it’s how he feels about me. At last, I could tangibly see and feel the love of God, taste and see the goodness of the Lord and after 6 years in this journey, it led me back to where I began, in the Eucharistic presence.

After the Mass, I drew a picture of what Jesus had conveyed to me. The Ecce Agnus Dei with streams of water pouring out. The book of Revelation (ch 21 and 22) speaks of a spring of water, the water of life, flowing from the throne of God and from the Lamb. In the power of the Mass, the waters of life are opened and pour out upon all creation. We, who are thirsting for God, for life, happiness and meaning, come and drink. It is the only thing that will satisfy us, the only thing for which we are truly made: A glimpse at the face of God. This powerful message is what propels us towards a new way of life and being.

Mixed into the passages about the streams of water in revelation, is profoundly nuptial imagery. At that time, the new Jerusalem is shown to St John, beautiful as a bride bedecked in jewels, free of all stain, lovely to behold! Wherever we hear “behold the Lamb” we should also hear “behold the bride”. Jesus is not only the sacrificial lamb who takes away our sins, he is the Bridegroom who thirsts for us. The great thirst we feel in times of desolation is but a taste of the thirst God has for us. We almost are brought to feel His own passion and thus, it’s in those times, we are conformed to His heart in a special way. The anticipation of Jesus before we receive communion is the same anticipation a bridegroom feels before the moment of the wedding. If we understood how deeply Jesus longed to be in our hearts, we would faint from love! His love for us is unquenchable. He will go to the ends of the earth, through unspeakable torments then to hell and back for us. He did it once before…

 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”

And let everyone who is thirsty come.

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

–          Revelation 22:17

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It has been brutal. For the past year and a half, a struggle ensued for my mind and soul. Constant spiritual warfare wore me down to the point where, on most days, I could barely hold up my head. Going to Mass became a chore. Something was seriously wrong within my soul. All this time, it seemed God was distant. Watching me, yes, but with his back turned the other way. I wandered in the desert like the weeping Israelites, praying and hoping for the streams of life.

During the worst times, I could barely pray. Nothing gave me the joy and consolation I formerly felt. Even throughout Mass, everything remained numb, dead inside. Seeing Jesus in the priest’s hands: the solution to all my ills, I begged Him for deliverance, remembering in my mind the most-dreary verse of Psalm 88: “Friend and neighbor you have taken away, my one companion is darkness.” What the melancholy King David sang thousands of years ago, I felt in my heart this day.  Asking God for His grace, I decided to snub the devil by taking up even more prayer.

Now was not the time to let up. It was time for heavy artillery. Eucharistic adoration. If the local parish didn’t have exposition, I’d go into the church, before the silent tabernacle and voice my complaints and regretfully, not enough thanksgivings. Adoring the sacred host, the Real presence of the Lord is a remedy of peace, a soothing balm on the wounded soul. When you have one foot in the grave, in front of the tabernacle is where you need to be.

Another weapon: The Divine Office. A very ancient and powerful prayer, using the Scriptures, prayed in union with the entire church. It ensures the name of God be blessed at every hour… and the devil hates that! You don’t need to pray all five in a day as monks do. Start with Vespers or Evening prayer, which is easiest. Work your way up. Try chanting, in monotone or with accompaniment. As St Augustine advises: “He who sings prays twice.”

The spirits of despair and anger had encompassed me. There seemed no place to run. Last night, I struggled through my rosary, feeling suffocated by the evil and sin which weighed down heavy. Feelings of worthlessness, weariness and stress hung over my brow. It is no consequence that during the darkest times, Mary came to me, a quiet and serene presence. There is such power in the Mother of Christ, Our Perpetual Help. She crushes the serpent’s head. Wherever a public rosary was offered, I’d try best to make it.

But I am here to proclaim that God does wondrous things, even when we’re on the brink of giving up. We are always ready to give up, but Our Lord, He never gives up on us. Frayed, at the very end of my rope, I attended the rosary and adoration service at a nearby parish in Winter Haven Florida. The priest there is known to be very nice. He once heard my confession on the spot. I asked him before the service if he had time but he was understandably busy. After the service, I approached him and told him about this spiritual warfare I’d been going through, asking for his prayers. Even before we spoke, he could tell something was up. I glanced away, explaining that I’ve been thrown into so much confusion that I wasn’t even sure if I committed sins or not. He offered to bless and then absolve me!!

Taken totally by surprise, I knelt down before him, my eyes on the white stole hanging from beneath his robes. The power to forgive sins. Next to the voice of your husband, saying “I love you,” there is no better sound than a priests voice saying “I absolve you.” To me, it’s Jesus saying “I love you.” Totally beside myself with gratitude, I kissed the priest’s stole, thanked him profusely and skipped out of the church like a giddy fool.

Finally, I knew what it felt like to be that one leper, who showing himself to the priest, found he was completely healed. My heart racing, my face aglow, I ran and told everyone nearby of God’s goodness, of the healing power Jesus Christ gives through His “other Christ’s”, how God always comes through when we least expect it, how His love endures even in darkness. And that is why I wrote this for you today.

Credo

What is this Catholic faith of ours? What does it mean to be Catholic? It is history, beauty and majesty. It is a love story between God and man. It is not the mundane entertainment of the world nor is it some abstract concept of our intellect. It is a real covenant relationship, a way of life lived to the fullest. It isn’t the way of death, some sterile, modern standard that is pressed upon us day in and day out, no it is life- defying death. Jesus spoke of this saying:

“I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” -John 10:10.

Too many people look at our faith as a set of rules and doctrines. They don’t realize that these rules and doctrines are actually a deposit of rich treasure, lovingly passed down by the apostles, and those saints and martyrs before us, originating from Christ’s undying love for us. Our doctrines and expressions are a gift, a sweet yoke. Not like the yoke of the world which burdens and destroys us. We must cast that yoke off and leave it behind. Then we can truly understand the Church’s wisdom, which is as a fount from heaven.

We worship in a liturgy because creation is liturgy, love is a liturgy. It is an act of giving and receiving and then giving again. It is speaking and being spoken to. God has always spoken to us in the law of gift. Moved by love, He spoke and all things in the universe were made and He pronounced them good. Each person, created in God’s image is a gift to be given. Christ offers us the gift of His very flesh and blood. He makes His life our own and we, enraptured by this act of love, can do nothing but adore and cry out “Amen!!”

Catholicism is a wedding, lasting throughout the ages. It is a lush garden where souls are planted and tended, where men become saints. God’s only son, the loving Bridegroom leapt down from heaven and became flesh to rescue us, to deliver us from sin and death. He gave all he had, his very life, for us. When water and blood poured from the side of the crucified Christ, a bride was taken and many sons and daughters were born anew from this union. We become God’s own sons and daughters. Because of this new identity:

“The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” –Psalm 92-12

In this family of the Catholic Church, we have a foretaste of our promised inheritance. As a wedding gift, He bestowed the Holy Ghost, the spirit of God, so that in a spirit of hope, charity and self-sacrifice, we may show others this Kingdom of God. The husband and wife reveal God’s covenant with man, made from the beginning. The priest’s celibacy shows his mystical marriage with the Church, the chosen Bride. Nothing like this has ever happened! Through the sacraments, which are seven jewels of great price, God makes us partakers in His Divine Life. Everything that belongs to God now belongs to His people.

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” – Song of Solomon 6:3

What we see in the visible Church points to a wondrous, unseen reality. Our communion here on earth is united to a greater communion in heaven, those who have fought and loved before us. Out of their sacrifices, modeled after the One Sacrifice of Christ, comes our power and strength. We are weak and have nothing in this world for our treasure is elsewhere.

The Catholic faith proclaims the forgiveness of sins, that when Jesus climbed up on that rugged cross, He undid the sin of Adam and reopened the gates of paradise. And how immense is God’s love that when a priest says “I absolve you from your sins” that through the blood of Christ, we are washed clean. Our faith is one that believes second chances are possible!

“Love covers a multitude of sins” – 1 Peter 4:8

This is our faith, why add or take anything away from it? Why not love and cherish it as Christ loved and cherished us? Catholicism is the pure water in which we have been reborn. It is the Precious Blood we drink. It is God’s Holy Spirit moving and breathing within us. It is the anticipation of life and resurrection and of every good thing in the world to come.

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Sooner or later, every Catholic “goth” chick will pick up devotion to the Mother of Sorrows. Perfect right? While I wrote some poetry about Our Lady at Calvary, weeping over the crucified Christ, early on in my spiritual journey, it wasn’t until recently that a true devotion emerged. If you venture to read my earlier post “The Mother of a Priest” (June/17/2013), you will learn how a friend’s crisis urged me to cling closely to Our Lady, especially in her sufferings. Now, my love can do nothing but continue and grow for Our Lord’s dear mother as she stood by His side- even at the hour of His bloody execution. How tearful and resolute, she watched her priestly son offer sacrifice!

I am not a mother, nor have I ever been, so it wouldn’t be accurate to say I know the feeling of losing a child. Nor can I imagine the torment of it. However, I have seen things and people that I deeply loved be destroyed, get violently taken from me. I have seen close friends and family suffer. I know that feeling, watching, just wishing you could do something…anything- to take their pain away. I know well this powerlessness, this bleeding compassion, such grave heart-ache.  And if there isn’t some kind of suffering right before me, I can imagine it.

I can’t decide which was more agonizing for our Blessed Mother, seeing the cruel torments inflicted on her son or knowing He so passionately loved these tormentors. That same mankind who, blind to grace, lacking love for God and utterly ungrateful, actually took enjoyment at the victim’s suffering. “He has come to save you, to give you eternal life, to heal you, to deliver you from your demons,” she must have thought, “and here you spit and mock him!” Certainly she may have cried unto the crowd: “Yes, your hatred crushes me- yet even moreso His love!”

This was the High Priest of the New Covenant. Mary clad him in the fair vestments of human flesh. Her lullabies were hymns. She offered the first-fruits of her maternity: warmth and milk to His infancy. Patience and wisdom in tender childhood. Rightfully would a priest lament, should his sacred offering be torn from his hands and desecrated or his holy vessel cast upon the ground.  Would he not rend his garments at seeing the temple destroyed? How much more did Mary lament seeing the immaculate Lamb of God stripped, broken, abused and rejected! How sharply she mourned, seeing the precious temple, born from her womb, destroyed! That men crucified His Only Son was such blasphemy that God Almighty rent the skies in two, snuffed out the sun and draped Calvary in darkness.

Mary spent her whole life preparing that offering, dressing him in garments of virtue, perfuming him with goodly faithfulness. Yet surely, did she know?

Yes, she reckoned the words of Simeon: “This child is set for the fall, as a sign of contradiction and a sword your own heart shall pierce.” She knew it, expected the day, the hour when her dearest son would appear as Messiah- and subsequently fall to dismay. Yet nothing could prepare for the flowing blood, the wounds and tears more bitter than gall. Her pondering heart could not bear the sentence, the scourging, the crown of spines pressed down, the rough, wooden cross and the cold nails. Thus, like Abel, she surrendered her choicest lamb to the cruel altar. Here, commenced the world’s most heart-wrenching liturgy. When Jesus cried out “My God, why hast thou forsaken,” Mary remembered the angel’s greeting “The Lord is with thee.” When her precious son, at last, bowed His head and said “Consummatum est”, she raised her arms, having given everything, and answered: “Fiat.”

But the most beautiful thing about Mary’s sorrow was that it came with true victory. No temporary grief over some earthly loss, her tears conquered evil; they erased the sinful pride of Eve and consecrated womanhood forever. They also consecrated manhood- for at Calvary, Mary showed herself mother to all who would call themselves disciples of Christ. Given the good water of such perfect tears, the bloody cross became a tree of life. At this altar, John the Beloved, made the first act of ministerial priesthood. Taking Jesus’s dead, broken body from the gruesome wood, he laid it like a precious host in Mary’s hands.  There, she also showed herself the mother of all priests.

Words cannot describe what an epic mother Mary was. It is with good reason that Scripture describes in few words her espousal to God. Her betrothal sealed in tears and blood; she emerges as the joyful daughter of Zion, the desired beauty of ages. Christ wore a ring of thorns and she, the wedding-band of blackest sorrow. In a heavenly place no longer sorrowful, Mary still desires we recall and venerate her sorrow, offered alongside the Savior’s passion. The poor, virgin-girl from Nazareth has left us with a resounding declaration that all human weakness can be sanctified, united to His suffering. Her example gives strength to Christians everywhere.

By her great pain, Mary stood as advocate of those in pain, bringing forth her Son’s healing balm. By wretchedness, Mary became a refuge of sinners; ever-beseeching executioners lay down their wicked instruments and turn to God. She cleansed Calvary’s hill with tears, saying to the dust: “From this garden, man will be created again.”

A warrior in her feminine way, Mary Most-Sorrowful drew that sword from her own heart and handed it to Christ so He may at last slay the Serpent! How the black rosebud, bowing her head, bloomed forth the white lily! Weeping, did Mother Mary bury her most-precious wheat and rejoicing, she carried back the Easter sheave.

 

So heartily, I end:

Virgin Most-Sorrowful,

Remove from us the dark veil of sin

so we may greet your Son’s dawning light.

O Widow Un-widowed,

Keep vigil when we lack strength.

Mother of Mercy,

Hold your silver lamp against the night.

O Moon,

Shine upon our graves, guide in death’s grim hour

and hush the avenging angel.

Mother Most-Sorrowful,

Black Rose of Calvary,

pray for us.

mother of priests

 

It was my fault. I asked for it. Yes, some years ago, I asked that the Lord would make me the spiritual mother of a priest. In His greatness, He chose first to show me exactly what that meant. You see I thought this vocation entailed nice theological discussions, gentle mentoring, sending packages with cookies, crying at ordinations, joyously partaking of the altar and assisting with advice. My vision of sunshine and roses was shattered in the month of May, 2013. God showed me a way laden with pain and sorrow, which was not a flowery image but an echo of Calvary.

Without divulging the events of the past month,  I will tell you that after pleading so long, it was finally shown to me the requirements needed to be the spiritual mother of a priest. The mother of a priest lives in uncertainty, trusting everything to God who sees beyond the human realm. She is not Pollyanna- but Mary who hears a prophecy of arrows, tends a poor and bruised child, hated from birth, walks with him to the rugged cross and sees him buried in the cold tomb. She who would be mother to a priest must feel the pains of the mother of Christ. She must lose him for three days, find him in the temple, declaring independence from earthly things, must watch him be scorned, rejected and despised, stripped of everything so that he even cries “My God why hast thou forsaken me?”

Priesthood is a bloody, painful affair, fraught with dark nights, the sweat of Gethsemane, the agony of Calvary. Brave enough, a man must give himself up, but as Christ died completely, in body, soul and spirit, upon the cross, so a man must utterly die. More sorrowful still, the mother of that man who must witness it all.

In a short time, compared to the whole span of life, I relived Mary’s seven sorrows. I lost something that was cherished immensely and buried it in the earth. I said goodbye to my dreams and desires, to my complacence and happiness. In turn however, I gained a trust in God, a closeness to Blessed Mary and a promise of future resurrection. We live the gloom of Good Friday and wait through the emptiness of Holy Saturday so we may rejoice at Easter Sunday. It is always darkest before dawn and so the darkest eve of despair gives way to glorious, golden sunrise.

I also know now that the devil ruthlessly attacks those destined for the seminary door, before they have even stepped foot in it. God taught me how to put up defense, asking for the shelter of his angels. The fragile, sheet-metal casing of my heart, He hammered into shining, iron armor. With the ore of my soft, pampered hands, He chiseled a broadsword. And with that sword I will slash the devil. I will not forget but fight, my every prayer forming a fortress for our future priests. The sorrowful mother is wounded- and allows herself to be so. She lets the serpent bite at her heel so she may savor even more the moment when he is crushed. She endures crucifixion so her face may shine even more radiantly at the resurrection.

And when the mother of a priest kneels before the altar, wearied by that battle, the copious blood of Christ washes over her. The sweet, Eucharistic chalice is balm to her wounds, polish upon her sword, fire within her heart and the pledge of forsworn victory.

 

Mary, Mother of Sorrows, Companion at the Cross, Ewe of God’s Lamb, Light of Confessors, Queen of Apostles, Mother of Priests,  pray for us.

The Pope Goes Away

I woke up from a hard night’s work (security not the other thing) to hear my mom telling me the pope had resigned. I responded, “Don’t joke around with me.” However, learning it was true, my cantankerous bout of denial changed into thoughts summing up to something more like: “WHY, GOD, WHY!!” This was very bad news and I didn’t know which messenger to shoot.

no daddy

Allow me to explain why I had such intense feelings about this. For those of you who don’t know, I became Catholic 5 years ago, back in 2008. At this time Benedict XVI was the pope and in my rebelliousness, I deemed him as a person who must earn my respect. I immediately set out to know more about this man and procured some of his writings from the Newman Center Library. Still influenced by growing up Protestant, I held his writings to Scripture and what I understood as Christian orthodoxy. What I gathered from the pope was a central message of God’s love and our need to know Jesus Christ personally. I was yet getting to know Christ personally and during this journey, the pope’s writings were greatly helpful. They erased former preconceptions about Catholic belief, laid bear some of the difficult mysteries of Scripture and established a rational basis for faith. Even though hundreds of miles away, the pope became my teacher, my father in faith.

I remember a time, shortly after I expressed interest in Catholicism and enrolled in RCIA, when the pope visited the United States. He was in New York, I think. I hounded my Catholic friend (and RCIA sponsor) to watch some of his visit with me. Coming down into my dorm-room lounge, we turned on the big TV and tuned into the pope. There were crowds of people around him, showing a bit much enthusiasm in my opinion; however, I remember the peaceful look on his face. For all his powerful estate and glory, he seemed genuinely interested in those people, eager to give them God’s word. In his presence was the true presence of an apostle. I never had that. Pastors always had been big men, too big for their britches, who had to insert weight into their words because they were opinions. There was no real unity in the churches I attended in my youth and later during college. I had no way of knowing what any given pastor said was authoritative, solid or in line with the teachings of Christ. We had the Bible- but too many different ways to interpret it. Now, here before me was a brazen trail leading back to the apostles, told of in the very Scriptures and with a guarantee from Christ himself. I already knew and studied the Biblical basis of the papacy. Now I understood it.

Fast-forward about two years. As a new Catholic, I zealously defended the papacy and the pope’s ministry from many objectors, some of whom were not so gentle. While visiting a friend’s Baptist Church, I was basically screamed at and called a child of the anti-Christ for objecting to their charges against the pope. Here was a man who wasn’t evil so much for anything he did but  because he was simply the pope. The Baptists didn’t care that John Paul II or Benedict were good guys who preached an unwavering Gospel. They didn’t care that the popes brought hundreds-if not thousands to believe in Christ as the Savior of mankind. All they cared about was that they held a position as “The Vicar of Christ”. Of course, they didn’t believe Christ had any vicars. No one could speak for Him or clarify what He taught us. Only confusion under the guise of “Biblical-believing Christianity” was acceptable.

Benedict XVI was a bastion of intellect, kindness and Christian truth for me. It was he who taught me to have hope in suffering, to find friendship in Christ, to love sinners, non-Christians and those who hated us. For a man so frequently called “homophobic”, he taught me to love gays. For a person dubbed “misogynist”, he taught me the true worth of a woman. For someone called “demonic” and “anti-Christ” he taught me to love Christ more deeply.

Back to 2008: During RCIA, I had acquired a certain nickname amongst my fellow Catholics: Latin Girl. This was because of the Latin Masses I attended (which drew me to Catholicism), the fact I prayed in Latin and because I went crazy-happy every time I heard a Latin hymn. Little did I know that Benedict XVI was to become a champion for the Latin Mass. He allowed for wider celebration of the Extraordinary Form and even promoted it as an equally-valid form of liturgy to be esteemed. Perhaps, the good pope saw how much of our priceless culture and heritage was being lost in the average parish. He understood Vatican II in its original terms; that the Latin language is to be preserved in the Roman Rite- not done away with and shoved in a corner never to see the light of day. Let me clarify that I have nothing against vernacular in the Mass or against the Ordinary Form, I just want to acknowledge that many people haven’t properly heeded Vatican II or the pope as to how Mass should be done.

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. In short, this Pope Benedict XVI was a man after God’s heart and a man after my heart. I didn’t respect him or love him at first. He had to earn my admiration- and earn it he did. I feel as if I’d lost a friend or my dear, old granddaddy. He was, for the most part, blameless yet others sought blame in him. He devoted himself to faith, the Scripture and the liturgy yet many took offense at him. He was misunderstood, introverted and coldly rational yet scorned for not being another John Paul II (another pope, by the way, I really love). Everything he did was wrong. Do it or don’t, he was damned. Everything he said was twisted and everything he lived for was mocked and ignored by the world. In the manner of our Lord Christ, he was a sign of contradiction. I pray that he, in the manner of Lord Christ, will lead a life of faith, eventually die in faith and by his faith, be reborn into life eternal.

Awesome suggestions for how to witness your faith!

Late at night, into the wee morning, thinking, I began to reflect on what has always been my favorite story from the Bible: The account of Joseph and his brothers who beat him and sold him into slavery. All out of what? For jealousy… Merciless, cruel and unable to see their own gifts and blessings, Joseph’s brothers attacked him, nearly killed him and sold him to a band of Egyptians to be a servile slave. I always remember feeling such joy at the end of this account, however, as Joseph tricked his brothers, revealed his new-found power to them and forgave them. Joseph’s tale is a curious one, full of coincidences, tragedies, vivid dreams and godly wisdom. The figure of Joseph suddenly stuck out in my mind as a figure of the Catholic Church. Let me explain.

Christ chose the Catholic Church to be his people, an heir to the Eternal Father in heaven. He has adorned her like a bride in a coat of many colors. He has showered favor upon her and the promise, “I will be with you always”.  People outside the Church look on and wonder why God has blessed and favored something so small, so bumbling and unworthy.  “Why not us?” wise men say, “and not this silly child who believes in sacraments, miracles and  antiquated doctrine?”

Back in ancient Rome, when pagan religion was deemed most-sensible and most-sacred, Catholics received mockery, spite and yes, relentless jealousy. “What of these fools who love eachother!” cried the counsel or senator even while handing them over for punishment. The reason for this punishment? Jealousy. How dare these people call themselves blessed, favored of the Father- and yet refuse to worship our auspicious gods? How dare they claim to be reborn when everyone knows death is inevitable? How dare they eat bread called “heavenly” and drink wine called “salvation”?

The Romans were not unique. Every age has hated the Catholic Church and sought to beat it down, or at least sell it into some sort of slavery. How can God’s people be free if the head of state chooses their bishops? How can they call themselves blessed with their necks under the sword? How can they feast if everything is taken away from them- even their lives? Many decry religion for causing bloodshed and oppression while forgetting the numerous religion-less regimes that robbed multitudes of people from dignity, freedom, happiness and life.

The Catholic faith is Joseph, taken into the field, beaten and sold as chattel. Like the younger prince sometimes kills off his older brother, heir to the throne, out of envy, the general brotherhood of people has traded in Christendom for false freedom and glory.

Now, let us approach the second part of Joseph’s story and how it relates to the Catholic Church. Rising somewhat to prominence, the virtuous Joseph is accused of rape after refusing the advances of Potiphar’s wife. For refusing to embrace modernism, secularism, liberalism and materialism, the Catholic faith is falsely accused of treason. For refusing to worship the state, she is accused of rebellion. For resisting the tenets of self-made religion, she is called “oppressive” and for adhering to ancient teaching, she is called “irrevelant”, “inhuman” and “unenlightened”. Because she believes in in a transcendent liturgy, she is called “opulent”, because she embraces celibacy, “unnatural” and because she clings to sacred Scripture, “bigoted” and “backwards”.

Joseph gains a semblance of power and stability only to be falsely accused and thrown into prison. There he dreams many dreams. He is like the Catholic laity, filled with God’s Holy Spirit that envisions a future of godliness. He is like the Catholic religious who listens to the voice of God. He is like the Catholic clergy, pouring forth a river of grace. He remains honest, even when bearing ill tidings and condemnation and eventually is seated at the Pharaoh’s right hand.

How ironic it is that the faith once universally hated, scorned and punished is eventually granted the Emperor’s blessing? How strange that the state which once persecuted the infant, Catholic Church violently, now takes it under its wing? All earthly authority comes of God, none has power that he wills not power and know that even the godless heathen can become a divine instrument! Thus like the young Catholic Church, Joseph is sheltered by the state and given a place of influence. How amazing it must have been for bishops who once worshiped in dark, damp catacombs to have liturgy in palaces! How glorious for priests and acolytes to have a golden chest in which to lay the Holy Eucharist! How heavenly for their hymns to echo off of gilded vaults and ascend amidst clouds of incense!

People often criticize this change in the Church, saying that it betrays the simple Christian message of poverty, that their religion became too state-like and that bishops gained too much power for their own good. One might as well have accosted Joseph for wearing fine, Egyptian linen, learning civilized law and conducting the affairs of his own people. No one called Joseph “worldly” and “extravagant” when he opened up the grain stores for a starving population. No one hated him for mediating between his impoverished people and the great Pharaoh. No one complained of his excessive power when he tricked his brothers so they’d receive fear of God then instruct them in forgiveness.

Do not scorn the Catholic Church because she wears a multicolored cloak. Do not disdain her jurisprudence and gifts to the starving. Stop calling her “traitor” because she learns the world’s laws in order to bring men to God. Just as the circlet on Joseph’s brow evidenced the trustful Pharaoh’s blessing, so the golden altars of Catholicism reveal the steadfast love of God. And just like Joseph, the Catholic Church shall rise with bread and silver in her hands, having patiently borne your persecutions and utter the priceless words of Christ: “Blessed is he who taketh not offense in me.”

Back in my college days when I played Dungeons & Dragons, there was a term amongst my friends known as “rules lawyering” which implied a person so rigidly stuck to the rule-book that the game became slowed down and less fun. Today, I see many Christians who do the same. Well-meaning, they insist every single thing pertaining to faith and belief must be spelled out explicitly in Scripture. If the Bible does not state it, they don’t do it. They insist that the entire faith must “be Biblical”.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with consulting Scriptures and I don’t intend to say that at all. The word of God was truly given to us for instruction, edification and correction. But when Christian faith becomes a matter of defining and limiting everything to written Scripture, the meaning is lost. There exists an entire array of beautiful Christian thought, symbolism and devotion that doesn’t appear underlined in bold.

Scripture itself says “Not everything that Jesus did and taught was written down” – John 21:25. It shows us that the apostles preached by word and oral tradition instead of toting a Bible everywhere.  Paul says that the Gospel comes by hearing. His spoken words struck hearts to believe- not looking at scrolls. Paul’s 2nd letter to the Thessalonians says “He called you to this through our gospel that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which were taught, whether by word of mouth or by epistle.” (2:14-15). Paul teaches Timothy, his disciple to preach orally (1 Tim 4:14 and 2 Tim 1:6,)

For the early Christians, faith was an expression of a new life and a new fulfillment of God’s law, through Christ. Christ often speaks against those who “rules lawyer” who hold every little thing up to the Law. He teaches us that God’s law is more than just a rule-book; it is something that must be written in the heart.  In fact, the Pharisee’s question “Is this according to the Law?” sounds an awful lot like the modern Christian’s protest “Where is this in the Bible?”

For some Christians, it must all be in the Bible. What we sing, what we do, what we think. I can’t say, “Blessed virgin Mary” or “Holy Trinity” unless those words appear in the Bible. I can’t call the church “our mother” or Christ “our brother” unless the Bible states it first. This rules-lawyering becomes hampering to our own spiritual growth. The integral message is slowed down and our flame of love burns less bright. We loose sight of the “game”, so to speak, and can’t remember why we are “playing” it in the first place. If God wished us to strap a Bible to our foreheads and consult it before every single action, He would have dropped a fully-bound King James Version from the sky! But instead, Our Lord chose 12 apostles and sent them into all corners of the world preaching orally. While Jesus attested to the Law, He perfected the Law. He became the Law and gave it all a new meaning, a fulfilled meaning in Him. Jesus took upon human flesh so that we don’t have to beat eachother over the head with a rule-book. He gave us an active, living faith.

 

As Christians, we preach the Gospel and live it. No one needs a Bible in order to feel the presence of God protecting them from grave danger. A Bible verse isn’t necessary for someone to repent and reject a life of sin. Sometimes, the sweet name of “Jesus” helps one who is deeply suffering; sometimes a simple sign of the cross drives away demons. The power of Christ isn’t limited to written Scripture. God isn’t bound by words. The Bible is important and we should study our Scripture often however, we can express love for God without it. We can sing a hymn in the woods without worrying if it’s Biblical or not, we can call the church “our mother” and call Christ “our brother”, we can freely say “Blessed virgin Mary” and “Holy Trinity” because God is present in those things. It’s difficult to run a race when one constantly holds the rule-book in their hands. That VCR will never get fixed if we don’t lay aside the instruction manual and get to work! Instead, we should let our Holy Scripture be a gentle guide and a lamp unto our feet- and not a heavy stone in our shoe.