Monday, March 21, 2011

Why am I Catholic? (Part VI: Conclusion)

At the end of this testimony of why I am Catholic, I will sum it up as follows: In being Catholic I am called to live a life of faith based on Holy Scriptures and Holy Catholic Church teachings as guided by the Holy Spirit. In being Catholic I am called to see the good in all people, to see Christ in everyone around me with no exception, to confess my sins and forgive others, to partake of his body and blood, to trust in God’s love and mercy, to acknowledge God’s immanence and transcendence, to profess God’s mystery and revelation, to love Mary as my mother, to love the Saints and the poor sinners as my brothers and sisters. There is so much more to say such as the grace of God through his seven sacraments, but what I wrote suffice for now.

Finally it is through Catholicism that I confess Christ as my light, my life, my truth, my hope, my way, my salvation, my God, and my beloved. I am what I am by the grace of God but having said all what I said I also give glory to God for being present to his beloved ones outside Catholicism and Christianity. May God have mercy on my ignorance and forgive my hidden pride for he proclaimed through his prophet: "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:9) Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Why am I Catholic? (Part V: Saints)

It is said, why do Catholic talk to the dead such as talking to the Saints? Should they not only talk to God? Are they not offending God? Well, we talk to them, because Jesus talked to them. At the transfiguration we read: “Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him [Jesus]” (Matthew 17:3). Was Jesus not talking to the dead when he said: “Lazarus come out” (John 12:43), or “Talitha Koum [Little girl arise!]” (Mark 5:41), or “Young man, I tell you arise!” (Luke 7:14). Were they all dead to him? Jesus himself answered this question: "Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive" (Luke 20:37-38).

To answer the first question above, we must also ask in return why does God sometimes talks to us directly, such as when he spoke to Abraham, “I am God the Almighty” (Genesis 17:1), Moses, “I am who am” (Exodus 3:14), or Saul, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5), and other times talk to us through his prophets and angels such as when the angel Gabriel spoke to Zechariah and to Mary (Luke 1)? Just like God talk to us sometimes directly and other times indirectly through angels, prophets, and Saints, we too communicate with him directly as well as through angels, prophets, and Saints. It gives God glory to work through all his created beings in heaven and on earth to communicate his message of love and salvation, and all due worship to God alone.

If my best friend came to see me and he walked in my home and hugged me and kissed me and said nothing to my wife and kids for fear of taking away from me, then he does not really know me. My joy would be greater if he acknowledges my family and loved them for my sake. It is the same way with God. Asking Mary to pray for my wife as she gives birth, reminding her that she gave birth to the baby Jesus one day is pleasing to God. Asking St. Paul to help me teach a new lesson to a new group of people that I never saw before is pleasing to God. Asking St. Peter to pray for me when I deny Christ several times, or St. Thomas to pray for me when I am anxious and doubtful is not counter to God rather it gives glory to God. As long as I worship God alone I am within his will.

Why am I Catholic? (Part IV: Mary)

On a personal note, it is very hard for me to be rational when it comes to Mary the mother of God. I must admit that I am overly biased toward her, and completely in love with her that I am not qualified to make a logical argument on her God given role toward humanity. What credibility has a son in defending his mother? Having confessed that, my argument about being Catholic would not be complete without a few words on Mary the mother of Jesus, yet what I begin here is only the start.

I say Mary, because she is the perfect example of a true Christian who says 'yes' to God in how she lived her life. She is rarely mentioned in Holy Scriptures because of her humility, but what is said about her is enough, to those who trust God. Some will say that if she was mentioned more in the Bible that would have given her more credibility. I say not true, for the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is mentioned over and over again and just as at the time of Jesus people refused to believe, today many do the same.

Tell me who recounted to Luke and Matthew the infancy stories? Who was there with Mary when the angel Gabriel called her "full of grace" (Luke 1:28)? Who else heard the Angel Gabriel who “stands before God”(Luke 1:19) tell her: “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35)? Who heard her reply to the Angel of God: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38)?

Who among us after an encounter with an Angel informing us that we are to be the mother of “the Most High” (Luke 1:32), the mother of the “holy Son of God” (Luke 1:35), would pack and travel to serve an elderly pregnant cousin and her husband, washing their cloths, mopping their floors, cooking and cleaning for them? Why else did you think she went to visit Elizabeth while she herself was pregnant? Did she not receive Christ and immediately took his spirit of service to others. Did he not say later: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45)?

Did you remember the words of Elizabeth to her while filled with the Holy Spirit: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:42-45). What did Mary say? “My soul proclaim the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold from now on will all ages call me blessed …” (Luke 1:46-48f)

These are not words simply placed here by Luke to complete a story. They are rather inspired by the Holy Spirit and willed by God to be in our Holy Scriptures so that they may teach us the truth once we humble ourselves to accept it. No one can truly believe how God has elevated Mary and at the same time deny Christ humanity and divinity. Without these words and others like them the early Church would not have been able to call her "the mother of God", and seal the unity of Christ as fully human and fully divine.

No one knew Jesus more than his mother. Who carried the Lord God in her womb for nine months? Who suffered most at his birth? Who suffered most at his death? Are you aware of the suffering of a mother seeing her innocent son brutally killed in front of her own eyes? Who kept him warm and safe? Who nourished him with her milk? Who changed his diaper? Who wiped his tears when he was sad? Who laughed with him when he was being funny? Who taught him how to pray? Who spoke to him about life and suffering and joy as he got older? Who prepared his meals and spoke with him way into the night? Who spent thirty years taking care of him? Who pondered about his life’s mysteries and “kept all these things reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19; 2:51)?

Who was with him at his first public miracle and who told him his hour has come. (John 2:4)? Which one of us was told by an angel that her son will be "The Son of the Most High, ... and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:32-33) only to see him thirty-three years later suffering death on a cross? Who was present both when he was incarnated and when he gave up his soul? Which one of us suffered the most when he was dying on the cross? Which one of us was made the mother of all whom Jesus loved (John 19:26). The answer to all these questions is the new woman Mary, God’s new creation for his Son.
I am well aware that there is only one Triune God and Mary knows that even more than I do. Her role in humanity is to point us to Christ. She brought Christ to Elizabeth, she brought him to Joseph, she brought him to the shepherds and to the Magi, she brought him to Simeon and Anna, she brought him to the teachers in the temple, she brought him to Cana. Today she brings him to us. If our hearts are humbled like hers, the Holy Spirit will overshadow us and give birth to Christ in our heart.

Why am I Catholic? (Part III: Eucharist)

I say the "Eucharist" because it is miraculously Christ among us, in the form of bread and wine. Just like the Son of God is Jesus the Son of man, so is the Son of God the bread and wine made present and accessible to those of us who believe, physically and spiritually uniting us with him and each other.

St. Paul asks: "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?"(1 Corinthians 10:16). St. Paul tells us that he received directly from Christ instructions regarding his presence in the bread and wine: "For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, 'this is my body, that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' ... Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:23-27).

In John 6:53-69 we read: "Amen, Amen, I say to you, 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 … For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him … Many of his disciples who were listening said, 'This saying is hard; who can accept it?' … As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the twelve, 'Do you also want to leave?' Simon Peter answered him, 'Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God." I too stand with St. Peter and echo his words.

Why am I Catholic? (Part II: Pope)

I say the "Pope" because I believe, from the start, Jesus wanted all his followers to be one Church: "I pray ... so that they may all be one, as you Father are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us" (John 17:20-21).

When we listen to Jesus’ words to St. Peter with a humble heart and an open mind, we understand how important it is for Christ that we are united. In the beginning of Jesus' ministry he told Peter: "And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it" (Mathew 16:18). And at the end of his ministry, he told him: "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? ... Feed my lambs. ... Simon son of John, do you love me? ... Tend my sheep... Simon, son of John, do you love me? ... Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17). We will always be Christ’s: “my sheep” and “my lambs,” yet it is his choice that we are lead on earth by one person whom he assigns, so that we may always have unity.

It is to Peter that Jesus said: "Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:31-32). It is also to Peter that Jesus said: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19). We must humble our hearts and acknowledge that these are the words of Jesus to whom he has chosen to lead his church united in love.

Our Lord Jesus is aware of the human weaknesses of our Catholic Church. Nothing has changed much in human behavior since he lived among us. Did he not handpicked twelve apostles, teaching them, doing miracles in their site? All of them, save John, left him when he was arrested, however all, save John, died martyred for him. As much as Peter loved Jesus, he denied him three times, did he not? Yet Jesus brought him back to him asking him to lead his Church three times empowered by his love for Christ. Another example of corruption in our Church starting with the time of Jesus, is Judas who would have been forgiven had he trusted in the mercy of Christ and the sovereignty of God even through death. Another Church leader would be Thomas who denied himself to have faith on the words of his colleagues, yet Christ brought him back to him and Thomas made the most aggressive faith statement in the New Testament about the divinity of Christ: "My Lord and My God" (John 20:28).

St Paul who was later chosen by Christ as an apostle to the gentiles, had begun in ignorance persecuting the Church until he encountered Christ who identified himself with the Church with the words: "Why are you persecuting me?" (Acts 9:4) The point is that Jesus is aware that his Church is made of people who struggle but he assured us that the doors of hell will not overcome it (Matthew 16:18) because the grace of God is sufficient in human weakness: "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why am I Catholic? (Part I: Christ)

Sometimes when people list for me all the wrong things about the Catholic Church, I first think of how lucky I am that they are only aware of some of them, then I tell them: "I agree with you, have any other church adopt the Pope, the Eucharist, and Mary and I will switch to it."

I will come back to the Pope, the Eucharist, and Mary, but the simple truth is that I am Catholic because I truly believe it is Jesus' will and therefore I can literally stop here and write no more.

Being Catholic is the most humbling of all forms of Christianity because it is not a journey of the one with God, but of the many. As a person living in the 21st century, I am dependent in my journey of faith on the prayers, truth, and testimonies of others around me today as well as others who lived before me. This relational dependency journeying toward the Father, guided by the Holy Spirit and centered on Christ is our Church.

For example, on what basis I can be sure that the Christian faith is the true faith? Or how do I know that the Christian Bible is the Word of God? How am I sure that when I read it I am interpreting it correctly? There are so many churches today and so many different interpretations, all accredited to the Holy Spirit. How do I know who has it right? God will give to the one who asks in humility. As for me, the light comes enough to guide my small steps and I am being guided centered on Christ and within his Catholic Church.

I am today a part of a Holy, Universal, and Apostolic Church, journeying with God and through God and toward God with my brothers and sisters and the whole universe as a matter of fact. It is not Holy because its members are without sin, but rather because it is entrusted to God’s will, it is universal in being inclusive of every nation, ant it is Apostolic in starting with the twelve chosen but Christ and evolving in unity.