The importance of the Eucharist cannot be over-emphasized. Catholics know the Eucharist to be “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). Some of you may remember a post I did a while back giving a scriptural introduction to the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
I think it might also be good to share this helpful video on the subject:
P.S. For those of you who’ve wondered how I’ve been doing away from the blog, my actual pen-and-paper journaling has taken off and is quite enjoyable. Life as a serious Catholic has been richly rewarding and challenging. My prayer life and my family life have improved, and it has become my obsession to constantly learn more about the historic Christian faith and draw closer to Christ and the saints. It’s been good to hang out with other serious Catholics too. Catholics know how to have fun… but they also know how to be reverent. Teaching my kids to be reverent is a wonderful experience and more important than I realized before. There’s so much to share, if anyone is interested.
“I love being Catholic the way Noah loved being on the Ark when the flood came. Like the Ark, the Catholic Church is not perfect. It’s not tidy, clean, and odor-free. It has plenty of problems and challenges and unruly passengers, but it’s still the ‘ark of salvation’ given to us by God and I love that I get to be on board. I love the beauty of the Catholic Church’s teachings, its Liturgy, art, architecture, music, and wisdom. I love the Catholic Church because it is ‘ever ancient, ever new.’ I love tracing its existence back 2000 years to Jesus Christ and the Apostles, and I get to be part of that. I love being Catholic because of its richness and diversity. It’s a big hospital for sick people – sinners like you and me. I love being Catholic because I can have the most personal relationship with Jesus Christ possible, by receiving Him, body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the Holy Eucharist.”
It was one of those glass-shattering moments for me when I really began to understand the significance of the wedding feast at Cana, as seen in John’s Gospel. It is the first recorded miracle performed by Jesus, when He turned water into wine, but Mary’s role in this event offers us an important lesson for our lives today.
Here’s the story:
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. -John 2:1-11
Jesus referred to his mother as “woman”. This seems strange to us at first glance. We know that Jesus would not have broken the 4th commandment and disrespected His mother. His phrasing recalls the prophecy in Genesis 3:15. Satan had been in the garden of Eden in the form of something like a serpent or dragon, tempting Eve to sin. And God said to him,
…I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.” -Genesis 3:15
Jesus’ reference to Mary as “woman” is significant, as she is understood to be the new Eve… the woman who would have a role in redeeming mankind from sin, which makes sense, as the original Eve had a role in bringing mankind into sin.
But let’s return to Cana. Here is the main question that strikes me regarding Jesus’ miracle there:
Would Jesus have turned the water into wine for the wedding guests if Mary had not interceded on their behalf?
John indicates Jesus was unwilling, and Mary’s influence seemed to make all the difference. This helps to explain why Christians so often turn to Mary when there is a need. It’s not always clear if Jesus is willing, but either way it can be a good idea to hope His mother might intercede with Him on our behalf.
It’s also noteworthy that John says that Jesus “revealed his glory” through this miracle, which shows us how Mary’s intercession ultimately brings glory to God.
Part of my spiritual development has been a deeper realization of why various things were recorded in the Gospels… especially John’s Gospel, which was written around 60 years after the events. We’re not talking about some old guy writing down his memoirs for the heck of it, saying “Oh, yeah… and there was this one time…” These stories carry specific lessons for Christians. One lesson we can glean from the story of the wedding at Cana is this:
Mary is observant, and she has a feminine concern for people who need help. If she felt sympathy in her heart for the problem at the wedding, imagine how much she would be concerned for people who are in serious crisis.
How does this apply to us today?
Well, Mary’s concern and ability to intercede is in no way diminished. On the contrary, she’s actually in a greater position to help more people, especially those loyal to her Son:
A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars… Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. -Rev. 12:1,17
There’s John referring to the “woman” again. But this time he’s given us a glimpse of her in a beautiful place of honor and power, as the mother of Christians.
John, as Christ’s loyal disciple, had a special understanding of Mary’s motherly role, as He was there with Mary at the foot of the cross and heard Jesus pronounce the words:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. -John 19:26,27
As I strive to be loyal to Christ, I want Mary to know she is welcome in my home and I am happy to see God glorified through her intercession on behalf of us, her adopted children.
Scripture does not offer the whole picture of Mary’s significance, but we can definitely see enough to get us started in understanding her better.
It’s fairly common knowledge among Christians that we don’t know for sure who wrote the book of Hebrews in the Bible. The Church knows it to be inspired Scripture, despite the lack of certainty regarding its author.
Well, I’ve been reading an interesting book on Church history called Roots of the Faith, by Mike Aquilina, and he directed my attention to an interesting section in the writings of a Church historian named Eusebius, who lived in the late 200’s through the early 300’s. Since I happen to have Eusebius’ Church History on my shelf, I looked that particular section up for myself because it sounded intriguing.
Here, Eusebius is describing the writings of Clement of Alexandria, who was born circa 150, and Clement seemed to be quite confident in his knowledge of who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews:
“He says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts. But he says that the words, Paul the Apostle, were probably not prefixed, because, in sending it to the Hebrews, who were prejudiced and suspicious of him, he wisely did not wish to repel them at the very beginning by giving his name.”
–Eusebius, Church History, 6.14.2-3
So he’s saying that Paul wrote Hebrews, but left out his usual greeting for good reasons. The writing somewhat resembles Luke, because Luke translated it into the Greek.
“Farther on he says: ‘But now, as the blessed presbyter said, since the Lord being the apostle of the Almighty, was sent to the Hebrews, Paul, as sent to the Gentiles, on account of his modesty did not subscribe himself an apostle of the Hebrews, through respect for the Lord, and because being a herald and apostle of the Gentiles he wrote to the Hebrews out of his superabundance.’” (6.14.4)
So even though Paul’s primary mission was to the Gentiles, his “superabundance” overflowed to the Hebrews as well, and the Church has been blessed to this day with the Epistle to the Hebrews apparently as a result of Paul going above and beyond the call of duty (so to speak). I understand that there are other sources from the early Church which also offer insight into the subject of Hebrews’ authorship, but Eusebius is the one I came across and I just thought it was really interesting.
Unrelated to the authorship of Hebrews but included in the same chapter, Eusebius refers to Clement’s writings regarding Mark’s Gospel:
“As Peter had preached the Word publically at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it.”
–Eusebius, Church History, 6.14.6
Understandably, Protestants try to find ways to demonstrate that the authority of the Catholic Church is illegitimate or that Catholic doctrines are somehow corrupt. The more Catholics they find who can’t refute an argument, the more effective that argument appears to be. Even after arguments have been refuted by knowledgeable Catholics, Protestants often keep using them. With a bit of homework, Catholics can prepare themselves to address persistent misconceptions.
A classic Protestant argument has popped up on my radar from three different sources lately, so I think it might be good to address it in a public way, in order to help my fellow Catholics.
The argument goes something like this: “Did you know that the Catholic version of the Ten Commandments is different? They re-arranged the numbers, taking out the second commandment and splitting the tenth commandment into two! Of course we can see past the scheme of these sneaky Catholics… by removing God’s clear commandment against making graven images, they can get away with worshiping their statues!”
Before we go any further, I need to clarify a few things. First of all, Catholics are strictly prohibited from worshiping/adoring anyone or anything other than God (this is serious stuff). Secondly, the definition of “worship” can be a debate in itself, and if it comes down to a Protestant insisting that a Catholic person is worshiping something involuntarily… well that dog just ain’t gonna hunt. Thirdly, although the “ten commandments” are referred to in Exodus 34:28, nowhere in the Bible are they assigned numbers. The numbering of the commandments is an extra-biblical matter settled (for Christians) by Church authority.
Right off the bat we can see that the Protestants are appealing to tradition in the way they number the commandments. But, setting that aside, let’s proceed…
There are two places in the Old Testament where we see the Commandments listed. First, let’s take a look at Exodus 20:3-17
3 you shall have no other gods before me.
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 You shall not murder.
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Protestants claim that verse 3 should be kept separate from 4-6, and that dividing verse 17 into separate references against coveting your neighbor’s wife and possessions is a stretch by Catholics in order to fill out the number of commandments to ten. However, let’s pause for a moment and consider a slightly awkward question…
Why are Protestants so determined to number wives in the same category as possessions, when Catholics are pointing out that it’s not necessary?
But it gets stickier from there. The case can biblically be made that verses 4-6 are a further clarification of the larger point made in verse 3, which is to not worship anything other than God (note also how verses 9-11 further clarify verse 8 regarding the Sabbath). There is good reason to not interpret words like “graven image” or “likeness” (depending on your translation) literalistically, because God instructed the people to make images, as seen in Exodus 25:18, Numbers 21:8-9, and 1 Kings 6:23-28. Finally, a blanket rejection of statues and images puts many Protestants in a tight spot, if their households contain photographs of loved ones or little statues in Nativity scenes during the Christmas season, or if they appreciate statues of historical figures.
You might still be thinking that dividing verse 17 into two distinct commandments (and ones apparently out of order, for that matter) is a bit of a stretch. That’s fair enough, and it brings us to the other list in the Old Testament of the Ten Commandments: Deuteronomy 5:6-21. This list is just as legitimate as the one found in Exodus 20, by the way. I encourage you to read it for yourself, but for the sake of brevity I’ll just quote verse 21:
21 Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife.
Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Here we can see two distinctly different commandments… the ones Catholics know to be the 9th and the 10th.
This was not a comprehensive examination of the subject, but hopefully enough explanation to be helpful.
For a much better explanation:
I’ve already shared significant portions of my journey from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism in my posts Considering Catholicism, On the Road to Rome, and How Francis Chan Helped Me Become Catholic, however I also wanted to share a pivotal moment of my testimony that I haven’t shared on my blog before. By the time 2013 was winding down, I was facing some very real questions about my faith. Some questions had begun to nag me years before, such as why someone as intelligent as G.K. Chesterton could conclude that Rome was right. But others were more recent, such as how Catholics can point to Jesus’ clearly articulated words in John chapter six to explain Christ’s Body and Blood being present in the Eucharist (a.k.a. Communion or Lord’s Supper), while Evangelical Protestant explanations were falling short to say the least in saying our Lord’s words must surely be symbolic.
Facing the very real prospect of being convinced of the truth of Catholicism, but struggling with the unfamiliarity of it compared to my prior beliefs, I began looking for a way out of the spiritual conflict. Turns out, it’s easy to find a way out, especially when you’ve been raised in the fringe minority of Christianity that thrives in modern American culture. It’s easy to lose yourself in American culture whenever you get tired of theology (the study of God). I even found a song that I felt I could adopt as symbolizing my new determination to pursue only minimalist Christianity. “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd was how I felt and by determining to believe that God wanted nothing more from me than wholehearted simplicity, I decided to just read the Bible in a simple way, pray in a simple way, and serve others in a simple way, and Christianity didn’t need to be any more complicated than that. The admonitions of my relatives and friends seemed to echo the lyrics of the song:
“Boy, don’t you worry you’ll find yourself
Follow your heart and nothing else
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try
All that I want for you my son is to be satisfied
And be a simple kind of man
Oh, Be something you love and understand
Baby be a simple kind of man
Oh, won’t you do this for me son if you can?”
Trust me, if you drive down the road blasting songs like this with the windows down, it’s easy to forget about things like sacraments and ancient beliefs. But some things still rise above the noise:
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” -1 Cor. 10:16-17
I had a nagging suspicion that the little symbolic crackers that are passed out in Evangelical Protestant churches are not the body of Christ, even if I wished that it might be true, and if it wasn’t “a participation in the body of Christ”, was I even part of the body of Christ: His Church? Nonetheless, all of the Christians I grew up with and hung out with were all able to shrug it off as no big deal, and I was determined to do the same. Forget the Catholics and their evidence, they’re weird anyway! Perhaps the less I think about it, the better… Well, God had a patient way of working in my restless mind, and I should mention that even though I was growing weary of theology and wanted to live a simple life, I was also praying earnestly for God’s direction.
In the mean time, my wife and I decided to back away from Catholicism and we determined to make our Pentecostal church home work for us. We were sitting in a sparsely populated worship service at the Assemblies of God church one Sunday morning, and it was time for communion. I had been raised to take communion very seriously growing up, and I did, using it as a time of quiet reflection and bringing my sins before God. The pastor usually goes out of his way to remind everyone that it’s a symbol, even while hearkening back to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. Even though I had been wrestling with the biblical, theological, and historical evidence put forth by the Catholics, I decided that I was just going to leave it in God’s hands and take my time figuring it all out… someday.
As we sat in what was nearly the center of the sanctuary waiting for the crackers and grape juice trays to make their way to us, it gradually dawned on me that the ushers had somehow missed us. I tried to think whether in all my years of attending Evangelical Protestant church services this had ever happened to me before… it never had as far as I could remember. How could they have missed us? I had determined that it would be fine to partake of this symbolic communion as I always had, but had God prevented it? A crazy thought… or was it? While the short communion time proceeded without me, I pondered the possibility that God was saying, “I am fine with you taking your time to work through the process of understanding the Catholic Church… but you know better than this.” My wife wasn’t as sure that God had intended to send a clear message, but she did find it strange at least that we were missed, especially since we had been wrestling with whether or not to continue the Evangelical Protestant version of communion in a symbolic way.
An usher came up to us after the service and was genuinely apologetic for having missed us. He didn’t realize it until after he had passed us by. I happily informed him that it was no problem at all. Little did he know how much God may have used him in that moment.
The journey was still long after that point, but it did seem to be the final clincher in the subject of symbolic communion. And knowing what I know now, it would probably be a sin for me to do something that I know to be a symbolic reinvention of what God intended to be a Sacrament, without the defense of unknowing sincerity. I know that people can quickly and easily disregard this story as coincidental (and even bring up instances of being missed in communion themselves), but I see this as being just the sort of thing that God would use to speak to a specific person in a specific way, and in a way that cannot be used as proof for anyone else. In and of itself, it is hardly evidence of anything, but as it was a tipping point for me (on top of a pile of evidence and prayers for God’s guidance), it might be helpful to others in a similar situation.
In closing, I’ve noticed that if there is one subject that even the most biblically-minded Evangelical Protestants like to avoid, it’s the subject of the Eucharist. Once the biblical evidence is honestly examined, you need to do some very creative footwork to justify that communion is a symbolic “ordinance” rather than a sacrament. After ruling out the churches of our upbringing, we still had to choose between the options that remained. For awhile, we tried out the local Episcopal church, and we would have gladly gone to an Anglican church (at the time) if one was nearby. Also, the Eastern Orthodox have some substantial arguments… but we knew we could never innocently go back to where we were before.
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” -1 Cor. 11:27
From here, I recommend this post:
I remember often as a kid my parents would tell me that I should sit up straight. I didn’t really see what the fuss was about and largely ignored the advice, continuing to sit with my nose in a book, or reclined in whatever position felt comfortable. It wasn’t until I saw a picture of myself with friends when I was in my late teens that I noticed how horrible my posture was. My neck and shoulders naturally bent forward. By the time I had finally become self-conscious of my posture I had to work to undo years of slouching. It has not been easy, and I have not fully succeeded by the age of 30, but I have largely overcome the effects of bad posture through a constant attention to maintaining good posture.
Do you notice how actors in movies always just seem to have good posture? Athletes, dancers, equestrians, politicians and other people in the public eye can give the impression that good posture is a natural thing that we all have. I would argue that most if not all of those people have made a conscious effort toward good posture, to the point where it looks effortless, much like a well-trained public speaker appears like he’s having a natural conversation with his audience. Because the people we see and admire make good posture look natural, we can assume that we naturally have it also, especially when we only see ourselves from the front when we look in the mirror. I have learned that bad posture sneaks up on you, and for people like me who didn’t start out right, it takes an active fight everyday to not look like a slouch.
These days I notice that bad posture is becoming an epidemic among teenagers. Young ladies can develop a hunchback appearance, perhaps from looking down at their cell phones texting all day. Young men who play guitar or video games can have the problem and not even realize it, and then it can be a serious blow to their confidence when they finally notice. Is anyone going out of their way to motivate and properly instruct young people on how to sit and stand up straight? Perhaps we can learn something from the English culture of Jane Austen when young people were given elaborate instruction on how to carry themselves in public.
We should be aware of ourselves and understand our tendencies. Tall people can feel self-conscious about their height and perhaps subconsciously slouch downward, while shorter people might naturally have better posture while making the most of their height. People who work at a computer and/or a desk need to be extra careful, but those who work on their physical fitness have an advantage. If we’re relaxed much of the time then balance muscles that support our skeletal frame are not being exercised as they should. This is as much a challenge to myself as anyone.
The best advice I’ve ever heard for proper posture is to imagine that there is a string tied to the top of your head, pulling firmly upward. This helps you to extend the spine, put your shoulders and head back, chest out, and your chin up and back slightly, without exaggerating any of those movements. Daily stretches and strengthening your core are good ideas as well. A brief search online reveals possible routines that can help.
A focus on good posture can help with self-confidence, balance, and breathing, and can serve as a reminder to bring your head up and take a look at the world around you. It takes effort, but it’s well worth it. My point is, these things might need to be explained by parents and anyone who has an impact in the lives of young people. A bit of tough love can be something they’ll be grateful for later.