Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Benefits of Confession

The recent Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino made me understand why some cradle Catholics become lapsed Catholics. I highly recommend the movie despite its language and violence because Gran Torino does contain a very central Christian theme in the movie. I won't give too much details as not to reveal spoilers but Eastwood portrays a lapsed Catholic widower named "Walt Kowalski." Kowalski is a stubborn Korean War veteran who wasn't fond of the idea of confession and especially to the young priest in the movie Father Jankovich.

I feel that the confession part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is something that keeps many away from Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. We all are embarrassed by our sins and we don't like talking about them. Some Christians feel that our sins are between God and ourselves and they don't feel that they need to confess their sins to anyone. However, scripture shows us that confession is good and that Jesus gave the apostles the ability to forgive sin:

  • James 5:16: "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

  • John 20:21-23: Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."
  • 2 Corinthians 2:10: "If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake."

Confession Requires Humility

I feel that Confession is something keeps many away from the Catholic church. Does anyone really like to confess their sins to someone else? I know that I don't but we have to remember the importance of humbling ourselves before God:

  • Peter 5:6: "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time."
    • James 4:6: "...'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'"

    Jesus tells us of the importance of being humble like a child:

    • Matthew 18:3-4: ..."I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

    Why Confession is Good

    It is often said that churches are the hospitals of the emotionally wounded. Many Christians carry around lot of "junk in the trunk" emotionally from their past. It is often easier for us to forgive someone else's sin against us than our own sin sometimes. However, for others it is not. If we hang on to sins committed against us, it is against God's will and the Devil loves a vengeful hard heart. Satan is an opportunist and he loves to enter these emotional wounds and inflict more damage. Remember the power and importance of forgiving:

    • Matthew 6:14-15: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
    • Matthew 18:21-22: Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."

    Confession helps keep us on the right path spiritually and helps us unload the unnecessary emotional baggage we carry around. Whether you think that your sin is personal in nature, chances are that it still affects somebody or is a sin against building God's Kingdom on earth. One can confess their sins to a member of church, but confessing your sins to one central figure like a priest prevents your sin from being spread and distorted through gossip (another sin).

    Whether or not that you believe a priest can forgive sins through the power of the Holy Spirit, confessing your sins to a priest does allow a well-educated spiritual man to give you advice if you continue to stumble.

    Here is where my own life experience comes in. I was a casual friend of the late Darrell Porter (1982 World Series MVP). Before I came to know Darrell, he fought his own battles with drug and alcohol addiction when he played baseball in the 1970s. It was with the Kansas City Royals that he got his life together and became a born-again Christian. He wrote a book about his journey titled: "Snap Me Perfect: The Darrell Porter Story. "

    Darrell was one of the most beautiful Christian men you would ever hope to meet. A devout family man and Christian that had a radiant personality. Darrell was always smiling and doing work for the Lord and telling his story. He was a very active member in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Friends said he led bible studies at his Baptist church. He always signed his autograph with a scripture. The autographed baseball I have, he signed it with Proverbs 3:5-6.

    Well, one Monday afternoon in August 2002, sadly Darrell was found dead at a local park. Dead at age 50. Shockingly, an autopsy revealed that he had died from effects of cocaine use. Like so many, I just couldn't believe it and thought he had gotten his life together for good. I cried at the loss of such a good man and especially the thought of how devastating his loss had to be his wife and children.

    Many times since his death, I often wondered if Darrell had ever confessed to anyone that his personal demons had resurfaced and that he was stumbling again. I also wonder if he had been Catholic and had to confess his sins, that he might still be alive today.

    If this blog hits too close to home for you, I hope that do something about it. Don't be too proud or stubborn like Walt Kowalski to humble yourself and make a confession. Humility is one of our weapons against Satan. Remember too, humility is Christlike because Jesus gave us the most ultimate example of humility:

    • Philippians 2:8: And being found in appearance as a man, he (Jesus) humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

    © Michael J. Cox

    Thursday, March 5, 2009

    “Do This In Remembrance Of Me”

    One of the first truths I uncovered in my spiritual journey was the need for Holy Communion (aka The Eucharist or Lord’s Supper). My mother was Catholic and my father came from a Protestant background and later became Assembly of God. Consequently, I was never baptised as an infant so that I could decide my faith when I got older. One of the Catholic beliefs that I struggled with growing up was the belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

    Some Christian denominations believe Holy Communion is only a symbolic act. Well, as the bible tells us, all scripture is God inspired (2 Timothy 3:16). You can’t believe some parts of the bible and not all of it. And scripture shows the importance of the Eucharist and supports the real presence of Christ in it as I will demonstrate below.

    If we are all followers of Jesus our eyes and ears should perk up whenever he is quoted in the bible. And it should be important on how we remember him. So how does Jesus Christ really want us to remember him? With a special holiday for his birth? By wearing a crucifix around our neck? By putting up a nativity scene at Christmas? With a “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker? All of these are good things but in Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, Jesus was extremely clear on how he wanted us to remember him.

    • Luke 22:19: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."

    • 1 Corinthians 11:24: “and gave thanks to God for it (bread). Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.”

    • 1 Corinthians 11:25: In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it."

    So it should be obvious how Jesus wanted us to remember him. He doesn’t say how often we should “remember him” but I feel that this distinguishes the difference between gathering together in his name for fellowship, prayer, hymns and learning (as he says whenever two or more gather in his name, he will be there) versus attending a church service that fully honors Christ.

    As followers of Jesus, I feel that an integral part of a church service should be remembering Christ (as he asked to be remembered) everytime because Jesus Christ is the head of the church. If we are the Body of Christ, we should desire the fullness of His body.

    Symbolic Act or Real Presence?

    So now comes this issue of whether Holy Communion is a symbolic act or one with the real presence of Christ. Jesus tells us:

    • John 6:53-56, Jesus says "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”

    Some Christian denominations believe that Jesus was talking in parables here and they believe that Jesus’s teachings are the flesh and blood. They point out scriptures in John Chapter 6 (6:35 and 6:48) when Jesus says “I am the bread of life.” It is important to note that John was the only one of the four Gospels that did not write a personal testimony about the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper (link).

    Proof of Real Presence

    Apostle Paul gives us the insight that Holy Communion has the real presence of Christ to the members in church in Corinth with the following scripture:

    • 1 Corinthians 10:16: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?

    If Holy Communion was just a symbolic act with no real presence, why does Paul indicate the seriousness of eating the bread and drinking from the cup when he says we should examine ourselves before doing so? Read below:

    • 1 Corinthians 11:27-30: Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.

    Would partaking in a symbolic act cast judgment on oneself if it was purely symbolic? Paul says only if we do so without recognizing the body of the Lord and says that is why many of the members of the Corinth Church were weak and sick.

    A beautiful contemporary Christian song I recommend everyone listen to is "Upper Room" found at this link. It is the third song on the picklist: http://www.catholicmusicnetwork.com/cmn_cd_detail.asp?PRODUCT_ID=50559

    © Michael J. Cox

    Please note my May 1st, 2009 blog on Real Presence