While my journey into the church was full of intellectual struggle and challenges, my subsequent journey into learning how to live out the Catholic faith has been full of wonder and joy. In this post, I would like to share some things that I love about being Catholic.
There are so many things, but I will try briefly to describe some of the things that impacted my life the most. These are things that dramatically changed my spiritual life, helped me draw closer to God, and increased my desire to depend completely on and live for God.
Fully Integrated View of Reality
As already discussed in the first post on how the natural law lead me to the Catholic Church, the Church’s metaphysical and theological view compliment one another to create a complete vision of reality.
From metaphysics, we understand how to describe nature as filled with beings that have essences. These essences are directed towards natural ends according to their nature. All being, other than God, is composed of a mixture of potential and actual being. God is pure actuality, the ground of all being, with no parts or potentials. He is the being beyond all being. It is truly amazing God gifted us with a human intellect that is able to even begin to deduce these descriptions of Him and His amazing creation simply by observing nature and thinking about the logical consequences of reality.
From this metaphysical picture, emerges a view of how humans should live in relation to one another and God. We can derive objective criteria (especially from essentialism and teleology) for moral theology and political philosophy. We also can, and this may surprise some, show how the beauty we observe in nature around us isn’t purely subjective, it is an objective part of nature itself. This shows us that undergirding all of reality is being that is true, good, and beautiful.
Fr. Dubay put it this way:
“Truth beauty and goodness have their being together, by truth we are put in touch with reality which we find is good for us and beautiful to behold. In our knowing, loving and delighting the gift of reality appears to us as something infinitely and in-exhaustively valuable and fascinating.”1
— Fr. Dubay
None of this is to take away from divine revelation or from our complete dependence on God. Rather, this metaphysical view of the world creates such a beautiful synthesis between the natural world and the revealed Word of God, it is hard to see how it couldn’t be true simply from the beauty of it all.
Seeing how God works in and through nature, the sacramental nature of so many things in the Church take on a profound and spiritual dimension. For instance, when we see how beauty is integrated into Church liturgy and architecture, we can more easily see how these elements become sacramental in nature as they point to the unseen reality beyond itself that is more perfect and beautiful as it is closer to God. But these things are more than just pure signs, the seven sacraments, especially, convey real, efficacious graces into us.
A sacrament is an efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us through the work of the Holy Spirit. (Glossary; CCC, 1131)
The sacraments, have become the source for my Christian life that give me strength and help me grow in my spiritual life bringing me closer to God.
There is so much that could be said about each. I will only highlight a few that have impacted my spiritual life the most.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life:
CCC 1324 The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.”136 “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”137 (864)2
The Eucharist sees three main purposes in the life of the Church. 1) It is to allow for God to dwell with us until the end of this age (Matthew 28:20). 2) It is the one time perfect sacrifice of Jesus to the father for the forgiveness of our sins (Mark 14:22-24, Ephesians 5:2). 3) It is to be the primary means of how God is divinizing us, changing us into His likeness over the course of our lives (2 Peter 1:3-4).3
This union we achieve with Christ in the Eucharist is a profound mystery. It is even often spoken of in matrimony terms as it is a union with Christ in the most intimate way.
The Eucharist makes present and realizes anew in a sacramental manner the redemptive act of Christ, who “creates” the Church, his body. Christ is united with this “body” as the bridegroom with the bride. All this is contained in the Letter to the Ephesians. The perennial “unity of the two” that exists between man and woman from the very “beginning” is introduced into this “great mystery” of Christ and of the Church.4
When we partake in the Eucharist Christ is entering into our lives in a manner to help change us into something more like him. As Augustine famously said:
“If we receive the Eucharist worthily, we become what we receive.”
— St. Augustine Easter Sermon, 227
“Beloved, our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal creator of all things, today became our Savior by being born of a mother. Of his own will he was born for us today, in time, so that he could lead us to his Father’s eternity. God became man so that man might become God. The Lord of angels became man today so that man could eat the bread of angels.”
— St. Augustine, Sermon 13 on the Nativity
These are just a glimpse into why Catholics view the Holy Eucharist as the “source and summit” of the Christian life and why our lives revolve around attending Mass at least weekly to receive our Lord.
The sacrament of confession was something I saw as intimidating before becoming Catholic. Telling other people your deepest, darkest secrets and sins sounded, quite honestly, awful. I have since come to see the sacrament of confession as one of the most powerful gifts God has given us.
In faithful confession, we are not able to hide from ourselves. God already knows everything we have done that is wrong, but we often hide these things from ourselves. In going to confession regularly, though, we can start to reveal to ourselves what our faults truly are, hear that we are forgiven, and listen for God’s will and receive His help for how to overcome this sin.
The sacrament of confession is really spiritual medicine that helps us advance in the spiritual life. No one wants to confess the same sin over and over again to a priest. Here, we once again see how a sacrament works. It is God working through the world around us to deliver to us His grace to aid us on our journey towards beatitude with Him.
The sacrament of marriage was a great draw for me to Catholicism. As already discussed in the natural law post, the Catholic Church seemed to me the only institution that really understands the essence of marriage. It is for the creation of life and family. Marriage is the fullest expression of God’s love working through humans.
In Catholicism, the marital union took on a completely different view for me. It took me a bit to unlearn everything I had been told by our modern world about sex and marriage. The marital sexual union was not just something that people did just for pleasure. Rather, it was a renewal of the lifelong covenant that reflects the love of the very nature of the Holy Trinity Himself. Scott Hahn gives an absolutely brilliant description of this here:
Sexual intercourse is simultaneously one of the most intensely private and intrinsically public actions we can perform with our bodies. The first claim is obvious enough, but the second is, to modern ears, like claiming the oceans are filled with mayonnaise. But this is only because we’ve been trained to think of procreation as a kind of bonus we can choose to add on to sex—like upgrading to first class—rather than being inherently part of human sexuality.
The modern view is that sex is inherently sterile and only becomes procreative by accident or by the choice of the participants. Therefore, we speak of contraception failure rates and unplanned pregnancies; sterility is, we assume, our natural state, while fertility is a choice or a mistake. This way of thinking is only possible, of course, due to the ubiquity of artificial contraception.
The Church has taught from the very beginning that just as human beings are made for something outside of ourselves—namely, communion with God—sex is made for something outside of its own enjoyment—namely, participation with God in the creation of new persons. This is not to say that sex is only for procreation, but that its primary end is procreation. This eternal teaching was vigorously reaffirmed both in Casti Connubii and, several decades later, in Pope Paul VI’s famous Humanae Vitae (1968). The unity of the spouses is another good that comes from sex, but that unity is dependent on openness to the complete fruition of sex in forming a new life.
Sex is therefore both deeply intimate and ordered toward something (and, often enough, someone) outside of itself. We close the bedroom door to preserve that intimacy, but we cannot shut out the public nature of procreation. It is, to the modern mind, a paradox. But that’s a problem with the modern mind, not with the nature of sex.5
— Dr. Scott Hahn
The institution of marriage is under attack by many evil forces in the world today. Sister Lucia, one of the children at the miracle of Fatima, is even reported to have said:
“…a time will come when the decisive battle between the kingdom of Christ and Satan will be over marriage and the family.”6
— Sister Lucia
The family is the basic building block of society. Without traditional marriage, we are doomed to continue our descent into chaos. I pray that all Christians will come to see marriage and family again as the Catholic Church does now as it truly is becoming a matter of life and death for the continuation of our society as we know it.
The Spiritual Life
I also have grown such a great passion for the spiritual life. This spiritual side of Christianity was never something that was on my radar as a Protestant. Sure, I would hear people talk about prayer a bit, but it wasn’t very much.
In the Catholic Church, I have come to see that God calls everyone to progress in this spiritual life. We are all called to a life of prayer and growing in holiness.
CCC 2567 God calls man first. Man may forget his Creator or hide far from his face; he may run after idols or accuse the deity of having abandoned him; yet the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. In prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response. As God gradually reveals himself and reveals man to himself, prayer appears as a reciprocal call, a covenant drama. Through words and actions, this drama engages the heart. It unfolds throughout the whole history of salvation.7
CCC 2012 “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him … For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”64 (459)
CCC 2013 “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”65 All are called to holiness: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”66 (915; 2545; 825)
CCC 2014 Spiritual progress tends toward ever more intimate union with Christ. This union is called “mystical” because it participates in the mystery of Christ through the sacraments—“the holy mysteries”—and, in him, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. God calls us all to this intimate union with him, even if the special graces or extraordinary signs of this mystical life are granted only to some for the sake of manifesting the gratuitous gift given to all. (774)8
The amazing thing about the Catholic Church is how robust its spiritual tradition is. There are so many kinds of spiritual practices that people are encouraged to undertake, from basic to very advanced levels.
One of the most popular practices that I have incorporated into my daily routine is saying the rosary prayers. Other spiritual practices include daily meditation on scripture (lectio divina), praying the divine office, litany prayers, novena prayers, daily examen prayers, and on and on.
Of particular importance is meditative prayer9. A popular form of meditative prayer is lectio divina. In this type of prayer, one spends time on a short scripture passage conversing with God about it. Many spiritual saints have said that meditative prayer is absolutely essential for making progress in the spiritual life.
It is a wonderful fact that many people today are thirsty for God and feel a desire for that sort of intense, personal prayer life; they would like to be able to spend time praying as a regular thing. But they encounter obstacles that prevent them from following the path seriously, and especially from persevering on it. Sometimes they don’t receive the encouragement needed to make up their minds to begin, or else they feel helpless because they simply don’t know how to start. Sometimes, after repeated attempts, they become discouraged by the difficulties and abandon the regular practice of mental prayer. It’s a pity, because perseverance in mental prayer, according to the unanimous testimony of all the saints, is the narrow gate that opens the Kingdom of Heaven to us; it is the only way for us to receive the gifts which “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9). Mental prayer is the source of true happiness. Whoever practices it faithfully will not fail to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34). Those who pray will find the living water that Jesus promised: “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst” (Jn 4:14).10
— Jacques Philippe
And here is how Fr. Bartunek puts the necessity of meditation for anyone who wants to make spiritual progress in his highly recommended The better part: a Christ-centered resource for personal prayer, a lectio divina book on the gospels. Again, Fr. Bartunek stresses meditative prayer is something that all Christians are called to and one, not just super-Christians.
Without the daily renewal and deepening of your personal relationship with Jesus Christ that happens especially through meditation, sooner or later routine sets in. You get into a rut. Your prayers get mechanical, your sacramental life slides into hollow ritualism, and before you know it, your faith gets sidelined and you get dragged back into the rat race in some form or other. The daily meditation keeps your faith, that pearl of great price, lively, supple, and relevant. It irrigates the soil of your soul, making your sacramental life more fruitful, keeping your other prayer commitments meaningful, and continually opening up new vistas along the path to spiritual maturity.
This is why spiritual writers through the ages have so consistently emphasized the importance of meditation, also known as mental prayer, since it is a deeply interior way of praying. Here is what two doctors of the Church have to say about it:
“He who neglects mental prayer needs not a devil to carry him to hell, but he brings himself there with his own hands.” (St. Teresa of Avila)
“It is morally impossible for him who neglects meditation to live without sin.” (St. Alphonsus Ligouri)
“And by experience we see that many persons who recite a great number of vocal prayers, the Office and the Rosary, fall into sin, and continue to live in sin. But he who attends to mental prayer scarcely ever falls into sin, and should he have the misfortune of falling into it, he will hardly continue to live in so miserable a state; he will either give up mental prayer, or renounce sin. Meditation and sin cannot stand together. However abandoned a soul may be, if she perseveres in meditation, God will bring her to salvation.” (St. Alphonsus Ligouri)
The daily meditation, in other words, is not an optional extra for super-Christians; it’s every Christian’s bread and butter. Without it, your Christian identity shrivels. But it’s not enough just to do a daily meditation; you need to learn to do it better and better. Maturity in the spiritual life depends to a great extent on constantly going deeper in your personal prayer life. The law of life is growth, so if your capacity for mental prayer isn’t growing, your life with Christ is in danger of wasting away.
— Fr. Bartunek, The better part: a Christ-centered resource for personal prayer.
Spiritual Direction and the 3 ways of the spiritual life
I have also found that people are encouraged to seek spiritual direction in the Catholic Church. This is working under the tutelage of a spiritual director to help you advance in prayer and holiness. This was a completely foreign concept to me, and I imagine will likely be for any other non-Catholics, so here is a great description to help:
The main focus of spiritual direction is union with God. The central aim of spiritual direction is to help guide the directee to purposefully, consistently, and substantively grow in their relationship with God and neighbor. This will happen by discovering God’s presence and work in our souls and embracing His will through the fruitful embrace of prayer and virtue. The ultimate end of spiritual direction is, as Jesus commanded, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12:30–31). Spiritual direction is about developing a love relationship with God that inevitably spills into all other areas of our lives.11
— Dan Burke
I quickly discovered that there is an entire science to the spiritual life in the traditions of the Catholic Church. Learning about the 3 ways of the spiritual life, in particular, completely threw open the doors to a way of living as a Christian that I had no idea about.
The progressive, multi-stage development of the spiritual life can be seen in many of the teachings of the Doctors of the Church. They are particularly evident in Saints Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, and Catherine of Sienna. St. Thomas Aquinas provides a profound and simple summary of the division of the three stages and the emphasis of the pilgrim in each:
The first duty which is incumbent on man is to give up sin and resist concupiscence, which are opposed to charity; this belongs to beginners, in whose hearts charity is to be nursed and cherished lest it be corrupted. The second duty of man is to apply his energies chiefly to advance in virtue; this belongs to those who are making progress and who are principally concerned that charity may be increased and strengthened in them. The third endeavor and pursuit of man should be to rest in God and enjoy Him; and this belongs to the perfect who desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ. [St. Thomas Aquinas]
Though these and other saints did not always use the terms we commonly use to describe these phases today, they clearly taught using analogies that reflect commonly experienced phases of maturity that serious Christians work through in their progress to God. These phases are predominantly classified as “purgative,” “illuminative,” and “unitive”—words that focus on what happens at each stage. Because of their obscurity, however, we often employ another set of terms that signify the spiritual maturity of a person at each phase: “childhood,” “adolescence,” and “adulthood” (we will use these terms interchangeably):
Phase 1: Purgative Way (Childhood)
Phase 2: Illuminative Way (Adolescence)
Phase 3: Unitive Way (Adulthood)12
— Dan Burke
None of this is to say that Protestant traditions don’t have any sense of spirituality or a prayer life. They obviously do, but it isn’t anywhere near as emphasized or taught as a science as you find in the Catholic Church. Just take a look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The entire 4th part of the Catechism is devoted to just prayer!13
Finally, one of my favorite spiritual practices to aid this journey through the 3 ways of the spiritual life has been discovering Eucharistic adoration. Again, here was another practice that was completely foreign to me, the idea of simply sitting and praying before the blessed sacrament that is left over from Mass and kept in the tabernacle in the Church.
Once the Eucharistic theology of the Church began to take shape in my mind, I quickly began to see how amazing a gift we all have to be able to go and sit with Jesus, our Lord, truly present in body, blood, soul, and divinity any day that I like. Whenever I get the chance (which at time of this writing has been fewer because of the Coronavirus pandemic) I can pull away from the distractions and chaos of the world and simply sit with Christ. I can bring my prayers, joys and sufferings, not just before Jesus in a spiritual manner, but before Him in His real, physical presence.
Catholicism is very biblical: Typology
One of the things that surprised me the most was how differently Catholics read the Bible. I didn’t realize how biblical their teachings were because I had never been shown how to read scriptures as they do. Typology, in particular, opened up scriptures in ways I never thought possible.
Typology is the study of how people and events in the Old Testament were shadows, or prefigurements, of what God had in plan later in the New Testament. As Augustine has famously put it, it is is the study of how “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old is unveiled in the New.”
This was not how just Augustine read the Bible either. When you read how all the Church Fathers read the Bible, you see this is how they did it as well.
We see this typological reading right in the pages of scriptures themselves and can find so many typological readings for the Papacy (Isaiah 22 – Matthew 16), for Mary as the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 40:34-35 – Luke 1:35, 2 Maccabees 2:4-8 – Revelation 12)14 , or how the exodus through the Red Sea waters pre-figures our salvation through the waters of baptism (Exodus 14:15–31, 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 – Romans 6:3).
Jewish Roots of the Eucharist
Of particular importance is looking at these Jewish roots for the Eucharist. In scriptures we see John call Jesus the paschal lamb, which means he is the fulfillment of the lamb from the Passover in the Old Testament. We also see other interesting hints in the Old Testament for spiritual food in the mana in the desert in Exodus, and in the time of the Jewish temple we see the presence of the bread in the tabernacle, or in the daily lamb sacrifice made in the temple each day that was then consumed with prayers of thanksgiving:
“The lamb would be sacrificed in the Temple and the bread for the meal would be consecrated the moment the lamb was sacrificed. The bread and meat, along with wine, would constitute the elements of the sacred todah meal, which would be accompanied by prayers and songs of thanksgiving….”15
I highly recommend reading more on these typologies from Scott Hahn or Brant Pitre. Pitre has several books in his “Jewish Roots” series, as does Scott Hahn16, that explain these ideas of reading the Bible typologically so well.17
Theology of Redemptive Suffering
The theology of suffering is another area of Catholic teaching that I was never aware of. I had especially never heard before the idea that our suffering can be redemptive. This is the idea that we can join our own suffering we face in life to the suffering that Jesus went through on the cross. In doing so, we are entering deeper into the mystery of Christ, and through Him, our suffering is offered more perfectly up to God and takes on a redemptive quality for our souls.
This may at first sound strange to Protestant ears, and slightly sound of works righteousness again, but it is most assuredly not. In fact, it is again another idea in Catholic theology that is deeply rooted in scriptures. For instance, we see in Colossians 1:24 that our suffering fills up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions:
Colossians 1:24 New International Version (ESV)
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,
What could possibly be lacking in Christ’s afflictions? Of course, his afflictions and offering to the Father were perfect. Nothing is lacking in His offering per se, rather, what St. Paul is getting at is that we participate in Christ’s sufferings. We see this idea of participation in Christ’s suffering in many places:
2 Corinthians 1:5 (ESV)
5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.[a]
Romans 8:16-17 (ESV)
16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
In scriptures, we are called again and again to take our crosses and follow Christ, to suffer with Christ. This suffering, when joined to the perfect suffering of Christ, becomes part of our process of justification, sanctification, and divinization.
For more on this topic, I highly recommend looking at the papal document from John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, for more. This document walks through in great the theology and scripture behind this most important aspect of being a Christian. With this knowledge in hand, you can use your sufferings as an opportunity to bring graces into the lives of those around you and in the church.
Romans 5:3-5 (ESV)
3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Sacrifice of the Mass
One other thing worth mentioning here that I love about being a Catholic is when we go to mass and partake in the Eucharist, this is another opportunity for us to join all of our works, joys, and sufferings to Christ and his onetime perfect sacrifice that we are making present again on the altar and offering to God.
But the Eucharist isn’t a magic pill, some kind of supernatural vitamin. On the contrary, the Mass’s consecrated bread and wine are the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus offered to the Father in the Holy Spirit — and more. Remember all those prayers, works, joys, and sufferings; the fears, loves, sins, hopes, and thanksgivings — that is, your entire human life — that you added to the Church’s gifts of bread and wine when the altar was prepared? These, along with the same sacrifices of each cell of the Mystical Body of Christ, have likewise been given to God and are returned to us transformed. It was the Great Animator, the Holy Spirit, who transformed these gifts, and even He Himself is a part of our lively reception. “He who eats it with faith,” said St. Ephrem, “eats Fire and Spirit. . . . Take and eat this, all of you, and eat with it the Holy Spirit.”23 Charged with Jesus, on fire with the Holy Spirit, divinized by the Father, and prepared in part by the heartfelt intentions of the world, food like this can only be called “heavenly” — or as we said earlier, “out of this world.” The Mass’s fare is, in fact, the main course of the eternal wedding banquet of Jesus and His Bride, the Church.18
— Christopher Carstens
This isn’t just an empty ritual. We are called to participate in this sacrifice with Christ. We are called to join ourselves completely to Christ as an offering to God. We see this self-sacrifice language from St. Paul when he says in Romans 12:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
The sacrifice of the Eucharist is a tangible liturgical medium for us to make a self-offering of ourselves to God. In the liturgical action, real graces are applied to the believer. This is also one of the reasons Catholics are obligated to attend Church at least every week on Sundays, to partake in this Holy Sacrifice.
Here, Brant Pitre explains this connection between sacrifices and God.
…it [sacrifices] was a symbolic self-offering to God of one’s own life. It was a way through sign and symbol and sacrifice to offer one’s self to God. Sacrifice was seen as a form of prayer. It was meant to atone for sin, to be sure, but it was also an expression of self-offering to God…
…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…
So that terminology of “holy” would be something that would be applied to sacrifices in the Old Testament, because the word “holy” means to set apart— kadosh in Hebrew, as well as hagios in Greek. It means to set apart. So when an animal was deemed to be holy, it would be set apart for sacrifice, for offering in the temple. You only offered God holy things, things that have been set apart for Him.
And so what Paul is doing here is he’s telling Christians that they are going (in a sense) to take the role in the new covenant that animal sacrifices had in the old covenant. But they’re going to present their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to Him, set apart for God who is their spiritual worship.19
Just in case this idea of the Eucharist being a sacrifice sounds strange or even sacrilegious to you, just know this is how the church has always viewed the Eucharist.
“Assemble on the Lord’s day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until he has been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice [Matt. 5:23–24]. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, ‘Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations’ [Mal. 1:11, 14]” (Didache 14 [A.D. 70]).
POPE CLEMENT I
“Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices. Blessed are those presbyters who have already finished their course, and who have obtained a fruitful and perfect release” (Letter to the Corinthians 44:4–5 [A.D. 80]).
IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH
“Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with his Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice—even as there is also but one bishop, with his clergy and my own fellow servitors, the deacons. This will ensure that all your doings are in full accord with the will of God” (Letter to the Philadelphians 4 [A.D. 110]).
Again, Jesus, through His power as God, makes his onetime sacrifice present again on the altar each time we participate in the Eucharist. So, this isn’t a re-sacrificing, but rather a re-presentation of the same perfect sacrifice at Calvary and it affords us the opportunity to partake directly in and join with this sacrifice.
Our participation in Christ’s sacrifice
CCC 618 The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the “one mediator between God and men.”452 But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, “the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery” is offered to all men.453 He calls his disciples to “take up [their] cross and follow [him],”454 for “Christ also suffered for [us], leaving [us] an example so that [we] should follow in his steps.”455 In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries.456 This is achieved supremely in the case of his mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering.457 (1368, 1460; 307, 2100; 964)
Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.45820
I highly recommend listening to Dr. Lawerence Feingold’s lecture series on the Eucharist to learn more about the sacrifice of the mass and how it is integral to Christianity.21
Purgatory is good news!
As strange as this may sound, I believe purgatory is good news. As we see in the Bible, nothing impure can enter Heaven (Revelation 21:27). As such, purgatory is the place/process for our souls to be made clean so we can enter heaven and beatitude with God. Without purgatory, we would either need to be perfect this side of death (very unlikely, if not impossible) or what we did on this side of life wouldn’t really matter because it was just going to let everyone into heaven as they were (not biblical). Instead, purgatory is the biblical concept for how we can be purged of all the attachment to sin that remains on our soul when we die. The Church has not made a dogma of what this exact process is, just that it definitely happens as can be seen right in scripture:
1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (ESV)
11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Even some Protestants recognize the logic behind purgatory and embrace it. In fact, Protestant C. S. Lewis talked about his embrace of purgatory in one of his last works, Letters to Malcolm, he says:
“Our souls demand Purgatory.” Would it not break the heart if God said to us, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy”? Should we not reply, “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.” “It may hurt, you know” — “Even so, sir.”22
Liturgy, Lectionay, and Liturgical Calendar
The liturgy of the Catholic Church is one of its treasures, stunning in its breadth and beauty. Through the liturgy, we hear so much of the Christian tradition in creeds and prayers that has been handed down to us from the Apostles and through the Church right up to us today. The art and architecture of the Church’s themselves are steeped in theological meaning and beauty.25
The lectionary is all the readings from the Bible the church cycles through in mass each year. The lectionary is set up in a way to weave together theological ideas that match up what is happening in the calendar for that part of the year. For instance, the readings that happen at the Easter vigil include some readings from the Exodus (Exodus 14:10-31) with the Israelites passing through the red sea to help tell the story of salvation and how baptism cleanses us/saves us. This is also why they later read Ezekiel 37:1-14 which speaks of how we receive a clean heart (in baptism). Later the lectionary reads Romans 6:3-11, which speaks of how we are baptized in to Christ’s death so that we may be resurrected like Him. Finally, this culminates in Matthew 28:1-10 and the resurrection of Jesus, the event that ties together all of salvation history and makes sense of the entire Bible.
Each day at mass, the Church selects readings from the Old Testament, Psalms, Gospels, and on Sunday an Epistle, that are all thematically connected.
Likewise, the entire church calendar follows the life of Jesus and the plan of salvation with important days being celebrated according to when they happened in history (Advent, Lent, Easter, etc.).
There are so many amazing resources on all of this, but I highly recommend the 2nd part of the Catechism and a lecture series by Brant Pitre that walks through all the mass and its biblical roots in great detail.26
The lives of the Saints and Martyrs
The history of the church is absolutely incredible. Hearing about how much suffering the early church went through and the amazing heroes of the faith that were willing to face constant persecution and even death to help the Church grow is awe-inspiring. I think it is quite an apologetic for the veracity of Christianity too, as it was able to spread far and wide into very hostile territory and it thrived and continues to do so today.
Reading about the lives of the saints and these people who gave their lives for the church is a true blessing and something very worth while. This is also tied into the Church calendar as the Church celebrates these great saints throughout the year.
It is also a true blessing to be able to pray with and learn from these saints. In particular, for me, I have been blessed with a devotion to Mary and St. Joseph. Knowing that these saints are in heaven, it is a gift to be able to have them intercede for me to God. This may sound a little off putting to some who are not at all used to the concept. It shouldn’t be, though. This really is just asking someone in heaven, who is so much closer to God and a saint, to pray for us.
It is also wonderful to be able to ask for these saints help, again by learning from how they lived their lives in situations that are applicable to yours. I love asking St. Joseph to be my spiritual father. I love asking him to teach me, by his example, to be the best man, husband, and father that I can be. I try to learn from his life how to emulate a saint who is the epitome of being a good man.
There are so many resources on this topic for those who want to dig into it more. Catholic Answers, especially, has a ton of short tracts on the topic explaining it.27 Learning about Mary, in particular, will help a great deal with this too.
Devotion to our blessed Mother is truly a gift from God. The theology of Mary is taken from some of the deepest wells of theology, so it requires a bit of work upfront but leads to some of the most fruitful theological and spiritual insights. I don’t think Mary should be a stumbling block to Protestants, rather I pray that she becomes a great unifying force when all Christians begin to see she is the Mother of the Church and a gift from God for us. She is God’s prime creation in the order of grace.
First off, Mary is awfully important in the story of salvation. Though she only shows up in a handful of scriptures, she is in all of the most important parts. She gives her fiat when Jesus is conceived in her. She is the first evangelist when she brings Jesus to visit Elizabeth. She gives birth to our Lord giving the messiah to the world. She is at the wedding in Cana when Christ first manifest himself telling everyone to do whatever Christ says. She is at the foot of the cross when her son and her God is tortured and killed. She is in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descends at Pentecost.
There are so many strands of thought showing Mary’s exalted role in the story of salvation but here are few key points.
First, Mary is the new Eve, the undoer of the knots created by Eve in the fall. This idea has been in the Church from the beginning as can be seen here from St. Irenaeus when he famously wrote that the “knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience. For what the virgin Eve tied by her unbelief, this Mary untied by her belief.”28 The implications here are that just as Eve was born from the side of Adam and later came the fall and the stain of sin, Mary being the new Eve gives birth to Jesus, the new Adam, who out from His side the waters of mercy pour out on the world (when the Roman Centurion pierced His side on the cross). Jesus and Mary, together, undo what Adam and Eve did at the beginning of time.
Mary is also the queen mother of the Church as we can see Jesus giving her to the whole Church when He said on the cross, “Behold your mother” (John 19:25-29). Furthermore, in Revelation 12 we see the woman crowned in 12 stars in heaven that gives birth to the messiah which biblical scholars often say is a reference to Mary as the head of the Church.
Mary is also the new Ark of the Covenant and thus the bearer and Mother of God. Here, is another key reference from Revelation and Mary as we see at the end of Revelation 11 that the ark of covenant is taken up to heaven. Then, the very next verses in Revelation 12 talk about Mary, showing us that she is the ark of covenant that was taken up into heaven.
“Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a violent hailstorm. A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth” (see Revelation 11:19 and Revelation 12:1-2).
Here, again is a description of why this connection to the Ark of the Covenant is an important view of Mary:
The Ark of the Covenant was the sign of God’s real presence among His people. In Jesus Christ, born of Mary, God was really present among his people in an even more direct way.
The Ark held the Word of God written in stone. Mary bore the Word of God in flesh
The Ark held the bread from heaven, a foreshadowing of the Eucharist (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-4). Mary bore the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ (see John 6:48-50).
The Ark contained the rod of Aaron, symbol of his priesthood. Mary bore Jesus Christ, our High Priest (see Hebrews 3:1).
If the Ark of the Covenant was holy, then by the same standards Mary is even holier. As Mother of God, she is the Ark of the New Covenant, bearing Jesus Christ, the Word of God, the Bread of Life, our great High Priest. That is not a re-interpretation of the Gospel: it is a truth made clear by the New Testament writers themselves.29
Mary deserves the highest praise among all creatures as she helped create the Church; she gave her fiat consenting to bearing Jesus, she then gave birth to our Lord Jesus, and then spent her whole life bringing people to him. Now that she has been exalted in heaven as the saint above all saints, she continues her mission to bring people to Christ.
If, then, we establish the solid devotion to our Blessed Lady, it is only to establish more perfectly the devotion to Jesus Christ, and to put forward an easy and secure means for finding Jesus Christ.30 If devotion to our Lady removed us from Jesus Christ, we should have to reject it as an illusion of the devil; but on the contrary, so far from this being the case, there is nothing which makes devotion to our Lady more necessary for us, as I have already shown, and will show still further hereafter, than that it is the means of finding Jesus Christ perfectly, of loving Him tenderly, and of serving Him faithfully.
— Saint Louis de Montfort
What is my favorite thing about the Catholic Church?
Honestly, my favorite thing about the Catholic Church is I finally have landed in what feels like the fullness of the truth. Hopefully, by now, this series of posts has shed light on why I think this is the case. This isn’t to say that all questions magically evaporate when you become Catholic. It is comforting to finally know that I don’t have to figure it all out, though. I can accept that God instituted a Church to protect and guide me; that if I faithfully follow the Church’s teachings, I cannot fall into error.
The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.31 –G.K. Chesterton
John 10:16 (ESV)
And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Header Image: Chair of Saint Peter | photo by Lawrence OP | flickr.
- Dubay, T. (1999). The evidential power of beauty: Science and theology meet. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 23. ↩
- Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 334). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference. ↩
- For more on the great depth of the teachings on the Eucharist, see Dr. Lawerence Feingold’s lectures On the Eucharist, Part 1 and Part 2: . See also Brant Pitre’s book, the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist and Scott Hahn’s book The Lord’s Supper. ↩
- John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, no. 26 ↩
- Hahn, S. (2018). The first society: The sacrament of matrimony and the restoration of the social order. Steubenville: Emmaus Road. loc.154 ↩
- https://voiceofthefamily.com/the-final-battle-between-our-lord-and-the-reign-of-satan-will-be-over-marriage-and-the-family/ ↩
- Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 334). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference. ↩
- ibid., p. 488–489. ↩
- see also Dan Burke’s Into the Deep, a wonderful short book on meditative prayer. ↩
- Philippe, J. (2005). Time for God: A guide to prayer. Boston: Pauline Books & Media. loc. 4** ↩
- Burke, Dan . Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God . Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition. ↩
- ibid. ↩
- Side note, I have heard many people suggest to start reading the Catechism with the 4th part as it is some of the most beautiful theology you can read. At this point, I would tend to agree. ↩
- See Brant Pitre’s book “Jesus and the Jewish roots of Mary” and this great online study rom Scott Hahn’s St. Paul Center for theology : ↩
- Tim Gray, “From Jewish Passover to Christian Eucharist: The Story of the Todah.” Lay Witness (Nov/Dec. 2002). ↩
- This is a great online study from Scott Hahn’s St. Paul Center for theology that covers Eucharistic typology: ↩
- See also Dr. Feingold’s lecture series on typology on the Hebrew Catholic website: https://www.hebrewcatholic.net/11-typology-how-the-old-testament-prefigures-the-new/ ↩
- Carstens, C. (2017). A devotional journey into the Mass: how Mass can become a time of grace, nourishment, and devotion. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press. loc.122 ↩
- Pitre, Brant. Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A Sedcond Reading. Pitre Mass Readings Explained. ↩
- Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., pp. 159–161). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference. ↩
- Lawerence Feingold. On the Eucharist Part 1 and 2. . See also Dr. Feingold’s book: The Eucharist: Mystery of Presence, Sacrifice, and Communion ↩
- https://aleteia.org/2017/05/03/the-great-good-news-of-purgatory/ ↩
- Purgatory Is for Real: Good News about the Afterlife for Those Who Aren’t Perfect Yet. ↩
- https://catholicproductions.com/products/jesus-and-the-jewish-roots-of-purgatory ↩
- See Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy by Denis McNamara. Also Pope Benedict Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy XVI’s book The Spiriti of Liturgy. ↩
- The Bible and the Mass: The Jewish Roots of Christian Liturgy. ↩
- https://www.catholic.com/tract/praying-to-the-saints ↩
- Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Irenaeus of Lyons: Against the Heresies, Book 3, ed. Irenaeus M. C. Steenberg, trans. Dominic J. Unger, vol. 64, Ancient Christian Writers (New York; Mahwah, NJ: The Newman Press, 2012), p. 105: Iren., Adv. Haer. 3.22.4. ↩
- Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God. St. Paul Center for Theology online study. ↩
- Saint Louis de Montfort. True Devotion To the Blessed Virgin Mary: #62. ↩
- Chesteron. G.K. Why am I Catholic. ↩