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Catechism Confirmation Doctrine Faith Formation Ink Slingers Mary Mary P. Sacraments

Four Myths About Catholicism Even Catholics Believe

As Catholics, we encounter a lot of misunderstanding about our beliefs from people outside the faith. Many think we worship statues, see Mary as a deity, and try to buy our way in Heaven (etc.). But additionally, there are some myths about Catholicism that even many Catholics believe. Let’s face it – catechesis over the last 60 years or so has been sorely lacking. This has created a situation wherein faithful, well-meaning Catholics believe things that are contrary to Church teaching without knowing it. I know first-hand that it can be jarring to realize that something you believe to be authentic Catholic teaching is not quite true. But learning what is true helps us to grow in our faith, and evangelize more effectively. 

The following are some of the frequent myths I’ve heard Catholics espousing, and the corresponding truths of the faith. (I can’t do justice to any of these teachings in this amount of space. So, I encourage you to read more on each topic yourself, including following the included links).  

 
Myth: We can get to heaven by being “good people”/doing good works.
Truth: The Catholic Church teaches that we are saved by grace, through both faith and good works.

This means we do participate in our own salvation! Good works are very important! Yet, we cannot earn heaven by being or doing good on our own. Without the help of grace – which is God’s very life within us — nothing we do could ever be good enough to get us into heaven. (The idea that we can get to heaven on our own merit apart from grace is a heresy called Semi-Pelagianism). This is what makes the sacraments of Baptism and Confession so very important. Baptism initiates us into a life of grace. Confession restores us to a life of a grace when we have cut ourselves off from it via mortal sin.

I once had a disagreement with another Catholic over Matt Maher’s song, “Your Grace is Enough.”  She believed it was heretical. But, Scripture says God’s grace is sufficient (enough) for us. It is His grace that transforms our souls, and his grace that enables us to participate in the Christian life. Our faith and good works both result directly from that grace, and dispose us to receive more grace. And the grace itself is what enables us to go to Heaven. Without grace, faith is impossible, and good works are meaningless. 

This means that our beliefs about salvation don’t differ quite as drastically from Protestant beliefs as we often think. We all believe God’s grace is what saves us, and that we can’t work our way into heaven.

(Learn more about this topic here, here, and here).

Myth: The Sacrament of Confirmation is for a child to choose for him/herself to be Catholic, and become an adult in the Church.
Truth: The Church teaches that Confirmation is for completing baptismal grace and being sealed with the Holy Spirit.

Confirmation is a Sacrament of Initiation along with Baptism and the Eucharist, thus belonging close to the beginning of our faith journey. When we receive Confirmation, the Holy Spirit marks us as ones belonging totally to Christ. The Spirit pours Himself out over us in a special way, and bonds us to the Church more perfectly. It does not exist because a child needs a chance to officially agree to what his parents chose for him at Baptism. 

At Baptism, we are changed metaphysically. This change cannot be undone. We don’t need to receive another Sacrament to accept the change or make it permanent. A person can choose to stop practicing the Catholic faith, but they cannot choose to stop being a Catholic. The Catechism says, “Although Confirmation is sometimes called the ‘sacrament of Christian maturity,’ we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth, nor forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need ‘ratification’ to become effective.” (1308)

Many Catholics are confused about this topic because even Church leaders have been perpetuating the above myth for years. One way they do this is by withholding the sacrament until the teen years. Canon law says that the normal age for Confirmation is the age of reason (around 7), and even babies can be confirmed if there is a danger of death. (Eastern Rite Catholics receive Confirmation as babies). 

Myth: The Immaculate Conception refers to Jesus’s conception by a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Truth: The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s conception without sin.

“Immaculate” means very clean. Mary was conceived with a soul that was spotless, unlike our souls that are stained with original sin. This is what we celebrate on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Of course Jesus was also conceived without sin. However, his conception by a virgin is “miraculous,” not “immaculate.”

A few years ago, I realized that the Gospel reading for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is the account of the Annunciation. No wonder people are confused about the meaning of this feast! But, I think we read the Annunciation story because it talks about Mary being “full of grace,” or “highly favored.” This points to her status as one who was preserved from any type of sin.

While we’re on the topic, it’s important to realize that Christ was still Mary’s savior (as she herself proclaims). As God is outside of time, he could apply the salvific work of the crucifixion to Mary before it happened in history.

Myth: The pope speaks authoritatively every time he speaks publicly, and we must give unquestioned assent and support to all of his statements.
Truth: The Church teaches that the pope is infallible in very limited circumstances.

The pope can make mistakes in his conduct and his theology. Of course, as the highest Church authority and Christ’s chief representative on Earth, the pope deserves our allegiance and respect. We should be very humble and cautious when we evaluate and discuss his words. However, we don’t have to agree with or defend everything he says.

 Sometimes, popes are expressing mere opinions, which might differ from our own. Sometimes, they sincerely believe they are expressing Church teaching, but are actually in error. There have even been popes who were wicked men not living according to the teaching of the Church. The Holy Spirit prevents the pope from authoritatively teaching a falsehood as truth. However, he does not prevent the pope from all errors in thought, word, judgment, or conduct. We always should evaluate and understand all of the pope’s words in light of the constant and historic teaching of the Church. 

On a related note, some believe that the Holy Spirit actively chooses every pope. But as Pope Benedict XVI said, this isn’t quite correct. The Holy Spirit guides the process of papal election, but it’s up to the College of Cardinals to listen to him. They could ignore that guidance in favor of their own human judgment. Luckily, if that happened, the gates of hell still would not prevail against the Church. 

 

Catholic Sistas foundress, Martina, often says that learning about Catholicism “is like eating an elephant.” There is so much to consume and digest that it can only happen fully over a long period of time. What’s more important than knowing the ins and outs of every teaching of the Church is having a heart and a mind that are open to the truth when it is presented to us.

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Ink Slingers

Witness to Confirmation

witness-to-confirmationThis weekend’s Confirmation Mass began with a bit of excitement and a late start. Our bishop came pealing into the parking lot from a Fairbanks priest’s funeral with just minutes to spare, but he processed into church cool and composed. I imagine it has happened before in his sixteen years here, with all the necessary airplane rides. He began his homily with a joke, always a good way to start, quipping that since he was late, his exposition of the Scriptures would be short!

And the Scripture readings were ideal for this sacrament being conferred, mostly upon teenagers.

Listen to the angst in Habakkuk: “How long O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence’, but you do not intervene. Why must I look at ruin? Then the Lord answered me and said, ‘Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets…for the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not be late (1:2-3; 2:2-3).”

Then we sang this poetry from Psalm 95: “Come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our God our Maker. For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts (6-8).”

The epistle was from Paul to a young minister Timothy, and was exactly what the teens needed to hear: “Beloved, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a sprit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us (II Timothy 1:6-8,13-14).”

And the Gospel we rose to hear, perfectly answered the ensuing questions about faith and service as they move on as newly confirmed by the Holy Spirit: “Lord, increase our faith. The Lord replied, ‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would tell this mulberry tree to be and planted in the sea and it would obey you … So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’ (Luke 17:5-10).”

Sacraments celebrate the salvation story using the goodness of creation. God proclaimed it all “Good” and even took upon himself human flesh, revealing that the things of earth are not obstacles to God, but are windows to Heaven. The wonder of creation enables us to glimpse the superabundance of God. We use the stuff of earth just as Jesus did –water, fire, oil, bread, wine, ashes, branches– to be drawn closer to him and to sing with the world, “Bless the Lord, you waters; bless the Lord, sun and moon; bless the Lord, all you winds; bless the Lord, mountains and hills … (This is a lengthy passage from Daniel 3, calling on every part of the earth to bless the Lord; it’s a treat to read!).

For Confirmation, the laying on of hands and annointing with oil are used as God is asked for the grace and courage of the Holy Spirit to boldly confess Christ. It is the flowering of Baptismal grace, the stirring into flame the gifts of God that Paul told Timothy was his by the imposition of his hands. We see it in the very beginning of Christianity, in the books of Acts. There are several instances (8:14-17; 9:17; 19:6) where an apostle laid hands on someone already baptized, to be filled or sealed with the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 6:1-2 lays out the walk of a Christian: “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrines of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, with instruction about baptism, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” The candidates for Confirmation stood before the church, no longer children learning the elementary doctrines, but ready to go on to maturity in their faith. Our bishop placed his hand on their heads, called them by name, and said, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” to which each one answered, “Amen.” And then, “The Lord be with you” was answered with, “And with your spirit.” 

I was happy to witness the sacrament and to pray for them. I look forward to next year, when one of mine will stand before our church ready to move on to her own mature faith. The Mass closed with this blessing for everyone:

“The Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples and set their hearts on fire with love; may he bless you, keep you one in faith and love, and bring you to the joy of God’s kingdom.”

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Charla Ink Slingers

Patience, please.

impatienceI once went to Confession years ago, and as I divulged my many transgressions, I still felt helpless. Typically, I am at peace and have a sense of relief after having let out all that baggage and a cathartic sensation overtakes me, but not this time, not until Father spoke. It wasn’t words of absolution that did it but a question: “Why do you continue to ask God for patience? Ask God for understanding, and then patience will come.” I didn’t quite understand what he was suggesting, but I felt trust in his words. It did not seem too far-fetched and rather reasonable, so I was left with something to ponder. When he gave me absolution, I thought more on this idea and tried to apply it to my life.

My difficulties with patience usually stem from frustrations with dealing with my children. My kids don’t listen to me at times, or they get easily distracted. They aren’t ready quickly enough or they won’t stop talking.  If I put myself in their world, their understanding of their situations, I may gain this patience.  Understanding in this way is most definitely empathy. If I empathize, I become a better version of myself.  I use the gifts the Holy Spirit has given me to be what God envisions for me and to continue on such a path enables my salvation. So maybe my children will in fact be my golden ticket to Heaven.

The mother of one of my students mentioned that her son said he was not going to pray for patience, because then God will give him the opportunities to be patient! Isn’t that so often the truth! We are afraid of the hard work.  We shy away from the challenges God gives us, expecting our lives to be simple and carefree, and quite frankly easy.  Patience isn’t easy; it is quite difficult because we want to focus on ourselves and not on others. We want it NOW; we want others to cater to our whims; we want our way. If we accept people and situations for what they are, it sure brings a sensation of peace, so isn’t patience worth it?

heavenSometimes, I truly feel like I do not actually desire patience. If I am patient, doesn’t that mean I am not enthusiastic or I do not feel emphatically enough about things? Won’t patience hold me back from greatness? Or keep me from pursuing my dreams? Will it make me complacent or content? All these things are actually true, but only in one sense. We should not be patient with ourselves when it comes to a relationship with God. We can’t afford to wait until we think we are ready to be good and holy and virtuous. God is patient with us because He loves us, but if we are patient with a lower standard of holiness for ourselves, it could result in our loss of salvation.  Heaven is too important.  Our Lord is too precious to us to let a relationship with Him slip through our fingers. If there is a time to act, it is now.  We cannot become patient with others; we cannot show empathy to others if we put off a rapport with God.

 I will seek understanding, which will bring patience, which will arouse empathy, which is an important gift of the Holy Spirit.  This level of holiness will help us gain God and gain Salvation.

What tries your patience and what can you do to understand and become empathetic?

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Ink Slingers Mary P.

Surrender

 

SURRENDER

Last week on New Year’s Eve, when most of the country was drinking and socializing with friends, I was home alone in my pajamas, in bed by 10 o’clock. I’ve spent several New Year’s Eves this way, thanks to my husband’s job. It doesn’t bother me, really. I’m not the type of person who needs to be doing what “everyone else” is doing, and I don’t really buy into the hype over the ringing in of a new year anyway. Along those lines, I’m not big on making New Year’s resolutions, either. While everyone else is making promises they aren’t likely to keep, I’m thinking mostly about how I can continue simply keeping my head above water in a life in which I often feel as though I am drowning. However, through no intentional reflection or effort to come up with it on my part, a word for the new year was written on my heart by the Lord in the last week or so. Apparently it’s a “thing” among some people to come up with a word for the year which reflects a goal or a theme for their life. But I didn’t come up with this word on purpose. And I didn’t realize until just this moment how it tied into that feeling of drowning and that need to stay above water.

The word is surrender.

I’ve heard it said many times before that if you ever feel like you are going to drown, the first rule is DON’T PANIC. Don’t fight against the water and gasp for air. Relax. Try to float. Take intentional breaths so that you can stay buoyant. The more you panic and fight, the more precious energy and oxygen you will use up, and the worse position you will be in. If you can relax, keep taking measured breaths, and get horizontal- on your back- you can survive, especially if help is on the way. You have to, in a sense, surrender to what is happening to you, surrender to the water. But that surrendering cannot be a complete giving up and giving in, letting the water overtake and conquer you. It’s more rational and courageous than that – a choice to work with the water instead of fighting against it.

Of course, that is all easier said than done. That’s because we can’t stand that loss of control as the water asserts its power over us. The need to be in control is so very human, and I know it well.

I’m a control freak and worrier by nature. I’ve written before about how difficult it is to trust in and wait on God’s timing because of these traits. It’s also difficult for me just to live in the day-to-day chaos of my life. When the kids are behaving badly, I want them to stop RIGHT NOW. When something doesn’t go the way I was expecting, I get angry when I can’t fix it to make it more like what I wanted. I feel like I’m drowning all the time because I’m fighting against the life that I’m living. I’m fighting against the waves of noisiness, whining, disobedience, my husband’s unexpected delays at work, the never-ending chore list, the well-laid plans going awry, etc. etc. And when I get tired of fighting, I just want to give up and let those waves overtake me.

But what if I rested in the water instead? If I stopped fighting it, stopped gasping for air, and grasping for control? If I let that deep, scary, powerful water of my life hold me up instead of letting it pull me down? I’d have to give up some of my sense (my illusion!) of control. It would be hard. I would have to resist something innate in me, like one must resist that human tendency to panic and struggle when they are in a literal drowning situation. It could be done, though. And it would be so much easier if I could keep my mind on the fact that my Help is on the way… keep my eye on my Deliverer, who only wants what is best for me, and will not let me be overcome. The One who walks on water and calms the raging sea is always reaching out to me, trying to save me.

This is where my metaphor starts to fall apart, though. A reasonable person would welcome the intervention of the rescuer. Yet, it is so often that I push God away and resist His loving embrace. It’s all part of that need to hold onto the illusion of control. I want to do it on my own. I think my plans are better than His. His way so often requires me to pick up a cross and suffer, and I pretend that my way means I can avoid that. The truth is, we can’t avoid those crosses in life, and when we try to carry them alone, we will be crushed under their weight.  

God wants me to surrender to Him, my hope and my help. He wants me to stop worrying, stop trying to control, and to simply trust that He has me in His arms – no matter how deep the water is or how high the waves are. 

This year my husband will switch shifts to one that leaves me alone to handle the chaos of dinner and bedtime with the kids. I will also (God willing) give birth to my fourth baby in late spring. Comedian Jim Gaffigan says that having a fourth baby is like, “you’re drowning, and then someone hands you a baby.” It’s apparent that this word surrender could not have come to me at a better time.

 

“Save me, God, for the waters have reached my neck. I have sunk into the mire of the deep, where there is no foothold. I have gone down into the watery depths, the flood overwhelms me…. Rescue me from the mire; do not let me sink. Rescue me from my enemies and the watery depths. Do not let the floodwaters overwhelm me, nor the deep swallow me, nor the mouth of the pit close over me.  Answer me, Lord, in you generous love; in your great mercy turn to me.” – Psalm 69:2-3, 15-17

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Anima Christi AnnMarie C.

Line-By-Line Prayer Reflection: Anima Christi, Part VIII

Anima Christi Sept reflectionThis is the eighth of a series of posts reflecting line-by-line on the Anima Christi. Suffer me not to be separated from Thee.

I have a chronic illness which is exacerbated by the foods I eat. Instead of traditional medicine, the only way this disorder can be treated is by eliminating certain foods from my life. At one particular visit, my doctor proposed an initial very strict stage of food elimination. Being used to elimination diets, , I didn’t give it a second thought. But, at the next Mass I attended, when I was on line for communion, it struck me that I shouldn’t be receiving communion in either form, for the next month or so. I made my way up to the priest, crossed my arms and received a blessing. When I got to my seat, suddenly, an overwhelming thirst came upon me, which underscored the loss I had just experienced. I began to weep, quietly, kneeling in the pew. “Oh God,” I prayed, “I feel so far from you!”

But, later, I was convicted.

Why was I so upset about not being able to receive the Eucharist when there have been plenty of times in my life that I’ve separated myself from God for other reasons?

The Lord gave us free will so that we would freely choose to love Him. We are not slaves. We are not puppets. Our free will is a gift that the Lord will not take back from us. He wants us to love Him, yes. But He wants that love to be a chosen love, a sincere love. Who among us would want anyone to love them solely out of a sense of duty or obligation? That is not a free choice. The Lord wants our hearts, but He will never force our love. He waits by, patiently, always ready to accept any love we have to give Him. He doesn’t force us, which is beautiful. Yet, we are also free to choose to turn our backs on Him; to cut ourselves off from Him through sin.

We all sin; we are fallen creatures and that is our nature. But, the Bible tells us that there are some sins that are more serious than others; some that bring spiritual death.

sinSt. John tells us that, “There is such a thing as deadly sin… All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.” (1 John 5:16-17)
In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, St. Paul gives us a whole list of sins that will exclude us from the Kingdom of God. Is this because God is mean? No. He is perfect, and loving, and no creature could possibly dwell with Him that has turned his or her back on God. In Galatians 5:19-21 and Ephesians 5:3-6, St. Paul again underscores that certain people, especially the immoral, impure, greedy and those who practice idolatry cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. Idolatry can come in many forms. That thing you just can’t live without? It may be an idol for you. It may be the thing that is preventing you from living the life God created you to live.

Consider the things that may come between you and God.

What came between Adam and Eve and God? Pride. Disobedience. But, although they were no longer able to dwell with the Lord in the garden, He formulated a plan to get them back. He Himself redeemed them, and all of us.

We have a responsibility to live according to His Word. Yes, in John 3:16, it tells us that ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not die, but have eternal life. ‘

But what does it mean to believe?

Do we just make a verbal profession of our belief? Or does it extend beyond that? Through the gospel, Jesus gives us direction on this. He tells the adulteress to stop sinning. He tells the rich man to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. He tells us to pick up our crosses and follow Him. According to Matthew 16:24-27, how we behave matters to Jesus.

forgivenessIn Matthew 5:22-24, Jesus tells us to reconcile with our brother before we approach the altar of God. Harboring unforgiveness will separate us from the Lord. He tells us this Himself, in the prayer He gave to the disciples, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Forgiveness is not a feeling, as much as it is an act of the will. We make a decision to forgive. It cuts the tie between us and the person who offended us. When we forgive, that person no longer has power over us. It doesn’t excuse what they did, it just cuts us free. Feelings may remain, but, over time, emotions will heal, especially through prayer, help from family and friends, or therapy.

Through the Church, the Lord gives us a way to reconcile with Him. Jesus clearly established a Church (see Mt 16: 18-19, 18:15-17; Ephesians 1:22, 3:10, 5:23-24, to name a few verses). He also gave priests the authority to forgive sins (see Mt 18:18 and Jn 20:22-23). We should take advantage of these avenues of grace given to us by the Lord. Making a good examination of conscience is a great way to evaluate where we are in our relationship with Him. Frequent confession helps to keep us focused on the Lord and His plan for us.

There are two sides of a coin here. We need to make sure we are not creating a separation between ourselves and God. But, at the same time, we need to try to grow closer to Him through daily mental prayer, praise and other devotions, like the rosary, which helps us to meditate on the life of Jesus. Christ is the ‘Word made flesh.’ He is the bible. Get to know Him intimately by reading Him. When we read the gospels as a whole, a picture of Jesus emerges, and we begin to get a sense of His mission, his personality.

For me, one major theme of Jesus’ teachings is hope. Some, or even many, of our actions may create a chasm between us and the Lord. But, if we strive to be like Jesus, and use Him as an example for our behavior; if we use the sacraments given to us by God, and hope in His mercy, we will see a bridge being built. And how wonderful it will be to get to the other side!