Why Apologetics?

What is apologetics?

I once had a Catholic professor who didn’t like apologetics because he perceived it to be a “defense” of the Catholic faith, and he didn’t believe the Catholic Church needed to be defended. (Most certainly not by a punk college student.)  He believed that the Catholic Church had existed for centuries and therefore is not dependent upon the defensive abilities of its members.  In some sense he was correct.  Jesus tells us in scripture that the gates of hell shall never prevail against His Church, we can be confident of that.  However, apologetics is not acting as a defender of the Church for the Church’s sake.  Rather, it is learning to defend the faith of the Church, for our own benefit, for the benefit of our fellow Catholics, as well as for the good of those who would attack or perhaps sincerely motivated, ask questions about the Church. 

Apologetics is fulfilling the command of St. Peter, when he wrote in his first letter, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.”  Apologetics is giving a reasoned explanation for your Catholic faith.

Is it important?  Extremely; I think it was Archbishop Fulton Sheen that said, “Few hate the Catholic Church, but millions hate what they mistakenly think is the Catholic Church.".

I am sure almost all of us know a Catholic who left the Church because they were unable to answer some of the most basic questions about their Catholic faith.  Often, we as Catholic have not been prepared to answer common objections from our Protestant brothers and sisters about Catholic practice and doctrine, and are therefore filled with doubt in the truth of the Catholic Church.

Aren’t priests responsible to teach more apologetics?  Yes, and so are you.  The Second Vatican Council in its Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity said, “This sacred Synod earnestly exhorts laymen and women, each according to his natural gifts and learning, to be more diligent in doing their part to explain and defend Christian principles.”  That is apologetics; and we are all responsible to do it. Obviously not all of us are to teach classes in the diocese or at our parish, but at the very least at home with our children and grandchildren.

Would you be able to explain to a fellow Catholic or a Protestant brother or sister about the biblical foundations for intercessory prayer through the saints?  Or why priests are called Father?  Would you have the knowledge to pose a question to a Protestant brother or sister why they believe the Bible to be the only source of authority?  Or why they don’t pray for the dead as did St. Paul?

If not, what are we doing to bolster our faith?  We live in an age where resources are abundant and easily accessible.  Apologetics is the main reason why I started this bulletin “Q & A” as well as why I think www.formed.org is a wonderful resource for our parish.  Let us be ever ready to give to those who ask of us the reason for the hope that is within.

Questions or Clarification you would like answered? Email Fr. Jarett at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

Blind Faith?

A high school friend of mine recently asked how I can simply accept the faith that was handed down to me without personal experience of it and without physical evidence?

Is it challenging to believe in a world of disbelief?  Yep.  However, let’s not forget how much “faith” it takes to be an atheist.  Random alignment of random particles and the created world was born?  Okay, so that’s a simplified description, but in some ways, it could be likened to throwing colored sand in the air and having it fall into the exact shape and design of the Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s David.  Try it; let me know how that comes out.  Science can disprove God to the same degree that it can prove God; it can’t

Okay, so your response might be, “Sure I believe in God, but why Christianity, why not any of the other plethora of religions out there?  Of the 6 billion people on the planet, with thousands of different divinity belief systems, we just happened to be born into the correct one?” 

First of all, I would respond “thank you.”  Your question implies that there might actually be a “correct” religion out there.  Even this statement is not a “given” in our relativistic world.  We live in the age of “That may be true for you but it’s not true for me.”  It is important to start on the same footing.  If something is true for you, then it is also true for me, and everyone else for that matter, whether we believe it or not.  Truth doesn’t depend upon “my” belief or disbelief.  For example, if I was raised to believe that two plus two equals five, it doesn’t matter how strongly I believe it or how many people I have convinced to agree with me, it is and always will be a false belief.  If two plus two equals four, then anyone that gives an answer other than four is wrong.

Secondly, this is why I encourage people, young and old to seek the truth.  If you are not sure that the faith that has been given to you is true, then by all means, “seek the truth.”  Read about your faith; about other religions, ask questions, and actively pursue the answers.  Do not give into the temptation of our times to remain stagnant.  I would say a majority of Americans, perhaps even a majority of Christians fall into this category.  “Well, I believe in God, I don’t know what is true, I’m not sure we can even know what is true, so I will just live my life as a ‘good’ person, not formally praying, not formally practicing religion, not actively seeking truth.”  I’m not sure what other faiths call this, but its traditionally been labeled agnostic.  Another thing said about agnostics is that they freely choose the world over God or separation from God in this life so God affords them the same after death.  This is what has been traditionally coined, “going to hell.”    

In college, I spent some time asking questions, examining other faiths, even taking a “World Religions” course maybe in rebellion, maybe because it was what I needed so that I might finally listen.  I spent some time spiritually “away” from the Church and God following the ways of the world.  In the end, after my journeys I personally found that Christianity (specifically Catholicism), of the religions I encountered, seemed to follow the most human logic, have some of the greatest minds (scientific, philosophic, medicine) in human history, and in the Christian World, contain the only unbroken succession and line of connection to Jesus Christ.  To my knowledge, it is the only religion in the world where God promised and provided an unbroken provider of truth in the form of an institution.  Although this institution has no doubt been made up of fallen sinners, the gates of hell have not and will never prevail against it.  It is God’s continued visible presence in the darkness of the world.  God also promised that His Church would be persecuted.  Movies, News, Talk Shows, Government, Academics; what is the favorite religious target for visible attack in the world today; the Catholic Church.  On that point alone I am confident of truth.

That is one reason I began this bulletin Q & A. I love searching and asking and learning and finding reason after reason for the rich, deep, beautiful faith God has given us.  Keep the questions coming to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

Call no man Father?

 

"Why is the priest called Father? Doesn’t Jesus say, “Call no man Father?” (Matt. 23:9)

All of scripture must be interpreted within the context of when, where, and to whom

it was written.  The Gospels are no different.  What is thecontext of Jesus’ words and what is his meaning?  In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.”  In this passage we understand that Jesus is making a point that all truth and authority should be rooted in God, not in man.  These words of Jesus are not literal.  If they were, then how many of us would be disobeying God’s command in calling the man who biologically cooperated in giving life to us father?  If you read just one verse earlier, St. Matthew also says, “As for you, do not be called teacher.  You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.”  I’m pretty sure every one of us has broken that command at some point in our life if we take these verses literally.

No, the truth is that throughout scripture men are referred to as fathers and teachers and even those who have no biological connection to those to whom they speak.  Even St. Paul referred to many of the early Christian communities as his spiritual children.  Let’s look at St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians as one example.  “I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.  Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”  (1 Cor. 4:14-15)  One verse later, he says, “For this reason I am sending you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord.”  If Jesus meant that we as Christians are to literally refrain from calling men father, then even St. Paul was in direct violation of that command as he wrote in more than one place in his letters. (See also: 1 Thess 2:11, 1 Tim 1:2, and Tit. 1:4)

 

In the same way St. Paul has just described, the priest is called father, because he is truly a spiritual father of all within his parish.  He is called to guide, protect, and nourish his spiritual children with only what is spiritually good for their souls by preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments to them.  Sadly, many of our priest’s spiritual children and your brothers and sisters in the Lord are starving or even choking on the spiritual garbage our world has to offer, and we do not concern ourselves, because we live in a world whose motto is “live and let live.”  Let us pray that we may become better spiritual children while our priests and bishops throughout the Catholic Church become better spiritual fathers that we may grow together in becoming God’s family as Christ intends.

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Church Attire

 

Do any Church documents say anything about what Catholics should wear to mass on Sunday?  Could the Church please write something?  In my opinion it’s getting pretty bad.

 

To my knowledge there is nothing formally written by the Church outlining appropriate attire for Mass on Sunday.  I would assume the reason the Church has not written anything is because it is a very cultural issue.  Mass attire in Africa is going to be different than Asia and so forth.  Therefore, there is no universal law.

 

However, I would like to examine something that has been written to attempt to find some guidance on this issue.  The third commandment of the Ten Commandments given to Moses says “Keep holy the Sabbath day.”  As I have explained before, the word holy simply means “set apart.”  So, this commandment calls us to keep the Sabbath day “set apart.”  Can this possibly refer to Sunday mass attire?

 

Thirty, forty, fifty years ago people did not simply wear suits, ties, and evening gowns to mass in order to make a fashion statement.  They wore it because they knew they were attending something important, something a little different, something set apart.  Now, I know one could argue that people back then wore suits, ties, and evening gowns to a lot of social functions and not just mass and this is true.  Cultural practice has shifted and therefore, I am not arguing that we go back to wearing suits and ties and evening gowns to mass every Sunday.  However, I am saying that we should keep Sunday Mass “set apart.”  What does this mean?

 

Let’s say it is Saturday evening and we are at the mall or the ball park with the family and we need to get to a nice dinner party at the Smith’s house.  Most often we recognize that this dinner party calls for different attire, we probably would not say, “Well, the Smith’s should appreciate the fact that we are making the effort to attend and then show up in a tank top and flip-flops.”  Yet, how often do we approach Mass in a similar way.  “God does not care what I wear, so long as I show up.”  There is some truth to this, God is not terribly concerned with your attire at mass, but as a human being it directly affects me and it directly affects you.  Let me explain. 

 

As human beings we are drawn into experiences through our senses, we know that when we put on formal attire we are headed to something important; a wedding, prom, a funeral.  When we are wearing formal attire, we may not recognize it in ourselves, but we act more formal, talk more formal, and think more formal.  The same is true when everyone else around us is dressed formally, it communicates to us that something important is going on.  If you have ever attended an event underdressed, you know what it feels like to misjudge the importance of something, and to stand out as a result.  Also, when we and everyone around us are wearing very casual attire this communicates something to our minds as well.  As human beings, we consciously and subconsciously act differently according to what we and others are wearing.  It may sound superficial, but it is true.  When we attend Sunday Mass dressed for the beach or the ball park, it is dangerously easy to treat it as another “check mark” on our to-do list for the day.  However, we say we believe it is so much more.  The mass is the most important thing we do all week, all month, all year.  That is what we are called to believe, as Catholics.

 

 

I understand this is a tough subject and perhaps there will be some offended by this article.  Nonetheless, is it important enough for us to reflect upon what is the Sabbath and the Mass and how well do we keep these things holy;  “set apart” as the commandment asks of us? Questions or Clarifications? Email Fr. Jarett at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

Looking for signs

Does God speak to us through signs?  Is it okay to pray for a sign of God’s will in our life?

 

The biggest danger with praying for signs is that it causes us to want to look for signs.  How’s that for an obvious statement?  Let me explain.  What is the problem with looking for signs?  When we look for a sign of confirmation from God, we tend to become biased towards only recognizing the signs that confirm the answer we are hoping to find. 

 

Let me use an example.  In my first few years of seminary, as I traveled the early stages of discernment of my own vocation I began praying for affirmation, for a sign from God to give me confidence in his will for my life.  At that time, although I told myself I was open to whatever vocation God was calling me, my heart was leaning toward marriage.  Subsequently, as I prayed for a sign of vocational affirmation, anytime I stumbled across a scripture verse or some saint’s writing that had the smallest correlation to marriage, I assured myself that God was clearly giving me a sign.  Some of these experiences were very powerful.  At one point, these “signs” became so apparent that I almost packed my bags and headed home to pursue a career and family. 

 

When praying for signs we can easily become prejudiced and only perceive what we want to perceive in order to affirm our own will instead of God’s will.  So, does God speak to us through signs?  Yes, throughout human history God has used earthly physical mediums to communicate His love and His will to humanity.  

 

The next logical question then, is how do we know?  How did I know that God was not actually calling me to marriage?  The greatest virtue in perceiving God’s will for our lives and testing our perception of God’s signs is patience.  And of course, we have no time for patience.  My spiritual director, at the time, instructed me to test these initial signs by remaining patient and seeking further affirmation from God.  Very wisely, he said if God is truly calling you to leave the seminary He will let you know, He won’t let you continue to pursue the wrong vocation if you remain open to Him.  My spiritual director was right.  What I first perceived to be God’s signs of calling me to marriage ceased as I continued to be open, unbiased, and patient in prayer.  Therefore, one of the greatest dangers in looking for a sign is that we take the first affirmation we see and run with it.  We must be patient.  We must trust that if God is truly speaking to us, He will affirm and reaffirm the signs of His will in our lives. Questions or Clarifications? Email Fr. Jarett at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Crucifix vs Cross

Why do Catholics have the crucifix as their symbol, whereas most other Christians use the cross without the corpus or body of Christ?

 

Another way I have heard this question stated is, “Why do Catholics leave Jesus hanging on the Cross, haven’t they heard of the Resurrection?  Catholics seem to be stuck on Good Friday instead of realizing that we are an Easter Resurrection people.”

 

It is true that the crucifix shows the death of Jesus and seems to go no further in its depiction, however a bare cross shows simply that, a bare cross.  It does not in itself, imply the Resurrection, it simply shows that Jesus is no longer on the cross.  It could be a depiction of the time after the death of Jesus as he was being laid in the tomb or his days lying in the tomb.  The only real way to symbolically depict the Resurrection would be to show the empty tomb, not the empty cross.  (Which probably wouldn’t be as popular as a jewelry piece or on top of a church steeple.) 

 

The crucifix also has a very significant meaning for all humanity in that it shows us what love looks like in the midst of our earthly life.  At times, Christian love has to be sacrifice, pain, even to the point of death.  In this world we are called to live the passion and to join our pain with the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross so that we may experience Resurrection and Eternal life with Christ.  What better symbol of our mission on earth than the crucifix.  We should find it especially powerful at times when we may be feeling sorry for ourselves or we are concerned about how difficult our life and sacrifices are.  In the shadow of the Cross of Jesus Christ, our pain and suffering is small, which should help us put things in perspective.

 

Another reason Catholics use the crucifix in our Churches is because it is that sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross that we commemorate at each and every mass.  It is Jesus, who offered himself, as an offering for the sin of humanity that has given us the opportunity for salvation.  Thus, the crucifix in Church aids us in calling that sacrifice to mind.

 

 Therefore, it is true that the cross is important in the tradition of the Church, but the cross is nothing without the sacrifice of Jesus, who made it the symbol of our salvation.

 Questions or comments? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   

Communion Questions

 Check back for weekly updates to Fr. Jarett’s Catholic Q & A Corner...

 

Should Catholics take communion when visiting another church for a wedding or funeral?

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, “have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders.” It is for this reason that, for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible.  However these ecclesial communities, “when they commemorate the Lord's death and resurrection in the Holy Supper...profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and await his coming in glory.” (Catechism, 1400, quoting Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio 22 § 3)

In other words, because Protestants and Catholics have a different understanding and a differing belief in what it is that we are receiving when we go to communion, we are instructed not to receive in other churches and others are encouraged not to receive the Eucharist in the Catholic Church. 

The word communion, in and of itself implies mutual participation in something, unity, or intimate sharing.  Receiving communion in another community is an intimate act of sharing and also implies that we are in union with them through this act of receiving their bread and their wine.  (Sometimes we do not fully realize the meanings we can communicate simply through our actions.)  Therefore, through our actions it is important that we do not imply a unity that is not there within our own belief or theological understanding. 

It is not because we are an elitist group that we do not receive communion in other churches and we do not allow non-Catholics to receive the Eucharist.  It is because the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our lives as Catholics.  That is pretty significant. 

Let’s look at a simple analogy.  (Like all analogies this one falls short, but hopefully it helps convey the idea.)  As an American, if I traveled to Canada to visit, I would not demand all the rites of a Canadian citizen, because I wouldn’t fully understand how their government and social systems work.  In the same way, a Canadian who comes into America should not demand the rite to vote and the right to all the benefits that an American receives without going through a learning process and other particular requirements that would result in receiving American citizenship. 

It’s not a matter of the Catholic Church being too exclusive, it is a matter of deep respect and care for the gifts that we have been given, to the degree that others are asked to wait to participate in those gifts until they have the same respect and care for that gift by going through a formation and learning process and becoming a member (“citizen”) of the Catholic Church. 

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