Church of Blessed Mary MacKillop

Balclutha - New Zealand 


Catholic Beliefs. 

1. That there is a God.

Catholics go about their daily tasks in much the same way as everyone else does. They are human beings with all that goes with the condition. But they live their lives in a radically different way. They believe that there is a God who made them, sees them, and loves them. So their own attitude to life is very different from anyone who doesn't have any such belief. But let’s suppose we were living in a pre-Christian era. Let’s imagine that there was no Jesus Christ. Would we still believe in God?

I don't think you can make anyone believe in God if they are determined not to. But not to believe in God leaves huge gaps in our understanding. If I did not believe in Him then life would involve many more unanswered questions than it does already. One simple process called ‘causality’ simply observes that everything we know about has a cause. Maybe we don’t always know what the cause is, but we certainly wouldn’t say that it hasn’t got a cause at all.

You and I are here because we all had parents. So did those parents have parents. And so on. What happens if you go back and back? Even if you can't go all the way back, you know that eventually reason demands that the process must go all the way. If you find the beginner of that process then he must be the one who started it all off. It would be reasonable and appropriate to call that being ‘God.’ But who caused God? If you can find such a being then you simply have not got to the end of the process. Our understanding of the one who made everything demands that he, unlike every other link in the chain had no cause at all. To call God ‘the uncaused cause does not sound romantic, but in terms of reason, the whole chain of causality is a nonsense unless at the end of it there is a being who started it all.

It’s interesting to note that ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ requires that its members acknowledge the existence of a Power greater than themselves. If it’s a person we would call it ‘God,’ But ‘A.A.’ simply recognises the reasonableness of looking beyond themselves for the answer to life’s great mysteries, including why an alcoholic would seek to make a reason for his collapse and reconstruction. All I’m saying here is, that it is not stupid to entertain the idea that there really might be someone out there who is at the root of our own human existence. If you don’t pray, don’t know how to, why don’t you make the first attempt at contacting Him. Find a time and a place to be quite alone. Start out with the question, ”Is there anybody out there?”
 


2. In Jesus Christ.

When Jesus began to work all sorts of wonders, his hearers began to ask with awe, ”Who is he?, for even the wind and the sea obey him!” We have to go to the times when men were asking these questions. The only ones who were pleased with him were those whom asking these questions. The only ones who were pleased with him were those whom he had cured, and the poor and the law-breakers who knew instantly they had a friend.

But when he began to say and do things that seemed to indicate that he was more than just a human being like them, those in charge didn’t like that a bit. “Who does he think he is? We know him. He comes from our village, his parents are just ordinary people like us.” The religious leaders did not like him. He challenged their authority, he criticised the way they claimed God for their father, yet they themselves didn’t seem interested in the ordinary people. Everybody knows that he was an extraordinary teacher, but his teaching was not about putting new burdens on them. He actually preferred the company of the down-and-outers. In the end they crucified him. But he rose from the tomb, defeating death, and leaving no doubt in the minds of his followers that he was truly alive in spite of being crucified. His followers were so convinced that he really was alive that they were quite prepared to proclaim his teachings, even in the face of persecution. In fact most of them gave their lives for him.

So who was he? It took the Church about three hundred years, long after it emerged from centuries of persecution, to proclaim that he was both human and divine, both God and man. He called himself the Son of God. If he really was that, then he was a most unique being. Obviously he was a man. Now we are saying he was Son of God as well. One person with two natures, that of God and that of us. So he is quite unlike anyone else we know. His humanity is identical to ours, but he possesses the nature, and the power of God just like his Father, and as we shall see, just like the Holy Spirit, who took over his mission in the world after Jesus went back to his Father.
 


3. In The Church

After Jesus returned to his Father his followers went, as they had told him, to await the coming of the Spirit, whatever that might mean. The coming of the Spirit was accompanied by spectacular sights and sounds. But what was even more astounding was the change in this small group of followers. They were filled with a confidence which must have amazed them, as well as everyone else. They were determined, resolute, and ready to work and suffer for what they believed. They went off fearlessly proclaiming Jesus as Saviour, and most of them died for doing just that. Such was the birth of the Church. Most people who have any commitment to religion and to the person of Jesus Christ have no problem about what Jesus said and did. They accept the Scripture, even to making it the sole and exclusive rule of their faith. If God said it, or Jesus did, then that’s fine. They will accept it without reservation.

But when it comes to the Church they have many reservations. “man-made laws’ is a common restriction about accepting what the Church teaches. For the first Christians it was entirely different. They believed enthusiastically and without reservation that one very good reason why Jesus left the earth was so the people he left in his place should occupy the place that he had once held. They did not expect to see Jesus until the end of time, and in the meantime they themselves were the authority of God for all men and women on earth. The belief of the Church is that it has been given authority from Christ himself, and that the Spirit will remain with the Church as long as the world lasts. This notion is of crucial importance when trying to understand Christianity.

The Church is made up of all conditions of men and women, with all the strengths and weaknesses of humankind. Yet the Church stands before God in the place of Jesus, not supplanting him, but as the actual presence of Christ in the world. For Catholics, salvation is mediated precisely through the Church. It is not a ‘God and me’ relationship alone, although that remains important. If Jesus had told his followers just to roam around the world obeying whatever instinct seem to be appropriate, that would be fine. But it’s not what happened. Jesus set up the Church under the guidance of the Spirit. That’s why we listen to what the Church is saying. For me, salvation would not be available, unless it came through the very vehicle he set up precisely for my salvation, namely the Church.


4. In The Seven Sacraments

BAPTISM is the first of the Seven Sacraments. These sacraments use ordinary natural elements to produce an effect which is spiritual.

In baptism we use water which is a sign of new life, but when the priest says, while pouring the water, "I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy spirit," then the child literally receives new life in a way he did not have it before. He belongs to God in much more than merely a natural way. This is above nature.

While the other sacraments have particular effects, such as marriage or priestly ordination, baptism is the foundational sacrament. No matter what exalted dignity one may possess, the primary sacrament is this one. It makes all of us equal. We become Christians, children of God and members of the Church. In an absolutely unique way we now belong to God.

CONFIRMATION  is the sacrament now received next after baptism. It is not regarded as any form of adult response to faith. In the early Church it was administered by the Bishop as a seal on the Baptism already received. The new Christian was baptised for 'the forgiveness of his sins,' and the right of initiation into this company of Christians.

Today the sacrament can be received at any age, although the usual age would be about ten to twelve years .This is the sacrament of the Holy Spirit. When the bishop administers this sacrament he says ,"Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit." So this is an abiding presence of the Spirit. Those who are confirmed have the Spirit as it were, at their disposal. He is constantly present, available for enlightenment, discernment, wisdom and encouragement. He is the supreme gift of God's presence forever. So whether we are old or young, or whether we are suddenly in need of inspiration and guidance, it is this abiding presence which sustains us.

MARRIAGE In the eyes of the Church this is a bond created by the free consent of the partners. Prior to giving their consent they would be free either to give it or withhold it. But once given the bond is eternal. The purpose of the Sacrament of Matrimony is aimed precisely at the growth of the marriage bond itself. It lies apparently dormant, but ready to be activated whenever it is required.

No one would say that marriage is easy in society today. Modern attitudes of the young couple demand that they possess all the modern gadgets and labour-saving devices available. Parents of my generation simply did not buy if they could not afford it.

The Church's view is that only marriage gives meaning to sexuality. Sexual activity for the married is something that cements their already permanent relationship into something fine and continuously growing and developing. Without this meaning sexual activity is regarded as selfishness and without meaning apart from having a passing gratification. This couple have been married for fifty years. They have a family of six to whom they are devoted, and who keep returning to their home to renew the bonds they have formed.

Both closer to eighty than seventy, they have learned what total devotion is all about. In learning about each other they have discovered that the notion of a God who loves us perfectly is no exaggeration.

The rules of the Church and those of contemporary society are now so divergent that marriage is often considered a social formality. Divorce requires little more than that the couple have lived apart for two years, and that they testify that the marriage has failed irretrievably. The State claims the right to makes such laws for its subjects.

So the pressure on young couples is enormous. It takes a very strong and enduring love and devotion to forgo having all the good things that their contemporaries possess. The very conflict involved in making money when it is detrimental to the life of the family is something all young married couples must come to grips with.

PRIESTLY ORDINATION AND THE MASS In Catholic Theology a man ordained a priest has sacramental powers which are not given to those not ordained. The chief power is involved in "saying mass." When, at the Last Supper Jesus took bread and gave it to his Disciples in the upper room, he added, "Take and eat, this is my body broken for you." Then he handed them the cup of wine and said, "This is my blood poured out for you. Drink this all of you."

Clearly the reference was to what would take place the very next day. He literally gave his body and blood. On the cross his body was broken and his blood poured out. Because Jesus was God he was able to anticipate for the sake of those at the supper, what was going to happen the next day. In exactly the same way those of us who have come after the events of Good Friday are able to share in the dying and the rising of Jesus Christ just as truly as the Disciples did before the physical event took place. On the road to Emmaus some of the disciples had exactly the same experience after the event as the Disciples did before it.

So do we today. By the ministry of the ordained priest he brings into our 'today' what Jesus did for the twelve, and for the men on the way to Emmaus. So the priest is revered, not for his personality, which can be anything that is human, but for his function of "Saying Mass" which he regards as a treasure in an earthenware container.

THE FORGIVENESS OF SIN Only God can forgive sin because ultimately He is the one who is offended, beyond the person we may have hurt, or the commands we may have broken. In the Upper Room after his resurrection Jesus said to his Disciples, "Receive the Holy Spirit. those whose sins you forgive are forgiven. Those whose sins you retain are retained."

The early Church recognised that such power had indeed been given. The Church's confession included the giving of Baptism 'for the forgiveness of sins.' The first converts to Jesus were adults, so their reception to this new Church of Jesus included not only believing in him and the followers he had appointed. It also included the very necessary forgiveness of sins. This was no formality to impress others who might observe their reception into the Church. This was an interior thing. A conversion. A turning away from all that had been sinful and wayward. A conversion of heart.

Today, although adult conversion is no rare event, it is more common for parents to bring their babies for baptism. The Church has long upheld the validity of baptising babies, even though they are not able to choose, or express anything except perhaps an occasional wail!

What, you may ask, about those who, though baptised. nevertheless fall back into serious sin. Obviously baptism cannot be repeated. The Church's tradition has been to embody this power in the priest, by virtue of his ordination. So the priest uses the words, "I absolve you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy spirit." The penitent sinner accepts that when these words are uttered his sins are taken away just as surely as when the Disciples, and indeed Jesus himself, used the words.

The priest is bound by solemn secrecy, and the penitent knows that this is no magic' let out' allowing him licence to return to his practices of sin. In fact any Catholic would never dream of using it this way. He probably would not use the sacrament at all until his repentance was genuine.

The Sacrament of Anointing When Jesus was on the earth he did and said many things, which only He could do. So the question arises, Is there any continuity? Is there any way that healing can go on, even though Jesus has left the earth? What happens between God and the individual soul cannot be determined, not even by the Church. But having said that, we know that Jesus did choose the Church. He founded it. He gave it authority. He obviously meant it to be the ordinary way that those who belong to it should be in constant touch with him. Otherwise we would be left with the conclusion, that while it must have been nice for the people who lived in his time, we who did not live then, are doomed to some kind of remote contact.

The definition of a Sacrament is that it is an outward sign of inward grace. There is a certainty about a Sacrament which we do not have, even about the way our prayers will be answered. In other words, the belief is that if the words and actions are said and performed accurately by a designated person, using this Sacrament, then the effects follow.

When someone is sick it is the custom to ask the priest to anoint the person with the oil blessed by the Bishop in the week before Easter. These blessed oils are sent to the various parishes in a Diocese for various purposes, one of which is for the anointing of the sick. "Through this holy anointing," says the priest, "May the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy spirit. May He who saves you from sin, save you, and raise you up." But even then, what happens to the sick person relies ultimately on the choice of God

 


5 IN THE UNIQUE PLACE OF MARY:

The Catholic view of Mary is that of all women she alone was chosen for this unique role of being the mother of God. How can anyone be God's mother? You may well ask. Catholic teaching from the Council of Nicaea declared that Jesus was divine, that he was the Son of God. God of course, we understand to be one in nature but three in person. It is this second Person of the Trinity (Father, Son and Spirit), who in our human history took our nature as well as that of God, which he always had. So Mary was instrumental in the Divine plan.

Because of this we regard Mary as substantially different from every other woman ever born. This does not make her divine, but it certainly makes her unique. She is not a goddess, but Jesus associated her in a particular way in his own human upbringing, and in his death of the cross. The Gospel says. she 'pondered these things in her heart,' and that,' beneath the cross, there stood Mary his mother."

So the whole tradition of the church, especially in its devotional lie holds Mary in special veneration. Not only did she bring Jesus to birth, but she followed him, meditated on his meaning, followed him in his mission, and supported the infant church after Pentecost.

Christians do not argue about the theology of Mary. Some say, "Well I don't deny it, I just don't make a big thing of it." That is an understandable tradition. But for Catholics their experience of devotional life always includes Mary. Their practice of piety and prayer would not be complete without her.


 

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