Archive for the ‘Catholicism’ Category

Our Lady of Guadalupe (1531) is the name given to the Blessed Virgin Mary when she appeared in Mexico in December 1531 to Saint Juan Diego, ten years after the Spanish took over the country.

If you live in Mexico or America you have seen the picture: a woman dressed in a mantle of blue with stars of gold. Rays of light are coming out from her. The Catholic Church says it is the one true picture of Mary.

On the morning of December 9th Juan Diego, a simple Aztec farmer, was on his way to morning mass. When he crossed over a hill called Tepeyac he heard the beautiful singing of birds. Then he saw a beautiful woman dressed in blue. Light as bright as the sun was shining out from her. She called him by name and spoke to him in his mother tongue.

She told him she was the Mother of God. She wanted him to go to the city (what we now call Mexico City) and ask the bishop to build a church on that hill.

He asked her to send someone else: he was just a simple farmer in the country; the bishop was an important man who lived in a palace in the city. But Mary said no, she had chosen him.

So he went.

He sat waiting for hours to see the bishop. When he told him the story the bishop did not believe a word of it and sent him on his way.

The next day Juan Diego saw Mary again at the hill. Again she asked him to see the bishop and ask for a church to be built there. Again he waited for hours. This time the bishop asked for proof that it truly was Mary.

Two days later on December 12th Juan Diego saw her again and said the bishop wanted proof. She said go to the top of the hill, there you will find your proof. At the top were roses growing in the cold of the coming winter. He took off his cloak and Mary put the roses in it.

When he got to the bishop he opened his cloak to show him the roses. The bishop could not believe his eyes: not the roses but what he saw on his cloak: a picture of Mary. That same picture of her that you keep seeing in Mexico to this day.

The story spread like wildfire, among the Spanish, the Aztecs and the other people of Mexico. The church was built on the hill and people came from near and far. Juan Diego lived in a small house nearby and took care of the church. He told everyone about the Blessed Virgin and what she told him. In six years six million Mexicans became Christians.

If you go there now you will see a huge ugly church (now part of the city), but inside is the picture. It gets more pilgrims than any where else in North or South America.

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St Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) is one of the most famous and beloved Christian saints. He founded the religious order of the Franciscans. He is known for his love of animals, especially birds. He called them his brothers.

St Francis was born Francesco Bernardone in Assisi, a small town in the mountains of Italy. He was named for the France his mother came from, where his father often went to sell cloth. She came from Provence, land of the troubadours.

His father was rich but not a noble. To win glory and title for the family and himself Francis fought in the endless war against Perugia, a nearby city. But instead of glory and title, Francis found himself a prisoner of war. Later he had a long illness. God began to speak to him in dreams.

It took him some time to understand the dreams. In one dream God told him to rebuild his church. So he started to rebuild San Damiano, a small, broken-down church in the country where he went to pray. Not what God meant.

Francis still sought glory in war — in vain. And the dreams kept coming. In time Francis turned from war and glory to prayer and helping the poor. Humility, not honour.

Instead of selling cloth, Francis gave away the family’s money to the poor. He even had them come to eat at the house. His father was outraged, but not even prison would stop Francis from his course.

Finally his father took him to see the bishop. Maybe the bishop could talk some sense into Francis. It did not work: Francis disowned his father and even gave him the clothes on his back.

Francis walked out to the church with nothing — no money, no family, no home, trusting only in God. He preached the poor and simple life of the gospels, more by example than words. “Always preach the gospel,” he said, “by words if necessary.”

He began to gather followers, even among the sons and daughters of the rich. They knew the emptiness of wealth and saw in Francis something true and real. One was St Claire.

Francis wrote a short rule for the new order and got the approval of the pope. The Franciscan order was born.

His order was hardly the first, but it was something new. Until then members of a religious order – called monks and nuns – lived apart from the world – in their own buildings, on their own land, mostly in the country. Francis and his followers lived like Jesus: not apart from the world  but with everyone else. You saw them every day in the streets. They were called friars or brothers.

Franciscans take three vows: poverty, chastity and obedience. No money, no sex, no self-will.

The Dominican order founded by St Dominic about the same time was similar. The two orders renewed the Catholic Church, which at the time had grown powerful and corrupt. It is what God meant when he told Francis to rebuild his church.

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Catholics are those Christians who recognize the pope, the bishop of Rome, as the head of the Church. A bit over half of all Christians are Catholics. They are common in Europe, Latin America and parts of Africa. It is the form of Christianity that has most influenced the West.

The other two large branches of Christianity are the Protestants, a third of all Christians, and the Eastern Orthodox, who make up a ninth. The Orthodox broke away from the Catholic Church in the tenth century, the Protestants in the sixteenth.

Catholic ministers are called priests. Their holy book is the Bible. Their church service is called a mass.

Their leader is the pope, whom they see as succeeding St Peter as the head of the church that Jesus founded when he said in Matthew 16:18-19:

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

The pope can, when he chooses, make a statement of doctrine that is without error. This is called papal infallibility. It is not lightly used.

Between the pope and the priests in power and rank are bishops. They are found in the largest cities.

A good Catholic:

  • Follows the Ten Commandments, especially as expressed in the Golden Rule.
  • Prays, especially the Our Father.
  • Believes the Nicene Creed.
  • Goes to church on Sunday and receives the holy Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the bread and wine that the priest blesses and becomes the body and blood of Christ. Believers eat and drink it to take part in the sacrifice of Christ when he died on the cross for our sins. It is spiritual food and drink, it is the way to heaven.

The Eucharist is one of seven sacraments:

  1. baptism – at birth or when you convert
  2. confirmation – confirm one’s baptism
  3. Eucharist – receive the body and blood of Christ
  4. confession – confess one’s sins
  5. ordination – becoming a priest
  6. matrimony – marriage
  7. last rites – just before death

Baptism is what makes you a Catholic. It is the doorway to the other sacraments. The priest pours water over you and all of your sins are forgiven.

Confession: If later you commit a mortal sin, one that can land you in hell, then you must confess your sin to a priest before you can receive the other sacraments again. He must keep what you told him a secret no matter how horrible it is.

Many fall into sin and fall away from the Church for years. They are still Catholics so long as they have not joined another church or told the Catholic Church that they are leaving it.

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The pope is the bishop of Rome who is the head of the Catholic Church, the world’s greatest body of Christians.

In Muslim circles he has been called both a senior Christian official as well as Satan’s hellhound. Some Protestants say he is the Antichrist. Eastern Orthodox Christians say he is a bishop who has taken on too much power.

To Catholics he is the latest in a long line of bishops of Rome that goes all the way back to St Peter, whom Jesus made the head of the church in Matthew 16:18-19:

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

At the end of his life Peter came to Rome, where he died upside down on a cross. Catholics say that the bishops of Rome succeed Peter in power and authority.

The power of the pope has grown and shrunk through the ages:

  • At first he was just a first among equals, his authority was like that of an older brother.
  • After 500, after the fall of Rome, he became more like a king of the Church.
  • By the 1200s he commanded armies, fought wars and ruled the Papal States of Italy.
  • In the 1300s pope fought anti-pope.
  • By the 1500s the popes had grown so corrupt that they appear as evil princes in Machiavelli. Some ordinary Christians began to protest – the Protestants – and in the end left the Church.
  • In the centuries since the pope has lost his armies and now rules over the smallest country in the world: just his palace, the Vatican, and his church, St Peter’s. The two make up Vatican City in Rome. Yet even now he still acts like a king of the church: he has the final word.

Most surprising of all, the pope says that he is infallible – that he can never be wrong when he declares a doctrine to be true or false! This is called papal infallibility. Popes have used this power only two times, both in the 1900s: to say that Mary was born without original sin and that she was assumed body and soul up into heaven. Both were things the Church had believed for centuries.

This might seem like a lot of power, but it means that no pope can go against what a previous pope has said!

Like kings, a pope is pope for life. But he cannot marry so unlike a king he has no sons to take his place.

When the pope dies, the cardinals, the top men of the church including all the important bishops, come together in the Vatican and chose a new pope from their number. When they have agreed on one, white smoke appears, the bells are rung and the new pope appears before the people.

– Abagond, 2006.

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The Maronites are the largest body of Christians in Lebanon. About three Christians in five are Maronites – or one Lebanese in four. The Maronites now speak Arabic but have been there since Roman times. They even use Aramaic, the language of Jesus, in part of their mass.

They have kept their loyalty to the pope down through the ages. That makes them Catholics. But while their beliefs are Catholic, their rite — their ways of worshipping  – is Eastern, much like that of the Orthodox church. A Maronite priest, for example, can marry and their mass is in West Syrian.

They are called Maronites because their history begins with St Maron (350-410). He brought the ideas of St Antony of Egypt to Antioch and founded monasteries in and about the mountains Lebanon.

When the Arabs came in the 600s, defeating the Byzantine armies and spreading Islam, they went to live in the mountains. While everyone else was going over to Islam they remained faithful Christians through the ages — and that in spite of some terrible times at the hands of the Muslims, such as the Massacre of 1860 by the Druze.

Other Christians fleeing the Muslims also came to live with them in the mountains – the same mountains where the famous cedar trees of Lebanon grow.

Some say that the Maronites were once Monothelites, that they believed that Christ had a divine will but not a human will. The Maronites deny this as it is an idea that was condemned by the Catholic Church long ago. A sign that this might be true, however, comes from the fact that the Maronites fought against the Byzantine armies in 684 when they came to take back the area from the Arabs. The Byzantines would have forced them to give up any Monothelite beliefs while the Arabs did not care.

The French first encountered them during the Crusades when they fought together against the Muslims. Since 1648 the French have tried to protect them as much as they could. After the Massacre of 1860 they got the Ottomans Turks to agree to leave them alone and give them some amount of self rule (under threat of sending in their own army). In 1920, after the Ottoman Empire fell, the French created a new country for them: Lebanon.

Since the 1800s many have left the mountains. Some went to live in the cities along the coast, like Beirut and Tyre. There they took on Western ways much more quickly than their Muslim neighbours. Others went overseas to North and South America.

Today about half of all Maronites live outside of Lebanon, especially in Cyprus, Syria, Palestine and America.

Most of the Arabs who have come to America are not Muslims but Christians, many of them Maronites. Being white Christians they do not stick out much. Because Maronite churches are far and few between in America, many wind up becoming Roman Catholics (same beliefs, different churches and ways of doing things).

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secret history

The secret history theory says that there is a secret history that the Catholic Church has covered up. If it ever came to light, it would expose the Church as the great lie that it is. So goes the theory. The name is mine, but the theory has been around long before I was born.

The theory does hold a certain attraction. It is at the heart of The Da Vinci Code and Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels. It is held by God-fearing Baptists and godless intellectuals alike. It was the first thing I thought when the gospel of Judas came out.

Although I admit its attractions, I doubt that it is true:

First, there is no proof. A theory needs proven facts. But this theory lives not on facts, but on ignorance. Look at what it says. So the more we find out, the more the Church turns out to be right and the less true the theory.

For example, it used to be assumed that the gospels were written centuries after the facts. They had to be since they were mere fables that no one could get away with while Jesus was still a living memory. But our best knowledge now says the gospels were written only thirty to sixty years afterwards!

Or take the Nag Hammadi library. It seems these were some of the very books the Church wanted to burn! But what do they say? Where is the secret? Where are the lies exposed? Instead of overturning our ideas of the past, it only fleshes it out. We find out that St Irenaeus had given us a true account of the Gnostics all along, one that the Nag Hammadi books merely filled in. We were missing the details but not the general facts.

In fact, the only people who are shocked or surprised by books like these are those who were ignorant what the Church has said. They have kept themselves in the dark, not the Church.

If you look you will find that the Church Fathers go on and on about what the heretics believed, both to attack the threat head on and to keep the faithful from losing their way. So there is no need to wonder or invent things. It is easy enough to look up.

Most of those who put forward the secret history theory just so happen to have a theory as to what that secret history was! And it just so happens to favour their own beliefs!

But there are no solid facts to back up their secret history. It is all made up, made up to fill the holes created by their own ignorance. Just like those monstrous creatures that used to fill the maps of the Atlantic before it became well known and quite ordinary.

Well, the past is just as ordinary and it can be known well enough for those who really want to know the truth.

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