Sunday, August 25, 2013

People of Prayer

It's easy to be people of talk. How often I find that I am more prone to talk about people or situations when I should be praying for them or for the situations. I wonder what might change in the heavenly realms if I prayed as much as I talked.

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." 
~Ephesians 4:29~

"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." 
~Matthew 12:36~

Let's be people of prayer, not people of talk.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Lamb of God

On the way to church this morning, my two and a half year old daughter began singing the song we sing in Mass before breaking the bread in the Eucharist: 

"Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world: Have mercy on us. 
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world: Have mercy on us. 
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world: Grant us peace."

My husband and I glanced at each other with a grin on our lips and a twinkle in our eyes. Maybe in her youthful innocence she understands those words better than we do, but whether that be the case or not, how beautiful that this is the part of Mass she remembers and delights in. 

I remember often pondering the mysteries of the Eucharist during my early Catholic church going days. As a Protestant dating a Catholic, I was aware of the differences in our beliefs toward the subject. I knew Communion was a bigger deal for him than for me, and I understood why (After all, he believes it is Jesus, I believed it was bread and wine and done in remembrance of Jesus). Not surprisingly  I wasn't yet convinced that the real presence of Jesus was in the bread and wine. Upon first hearing of this teaching my initial reaction, besides "That's strange.", was "Well, I guess God can do anything. He certainly can transform elements, after all, He formed them from nothing. But, would He?" I didn't know the answer at the time. I knew anything is possible with God, but if it goes against the way He instituted communion while here on earth, I would have to assume He wouldn't transform the elements now.

Even still, I can vividly remember multiple times being brought to tears while watching Catholic church-goers walk up for communion during the Mass. I couldn't explain it, but I found it beautiful. Whether I was watching an elderly man with his walker making his way to the alter to receive what he believed to be Jesus, or a young teenager with a crucifix around his neck, there was something significant that struck me. We all need Jesus. All the sudden, during communion, there was no distinction between gender, age, wealth, health, or the like. Everyone seemed to be on the same lowly level of humbly receiving something they didn't deserve, maybe couldn't even explain, yet knew they needed. 

It took many years of struggle trying to understand this mystery and whether or not there was any truth to it. I read the history of early church fathers, read books and commentaries, talked to both pastors and priests, prayed a lot, read the scriptures, and last but not least, waited. I waited for God to reveal the truth to me. It was to big a decision to make on my own, and I knew the decision would likely either bring me into the Catholic Church or further from it. The weight of it was heavy to say the least for many years. After all, I was married to a Catholic and raising my daughter Catholic. I dreaded being dis-unified in the family and bringing confusion to my children as they grew up, but not as much as I dreaded making the wrong decision and standing before God one day accountable for that decision. 

I'm so thankful God revealed to me so much of Himself through all of this and through the Catholic Church. I can say I whole heartily believe in the transubstantiation (the technical term for it) of the bread and wine into His body and blood. He is still increasing my faith in this area, and it does take faith. That's part of the blessing, mystery, and miracle of it. However, there is a lot of evidence for it as well which I am going to briefly outline some of the Biblical support below. 

Of course, there is John 6 which begins with the multiplication of the loaves. I find it interesting that right after performing this miracle with bread, he states that He is the bread of life. Surely it is a miracle as we receive Him in the Eucharist just as it was a miracle how He fed so many with so little at the multiplication of the loaves. The similarities are pretty profound. 

"I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world...Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father send me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven...whoever eats this bread will live forever."
~John 6:51, 53-58~

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul warns of the idolatry of eating those sacrifices which are sacrificed on the alter to demons and compares it to the sacrifice we participate in which is that of the body and blood of Christ.

"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. Look at Israel according to the flesh; are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the alter?...You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of demons. Or are we provoking the Lord to jealous anger? Are we stronger than He?"
~1 Corinthians 10:16-22~

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul goes on to discuss the Lords supper. 

"For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself."
~1 Corinthians 11:23-29~

Let's go back to the Old Testament and the reason for which Jesus gathered with His disciples on the night he was betrayed: the Lord's Passover (Luke 22:7-20).

God was going to save the Israelites from the bondage of slavery to the Egyptians. He instituted the Lord's Passover where the Israelites were to obtain a lamb, sacrifice it, apply some of its blood over their doorposts, and eat it. The Lord would pass over the house of those faithful in accomplishing these specific tasks and He would spare them of His anger against the Egyptians. The requirements for the Passover were very detailed, and what is so amazing is that it all points towards Jesus, the one who would be the final sacrifice, sufficient enough to save us from the bondage of slavery to sin. The Lamb of God. 

The lamb brought forth by the Israelites must be without blemish (Exodus 12:5) and the Lamb brought forth by God, Jesus, was without the blemish of sin.

The lamb worthy of the Lords Passover could have no broken bones (Exodus 12:46) and the Lamb God brought forth in Jesus, when he was sacrificed for our sins, suffered no broken bones (John 19:36). 

The blood of the lamb on the Lord's Passover would save the people from Gods wrath and that blood was to be applied to the doorposts with the branches of hyssop (Exodus 12:22). The Lamb of God, while on the cross of His crucifixion, received wine from a sponge that was attached to the branches of hyssop right before He proclaimed "It is finished." (John 19:29-30).

The body of the lamb on the Lord's Passover was to be eaten on that same night (Exodus 12:8). At the celebration of the Passover that Jesus participated in with His disciples on the night of his betrayal, He told the disciples to take and eat His body, and to drink His blood, that they would serve as the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of their soul (Mark 14:22-24). 

You see, Jesus isn't just the figurative, metaphorically speaking, sacrificed lamb; He is the literal Lamb of God (John 1:29,36). In Jesus, even the details of the requirements of the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb were fulfilled. It makes sense to me that when Jesus said to eat His body, just as God commanded the Israelites to do with the Paschal lamb, He meant it. If the Israelites hadn't done all God commanded of them, including the eating of the lamb, the result was death. Jesus, in John 6:53, states that unless we eat of His body and drink of His blood, we have no life in us. The result is death. Paul similarly declares in 1 Corinthians 11:29 that those who do not discern the body and blood of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself. 

The scriptures really are so full and so rich. I am left in awe of the work of our Lord, all He did for us. We need Jesus. Without Him, the result is death. With Him, the result is forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He literally laid down His life for us as the sufficient sacrifice for our sins. He is the Lamb of God. We are not worthy that He should enter under our roof, but He only need to say the word and our souls shall be healed (following the example of faith in Matthew 8:8, the recitation in Mass during the preparation of Communion).

"Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world: Have mercy on us. 
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world: Have mercy on us. 
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world: Grant us peace."

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Childbirth and Suffering

The reality of labor is quickly approaching. Being seven and a half month pregnant, I know baby Amaryn will be here before we know it. Of course, I can hardly wait! Yet, amidst the anticipation, there is an element of hesitation as I ponder the pain I must go through before I get to hold her in my arms. 

In reality, that impending pain is already manifesting itself in the pregnancy, as it does for most women. My confession: Lately, I have been complaining about the ailments of pregnancy some of the time. OK, maybe even complaining about the ailments of life and maybe not just some of the time, but most of the time. Different trials and whatnot this month have at times left me down and sulking. The other night I told Jason that I hate how much I've been complaining, yet I just don't know what else to do. The back pain and exhaustion are almost constant and it's difficult not to focus on it. Well, such is life, right? I know it's good for something, but sometimes it just feels plain rotten.

I've been thinking much about suffering lately. As a new Catholic, certain terminologies and phrases have caught my attention. In regard to suffering, I am supposed to "offer it up" so that it may be unified with Christ's sufferings and have a redemptive purpose. God, what does this mean? What is it you are trying to teach me through this suffering? Is my constant complaining and irritability towards it taking away from something great you are wanting to do through it?

It lead me to thinking about childbirth, but immediately I stopped myself and thought, well at least my suffering in pregnancy pains and childbirth results in something has purpose. There is plenty of sufferings out there we are called to endure which seem to have no purpose, no happy ending. 

Yet that's when I realized the truth of it all. The example of purposeful suffering is undisguised in childbirth, yet all suffering is meant to result in a miracle. It is designed to lead us to holiness and to Heaven. The pain and suffering of pregnancy, labor, and delivery is akin to all the refinement, self-denial, and hardship we must endure in this life. The end result is the same: new life. 

"Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." 
~James 1:2-4~ 

"I will bring [them] through the fire; I will refine them as one refines silver, and I will test them as one tests gold. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them; I will say, “They are my people," and they will say, “The LORD is my God.”" 
~Zechariah 13:9~

"Endure your trials as “discipline”;[...]At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it."
~Hebrews 12:7,11~

"I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.
~Romans 8:18-25~

As Christians, we can take joy in our suffering, knowing that it unites us with Christ and the end result is worth the present hardship.  Lord, help us to not extinguish the refining fire of suffering through our complaints and sulking, but instead help us to be open to suffering so that it can birth your new life into us. Amen.