Friday Five (Vol. 18)

— 1 —

The next two of my “five” should probably have been written as a stand-alone piece but I’m being lazy today. I blame it on the fact that this is the first five-day work week I’ve had for over three weeks due to the holidays. I wish I wasn’t feeling so lazy because aside from what’s written below I’ve got a lot on my mind worth saying. (Yes, really.) I plan on finally finishing my little piece on resolutions for the New Year (perhaps one of them should be on procrastination, no?) and there’s something I’ve been kicking around that compares American politics to porn. I’m not sure that one will ever see the light of day, but we’ll see how brave I feel later on. And finally, there’s something I’m writing on the prodigal son that’s very much from my heart.

Blogging every day since the First Sunday of Advent took a bit more out of me than I thought it would. I liken it to the fatigue all athletes feel when they renew their workout regimen after some time away. Maybe it was my spring training. In any event I plan to continue…I’m just going to pause for a little rest in the meantime.

— 2 —

I’m going to clear my throat a little so I ask that you grant me this one indulgence. This video is making the rounds, being posted on my Facebook and even sent to me by email. I’ve watched it a few times and downloaded the text that he (Jefferson Bethke) has made available. It has become a manifesto of sorts for the “spiritual-but-not-religious” crowd. I was preparing a line-by-line commentary on the video, but found that a few of my favorite writers have already answered brilliantly. Most, if not all, of what I was writing to this point has already been covered by these two. I would encourage you not only to read what they write, but for a change I’m also going to recommend you read through the comments posted afterwards. Usually I’ll avoid comboxes like the plague due to the ignorance and vitriol that can be present there, but in these instances they are very helpful and illuminating.

Marc Barnes at Bad Catholic:

A common theme throughout the video is our man’s complaint that religion is just behavior modification, a list of rules to follow, and thus doesn’t get to the core of the matter — the call to love Christ as a response to his sacrifice on the cross. First of all, this is an absolutely valid critique of what religion should not be. If it is just a set of rules and not a love affair, it is dead. You can’t have works without faith any more than you can have faith without works. But the idea that following rules is inherently contradictory to loving Christ flies in the face — yet again — not of religion, but of Christ. He says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Love of Christ requires obedience to his commands. You cannot have one without the other.

Marcel LeJeune at Aggie Catholics:

I can’t see how Jesus would hate a set of beliefs, a moral code or ritual observances, when he came to teach us these things. The sermon on the Mount, the Last Supper, the parables, etc. all teach us these things. So, Jesus certainly doesn’t hate them.

Furthermore, Jesus wouldn’t want us to be taught these things and then not follow them or observe the practice of them.

So, the problem isn’t with religion, but hypocrisy – saying you are a Christian and living far from him. This is a different argument.

— 3 —

As Marcel wrote there are a lot of things wrong with this man’s message. However, like Marcel and Marc I do agree that he does get some things absolutely spot-on correct. First and foremost among them is that hypocrisy is wrong. Being a false witness is wrong. Hiding behind religious practices instead of accepting Jesus into your heart is wrong. Outward actions to impress others is wrong. Rules, not relationship, is wrong.

I think the young man is sincere and passionate even if I don’t agree with him. As a former Protestant myself who did think and feel as he did when I was much younger, and who cast an especially wary eye towards Rome and the Catholic faith, there were a lot of questions and issues that I needed to have researched and answered. Because to me Catholics certainly appeared to be “going though the motions” and doing whatever it was they did in order to earn points to get to heaven. But this can be said for persons of all faiths. Each question I had was answered, and once I was reconciled to the facts and not the misrepresentations so easily and often thrown around by anti-Catholics, it became the most natural and easiest decision I’ve ever made in this life. Once my head accepted it, my heart followed.

Do I get caught up sometimes in the ritual or the “habits”? Yes I do. I’m human. But I’m careful to be aware of it and blessed with others in my life who will point it out to me when I do so. The most important thing, the only thing, that’s truly important and the center of my faith is Jesus Christ. But everything I’ve found within the tenets and practices of my faith are tools that, when used correctly, are meant to point me to Him. (The Mass, the Rosary, etc.) For example, if you fail to follow the blueprints even while using the tools correctly when working on a project at home or in business you will end up off in the weeds. Or if you follow the blueprint but are terrible at using the tools you’ll be in the ditch. The same may be said regarding faith and religion.

Beginning in John 6:22 Jesus gives what is known as The Bread of Life Discourse. It is a passage of the scriptures often ignored by Protestants and revered by Catholics. After doing some some steady teaching Jesus tells the Jews who are they to “stop murmuring” amongst themselves. He goes on:

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 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.” (Jn 6:48-41)

[snip]

“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 sent 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. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (Jn 6:53-58)

Jesus, the man whom Jefferson Bethke states “hates religion” and rituals, is establishing a ritual while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. It is a ritual Catholics around the world have participated in for over 2,000 years. After saying these things many of his disciples who were listening said “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (Jn 6:60) And as a result many of them returned to their former way of life and left him. (Jn 6:66) Think about that for a minute: these were disciples who had been with Jesus for awhile now. They’d personally seen with their own eyes the miracles he had performed up to this time. They had heard his teachings. They were able to touch, laugh, eat, rest and talk with the man. And yet this teaching and this ritual were simply too much for them and they left. Because it was “hard.”

It’s still hard today. Jefferson Bethke and others like him are still murmuring amongst themselves and trying to have it both ways.

— 4 —

If you’re still with me (and I hope you are) I think you’ll like this. While pausing in the rest I mentioned earlier I plan to use the downtime to include this prayer in my own prayerbook. This is wonderful! In his blog on this prayer Paul Wharton says it belongs in the Hall of Fame for Prayers. I wholeheartedly agree. Print out a copy of your own and join me, won’t you?

Likrat Shabbat
by Rabbi Jack Reimer

We cannot merely pray to you, O God, to end war;
For we know that You have made the world in a way
That man must find his own path to peace.
Within himself and with his neighbor.
We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end starvation;
For You have already given us the resources
With which to feed the entire world,
If we would only use them wisely.
We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to root out prejudice;
For You have already given us eyes
With which to see the good in all men,
If we would only use them rightly.
We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end despair,
For You have already given us the power
To clear away slums and to give hope,
If we would only use our power justly.
We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end disease;
For You have already given us great minds
With which to search out cures and healing,
If we would only use them constructively.
Therefore we pray to You instead, O God,
For strength, determination and will power,
To do instead of just pray,
To become instead of merely to wish.

— 5 —

Forgive my tongue-in-cheek here, but I’ve been thinking along these lines since the Tebow phenomenon launched into orbit.

And full disclosure: I like Tim Tebow and have enjoyed watching everything he’s done this year. But I’ve been a Patriots fan for over 25 years. In the spirit of Tebow’s 316 yards passing last week I predict Tom Brady will throw for 666 yards on Saturday night in Foxboro.

Just funnin’ y’all. See you soon.

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