(Part 2 of a “Top 10 list” of things we Catholics believe. For Part 1, click here…)
6. The Mass matters. It is at the very heart of what it is to be a Christian- it is the source and summit of Christian life. (CCC 1324, quoting Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.) You don’t want your heart to be something varied or creative (if your human heart does this, you’re in big trouble.) We have an account of the Mass from St. Justin Martyr, written in the year 155, explaining a lot of the elements we know today from the Mass (read CCC paragraph 1345.) We see in this passage readings, a homily, prayers of the faithful, the sign of peace, the celebration of the Eucharist, communion being brought to the sick… things we’ve done faithfully since the first Mass, the last supper. When Jesus at the last supper talked about the bread and wine as His body and blood – and invited his disciples to partake of this sacrifice, they would have understood what He was doing. When you sacrificed an animal as a sin offering in biblical times, you didn’t just mindlessly slaughter an animal: you killed it and then ate it, making yourself one with the sacrifice. Jesus, the Lamb of God, is the one sacrifice for all sin, and we are invited to partake of His sacrifice each Sunday at Mass, where the whole action of His passion, death, and resurrection are made present to us in the Mass.
7. Confession is one of the best parts of being Catholic. In John’s Gospel, we see the origins of the Sacrament we know as confession or Reconciliation: Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. (John 20:22-23) When you go to confession, you actually hear the priest – who sits in the place of Christ (‘in Persona Christi’) – speak the words:
God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
This is AMAZING when you think about it. You walk into this sacrament, tell God via His priest all your sins, and – providing you’re sorry – He forgives you, and you actually get to hear it spoken to you. Modern psychology has made a fortune in getting people to own up to what they’ve done (actually saying it helps relieve you of your guilt.) Twelve step programs recognize how crucial this is to recovery… and so include confession as step five on the road to recovery.
Now, people find confession to be heavy or scary. They don’t want to talk to someone they know or who may let on what they’ve done. Well, here’s where I look at the fact that any priest hears literally hundreds upon hundreds of confessions each year, and most can’t keep track of who said what. I also know that confession is guarded by a seal – a sacred promise a priest makes never to break this seal and admit or share anything you’ve said while in confession outside the confessional. Priests have been jailed and in some cases killed rather break this seal – because if they did, it would cause them to have dire consequences on earth (in the Church) and beyond (God takes these promises seriously.) In Canada, the legal system defends this seal: matters relating to confession are not admissible in court. But beyond the practical memory issues, and the seal itself, you need to consider what a priests job is. It ties into the Church: all about reconciling you to God. So even if you are the worst sinner who has ever lived (you’re not) and you think you’re going to tell the priest something he’s never heard before (unlikely… we all commit the same sins), the priest is so excited to be able to act as an intermediary between you and God, that he’s not as concerned about WHAT you have to say, but rather about WHAT you can do to move past the sin.
8. God’s commandments exist for our own good. All the thou shalt’s and thou shalt not’s are there for a reason. And it isn’t because God is some kind of cosmic killjoy. It’s first of all a matter of perspective. When my one year old decides that crawling in the oven or playing with knives is a good idea, as a loving parent, I tell him he shouldn’t – even if it upsets him because he doesn’t understand. I know that a knife will cut him, or crawling in the oven may result in him being baked, but he doesn’t. If I only imposed rules on my children that they understood, my kids would be seriously injured – or worse – they’d be taken away from me, and I would probably go to jail for neglecting basic care for them. God is our loving father, who lays out commandments and direction for our lives because He loves us. When He tells us not to kill, it’s because He knows how sacred life is (He created it, after all.) When He tells us not to commit adultery – to see the beauty of the gift of our sexuality for what it was made for, it’s because He doesn’t want to see us hurt by falling short of what He made us for. Every commandment makes sense from this perspective… but you need to step back and see it that way.
9. All are called to be saints. God did not create us to be merely “good people.” He does not hope for us to be mediocre, or just barely enough. He made us for great good. You can see this around us in the world: giraffe’s don’t have “slightly larger” necks than everyone else… they are huge. Mountains are made to be grand to give us a sense of the vast beauty, power, and creativity of God. Likewise, each human life – body and soul – was made to be something that reflects the beauty and goodness of God. We do this by becoming saints. And God helps get us there: My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9.) This is something that Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa repeated over and over again – they whom we view as modern saints looked and saw saints in progress all around them. We simply need to participate with the grace of God that is already at work in our hearts to get us there.
10. God’s love demands a response. When St. John writes that God is love (1 John 4:8), he’s not simply putting out a mantra that’s meant to make us feel better. He wasn’t thinking of greeting cards, billboards, or twitter posts meant to console us. John was writing about a young suitor who professes his undying love for his bride. When I proposed to my bride, I wanted her to respond yes and let us build on this exchange as long as we both should live. As I mentioned before, this is a shadow, a reflection of what God’s love is like. He has professed His love clearly, distinctly, and definitively by His crucifixion and death. And He daily awaits a response from us. In every chapel in every home of the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s sisters, it is written “I Thirst.” (see John 19:28.) Mother Teresa looked at this cry of Jesus from the cross to mean much more than just a physical thirst, she understood that He was thirsting for each of us- for our response to His love. And God still thirsts that each person would live a life that moment by moment is responding to His love in though, word, and deed.