The first time I met my wife, there were all sorts of wonderful things about her that I liked. However, I remember one thing that I thought wasn't so wonderful . . . she was a Catholic. Now at the time it wasn't a big deal. I mean, she was really cute . . . so who cares that she's Catholic?
Once we started to become closer friends and eventually to date, it became a much bigger deal. I had never met a real, live Catholic before, and she challenged me to rethink many of my views.
Needless to say, I eventually joined the Catholic Church and will always be grateful for the role that she played in my conversion. Looking back, I can see three major Bible verses that changed my perspective and were absolutely crucial in bringing me home to the Catholic Church:
1. This Rock
'And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church . . . ' (Matthew 16:18)
I had grown up a Presbyterian Christian who believed that as long as you were a Christian who believed in Jesus, you belonged to the 'church.' It didn't matter which church you belonged to or where you went to worship on Sundays, it just mattered if you believed in Jesus. If you believed in Jesus, you were doing just fine.
You see, the problem with thinking that way, is that to believe in Jesus means that you also believe everything that He said and taught. One of those things that Jesus said and taught, however, was that He was going to found a particular Church, and only one of them. He didn't say that He was going to establish churches, but one Church. Only one. When I realized this, I knew that I wanted to be a part of that one Church that Christ founded; the problem was, 'which Church is the right one?'
2. Faith and Works
'You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone' (James 2:24).
Once I realized that Jesus intended to found only one Church, I needed to find which Church that was. One of the key beliefs of Protestant Christianity is salvation by sola fide … 'by faith alone.' It didn't matter what you did, all you had to do was believe in Jesus and you were going to heaven. This had always seemed a little off to me, but I had never spent a lot of time thinking about it until I read this verse in James.
Now, James isn't saying that we get to go to heaven by doing good things without faith, but what he's saying is that we can't just say we believe something, we have to act on it. We have to let our lives reflect the inner transformation that happens when we give our lives to Jesus.
You can see where this is going. I realized (to my horror) that the Bible was starting to sound awfully Catholic . . .
3. The Eucharist
'So Jesus said to them, ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâèÏVery truly, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life . . . ' (John 6:53-54)
Once I read the famous speech that Jesus makes in John 6, I knew that I had to be a Catholic. I had already admitted that Jesus only founded one Church, and I had already realized that the Catholic belief that our lives should be totally transformed by faith in Jesus. Realizing the truth of Christ's real presence in the Eucharist was the final step. I thought to myself, 'I have to be a Catholic!'
For a second, it was horrifying. Everything I had believed before was just not enough. The next second though, I was absolutely overjoyed. I realized the tremendous blessing it was to know the truth about what Jesus had come to share with us.
I don't ever regret growing up a Protestant Christian; my parents did an amazing job of teaching me about the Bible and Jesus, and instilling a love for the Lord in my heart. I can only be even more overjoyed now, however, that Jesus gave me the gift of realizing that the Catholic Church was where He intended me to be.
We can do our friends and families a huge favor by sharing the good news of the truth of the Gospel with them. Jesus Christ founded a Church, and it's the Catholic Church.
Editor’s Note: As Catholics, it’s our duty to understand what’s going on in the world and what the Catholic Church has to say about it. The HHS Mandate is “what’s going on” and it’s a big deal. Don’t be ignorant about it! Fr. Mike explains it really well. You can jump to which question you’re the most curious about, or read all of it! Either way, I pray you take to heart what you learn and speak the truth courageously. – Christina
Being a follower of Christ is tough. But c'mon, it’s always been tough.
During the first centuries of Christianity, there were a number of times when super nasty plagues broke out. Normal people would abandon their 'loved ones' at the first sign of sickness. Out of the desire for self-protection, they would kick the sick out of the house and leave them to die. At the same time, Catholics would walk through these same villages and cities and collect those who were infected, sick, and dying. They brought the sick into their own homes and cared for them in their illness.
They did this despite the fact that many of these people would still end up dying.
They did this despite the fact that many of them would catch the plague and end up dying.
They did this despite the fact that almost none of these people were Catholic.
They did this because they realized that Jesus Christ had given them a mission and a vision to care for those who were 'hungry, naked, poor, imprisoned, and sick.' Those Catholics believed that when they cared for the 'least of these,' they were caring for Jesus Himself.
This was the beginning of what has come to be known as 'health care.'
Not a ton of people know this, but before Catholicism came on the scene, there were no such things as hospitals. Oh sure, you had your 'healers' and whatnot, but there was no group of people who openly cared for any and all of the sick.
1 in 6 people are cared for in Catholic hospitals!
The hospital system was originally developed by the Catholic Church. Why? Because the Catholic Church introduced this truth to the world: all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God and therefore have dignity. Think about this revolutionary idea. Until the Catholic Church brought this teaching to the world, literally no religion or philosophy or culture thought that 'all men were created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.'
Sound familiar? Our very Declaration of Independence is based off an idea that, while the Founding Fathers considered it to be 'self-evident,' was only actually believed and practiced when the Catholic Church introduced this idea to the world. It has become the foundation for our entire system of government.
Because of all of this, I think that the Catholic Church might have a few things to say about health care . . . which brings us to today's issue.
What is the HHS Mandate?
If you've been following the news lately, you've noticed that the bishops of the United States have been talking a lot about the 'HHS mandate.' This has nothing to do with Houston High School's new mascot ('Goooooo Mandates!') and everything to do with religious freedom.
Wait. What? Back up, padre. I heard that your 'HHS' dealio was about contraception. I also heard that most Catholics don't agree with the Church regarding contraception. I also heard that my best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious.
Okay, here is the thingamajig. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services wants to improve health care in the United States. This, in and of itself, is a noble goal. But here is the problem: they are mandating that all health-care agencies and institutions must pay for insurance that covers contraception, sterilization, and certain kinds of abortifacient drugs. This means that Catholic hospitals and universities must provide something that we believe violates our religion and is a sin.
We’re being bound to do something that is against our Catholic conscience
Now, before you say, 'Ohhhhh . . . so this is about contraception . . . ' and regress into a 21st century-pagan-American-relativistic stupor, let me slow you down here.
(Want to know more about the Church's teaching on contraception? Check out some articles here, here, and here.)
Yes, the mandate involves contraception, but it is way (WAAAAAAAAAYYYY!) bigger than that. This is about the government believing that they have the authority to tell the Catholic Church what it can and cannot do.
Heads up: this is the single biggest attempt on the part of the United States government to control religion that this country has EVER SEEN.
What is the official wording of the Constitution? Check out this noise:
'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . '
This means that, from the beginning of our country, the government has stated that it must not prohibit the free exercise of religion. The state cannot tell the Church what to do.
And yet the HHS Mandate is exactly that! The U.S. government is stepping over its boundaries and is now telling the Catholic Church:
'This is how you are going to run your hospitals, schools, and clinics.'
'But this violates our consciences!'
'We don't care.'
Do you know why the government says that we must do this? They said, 'If you were only employing Catholics, and if you only took care of sick Catholics, then you could do what you want. But because you don't discriminate whom you employ and whom you care for and educate, we get to tell you how to run your institutions.'
Think about the audacity (of hopelessness) of that action! Because we live out our faith and try to love everyone, the government says they are 'the bosses of us' (which is clearly not true; I learned long ago that my older sister is apparently the boss of me).
If we kept our religion behind the walls of the church building, they would leave us alone. But since we bring our faith in Jesus to real life, our current administration can tell us what to do?
Uncle Sam, puh-lease.
Here is an analogy I heard from Bishop Lori. This action on the part of the government is like what would happen if Congress mandated that a Jewish delicatessen owner serve pork. The Jewish man might claim that this violates his religion. The government then points out that he employs non-Jews. Also, there are non-Jews who eat at his deli who like pork and might want to eat it at his establishment.
The government might say, 'If you kept to yourselves, then we would leave you alone. Since you don't, you have to do what we say.'
The same thing is happening to the Catholic Church right now. The government is making an effort to tell us which doctrines of the Church we can and can't follow.
So, the Catholic Church has politely told the government that it can't do this. The government responded with, 'In that case, we will give you a year to figure out how you are going to get used to violating your consciences.' (Which seriously, is suuuuuuper generous!! No, really. No. REALLY. I'm being sarcastic.)
The U.S. bishops are united in saying that they will not comply with this law. It is what we call an 'unjust law' (which is really no law at all), and that we would 'rather obey God than man.' And we are prepared to accept the consequences.
So . . . what are the consequences of this law? What are the consequences of violating this law?
Good question, camper. That might be nice to know.
What’s going to happen?
In the centuries before Jesus came on the scene, the land of Israel was occupied by the Greek empire. It was important to the Greeks that they were able to control the daily lives of their subjects; so while the Jews could read their Scriptures and worship the One True God (albeit in a limited way), the Greeks wanted to make the Jews 'like everyone else.'
In order to do this, they began to pressure many Jews to break some of their laws. Things like throwing a pinch of incense into a bowl in front of a statue of the emperor, or eating forbidden foods like pork.
“You have to violate your consciences!” said the very blue eyed Greek man a long time ago
There were some that went along with it, but there were some who refused. Among them there was a faithful and tough-as-nails old man named Eleazar (2 Maccabees 6) and one mom and her seven sons (2 Maccabees 7). These men were tortured to death rather than eat a piece of pork and renounce the covenant God had made with the Jewish people. (If you want to read some serious Braveheart-esque bad-assery, check out these stories.)
Rather than violate the teachings of the Lord, they died. Others were imprisoned. Others were fined. These were the consequences of not 'going along with' the mandate.
While this is a true story from history, it is also an analogy for our time. The government has mandated that Catholic institutions provide health care insurance that pays for contraceptive services, abortifacient drugs, and sterilization.
Granted, there may be many Catholics who want to be like the rest of the world and go along without hesitation. But if we want to be faithful to Jesus and to His Church, then we must not comply.
And here is the catch – if we’re prepared to not comply, then we must be prepared for the consequences.
Now, while I hope and pray that we don't come to the point where martyrdom or imprisonment is the consequence, there could still be some serious consequences.
Any and all Catholic institutions which come under the purview of the mandate will be forced to comply or pay a fine. These fines will shut these institutions down. Effectively, the United States government will be saying, 'If you don't do what we tell you, then we will put you out of business.'
And what is the 'business' that will most be affected? The 'business' of caring for the sick, poor, the homeless, and the dying. As of this moment, the Catholic Church is the single largest charitable organization in the world. One in six sick people are treated at Catholic hospitals in this country. What will happen when these institutions are shut down? What will happen when Catholic schools are forced to violate their Faith or are forced out of the field of higher education?
This is completely unnecessary. No one would be denied health care if the HHS removed this mandate from the law. Catholics are merely asking for the freedom that is guaranteed in the First Amendment: the freedom to live out our beliefs in public.
As Melissa Moschella, put it:
“The key to understanding conscience rights correctly is to recognize that there is a world of difference between a law that makes me do something I don't want to do and a law that makes me do something I have an obligation not to do. The former is an annoyance, the latter an assault on my moral integrity.'
What can I do about it?
The virtue needed today is courage. It is the virtue to do what is needed, when it is needed, in the way it is needed.
“God, give me courage!” said Courage the Cowardly Dog
Americans are facing the largest threat to religious liberty that our nation has ever seen. It will no longer be enough for Catholics to be 'believers' in Jesus Christ and His Church; we will need to be witnesses to Christ and His Church.
Yeah, but how?
First, by understanding the issue at stake. With the HHS Contraceptive mandate, our First Amendment rights to religious freedom are under attack. It is imperative that Catholic high schoolers and college students understand this issue and can speak intelligently about it.
This means that we argue points, not people. We do not attack, we explain. We do not bluster about with arrogant speech, but we give the reason for our position with 'with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame' (1 Peter 3:16).
Contact your state representatives. Contact our Federal representatives. Someone down in my own state's public offices told me recently that it is a myth to imagine that the phones are ringing off the hook down at the capitol. Your call has a lot of weight. There are few people outside of special interest groups who actually take the time to contact their reps and inform them on issues.
Look at your life. We need to not only witness to the Church with our lips, but also with our lives. This means that we are called to make a serious examination of our own consciences.
How am I living? Am I a 'pick-and-choose' Catholic? Or am I willing to be like Eleazar, or Saint Peter, or Mother Teresa, or Miguel Pro? (This doesn't mean that I never sin, but it does mean that I intend to follow the Church's teachings.) I might still have questions, but that is a very different thing from being in rebellion.
The Church doesn't merely need better 'arguers.' The Church needs saints.
Yes, I need to be informed. Yes, I need to be gentle in my argument for the truth. Yes, I need to take action and speak when speech is called for.
More than anything, the Church needs men and women who are what they should be*. The Church needs men and women who have placed Jesus at the center of their lives. The Church needs men and women of courage.
Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den for standing up for truth, but God protected him.
The Church needs saints.
Do you want to know what you can do? How about what you can be?
Be courageous. Be a saint.
You want some practicals? Here are three things you can do.
Work for the Church (get informed and patiently proclaim the truth).
Pray for the Church (offer your Masses, Rosaries, and Holy Hours).
Suffer for the Church (pick a day to fast for religious freedom, deny yourself some summer treat occasionally to stop this mandate, or some other penance . . . I don't know, offer up your sunburn!).
* Saint Catherine of Siena: 'If you are what you should be, you would set the world on fire!'
Throughout my life, I've always enjoyed doing things on my own. I couldn't stand group projects. I never enjoyed relay races, and I would rather play Madden '04 on my Playstation against the computer than against another person. So, when I set out to run a marathon, I thought this was going to be another thing I was doing on my own. Once again . . . I was wrong (a recurring theme in my life).
One highlight of running a marathon is that not only are you surrounded by thousands of runners fighting to reach the finish line, but people who are watching from the sidelines are also cheering for you. Had it not been for these 'cheerleaders,' I don't know if I would have finished. Their presence, motivational signs, and encouraging words helped keep me going when things got tough. (By the way, best sign I saw: 'Tim Tebow may have won a playoff game, but he's not running a marathon.')
About a month before the race, I felt called to raise money for Life Teen's Annual Appeal. If someone donated a certain amount, then I would offer up a mile of the race for their prayer intentions.
Knowing that these people were praying for me was extremely powerful, but the privilege of praying for them and their intentions was equally beautiful. As I got closer to the finish, feeling more pain with every stride, I felt propelled to keep going to ensure that they would be prayed for. So, it was both ironic and holy. Here I was, lifting up the prayer intentions of others, and it was their intentions that helped get me to the finish.
The highlight of my race was that my brother Al was also running his first marathon. Around mile 20, as I battled fatigue and a swollen knee, he caught up to me. He was tired and struggling too and we both didn’t think we could make it. At that point, exhausted and hurting, we reached down for something extra and said to each other, “Look, I don’t care what it takes, or how long it takes, but we will get to the finish line.”
Al and Eric at the finish line
And, so we kept pushing forward, motivating each other the whole way. Until, finally, at 5 hours, 6 minutes, and 44 seconds, we crossed the finish line at the same exact time. I get emotional just thinking about it. In our time of need we picked one another up as brothers and kept moving toward our goal.
Although there may be times when we face loneliness, whether by choice or by circumstance, as Catholics we're not asked to walk every aspect of our faith journey alone. This can be difficult for those of us who don't have support at home or for someone like me who likes to do a lot of things by himself. I've discovered though, that as I strive for heaven everyday I need as much help as I can get.
It's your community that cheers you on in this life, encouraging you with their words and actions in the good times and the bad (Proverbs 12:25). It's your community that prays for you and asks you to pray for them that you may stay humble and focused (Philippians 2:4). And it's your community that runs beside you to keep you on the path to heaven (Acts 2:42). We all need community; that's why we don't celebrate Mass, our greatest prayer, alone but with the whole Church.
So whether your 'race' is going well, or each moment is a struggle, I challenge you to become an active member of your community. Start with your local parish, and get to mass each week. You never know if you are the one who is going to need the encouragement, or if you'll be doing the encouraging. Without being involved in community, you may never see the role God wants you to play. He is calling you and has a plan for you, but remember, this journey is not meant to be run alone.
I have to admit I'm a bit late on this one. I realize that the whole 'Jesus vs. Religion' showdown is sooooo last month, but I think it's worth taking another look at.
Who hasn't thought at one point or another about how great it would be to just have Jesus without all the rules and lists of things we're supposed to do? Why do we need all the rules? Why can't we just have Jesus without all the obligations? Sure, Jesus spoke often about the importance of following His commands (Luke 8:21) but why do we even need religion then? Why do we need labels and definitions? Why can't we just be close to Him and not worry about all the details?
I Want to be Free!
The idea of being 'spiritual but not religious' isn't really a new one. It's also not unique to Christians. I'm convinced that there's something about that idea that sounds attractive to all of us. We don't like to have obligations. We're all about freedom, right?
After all, we're the hook-up culture. We don't need to define our relationships, we'll just have 'close encounters' with no strings attached. Why would we want to define a relationship? Isn't it more fun to just have fun experiences without having to deal with all the other stuff that real relationships require?
We know too well that relationships aren't always easy. Our feelings change way too much to commit to one person . . . right? Why would I want to give my whole heart to someone? What about keeping my options open in case I change my mind later? And besides, we've seen way too many examples of people just getting hurt when these committed relationships fall apart. We see families and marriages ripped apart all the time and we know all too well how bad it hurts.
I wish I could say that I've just seen these fears in other people's lives. The reality is that I myself have spent way too much time running from commitment. I wanted love but I was freaked out by the idea of cutting out all other options.
Then I met Courtney.
I really liked her, I loved hanging out with her, and all of a sudden commitment was no longer just an idea or a 'someday' thing. As I got to know her, I knew that I didn't want any other options. I actually wanted to commit to her. It was the weirdest thing ever. She expected me to spend time with her and I was more than okay with it. She expected me to call her every day and I actually looked forward to it. Instead of feeling repressed or chained down by this committed relationship, I actually felt more free to be myself. The more time I spent with her, the more I realized that I wanted to spend even more time with her. All my fears of commitment seemed ridiculous after I met her. I actually wanted to commit more and more to her.
I was so sure of it that I got down on one knee and told her that I wanted to commit my whole life to her. She thought it was a good idea, so we're getting married in April.
Maybe you really love your faith, or maybe it just seems like a bunch of rules. I don't know what you think of when you hear the word religion. But I do know what it's like to be terrified of committing. I also know that when you've met someone you really fall in love with, of course you'll want to commit to them. You'll want to spend time with them and you'll want to do whatever you can to stay close to them.
That's what our faith, our religion, is all about. The God of the Universe is so committed to you that He sent His only Son so you could know that you are loved. My prayer for you is that you truly encounter Him.
This isn't about committing to a bunch of rules, this is about falling in love.
Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything. -Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S. J.
Editor’s Note: Can you see the truth through the Religion vs. Jesus debate? We're praying for you as you talk about this issue and the viral video with your friends. We loved how well Peter Kreeft articulates this question about 'church' in his book Before I Go: Letters to Our Children about what Really Matters. Here is the truth, boiled down to the basics without any fancy distractions.
“What's the Big Deal about Church?
Why is she so important?
Because she is how we know Jesus. She tells us (by her teaching), shows us (by her saints) and feeds us (by her sacraments).
Why is Jesus so important?
Because He is how we know God. He told us, showed us, and fed us.
Why is God so important?
Because He is how we know love. He IS love.
Why is love so important?
Because it's how we know happiness.
Without love, our happiness is not true happiness.
Without God, our love is not true love.
Without Jesus, our God is not the true God.
Without the Church, our Jesus is not the true Jesus.”