I love a good book. Sadly I haven’t read a great book in awhile, but I will tell you that Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz is absolutely one of my favourites. Donald Miller is now newly married in his 40s, but has written a number of fantastic best selling books and has built a strong career around trying to help others. In his works, Miller reflects a lot on what it is like to be a Christian (or a Christ-Follower in his terms), in the midst of the current culture. Donald’s theology seems to stem from his protestant,”emergent”, and evangelical church experiences over the years. He recently admitted in his blog, however, that he has stopped going to “church” with any regularity. What I am about to say may shock some of you, however, I believe he is doing the right thing. The truth is that although faith comes by hearing, there is more to the real Christian life than words and sermons, and this has certainly been understood well before the Protestant Reformation was even a twinkling in Martin Luther’s eye.
In a recent interview done with the emergent church’s seemingly official magazine, Relevant (video below), Donald Miller describes how his admittance about his lack of church attendance has caused scandal among his fans and how it breaks his heart. He did not expect the uproar it received. In looking at his reasoning for no longer attending “church”, I have to admit that I found myself nodding in agreement with him, having myself been in a similar place before. There is, however, one major difference between Donald Miller and I.
In his interview with Relevant, he talks about his trouble with accepting the church as a scholarly body, that was seemingly “born out of the printing press.” Like many protestants, his historical understanding of the Church spans from the Reformation to today, with a very basic understanding of the church seen in the book of Acts. There is a 1500 year gap that is ignored by most protestants (including Miller), because they believe they have progressed beyond it and really started learning what it is to live the Christian life. They believe that what the Apostles had was lost until the Reformation. St. Paul tells the Romans (10:17), that “faith comes by hearing”, and you better believe that protestants work to make you hear, because to them it is by faith alone (Sola Fide) that we are saved.
This, however, has left Donald Miller and I’m sure many others feeling disconnected. “There is only one way to learn in a Sunday Service”, Miller said in the interview, describing his struggles. He longs for real community, but he says that, “community is not 200 people facing forward and hearing a lecture.” That is very true! There is something more to the real Church than singing songs and hearing sermons. Donald Miller is, therefore, fully justified when he says that a protestant church service is “not the most efficient use of his time.” There is, however, something waiting for him, much older than the Reformation, beginning with Christ Himself, that would satisfy the very longings of his heart if only he would tap into it.
Donald Miller needs the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I am not talking the happy, clappy, neo-modernist style Masses that pervades much of the West. I am talking about a truly reverent Roman Catholic Mass, in the midst of a community that really believes in what is happening on the Altar. Instead of being entertained, he needs to be immersed into the Sacred Mysteries. Instead of being taught, he needs to be united with the priest while offering the greatest Sacrifice of praise history has ever seen, namely, the once for all paschal sacrifice of Christ, re-presented in an unbloody fashion on the altar in the hands of a priest.
Jesus tells us in Mark’s Gospel that, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath”. Unlike Protestant services that could hinge upon a hard hitting sermon, or a great musically engineered time of praise and worship, or even a good “liturgy”, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass solely relies on two things: God and a priest. As long as there is a validly ordained Catholic priest, Jesus becomes present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, and it is Jesus Himself, through the priest, who performs the action of the Mass. Mass does not require that you learn anything. Mass does not even require your participation to work. Jesus does the acting. We, however, can enter into that mystery if we choose, and it is in that entering into the Mass that Donald Miller, like all of us, would find what he is truly looking for.
We were designed for Sacraments and not sermons. Donald Miller has become fed up with being entertained and force-fed teaching in protestant Christianity and so he has essentially chosen, because he can, to just not attend. Donald stated that he loves community. Mass doesn’t provide community in the mere sense of the word, but it truly provides communion; communion with God physically dwelling in us through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, and because of our communion with Christ the head, we are then mystically united to the rest of the Body, His Church. This cannot be found in a Sunday BBQ where you pow wow about Jesus. This is only possible when Christ unites Himself to His bride through the sacrament of His Love, bottom line.
What protestantism lacks (especially the evangelical emergent church), beyond the Fullness of Truth, is a fully human experience. The typical Sunday service in an evangelical church may appeal to your sense of vision (lights, videos, dramas etc), hearing (music), your intellect (sermon), and perhaps, if you’re lucky, you may have an emotional experience during prayer. I am not downplaying honest conversions that happen in these protestant churches, but there are those who go seeking a touchy-feely experience, not simply in protestant churches, but everywhere. As the Catholic Church is sacramental, on the flip side, the Mass itself appeals to every single human sense there is. I feel the Extraordinary Form (or Traditional Latin Mass) exemplifies this the best. Here are some of the ways the Mass engages us in a fully human way:
-The Mass engages your sense of sight as you see the actions occur around the altar.
-You hear the chants and the bells.
-The scent of the incense burning and rising before the altar fills your nostrils.
-Holy water being splashed upon you, reminding you of your baptism.
-The humble taste of bread, knowing that it is no longer bread, but God Himself.
What Donald Miller needs is the Catholic Church in its entirety, most especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In his interview, he lamented that pastors did not commission their congregations to go home and act as a domestic church. He wished everyone could be a pastor. As Catholics, we understand that our baptism baptises us into the three-fold mission of Christ as priest, prophet, and king. Although we are not all necessarily part of the ordained priesthood, we are way more than just a pastor. Miller, like protestantism in general, will never be able to see this until he breaks the time-wall of the reformation and looks at the Church for the first 1500 years of Christianity. Blessed John Henry Newman, a famous convert to Catholicism states that, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”
I believe that any believer, whether Catholic or not, who truly loves God would desire not only to be united to Him, but to see that He is adored to the fullest extent possible. To enter into the Mass means to be united with the greatest act of love God the Father could ever receive, which is the sacrifice of His only Son. No amount of sermons or extended times of praise will amount to one iota before the great sacrifice of Christ. This sacrifice of Christ made present in the Holy Mass is something the Apostles understood and loved as they gathered in the cenacle every Sunday. The early Church defended this very Sacrament while hiding in the catacombs. It is the very same thing today. If the veil could be taken away, and everyone could see the Mass as it really is, you would not be able to contain the numbers of people who would come seeking the Bread of Life. Faith may come by hearing, but what good is faith if you starve to death looking for food that will not satisfy. It’s time for the feast.
Here is the interview with Donald Miller:
Ecumenism is difficult. And lately, we’ve had no shortage of examples, both good and bad.
Maybe you’re like me, and when you hear someone speak about ecumenism, you kind of brace yourself a little. It’s one of those topics where when I hear it come up, I mentally prepare myself for battle with heresy.
So, I admit, when I heard of Pope Francis’ video message to the recent pentecostal conference in Texas, I wasn’t sure whether to arm myself for another round of grossly misunderstood and intentionally misrepresented “ecumenical” quotes plastering the internet.
Pope Francis has been noted for his eagerness to reach out to groups that are often seen as distant from the Church, such as atheists and proponents of gay marriage, and he has done so with varying degrees of success. Sometimes, I think, his statements were a little too vague, other times words were put in his mouth.
This time, I think our beloved Pope just about nailed it.
In a clear and compassionate way, Pope Francis expressed his love for our Christian brothers who are separated from the Church, as well as the need for concrete and true unity. His analogy of a family separated by sin hit the nail on the head.
Too often, Catholics look at ecumenism with a limited perspective – we either focus on being friendly and welcoming at the expense of truth, or we do the opposite. I’ve personally enraged enough internet-protestants that I know my bent is toward the latter. As is so often the case, the true, Catholic way is the sane balance between these extremes.
If we take the analogy of a family shattered by separation, consider how one could ever reunite them. Would they be united by the mere imposition of the facts? Or would it take an act of love to bring them back together? This is how I view what Pope Francis did – the father of that broken family, still feeling the hurt, and not ignoring the facts of the matter, but reaching out in love despite that. It’s the only way to make a first step toward true unity.
Now, for the contrast.
Tony Palmer’s speech to this pentecostal group was interesting, to say the least. Certainly it contained a boatload of doctrinal and historical errors. But that’s not, I think, the main point where it diverges from Pope Francis. Where it diverged was the tone and message, which were directly opposed to the Pope’s.
Where Pope Francis spoke warmly, he also spoke sadly. He knew and acknowledged the terrible wound inflicted on all the faithful by the continued separation of so many from Christ’s Church. He spoke of the healing that is necessary, and invited those listening to pray, and to continue the journey.
Palmer spoke triumphantly. He claimed he was Catholic, and so were all the pentecostals. He contrasted diversity and division, as if to say that the pentecostal position was not divided from the Church. He preached the comfortable false gospel: all is well, carry on as you are. He praised God for a victory that did not exist. I couldn’t help but think of a general telling his men to crack open the beer kegs and drink themselves stupid in celebration, right before the battle begins.
Contrary to what Tony Palmer says, doctrine does matter. And so does ecumenism. All of us could benefit from watching these two attempts at it, and using them to thoughtfully inspect our own outlook. We must desire unity as Christ does, and work for it with love and truth, in equal measure.
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. -
Ephesians 5: 21-30
Some of you may know that I was engaged to be married as of last summer. Since the date was picked and the dress was bought, my future wedding and marriage have been the main things on my mind. I wake up and I see the boxes filled with things I’m packing from the home I’ve lived in almost my whole life. I see shelves filled with crafting supplies I’ve used to make the invitations and the bouquets. Everyday, something about the wedding comes up, and I’m bombarded with my own worries and stresses. As I prepare to get married, I constantly put myself in check and remind myself that this marriage is far more than just a new life with Michael, but it is a vocational call from God. I can try my best to seek all the marriage advice I can in Church teachings, apologetics, and the internet; but actually living out the vocation is where the real work begins. Wedding preparation calls us to reflect on the demands of marriage: freely given and life giving love, sacrifice, and forgiveness As I reread Ephesians 15, it radiates within my heart that this exhortation from St Paul summarizes the fundamental reality of marriage.
I have come to understand that marriage is not all about happiness. It is only part of it. In fact, some days it may be completely the opposite. Christ suffered for us on His way to Calvary. He hung for each of us personally on the Cross out of love so that we could be with Him. What a triumphant and profound proclamation of love is displayed when a person gives up their life for another! How can we not be moved to tears when we consider Christ on the cross? The sacrifice of Christ was done without reserve. By His actions, Christ declared once for all, “Yes, I truly love you and I will to die for you because I love you”. This type of sacrificial love is the fundamental model for marriage.
Marriage is often treated as a relationship of compromise, when on the contrary, it should more often be a relationship built on sacrifice. Christ, though experiencing the worst agony known to man, chose to forgive and lay down His life for those who persecuted Him. He knew that the result of His sacrifice would mean that all of humanity would again have the ability to be in communion with the Blessed Trinity. God desired that we would be truly happy and the only way for that to be possible would be through restoring union with Him.
The sacrifices we make in order to love our spouse may be great or small. It may mean watching the football game, even if we have no interest in it. It may mean not being able to go out and hang out with friends because our spouse asks us to stay and spend quality time with them. In my case, it is moving to a new city, away from all the friends and family I have known my whole life. This is no easy sacrifice for me but I know that I am called to remember Christ’s Sacrifice for His Bride and lay down my will for the sake of the one I love. Jesus offered up His life in order to give us new life in Him. This new life is a generous gift and a blessing to us, and we must remember that if we are bring life to our marriage, we must also be open to lay down our lives for the good of the other.
Having a foundation of union with God in prayer is essential to marriage. This is why it is important to begin working on building a prayer-centred relationship with our partner prior to marriage. In order to be able to call our spouse to holiness, we must first seek that holiness for ourselves. In doing so, we can then truly encourage our spouses to seek holiness because our lives already reflect what we are preaching. We must submit to God’s will joyfully in every aspect of our lives and this includes the planning of our future family when married. Our children (should God will it) will not really be our children, but are God’s children that He has given to us to take care of and bring up. We are called to introduce them to their Heavenly Father, who is also our Father. This responsibility must be accepted and acted upon with humility and that only comes by the grace given to us through prayer.
Forgiveness is one of the most humbling yet central parts of marriage. True forgiveness requires a lot love. Real forgiveness says, ” Yes, you have hurt me, but I forgive you, and I love you. I am willing to let this hurt go completely and not let it stand in the way of our relationship”. This past Sunday in the Novus Ordo Liturgical Calendar, the Gospel discussed how we will not be forgiven unless we forgive others:
So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in goodtime while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. In truth I tell you, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny. ( Matthew 5: 23-26)
So many marriages fall apart because of the lack of forgiveness. Hopelessness, distrust, and sorrow are just some of the things that come with this lack of forgiveness. Christ called out to God the Father on the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Even when He was on the cross, Christ still forgave those who had tortured Him, laughed at Him, and hated Him. We must imitate this kind of forgiveness in our relationships, even if it is not reciprocated. The ability to forgive in this way can only be granted by God’s grace. It is, however, a grace that God freely bestows on those who ask for it. It may take time, but it will come.
To truly forgive means to forgive not only the big things that hurt us but also the little things that hurt us. Sometimes those are the hardest things to forgive because the occurrences happen over and over. We may become angry with our spouse or friends because of these things, but doesn’t God have to deal with the same things in us? This can be seen in our need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We sin, we confess, we promise not to sin again, and because of our weakness, we sin again. Many times we sin in the exact same way we sinned before. Over and over we come to Christ in the Sacrament of Confession and ask for His forgiveness. God’s mercy is so great and His love is so true that He always takes us back with open arms if we are truly repentant. We have seen or heard of stories where a spouse opens their arms to their partner who has cheated on them. These courageous and loving souls choose to forgive. What an incredibly beautiful, selfless, and loving act! We must strive to forgive in the same way as Christ, who forgives our failures no matter how often we fail.
When all is said and done, I know that marriage is not for me, but for God. It is for His Glory. It is for the building of His Kingdom. Marriage is meant to help us grow in holiness. Christ did not die for His own sake, but for ours. Marriage is not about self-fulfilment, but the fulfilment of God’s will, which will inevitably make us truly happy. It is about doing what He desires so that we may help our spouse to love Christ more than us. Marriage is holy, for God made marriage to reflect His love in the Holy Trinity. It is sacrificial, because it is meant to be an imitation of the love of Christ for his Bride, the Church. True joy and love is only found in Christ, not in our spouse. It is not found in achieving the “life we have always wanted or dreamed of.” We must, therefore, seek to imitate Christ’s love for the Church in our marriages. We need to give God every tear, every pain, every joy, and He will do great things in us and in our marriages. Holiness is what marriage was designed for. Anything else falls short of the glory meant for it.
PS Check out this article that inspired me to write this post.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men.” Matthew 5:13
At one point or another in all of our lives, I am sure we have felt lost, not knowing our usefulness or purpose. Today’s Gospel was taken from Matthew, where Jesus said that “you are the salt of the earth”. Upon hearing this today, it struck me in a new way, because it was for me an encouragement, spoken directly to me by the Lord. He is speaking this very thing to all of us, personally. In relation to God, we are really nothing. Yet to Him, we are His everything, the apple of His eye, the one that He loves. He paid our ransom so that we can spend eternity with Him, although knowing that we could still choose to reject Him. By virtue of our Baptism, we have been commissioned to flavour our world with the love of Christ, preserve the world from corruption, help to bring healing through Christ to the broken, and through those ordained as Priests, cleanse the souls of sinners through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. What a mission to be given, to be salt for the earth!
Salt has always served these four purposes, to give flavour, to preserve, to heal, and to clean. As baptized Catholics, this is our four-fold mission, given to us by Christ. When the multitudes of people gathered around Him, he first said to them the beatitudes. After saying that we are the salt of the earth, he went on to give us many other instructions on how to love rightly, how to be right with one another, and with God Himself. At the end of chapter five in Matthew, Christ says “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” In this way, we are meant to imitate God, and this four-fold mission encompasses that.
In Haydock’s Catholic commentary of the Douay-Rheims Bible, he says that:
The former instructions Jesus Christ gave to the multitude. Now he addresses his apostles, styling them the salt of the earth, meant to preserve men from the corruption of sin, and to make them relish the truths of salvation. He tells them not to suffer their faith or their charity to slacken, in which all their power consists, lest they come to be rejected by God, and despised by man. (Calmet) — I send you, says Jesus Christ, not to two, ten, or twenty cities, not to one single nation, as the prophets were sent, but to the whole world, a world oppressed with numberless iniquities. It is not the property of salt to restore what is already corrupted, but to preserve from corruption. Therefore the virtue of the merits of Christ delivers us from the corruption of sin; but the care and labour of the apostles preserves us from again returning to it. (St. Chrysostom, hom. xv.) …
The world has always meant to be peripheral to the Church, rather than the Church being peripheral to the world. Our world today has been most affected by this corruption and brokenness through the family, and it is by taking active steps to uphold the family that we can most effectively be salt for the earth. Blessed Pope John Paul II said that “as the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” With the breakdown of the family, we have seen the breakdown of our society at large. Marriage between a husband and wife is meant to be an image of the Trinity. Anything less than that is a mockery and counterfeit of this holy institution, from pre-marital cohabitation and use of contraception and abortion, to homosexual acts, adultery, divorce, etc. We can be salt to our families and whole world by upholding the dignity of marriage and the family, guarding our tongue, reconciling with one another, maintaining a peaceful home, remaining faithful and honest with one another, not killing other people, etc.
One of the two Priests at Mass today shared a simple yet powerful story, which we can all learn from and strive to model. A young boy went with his Grandmother to Church, and was in awe at the beautiful stained glass windows. He could not take his eyes off them. When he was at school the following day, a Priest came in to his religion class to talk to them about the Saints. Upon asking if anyone knew who the Saints were, the young boy said “I know! They are the people who the Sun shines through!” Have courage! With Christ, all can be overcome. He has made us salt and He will preserve us so we can let Him shine through us. It is through us that He can preserve, heal, cleanse, and flavour the world.