"Seeking Union with God"
Personal Spiritual Formation Program
Lesson #7: Renewing Our Minds and Hearts
Goal: Spend at least 15 minutes a day on spiritual reading.
Work on any issues we are aware of in our relationship with God and others.
"And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God."
St. Paul, Philippians 1:9-11
The past six lessons have covered quite a bit of material including links for further information. One idea is to set aside what you don't find helpful, and use what you do find helpful to progress in your spiritual life. I wanted to expose you to a variety of different possibilities on ways to pray and the other topics covered for a couple of reasons. One is that we are not all called exactly the same way, and there are many different parts of the Mystical Body of Christ.
God has created each of us as unique individuals and asks us each to do different things. For example, I'm a professed member of the Carmelite order as a lay person who lives in the world (a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, sometimes called a third order Carmelite). Others are not necessarily called to be a member of a religious order, but perhaps they are called to be involved in various other groups or organizations within the Church.
Through prayer we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us, to show us God's will and help us to do it. We each have our own story of how God has acted and led us in our lives. The Church wouldn't work if everyone were doing the same thing or had the same function in the body. Christ's body would be lopsided if it had all hearts, heads, ears, or mouths. The body of Christ needs all the members as St. Paul mentioned to function effectively:
"For as the body is one, and has many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ." 1 Cor. 12:12
At the same time we do share many of the same challenges with each other and with those who have gone before us. God might show us each a little something different about Himself and ask us to do different things, but the objective truth is not relative. Jesus is the truth, the Bible contains God's word, which is truth, and as Catholics we also have truth revealed by Christ in the Sacred Tradition of the Church handed down from the apostles. We also have helps from the Saints who have gone before us blazing the trail, if you will.
As we continue on the spiritual journey we have our own path to follow, but also we have the path marked out by the objective truths of the Bible, Sacred Tradition, official teachings of the Church, and the experience of the Saints. The more we learn about these things and put them into practice, the more we can benefit, and save time, and avoid some mistakes.
Today, as we observe what is going on in the world, it is almost seems like a free-for-all regarding what is true. This sometimes even applies to Christianity with the thousands of denominations with their different understandings on various things. Unfortunately this also applies to Catholics when they deviate from the actual teachings of the Church, which are the basis for unity.
To grow in the spiritual life, we look not only to our actions but also our thoughts and words. We seek to love and obey God in thought, word, and deed. Let's take a look at what the Bible says about our thoughts and renewing our minds in Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:16: "For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that we may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ."
1 Corinthians 4:17: "For this cause have I sent to you Timothy, who is my dearest son and faithful in the Lord; who will put you in mind of my ways, which are in Christ Jesus; as I teach every where in every church."
Philippians 1:27: "Only let your conversation be worthy of the gospel of Christ: that, whether I come and see you, or, being absent, may hear of you, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind labouring together for the faith of the gospel."
Romans 15:5-6: "Now the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of one mind one towards another, according to Jesus Christ: That with one mind, and with one mouth, you may glorify God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
1 Corinthians 1:10: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you; but that you be perfect in the same mind, and in the same judgment."
Philippians 2:5: "For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:"
Scripture teaches us to be of one mind, and that mind is the mind of Jesus Christ. In this way we are united to Christ and to each other not only in spirit but in truth. Being united in our minds and thinking the thoughts of Christ helps us to live in peace with God and each other.
By the way, Fr. Thomas Dubay had a wonderful series on EWTN called "Community Transformed". It talks about the importance of having a shared vision around the basics of life in our marriages and religious communities. He covers Gospel teachings on how to help bring that about.
Jesus came to give us his peace.
Romans 14:19: "Therefore let us follow after the things that are of peace; and keep the things that are of edification one towards another."
John 14:27: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid."
John 16:33: "These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world."
Our experience as a Christian
In a moment, I want to digress briefly to psychology to demonstrate how important our thoughts are and how they impact our experience. But first I'll talk a little about unavoidable suffering. I personally don't feel we should focus too much on emotional feelings in our spiritual life but keep our focus on Jesus and serving God and we will come to have God's peace and joy, even amidst suffering. Our focus should be on God and doing his will. Jesus said if we want to be his disciples that we must deny our very selves, pick up our cross and follow him.
||We all know that some suffering is inevitable in this life. Our prayer can be as Jesus prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane when we was about to face His greatest suffering:
"...My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou will." Matthew 26:39
As a follower of Christ, with God's help we can accept the unavoidable sufferings of life as our cross. We can "offer them up" as best we can (as the Blessed Mother taught us in her apparitions at Fatima) for the conversion of sinners and salvation of souls. Instead of fighting these unavoidable sufferings, we can follow Jesus's example and with the help of God's grace accept our cross, pick it up and carry it, and even embrace it, as Jesus did. When we do this our suffering can have meaning instead of being wasted.
When we are focusing first and foremost on God and doing God's will, we will have God's peace inside even in the midst of suffering.
This idea is explained here in the Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, A Treatise of Discretion, page 127."For I told thee that My servants suffered corporally but not mentally, because the sensitive will, which gives pain and afflicts the mind of the creature is dead. Wherefore the will not being there, neither is there any pain. They bear everything with reverence, deeming themselves favored in having tribulation for My sake, and they desire nothing but what I desire."
The Saints saw a value and blessing in suffering, as they could see the good that can come from it. God can use suffering to help us become the people He wants us to be. Suffering was not God's original intent for us but entered the world through man's sin (original sin of Adam and Eve). However, God can bring a greater good out of our suffering just as He did with Jesus. This is also the answer to the question of why God allows evil... the answer being to bring a greater good out of it.
Matthew 16:24, "Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."
2 Cor. 1:5, "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us: so also by Christ does our comfort abound."
Is there such as thing as needless suffering?
At the same time, sometimes it seems like we suffer needlessly (even though we can still offer up this suffering), and in ways that Jesus didn't mean for his followers to suffer. For example, if Jesus came to give us his peace and a more abundant life, and we don't experience Christ's peace within and a more abundant life as a result of following Jesus, then something is still needing further development in us. Perhaps we haven't learned something important yet that Jesus wants us to learn.
Maybe we need healing for past traumas that we can find in Jesus, through prayer, study, spiritual direction and/or counseling... or even through medical or nutritional intervention if our mental or emotional suffering is due to poor health or imbalances in brain chemistry. Even if we are physically, emotionally or mentally ill in some way, Jesus came to give us all His peace.
Jesus is the light and in Him there is no darkness at all. We need to allow the light of Christ to more and more penetrate us and heal us by focusing on Jesus who is the light, giving him our troubles, and seeing him as the source of all good things. This life is only temporary along with all our earthly troubles.
One thing necessary to be in God's peace is to repent of sin, go to confession as needed, and receive God's forgiveness. God desires us to trust in his mercy and to forgive us for our sins. Jesus also said that we are to forgive others as we are forgiven. To forgive means to let go of resentment and bitterness.
We have all been hurt, and we all need to forgive. Jesus talks about the importance of forgiveness in the Bible. When we forgive others it also frees us up to forgive ourselves, and many of us have a problem with this. Sometimes it is ourselves we need to forgive, and then forgiving others becomes easier.
God loves us first and just as we are right now. Forgiveness doesn't necessarily mean to keep trying to have a relationship with someone in a way that isn't working out (or maybe not at all). Sometimes we need to have boundaries and protect ourselves from injury, but we can learn to let go of the anger for how we were treated or for not getting what we wanted. We can accept this as part of our cross of following Jesus. Jesus wasn't treated the way He should have been treated either, but He forgave those who hurt him and killed him. He taught us to overcome evil by good. He said to pray for our enemies.
Likewise as Jesus followers, we can ask Jesus to help us forgive those who hurt us. We can begin to recognize our own sins and seek reconciliation with God and others. Jesus loves us and wants us to experience His peace and asks us to reject sin. For more information on the psychology of forgiveness including how it is not necessarily the same as reconciliation, you might find this web page interesting: http://www.guidetopsychology.com/forgive.htm.
In summary: The Bible talks about having joy and always being thankful. The Saints are examples of joyful people even in the midst of suffering. We can offer up our suffering even if it is caused by our own mistakes or sins while we work on eliminating unnecessary suffering from our lives. We've all made mistakes and have all sinned, and yet if God forgives us when we are sorry and repentant, we also need to forgive ourselves and others. If we have not already, we need to accept God's mercy and allow ourselves to be loved. This is God's will for us.
John 10:10, "The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly."
||"But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23
In this lesson let's examine a few things including: How often do we suffer or even sin because we think unhealthy, untrue or sinful thoughts? How often do we find that we dwell on thoughts that would be better thrown out as soon as they come into our minds? If you ask a depressed person what they are thinking, most likely it will be depressed thoughts... not that depression is always a result of our thoughts, and this is not to say there are not physical causes of depression or for mental illness. This is also not to discount that sometimes we have grief and traumas in our lives that we must work through, but sometimes we get stuck in negative thought patterns.
Sometimes we tell ourselves things that aren't true (like negative self-talk), or are true but we neglect to look at the good side of things (like the analogy of looking at a glass as half full instead of half empty). The devil also suggests untrue thoughts to us to try to destroy our peace or hope or faith or love. Sometimes a depressing thought will come into mind (either from ourselves or as a temptation), and we accept it as true even when we don't know that it is.
For example we might have thoughts like: "These bad things will never change." "I will always be lonely." "I'm not good enough." "Nobody cares about me." etc. These are depressing thoughts that we don't know for sure are true and probably aren't true as Jesus said, "The truth will set you free." The devil on the other hand is a liar and prowls around "seeking the ruin of souls". As one Carmelite priest one said, "When we have left peace, we have left God."
If we take a look at our thoughts (those little voices in our head), and find some untrue, we can replace them with more accurate thoughts based on the Bible and truth. We can ask ourselves if there is a more positive way we can look at things or at others. What we think, affects how we feel... in fact there is often a direct cause and effect between our thoughts and our feelings.
Our thoughts affect our emotional state
In his CD on Anger and Forgiveness, Deacon Dr. Bob McDonald, a Catholic psychiatrist, talks about how modern psychology sometimes focuses on why we feel a certain way. He says that in the course of a normal day, we have normal ups and downs. He advises when we feel down, we should NOT focus on it and look for the reasons why, or else we actually make ourselves feel more down, and we'll start thinking of lots of reasons why we should be down and actually feed the negative emotion. Rather his advice is to recognize that it is normal for our emotions go up and down during the day, kind of like an elevator, and if they go down a bit, wait for them to go back up again without focusing on the negative thoughts, as if we do pretty soon we will be in the basement. The Bible says we should focus on what is good in order to have peace in Philippians, Chapter 4.
We can ask ourselves if we are putting on the "mind of Christ" or are we putting on some other type of mind? Are we in the light or in darkness? We can work on bringing our thoughts to be in conformity with Christ's teachings, which are the truth.
This is not to say we don't have problems in life or that we shouldn't take a good look at them to solve them, work through our issues, or grieve our losses. We don't want to discount anyone's suffering whether due to their own fault or life's unavoidable sorrows. (The Bible says to mourn with those who mourn.) The reason for bringing this up, though, is avoiding unnecessary suffering that robs us of the joy we should have in Christ.
Sometimes our suffering is from not letting go of guilt or regret for past forgiven sins or mistakes. If this is the case we can resolve to stop sinning, ask for forgiveness from God or others, go to confession, do what we can to repair the damage including any penance given in confession, and then put it all in God's hands.
If we have committed any serious sin, as Catholics we are obliged to go to confession. This can be a very healing experience to hear the words of absolution (forgiveness) through the priest, which are "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
The Sacrament of Reconciliation, i.e. "Confession", can be compared to going to a doctor, except instead of exposing our bodies to be healed, we expose the sickness of our souls to be healed. Also just like the doctor who most likely has seen it all before, so has the priest heard it all before. It is also an act of humility, which is a highly valued virtue.
In short, none of us is perfect. We've all made mistakes and sinned, and we are all wounded to one degree or another. God forgives us when we are sorry and repent, and we need to forgive ourselves as well. When we are forgiven, I believe Jesus wants us to experience His forgiveness and peace.
In the story of the Prodigal Son in the Bible, the Father when He sees His repentant son coming home, runs out to meet him and holds a big party. He doesn't continue to chastise him or make him feel bad. Rather He restores him to his former place in the household and rejoices that he has returned. This is how God is with us too, and how we should be with ourselves and others. He truly does forgive us and forgets our forgiven sins. He doesn't want us to continue in guilt about them as He removes the guilt... God wants us to have that abundant life Jesus came to give us.
When we sin (or fall), we should immediately get up and not stay down in the mire of sin, ask God's forgiveness (go to Confession especially if it is a serious sin) and keep trying until with God's help we conquer our sins. Don't give up. It is a good practice to go to Confession regularly. We receive graces there to help us conquer our sins. Some suggest monthly Confession (or twice a month) as a general guideline.
Grief: Besides sin, when it comes to suffering due to losses or traumas, some psychologists mention going through the stages of grief as being natural. There are some Catholic programs like Beginning Experience to help work through grief. Rachel's Vineyard has help for healing from the emotional trauma of past abortion (for men and women). There are often support groups for people facing illnesses or addictions.
Links to other organizations for practical help for various problems:
Scrupulous Anonymous: https://scrupulousanonymous.org/
Healing for Marriages: www.maritalhealing.com/
Catholic Therapists Organizations: www.CatholicTherapists.com
Fr. Emmerich's 12-step Review: www.12-step-review.org/
Dr. Ray Guarendi, Catholic Clinical Psychologist focusing on help to raise great kids. (He has 10, some adopted.): www.drray.com
Greg Popcak, Catholic Psychologist, Pastoral Solutions Institute (including Marriage and Family counseling): www.exceptionalmarriages.com/
Help for Homosexual Tendencies: Courage www.couragerc.net , http://couragerc.net/TheCourageApostolate.html
Couple to Couple League for Natural Family Planning: www.ccli.org/
Infertility problems: The Pope Paul VI Institute is the only Catholic Institution of its type in the United States and perhaps the world that has dedicated its services to the development of morally and professionally acceptable reproductive health services: www.popepaulvi.com
Fertility services: www.fertilitycare.org
Dating, sex and love...how to survive and find true love: www.lovematters.com/
Prolife News: http://www.lifesitenews.com
National Catholic Bioethics Center: http://www.ncbcenter.org
Steve Wood's Christian Fatherhood site: www.dads.org/
Worldwide Marriage Encounter... turn a good marriage into a great marriage! www.wwme.org/
Retrouvaille... A Program to Help Couples Heal and Renew their own Marriage Relationship (for marriages in trouble or needing help or even separated couples) www.retrouvaille.org/
Catholic Engaged Encounter... a quality, highly effective, marriage preparation program designed to meet the needs of today's engaged couples. www.engagedencounter.org/
Physicians for Life... (Check out their resources on health related issues and how we as a society have been given false information on things such as abortion, "safe sex", STDs, etc.): www.physiciansforlife.org
Anger: Jesus asked us to forgive others as we would like to be forgiven and even made forgiveness of others a requirement for us to be forgiven by God. We are all sinners and all in need of conversion, so let's not hold onto resentment and grudges against others, as we are really hurting ourselves more than others when we hold onto resentment. Holding onto anger and unforgiveness takes away our peace. We are also not to judge others as only God can read a person's heart and knows of all their inner struggles. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us to give others the "benefit of the doubt". We don't really know what is going on inside of anyone else as St. Catherine teaches us below:
From The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena
(God spoke to St. Catherine about not judging others, accepting everything as allowed by God's will and plan for us and our sanctification, i.e. being made holy.)
"Another thing is necessary for you to arrive at this union and purity, namely, that you should never judge the will of man in anything that you may see done or said by any creature whatsoever, either to yourself or to others. My will alone should you consider, both in them and in yourself. And, if you should see evident sins or defects, draw out of those thorns the rose, that is to say, offer them to Me, with holy compassion. In the case of injuries done to yourself, judge that My will permits this in order to prove virtue in yourself, and in My other servants, esteeming that he who acts thus does so as the instrument of My will; perceiving, moreover, that such apparent sinners may frequently have a good intention, for no one can judge the secrets of the heart of man. That which you do not see you should not judge in your mind, even though it may externally be open mortal sin, seeing nothing in others, but My will, not in order to judge, but, as has been said, with holy compassion. In this way you will arrive at perfect purity, because acting thus, your mind will not be scandalized, either in Me or in your neighbor. Otherwise you fall into contempt of your neighbor, if you judge his evil will towards you, instead of My will acting in him. Such contempt and scandal separates the soul from Me, and prevents perfection, and, in some cases, deprives a man of grace, more or less according to the gravity of his contempt, and the hatred which his judgment has conceived against his neighbor.
"A different reward is received by the soul who perceives only My will, which, as has been said, wishes nothing else but your good; so that everything which I give or permit to happen to you, I give so that you may arrive at the end for which I created you. And because the soul remains always in the love of her neighbor, she remains always in Mine, and thus remains united to Me. Wherefore, in order to arrive at purity, you must entreat Me to do three things: to grant you to be united to Me by the affection of love, retaining in your memory the benefits you have received from Me; and with the eye of your intellect to see the affection of My love, with which I love you inestimably; and in the will of others to discern My will only, and not their evil will, for I am their Judge, not you, and, in doing this, you will arrive at all perfection.
"This was the doctrine given to you by My Truth, if you remember well. Now I tell you, dearest daughter, that such as these, who have learnt this doctrine, taste the earnest of eternal life in this life; and, if you have well retained this doctrine, you will not fall into the snares of the Devil, because you will recognize them in the case about which you have asked Me.
"But, nevertheless, in order to satisfy your desire more clearly, I will tell you and show you how men should never discern by judgment, but with holy compassion."
Balanced lifestyle and good nutrition: Also sometimes we can have a physical problem that impacts our ability to think clearly and our emotional state. A good checkup with lab work can reveal things like allergies, thyroid problems, food intolerances or other imbalances. God often heals us through natural means like doctors, counselors, good nutrition, etc. We pray for healing and we do our part. We can trust God to either heal us, provide a way to remedy our situation, or give us the grace to handle the unavoidable sufferings in life.
As a spiritual director, I've noticed that a significant number of people bring up psychological issues in spiritual direction. Sometimes these can be helped and other times a spiritual director can work in conjunction with a licensed counselor. Many of us have issues (and we probably all do to some extent). If they are hampering our ability to have joy in our lives or our ability to function well, then it is helpful to work on them. I feel is important to bring them to Jesus in prayer and speak to Jesus as you would your best friend (as He is your best friend.) Sometimes it is good to talk about them with a person too. Spiritual and psychological development often go hand in hand, and problems in one of these can hold back advancement in the other. God's grace is an important factor in our healing, and we can pray that God will heal our emotional self as well as for physical healings.
If and when we have a spiritual or psychological problem that is not resolving through our own efforts, it is wise to seek competent outside help. I think it is best to pray and ask God if it is a good idea to seek spiritual direction or counseling, and if so then to guide us to the right person. It can be somewhat difficult finding someone that is truly helpful, and we need to be discerning. Some possible options about spiritual direction through are at this website here.
God can heal our physical and psychological selves. I believe God wants us to to pray and also to do what we can to seek healing through natural means, as God works through natural means and others.
We are dependent on God for everything, and all is a gift from God. At the same time we can work to do our part in both accepting God's grace and putting it into practice in our lives with the help of God's grace. Even with traumas that we've endured, we can work on bringing our present thoughts to be the best they can be now. Healing is often a process and not an event. We are all in need of healing of some sort or growth in various ways.
Here are a few things that many of us struggle with:
If we are worried or discouraged we might want to ask ourselves if we are focusing on the past, the future, or the present. Jesus told us the present day should be our concern and focus. When we worry about the future, we are worrying about a lot of things that probably aren't going to happen. If we are the type that worries, we begin to realize that God doesn't ask us to do half of the things we worry about. Also when we do have to do things we didn't think we could do, God gives us the grace and what it takes as needed when needed. How often I've said to myself that I just couldn't do this or that, and then I either didn't need to at the last minute... or else I was able to as God provided the grace needed to make it through. Not that it isn't tough sometimes, but God's grace really is sufficient just like the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 12:9. God desires that we put ALL our trust in Him. One helpful secular book to help conquer worry is by Dale Carnegie called How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.
Matthew 6:31-34, "So do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?' or 'What are we to drink?' or 'What are we to wear?' All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil."
About being thankful
1 Thessalonians 5:18, "In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all."
By the way, the Bible verse above doesn't say "for" all circumstances, but "in" all circumstances. I have a friend who has cultivated a life with an "attitude of gratitude". She says when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, and this is what she does. It isn't that she hasn't had a rough life as she has faced breast cancer, problems with children, and even one child developing a mental illness and ending up in jail. In spite of all this she keeps her focus on Jesus. She finds something to be thankful for even when she was visiting her son at the jail. This kind of Biblical attitude of gratitude is not very common, but it is something we are all called to.
Reprogramming our mind with God's truth
We hopefully are working on perfection, but we aren't there yet and that is OK. God calls us to perfection but doesn't expect us to be perfected overnight. We need to be firm in our resolve, but at the same time humble and patient with ourselves. If we think we have to be perfect right now, then we will probably not be able to face our imperfections or look at ourselves honestly. We might protect ourselves and put all the blame for our own faults on others, not being able to accept our own imperfections and still feel OK about ourselves. We might feel we need to be perfect to be good enough for God or for God to love us. Knowing that God loves us first and as we are right now allows us to look at ourselves honestly, to be humble, and not to be in denial about our faults because we know we are loved in spite of them. We don't have to hide our faults from God, but come to God with all our faults and give them over to Him asking for His help..
This is something St. Faustina talks about. In her Diary, she mentions that Jesus told her that she hadn't given everything to Him yet. She asked what it was that she was holding back on, and He told her she hadn't given Him her faults. We need to bring our faults to Jesus.
Jesus's message through St. Faustina is about his Divine Mercy : "The message of The Divine Mercy is simple. It is that God loves us all of us. And, He wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Thus, all will come to share His joy." (Marians website)
We deal with many issues. Some of us may have had critical parents or teachers and have developed a "not good enough" feeling inside or might have become perfectionists because this is what we thought we were expected to be. Some of us only received conditional love as a child, and now we think God will only love us if we are perfect. Many of us have had our hearts broken in romantic relationships which leaves scars.
Some of us keep beating ourselves up for past sins that are forgiven and a solution is to just thank Jesus for forgiving us and put it all in God's hands trusting that He can bring good out of evil. We might think we are too weak to follow some of God's teachings. We might hear a thought in our mind that says, "I can't do it" and be tempted to give up. If we can learn to recognize a thought that is incorrect or problematic, we can counteract that thought with a verse from Scripture such as, "I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me." (Phil. 4:13) or "And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me." (2 Corinthians 12:9) Let's replace our faulty thoughts with God's true thoughts.
On the other hand, some of us have been told or tell ourselves that we are better than we really are and perhaps have not looked honestly at our faults. We may need to learn how to be more realistic and humble about ourselves.
We might be tempted to say something to ourselves like, "I just can't help myself". We can replace that incorrect thought with a thought from 1 Corinthians 10:13, "Let no temptation take hold on you, but such as is human. And God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it." or Matthew 19:26 "And Jesus beholding, said to them: With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible." One idea is to write down pertinent Bible verses and refer to them often until God's thoughts become our thoughts.
God's word has power in us when we believe it and act on it. With God's grace we will eventually conquer if we are determined and don't give up (and even perseverance is a grace.)
Luke 6:46-49, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' but not do what I command? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, listens to my words, and acts on them. That one is like a person building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when the flood came, the river burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built. But the one who listens and does not act is like a person who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, it collapsed at once and was completely destroyed."
When we replace our faulty thinking with God's word, we renew our minds and "put on the mind of Christ". Some ways to do this are through prayer and Bible studies. We can meditate on God's word. When we learn something new make it a part of our life.
We can also do Bible studies and search for specific information. One way to do a quick Bible study is to go on the internet to an online Bible with a search function and put in a word to search. See what Bible verses come up using that word. Then read them and the surrounding chapter. For example, if you are working on giving up worrying in your life, type in the word "worry" into the search function and also it's opposite word such as "trust". You'll get a quick list of the Bible passages with these words. Here are a couple of Catholic Bible's with search functions: Douay-Rheims Bible (search function on upper right but some of the words are not in modern language) and: New American Bible with Concordance (Vatican website). We can also use a concordance to look up where a word is found in the Bible.
For me, the most important Bible verse that explains the idea of improving our thoughts is Philippians 4:4-13. It tells us how to have and stay in God's peace. Keeping these verses in mind and trying to do what they say even if it feels unnatural at first, really does help us stay positive and in God's peace. For example, if I catch myself thinking negative thoughts, I recall these verses. If I find myself in a down mood or that I'm losing God's peace, I ask myself, what are my thoughts? Are they in line with what the Bible says to focus on in Phil 4:8, i.e. what is "true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent or worthy of praise." Or am I focusing on what is not true, not honorable, impure, unlovely, not gracious and not worthy of praise?
Abraham Lincoln's said, "People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." At times having a good cry isn't bad as it can be a tension release or might be an appropriate response. But if we often indulge in self-pity or feeling sorry for ourselves, we may not be staying God's peace and giving thanks in all circumstances. We might need to work on reprogramming of harmful thoughts that we tend to replay over and over in our minds. Sometimes we can see we have a choice, to either let ourselves go there or not to those dark places. We can get control over our thoughts with the help of God's grace.
In any event, the more we can replace faulty thinking with God's word from the Bible, the more we can conquer some of these things and stay in God's peace. Like a Carmelite priest once said, "When we leave peace, we have left God." Jesus came to give us His peace.
Below is one of my favorite passages from Scripture as it has so much advice on how to be in God's peace and how to be with the God of peace:
|Philippians 4:4-14: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. I rejoice greatly in the Lord that now at last you revived your concern for me. You were, of course, concerned about me but lacked an opportunity. Not that I say this because of need, for I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me."
The first thing mentioned in the list from Phil. 4 above is to think about "whatever is true". In order to renew our minds with the truth, it is very helpful to know where the truth may be found. When I was a young college student in the 1970s, I often heard people saying, "What is truth?" I was searching for truth myself. At that time, I found the Bible and studied it both on my own and with a young woman at college. But when I read it, it not only disturbed me that I wasn't following it in some ways, but also I didn't really understand what it meant. I read in the Bible that we were to "forsake not assembling together" and I started searching for the right church to belong to. Even though I'd been raised a Catholic somehow I'd drifted away during my years at public high school and state universities (liberal ones in California). So I spent a lot of time reading about various denominations in the university library. But it wasn't until I studied the Catholic Church again that I found the answer to my dilemma on how to interpret the Bible. I was happy to learn that it wasn't up to me to figure it all out for myself. There was a Church to guide me started by Christ Himself that knew what the Bible meant, a source of truth. In fact, I came to realize that the books of the New Testament were assembled by the Church and not the other way around.
So I started studying Catholic teachings and I got a little mixed up again, as I would go the library and read books about the Catholic Church or by Catholics at random not knowing that there were official church teachings or that there were some Catholic theologians and others that didn't necessarily teach what the Church taught or give accurate information. It took a while to sort it all out and to find out how to access authentic Church teachings. But I felt blessed to have found that the truth about Jesus and the Bible could be found in the Catholic Church's official teachings and how to get that information. (I put a link to many of these resources here.) I was happy to find out more about what the Bible meant and not be left to my own interpretation anymore. There is a truth, and we can learn it. My desire is to accurately present what the Church teaches, and if someone sees that something I say is not in line with Church teachings or is incorrect, I welcome correction. (Just email me.)
The Church teaches that the Magisterium is the authentic interpreter of Scripture.
|Catechism of the Catholic Church #85-87
The Magisterium of the Church: "The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ."47 This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. "Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith."48 Mindful of Christ's words to his apostles: "He who hears you, hears me,"49 the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms."
This course is not meant to be an apologetic for the Catholic Church. If interested in apologetics I have links to various websites at the bottom of my links page. I do want to point out some things I feel important, though, as I feel they deal with the truth and where it might be found. To me the truth is of utmost importance as how can we renew our mind with the truth if we don't know where to find the truth or how to understand or interpret the Bible? After all Jesus did say, "the truth will set you free." To me it is comforting to know that the Church teaches that the authentic interpreter of Scripture is the Magisterium of the Church and it isn't all up to me to figure it out for myself. The Church doesn't interpret each line of scripture for us, but when we study the Catechism and the official Church documents we see the Bible referred to over and over again, and we get the Church's understanding of various passages.
(What is the Magisterium? Click here is a great article on this subject.)
For example, in John Chapter 6, Jesus talks about being the bread from heaven that we are to eat or we will not have life within us. In the Gospel accounts at the Last Supper Jesus says to the apostles, "Take and eat this is my body". Is it really His body or just symbolic, and how do we know? Who would know? The apostles whom Jesus commissioned to preach would know. It seems certain that Jesus would make sure they understood what He was doing and the truth of the important matters He came to teach before He commissioned them to preach to the world. The apostles handed down these truths to others, who handed them down to others to the present day. When we learn the dogmas of the Church we understand a lot about Jesus and what Scripture means. Also some printed versions of the Catechism have an Index of Citations that can be used to look up Bible verses to see how the Church uses them in the Catechism. The online version of the Catechism (Vatican website) has a concordance also (click on the link at that page to show concordance).
As Catholics we have this deposit of the faith handed down to us from the Apostles, information that is not available to others who limit themselves to the Bible alone. Also in the past 2000 years, the Church has been grappling with questions and heresies as they've come up. We don't have to reinvent the wheel. We can study the Bible with other Christians and get together in groups, but it isn't just a few of us figuring it out for ourselves with our own intelligence and sense of the Holy Spirit. We are blessed as Catholics not just to have the Holy Spirit inside of ourselves but 2000 years of Holy Spirit guidance of the Church as well.
One of the four marks of the Church is "one" (even though at this time in history many are not keeping with one mind with the Church because of the problem of relativism and individualism in our world that some of us are falling into). I wrote a newsletter on how we can find the truth and the revised version is below. (By the way, for information on how to sign up for the free Catholic Spiritual Direction Newsletter click here.)
The Truth Will Set You Free
|Acknowledgement: I'd like to explain below what I believe are some important truths about the Catholic faith. I realize some noncatholics are taking this course, so I want to acknowledge (as the Catholic Church does) the truth, devotion to God's word, holiness and sincerity that can be found outside the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church calls noncatholic Christians "separated brethren", which means that all Christians are brothers and sisters in the Lord even if not in full communion.
"And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free".
|Pope Benedict XVI said, "the Church does not impose but freely proposes the Catholic faith, well aware that conversion is the mysterious fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit. Faith is a gift and a work of God, and hence excludes any form of proselytism that forces, allures or entices people by trickery to embrace it. A person may open to the faith after mature and responsible reflection, and must be able freely to realize that intimate aspiration. This benefits not only the individual, but all society, because the faithful observance of divine precepts helps to build a more just and united form of coexistence". Vatican News Service, Oct. 2, 2008
"The Truth" (plus what we think and believe) does matter.
For an extreme example of this, just recall what some of the terrorists believe, and how their beliefs lead them to murder innocent people while thinking they are serving God. Knowing and believing in the objective real truth, i.e. reality, is important not just for ourselves but for others. We, as Catholics, are blessed to have access to what the Church calls the "fullness of truth" in the deposit of faith handed down from Jesus Christ and the Apostles both in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. This truth has been handed down through the centuries, guarded, explained and protected by the magisterium of the Catholic Church. I want to encourage everyone to take time each day to read and meditate on the Bible, and also to learn and study the truths found in the officially proclaimed teachings of the Church such as in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and official church documents and the pope's writings at www.vatican.va. Also the examples and writings of the Saints are helpful as they show us what living the Christian message can look like in real life if we put them into practice with the help of God's grace. The Church holds up the Saints as models of virtue for us to learn from.
As Catholics is it not enough to limit the practice of our faith to going to Mass each Sunday or to rely only on the homilies at Mass to learn our faith. We need to take responsibility to learn and form ourselves with Jesus' thoughts and teachings. It is so easy in our society to get pulled into error with TV, media, books, friends, etc. saying something different. We also have to be careful what religious books, shows, tapes or people we listen to, to see if they are in line with the Bible and teachings of the Church, not just taking in everything that sounds right to us at first glance without examining it comparing it to the truths of our faith.
The more truth we know about God and our faith, the more we can love God and desire Him. The more we understand our faith and know what it truly teaches, the more we will appreciate it... including things like going to Mass and receiving the sacraments. If we are ignorant of these things or don't understand them correctly, we will not receive the full benefits of them, nor will we appreciate their value.
"Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect." Romans 12:2
As Catholic Christians, we believe that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life." (John 14:6). We find the truth about Jesus and God's general plan for us in Sacred Scripture (the Bible) and from Sacred Tradition (the oral teachings of Jesus given to the apostles) as they are preserved, handed down and explained by the magisterium of the Catholic Church. "Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours." (2Ths. 2:15)
Sacred Scripture is the inerrant (without error) word of God. CCC 107: "...Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures."
There is a tendency nowadays to downplay the inerrancy of Scripture and also on the other hand, to read into Scripture things that it doesn't mean to say, due to relying too heavily on our own interpretations. The Catechism explains in what way the Bible is always true. Here are two Church documents (at the Vatican website) that I'd recommend everyone read: Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) by Pope Paul VI and also Providentissimus Deus on the Study of Holy Scripture by Pope Leo XIII
||On correct interpretation of Scripture: "seeing that the same God is the author both of the Sacred Books and of the doctrine committed to the Church, it is clearly impossible that any teaching can by legitimate means be extracted from the former, which shall in any respect be at variance with the latter. Hence it follows that all interpretation is foolish and false which either makes the sacred writers disagree one with another, or is opposed to the doctrine of the Church." Providentissimus Deus, Pope Leo XIII
Scripture is the word of God and has no error, however error can come in through our interpretation. The New Testament was written in the context of the Church. It is a book of the Church and should not be separated from the Church in interpretation. Jesus taught by preaching and commissioned the disciples to preach the gospel to all nations and even to the ends of the earth. The Bible records how Jesus founded a Church to spread His message through preaching and baptism among other things.
Besides the preaching of the disciples, some members of the Church wrote the books of the New Testament under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But it wasn't until around the 15th century when the printing press was invented that ordinary people could own their own copy of the Bible. In fact, Bibles were chained in the churches because they were hand copied and so valuable that chaining them kept them from being taken by people so that everyone would have access to them (rather than to keep the Bible from people as some claim).
In any event, the invention of the printing press in the 15th century contributed to the acceptance of one of the foundational doctrines (errors) of Protestantism. This faulty idea was "Sola Scriptura" meaning the "Bible alone". "Sola Scriptura" is a belief that is popular today and means "the assertion that the Bible as God's written word is self-authenticating, clear (perspicuous) to the rational reader, its own interpreter ('Scripture interprets Scripture'), and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine." Wikipedia Encyclopedia). It is an error that has led many Christians to think of themselves as the final interpreter of Scripture and thereby often unknowingly remain separate from the unity of being one mind with the actual Church Jesus founded 2000 years ago. The Catholic Church dates back to Jesus Christ and the apostles. Jesus commissioned the apostles to preach and baptize (etc.) and this authority and commission continues in an unbroken line through the laying on of hands down through history (apostolic succession) to the present pope and bishops. Christ said to the apostles, "He who hears you, hears me." This applies to our present pope and bishops in union with him as well. (This doesn't mean we don't and can't have fellowship with our "separated brethren". For reference, see the Vatican II Council Decree on Ecumenism.)
"Sola Scriptura" is an idea that has led to factions and divisions among Christians and then the formation of many protestant and independent churches because of disagreements on what the Bible means, because the Bible isn't always clear and self-evident on its own. The Bible also does not contain all the available information about what Jesus taught. The Bible teaches in 2 Thess. 2:15, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle." The Gospel was preached before it was written down.
What has happened (it seems to me) because of an ignorance of rejection of the authority of the Church established by Christ on Peter (an earthly head present today in our current pope) is that people join together because of common ideas about the meaning of the Bible but then end up disagreeing among themselves and then more splits in Christianity occur. There were problems in the Church when Luther broke off (to be followed by many more splits and divisions) as there are problems today. However the current splits in Christianity are not the unity Jesus had in mind when He founded the Church. It isn't the unity He prayed for in John 17:21, "That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." To me the correct response to problems in the Church is working on them from within (making sure we are correct first), rather than separating and forming new "churches".
Jesus prayed for unity so "that the world may believe". Is our current state of divided Christianity a scandal to a world that does not believe? How can we work toward the unity that Jesus prayed for? How can we be part of that unity ourselves? For me it is a matter of becoming as holy as we can through the help of God's grace, remaining united to the Church that Jesus founded, and working to build up the Church. When we see a problem, maybe God is calling us personally to do what we can to correct or address that problem. We people are what makes up the Church after all. Sometimes one person can make a great deal of difference as we see in the lives of the saints. We are all called to be saints.
Even with the problems and imperfection of the members including ourselves (and every church has problems even though some are not as highly publicized), the Catholic Church was established by Christ, has the authority from Jesus to preach and make laws, has all the sacraments, the "fullness of truth" and has produced many great Saints. It also has many good Catholics who do not receive recognition but quietly work to follow God and do charitable works not seeking the praise of others (Matthew 6).
The Church teaches that some of the truth and elements of sanctification (for example, Scripture and Baptism) are found in other Christian communities, and acknowledges that salvation is possible without being an actual member of the Catholic Church if one doesn't understand that we are all obliged to be a member of the Catholic Church.
Lumen Gentium, the Constitution on the Church, also teaches: This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, which our Savior, after his Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which he erected for all ages as the pillar and mainstay of the truth. This Church, constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.
In the Catholic Church we not only have the Bible which is the inerrant (without error) word of God, but we also have Sacred Tradition. Sacred Tradition contains Jesus' teaching to the apostles that are handed down to us. The Bible says that not all Jesus said and did is recorded in Scripture, but we can know that Jesus taught the apostles what He wanted them to know and teach to others... and that this was passed on. Jesus founded a church on the Peter and apostles and there is an unbroken line to the present through the laying on of hands (ordination) of popes and bishops. John 21:25, "There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written." The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains what Sacred Tradition consists of click here.
Here are some quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
|CCC#80-82: " 'Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal.' Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own 'always, to the close of the age'. . . two distinct modes of transmission. 'Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.' 'And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.' As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, 'does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.' " (For the quote references go to CCC# 80-82 at the Vatican website).
CCC#891 " 'The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. . . . The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,' above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine 'for belief as being divinely revealed,' and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions 'must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.' This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself."
Some of what the apostles handed down in the early Church can also be seen in the writings of the Early Church Fathers (even though these writings are not infallible like the Bible or officially proclaimed Church teachings.) It makes sense that the apostles, and those taught by them, received authentic instruction from Jesus and understood before being commissioned to preach what Jesus meant. One example are the writings of St. Irenaeus. His writing "Against Heresies" can be seen at the New Advent website by clicking here. Even if you don't have time to read them all, at least click on the link and skim through and see if anything stands out to you. He writes in the late 1st and/or early 2nd century. It is amazing to see how much the writings of the Early Church Fathers are reaffirmations of the teachings of the Church today.
|Chapter 10 from "Adversus Haereses" (Against Heresies), Book I, Chapter 10 of St. Ireneaus written in the late 1st or early 2nd century:
"Unity of the faith of the Church throughout the whole world.
1. The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father "to gather all things in one," Ephesians 1:10 and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, "every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess" Philippians 2:10-11 to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send "spiritual wickednesses," Ephesians 6:12 and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.
2. As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.
3. It does not follow because men are endowed with greater and less degrees of intelligence, that they should therefore change the subject-matter [of the faith] itself, and should conceive of some other God besides Him who is the Framer, Maker, and Preserver of this universe, (as if He were not sufficient for them), or of another Christ, or another Only-begotten. ... the Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith throughout the whole world, as we have already said."
In summary, by studying the Bible and official teachings of the Church, we can best learn God's plan that applies to all people. We can learn the objective truth handed down from Christ through the Church and renew our minds, hearts and experience by living a life based on truth and what is real. By putting into practice what we learn, we will be carrying out God's general plan for us. For me it is a blessing to have access to the "fullness of truth" and to all the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. We can also join with other Christians in various ways as outlined in the teachings of the Church.
Renewing our Minds with Truth
Meditating on God's word in Scripture and learning the truths of our religion through studying official Catholic teachings is one way to slowly renew our mind with God's truth. It is very important to study and meditate upon God's word in Sacred Scripture. It is also important to learn and study the teachings of the Church such as in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the newer Compendium to the Catechism.
We also need to be aware that not everyone who writes a book and not every theologian, visionary, or even every priest is necessarily in line with the Church teachings. So it is important to go to the source. (I say "official" Church teachings because there are many voices out there even among Catholics that are not keeping with the unity of the Church.) Here's a web page with links to official Church teachings which you can access by clicking here. Also included on the page are some writings of the Saints, which give some good guidance on how to live a holy life. We need to take initiative and do our homework.
By the way, canonized Saints, while recognized as models of virtue for us, are not infallible. While generally reliable, some have made errors and had a little different take from each other on some things they taught. So we should not look at their teachings in the same way we look at the Bible and infallibly proclaimed teachings of the Church, even though we can learn much from their teachings, writings and example. We can copy their example of deferring to the legitimate authority in the Church. The Saints set aside their own opinions and go with what they believed to be more reliable, i.e. the official pronouncements of the Church in the matters of faith and morals. The Holy Spirit more surely guides the Church as a whole than any one individual. We are to be accountable to the official teachings and laws of the Church.
When it comes to listening to visionaries or even our own visions, we can realize that not all visionaries, visions or supernatural occurrences are true... as they can come from God, a person's imagination or even the devil. St. Paul who said in 2Cor. 11:14, "for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light." Gal. 1:8, "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach [to you] a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed!" If they differ from authentic Church teaching or the Bible, no matter how real they seem, we can dismiss them as false. The idea of the Christian life is to live by "faith alone" in God. True visionaries point us to Jesus and don't teach anything contrary to the faith.
Proverbs:3:5-8: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes, fear the LORD and turn away from evil; This will mean health for your flesh and vigor for your bones."
Meditating on God's word in Scripture
While the Bible is not the only source of truth we have as Catholics as we mentioned above, it is the inerrant (without error) word of God. God speaks to us through his word in the Bible. One way to study the Bible is to take the daily Mass readings or the readings from the Liturgy of the Hours and read or meditate on them each day. In using them we are joining with many in the Church on reflecting on the same verses that day.
Psalm 1: 1-3: "Happy those who do not follow the counsel of the wicked, Nor go the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers. Rather, the law of the LORD is their joy; God's law they study day and night. They are like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in season; Its leaves never wither; whatever they do prospers."
Why would meditating on God's law "day and night" result in happiness or blessedness as the Bible says?
God knows what is best and desires our happiness. His law is all about what will ultimately make us happy. God is love and He loves us more than we love ourselves. Like a good Father He guides us to what is really helpful for us. When we pray we shouldn't try to convince God to do things our way, but seek to conform ourselves to doing them God's way and seek his will and guidance. Matt. 18:3, Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."
Jesus is the "way, truth and life" and he sent his Holy Spirit of truth, not just to guide the Church as a whole, but also us individually. So when we have the Holy Spirit inside of us, we have access to the Spirit of truth, that will help us recognize the truth when we hear it either in Scripture or spoken. Rom. 10:17, "Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ."
Jesus is the Way, Truth and Life
We need to put our focus on Jesus and seeking what God desires rather than seeking our own desires, in other words to become a God pleaser, not a people pleaser or a self pleaser. When it comes to The Truth, we set aside our own opinions and go with what our Catholic faith teaches. By seeking God's will and putting Him first, we will get all the other things we need. Matt. 6:33, "But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides." If we think about it, it is the only thing that makes sense, given that God knows what is best for us and we don't.
In seeking what is true and what we should do, we have a sure guide in the Bible, Sacred Tradition and official teachings of the Catholic Church. God can enlighten us from within, but God wants us to learn what He has already taught us publicly throughout the Bible and through Jesus as recorded in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition
To advance and grow in the love of God and neighbor we can greatly benefit by spiritual reading the Bible and other solid books with an open mind, heart and desire to serve God. Spiritual reading along with having a regular prayer life, and putting into practice what we learn is very important. By the way, when reading about our faith, just as we can perhaps misinterpret Scripture we also need to be cautious that we don't misinterpret Church teachings. When in doubt we can seek wise counsel or even ask a knowledgeable priest a short question in confession to get spiritual guidance. (For longer questions it is good to call and make an appointment so we don't keep others waiting too long in the confession line). Having spiritual friends can also be helpful if they are knowledgeable.
John 8:31, "Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in him, If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
And it follows that the more truth we know and incorporate into our life, the more free we will be... not just knowing the truth but doing it. Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock." (Matt. 7:24-25)
Some Modern, and Not So Modern, Errors
To remain in the truth it helps to recognize some of the errors we find in our society today so we can avoid them. For example:
The truth is "not" relative
We often hear that "truth is relative". It is true that each person has their own individual calling and path within God's overall plan which isn't the same for everyone. We each have a different role and place in the "body", but some people make an error to think that the truth about God, life, death, the universe is relative to each individual's perceptions or ideas or opinions. Truth is about what is real, regardless of our own opinions or what anyone thinks about it. Contradictory things cannot both be true. For example, Jesus is either the Son of God or He isn't. He either founded a Church that still exists today or He didn't.
St. Paul predicted, "For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths." (2 Tim. 4:3-4) Is that time today?
There is a truth about God, life, death and eternity that has been revealed by God Himself especially through salvation history in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ, and we can learn it.
Does it matter what church you belong to?
Many people have the idea that it doesn't matter what "church" you belong to as long as you are sincere or are getting something out of wherever you go. While the Catholic Church teaches that all people can potentially be saved even if not a full member of the Catholic Church if they are in ignorance (through no fault of their own), it is an error to think that it doesn't matter what church one belongs to. One reason is that Jesus founded an actual visible Church, which dates back to the apostles and is present today through the laying on of hands (ordination of popes, bishops and priests). Another reason is that there can only be one truth about any given subject and the truth matters.
John 17:21, "And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church in CCC#846 explains, "...Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it." [My understanding of the meaning of this last sentence is that "knowing" means realizing this to be true and not just hearing those words.]
Matt. 16:18-19, "And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
To put it another way: Peter was the first pope and when he died another pope was elected and so on until today with Pope Benedict XVI being the direct successor of St. Peter. That is what is called "apostolic succession." When we obey our current pope, it is as if we are obeying St. Peter whose successor he is, and obeying Christ himself by obeying those Jesus has put in authority in his place on earth. There is a difference between someone who puts themselves in a position of authority (say like by starting their own church) and God-appointed authority (as in Jesus starting a church).
Rom. 13:1-2, "Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves."
Private interpretation of Scripture is not the final rule of faith
A problem comes with an exaggeration that each Christian's intelligence or gift of the Holy Spirit is all we need to interpret the Bible. The problem with private interpretation of Scripture is that the Bible is not always easy to understand as evidenced by the fact that private interpretation has led to over 30,000 protestant denominations based on the incorrect idea that the Bible is the sole rule of faith (Sola Scriptura).
The Bible says in 2 Tim. 3:16 that "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness." But it is incorrect to assume that we as individuals are to interpret Scripture based solely on our own study, reflection and sense of the Holy Spirit without reference to the teachings of the Catholic Church that Jesus founded and which has the correct understandings of Scripture handed down from the apostles.
Today there is a tendency for people to be individualistic especially in America. We, as Catholics, can realize that we have an authoritative Church founded by Christ with 2000 years of history, Church councils, popes, bishops, and saints teaching on God's word. It isn't all new and up for grabs. Most of the important things have already been resolved, and it is just up to us to learn and do them.
The Church at the Vatican II Council in the 1960s said in "Lumen gentium" P20: "This sacred Council teaches that the Bishops, from divine institution, have taken the place of the apostles, as the pastors of the Church: he who hears them, hears Christ; he who spurns them, spurns Christ, and Him who sent Christ".
What about following our conscience?
While it is true that we must follow our conscience, what some people don't realize is that we also must do what we can to correctly form our conscience based on the truth revealed by God. Following our conscience doesn't mean to just go by our own thoughts, which are subject to error, or our own feelings, which are changeable and unstable. Rom. 10:17, "Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ." 2Cor. 5:7 says "for we walk by faith, not by sight." Also it is possible to have a lax, correct or scrupulous conscience. We want to be balanced without being too lax or too scrupulous and work to learn the truth so that our conscience will be correct. Also it is good to check with someone knowledgeable to make sure we correctly understand the teachings of the Church about any given matter. We are not meant to live in isolation but in community. And it might be good to get input from a few knowledgeable, holy people about important subjects, as there is a lot of confusion today.
||St. Albert the Great (1206-1280) wrote the following in Chapter 14 of Cleaving to God (reference from the Catholic Treasury website):
"14. That we should seek the verdict of our conscience in every decision.
"While we should strive for spiritual perfection of mind, purity and peace in God, it will be found to be not a little beneficial to this that we should return quietly into the inner secret place of the mind in the face of everything said, thought or done to us."
What about following the Holy Spirit?
As Christians we have been given the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit guides us from within. We may develop our ability to listen and hear the Holy Spirit within. We do this through prayer and following what God says. But in another sense we are not always perfect in our discernment. Our own attachments, emotions, faulty ideas, and sins can cloud our ability to see the truth clearly. We rationalize and are often blind to our own stuff, as they say. So when a conflict arises between our perception of what the Holy Spirit is asking and an official Church teaching, we can know that the Holy Spirit is more surely guiding the Church as a whole than just one individual such as ourselves. It's a good idea to make sure we are understanding Church teachings correctly also. The Holy Spirit does lead us to all truth when we are seeking the truth. If we feel the Holy Spirit is asking something different than what the Bible or Church teaches, we might want to get some input or wise counsel as to whether we are correctly interpreting them. Also there are practical helps on living a Catholic life available. See the links page at my website for some of them.
Truth is not a matter of opinion though and C.S. Lewis has a good point when he said, "Reality is something we would not have guessed." If we learn the truths of our religion and put them into practice and really try them (without picking and choosing), we will know they are true in the doing of them. One mistake a lot of people make is dismissing the teachings without really trying them or even giving them a real chance. G.K. Chesterton wrote: "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."
Another mistake is following false ideas we've heard from other sources, from sound bytes that we've adopted without adequate examination, or possibly from the way we were raised. Also something to beware of is following people instead of following God, sometimes called people-pleasing or doing things out of human respect. Obeying God is first, people are secondary.
The Bible says, "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord." It is in trying them on and actually practicing them, that we see and know they are real.
Believe that you may understand. - St. Augustine
Just learning the faith is not enough as knowing something doesn't do us any good if we don't put it into practice. Even Satan believes God exists. To follow Jesus, we must be willing to do whatever God asks with the help of his grace (which we can obtain through asking in prayer). God's grace gives us the power to do God's will as we can't do it on our own. "With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible." "Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Matthew 16:24) As long as we have this attitude of seeking the truth and putting God first as best as we know, God will continue to lead us to more and more of the truth. Also Christ told us to repent and do what He taught, then we'd know or realize the truth. We experience something is true in the doing of it.
Free will and obedience to legitimate authority
God gave us free will, but at the same time He also set up laws that not only govern the universe which He created, but govern us as well. God's laws are the legitimate authority that we must obey if we want to be in a good relationship with Him and someday make it to Heaven. Free will does not mean we choose what is real or good for ourselves, as truth isn't subjective to what we think. It just means we can decide to do things the true way (i.e. God's way) or not. It means God doesn't force us like robots to do this or that, but lets us choose who we will follow. The reason is that God is love and He desires love and to have a loving relationship with us. God could have made us like robots... but love can only exist in freedom to choose. You can't force someone to love you or it isn't love.
Free will allows us to choose to love and follow our all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing eternal Creator and Father (God) or choose not to. We can choose to our detriment to make something other than the real God, the god of our lives (an idol), such as money, our feelings, our opinions, others, or even Satan who said "I will not serve". Following God leads to eternal life and blessings and eternal life and happiness... and following anyone or anything else above God leads to sin, suffering and eternal death.
As we already covered in Lesson #1: Who or what do you serve as first and highest priority in our life? That is what we love the most. That is our god. Following anything but the real God who made heaven, earth and us, will end in disaster for us and impact others in our lives negatively as well.
About obedience to authority
The Bible and Church teach that we owe obedience to legitimate authority. This however doesn't mean we obey a bishop, priest, government, employer or spouse if they ask us to do something that isn't right, or against someone with a higher authority from God, or not within their jurisdiction. If we really want to know our faith well, it is important that we do our homework to find out what the Church officially teaches as there are sometimes errors being taught today in books and from the pulpit or in the media. Nevertheless, Jesus started a Church and desires we are one with his Church and the requires obedience to the legitimate authority He established. Here is an example from the Old Testament:
Deuteronomy 17:12-13: "But he that will be proud, and refuse to obey the commandment of the priest, who ministereth at that time to the Lord thy God, and the decree of the judge, that man shall die, and thou shalt take away the evil from Israel: And all the people hearing it shall fear, that no one afterwards swell with pride."
When we do the will of God, we are members of the family of God. "For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother. (Matt. 12:50) It doesn't do any good to know the Truth if we do not follow it as even the devil knows the truth. So let's put into practice all the Truth we do know with the help of God's grace.
Jesus spoke about scandals and sinners in the Church
As we all know there have been scandals in the Church very highly publicized lately. There are some grave sins that have scandalized many. Jesus said that scandals would come but woe to them through whom they come. Luke 17:1, "And he said to his disciples: It is impossible that scandals should not come: but woe to him through whom they come."
Matthew 13:24, "Another parable he proposed to them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seeds in his field. But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed cockle [some translations say "weeds"] among the wheat and went his way. And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle. And the servants of the goodman of the house coming said to him: Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? whence then hath it cockle? And he said to them: An enemy hath done this. And the servants said to him: Wilt thou that we go and gather it up? And he said: No, lest perhaps gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it. Suffer both to grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the cockle, and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn."
What we are to do
Matthew 7:11-29, "If you then being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more will your Father who is in heaven, give good things to them that ask him? All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the law and the prophets. Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it! Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them. Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity. Every one therefore that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock, And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock. And every one that heareth these my words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand, And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof. And it came to pass when Jesus had fully ended these words, the people were in admiration at his doctrine. For he was teaching them as one having power, and not as the scribes and Pharisees."
Suggestion: Spend 15-30 minutes a day for spiritual reading from the Bible and also to include study of official Church teachings as in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The writings of the Saints, while not official teachings, are also recommended especially when used with good commentaries.
If you learn better by listening rather than reading, the Bible is on tape or CD and there are tapes, podcasts and religious programming on TV. Be discerning as to the source and whether they are in accord with authentic Church teachings. Learning as much as possible about the faith is important, but it isn't easy to find authentic teachings on most media nowadays. One that seeks to remain faithful to the magisterium is EWTN and Relevant Radio. EWTN is on many cable networks and can also be viewed live over the internet (and also some previously recorded shows). Just go to www.ewtn.com, then click on the "Television" link on the upper left hand of the menu bar, and then go down to the "LIVE TV" link. There are also links to some excellent audios from recorded programs, which are available for download.
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