Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Saint Ignatius of Loyola Founder of the Jesuits

Ignatius of Loyola was a young soldier in the early 1500's who received a severe leg wound in a battle. During his convalescence he had nothing to read but devotional material about the life of Christ and the saints. This led to a conversion experience and a life-long devotion to Jesus Christ and his Church. Seventeen years after Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis, Ignatius founded a group of like-minded men who desired to serve the Church and put themselves at the service of the pope taking vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. This group became the Society of Jesus we now know as the Jesuits. They were great defenders of the Catholic faith and were a powerful force in the Counter-Reformation.
His approach to those who had left Catholicism for Protestantism can be seen in this quote:

“Great care must be taken to show forth orthodox truth in such a way that if any heretics happen to be present they may have an example of charity and Christian moderation. No hard words should be used nor any sort of contempt for their errors be shown.”

I realize his use of the term heretic is now considered pergorative and polemic, but at the time there had never been another Church in town, so to speak, and early Protestants were viewed as heretics by the Catholic Church. At any rate, my point is to illustrate his approach was "in charity and Christian moderation"; something I aim for but am not always successful at. By asking Saint Ignatius to pray to Jesus for me, I will get more grace as I learn to gently promote the Catholic faith. Who better to ask prayer from then a fellow believer who spent his life in defense of the Catholic faith?
As a young evangelical Christian (after I had left the Catholic Church) I was involved in a music ministry with a few young believers led by our pastor's wife. I played mandolin and my brother played upright bass and the ladies played guitar and sang. Thirty two years ago, we "cut" an album in a professional studio that never made it past the cassette stage. One of the songs we recorded was called "Receive Lord." It was hauntingly beautiful but I never realized until recently that we were singing word for word a song based on the prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola from 1530.

Receive, Lord, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. You have given me all that I have, all that I am, and I surrender all to your divine will, that you dispose of me. Give me only your love and your grace. With this I am rich enough, and I have no more to ask.”

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Rosary Beads : Vain Repetition or A Way to Holiness?

In my former life as a non-Catholic Christian, I had come to view rosary beads as the "quintessential" example of what Jesus meant when he said "And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words."
As a young Catholic (before I left the Church at 14) I said the rosary but didn't understand how to pray it. I didn't understand that as you pray the prayers on the rosary , you are to meditate on specific events in Jesus' and Mary's life. What can be better than that as a way of getting close to Jesus?
As a revert to Catholicism, I have now learned how to pray the rosary. Different days of the week are assigned to a different set of events that the Church calls mysteries. These "mysteries" are not real mysteries but events based in the Scripture. (As I have said before, Catholics tend to have a different vocabulary that causes confusion and fear among the un-initiated) My favorite is the Sorrowful Mysteries. As I pray each decade of Hail Mary prayers, I think on my Lord's agony in the garden, his scourging by the guards, the crowning with thorns, the carrying of the cross and finally the crucifixion. Praying the Hail Mary allows me to ask Mary's intercession for myself and others in light of the agony and suffering that Christ endured for me. My meditation of Him as the Psalmist says surely "is sweet." In between the decades are the Our Father Prayer which is the prayer that Jesus gave His church to pray. Praying the rosary is not worshipping Mary as noted in my last post. If you have any doubt, please go back and check!

So praying the rosary is not vain babbling, because we are not thinking that our prayers will be heard because of the quantity of them. In my former charismatic church, many folks would repetitiously pray, "thank you Jesus, praise you Jesus, thank you Jesus" over and over . We never felt this was vain or repetitious. In Revelations 4 it says the heavenly hosts proclaim "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty", day and night. So repetition is not wrong. The Jews prayed the Psalms over and over and Jesus being a good Jew participated in temple worship and certainly repeated prayers over and over again. The unjust judge and the widow make us understand that God expects us to intercede often and Paul exhorts us to pray without ceasing.

The rosary is not in the Bible,(Neither are Scripture flash cards or "praise and worship tapes") but it is a tool that us humans use to get us closer to our God. The concept of holding beads in your hand seems to disturb some non-Catholics because they think it is a pagan practice. Unfortunately, this attitude has its roots in the persistent unspoken paradigm of some forms of Protestantism as well as Christian Science: "spirit= good" but physical= bad ." Catholicism is incarnational , God has come to us in the flesh and He allows us to use the things of the material world to get closer to Him. The beads aren't magical and carry no power of themselves. Actually the word bead is from middle English meaning bede which translates to the word prayer. So the beads hold our place, keep our physical body engaged in an attitude of prayer, the Hail Mary prayers engage our lips in intercession and the mysteries engage our hearts and minds on Christ and the events in the Gospels. What's not to love here?

Some non-Catholic denominations have taken to praying a rosary as well and the Christian bookstores are starting to carry a "non-denominational" rosary using the Jesus prayer. So if you are a non-Catholic reading this, you can now tell your friends what you have learned: the Rosary is not Mariolatry nor vain repetition, not vain repetition, repeat not vain, not vain repetition, not vain repetition, etc. You get the point.

For more information on the rosary please check the links below. (Get a free rosary here) (On-line rosary) Look Ma no beads!

John Paul 2's Writings about the Rosary

If you are a Catholic who has been blessed by praying the Rosary, please feel free to comment here how God has used it in your life.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Hail Mary Prayer

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with Thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen

Where does this prayer come from? It is mostly from Scripture , Luke 1:28-42, and can be traced back as early as the 7th century.
And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured (full of grace), the Lord is with thee.
1:42 And she(Elizabeth) spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
By "Hailing Mary" the angel Gabriel greets Mary in a reverential way . "Hailing" is a King James way of saying: "I respectfully greet you." Perhaps this "hailing" is why post-reformation Christians began to believe that Catholics "worship" Mary. Prayers addressed to Mary do not imply any divinity on her part , but recognize her role as an intercessor for us. This role was first seen at the wedding at Cana when Mary was approached and she said "Do whatever He tells you." Martin Luther, Zwingli and Calvin felt devotion to Mary was important and not to be discarded with the rest of the Catholic practices they eschewed, and to this day Marian prayers can be found in Anglican and some Lutheran traditions.

So when Catholics pray the Hail Mary prayer they are praying Scripture and fufilling Mary's statement from the Magnificat that "all generations will call me blessed." The second part of the prayer where we ask the Mother of God to intercede for us was added in the late 16th century. Since Mary is part of the body of Christ and members of the body of Christ pray for eachother, we can ask her to pray for us. Physical death does not separate the Body of Christ and Christians have asked for the intercession of those who have gone before them since the first century.
The church was referring to Mary as the Mother of God as early as 230 AD and later confirmed this at the Council of Ephesus in the 5th Century. Marian devotion (not idolatry) was present in the early church and not a later "medieval invention." I hope this little ramble can explain why we Catholics pray the "Hail Mary" and do not believe that she is divine or worthy of worship, but certainly honor.

"Beginning with Mary's unique cooperation with the working of the Holy Spirit, the Churches developed their prayer to the holy Mother of God, centering it on the Person of Christ manifested in His mysteries. In countless hymns and antiphons expressing this prayer, two movements usually alternate with one another: the first "magnifies" the Lord for the "great things" He did for His lowly servant and through her for all human beings. The second entrusts the supplications and praises of the children of God to the Mother of Jesus, because she now knows the humanity which, in her, the Son of God espoused." Catechism of the Catholic Church.

A much more eloquent discussion of this prayer in depth can be found at the Coming Home Network website in an article by Lynn Nordhagen, a former evangelical.

Monday, July 24, 2006

St. Sharbel Makhlouf of Lebanon

Today the Catholic Church remembers a saint from the Eastern Maronite rite named St. Sharbel Makhlouf. He was born in 1828 and died in 1898. He entered a monastery at 23 years of age and was known for his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and his willingness to bring the Eucharist to neighboring villages. He spent the last twenty years of his life in prayer and solitude as a hermit. His spiritual heritage could be traced back to the early church at Antioch where the believers were first called Christians. It is hard for us to imagine but Lebanon was largely Christian and there is still a minority(40 %) of Catholic and Orthodox believers who live there among the majority Muslim (60%) population.
St. Sharbel became posthumously known as a miracle worker after his exhumed and non- corrupted body gave off a liquid which brought about many documented healings when touched to others . After his beatification, his body did eventually decay and all that is left now are his bones. Grotesque Catholic mythology ? This practice has its basis in Scripture.
People passed around napkins for healings that had been touched by Peter in the early church. Also, this is not unlike the Old Testament story where the bones of the prophet Elisha miraculously brought someone back to life.
"Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, Joash king of Israel went down to him, and wept before him ... So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, lo, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into the grave of Elisha; and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood on his feet." (2 Kings 13:14,20-21 RSV)

Let's ask St. Sharbel Makhlouf to pray along with us for the peace of Israel and Lebanon so there can be a just solution to this current war that has broken out in the past two weeks. I am sure he is already at the throne of our Lord asking for graces and mercy to be poured out on all the people of his homeland in this troubled time.

To learn more about this Saint please check out: St. Sharbel

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Not My Will But Yours....

"O Jesus, stretched out upon the cross, I implore You, give me the grace of doing faithfully the most holy will of Your Father, in all things, always.and everywhere. And when this will of God will seem to me very harsh and difficult to fulfill, it is then I beg You, Jesus, may power and strength flow upon me from your wounds, and may my lips keep repeating, "Your will be done, O Lord". From the Diary of Sister Faustina 1930

I want this to be my prayer today and always.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Saint Frank of Wegmans / Does Wegman’s Food Markets Promote Idol Worship?

I have been Catholic for a little more than two years and have now been to numerous chapels, cathedrals, churches and shrines. I have seen beautiful sacred art that has pointed my thoughts and eyes heavenward. I have seen statues of saints that have reminded me of holiness and dedication to God and I have seen portraits and statues of Mary, Jesus’ mom. I have seen beautiful and heart wrenching Stations of the Cross that vividly portray the suffering our lovely Lord Jesus endured for us. Yet in all this time, I have yet to see anyone bow down and worship a statue or image of God, Mary, Saint or angel. I have never heard a Catholic in Mass or outside of Mass speak of worshipping Mary or saint statues. I then checked the teachings of the Catholic Church called the Catechism to see what the official stand is on images and statues:

2132 The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, "the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype," and "whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it." The honor paid to sacred images is a "respectful veneration," not the adoration due to God alone: Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.

So there is the official teaching folks! Catholics don’t worship statues but they do honor or venerate the person they represent. I have a statue of St. Francis in my garden purchased at Wegman's in their outdoor section. Quite frankly(pun intended) it's a nice lawn ornament, but it's also a quiet reminder to me of this simple monk who left a rich prosperous future 750 years ago to live simply and to re-build the church of God dedicating his life to Jesus Christ. When I walk into my house past this statue, I don’t genuflect, bless myself or even say “I worship you Oh St. Francis.” Sometimes it reminds me to ask St. Francis to pray for me to help me give my all for Jesus as he did. Do I pray to that statue thinking the cheap piece of resin material in the form of St. Frank from Wegman’s hears my prayers? No, of course not. But it reminds me that I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who can intercede to the Lord for me. When you go to a loved one's grave and leave flowers, are you worshipping that dead person? No, but you are honoring them, “venerating” if you will, but not worshipping them.

"An essential difference exists between idolatry and the veneration of images practised in the Catholic Church, viz., that while the idolater credits the image he reverences with Divinity or Divine powers, the Catholic knows "that in images there is no divinity or virtue on account of which they are to be worshipped, that no petitions can be addressed to them, and that no trust is to be placed in them. . . that the honour which is given to them is referred to the objects (prototypa) which they represent, so that through the images which we kiss, and before which we uncover our heads and kneel, we adore Christ and venerate the Saints whose likenesses they are" (Conc. find., Sess. XXV, "de invocatione Sanctorum").

I have noticed that many churches in December put out large displays of statues of Joseph,
Mary and of Baby Jesus in a manger! (The origin of this tradition of a crèche can be traced back to a Catholic guy named St. Francis of Assisi, coincidentally) They even will put bright flood lights on it and will sometimes have a little service (weather permitting) reading Scripture right in front of these images of the holy family all the while sipping hot cocoa! Yet, nobody would say they are participating in winter solstice idol worship. It sure could look like idol worship to an alien who just landed on December 23rd in the heart of most small towns in the USA (unless the ACLU lawyers found them first! ) I also notice that many christians will often have images of Jesus on their Bible covers and/or these little fish symbols pasted to the back of their car. Now, no one accuses them of idol worship even though they are adorning the scriptures and their automobile with “graven images.” Am I making my point here? Obviously, it is wrong to worship anything or anybody other than the God of the universe. However using art, either 2 dimensional (pictures of Jesus, apostles etc such as is seen in VBS or Sunday School) or 3 dimensional (statues and bible action figures) to direct our hearts to Him is not idol worship. It would defy common sense that the God of the universe who endowed man with the ability to create such physical beauty would become enraged if we created an image that directed our hearts to Him. In the Old Testament God directed Moses to make a brass serpent for the people to look upon for healing. Also, the Ark of the Covenant surrounded by cherubim and the design of the temple containing multiple statues and images were given by the same God who forbade the worship of graven images. So clearly, at least in my mind, God did not intend any form of 2D or 3 D art to be forbidden as "idol worship." It’s what you do with the statue or image that matters. Many folks keep pictures of their family in their wallets but don't worship the images. If you carry loved ones pictures with you and put out crèches with the Holy Family in December, congratulations! You are in good company with 1.5 billion other Christians called Catholics who use images and artwork to direct their hearts and minds Heavenward. God bless Wegman’s Food Stores for selling statues of one of my favorite idols, Ooops, I mean saints.

PS:If you hurry now, I think you can still pick up a small statue of Old St Frank of Wegman for under 59 bucks. It's a steal!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Monastery

Today the Church celebrates the solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The hermits in the 12th century in northern Israel near the Fountain of Elijah had a devotion to Mary and became known as the Brothers of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. They were former crusaders and pilgrims who had originally come to the Holy Lands to protect the Christians from the raiding Saracens. This brotherhood grew and lead to sisterhoods and these Carmelite orders still flourish today throughout the world. Therese of Lisieux and Teresa of Avila were Carmelites as was St. John of the Cross.
I live about four miles from a Carmelite monastery in eastern Pennsylvania. The foundress of this monastery was Mother Therese of Jesus (1877-1939). She came to America from Germany and founded the Cloistered Carmelite Nuns of the Ancient Observance right here outside of Allentown.
Recently in 2002, when her body was exhumed to move her crypt, she was found "incorruptible" and her cause for canonization is currently being put forth. This morning we went to Mass at 7:00 AM at the Carmelite Shrine and had an opportunity to greet the cloistered sisters after Mass. They spoke to us from behind a grilled- in area but their love and joy flowed out completely unrestricted! We spent a few moments drinking in the fragrance from these beautiful souls that are totally devoted to serving Christ. Here is a quote from one of them, Sister Elisabeth:

"Here at Carmel of the Little Flower in the Valley of Saint Therese, I found and continue to find my utter fulfillment in God. It is indeed a life of dedicated prayer, of sacrificial penance, of good works for the Church and souls. The Holy Spirit of the Lord is never absent to one who strives to yield herself to prayer and communion with Him. Thus, spiritual growth in a lifelong dedication and commitment to God, by Sacred Vow, is my interest, hope and leit-motif. Saint Paul's ardent exclamation comes to mind here"...what things God has prepared for those who love Him." Even in this life Christ promised the "hundredfold" of grace, and then, in His own time, Eternal Life with Himself...""

We are so blessed to have those in the Church whose love for Jesus moves them to dedicate themselves to pray for the salvation of the souls of this world! Check out their website:

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Why Catholics Do Penance?

I start today's blog with a quote from one of the early leaders of the primitive church in the mid- fourth century. Athanasius, a bishop, was instrumental in combatting the heresy of Arianism and was one of the church fathers involved in the formulation of the Creed.
Let's hear what he said about confession: Athanasius (d. 373): "As the man whom the priest baptizes is enlightened by the grace of the Holy Ghost, so does he who in penance confesses his sins, receive through the priest forgiveness in virtue of the grace of Christ" (Frag. contra Novat. in P. G., XXVI, 1315).
This illustrates that a priest being able to transmit God's grace through the sacrament of penance (confession) was known and practiced in the early church. There are many other writings of the church fathers including Augustine that support the fact that confession is not a novel doctrine created later in church history.

Now onto Penance.
If Christ forgives our sins through absolution given by the priest, why then do we need to do anything further?
As alluded to in my blog earlier this week, the Bible is clear about the notion of making restitution, or requiring satisfaction for our sins. Though Christ forgives us, he still requires us to "fix" what we broke so to speak, repay what we stole, etc. When we sin, even if privately, we disturb our union with God and our communion with His church. Did you ever notice how sheepish you feel sometimes going to fellowship or worship after a particularly difficult time of wallowing in the pig troughs? So clearly, even our "private" sin affects our relationship to others. By performing acts of penance, we restore this relationship and "make amends" for our sins.
We don't gain forgiveness for our sins by penance, that is done by Christ acting through the priest.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states it much more eloquently than I:

1459 Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused.[62] Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must "make satisfaction for" or "expiate" his sins. This satisfaction is also called "penance."
1460 The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent's personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, "provided we suffer with him."[63] The satisfaction that we make for our sins, however, is not so much ours as though it were not done through Jesus Christ. We who can do nothing ourselves, as if just by ourselves, can do all things with the cooperation of "him who strengthens" us. Thus man has nothing of which to boast, but all our boasting is in Christ . . . in whom we make satisfaction by bringing forth "fruits that befit repentance." These fruits have their efficacy from him, by him they are offered to the Father, and through him they are accepted by the Father.[64]

When I made my first confession after 31 years away from the church I thought my penance would be some formula of "Hail Marys" and "Our Fathers." Guess what? The priest gave me penance by asking me to " tell someone everyday about what Jesus has done for you."
That was it! That was my penance! And to this day God has given me the opportunity one way or another to share what He has done for me through the Catholic Church. I walked out of that confessional feeling truly forgiven and unburdened and God imparted a great amount of grace to me. Each Saturday my priest hears confessions. That is my opportunity to speak into the "ear of God" and a "window of heaven" is opened and God's grace comes pouring down on me. Thank you Jesus for your Amazing Grace!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

What is the Sacrament of "Penance"?

Penance! The very thought strikes fear in the hearts of men and images of medieval torture racks in the minds of non-Catholic folks. Maybe hair shirts too, or hemmorhagic floggings as per the Da Vinci Commode. What is the Sacrament of Penance (AKA reconciliation or confession)? The Sacrament of Penance/Confession (as all Sacraments) was instituted by Christ himself.

But the word "Sacrament" isn't even in the Bible is it? No, I don't think so, but come to think of it,... neither is the word "Bible."
Remember from previous posts that a Sacrament is the way the God of the universe conveys His divine grace to us men on this earth through physical means. Again, to understand Catholicism, one needs to look to the Jewish faith from which Catholicism came. Sacramentalism is a very Jewish and ancient concept. For example, circumcision makes a Jewish child a part of the covenant family. It was a physical sign effecting a spiritual and covenental relationship.

In Baptism, physical water washes away sin.(1 Peter 3:21)

In Marriage, the two people become one physically and spiritually before God forever.

In the Eucharist, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.

In the Sacrament of Penance, Jesus gives His church the power to forgive the sins of men in His name. This forgiveness was obtained through his once and for all sacrifice on the Cross.

“He breathed on them and said to them:’ Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’" (John)

The Church believes that this authority was not meant to end after the first generation of disciples but was to continue to be passed on through the succession given through the "laying on of hands."

Why do we need the sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation? Because after we have received the grace of God and the cleansing from original sin in our baptism, we tend to fall back into the pig-pen again, and more often than not we purposefully head for the pen! When we sin, we injure our relationship with God as the prodigal son did to his dad and we also do damage to our relationship to the body of Christ, our neighbors. Only the pure of heart will see God and we need to restore the relationship we have injured by our sin. The Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation reconciles us to God and puts us right with His church.

But, why do I have to confess my sins to a man? Because the Bible says to do it!

"Confess your sins one to another and pray for one another so you may be healed."(James)

Yeah, but why a priest? Why not? Would you rather go up to someone in your congregation every week and confess your sins to them? I mean the Bible says to do it as a way of being healed so if we believe the Bible.....

If the Bible says we should confess our sins to someone human, wouldn’t you rather do it to someone who has been given the authority to forgive sins from Christ himself through this long train of apostolic succession?

Yeah, but a priest is a sinful man just like me!

Yes, but when we confess our sins, the priest is acting in the place of Christ and we are literally speaking into the ear of God. So regardless of the priest’s personal sanctity (which is not up to us to surmise anyway), the grace of God and forgiveness are conveyed through him. Personally speaking, I would rather, any day of the week, confess my sins to a man who is canonically committed to keeping them secret, rather than a friend or “brother in the Lord”. A priest can be excommunicated for sharing what he has heard in the confessional.

One of the worst experiences of my life was being forced to turn to a stranger at a Promise Keeper’s conference at a stadium in Pittsburgh and tell him my sins of the flesh! I vowed never to go to another PK event after that. Yet, the Promise Keepers knew that there was something very positive about confessing sins one to another. It’s a very humbling process to confess our sins to a priest but the free flow of God’s grace always makes it worth it. I still remember the feeling as a young boy going to confession (before I left the church for 31 years) and coming out with my "slate" wiped clean. I felt light and free and truly better for the experience. I can’t say now that I run to confession, but I can tell you that I long for the confessional after a few weeks or so of treading around in this world and sometimes getting my feet in the mud!

In the confessional, when I am truly sorry for sinning and offending my Savior, he freely and unconditionally wipes the slate clean and “his blood cleanses me from all sin.”

The priest doesn’t personally forgive me, he can’t. He acts in place of Christ and God applies the blood of Jesus through the absolution of the priest. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.”

On My Next Blog, I will discuss why we need to “do penance” after confession. This is a major sticking point for Protestants since they feel that “Jesus paid the price so I don’t need to do anything to "add" to His forgiveness.” The “penance” we perform doesn’t earn us forgiveness, but seeks to restore the temporal order that has been damaged by our sin.

Much the same way after our young toddler steals some candy from a store, we make sure he goes back in returning the item to make restitution. It is just as Jesus said “you will stay locked in the slammer until every bit of the money is paid back” so to speak.

To see the historical evidence of this practice going back to the days of the early church, please refer to this link.

Again, the sacrament of penance was not a "man made tradition" added sometime in the "middle ages."

Monday, July 10, 2006

St. Veronica Giuliani

St. Veronica Giuliani

St. Veronica was 17 years old when she joined the Poor Clare's order of Capuchins. Twenty years later she received the stigmata. Like St. Francis of Assisi, she was terribly humbled by the stigmata receiving in their own flesh the wounds that our savior bore.
"Why did God grant the stigmata to Francis of Assisi and to Veronica? God alone knows the deepest reasons, but as Celano points out, the external sign of the cross is a confirmation of these saints’ commitment to the cross in their lives. The stigmata that appeared in Veronica’s flesh had taken root in her heart many years before. It was a fitting conclusion for her love of God and her charity toward her sisters." (from
Now where in the Bible is the word stigmata....?

A nice discourse on Stigmata can be found at :

Friday, July 07, 2006

"Are You Saved Brother?"

When I was an evangelical, I believed the way to "get saved" was to ask Jesus Christ to forgive you of your sins and ask him into your heart to become your personal Lord and Savior. I used to pound the streets of a small city in NJ in the summertime as a young believer handing out Chick tracts and wearing a 4 inch crucifix asking strangers "Are You Saved?" Now fast forward 35 years. I have tried to find the support for this in the Bible but come up short. I have also tried to find this statement in the writings of the early church fathers and have not found it. I don't profess to be an expert in patristics and early christian history but this formulae for salvation is absent from all the writings of the early Christians and not heard of until centuries after the reformation. I do know that Paul says in Romans that we need to confess with our lips and believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, and as a Catholic I do this in each and every Mass. I publically acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead. One of the Eucharistic prayers of our liturgy affirms ; "Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again." But getting saved is a bit more involved that taking one verse from Romans and formulating a "sinners prayer" and saying that this is all there is to salvation. After all, Satan and his many demons can acknowledge that they are sinners and believe that God raised Christ from the dead and believe in Jesus more than you or I, but that isn't going to get them into Heaven as James states. My previous post "Losing my Religion" illustrates Paul's and Jesus' view that "being saved" was a process that starts in baptism (being born again in water and the spirit) and continues throughout the life of the believer. Even St. Paul said he hoped to reach the prize and "he that endures to the end will be saved."
Shouldn't we go to the Bible to see what it says the early church recommended to do for salvation? Acts 2:38 "And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Yes, you say, but what about Paul and Silas and the near-suicidal jailer in the prison?
When the chains fell off Paul and Silas in prison the jailer begged "what must I do to be saved"
The answer was "believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved." What happened next? Did they wait until the light of day when it would have been more convenient for the jailer to make a public confession of faith and be baptized for the world to see, if baptism is just an outward sign? No, he was that very same hour, immediately baptized, and his whole family too. Of course they wouldn't have baptized his infants and little children because they hadn't reached the "age of reason".... wait a second! It doesn't say that in the Bible. There is a fair chance that the jailer, (before the days of birth control) had a whole brood of young uns' and I suspect some were even too young to say the sinner's prayer! No one can tell me that they didn't baptize his babies. Scripture doesn't say no! So it is a possibility, say now?

Jesus great commission to the disciples was to go into all the world preaching the gospel to all creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved." Mk. 16:15
So my reading tells me that a recitation of the "sinners prayer" is not mentioned by our Lord or Peter when they were talking about being saved, but baptism certainly was.
Can someone out there in cyber land tell me where in the Bible it says that we are not saved by baptism? Let me know if you find a verse, I'll keep looking too.( Hint: it's not 1 Peter 3:21)
If you come up with the conclusion as Catholics have for 2000 years, that we are regenerated by the waters of baptism, you are in good company along with Mr. Luther and Mr. J. Wesley. They believed that baptism was the means of, not the sign of, regeneration.

"There is a justification conveyed to us in our baptism, or properly, this state is begun." J. Wesley 1746

Robert Klaus posts a concise discussion on Born Again/Conversion on his website:

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Losing My Religion: Is "Once Saved Always Saved" Biblical?

Strive for peace with all men and holiness, without which no one will see God. Heb 12 :14
Without Holiness, no of us will see God! Some folks have the impression that once they are “saved”, they are "home free" and their moral lives sometimes reflect that belief.
There is a danger in this view that can lead to living a life outside of holiness. Sometimes we think we are free from "the Law" and are set free from the moral law as well! The assumption is that our actions in this life have no bearing whatsoever on our ultimate salvation. Does the Bible really support the idea that our salvation can’t be lost once we have “accepted Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior?” (This formula for salvation incidentally, is not in the Bible) Do our works have no effect on our ultimate salvation? If you believe that salvation has no relation to works then you would adhere to the belief that your works can’t cause you to lose your salvation either.
Paul spent an awful lot of time in his letters to the churches about the dangers of sin and risks to their salvation if they continued to live lives egregious to the Holy Spirit. In his letter to the believers living in Rome and "called to be saints" he writes: "Do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and severity of God: severity towards those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in His kindness: otherwise you too will be cut off." Rom. 11:20
(strangely, enough, I don't recall this being VBS memory verse of the week)
So it seems to me that Paul was telling the believers that they need to continue in God's kindness. He tells the church elsewhere to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” To the believers in Galatia who wrongly insisted that they also needed to be circumcised to “be saved” he says: "you are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law, you have fallen away from grace." So they once had grace but lost it! You can’t fall from grace unless you once had grace so Paul is telling us you can lose your salvation unless you are careful!
Also Hebrews Chapter 10 always gave me much trouble as a young Christian since I was told you can’t lose your salvation. Let’s let the Scriptures speak to us here in the KJV :
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. (Could that mean baptism? Hmmmm)
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for he is faithful that promised;
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Not a VBS memory verse either)

Paul also says in 1 Tim 4:1 “Now the spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons”
So, based on my “plain” reading of these Scriptures, I would have to conclude that Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, is telling me that I can lose my salvation if I go on willfully sinning or if I decide to depart from my faith by listening to deceitful spirits. Remember, he was talking to the church here, the “saved folks” if you will.
Now some folks would say I am taking an unbalanced view of Scripture to prove my point. What do the Gospels say? Jesus made it clear that if we didn’t forgive others, we would not be forgiven. How about that troubling verse every young Christian male adolescent struggled with: “ If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out, better to lose one of your members than your whole body going into hell.” Sounds like Jesus was emphasizing the sin of lusting in our hearts could put us in danger of hellfire. If we can’t lose our salvation, why would Christ have said this? So clearly there is a consequence of sin even after we are “saved”. The parable of the dishonest steward alone is enough to make me realize that even folks who are forgiven initially can still be “cast out into utter darkness.” Not to mention the parable of the Sheep and the Goats where “not everyone who calls me Lord” will get to Heaven. You and I both know Christians who live very immoral lives but believe they are going to heaven because “No one can snatch them out of Christ’s hand.” Yes, so true, but they can step out of his hand willfully through presumptuous sin.!
I don’t live in fear of losing my salvation, I trust in God’s grace to grant me the power and desire to follow Him. The operative word here is Grace. I can do no good on my own anyway without His magnificent grace freely poured out in my life.

Now as Paul said; I, after running the race, hope to reach the prize, not that I or he (Paul) had already attained it. Hope is a good thing. Why would we hope if we were already assured of our ultimate salvation? What’s good for Paul is good for me. I want Paul’s prayer to be mine: “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, THAT IF POSSIBLE I MAY ATTAIN THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD. NOT THAT I HAVE ALREADY OBTAINED THIS OR AM PERFECT; but I press on to make it my own….” Phil 3:8-14.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence Day and Protesting

Thank God for the freedom we have in the United States. We have no state or authority over us telling us where and how to worship God. One of the reasons that the papacy is so distasteful to many American christians resides in this same "spirit of independence." The tyranny experienced by our founding fathers left a very bad taste in their mouths for anything "royal" or papal for that matter. The first thing they did was draft a Constitution and create a system, the Supreme Court, where by its interpretation could be living and "timeless." This is analogous in some ways to us having the Bible and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church being present for all time to help interpret it. The Constitution, if left to individual interpretation, without the authority of the US Supreme Court to guide the proper interpretation would have led to complete chaos and a country completely divided into many disputing factions.
Now, getting back to the topic of Independence, there used to be a distinct sense in the US that Catholics would be more loyal to the Pope than to their own president. The election of JFK fueled these fears, but that fear was certainly unfounded! A Catholic's "loyalty" to the Pope is more a spiritual than political one. We are loyal in the sense that we believe that the Bishop of Rome has been given authority by Christ to speak in areas of faith and morals . Therefore, as a practicing Catholic, I should live in accordance with the teachings of the Church, not picking and choosing which teachings I like or think are easy to adhere to.
When I, as a Catholic, choose to not accept the teachings of the Church, I am basically asserting my independence from this Church, protesting so to speak. Sadly, the spirit of independence has greatly influenced American Catholics in a negative sense where many no longer feel compelled to following the teachings of the Church.
Imagine if the early Christians took the apostles teachings and separated out which ones they wanted to follow! Imagine if each congregation in Galatia, Phillipi, Colossae, Corinth, Antioch, Ephesus, and Rome were able to choose which teachings they were comfortable with and which ones they could reject or ignore. The result would have been chaos and there is a very good possibility that the church would have fizzled out within one or two generations. The writings of the early church fathers are replete with the notion that there needed to be absolute loyalty to the apostles teachings. It was also clear to the early church fathers that the bishop of Rome had the primacy over all other bishops and that is where the "theological buck" stopped.