Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"I'm saved, I don't need to repent!" and other doozies


A friend of mine told me about an Evangelical friend of his - I’m not sure how the topic came up - who claimed, “I’ve been saved; I don’t need to repent!” This flabbergasted me. I could not believe that any Christian could claim that they did not need to repent.

I wanted to know more. Not knowing which particular church this friend frequents, I decided to do some investigating. I rocketed out a few emails to Evangelical churches in my area – hoping to start a dialogue - and I asked them once very simple question: “How are we saved?” Only one church got back to me. The following is how our exchange went (I’ve omitted certain details at the request of the individual to whom I spoke with; I have his permission to publish this on the condition that those details are not revealed and that he be referred to under a pseudonym; we’ll call him “Martin”): 

Me: Martin, thank you very much for getting back to me. Would you mind answering for me how we are saved, and more specifically, if you could explain the concept of “eternal security” to me or “Once saved, always saved” as it is otherwise referred to. 

Martin: I’d be happy to do that, Stephen. First of all, and I’m sure Catholics would agree with this, we are saved by Christ. Just have a read of John 3:16; if you believe in Christ, if you believe that He is God, if you believe that He was sent to us to save us from our sins then you will be united with God in Heaven. At --church name omitted-- we uphold the tradition of Eternal Security or “Once saved, always saved” as you put it. We believe that once a person gives their life to Jesus, begins a personal relationship with him, and they claim that Christ is Lord, then nothing – no force on earth – can separate them from God. You can find this in scripture too; it says in Romans (8:35-39): 

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written, for thy sake we are killed all the day long; We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Basically, once you give yourself to Christ, you’re His forever and by the promise made in John 3:16 you will meet Him in Heaven. 

Me: Amen to all that, Martin, and you’ll find that Catholics will agree with most with what you’ve said there - especially where being saved by Christ is concerned - but there is something you said I wanted to question you further on. Regarding Eternal Security, Amen that nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ; we know that God is all loving, merciful, and forgiving, but what if someone was to be “saved” one day, but sin Mortally the next day? Romans 8:35-39 doesn’t mention murder, sexual immorality, adultery, breaking any of the 10 Commandments, etc. What if someone who was “saved” one day was to sin in one of these ways after being “saved”? Are they still saved? 

Martin: We believe and maintain that nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ, as it is written. 

Me: Again, Amen to that, Martin. God loves us no matter what, but what if we reject His love willingly by sinning? Consider this: 

“If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.” - 1 John 5:16-17  
The author of 1st John points out quite clearly a distinction between types of sin, i.e. sin that is deadly, and sin that is not deadly. The Catholic Church further identifies this distinction as Mortal Sin (the sin that is “deadly”) and Venial Sin (sin that is not deadly). Now you and I both know that in Christ, in God there is life, but the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). We believe that a person unrepentant of their Mortal Sin will not be joined with God in Heaven. So I ask you this question: if a person that is “saved” sins Mortally, are they still saved? 

Martin: We don’t believe in a distinction between sins; sin is sin, and by the blood of Christ we are saved from them all. 

Me: Amen to that, Martin, but you haven’t answered my question: if a person that is “saved” sins Mortally, for example if they murder someone after being saved, are they still saved? 

Martin: Well, Stephen, if there’s a person that’s been saved that commits murder after giving themselves to Christ, then perhaps they weren’t being genuine about giving themselves to Christ to begin with. 

Me: So they weren’t really “saved”? 

Martin: It would appear so, yes. 

Me: Are you suggesting that Christ couldn’t “save” that person? 

Martin: No, that’s not what I’m suggesting. What I’m suggesting is that that person internally had no intention of giving themselves to Christ that day and because of this they went on in their sinful ways. 

Me: Interesting. Martin, are you familiar with the parable of the Prodigal Son? Was the son not already in the “Father’s House” (which represents full union with God/salvation) before he left? 

Martin: Of course. 

Me: Okay, based on your own understanding of that parable, are you able to tell me how the son found himself out of the Father’s house? 

Martin: Of course, Stephen. In summary, the son basically told his father, “You’re dead to me” and took his share of the inheritance and willingly left his Father’s House. 

Me: In your opinion, was the son saved? 

Martin: He was in the Father’s House; he was saved. 

Me: But he left the Father’s House, and according to your logic - based on what we’ve already discussed - because he willingly left the Father’s House, he was never “saved” to begin with. How is this possible if he is in the Father’s House - with the Father - to begin with? 

Martin: Stephen, it’s a parable, a made up story to teach the follower’s of Christ a lesson. It’s not meant to reveal the answers to the theological questions we have today. 

Me: Wow, Martin, wow! Did you just suggest that Christ’s… Christ, the same “yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), His teachings do not reveal any theological truths today? 

Blogger’s note: that was the last message I left with “Martin”; I haven’t heard from him in three weeks. Suffice to say I’m disappointed that the exchange has seemingly come to an end as I would have loved to have learned more about Eternal Security (“Once saved, always saved”) from “Martin”. 

What I find strange is how “Bible believing” Christians - not just from Evangelical churches - claim that Eternal Security is biblical yet at the same time they ignore passages in the Bible that very clearly contradict it! Since I did not get a chance to do a full and proper exegesis of the Parable of the Prodigal Son with “Martin”, I’m going to do a very quick on here. Here’s how we can break it down: 

- the father in the parable represents God 
- the father's house/home represents heaven/salvation/full union with God 
- the son could be anyone one of us, but one that has sinned and turned away from God 

The son starts out in his father's house - he is already “saved” - but he turns his back on his father and he makes a conscious decision in doing so. An Evangelical Christian might argue that if a person has lost their salvation then they weren't really saved to begin with (as demonstrated in the dialogue above). If you're in the father's house, YOU'RE IN THE FATHER'S HOUSE! Nothing can take you away, but that does not necessarily mean that you can't go on ahead and walk out if you so choose to (yes, it all boils down to free will). If we were "assured" of our salvation, then the father in the parable would have stopped his son from leaving his house even after his son had implied, "You are dead to me" and sinned against him (Luke 15:21). 

By leaving his father, the son has to make a conscious decision to abandon his father and his house/home, something that would require a monumental amount of pride to accomplish, and by doing so the son as well says, "I don't need you". Choice can go either of two ways: You choose to either in communion with God, or you choose to abandon Him. In the same way, you can choose to come to God through His son, Jesus Christ, and be saved (John 3:16-17) but if you sin (mortally; 1 John 5:17) you can destroy that communion with God. The son in the parable chose to destroy the communion he had with his father and destroy the relationship. Did this mean his father stopped loving him? No, not at all, and this did not mean that the father did not want his son to be with him in his house. We have to remember that only those who persevere until the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13) and that we cannot love God if we have sinned against Him; the son could not love his father because he was dead to him. The son is welcomed back into his father's house only after he has humbled himself and repented for his wrongdoings; his father forgives him and celebrates his return to life (Luke 15:32). 

So let’s take a look at just a handful of scripture passages that tell us that we need to repent in order to be saved… or, at the very least, tell us that we’re not “once saved, always saved” (bolded for emphasis) and that we must endure until the very end: 

"'Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." - Matthew 7:21 

"Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off." - Romans 11:22 

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;" - Philippians 2:12 

"For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries." - Hebrews 10:26-27 

“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” - Acts 2:38 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” - Hebrews 12:1 

“… and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” - Matthew 10:22 

“Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” - Hebrews 12:14 

“Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.” - James 1:12 

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” - 1 John 1:6-10 

If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” - John 15:6-10 

“I am coming soon; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” - Revelation 3:11 

“My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” - James 5:19-20 

“Look to yourselves, that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward.” - 2 John 1:8 

“But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die.” - Ezekiel 18:24 

I’ve only scraped the surface there, but let’s finish off by saying this: Even if you’re “saved” tomorrow, if you commit a Mortal Sin after that, you must repent again and seek forgiveness, time and time again! Catholics should know and understand that this is precisely why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation; we have a physical place where we can go, confess our sins, and reconcile ourselves with God and the Church again, and again if necessary. Why? Because the Church recognises that we have an inclination to sin (concupiscence). Repentance is a voluntary act of the will - led by grace - as living a life in cooperation with God’s grace to grow in holiness is. Both require humility, to devoid ourselves of the sin of pride and place our trust in the transformative power of Christ. 

"Eternal fire was prepared for him who voluntarily departed from God and for all who, without repentance, persevere in apostasy." - St. Justin Martyr (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:26 [A.D. 156]). 

… and why? We do not repent and seek forgiveness because we don’t want to go to Hell, no. There is no love in doing (or not doing) because we fear the consequences, but rather we do (or not do) out of love. We admit fault and say sorry because we love God, and as doing harm to someone that we love may destroy the relationship with them, so too does Mortal Sin - rejecting the love God has for us - by our own fault destroys the relationship we have with God. That does not mean though that God stops loving us, but as the sacred scriptures and the Church teaches, to love God is to do His will and to grow in holiness (Matthew 5:48). 

We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbour or against ourselves: ‘He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.’ Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’". - Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1033 

Amen.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Evangelising through our Pastimes and Hobbies

I have a confession to make. It may not be so much of a confession to some of you because you've gotten to know me so well, but for the rest of you, I confess to you this: I am a gamer geek. I enjoy playing video games from time to time, I also frequent the gym to keep fit (I love lifting heavy things!), but form of escapism  for me at the moment is miniatures gaming, a game called "HeroClix" which is the perfect union of my appreciation for tabletop games and comic book superheroes. I love strategy games and any opportunity to exercise my brain is a welcome opportunity, but on with some background information...


There would have been a time in my life when I would have thought that hobbies and faith/spiritual life should be kept separate. When I was younger - long before I looked deeper into my Catholic faith - I would wear different masks depending on what I was doing. When I was living at home with my mother, going to church every Sunday and going to prayer meetings, I was the "good Catholic boy". When I was playing competitive sports with my friends or my brothers, I was the highly competitive, win-at-all-costs sportsman with the colourful vocabulary to boot. There was also "gamer Steve" who played online games, chatted with friends online whilst doing so and discussing things and behaving in ways that were very, very contrary to what my saintly Catholic teachers and mentors would expect of me. I eventually came to a realisation that I was hiding my Catholic faith from others when I wasn't doing "churchy" things. It's fair to say that I was a timid Catholic and lukewarm; Christ was not at the centre of every aspect of my life.

"Why not make Christ the centre of every aspect of my life? Why not bring Christ into my hobbies?" I thought to myself. There were certainly some hobbies and pastimes that I was participating in that were unnecessary time sinks and that I could very well leave behind. There were, however, hobbies and pastimes that got me out of the house and interacting with people. I was raised in a very cloistered environment where the only people I knew outside of my family and school were church people; other Christians. I don't regret that one bit but it wasn't until I got to university that I started meeting people of other creeds, backgrounds, religions, people who lean to the left on the political spectrum, those who lean to the right, etc.

I was annoyed at myself for not being so open with my faith and, at times, hiding it. Yes, my closer friends knew I was a Catholic and had what they described as "traditional values", but when I was introduced to new people or within certain social groups, I did my best not to discuss my faith. I wasn't denying my Catholicity, but I was definitely making it very hard for myself to witness and evangelise. Suffice to say I chose my moments very carefully when it came to discussing matters of faith and morals.

Thankfully, as the years have gone on, I've been able to speak more boldly and openly about my faith and I love telling people about how much my Catholic faith means to me. So again, "Why not use every opportunity to share my faith?" So I made a decision: at every moment, give witness to Christ, whether by word or action. There's a way of evangelising which won't seem too "preachy" to your secular friends and that is, of course, through your actions and behaviour. As scripture tells us:

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." - Matthew 5:16

Let me give you an example...

I mentioned the game HeroClix earlier. It's a superhero themed miniatures game, and I was never really into miniatures before I got into HeroClix. The person that got me into the game was a a friend of a mutual friend (let's call him "Clark" just for convenience) who also happened to be Christian but of the "born again" variety. We were playing a game one afternoon where, out of the blue, he said, "Stephen, you're probably the most Catholic Catholic I know". Puzzled I looked back at him and asked, "What do you mean?" and he said, "Well, I know a lot of people that say they're Catholic, but they don't really do the Catholic 'thing' if you know what I mean". Clark then went on to ask me, "So explain to me this then because I've never met a Catholic that could explain it in a way that makes sense: why do you guys worship Mary?" Suffice to say the conversation went on for a quite a bit after that. We finished our game somewhere between 1:30 and 2:00am  (two hours of actual play; three to four hours of impromptu Marian Dogma catechesis) and as Clark was showing me out he said, "I think I understand the Mary thing better now. I don't agree with it, but I get why you guys do it now. 'Hyperdulia', right?"

Sometimes you don't even need to say a word to start a discussion; you don't need to start with words to evangelise. For me all it took was for someone to know that I was Catholic and by the grace of God I was about to give them the answers. For the times I do not have the answers, in humility I tell them, "I don't know, but I will find out for you".

Granted there have been times when some pretty heated discussions have arisen because someone has "discovered" my religious affiliation (e.g. "You're a practising Catholic so therefore you must be a bigot"), but the key is to never be the aggressor and to take your ego out of it. Evangelisation is not about you or any effort you make. As scripture tells us:

"... but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defence to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame." - 1 Peter 3:15-16

Your actions must also match what you believe in. This is key. We know how each other think; it's in human nature to judge the behaviour of others to a certain benchmark. My friends and my gaming buddies know that I am a practising Catholic and therefore I am judged according to that standard; even they have certain expectations of me! Ponder this: what would my peers think of Catholicism if I was speaking and behaving in ways contrary to what our faith teaches? People are not stupid. How can others begin to take the Catholic faith seriously if its faithful are not behaving in ways indicative of the One True Church of Christ? While St. Paul says that we must "... become all things to all people" (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) and this is very important to consider when evangelising no matter what we are doing, we must also bear in mind this for ourselves:

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits." - Matthew 7:15-20

Yes, become all things to all people, but do not suppress Christ. The Lord will give you the opportunities to share His goodness; do not be afraid to take them no matter where you are or what you're doing. I love being a nerd and doing nerdy things, but not nearly as much as I love Christ and my Catholic faith.

Fear not.

Amen.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Unforgiving Ego


I've been hurt in the past and people have hurt me recently. I'm a big boy and I can take care of myself, but it's not physical harm that worries me; it's the harm that words can do. I'm not talking about general jibes and insults, no, but words that are sewn together with the purpose of disempowering, belittling, undermining, attacking your moral integrity, and so forth. These words are destructive. I have been subject to such words. Scripture tells us:

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits." - Proverbs 18:21

The tongue giving and taking life means that what we say and how we say it to others can either empower, inspire someone and help set them on the path of righteousness, or strip them of their hope, their faith and self-belief.

Dealing with such harm doesn't get any easier as some people may find different and new ways to hurt you. I've been accused of being an inept Christian father, accused of being irresponsible for supporting and echoing the Catholic Church's teachings on sexuality, accused of being a bigot and a hate-monger, a fake, a phoney, a liar, and a hypocrite, but always by people that have disagreed with me or disagree what I believe in; critics of Church teachings or critics of Catholic-Christianity. I think the biggest mistake I've made is taking those attacks to heart, but then again it was difficult not to take them to heart; they were very direct and very personal.

What I've learned - this year in particular - or been reminded of is the importance of forgiveness. Yes, we should always be prepared to forgive, but in the process of forgiveness we also must recognise our pride. By the grace of God I have forgiven my transgressors and with the help of a friend (I guess unofficially he's my spiritual director) I have been able to recognise why I have taken these attacks so deeply to heart and how to sooner overcome them should it happen again.

I am a sinner and full of pride; I find it hard to admit to doing wrong to seek forgiveness. Forgiveness requires charity, and in order to love more charitably - to love more like Christ - I need more of Christ in order to forgive because I can't do it without His help. I have many short-comings and I ask that others forgive them. Despite my own short-comings I can still direct my will to cooperate with grace in order to forgive others. As Christ has taught, we must always me prepared to forgive (Matthew 18:21-23).

As well as the importance of forgiveness, I've also recognised another of my short-comings...

Blogger's note: prayer, meditating on scripture, and spending time with the Lord through Mass and the Blessed Sacrament hastens one's discovery for their own faults, failings, and short-comings.

Ego.

I was foolish enough to think that I had a "brand" to protect, a certain image to uphold, etc. so when I was attacked I would think, "How dare they! Don't they know who I am and what I do?!?" I have at times been very, very, very arrogant, and I didn't really have a right to be. Pride came before the fall. I have learned that if I do all things in humility - if I take my ego out of things - while it doesn't make me invincible to hurt, it makes it a lot easier for me to forgive. The strongest people are those unafraid of admitting their faults and failures. The haughty are prisoners of their ego, shackled and bound.

"The spirit of humility is sweeter than honey, and those who nourish themselves with this honey produce sweet fruit." - St. Anthony of Padua

The fruit of humility is forgiveness. It is this humility that bore our sins on the cross, overcame death, and gave us the means to unite ourselves fully with God in Heaven.

"He [Christ] must increase, but I must decrease." - John 3:30

Less of us, more of Christ.

We need to be able to see Christ in others (Matthew 25:40) and others need to be able to see Christ in us. This means humility; this means forgiveness and charity (selfless love).

Being a Christian is to be more Christ-like, and if there's something else I have learned through the hurt and calumny I've been subjected to this year, it's that the only way to get through it and come out better for it is with Christ and to allow His light to shine brighter.

Less of me, more of Christ.

Amen.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

So September happened...


Hi folks.

You might be wondering why I was a bit quiet last month. I'm sorry that I didn't get around to posting a new blog entry but I've got a couple of very good excuses:

1.) September is a ridiculously busy time for teachers at the high school I work at; we were entering into the examination period for our senior students and this meant extra tutoring, exam preparation, finalising other assessments before finals exams, and of course accumulating assessment data for reports.

2.) My new baby daughter was born on Thursday, September 19. Having a new baby in the house - as you parents out there would know - can be a stressful time even at the best of times, but thankfully both my wife and the new baby (Madeline Grace Spiteri) are doing very, very well. We've spent the last four weeks adjusting to having a newborn in the house and while we're all a bit sleep deprived, we're otherwise feeling incredibly blessed to have happy and healthy children and a household filled with love and laughter.

What does this mean for the blog? Well, I'm still incredibly busy at the moment but I've got some great stuff planned for you all to read. I will get around to finishing some blogs that I started a while ago and trickle them out, and I will of course ask for your input every so often. I don't maintain this blog for me, but for you guys. If there's a topic you'd like me to cover, then please do not hesitate to put it forward.

In the meantime you can find me on Facebook (link/badge on the toolbar of this blog), Twitter (@TheSpiritMagnus), ask.fm (ask.fm/TheSpiritMagnus), or you can reply to this post below and leave me a message that way.

God bless. :)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Matter of Substance


I had a conversation with a fundamentalist the other day and he was asking how it was at all possible that Jesus could "be something so mundane as bread and wine... how can you believe that bread and wine becomes the flesh and blood of Christ?". As I pondered the question I was reminded of something Steve Ray (a Catholic apologist I have great admiration for) said in response to a similar question that was posed to him. When Steve Ray visited Australia in 2009, he shared with us his response to that question (I'm paraphrasing here, so Steve, if you read this, I apologise for any inaccuracy):

Steve Ray was approach by a man that wagered, "I'll bet you a thousand dollars that if I took that bit of bread after the consecration and put it under a microscope, I wouldn't be able to see flesh and blood". Steve responded, "My friend, I'd be willing to wager that if I travelled back in time to the time of Christ and with my pocket knife cut off a bit of Jesus' skin and put that under a microscope, I wouldn't be able to see Christ's divinity".

Steve Ray's wagerer was for the most part satisfied with the response, but the question raises more queries about the Catholic definition of "substance".

The way I define "substance" to my students is this way: I am a Catholic, I am a father, I am a husband, etc. but these things are not perceptible; they typically cannot be detected by the human senses. These things are my substance; they define who and what I am and what I may become.

There are then "accidents", and these are things that are perceptible; detected by the human senses. I would ask my students to look at me and describe my appearance. They would then say "adult, dark hair, goatee/beard, tall, strong looking..." etc.

When we speak of "accidents" and "substance" in relation to the Eucharist, the "accidents" and "substance" are as follows:

Accidents: bread, wine
Substance (after consecration): body, blood, soul, divinity of Christ

The accidents of bread and wine remain after consecration but it is the substance that changes, i.e. transubstantiation, meaning "change of substance". Prior to consecration, the bread and wine's substance is the substance of bread and wine.

Substance, in this context, can be defined as the "essential nature" or "essence" of something. Christ's "essential nature" is divine; He is fully human and fully divine; He is God incarnate (God "in the flesh"). As far as the Eucharist is concerned, we believe that the bread and wine, while under the appearance of bread and wine, is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ and scripture reveals this truth:

John 6:35-57 -- the Eucharist is promised
Matthew 26:26 (Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19) -- the sacrament of the Eucharist is instituted
1 Corinthians 10:16 -- the Eucharist is participation in Christ's body and blood
1 Corinthians 11:23-29 -- Receiving the bread and the wine in an unworthy manner is to profane against the body and blood of Christ

The Early Church Fathers professed this faith too:

“Having learn these things, and been fully assured that the seeming bread is not bread, though sensible to taste, but the Body of Christ; and that the seeming wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the Blood of Christ..." - St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XXII:8 (350AD)

"[heretics] abstain from Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ..." - St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to Smyrnaeans 6, 2, 2 (110AD)

"For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh." Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66 (155AD)

"... live by faith, and not by sight" - 2 Corinthians 5:7

Amen.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Broadening my social media reach...


I'm on ask.fm!

I've been watching more of this very simple social media web and smartphone application pop up over the last couple of months, and I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon.

It's as easy as submitting a question via this address: http://ask.fm/TheSpiritMagnus

From there I receive an instant notification via my smartphone and email that a question has been left for me, and I work on answering your question in a timely manner.

Anonymous questions will not be allowed.

In time I will add a link to my ask.fm address on this website and my Facebook page.

I look forward to you questions! 

God bless. :)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Update


Hi folks.

I just thought I'd give you an update with what's been happening of late.

I've been on holidays from work this month and therefore I've been on a break from things mainly work related, but other things like blogging I've put on pause too.

Work started back a week ago and things have been really hectic at the school; a new term, assessments to administer, new topics to cover, and so on. It's going to be a longer school term and at the very end of it my wife and I will welcome our third child into the world (due September 26).

I've also been busy working with other things like writing blogs for the St. Paul Street Evangelization website and I'm really enjoying that at the moment. I've been able to set my own deadlines and work with things based on my own timetable which has been very good.

Before work started back I was invited by the founder of Parousia Media to give a series of talks over in Sydney early next year. It's a really good opportunity for me and after those talks I can finally add "national speaker" to my resume. :)

So things have been really busy as you can see, and with a new baby coming soon things will only get busier, which brings me to my next point...

I love blogging on this website and it has been my baby over the last four years. I certainly would not stop blogging but given the pace of things at the moment and the impending wave of business coming my way (aside from full-time work), I can't give the blog the time I've given it in the past. So for the foreseeable future I'll be blogging once a month at the most. I've got long service leave to look forward to early next year so I hope to be blogging some more during then, but between now and then I will be writing only monthly for this blog.

In the meantime I would love to answer your questions! If there's a topic you'd like me to address in the future or if you have a question about the Catholic faith, then please contact me via email.

Thank you all for your support and I look forward to writing good quality blogs dealing with the faith matters that are important to you in the near future.

God bless.


-Stephen

Sunday, June 30, 2013

What it really means to be a "Practicing Catholic"


A few years ago, before I started this blog and before I seriously started getting into apologetics, I trekked cyberspace for an online Christian community to discuss all matters pertaining to faith. I came across one particular Christian forum (which shall remain nameless) and before learning that is was very, very anti-Catholic and filled with rabid-mouthed fundamentalists, I read their forum disclaimer and the administrators had something to say about Catholicism in particular. Apart from claiming that they believed Catholicism was not Christian, their disclaimer read something like this:

"... we are Christians who believe in the biblical message of Christ and that a personal relationship with Christ is the only way to get to Heaven. We don't 'practice' our faith; we believe that your relationship with Christ is not something that has a set of rules, rituals or is something that is formulaic. We live our faith, preach it and desire others to come to the full biblical truth of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ..."

It's the middle part that really caught my attention and got me thinking. Up until recently I've never really thought about what it truly means to be a "practicing Catholic" and dare I say there would have been a point in my life even as a Catholic that I would have agreed that being "practicing Catholic" meant going to church, receiving the sacraments, and more or less going just through the motions; attending, being present, and ticking boxes. How wrong I would have been; how wrong these fundamentalists are.

You could define "practicing" in terms of doing something frequently or habitually, true, but one someone describes themselves as a "practicing Catholic" without knowing it, they are professing sound deeply profound. I play the guitar and I have played the guitar since I was 12 going on 13 years old, and while the practice has slowed down these days, for years and years I practiced playing the guitar. Why did I practice? Because I wanted to get better. When a Catholic says they're a "practicing Catholic" what they really say is that they're trying to become more like Christ; to be a better Catholic-Christian.

Being a "practicing Catholic" means putting your faith into action. When the priest says to the congregation at the end of Mass, "Go forth, the Mass has ended", "Go and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord" or "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life" he is indeed exhorting you to go out and be a practicing Catholic; to put your faith into action. We are not called to be Catholic-Christians once every week on the Lord's day, but every day and in every moment in our lives.

We know that "faith without works is dead faith" (James 2:26), so in order for our faith to grow, as exercise strengthens muscles and improves our fitness, faith must be put into action and we must allow ourselves to be led by God's grace.

Christ himself tell us "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48) and becoming more Christ-like and Christ to other requires practice. And this we all know, practice makes perfect.

Amen.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Faith, Marriage and Parenthood: Some Musings


This September I will have been married for eight years, and around the same time as my wedding anniversary my wife and I will be expecting our third child (a baby girl) to come into the world. I am in a Catholic marriage and a Catholic parent. As a Catholic man of faith I simply cannot divorce my faith from my marriage or from my role as a parent. It is my belief that I have my marriage because of my faith and the faith that my wife and I share. It is also my belief that my children are a gift from God; the fruit of the love between myself and my wife which is the fruit of the faith that her and I both share. Ultimately, I have God to thank for my marriage and for my children, and I want to be the husband and parent that God calls me to be. I'm still trying to get that part right and I'm am perfectly content to admit that I get it wrong and make monumental mistakes. In this time, however, I've learned a few things and this is what I would like to reflect on today.

1. Before I got married, I never realised how selfish I was as a single person
Before I even met my wife I knew that I would one day be married and have children, but when I was younger and uncommitted I was ambitious (I still am, mind you, but priorities change over the years), I thought of myself only and did things to please myself and further my ambitions. Yes, I was committed to my immediate family but I was very independent. Then I entered into a serious relationship with my now wife and had to begin considering her plans, her feelings, he needs, and her ambitions. Some of my unmarried friends suggest that a man's life ends when he gets married; you lose some of your friends, your youthful ambitions are "taken away" from you, and you seem endlessly bound by the old "ball and chain".

Adjusting to a serious relationship and later into marriage was difficult, yes, but I disagree with my unmarried friends in part on life "ending" when a man gets married. A "life" of sorts does end, yes, but a new life begins; a new life as husband and wife, two becoming one flesh through the Sacrament of marriage. In a marriage there is no longer "I" or "me", but "us" and "we". It was only after getting married I realised my selfishness as an individual. Yes, I lost some friends after getting married, and that was not for lack of trying to maintain those friendships on my end - quite the contrary - but rather outgrowing them. As a married man I knew that there were aspects of myself I had to leave behind with my single self and become a good husband, protector, and provider for my wife. My wife inspires me to be a better man, and I want to be a better man because of her love for me. Your ambitions do not diminish after you get married; they only change. No worldly ambition is great than the ambition to be a good, loving, faithful, and supportive husband to a woman that wants me to be close to God. They say marriage changes a man. So be it. If it allows me to further draw on God's grace, then so be it.

2. Before my wife and I had children, we never realised how selfish we could be as a couple
My wife and I were so excited when we discovered that we were soon going to be parents. Now expecting our third child, we're as excited today as welcoming new life into the world as we were the first time around. The thought of being responsible for a completely pure and dependent young life was daunting and it still is even now after being parents for just over five years, but it doesn't really dawn on you until you hold your child in your arms for the first time.

When my son, Robert, was born, I remember cradling him in my arms, looking at him and thinking to myself, "I want to be the best father I can be for you". Granted I've made mistakes and been a bad parent at times, I've always, always, always come back to God through prayer and ask for His guidance on how to be a good father to my children. The answer that I always get after these prayers is "time and faith"; spend quality time with your children and share you faith with them.

I've caught myself saying to my kids when I've been at home occupied with some work and so forth, "Not now; Daddy's busy..." and I hate myself for saying that. I need to clear my calendar for my kids. Work is important and having some "Daddy time" is important too (i.e. times when Daddy can go out and spend time with his friends and such), but I do not want to let my work and projects get in the way of spending time with my children. It's so easy to fall into the trap of "I've got so much to do!" but the way I see it now is this way: I'm a father first. Yes, my work is important and I love my job, but I'm doing it for them and I need to allow myself the time to share the fruits of my labours with my children. For that to happen, I need to be organised at work and get my work done in a time so that it does not restrict the time I can spend playing and talking with my children. At the same time I need to teach my children the value of work and responsibilities so that when they come of age they too can learn to prioritise.

My wife and I do enjoy getting out of the house every so often and leaving the kids behind with a babysitter, but these are reprieves that her and I need every so often. We love being parents and we love our children very, very, very, very, very much, but in order to give them the best of us, we need to be there for each other and help draw the best out of each of us.

3. It's not about dividing your love, but rather, multiplying it
A student once asked me about married life and what it was like to be a parent. He asked me, "With your family growing, how do you divide your love between your wife and kids?" After thinking for a moment or two, I looked at him and said, "It's not about dividing your love. If you divide your love then each member of your family is only going to get a fraction of you, only one part of the equation and that's not fair on them. It's about multiplying your love; you give all of yourself selflessly and then you love some more. That's how you love; you give your love and give it unconditionally". This is how God loves each of us. When there is hurt, you intensify your love. When there is joy, you go on loving just the same.

As a husband and a father it lies to me to be the rock of the family. This is an immense responsibility and I don't think we truly appreciate how difficult marriage and parenthood can be at times. All things must be done with love, even if it means correcting bad behaviour or speaking up when your spouse does something that hurts you. Remove the ego from each and every scenario; this is a lesson I've learned the hard way. Especially with raising kids, I've had to learn to stop saying things like, "This upsets Daddy" or "Daddy's angry because of this..." because all I'm doing with these is instilling unnecessary or extra guilt within my children. Rather what I should be asking is, "Do you think that was the right thing to do?" and then teaching my children from there. I don't want my wife or my children resenting me for speaking out when something hurts or upsets me, so therefore the response must come from love and not from a deeply ingrained sense of pride.

When the ego is bruised, the immediate reaction is usually anger, and anger is the catalyst to fear. There is no love in fear, and if I am to be loved as a father and as a husband, I must humble myself, admit my wrongs and failings and look to better myself. Pride, ego, whatever you want to call it, is the barrier that prevents us from reaching our better potentials. Admitting to wrongs and failings is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength. It means that you recognise that there are things out there bigger and grander than you and that you want to be better before you realise them. In terms of faith, how can we ever become a new creation in Christ if we do not allow Him to work in our lives in the first place?

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us." - 1 John 4:18-19

Without God, we can do nothing. Without God, I cannot be husband my wife needs me to be and I cannot be the father that my children need me to be. I must continue to humble myself and call upon the Lord more so that I may be transformed into the man God wants me to be.

"Likewise you that are younger be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'” - 1 Peter 5:5

Amen.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

In persona di... Superman?

I like superheroes as much as the next guy. I still read comic books from time to time (mainly to help get my mind off marking assignments, reading curriculum update reports... and the odd break from a theology-heavy tome is good too) and I love the superhero sub-culture (I hope to go to San Diego Comic Con. one day). When I was at university doing my Media Studies/Journalism degree I even wrote a ten thousand word thesis on Superman as a Christ figure in popular culture. As a Catholic-Christian, however, my praise and worship goes to the super hero: the Lord Jesus Christ. My Lord is real and I do my best in life to live as He taught and to bring Him to others as scripture and the Church exhorts us. Superheroes like Batman and Superman are fictional, and while there can be a cult following of fictional characters such as these, they are - in the end - fictional and there for one's entertainment and should not be idolised per se.

Less than a day or so ago, I came across the following image on Twitter:


So what we have here is a priest celebrating Mass at what I'm told is a youth rally, wearing vestments (the stole and chasuble specifically) with superhero patches printed or stitched on (I'm not sure to whom the image belongs but it was tweeted by another Twitter user).

My first reaction was, "Wow. Cool!" So doing what any ordinary Tweeter would do, I favourited the tweet and retweeted it. It was this morning before Mass this morning, however, that I got a message from a very well respected Catholic apologist (a man that I have a lot of respect for myself and an admirer of the work he does) suggested that this was sacrilegious. After some thought and reflection, I'm inclined to agree.

I was left wondering whether there was a document outlining the norms for the liturgical vestments, and with the help of my friend, Mr. Google, I did find something... something from the Vatican website. From the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, there was this document, Liturgical Vestments and the Vesting Prayers. Here are a couple of extracts:

"Beyond the historical circumstances, the sacred vestments had an important function in the liturgical celebrations: In the first place, the fact that they are not worn in ordinary life, and thus possess a 'liturgical' character, helps one to be detached from the everyday and its concerns in the celebration of divine worship."  

"The form of the vestments, therefore, says that the liturgy is celebrated 'in persona Christi' and not in the priest's own name. He who performs a liturgical function does not do so as a private person, but as a minister of the Church and an instrument in the hands of Jesus Christ."

... and on the stole and the chasuble specifically:



After reading these things one gets the impression that the liturgical vestments are a big deal. Not only are their uses steeply vested in the Church's tradition, but there is a significance behind their use, and that is to present to the faithful "in persona Christi", the person of Christ. Wearing vestments with those sorts of images  detracts from the message of the Mass and furthermore the solemnity of the liturgical celebration. 

Let's be real for a moment: if a priest walks out on to the sanctuary wearing vestments with such things on him, what's he's really trying to do is say, "Look at this!" as opposed "We are in the presence of the Lord, let us worship Him" and for such images to appear on the vestments you could argue the point of idolatry, i.e. these fictional characters have infiltrated the divine liturgy and are being worshipped in the place of the Lord as God. That's what idolatry is: worshipping something or someone else as God.

I doubt this was the intention of the priest pictured here. If the context of the Mass was a youth rally then perhaps he, the priest, used these superheroes in order to appeal to the youth. I can't blame the guy for wanting to make things more appealing for the youth; Lord knows I've used superhero analogies and references in my lessons as a high school teacher to engage my students during some lessons, but this is after all the Mass we're talking about. If you want to make the Mass more appealing to the youth, then just keep it simple and keep it real: the Mass is about Jesus Christ. God's desire for us to be close to Him and for us to be united fully with Him in Heaven. The Mass is, as John the apostle saw it in his visions in the book of Revelation, Heaven on earth. 

As we read in scripture, Jesus Christ is the same "yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8); He doesn't need enhancing or to be made more appealing to anyone. It's as the old adage says, "If it ain't broke, then don't fix it". If anything, we must conform ourselves to Christ, not the other way around.

What are your thoughts on the image above? I'd love to hear what you think.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Why did God give us Free Will?


A question that I'm often asked by my students concerns free will and God's omniscience, i.e. God knowing what we're going to do before we do it. The question is often posed this way:

"If God knows what we're going to do before we do it, then what's the point of free will? Why didn't God just make us all *sheep?"

*as in "an easily persuaded person with a malleable demeanour."

Before we answer that question there's something we have to understand about God's knowledge of the past, present, and future. God is omniscient, meaning He is all-knowing. God knows us as closely and as intimately as we know ourselves. God knows our pasts, our present, and our future; He knows what we're going to do before we do it. But hang on a second, if God knows what we're going to do before we do it, then doesn't that mean that things are scripted for anyway and we're under the illusion of free will? Doesn't that mean that free will is for null?

God's knowledge of all things extends to the nature of His existence. God is the creator of space and time and therefore is not bound to the laws of space and time, that is He exists outside of space and time. We exist in space and time and are therefore bound by the laws of space and time. We have a past, present, and  future; our past we can reflect on, we are conscious of the present, and we our future is being made by the decisions we and those around us make and have made. God, since he exists outside of space and time and is therefore not bound by the laws of space and time, sees every moment - past, present, and future - in a single "moment". Omniscience is to have infinite and unmeasured knowledge; while it would take us time to accumulate knowledge, for God all knowledge is already present. It is truly difficult to describe how God sees a life pan out because we can only use what's tangible to us to explain it, but this is how we typically understand it.

Back to Free Will...

God created mankind so that we may enter into a loving and intimate relationship with Him, and this is made possible through Jesus Christ (John 3:16; John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:4). It is not possible to enter into this relationship without free will; man cannot love God without free will.

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." - Revelation 3:20

Man must use his free will in cooperation with grace in order to be close to God. Heaven is perfect unification with God and the aftermath of walking with Christ in cooperating with holiness.

So back to the question: why did God give us free will?

We know very well that in life there are people that have used their free will for the good of others; they have used their free will responsibly. We are also aware that there are people that have used their free will irresponsibly and it is for this reason evil persists in the worlds today. Ultimately we are give free will by God so that we may do good and avoid evil. Our freedom to choose is described this way by the Church:

"Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude." - Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1731

"'God willed that man should be left in the hand of his own counsel (cf. Sir 15:14), so that he might of his own accord seek his creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him' (GS 17 § 1)." - ibid. par. 1743

“For you will certainly carry out God's purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain 

Amen.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The Cult of the Body: Is Working out Compatible with Christian Modesty?


I'm a gym junkie and I'm perfectly comfortable to confess that. I've been going to the gym multiple times per week for three or so years and in that time my health, strength and fitness have improved significantly. My physical appearance has also changed over those three or so years as - what generally happens with weights and resistance training - fatty mass is "replaced" with lean mass; more muscle.

This topic is sometimes brought up in my classes and there's always one students that asks, "Sir, why do you go to the gym? Isn't that vanity and all that?" So this question got me thinking and forced me to assess why exactly I was going to the gym. I had to then further prompt myself to ask myself, "Is working out compatible with Christian living? Is working out compatible with the Christian concept of modesty?"

There is a culture of vanity and immodesty in the fitness industry and I've certainly seen a fair share of it as a patron of a few different gyms over the past couple of years. Just this very evening I was at the gym and my attention was drawn to a younger man that "checked himself out" in the mirror in between each each set and strutted around like a male peacock showing off its tail-feathers. I could very easily be accused of the same thing since I'm a gym-goer, but the difference is your purpose for working out and exercising; the "why" behind it all. If you're going to the gym because you want to improve your physical appearance and draw more attention from the opposite sex (and a vast number of workout "gurus" exploit this base desire and build an empire on it), then you're working out for the wrong reasons. We read the following in scripture:

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." - 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

The context of 1 Corinthians 6 addresses sexual immorality, but there is more than one way to read verses 19 and 12: our body is a sacred place and it is given to us by God; we are stewards of our bodies and we are to treat it as a temple - a sacred place - so that we may glorify God with it. The Church teaches us this about taking care of our bodies:

"Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good. 

Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living-conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance." - CCC, par. 2288


And here's where it gets interesting:

"If morality requires respect for the life of the body, it does not make it an absolute value. It rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for it's sake, to idolize physical perfection and success at sports. By its selective preference of the strong over the weak, such a conception can lead to the perversion of human relationships." - ibid., par. 2289

To "idolize physical perfection" is to treat our body as God, i.e. we, in a narcissistic manner, treat and worship ourselves as God. This, of course, is diametrically opposed to modesty and the biblical understanding of the treatment of the human body. By idolizing the body, we fail to glorify God with or through our bodies, but rather we glorify our body as God; this is idolatry; idolatry is a mortal sin (Exodus 20:3).

In short: it is perfectly okay to workout or exercise to improve your physical fitness and to take care of your body. It is not, however, acceptable to place the value of our bodies above all other things, especially at the expense of our relationship with God and the needs of others.

"... for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." - 1 Timothy 4:8

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." - 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

To bring Christ to others.

Amen.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What is a Convalidation?

DISCLAIMER: Please note that this is not a definitive guide to convalidations. Please get in touch with your parish priest or your local Marriage Tribunal directly if you have any further queries. 



Convalidation (meaning "with validation") refers to a simple process by which a marriage that is considered invalid is made valid by an act of new consent between both husband and wife (Can. 1157). A convalidation is simply thought of as a “blessing” given by the Church to make the marriage valid and sacramental, but it is more than this. Convalidation, as stated earlier, requires a new act of consent between the parties involved, the husband and wife. If the current union is thought to be invalid by one or both parties involved, then convalidation must be sought after in order to make the marriage both valid and sacramental. This does not mean that the husband and wife must have a new wedding ceremony - it is assumed that there were no impediments to the union in the first place and that full consent was exchanged – but the marriage must be recognised by the Church. The marriage, prior to convalidation, is assumed to be licit, but not valid in the eyes of the Church and this could be for a couple of reasons: 

- one of the parties is a Catholic but has married a non-Catholic without a dispensation (or “blessing”) from the local ordinary (e.g. the local bishop); or 
- the marriage was not performed in a Church (i.e. by a Catholic priest) and without canonical dispensation  

If a dispensation was given prior to the marriage then the marriage is both valid and sacramental. Those who marry outside of the Catholic Church can no longer receive the Sacraments. By convalidating the marriage it retroactively becomes sacramental and both husband and wife are able to participate fully in the Sacraments of the Church. 

Converts to the Catholic Church from another Christian faith tradition may be wondering if their marriage is considered valid in the eyes of the Church when they are received into communion with the Church. The answer is ‘yes’, the marriage is considered valid given that both parties were validly baptised and proper consent was exchanged; the marriage would also be considered sacramental. 

If for any reason you believe that your marriage is not valid, then you should – at your earliest convenience – contact your parish priest (or the parish office) to put you in touch with the local ordinary or marriage tribunal so that you may obtain convalidation. 

If your marriage requires convalidation then the local ordinary will give some instructions on what you will be required to do in preparation or what should be done/avoided in the meantime. These may include – if the marriage is considered invalid – for the husband and wife to live together chastely as “brother and sister” until the marriage is convalidated; abstaining from the Eucharist until having attending confession; and abstaining from the Eucharist until after the marriage is convalidated. This is so as to avoid scandalising others. The couple should of course continue participating at Mass every Sunday and every holy day of obligation. The local ordinary or parish priest will provide you with the counsel you require. 

“’So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.’" – Matthew 19:6

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Basics of Annulments

DISCLAIMER: Please note that this is not a definitive guide to annulments. Please get in touch with your parish priest or your local Marriage Tribunal directly if you have any further queries.



A common misconception people tend to make about annulments is that an annulment is “Catholic divorce”. This is a misleading and highly inaccurate summation. 

An annulment (also referred to as a “declaration of nullity” or “declaration of invalidity”) is a process and statement of fact by which the legal arm of the Catholic Church, guided by canon law (N.B.: the Code of Canon Law applies only to Roman Catholics of the Latin Rite), examines a couple’s divorce or separation to determine whether the marriage union was valid or not. In this process it is determined whether certain impediments to the marriage existed, i.e. whether there were circumstances or issues that would have rendered the marriage invalid to begin with. This being the case, in simple terms, the marriage “never existed” (it was not a valid marriage) and a declaration of nullity would be declared. 

There is a moment during the marriage ceremony (the Nuptial Mass) when the celebrant will ask the couple the following question (or similar to) prior to the declaration of consent: 

“(Name) and (Name), have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?” 

It is something you may not have thought of before or considered, but this question is asked to ensure that there are no impediments to the marriage, i.e. nothing that would render the marriage invalid. It does happen, however, that consent is given to marriage and impediments to the marriage are learned of some time after the day of the wedding. If such impediments existed, the marriage was never valid to begin with. 

Some examples of impediments to marriage include: 

- Age, i.e. if the man and the woman are not of the age pre-required by the conference of bishops (Can. 1083 §1); 
- Impotence or the incapacity to consummate the marriage (Can. 1084 §1, §2, §3); - Previous marriage (Can. 1085 §1, §2); 
- Marriage between a Catholic and an unbaptised that has not been granted a dispensation (Can. 1086 §1, §2, §3); 
- If one or the other is currently received into the Sacrament of Holy Orders (Can. 1087)

If you strongly feel or suspect that there were impediments to your marriage, then – with prayer and discernment - you should take the following steps: 

1. Contact your parish priest (or the parish office) and ask them to give you the details of the local Catholic Marriage Tribunal (or simply referred to as the “Marriage Tribunal”); 
2. Book an appointment to discuss your case with the judicial vicar (typically a priest specialising in canon law); and 
3. When discussing your case, be as detailed as possible. Witnesses may be called in by the judicial vicar(s) investigating the validity of your marriage and they may be required to give testimony to the circumstances surrounding the union from its early stages to its current state. A cost will more than likely be applied in order for the investigation to take place, and the cost may vary depending on the length or the inquiry but flexible payment options are made available. Those enduring financial hardships may have their fees waved or reduced so as not discourage those that have initiated the inquiry. 

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." – John 8:32