All posts by Shaun McAfee

Shaun McAfee is a veteran of the Air Force and current civilian in the Army Corps of Engineers as a Contract Specialist. He blogs at ShaunMcAfee.com. Currently he is pursuing a Masters in Dogmatic Theology with Holy Apostles College and Seminary where he also serves as the Social Media Director. He also works for Patrick Madrid's Envoy Institute as the Social Media Administrator. A convert to Catholicism, he loves learning, explaining, sharing, and defending the faith. He is married and has two boys named Gabriel and Tristan. They live in Omaha, NE.

My Dream Has Come True

If 10 years ago you were to have told me I would be a Christian, I would not have believed you.

If five years ago you were to have told me I would be a Catholic, I might have puked.

If on the day of my confirmation to the Catholic Church you were to have to me I would author books on the Catholic faith, I would have laughed.

From the moment I picked up the Cross and began following Jesus I wanted to influence people. I didn’t want acclaim or praise, I just wanted to help make disciples. Then, years later, my faith began to take a turn. My eyes and ears and heart were turning toward Rome. How little did I know about the Eucharist, the Church, history, and the many weeds of lies that I was told about Catholicism.

A friend of mine handed me Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn. The book was not the treatise on theology I thought it would be, and I don’t think it was meant to be. What happened, though is I began to ask myself, “Could this be true? And if it is, this changes everything.” After I read it and the books Scott suggested, then more books, there was no other choice. It was Catholicism or nothing. It was because I realized that following Jesus meant following His Church.

But I wasn’t going to stop there. Soon after converting I started a Masters in Theology program with Holy Apostles College and Seminary, an experience that has fed me and made great improvements on my writing and knowledge. I also had a blog before I converted, where I wrote about apologetics. It was never much of a success – must have gotten 5 views a month and that was likely only from me refreshing the page after edits.

I had a lot to learn and a voice to find, but that all picked up quickly after a shot-in-the-dark email to the then editor of Ignitum Today, Stacy Trasancos. She let me get a monthly spot with IT and very quickly I found my voice, got myself a new website, www.shaunmcafee.com, and all the social media accounts I needed. I got to know everyone I could and asked every question about how they went about their writing. I have met so many great and unselfish people in the online world that I truly cherish.

It wasn’t long before I decided to start thinking about writing a book. Stacy had turned her recent Masters thesis into a self-published ebook with Amazon. I saw others were doing it too, so I wanted to follow suit. On the doorstep of one of my parishioners, it hit me like a truck: a book idea about what Catholics can learn from Protestants in evangelization. The reason it came up is that we were out going door-to-door evangelizing, and the gentleman said he wished that in some ways we would take lessons from them. I committed at that moment to writing the book.

I got writing and made an outline and also recruited a small team of advisers who could provide some lite editing. After familiarizing myself with the writing guidelines of the top publishers, and by the suggestion of one of my author friends, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to submit to a real publisher first. After I had written most of the book I began to seek opinions. To my delight, I received input from accomplished writers on everything from content to book recommendations on how to better my writing.

Once I had written about 80% of the book and had a few chapters finalized, I submitted to the first publisher. Within two weeks the proposal was rejected. It didn’t bother me. As an unproven author I couldn’t expect my work to be accepted, and I knew that many writers get rejected several times before being accepted. Also, my attitude was one of humility: if God wanted this published, it would be. As far as I was concerned, this was His book, not mine. So I made small changes to the proposal to fit the guidelines of the next publisher and submitted to Sophia Institute Press during Holy Week.

A month a half went by and I had heard nothing other than a courtesy, “we’re reviewing your proposal” email —- which, by the way, was very nice and appreciated.

In between this, I got started on another book. After being told how, if accepted, the publisher would have changes, it made no sense to add more content. I gained a lot of excitement about the new book idea and took to writing right away, running the idea by a bunch of friends and associates.

An email came in late May that had me popping champagne. Without proposal, my college VP told me that he and another friend/staff/professor were going to start a new publishing LLC by the end of the Summer and offered to accept my newest book idea. His friend, who had also advised me on my proposal to Sophia, has written over 50 Catholic books. How could I not accept? So I did.

Not a week later, I was checking my email and noticed I had one from my contact at Sophia Institute Press. My heart was racing to hear the news, or the update. Maybe it was a rejection, maybe it was just a question. I had to open the email with a prayer and a reminder that this is God’s work, not mine.

The email started off with a “sorry”. I squinted. “Sorry I took so long to get back to you on this.” In a split second my thoughts raced as to what the next sentence could be. It continued, “We are very interested in this and eager to keep the conversation going … here is your editor.” I cheered. I almost cried. I’m almost crying typing this now, thinking of all the dramatic changes that God has brought me through and planting inside me so many hopes and dreams. I cheered so loud, my wife assumed there was a huge goal in a hockey game on TV. By God’s grace and love, I had finally met one of my life’s longest and largest goals, to write a book on a religious topic.

Not just one book, two were accepted. However, once the email and the contract came from Sophia, the reality set in. All the patient waiting and praying, all the doubts I had about my own voice, not being sure if I was being a narcissist, all of it, gone. So with that, here’s a quick synopsis of the titles (both of which are subject to change).

A Convert’s Playbook:. Protestants have had a leg up on us for years in evangelization. It’s not their theology, it’s their enthusiasm for the sharing the Gospel, and not to mention, they have a lot of great techniques and tactics in doing to. It doesn’t hurt to take a page out of their book, so how can we engage the New Evangelization through this lens? In the book I discuss telling your personal testimony, reading the Bible more, placing stress on a personal relationship with Christ (and the Church), what the parish can do better, and how to go forward in the battle against secularism alongside our true brothers in Christ.

The Convert’s Guide to Surviving Catholicism: The book coverts two ideas: what you can expect after converting, cause there is a lot more to know than what RCIA covers, and how you can get plugged directly into the missionary role of the Church, be involved, and find your vocation.

Six Reasons It’s Totally Fine to Never Get Married, a Response to Huffington Post

The Huffington Post recently released an article titled “10 Reasons It’s Totally Fine to Never Get Married.”  The reasons are as bad as you might be thinking. Reasons like:

– “For men, being married could be connected to being overweight.”
– “Most people aren’t in a hurry to get married anymore.”
– “Marriage can present a slew of financial problems.”
– “Getting married can put your friendships at risk.”
– “Marriage can lead to the risky habit of relying on one individual for every emotional need.”
– “These days, a happy marriage requires a serious commitment of time and energy that can be hard to maintain”
– “And, as dim as it sounds, plenty of marriages in this country end up in a divorce anyway.”
– “Plus, there’s a good alternative to marriage. It’s called a civil union or a domestic partnership.”

In other words:

– You might gain weight.
– Make decisions based on data and the status quo.
– You have to spend money on someone besides yourself.
– You might actually spend time with the person you married, and less time with the people you didn’t.
– Who likes relying on people? That’s risky!
– Commitment is boring and requires effort, which is lame.
– Other people give up, you could too.
– Marriage requires legal commitment, and that’s a lot to think about. Instead of commiting your whole person to someone else, just use this half-hearted alternative that gives you some legal benefits.

This is what we are up against. Are the reasons here something that couples should consider? Sure, of course. Marriage does require commitment and energy, and you do have to weigh every decision for two (or more if you have little ones) people including eating habits, finances, and how much time you want to spend with your friends. But these aren’t reasons that make it “totally fine” to never get married.

Our self-asorbed society is an embarrassment, and not only that, but it blunders one of the greatest institutions of mankind: the complete, selfless, and unequivocal giving of oneself to another. Yes, marriage is difficult at times, but it is worth so much more than these asinine reasons. The level of reward received from marriage triumphs over these selfish and childish reasons.

The problem with the list they have created is that it missed the entire point of marriage: the other person. When you get married, you say in a number of words or deeds, “I will do whatever it takes to make you happy.” Didn’t they watch Frozen?

oLAF

The bass-ackwards philosophy of our culture, though, tells us we have to make decisions that only benefit us. Where is the honor in that? If that is the way people are making decisions, then yes, please do not get married!

As awful and wrong as the writers often are at Huffington Post, the issue is not that they said people shouldn’t get married. There are people who shouldn’t be married. The issue is that they start from the wrong material end, ergo their reasons are half-hearted.

There are also good reasons people who can marry, should wait.  Here are the real reasons why you might want to wait, or never get married at all.

– You’re a priest.
– You’re already married!
– You aren’t open to having children.
– You’re not ready to commit entirely.
– You’re not ready to share a legal and financial life with someone else.
– You are currently discerning a call to the consecrated life, be it hermit, priest, nun, etc.
– You’re “unequally yoked”, in other words, you have a mixed marriage. Though the Church grants these, the Catechism says much on the topic and of its discernment, “difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated” (CCC 1633).

I’m sure there are more. Again, the problem is not that the original author suggested someone shouldn’t get married, the problem is in their social philosophy. To the author, marriage better benefit the user, or else, what’s the point?

The point of marriage is not to be loved, but to love. Love though, has a way of reciprocating itself, so that the more you love your spouse, the more you will be loved in return.

Mark Driscoll’s Lies About the Apostles Creed

I haven’t watched a Mark Driscoll video in so long because it’s like a drinking game: take a sip each time he makes something up, adds to history, or condemns another Christian denomination because they disagree with his interpretation.

Here’s a quote from one of his videos.

“The Apostles creed was a summary doctrinal statement put together by early Church Bible teachers and the original version did not say that Jesus went to “hell”. There was an edited version that came out in 400 A.D.”

Mark Driscoll is the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. He’s a know-it-all, though he wouldn’t ever say it in those words. Instead he makes it his weekly routine to convince his audience that nobody is right except for him – and yet condemns the Catholic Church for claiming papal infallibility.

Out of the many videos on the internet of him picking apart doctrines, one will be hard pressed to locate one statement where he praises another for their interpretation and correct articulation of scripture/doctrine. His style is attractive to many. Having majored in Communication, he knows how to make people listen, and it works. Even though we might get mad at him, he is an effective voice.

But no matter the effective level of communication, it’s all a wash if it isn’t true. If the opposite were the case, Moses was in trouble.

This video of his is no exception. He takes a topic as easy to understand as “descended into hell” and turns it into a smug attack on the Apostles creed. It starts when he says that some of his audience recited the Apostles creed as children and were taught that Jesus went to “hell”.

Yes, the creed does say that “he descended into hell”. He thinks, though, based on recent teachers (e.g., “on TV”) that Jesus was going to the hell, as in the hell where damned people go.

That’s not what early Christians meant. To return the sarcasm to Mr. Driscoll, I am not sure if he knows this, but the Apostles didn’t speak English nor did any of the early Christians. Therefore, no matter what, none of the professors of the Apostles creed wrote or aurally confessed “he descended into ‘hell’”.

The Latin reads descendit ad inferos. In early English translations, inferos was “hell”, but it actually means the “place of the dead” or better yet, describes the place one is when buried. The Creed is only saying that Jesus was buried in the earth when it reads “was buried, he descended into hell.”

But Driscoll complicates this. For being such a “scholar” and having the responsibility of being a pastor, he clearly does little to dig into the understanding of this single line.

“Early Bible teachers”?

Were there such things as “early Bible teachers” when the creed was in use? Well, people couldn’t be teaching from a Bible that did not exist, yet. People like Mark Driscoll simply think or assume that the Bible was in use since the beginning of the Church. That is contrary to history and logic.

The FedEx van didn’t back up to the Upper Room on Pentecost and deliver copies of the Bible. The Bible was written over the course of decades and it took even longer for Christians to start discussing which books should be read during Mass or in a church at all. Further, it took a couple more centuries in order for the Church to determine which books would be included.

The Apostles Creed was replaced by the Nicene Creed, a product of the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, while the Bible was canonized in the later part of the 4th century. Therefore, when Mark Driscoll says that “early Bible scholars” were saying the Apostles creed, he ignores history. The Bible simply didn’t exist when the Apostles Creed was in use.

Further on Creeds, they were used in early Christianity for two purposes: interrogatory, and a profession of faith. As a tool of interrogation, early Christians would repeat one part of the creed, and the other would finish the sentence. It was like a password against infiltrators who sought the demise of Christians. For example:

Inquirer: “Do you believe in God?”
Seeker: “I believe in God the Father, who is almighty and creator of heaven and earth.”

Edited version that came out in 400A.D.?

He really has me confused here. By A.D. 400 the Church would have been in the preference of using the (then) 75 year old Nicene Creed. Not leaving it up to my own understanding, I sought to find what he was talking about to no avail. History books and internet searches of trusted sites provided nothing. I didn’t find anything close, trusted site or not.

“Edited”? If he has his dates wrong and is referring to the Nicene Creed, I still do not agree with him referring to it as an “edit”. Edits are used to make small corrections. While the general content of the two Creeds, Apostles and Nicene, are the same (Father, then Son, Spirit, the Church, and the Last Things), it hardly gets by to say one is an “edit” of the other. The Nicene Creed is comprehensive, where the Apostles Creed is very basic. One is like a draft document, the other being the full report.

People attack the Catholic Church for “making things up” all too frequently when here is a popular figure amongst their own, conjuring “facts”. Not to correct him, because he won’t read this, but for you, the reader, make sure you don’t fall for everything people say about the Church. Remember this is Christ’s bride and last time I checked He is faithful and would not lead His bride into heresy.

A Different Take on Singing Italian Sister Cristina Sciuccia

By now everyone has seen the Italian Ursuline Sister, Cristina Sciuccia, on the Italian show equivalent of “The Voice.” Go here if you need a refresher. Everyone seems to have voiced his or her opinion in a combox or bloggers in their own blog. I’m fine with most of them but I haven’t heard anyone yet project an opinion close to mine which is: Why all the fuss? This sort of thing is already happening. Let me explain.

There are those of the opinion that this is not the job of a nun. Some think she should work on her vocation instead of singing on a stage. Some were deeply moved by her performance, citing the clear movement in the heart of one Ajax (isn’t that a soap?) on the show itself.

I wonder what the objectors to this nun’s performance think priests and those of consecrated/cloistered orders do with their time? Can a priest or a nun not have a hobby or be good at something other than prayer, and use that to inspire others?

For Example, Trappist monks have been crafting and selling beer said to be some of the world’s finest, and nobody seems to want to take up an argument about that. These beers go for some $80/bottle. Is that their vocation? No, but it does have a place in their Christian life. Let me put it like this:

By working through the process and the recipe, finding the best possible taste, consistency, foam content, color, fragrance, they are participating in the process of perfection that God gave us as creations in His image. The very fact that we recognize levels of perfection is a meaningful lesson in the (Latin, quinqae viae) of St. Thomas Aquinas as proof of God’s existence, and our participation in seeking those perfections in creative processes is a direct reflection of our God. Their perfection brings God glory and since mans nature is attracted to perfection, their creativity can be a witness.

In the 17th century, a group of Carmelite nuns were doing the same thing: making beer to sell. Many convents do the same thing today. Selling wreaths, honeys, jams, sandwiches, all to support themselves and bring joy to others.

There are several other traveling Catholic singers, some of whom are in Holy Orders. The popular traveling threesome of singing priests aptly titled, The Priests, have been touring the world since the 1970s. They have also been allowed a most unusual honor of recording at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. They aren’t singing pop music but they have a huge following and inspire others in their artistic talent.

Are these three examples hobbies or vocations? My priest owns a gun. On his days off, he goes to the range. That’s his thing. He’s not joining the Army though.

Let me come at this from another angle.

The objection is also, that she is too much like the world; that Christians are called to be different from the world; that her singing on a stage, a secular one, is a sign that she is trying to be so much like the world.

First, since when is singing on stage secular? I highly doubt she is trying to become a pop star. More on that below.

Then, what about the age old Pagan influence accusations on the Church? Don’t people tell us that we are sun worshipers because our Christmas season is during the same time as the Pagan celebration of Sol Invictus? Or that we hang wreaths on our door to keep the god Saturnalia on our sides throughout the rough winter season – too much “like the world”? Yet, around A.D. 190-220 that Christians hang more wreaths and laurels than the pagans, and says, “You are a light of the world, and a tree ever green” in his defense against idolatry and worldly practices. He wasn’t condemning the décor – he was pointing out the intention behind the uses of such things compared to the pagans.

St. Patrick took a secular symbol (the three leafed shamrock) and used it to assist and illustrate his teaching on the Holy Trinity. They weren’t mixing the Kool-Aid – they were meeting pagans are their doorstep and showing them the real meanings of the things they were using.

The world and its ways can be tools for evangelists to inspire and teach, but that doesn’t mean we become like the world. I think it highly unlikely that Sister Cristina Sciuccia is using this as a platform to run away and become a pop star. Does anyone really think her convent would support her and cheer with joy behind the stage curtain as they watch her perform if they knew she was trying to have a different career?

I think people are really over-reacting to this in general. There are numerous examples of priests and nuns working in creative ways to preach the gospel. Several of our saints weren’t even granted their missionary endeavors, or permission to start their orders, upon multiple requests and we can’t let this nun have a hobby and if good enough, enter into a competition? This whole thing speaks more about the spiritual climate in Italy versus America if you ask me. Would this sort of act been possible in America? What would the reaction have been?

Either way, it’s too early to judge her actions, and really, it’s none of our business. I’m certainly not qualified to be her spiritual director – her Ursuline convent mother is. Let’s leave that sort of thing up to her convent and her local episcopate.

Seven Inspiring Movies for Lent

Lent is a great time to be inspired. If you haven’t given up your television, laptop, media, or internet, try and find one or more of these titles. Watch, pray, be inspired.

the wayThe Way – Currently on Netflix and Amazon Prime (March 2014)
(Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez)

A deeply Catholic movie. Tom (Martin Sheen) finds out his son, Danny (Emilio Estevez) has recently died on the Camino de Santiago, a Christian pilgrimage following the footsteps of St. James. His rocky relationship with his itinerant son is exposed, and Tom decides to pick up his son’s pack and walk the Camino himself.

It is a movie of joy and laughter, but ultimately one of transformation. As many experience on such pilgrimages, Tom becomes defensive, objective to the faith he is experiencing, and has to make a choice that will define his life and his relationship with his son. I can’t give it away, but the scene at the end, in the Cathedral, is worth the entire Camino. I hope to trek it one day as well.

 

 

the apostleThe Apostle – Currently on Netflix and Amazon Prime (March 2014)
(Robert Duval)

This book is used as a primer for Patrick Madrid’s newest book, . Sonny, a Pentecostal preacher discovers his wife had an affair with a youth pastor and soon his life spins wildly out of control. Running from the law, he makes a new name for himself and ends up as a radio evangelist in the bayous of Louisiana. He ignites a flame in his new found identity, bringing a whole new flock to the gospel.

The story is inspiring, one of discovery, repentance, and forgiveness. You’ll love it.

 

 

 

Passion of the ChristPassion of the Christ – Currently on Netflix (March 2014)
(Mel Gibson’s hand, Jim Caviezel)

It’s easy to say that this is a lot of people’s favorite Lenten movie. Following the last hours of Jesus’ life, the film captures the struggle of the Apostles, the trial of Jesus, and His ultimate death and resurrection. Powerful. It’s one of the few movies that demands a passionate reaction and response. It still remains the highest grossing movie of all time.

 

 

 

end of the spearEnd of the Spear

The story of the missionaries who gave their lives for the conversion of the Waodani, a brutal and aggressive Amazonian tribe, is told in detail. The famous missionaries Jim Elliot and Steve Saint are slain shortly after making peaceable contact with the Waodani. The families of the fallen recover the bodies and the torn apart plane, eventually making contact with the natives as well. They choose to live with the Waodani. Their submission becomes evangelism, and the powerful story of the conversion of the ruthless tribe is told. Simply one of the best Christian films of all time.

 

 

 

 

for greater gloryFor Greater Glory – Currently on Netflix (March 2014)
(Andy Garcia)

The true story of the Cristeros War. The people of Mexico are begotten by their own government, an atheistic one that signs into law the anti-Catholic 1917 Constitution of Mexico. A crackdown results in a violent and turbulent civil war in which the Catholic faithful are put to the test in waves of persecution. Jose Luis Sanchez, beatified by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2005, is the central figure.

 

 

 

 

schindlers listSchindlers List
(Liam Neeson)

The heartbreaking and unforgettable true story of Oskar Schindler and the thousands of Jews he rescued during the Holocaust. Magnificently directed by Steven Spielberg, this drama captures the horror of hate and the potential of self-sacrifice. It is personally, one of my “desert island” movies (if I were to have one movie on a desert island, it would be this).

 

 

 

 

les miserablesLes Miserables
(Russell Crowe, Wolverine, the Princess Diaries girl)

Look down. Hear the people sing. Build a barricade. Look down. Notre Dame. Justice. Compassion. More justice. Double the compassion. See it. Nuff Said.

 

 

 

 

 

Five FREE Activities for Lent 2014

Need something to do for lent?

How about these FREE activities. Some are from the best Catholic Universities and Colleges, others are for you and your family. Enjoy

1. Lenten Journey with Jesus: A Virtual Tour of the Geography of Jesus
(March 5 – April 17, 2014)

Absolutely free course offered by Holy Apostles College and Seminary, one of two Recommended Online Catholic Colleges from the Cardinal Newman Society. From the website:

Over the Lenten season, we will follow Jesus from his humble birth and youth in Bethlehem through his ministry in the Galilee and then to Jerusalem for his death and resurrection. This self-paced course will also consider the religious, cultural, social and political background of Jesus and the early Christians.

Students will move through each of the modules with the support of the learning community. No instructor facilitation will occur during this course.  The course is developed by William C. Mills who specializes in scripture, spirituality, and ministry and holds a Ph.D. in Pastoral Theology.

See www.hacsmooc.cc for the syllabus and easy two minute sign up.

2. Daily Lenten Reflections from Fr. Robert Barron with Word on Fire

Daily reflections from the great Fr. Barron. From the WoF website:

Each day, from Ash Wednesday (March 5) until Easter Sunday (April 20), Fr. Barron will send you a short reflection, straight to your inbox. In addition, you’ll receive exclusive videos not found anywhere else, special discount codes for new products, and giveaways throughout Lent including DVDs, CDs, signed books, and more. The best part is that it’s all FREE!

Go here for a super easy sign up.

3. Joe Paprocki’s “40 Ideas for 40 Days”

Joe Paprocki from Loyola Press presents a list of Lenten activities for each day of the season. The ideas are practical and fun but most of all they offer daily reflection on self-denial. Ideas like a salt dough crown of thorns, a group fast, scripture searches with the Rosary, Paschal Candles, and much more. There are no two similar day’s activities and it is sure to benefit your 2014 Lent experience.

Visit here to learn more.

And here to sign up.

4. Creighton University’s “Praying Lent”

Creighton University, a premier Jesuit university located in Omaha, NE is offering an online group for reading and praying through the Lenten season. The link below from the University contains oodles of resources for Lent: videos, tracts on popular Lent topics, related books, audio retreats, daily prayers, and much more.

Learn more and sign up here.

5. For the Little Ones and the Family

Catholic Moms has assembled a fine list of fun and educational activities for you and your children to work through together. Ideas are perfect for the family: resurrection eggs, palm crosses, puppet shows, and other great activities. Go here for more.

Catholic Icing has done a similar thing, listing fun stuff for Lenten kids. Visit

More…
USCCB Lent Resources “Give Up, Take Up, Lift Up!”

Originally published at

Marriage as a Vocation

Following the continuation from What Evangelical Catholics Can Learn from Protestants...

Protestants don’t typically acknowledge any of the Sacraments except for the older denominations. Though they have valid baptisms, which the Church recognizes, they do not participate in the other Sacraments. While their marriages are not sacramental, most Protestants still uphold the traditional view of marriage and treat it as it is biblically – a holy union between a man and a woman.

I enjoy reminding myself that marriage is the domestic church. Most Protestants would not disagree. So while marriage is not a topic I would say that Protestants have a more attractive use and view of, I would like to discuss this important topic because zeal in maintaining a marriage is vital for those who are called to or already part of that vocation.

You can be more involved in the Church through your marriage. There are an unlimited number of resources that a good marriage can bring to the Church. Too many times, we married Catholics look to our priests and reason, “They are involved in something so holy and important, what am I doing?” That’s understandable in our culture today because our culture puts so little emphasis on marriage in the areas that matter, and so great emphasis on marriage in areas that don’t matter. It’s not a good rationalization, especially for the married man or women, but it’s understandable.

A real marriage is observed as a church. Listen to the words of St. Paul.

For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. (Ephesians 5:23)

One of the few places “Church” (Latin, ekklēsia) appears in relation to Christ in the Bible, this verse sticks out. Together with the word “as” (Latin, hōs) which means “same manner as”, Paul is not merely writing a simile but is writing a graphic image of the reality of marriage, that Christ is the head of the Church and we who are married are as He is to the Church: one. We aren’t separated bodies but are “one flesh”, an image captured in Genesis 2:24, Mark 10:8, Matthew 19:5, 1 Corinthians 6:16, and Ephesians 5:31. As the Church aids in the dispensation of graces, marriage does even more so as a Sacrament.

Along with being an outward side of an inward grace, the very definition of a sacrament, a sacramental marriage is a vast blessing not only to the participants, but to the family, the extended family, and the community.

When a family views their marriage as a domestic church everything changes. Objectives become inter-personal, not subliminal and selfish. You will cook or mow the lawn for different motives than “it needs to be done”. Sex becomes far more enjoyable, as it is used in a way that gives both satisfaction by being pleasure givers and not only pleasure receivers. In fact, sex is the act that reflects the love between the Father and the Son who in their love process the Holy Spirit; when the marriage act is expressed, another person is created. All ways your marriage is expressed will become more invigorated because you are not working and suffering for you but for your spouse.

How does this transformation take place? Put Jesus in the middle of it all!

When we view our marriages with Jesus as the central point of focus we relieve ourselves of the need to feel like we aren’t “good enough” for the other person or that we aim too high in pleasing the other.

I tried that when I got married; I tried becoming the best Christian possible in order for my wife to continue believing I was “such a good Christian” or something to that effect. My wife was a missionary, a singer, and was fully employed in ministry before she moved in order to marry me. Many times I compared myself to her, feeling that as “the head” of my domestic church, I had to be Jesus. That’s a high and noble goal, but that work was already done on the cross. The moment I stopped viewing marriage as “Shaun and Jessica” and put Christ between us, things took an upward turn for the better. As a domestic church, remember the Trinity has three parts and so does your marriage: you, Jesus, and your spouse.

What the Evangelical Catholic Can Learn from Protestants

The word “evangelical” is familiar to most Protestants, but it is an idea that more Catholics ought to be acquainted with as well. The title of George Weigel’s book Evangelical Catholicism communicates the intersection of these two seemingly disparate concepts immediately. The reality with too many with Catholics is a more privatized faith – Catholics, even if they attend regular Mass, leave their faith at the door. What we need is a missionary faith – exactly what the New Evangelization is calling for among Catholics.

The fact is, Catholics would be wise to accept and put to use some of the evangelical tactics of the Protestants. Although Protestants lack the fullness of the faith we have as Catholics, they are miles ahead of us in the evangelical zeal with which they share their Christian faith. To this tune, I offer two ways Catholics can become more missionary oriented and evangelical both with their faith and their lives.

Reading the Bible Regularly

We should not look at the Bible only through the lens that is offered at Mass as dissected parts in the Missal. We have a real need to take the entirely of scripture from the Missal into our households. One only needs to read Psalm 119 once to figure out that our lives are dark and empty without the light of scripture. Do I need to make a case for the usefulness of scripture? I don’t think so. But here are three ideas to put into practice right away:

1.  Read just one chapter a day from your Bible. Do not start with Genesis as that could be a recipe for disaster or disinterest. Along with this, follow your Catechism by chapter and verse. You will then be immersing yourself in Holy Writ as well as the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That ought to deflect the tendency to come to personal interpretations which our first Pope speaks about at 2 Peter 1:20, “Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation.”
NOTE: This is not the solution for everyone. Like I mentioned up front, “just reading” any part of the Bible has a frequent effect of making people confused, leading to disinterest. I suggest the The Great Adventure Bible Timeline series by Jeff Cavins. Many people have come to love and understand the storyline of scripture through the great work of this Catholic revert.

2.  Begin memorizing special verses or even whole passages. Nothing will prepare you to fight against darkness like memorizing Ephesians 6 and meditating on spiritual armor, or coping with temptation like 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” When you memorize a verse, which is God’s Word, your embed God in your heart and in your mind .

3.  Discuss scripture regularly with your friends. So long as you are on your guard with #1, you will not be in danger of personal interpretation, but it is useful to apply and discover scripture in a meaningful way in your life. You will pray better, you will live better, and your faith will be increased the more familiar you become with scripture.

I was slammed hard for this in online forums, but I will hold firm: Catholics need to become more accustomed to reading scripture in private. No, I do not mean to say that Catholics should generate private interpretations. One can read the Bible and gain spiritual nourishment without discerning a heretical interpretation.

Develop Your Testimony

The most important part of being an evangelical Catholic is being able to tell others what God has done in your life. More important than apologetics, more important than memorizing the entire Catechism, is your ability to impart personal testimony on another person. Why? Nobody cares what you know until they know that you care.

Being able to talk to others about Christ is vital because it utilizes the factor that exists inside all of us: empathy. Inside all of us is the power to learn from others who have similar struggles, victories, and pain. When you share your story about your miscarriage or your addiction to pornography, you connect with others in a way that nothing else on earth can. Your testimony helps others to identify with you and in turn causes them to listen to what you have to say. It’s no form of trickery nor clever whim; rather it is a universal means of capturing another’s interest and attention. The goal is for you to then tell them how God intervened in your life, whatever that might be.

This is a quick look at a book I am in the process of writing. Would you like to read and learn more?

Why Was Jesus Baptized?

This coming Sunday is the Baptism of Jesus, which one of the most confusing topics for Christians. We have Jesus, the Man-God, a person of the Trinity, who sought baptism. It confuses people today and confused John the Baptist as well.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him. (Matthew 3:13-15)

The main question on many minds is: Why did Jesus need to be baptized?

I have heard a number of explanations for this as a former Protestant. Some say that it was to set an example. Others insist he needed the Holy Spirit to descend upon Him. What’s the right answer?

First, what is baptism?

Let’s take a reading from the Catechism:

Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit …, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission… Catechism of the Catholic Church 1215

One should naturally ask themselves: What does that have to do with Jesus? He had no sin, is the Christ, and the Church was not founded yet.

Second, let’s distinguish baptisms.

There are two baptisms we can observe in the Bible. The first of which is of John the Baptist in the Jordan. The purpose of this baptism was repentance, as the Gospel writers provide, “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins” and “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” and “John [the] Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3, Matthew 3:2, Mark 1:4, respectively).

The second is the Baptism of the Spirit, which is what the Church performs. This sacrament was given as a ministry of the Church (Matthew 28:19-20) for the purposes outlined above. More importantly, baptism is now a sign of Christ’s death as He mentions:

Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38)
and
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! (Luke 12:50)

Finally, the purpose.

Now that we understand baptism better, we can understand its purpose in Jesus’ ministry better. By being baptized, Jesus now numbers himself among sinners, wading in the water, while anticipating his death. And yet, he insists in this means of bringing forth his public life. By doing this, Jesus is not simply being an example but is accepting and anticipating the cross.

The Catechism puts it this way:

The baptism of Jesus is on his part the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God’s suffering Servant. … he is already “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. Already he is anticipating the “baptism” of his bloody death. Already he is coming to “fulfill all righteousness”,… Jesus will be the source of the Spirit for all mankind. At his baptism “the heavens were opened” – the heavens that Adam’s sin had closed – and the waters were sanctified by the descent of Jesus and the Spirit, a prelude to the new creation. Catechism of the Catholic Church 536

The purpose of Jesus’ baptism was a prelude to the cross, his full acceptance of it, and his brave anticipation of suffering for us that we might enter into the same baptism.

Distance Learning with Holy Apostles College and Seminary

Holy Apostles College and Seminary (HACS) is one of two non-residential Colleges recommended by the Cardinal Newman Society—a huge honor and privilege for any school making the short list. See that recommendation here. With a robust catolog and an honorary team of professors, HACS is the best kept secret in Catholic education. A humble size of online students make for a 1:9 student to faculty ratio. With names like Patrick Madrid, Dr. Donald DeMarco, Dr. John Finley, Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, Dr. Daniel Van Slyke, Dr. Alan Vincelette, Dr. Philippe Yates, and Fr. Brian Mullady, the HACS student receives a top-shelf education and experience.

I conducted an interview with Dr. Sebastian Mahfood, OP, who is the Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, Vice-President of Administration, and Director of Assessment for Holy Apostles College & Seminary. Dr. Mahfood is excited to tell the world about what HACS offers and what the future holds for prospective distance learning students.

What degree offerings are available online?

Holy Apostles College & Seminary offers an Associate of Arts in Theology, a Bachelor of Arts in History in the Social Sciences, English and the Humanities, Philosophy and Theology, and a Master of Arts in Theology, Philosophy, and Pastoral Studies. The college also has certificates available in each of its theology concentrations and sponsors a post-master’s certificate program in theology. At present, students can pursue up to 50% of their Associate, Bachelor of Arts and post-master’s certificate degree programs and theology certificates completely online and 100% of their Master of Arts degree programs completely online.

Are different concentrations in Theology available?

Holy Apostles College & Seminary currently offers twelve theology concentrations, including Apologetics, Bioethics (in collaboration with the National Catholic Bioethics Center), Canon Law, Church History, Divine Worship & Sacraments, Dogmatic Theology, Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Philosophical Theology, Sacred Scripture, Spiritual Theology, and Theology & Science.

What sets HACS apart from other distance learning programs, and Theology programs in general?

Holy Apostles College & Seminary is an orthodox Catholic program grounded in the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas with a mission to cultivate lay, consecrated and ordained Catholic leaders for the purpose of evangelization. We are not only a college but also a seminary that forms priests for dioceses and religious orders across the country, and we allow our lay students to study in the same academic courses with our seminarians for the greater good of both. Our online programs are thus designed for the inclusion of lay, consecrated and ordained Catholic leaders, and we find that we have a large number of students who already have professional degrees and are able to apply their rich life experiences to the growth of the community of learners they will find in each of their classes. Our online teaching faculty are dedicated to the intellectual, spiritual and moral growth of each of our students, and this is evident in the kind of classes they build within the programs in which they teach. In this way, we are not just an academic program for lay students but a program that seeks the growth of the whole person.

How would you describe the student body?

The student body is mostly comprised of lay, consecrated and ordained Catholics, but we welcome all persons with a desire to study in this kind of a community and have a number of non-Catholic students, Protestant mainline, Evangelical and others already working their way through a degree program. As Catholics, we understand our mission is to all peoples, and we welcome everyone with a desire to be formed in our mission.

What’s on the horizon for new educational opportunities at HACS (Certificates, Doctoral, Bachelors via DL)?

Holy Apostles College & Seminary expects to have all of its undergraduate offerings 100% online by early spring, 2014, and all of its theology certificate programs and post-master’s certificate programs online by summer, 2014. Throughout the spring of 2014, the college will also pursue the development of a post-master’s certificate program in philosophy. The college has a special interest in the pursuit of a completely online 36-credit doctoral program in philosophy and theology.

In addition, the college has just entered into an agreement with the Adler-Aquinas Institute to offer a Great Books major on the undergraduate level, which is expected to launch in the fall of 2014, a Thomistic Studies concentration in the graduate philosophy program along with a Christian Wisdom concentration in the theology program.

What career opportunities exist for a Philosophy or Theology major?

Persons majoring in philosophy or theology on the undergraduate level can pursue many types of careers, including teaching in private elementary and secondary schools and working in various apostolates within their home dioceses. Many students who complete their undergraduate degrees in philosophy or theology will continue their studies on the graduate level, receiving master of arts degrees that open up new possibilities in various apostolates like chaplaincy, in diocesan or parish ministry and in teaching at community colleges or within the undergraduate programs on the university level. Some students who complete their graduate degrees in philosophy or theology will continue their studies on the doctoral level, receiving doctorates that open up new possibilities for teaching on the undergraduate or graduate levels or of working within or alongside various national organizations such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate or the National Catholic Educational Association, to name a few.

What is the “MOOC”?

Holy Apostles College & Seminary is the first Catholic college ever to have offered a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC, beginning in the fall of 2012. The college has since sponsored a few MOOCs each term into which anyone with an interest in the subject matter may enroll at no charge via http://www.hacsmooc.cc. The idea behind the MOOCs is to extend the reach of the college’s mission into those publics that are not currently part of the institution’s learning community and to make available additional study opportunities for those who are. The MOOCs that are offered every semester include Online Teaching and Learning, Teaching Research Design, and MOOC Design – each through collaboration with the Catholic Distance Learning Network. Other MOOCs are offered periodically, such as Consecration to Jesus through Mary, Dante’s Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, Lenten Journey with Jesus: A Virtual Tour of Jesus’s Last 40 Days, and Atheism and the New Atheism. New MOOCs are introduced by our faculty each term, and the new collaboration with the Adler-Aquinas Institute will result in additional MOOCs offered in Great Books and in Neo-Thomism.

Where can I go to learn more about Holy Apostles?

To learn more about Holy Apostles College & Seminary, please visit us online at http://www.holyapostles.edu, or join one of our social media sites on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter @holyapostlesedu.

Catholics and the “Extra Stuff”

Recently I had a conversation with a close friend and non-Catholic. Talking about his family’s history in differing denominations, I soon found out that some of his relatives and ancestors are or were Catholic.

So I ask him plainly, “Why aren’t you Catholic, what made you decide otherwise?”

His answer was a very truthful and sincere, “I don’t need all the extra stuff. Some of my friends are Catholics, and they are happy with that but none of it matters for my salvation. What matters is the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and I can add nothing to that.”

A fine reply but I like to think that all our ancestors, if Christian at all before the 1540s, were Catholic. How do we respond to this?

Define what “extra” is.

If your objector is calling the teachings of the Catholic Church “extra,” he is relaxing their language. Others will call them “inventions.” Ask him to define these “extras” and “inventions,” and then challenge them. Ask him if he celebrates Christmas and Easter. Those aren’t found in the Bible, so why celebrate them? This happened recently. A work-mate asked me why we celebrate Christmas if Jesus didn’t, and why we celebrate Easter if Jesus didn’t. Was she really asking me if Jesus celebrated his own death, before he died? No; she was defeating her own argument by showing the difference between material sufficiency and formal sufficiency in the Bible. Positively, you are not going to find a Christian who will deny the Trinity or Easter, though they aren’t explicit in Scriptures.

For salvation and for perfection.

There are no works we can perform that add to the work of the Cross. We know that. But there are works that add to the perfection of our souls, a treasury of merit. Here, you might not be convincing them that Catholics are right about the “extras” but you can show them that certain rituals, festivals, and other practices can benefit and enhance the soul. Will you go to hell because you don’t cross yourself? No. Will you go to heaven if you do? No. Is it just as efficatious as other prayers? Yes.

On the celebrations and the like, ask him if celebrating Christmas and Easter matter for the ultimate salvation of a soul, or enhance the soul and bring closer communion and friendship with Lord.

They aren’t “extra stuff”.

There remain many other examples. Do we need to pray the Our Father? Do we need to confess at all? Should we even go to Church if “all we need is the Bible”? We are called to live our faith (Ephesians 4:1,James 2-14-26). By that charge, the only “extra” in the Christian life is something harmful to us and others.

If we are really the Body of Jesus Christ, not just a metaphor, how can anything we teach be extra?

A Biblical Look at Confession

A friend of mind had just learned of my decision to join the Catholic faith. He was nice about it, that is, he didn’t give me the “whore of babylon” reaction.

He dropped me off after a slice of pizza and said, “You know, there’s just one thing I could never do.”
“Whats that?”
“Confession. I could never confess to a priest.”
“Don’t want to or just don’t understand it?”
“Don’t understand it. It makes no sense.”
“I know what you mean. I didn’t understand it either, but you know where Jesus appears to the Apostles in John 20…” I went on with my elevator speech.
“Well that’s your interpretation, and you guys use a different Bible.”
“Right, but first of all, we both use the Gospel of John. But what did the early Christians use? They didn’t have a Bible.”
“What? Of course they did.”
“No, I assure you, the Scriptures weren’t all written the night of Pentecost.”

I was immediately cut off with, “No, Shaun, stop – please. I don’t want to hear it.” If I learned one thing for sure in Patrick Madrid‘s graduate course in Apologetics with Holy Apostles College and Seminary, it is that any argument between Protestants and Catholics eventually boils down to Sola Scriptura. It’s really a conversation for another day, or lifetime. Here though, let’s talk about how to discuss confession with your objector.

A frequent objection is the need to confess sins to a priest in order to be forgiven. Many objectors will call it an “invention”. I used to object as well, citing the Church’s medieval need of knowing the private lives of each of their adherents. Silly reasons like that were enough for me, but there exist better objections. One is that it doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible that we need to confess to a priest. Let me give praise to this objection for wanting evidence in the Scriptures. To this objection I will give three points to support the Catholic position and also a conclusion.

Objection: Confession is not biblical.

On the contrary:

Need of Confession

First, we need to understand that as human persons we are subject to imminent and sometimes frequent sin. Paul tells us in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and that implies the need for forgiveness and reconciliation. No Protestant would disagree. So the question is: do we need to confess to God the Father at all? Yes. Jesus, when asked how to pray, includes “forgive us our debts (sins), as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). If that’s not enough, John writes, “If we confess our sins, he [God the Father] is faithful and just, and will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” which is unmistakable proof that the scriptures require confession of sins (1 John 1:9). The plurality of our sins implies the plurality of confessing.

Jesus’ Authority to Forgive Sins

Indeed one won’t argue the value in confession to God. But we also know from Scripture that Jesus, a separate person of the Trinity, has the authority to forgive sins: “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matthew 9:6). Forgiving sins is a regular part of Jesus’ ministry, on earth. Right after his baptism and temptation, he is immediately doing three things: forgiving sins, healing, and teaching. These highlights of His ministry did not die with him and there must have been some means of continuing His ministry on earth.

Authority given to the Apostles

After His resurrection He appears to the 11 and says:

As the father has sent me, so I am sending you … receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:21-23).

Was Jesus talking about general forgiveness in social interaction or a real authority? The answer is in the words of Jesus. The word “sent” (Latin, apostello) is translated “to go to a place appointed” and the “sending” (Latin, pempo) is simply “to send”. Therefore, they [ the Apostles] are sent from Jesus as He was sent by God. The objector also has to understand the difference in “like” and “as” where “like” shows likeness (similarity) and “as” shows sameness. “As the father has sent me, so I am sending you” is ‘I am sending you with the authority I was sent with.’ 

Not enough on the “authority” part? Jesus makes it quite clear when He says “Whoever listens to you, listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10:16). That’s not out of context as Jesus is talking about the unrepentant towns to which the Apostles were sent with His authority. There is a clear link between repentance and the authority of the Apostles!

Conclusion: Ambassadors of Christ

Jesus left earth though, and left us a church to continue His ministry. Remember, His ministry consists of healing and teaching, as well as forgiveness of sin (Matthew 9:35, 9:6, respectively). So as the Church is His body, truly, He must have left a way in which the ministry can continue for ultimate salvation. He had the authority to forgive sins on earth and the Church continues this so long as there is an ongoing need to forgive sins. Paul clearly tells us, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). Paul then writes, “we are ambassadors of Christ” (20). Ambassadors are delegated officials sent with the authority of their higher official. Paul was indeed saying that He, as an Apostle, was trusted with the authority of the one who sent him.

There is no mistake to be made here, the Church has the authority to forgive sins. First, there is a clear need to confess sins to God in plurality. Second, Jesus had the authority to forgive sins, it was a regular part of His ministry on earth. Third, Jesus left earth but His ministry needed to continue and this authority was given to the Apostles.

The Protestant must answer this question: if each part of Jesus’ ministry was commissioned to the Apostles, why exclude forgiveness of sins? That is, if Jesus gives His Church, His own Bride, His authority to cast out demons (Mark 16:17), heal (18), and preach the Gospel (15), why is the last part of his ministry, forgiveness of sin (John 20:23), excluded? I follow-up with the answer given by Jesus to the same objection when told He was blaspheming for forgiving sin:

Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Matthew 9:5). Further, Matthew writes, “When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to human beings” (9:8).

Remember: this ministry and authority is not due to the goodness of the priest, or the poiousness of the Church. Indeed there are bad people in the Church, but the Church is intimately identified with Jesus (Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:13, 27, Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:17) who is blameless and holy (Ephesians 5:27).