The Smoking Priest

The Smoking Priest

Are All Religions the Same?

“They call you Christ, Vishnu, Buddha, Jehovah, Our Lord.  You are Govindam, Bismillah, Creator of All.  You are the One, no matter what.”  These are the words that George Harrison sang in his 1981 song “Life Itself” recorded on the album “Somewhere in England”.  The lyrics denote a common belief that all religions are equal and that all paths lead to eternal salvation.

The Gospel says something very different: “I am the gate.  Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture”. (John 10: 9)

Are all religions equal?  Are all religions worshipping the same God?  Does it really matter what religion I belong to so long as I am a good person?

To answer these questions let us first divide religions into two categories: non-Christian religions and Christian religions.

To be a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jew or a member of any other non-Christian religion is not the same as being a Christian. The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.  She esteems the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrine which, although differing in many ways from her own teachings, nevertheless often contain seeds of the same truth which enlightens all peoples.[1]

Nevertheless, Christianity proclaims the fundamental belief that Jesus, through the mystery of the Incarnation, died on the cross and rose from the dead for our salvation.  He came as the way and the truth, not as a way and a truth among many others.  “Only in him is there salvation; for all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved”. (Acts 4: 12)

Unfortunately, due to many sad historical disputes, Christianity is divided into many different denominations.  All Christians hold much in common, but at the same time, there is much that divides us.

The Orthodox Churches are the closest to the Catholic Church.  They do not have full communion with the Catholic Church because they do not accept the primacy of the pope.  But, they do remain close to us because they have apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist.

The Protestant ecclesial communions are considered as our separated brothers and sisters. Those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, although imperfect, with the Church.  These communities have elements of the truth, but they do not possess the fullness of the truth as does the one Church which was established by Jesus on the Apostle Peter.[2]

While the Church looks upon all religions with respect, dignity, collaboration and dialogue, it cannot subtract from its divine mandate “to teach all nations”. (cf. Matthew 28: 16-20)   The Acts of the Apostles, through the words of Peter, reminds us of the missionary activity of the Church which stems from the reality that the risen Jesus is indeed the savior of the world. “He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’.  Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day”. (Acts 2: 40-41)

In conclusion, what practical lessons from this Sunday’s liturgy can we apply to the living out of our daily lives?  First of all, as Catholics we must proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ by the authentic witness of our actions.  True witness of discipleship is always more convincing than empty words.  Secondly, Catholics must make an asserted effort to know the Faith.  Ignorance on the part of many regarding the most rudimentary aspects of Catholicism is astounding.  Most people can rattle off the results of the weekend sporting events, but how many people can list the Ten Commandments or the Seven Sacraments?


[1] For a complete understanding of the Catholic Church’s relationship with non-Christian religions, cf: Vatican Council II, Nostra aetate and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Jesus.

[2] For a complete understanding of the Catholic Church’s relationship with Christian religions, cf: Vatican Council II, Unitatis redintegratio, Dominus Jesus (CDF), and Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church (CDF).

Getting Real and Getting Serious

Getting directions from someone when you are lost can be a frustrating experience.  Perhaps you scramble for a piece of paper to scribble a few indications like “go right at the light and then take your first left”.  Maybe the person who gives you directions is wrong, and instead of a right, you should have taken a left.

Sometimes you come across a kind person who says “Come, I will take you there”.  In this case, the person is the way and you cannot go wrong.

Jesus tells us that he is the way.  Jesus does not give us advice and directions; he takes us by the hand and leads us to eternal life in heaven.  He does not tell us about the way, he is the way.

Christianity is essentially different from all other religions because the Christian does not merely follow a series of rules and regulations, nor does he submit himself to a guru’s indications of how to live certain austere principles.

Christianity is not about a what, but about a whom.  Ultimately, Christianity is about relationship and of course, the greatest relationship of all.    Christianity is about a relationship with the best friend anyone could ever have; i.e., Jesus Christ.  “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

Married couples, boyfriends and girlfriends and even dear friends understand what relationship is all about.  True friendship is true personal love. True friendship is not based upon an arrangement of rules.  Friendship goes much deeper than this.  Friendship is a relationship.

Through the Easter mystery of Baptism, we are incorporated into Christ.  This life of sanctifying grace launches us into an awesome bond with Jesus Christ. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”. (1 Peter 2: 9)

Our relationship with Jesus is personal.  He is real because he is alive.  He is a living person that sees you, that hears you, that speaks with you and that walks with you.  He is there to bless you and to strengthen you.  He is with you to sustain you and to dry your tears.  Jesus is always there because he has truly risen on Easter Sunday morning.

Our relationship with Jesus is real.  Before his death on the cross, in the intimacy of the Upper Room where he imparted to his dear friends his last words before his Passion and Resurrection, he said: “If you love me, keep my commandments”. (John 14: 15)  Love is not based upon empty words and wishful thinking; love is translated into action.

When Jesus speaks to us in the Gospels about humility, service, patience, chastity, honesty, apostolic zeal and the other gospel virtues, he calls us to put these virtues into practice within the circumstances of our daily lives.  We show Jesus our true love by doing gospel deeds.  Our relationship is so personal, that we become another Jesus.  We talk like him, we think like him, we feel like him and we act like him.  Authentic relationship automatically brings us to imitation.

Any true friendship needs to be nourished by relationship.  When we spend a lot of time away from a friend, the friendship begins to die. The adage: “Out of sight, out of mind”, is very true.  In order to love, we need to spend time with the Beloved.  Contemplative prayer, the assiduous meditation of the Scriptures, the daily reception of the Eucharist and frequent Confession are the preferred moments of intimacy with the risen Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

My new book, Get Serious! A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics will give you the practical stuff that you need to live a serious relationship with Jesus Christ.

If you want to get real, read my book.

 

Did Jesus Rise from the Dead Naked?

There is something in the Gospel of Saint John that I never understood.  Why did Mary Magdalen think that the Risen Jesus was the gardener?  Gardener?  What’s the deal?  “Supposing him to be the gardener…” (John 20: 15).

Think of a place on earth that is very, very hot.  Think of a time when there were no washing machines; no dry cleaners; no Malls to buy clothes; people making their own clothes; people having only a few outfits.

During the time when Jesus walked the earth, gardeners worked naked.   Naked?  Yep, they sure did.

So, if Mary Magdalen looked upon a naked man and thought that he was the gardener, could it be possible that Jesus rose from the dead naked?

OK, before you have a heart attack, consider this:

Referring to John as he waited for Peter before entering the empty tomb, the same narrative says: “he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground…” (John 20: 5).  Then when Peter enters the tomb, the Gospel tells us that “he saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself” (John 20: 6-7).

Unless I am missing something, Jesus did not go to the Mall to buy a new set of clothes before leaving the tomb on Easter Sunday.

He rose from the dead naked.  He appeared to Mary Magdalen, naked.  I do not know if someone gave him a robe later on, but one thing is certain from the Scriptures: Jesus rose from the dead naked.

Now that you have gotten over your heart attack, why is all of this so essential?

We live in a pornographic culture.  Maybe you are one of the millions of people in America who are addicted to pornography.  What is pornography?  It is a lie.  It is counterfeit.  It is a distortion.  And you know who the father of lies is, right?

The only way that Americans will be able to free themselves from their addiction to pornography is through the truth of the human body.

Go to Rome.  Enter into the great basilicas; the museums; the plazas and what do you see?  The naked body; the truth of the body.

And you know what?  In Rome you don’t see the pornography and the strip joints that you see in America.  Why?  Because the Romans, like everyone who lives in a Catholic culture, are immersed in the truth of the body.

Catholicism is physical.

We have art and music. We have poetry and incense.  We have feast days with food and wine.  We have gardens and fountains.  We have saints and mystics, some of whom are incorruptible.   We are immersed in the physical because Jesus has risen from the dead with a glorified body.  He is not the product of the imagination of his disciples.  He is physical!

“The glory of God is man fully alive” are the beautiful words of Saint Irenaeus.

OK, I am not advocating Catholic nudist colonies.

But what I am talking about is the fact that America needs to come out of the lie and see beauty and truth anew.  Too many Americans are walking around like zombies because they are immersed in the pornographic.  It is all around us.

We need a new romance.

We need to fall in love again.

As Saint Augustine says, “To fall in love with God is the greatest of romances, to seek Him the greatest adventure, to find  Him the greatest human achievement.”

Perhaps the notion of the nakedness of the Risen Jesus is difficult to consider, even daunting to write about.

However, is not the Eucharist the Risen Body of Jesus?  Cannot we affirm that the Risen Jesus is naked in heaven?  Thus, cannot the naked body of Jesus draw us out of sin and allow us to see our own body and every other body in a different way, free from lust?

Although we will always struggle with concupiscence until the resurrection of the body, is it not possible for the naked Risen Jesus to free us from lust and allow us to love correctly?

In other words, is it not possible that the exposed Eucharist more clearly draws us, through grace, to understand the nuptial relationship between me and God?  Is it not possible that the exposed Eucharist more clearly makes the Body of the Lord a gift for me and me a gift for Him?

Theologically, there is no difference between the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the Tabernacle and the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the Monstrance.  But, we do use the word exposed.

Is this not the same as saying naked?

Is He not open, vulnerable and exposed for us, so that we may receive His love?

Is it not possible that the Risen and naked body of Christ, solemnly exposed in the Monstrance, can free us from the darkness of lust so that we can see our body and the bodies of others with a new vision, the vision of the redeemed?

 

 

The Day We Call Good Friday

Had Jesus of Nazareth been a Roman or a Greek, certainly his contemporaries would have left behind statues in his honor.  However, because the Jews had a strict understanding of idolatry, their interpretation of the Mosaic Law did not allow them to make any images whatsoever of any human person. It would have been interesting if we had been left something that would illustrate the physical attributes of Jesus.

The accounts written by the Evangelists depict Jesus’ great capacity for physical activity.  The long hours spent at hard work in the carpenter shop had prepared him well for the grueling task of his  ministry.

He walked many miles under the blazing Middle Eastern sun in order to preach the Kingdom of God.  He slept many nights under the stars and he spent much of that time in the bliss of silent prayer.  He found little time to eat because of the multitudes seeking his healing touch, and yet when he did find time to rest, he slept so profoundly that not even a terrible storm could awaken him.

His body was strong and so was his soul.  During the hours of tribulation in  Gethsemane, he persevered in profound prayer while the apostles slept.  When Joseph of Arimathea requested his body for burial, Pilate was surprised to discover that Jesus had died so quickly.

Jesus did not display his divinity in the manner of the mythical figures of Greek and Roman literature.  He did not fly from place to place as though he were some sort of superman. Amazingly, in him the supernatural and the natural were interwoven.  His divinity seemed so simple and normal.

No mysterious beams of light, flashes of lightning, or peals of thunder occurred as he performed his miracles.  Instead, it was enough for him to touch, or be touched.

Only once did he show the magnificence of his divinity before a select group of apostles.  Even then, the experience was brief, simple, and discreet.

Aside from his physical attributes, Jesus knew exactly what he wanted.  He was one with his mission.  Everything that he did proceeded from his passionate desire to fulfill the will of the Father.

Unlike the complicated discourse of many philosophers and religious leaders, his teaching is simple and easy enough for everyone to understand.  The message is so clear and precise that his words are irresistible to all those who listen.

Tacitus (54-119 A.D.), Suetonius (75-160 A.D.), and Pliny the Younger (61-115 A.D.) of the ancient Roman Empire all give written historical testimony about the existence of Jesus.  Jewish thinkers Philo (died after 40 A.D.) and more importantly Flavius Josephus (born 37 A.D.) also give written historical testimony about Jesus and his work.  Keep in mind that that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled 1,093 prophecies of the Old Testament.

When we consider all that Jesus said and did, we are faced with the dilemma that C.S. Lewis wrote about in his book Mere Christianity: either Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or he is who he says that he is: Jesus the Christ.

 

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