Tag Archives: Church

Sunday Sermon: Jesus Christ is the Church

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When it comes to their faith lives, folks with a deep conviction can be extremely defensive. I’ve even heard some go so far as to claim that those who don’t follow the same belief system and faith practices they do will even end up in hell when they die.

The fact is that neither you nor I, nor anyone else on this planet, has any idea whether any individual human being is going to end up in heaven or hell for eternity. That lack of knowledge holds for everyone from your local rabbi to the Pope. Our ultimate fate is God’s alone to know.

My own faith is rooted in Jesus Christ. I practice and celebrate that faith in the Catholic Church. That is mostly because it is the church in which I was born and raised. I went to Catholic school for 12 years as a child and teen. I even later graduated from a Catholic university as an adult.

While it is my belief that my Catholic Church is the best way to practice the Christian faith, in no way to I believe it is the only way. In the end, it’s not about the Mass or the building or the priest. The Church is none of those things.

The Church is Jesus Christ. He is not only the center, he is everything.

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of  all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In the famous verse of John 14:6, Jesus says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Nowhere does Jesus say that in order to get to heaven you must go to church – any church. He says that all authority is his. He says that he is truth and life. He says to follow him and his teachings if you want to be assured of eternity with the Father.

Don’t get me wrong, church is important. That is especially true of the Catholic Church. As I’ve written a number of times in the past, Jesus Christ founded His Church. It was important to him to have authoritative leadership and teaching continue.

In Matthew 16:18 we find this foundation: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus founded one Church. The word “catholic” itself means universal.

However, in John 14:16-17, Jesus said: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper who will be with you forever. That helper is the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him, because it doesn’t see or know him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be in you.”

Here Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will come into the world. He also states that the Spirit will not only live with us, but will live in us.
 
Jesus founded one Church, and that universal Catholic church continues today, more than 2,000 years later. 
 
However, the Holy Spirit did indeed come into the world and into our hearts. The Spirit has worked to inspire men and women in ways that have contradicted that universal Catholic Church over the centuries.
 
It would be dangerous, in fact totally wrong, to say and believe that any and every possible means of practicing a form of Christianity is healthy and appropriate. 
 
Misguided men have formed many harmful practices over time in the name of a church. Any honest assessment of even the Catholic Church history would show that misguided men can do a great deal of harm in the name of faith and church.
 
Many have seen the abuses within various Christian churches and decided to maintain a personal relationship with the Lord. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is not preferred, and you are cheating yourself if this is your practice.
 
In Matthew 18:20 we hear Jesus make his famous church and family proclamation: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” He tells us straight out that when we pray and worship him together, he will be present with us.
 
Whatever church you belong to, and even if you choose to maintain a personal or familial relationship with him, you cannot be making a mistake if your true center is Jesus Christ and his own words.
 
The teachings of the prophets in the Old Testament are excellent for education and inspiration. The preaching of the disciples in the Acts of the Apostles, the teaching of Paul, and other New Testament works are outstanding guides to follow.
 
But the fact remains that where his Word is present, there is truth. If you follow that Word, those teachings, then you are likely to end up in the spending eternity in the presence of the Father.
 
In the end, Jesus Christ is the Church. 

Sunday Sermon: You don’t have plenty of time

Today at our church, the pastor told the famous allegory of “The Council of the Devils in Hell” as part of his sermon.

The allegory can be worded in any number of ways to either stretch out the story or to shorten it up, but in general it goes something like this:

Satan had learned of a large spiritual revival in a community, and so he convened a council of devils to determine the best step to derail this awakening.

Three devils spoke up with a plan. The first said “We’ll simply whisper in their ear that there is no God.

Satan looked at him skeptically, saying that they would never believe it. “Too much beauty on Earth. They would simply look around at the mountains and sky, the seas and the forests, and know that He exists.

The second devil then spoke up: “We’ll whisper in their ear that there is no Hell.

But again, Satan shook his head side to side: “Never buy it. They’ll remember the most evil of men over time, and know that those men aren’t going to heaven, that there must be a place of punishment.

The devils were becoming frustrated when a third blurted out: “Let’s tell them they have plenty of time.

That’s it!” proclaimed Satan. “Go spread the word to all mankind.

This subtle yet powerful allegory should be a major warning to us all – none of us, no matter how young, healthy, happy, or successful knows how much time they actually have left in this life.

If it be God’s will that I make it that long, I will turn 55 years of age just two weeks from today.

Those years have been filled with the loss of friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and celebrities of all ages, economic situations, and levels of health and illness.

Last Saturday morning, I was the lector for an 8am Mass at church. After the Mass, I returned to the sacristy to retrieve my car keys and return the book of readings.

While back there, I ran into Fr. Michel, a 77-year old priest at the parish who looks a decade younger. He had just returned from a week vacation.

He looked great, smiling as he prepared for a funeral service. We exchanged quick greetings and pleasantries before I left.

This morning, the pastor let us know that just yesterday, Fr. Michel was saying another funeral service when he suffered what appears to have been a massive heart attack.

Kept alive by the quick action of someone present who knew CPR and the first-ever use of our church AED, Fr. Michel is now fighting for his life at a local hospital.

The pastor then told us that it wasn’t the only such incident that the priests in our parish were dealing with at that moment.

The youngest of the three assigned to the parish, Fr. Sean, lost his sister this past week. She was a 35-year old married woman, mother of two young children, and was in good health.

Her death was sudden and unexpected, and has left the family devastated and looking for answers, both physically and spiritually.

Just three weeks ago, 41-year old Philadelphia Police Officer Doug Bamberger, a 16-year veteran, married with two young children, left for a day at work.

Every police officer’s day is potentially dangerous, no matter the assignment. We all wear uniforms and carry guns, and can be called or run into a deadly situation on a moment’s notice.

But Doug’s situation was less hazardous than most. Assigned to the Court Liaison Unit, he worked inside the vast majority of the time, helping ensure the organization of officer’s needed for various court testimony during each day.

Apparently not feeling well, Doug let some co-workers know that he was going to take a break for a few minutes, and left the office.

He was found unconscious some time later on the ninth floor of the courthouse, apparently having suffered a massive heart attack. Doug was rushed to the hospital, but died a short time later.

The majority of us know stories like these. Someone taken young by an illness like cancer, or by an auto accident, or by some criminal activity or act of war.

We all hope to one day die peacefully in our beds at an old age while still in reasonable health, without any suffering. We hope, no matter how old we are, that the day is still decades away.

The devils whisper in our ear constantly to put things off: “make amends with your family another day”, “give up that bad habit next year”, “take your faith more seriously down the road.”

“You have time. Plenty of time.”

There are numerous stories of deathbed conversions, people who exclaimed all during their lives that they didn’t believe in God, or Jesus, but when faced with the finality of their lives gave in to the possibility out of panic, or a genuine faith experience.

Maybe that’s your plan? Coast along, act and talk tough, maybe even genuinely disbelieve. But at the end, if you really panic, well, you can accept then.

Problem is, you might not get that chance at a last chance.

You might decide that you’ll make your family amends another day, and then lose that family member to such an accident or physical condition.

You might decide to give up that bad habit next year, only to find that you don’t actually have a “habit”, but instead are addicted.

You might decide to go back to church some day, and never get that day. When that truck or bus plows into you out of nowhere, when your tire suddenly blows out and fly off the road, when you suffer that sudden, massive stroke, when someone pulls a trigger and kills you, you have waited too long.

Maybe you don’t like hearing about those things. Maybe you think I am being overly morbid. Tell that to the more than 150,000 people that those things and more happen to every single day.

James 4:14 – Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

Don’t make the mistake of listening to the devils whispering in your ear telling you that “you have plenty of time.” You don’t.

 

Lenten Sacrifice

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the holy Christian season covering approximately six weeks until Easter.

During the Lenten season, Christians traditionally prepare for Easter through a process of increased prayer, penance, and sacrifice.

Of course, we are all supposed to be praying regularly, asking repentance and making atonement for our sins, and finding ways to sacrifice some part of our own blessings in the form of charity all during the year.

Lent is a good time to both get yourself back on track if you have let some of that spiritual responsibility slip, and also a good time to strengthen your commitment to areas of your life that perhaps need more attention.

To meet these increased spiritual goals during Lent, Christians often make what amount in the secular world to New Year resolution-type promises of change. Only these are promises to God from themselves. The promises can involve saying a daily rosary, returning to Church and the sacraments, and giving up something of importance to them.

That last part, the giving up of something important, is known as a Lenten sacrifice. Remember, the whole point is to prepare for the events of Good Friday and then Easter, when Jesus Christ sacrificed his own life for your sins. Keeping that much sacrifice in mind, how tough is your own?

Each year, I also try to make a Lenten sacrifice. I’ve usually had success in the past, but this year I am going a little more ambitious. I am personally building a number of elements into my Lenten sacrifice. Maybe one or more will inspire you as well.

First, I am actually simply going to continue a spiritual exercise which I began all the way back in November. At some point in mid-November of 2013, I began to say a full rosary each day. Somehow, I have been able to keep it up every day. I have found lately that there were a couple times where I almost just let it go. Lent will be a good time to increase my commitment to it.

Next, I am going to commit to going to Church more often. My own local St. Christopher’s Roman Catholic parish will be offering Mass on a nightly basis. I will be going a few times. I am also volunteering more in my role as a church Lector to do the readings at Mass during this period.

Also during Lent, I am going to make sure that I participate in appropriate sacraments more often. Most specifically, going to Confession, doing Penance, and sincerely attempting to stay away from the occasion of sin. I’m planning on making a Confession now, at the start of Lent, and again closer to Easter.

These things should go a long way towards meeting my goals of increased prayer and penance during Lent, and your own adoption of any would help you do the same. So now, on to the sacrifice part. What am I “giving up for Lent” this year?

First, we’ll start with the treats/goodies category. I will be giving up all cakes, cookies, pies, candy, ice cream, and other similar desserts and treats. Only exception will be for breath mints, which some might consider as “candy”, but which I slot into their own special category as someone who has a lot of dealings with the public.

Next, a bit tougher one thanks to specific circumstances. I will be giving up soda as well. However, I am giving myself a “special dispensation” on St. Patty’s Day weekend to allow for drinking soda at events surrounding that upcoming celebration. Better that than imbibe in too many “adult beverages”, especially when driving. Outside St. Patty’s weekend, no soda either.

Not just a “don’t do that” period, Lent is a time to “do”, to take action where it may be needed. I am going to begin seriously getting back into a regular physical workout routine. Starting with daily walking, and then building up to more as the Lenten season advances and I get in better physical conditioning.

And then I added on a new one this year, limiting my use of personal social media, particularly by refraining from Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media during the Lenten season with two exceptions only.

Those two social media exceptions will be this blog, where I will actually attempt to write MORE, something that I have been trying to get myself to do anyway. And also my professional Twitter account @PPDMattVeasey, where I have an expected responsibility to participate for my employer.

I have also undertaken a couple of more personal restrictions for Lent, and we’ll just keep those between me and the Lord at this point. Oh, and all of my fellow Catholics should remember to refrain from eating meat today, Ash Wednesday, and every Friday through Good Friday. Also, today and each Friday you should limit yourself to one full, large meal.

I think that if I can successfully accomplish all of that, it adds up to a solid, legitimate personal Lenten observance. Prayer, penance, and sacrifice all built into the plan. So, there’s my plan for Lent – what’s yours?

Brothers in Christ

In the Old Testament, the Book of Proverbs 27:17 reads: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

In the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew 18:20 quotes Jesus Christ as teaching: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

We modern men can be funny creatures. There are many who consider themselves to be men of faith, yet find themselves trapped by fear or embarrassment when faced with the challenge of publicly professing that faith, especially among other men.

In a world that is rapidly deteriorating all around us in matters of faith, spirituality, religion, and morality, we no longer have the choice to seek comfort in private prayer. We must come together, publicly, and call this world to order in the name of Jesus Christ.

There are many ways that you can individually participate in this calling. First, of course, you can simply go to Mass. Attending a service at Church on a regular basis establishes a personal and community base. It is only a minimum, but it is a must.

God commanded us all to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”, and we must set that time aside to publicly visit His house in the company of our family, friends, and neighbors.

Next, seek opportunities to expand your public prayer life within your community. Your own church community will likely have such opportunities. That is always a great place to start.

A few years ago, I began to serve my local parish as a Lector, and it has been greatly rewarding. I always feel that I am helping spread his Word by using the gifts that God gave me in this manner. You have gifts to use as well.

There are numerous groups on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites specifically established for men to join together and praise the Lord publicly, drawing strength and encouragement from one another. One has it’s own ‘hashtag’ of #BIC, standing for “Brothers In Christ”, and joins together posts mostly by men supporting the faith.

Finally, continue your private prayer. It is of vital importance as well. If you have never done so, consider learning to pray the rosary. I took up the practice of daily rosary prayer about a month ago. It takes only about 20 minutes to complete, and there are numerous resources in print, online, and even in apps, to teach and guide you.

We are all “Brothers In Christ”, as Matthew again quotes our Lord: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.

We need one another to magnify our prayer, and to stand stronger during these days of great challenge. The forces of darkness and despair grow daily. We must emerge from our prayer closets and begin to shine our light in the world, in the name of Jesus Christ.

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

In the final moments of one of television’s greatest dramatic series of all-time, “Lost”, the character of Ben Linus finds himself in a situation that sums up our understanding of purgatory very well.

He is just not ready to join the rest and move on into the light. Ben is left on the outside of the group, outside the church and the joyous gathering going on inside.

Most people know that this coming Thursday is Halloween, and many are aware that the following day is celebrated as “All Saint’s Day”, the feast which commemorates all those who have obtained the beatific vision in heaven, and which is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic Church.

But you may not be aware that it is followed immediately by another very important remembrance day, “All Soul’s Day”, which is set aside specifically for the cause of the entire Church praying for those souls of the faithful who departed this life, but who were not first cleansed of their venial sins and/or separated from their attachment to mortal sins.

These faithful have not been abandoned by God permanently. They have not been damned to the hell of the lonely desolation that will be the eternal separation from His glory, which is the fate awaiting those who have willfully died as non-believers.

These faithful in purgatory may still be helped on to the eternal glory of heaven by our prayers, especially through the sacrifice of Mass, in which numbers of believers join together.

Personal prayer is always beneficial, always powerful. But when our prayers are joined with others, that power multiplies many-fold. This is the importance of attending formal religious church services, to join with others in a prayer community.

On All Soul’s Day later this week, pray for the faithful departed. It is very likely that among them are people who you have known in your lifetime. Family members, friends, work associates, school classmates, neighbors, teammates. People who believed in God, believed that Jesus Christ died for their sins, prayed on their own, attended church services, lived generally good lives. But who, for whatever reasons, continued to live in sin to the moment of their death, and never made that final peaceful act of contrition.

Like Ben at the end of “Lost”, they sit outside the church, separated from the joy inside, incapable of joining their saved loved ones, of moving into the light and on to the happiness in the eternal presence of the Lord. But their cause, like his, is not lost forever.

Your loving memories of them and the positive presence and beauty they brought into your own life, coupled with your sincere intercessory prayers on their behalf, may make all the difference in the ultimate saving of their immortal souls.