Tag Archives: God

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: In the end, we all become one with God

Today marks the final Sunday in the liturgical year of the Catholic Church.

Next Sunday begins the season of Advent, the four-week period leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ.
As Advent begins, the readings at Mass will begin to lead us towards that most important and holy moment in the history of humanity.

Today, however, we peer into the future, to the end of time itself.

The second reading today was from the first letter, sometimes called an epistle, written by Saint Paul to the Church at Corinth.

The Yale Divinity School calls this first letter from Paul to the Corinthians “a masterpiece of pastoral theology.” Of this important and lengthy 16-chapter work, Yale further states:

“It challenges us to think about how we relate to the wider world that we fully engage even if it does not always share our values, provoking us to imitate Paul’s pastoral logic, which probes fundamental convictions to see how they apply in difficult situations.”

Corinth today lies in south-central Greece, approximately 48 miles west of Athens. But the Corinth of Paul’s time could be located about two miles southwest of today’s city.

Paul himself founded the original church in Corinth around 50 A.D., less than two decades after Christ’s death. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written during one of his stays at Ephesus. It includes a number of important teachings, and contains a handful of famous sayings that have survived through today.

The focus of my piece today comes from near the end of Paul’s letter, and relates to the end of time. Here, Paul talks of Christ’s return at the second coming, stating that he will destroy “every sovereignty and every authority and power” before finally destroying the “last enemy”, death itself.

Paul then finishes by stating that once everything has been subjected to Jesus Christ, then Christ himself will be subjected to God. This is, as Paul puts it, “that God may be all in all.” In the end, we will all become one with God, through Christ.

You can choose to interpret the exact physical and meta-physical mechanics of that merger with our Creator in a number of ways. However you choose to do so, the fact is that we don’t know when these events will take place. Will they even take place in our lifetimes?

The more important point is that, no matter when the end times come, there is something that we can all and should all be doing right now. We should all be preparing now by subjecting ourselves to Christ.

Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Clearly the most important thing that we can do right now is ensure that we are believers. That we recognize that Christ gave up his life so that we could be freed from sin.

This acceptance, this subjecting of ourselves to Christ in accepting and celebrating his role in our lives, gives us a chance to join God as one of those “all in all” at the end.

A joyous season is about to begin. The birth of your Savior is not far off. As this holy time of year approaches, remember exactly whose birth it is that we will be celebrating.

In the end, we all become one with God. That is only made possible by the one who is about to be born.

The history of Thanksgiving in America

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President George W. Bush visits the Thanksgiving Shrine at Berkeley Plantation, Virginia

 

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. As we gather to celebrate with family and friends, let me offer a short history lesson on the holiday origins in America.

In the fall of 1619 the ship Margaret set sail from Bristol, England on a roughly two-month voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Captain John Woodliffe would bring his ship with 38 settlers safely to what was known as Berkeley Hundred on December 4.

Berkeley Hundred was a land grant from the Virginia Company of London, an English stock company formed by King James I in order to fund the establishment of colonial settlements in America.

The Berkeley Hundred land grant went to a group of five men, including John Smyth, who became the official historian of the group. Over the next two decades he collected documents relating to the settlement of what would be known as “Virginia”, and these still survive today.

The land grant was for some eight thousand acres along the James River a few miles west of Jamestown, which itself had been the first British colony in the New World just a few years earlier.

The proprietors of the Virginia Company had directed in their granting of the land charter that “the day of our ships arrival…shall be yearly and perpetually kept as a day of Thanksgiving.

The settlers of the Margaret did indeed keep that celebration, doing so more than two years prior to the popularly remembered landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Over the hundreds of years since, there have been many disputes as to the official beginnings of this holiday which has become formally known as Thanksgiving Day here in America. Most of those disputes have been sources of regional pride battles between Virginia and the New England area.



When he became the first President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed that Thursday, November 26, 1789 was an official “day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.

It was from this Washington proclamation that most formal Thanksgiving celebrations were celebrated on the final Thursday in November. However, it was not an official national holiday. 

Following decades of lobbying by schoolteacher and author Sara Hale of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” fame, President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 called for such an official Thanksgiving Day holiday on the last Thursday in November. However, the rancor of the Civil War caused the celebration to become delayed until the 1870’s.



The United States would then celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November until the early days of World War II. On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law a joint congressional resolution moving the official celebration to the fourth Thursday in November. 


It was believed that the earlier celebration would give the nation an economic boost during the difficult war years. Ultimately, this move would lead to the modern follow-up retail shopping phenomenon known as “Black Friday”, the day after Thanksgiving. 

Most stores had been closed on the holiday itself. They would offer many sales promotions upon re-opening in order to entice shoppers back. This began to mark the opening of the Christmas holiday gift shopping season.

Over two decades later, on November 5, 1963, President John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation aimed at assuaging the hotly debated Virginia-New England origin battles. JFK’s proclamation read as follows:

“Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together, and for the faith which united them with their God.”

Thanksgiving now continues to fall on that fourth Thursday of November here in the United States. This means that the formal date can range anywhere from the 22nd of the month through the 28th. We continue, to paraphrase President Kennedy, to set aside time to give reverent thanks for the faith which unites us with our God.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Book Review: Killing Jesus

A few months ago, I finished reading Bill O’Reilly‘s outstanding work “Killing Lincoln” about the assassination of the 16th President of the United States and the events surrounding and leading up to that event.

The book was so well written and informative that it inspired me to purchase for my Kindle his other two similar books: “Killing Kennedy“, about the assassination of our 35th President of the US, and “Killing Jesus“, about the events surrounding our Lord’s death.

I held off actually reading “Killing Jesus” until this time of year, the time surrounding those actual events. Today is Holy Thursday, when Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Tomorrow is Good Friday, when he was nailed to a cross and died for our sins. And then, of course, Sunday is Easter, when he rose again.

But O’Reilly does the subject a most honorable turn. Despite his own Roman Catholic upbringing, and that of his co-writer, Martin Dugard, he does not approach the matter of Jesus’ death, and all of the events leading up to that event, from a religious or spiritual standpoint. Instead, as with Lincoln and Kennedy, he takes a purely historical look at the events.

O’Reilly and Dugard have taken the telling of these types of important events, the untimely murder of the most important figures in history, and made them completely accessible at every level. They do this with an almost conversational tone to the story-telling, mixing in the necessary known and verifiable facts with other discernible information based on the times of the events.

The end result, in “Killing Jesus” (and “Killing Lincoln“, for that matter) is a book that is well written, easily understood, and that stands on it’s own as an important new resource for anyone that has any interest in the topic. And who can say that they have any interest in human history without being interested in Jesus?

Whether you are one of the billions on the planet who believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, who came to free us all from our sins, as I believe, or you are a complete atheist, one thing that you cannot deny and remain credible is that Jesus did indeed live, and that his teaching has indeed had a profound effect on human history.

As O’Reilly puts it in his introductory ‘Note to Readers’:
To say that Jesus of Nazareth was the most influential man who ever lived is almost trite. Nearly two thousand years after he was brutally executed by Roman soldiers, more than 2.2 billion human beings attempt to follow his teachings and believe he is God: That includes 77 percent of the U.S. population, according to a Gallup Poll. The teachings of Jesus have shaped the world and continue to do so.

I am in the midst of reading this book now, at Easter time, and should be finished over the weekend itself. I can already say that I highly recommend it to true believers, as well as to simple fans of history. It is, at the very least, a great story of an important world figure who lived during a most interesting time for humanity – the Roman Empire era.

I have a number of books lined up for reading on my Kindle once finished this excellent read. After his treatments of Lincoln and Jesus, I am absolutely now looking forward to reading the Kennedy book. That sound like a great one to put off, however, for the fall, as the 51st anniversary of JFK’s own assassination rolls around come November.

Jesus’ Example

In the Catholic Church, today is set aside as the “Commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” On this day, readings and sermons remind us of that important event in Jesus’ life.

He travels to the River Jordan, where his cousin, John the Baptist, has been doing the work of preparing the way for Christ’s coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

John calls on people to repent of their sins, and to change their lives. He preaches that the hour is growing late, warning people to “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.” He then baptizes with ritual immersion in water as not just a sign that you are sorry, but as a whole change of life.

John has also been proclaiming that he himself is no one special, but that soon will come one greater than he, one who will baptize people not with water, but with fire and the Holy Spirit. It is Jesus about whom John speaks, and soon enough the day comes when his proclamations will turn to reality.

One day, while continuing his work of baptizing the usual array of sinners: ordinary folk, prostitutes, tax collectors, soldiers, and even clergy, suddenly Jesus appears in their midst, demanding to be baptized. John hesitates, saying that it is Jesus who should be baptizing him. But the Lord insists, and John proceeds with the ceremony.

At it’s conclusion, as Jesus raises from the water, the sky parts, God’s glory shines down upon the scene, and a dove descends, coming to rest on the Lord. God’s voice is heard by all: “This is my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on him.

Why did Jesus insist on his being baptized by John, when quite obviously as the Son of God, he could indeed have insisted just the opposite? His own words tell the story. In responding to John’s incredulity, Jesus said: “Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that uprightness demands.

Jesus was telling John that it was important to demonstrate publicly that he himself was willing to not only tell people what to do, how they should live, how they should worship and respect God, but the he was also going to “walk the walk” and set an example. He would not ask anyone to do anything that he was not willing to do himself.

Jesus’ example at his baptism is one that we all need to take more seriously in our own lives. Whether in our roles as supervisors over other men and women in a work environment, as a political leader, as a public servant, or in that most important of roles, as a parent, we are to set the example.

The mantra of “do as I say, not as I do” must be forever set aside. It is not just enough that we know what is right, and demand that from others. We must also demand it of ourselves, and must first and constantly demonstrate that knowledge. We must all “walk the walk” as Jesus did in setting the example for us.

Following his baptism, Jesus went out into the desert and began the forty days and forty nights of fasting, reflection, and prayer that would prepare him for his public ministry. During that time he would be tempted by the devil, who would offer the Lord every earthly delight in return for his worship.

Again in the desert, hungry, thirsty, and hot, Jesus would set the example for us by turning away from the devil repeatedly. After numerous encounters, Jesus finally puts his foot down: “Away with you, Satan! For scripture says: ‘The Lord your God is the one to whom you must do homage, him alone you must serve.’

Jesus example in demanding the he receive no special treatment, but be baptized as everyone must, and his example in repeatedly turning away from the earthly temptations of the devil are there for us to draw upon as inspiration. Through prayer, we have the power to follow his example, and to set our own example in today’s world.

The world is in desperate need today of such example setters. In each family, we are being called to set aside our old ways and to turn towards God. We are being called to stand up publicly, to live boldly proclaiming the example of Christ through our own words and our deeds. No matter your past, resolve to begin today to set that better example.