Why the Catholic Church Should Have Authority in My Life

You will have to forgive me; I have not seen the movie Frozen yet. I have been told there are some great Christian themes in the movie: sacrifice for another and other such things. The other day I was listening to the title song, “Let It Go.” It is good to sing about having the belief in oneself to be independent as long as it is independence from the world’s faulty thinking while remaining dependent on God. However, one line really, really bothered me. “No right, no wrong, no rules for me.” This is the modern cry: There is no absolute right or wrong. I am my own god. I determine what is right and wrong for me. I don’t need rules. I don’t need anyone to tell me what to do. Any authority is to be met with opposition. As a follower of Christ, as a Christian, as a Catholic, this attitude is incompatible with our faith. Authority is necessary for knowing what is truly right and what is wrong, what is the Truth of God and what is not. I am planning to spend the next three articles showing that this is true; how authority is a gift from God.

If we are Christian, if we are a follower of Christ, we must start with Christ Himself. Jesus Himself said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6) In John 8:58, Jesus calls Himself, “I AM,” the ancient name that God reserved for Himself. (Exodus 3:14) The Jews understood immediately that He was equating Himself to God, because in the next verse John records that the Jews picked up stones to throw at Him for blasphemy. The same question is before us. Jesus is who He says He is or He is a madman. He doesn’t leave us any other choices. We cannot believe as the Muslims do, that Jesus is just a good man. Jesus is either God Himself, the Truth incarnate, or a madman, someone who in the least should be ignored or at the most, locked up and silenced.

So if Jesus is who says He is, if He is God, then He created us and is all knowing. If He created us and is all knowing, then He should know what is best for us. He should be an expert on how to live a great human life. We see in the Gospels Jesus doing just that. Therefore, Jesus should be an authority in our lives.

However, Jesus knew He was going to return to the Father in heaven. So what did He do to make sure that His Truth was passed on throughout time? In Matthew 16:13-19, Jesus tells Peter that He going to be the head of His church: “…so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Now it is true, in Matthew 18:18, Jesus gives the power to loose and bind to the other Apostles. However, the name Peter means rock, so in Aramaic, the language Jesus would have spoken to His Apostles, Jesus would have said, “You are Kepha and upon this kepha I will build my church…” So it would have been very clear to anyone listening that Jesus intended to build His church upon the Apostle Peter. Jesus also promises Peter that the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. This means that in the matters of faith and morals, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, will protect the Church from teaching error. The third thing Jesus does is give Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. In Isaiah 22:19-22, we see King David giving his prime minister the keys to the kingdom while he is away. While King David is away, what the prime minsters says goes. The keys are a symbol of authority. This is still true today. Today, a town might symbolically give a celebrity a key meaning that they are in charge for the day. So too, Jesus is giving Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. This means Jesus is giving Peter authority over the kingdom of heaven.

We see throughout the New Testament that Peter is acts as the leader of the Christians, even amongst the Apostles. We see it in Matthew 16. We see Jesus predict that Peter will lead the Apostles after the Crucifixion. (Luke 22:31-32) Notice in the early Christian Church as described in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 15, it is Peter’s speech that ends the discussion.

If Jesus is who He says He is (that is God Himself) and He created us, then He should have authority over our lives. Jesus gave Peter authority over His church, over His believers. Next month we will explore how this authority extends to Peter’s successors, the popes, and also to the successors of the other Apostles, all the other Catholics bishops.


Future Courier Article: Catholic Theological Analysis of “Heaven is for Real”

A Quick Catholic Theological Analysis of the Book (and Movie), “Heaven is for Real”

This is about a year late. However, I’ve been meaning to do a piece on heaven for quite some time. So I thought I would just combine the two. Overall, I thought the movie was quite good. As far as I can tell, there wasn’t anything that was blatantly disagreed with the Catholic faith, outside of the normal disagreements between Catholics and Protestants.

In the book, on pages 57 and 59, Colton says we need to have Jesus in our hearts. This is true. We do need Jesus in our hearts in order to get to heaven. The question is, “What does this mean?” The ordinary, revealed path to having Jesus in our hearts and getting to heaven means being baptized with water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5, Matthew 28:19), visibly belonging to the Catholic Church, and following the commandments of Christ as revealed through the Catholic Church to the best of our abilities. (CCC 846 and Lumen Gentium 14: “Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse to either to enter it or to remain in it.”) However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that others who are not visibly a part of the Catholic Church can be spiritually part of the Catholic Church by following God to the best of their ability in what they do know. (CCC 847 and Lumen Gentium 16: “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and , moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience-those too may achieve eternal salvation.”) This would seem to be true as Colton’s grandfather was not Catholic, but sounds like he was a very holy man. Colton believes that a person must know who Jesus is and believe in Him in order to get to heaven. However, the statement from the Catechism of the Catholic Church leaves room for non-Christians to maybe being saved as well.

On page 63 (and mentioned on other pages), Colton sees animals in heaven. Now classical ancient philosophy (Greek and Roman) says that animals do not have an eternal soul. Therefore, most Catholic theologians have said that our pets do not live on after they die. However, the Holy Spirit has not revealed to the Catholic Church a definitive answer to this question. Colton says Jesus has a horse. So it would appear that there are animals in heaven. The question is, “How did they get there?” (So maybe unicorns really do exist, just in heaven. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Or maybe they were too stubborn to get on Noah’s ark and died out then.) C.S. Lewis (author of the Narnia series) reasons that if there is a new heaven and a new earth, there would likely be plants and animals in the new creation. So maybe the animals in heaven are not the souls of our pets on earth, but animals that were created to exist just in heaven. When kids do ask me about their pets, (because they naturally do), I tell them that they will be in heaven in so much as they will exist in your heart and mind and memories (if and) when you get to heaven.

On page 72, Colton says everyone has wings, some bigger than others. The Bible never directly talks about wings of human beings who have made it to heaven. It could be a function of how much they help others, intercede for others. This may be why Pop had large wings and Colton only had small wings. Another possibility is the wings could be an image of how fast the person can travel. Also on page 74, everyone has a halo, which would make sense since everyone in heaven is holy.

On page 89, Pop is said to have only gone to church every once in a while.  However, two days before he died in a car accident, he gave his life to Christ at an altar call. As Catholics, we would call this the Baptism of desire. Even though he wasn’t baptized in the form prescribed by Jesus in Matthew 28:19 and John 3:5, he desired baptism. It should remind us of what Jesus said to the thief as He hung upon the Cross: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

On page 90, Colton’s grandmother is kind of surprised that Pop would know his great-grandson even though they were born decades apart. As Catholics, we might be surprised that Colton’s grandmother is surprised. As Catholics, we believe that we are all one Church, one Body of Christ. There is the Church Triumphant in Heaven, the Church Militant on earth, and the Church Suffering in Purgatory. As Catholics, we believe that we can intercede for each other, especially the Church Triumphant since they are in heaven and have the close ear of God. In 2 Maccabees (a book not found in the Protestant Bible), chapter 12, verse 15, we see Jeremiah, who would have been dead for several hundred years, give Judas Maccabees a sword in which to defeat the enemy. However, many Protestants, taking cues from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus and other places in the Bible, have concluded that not only does the chasm between heaven, hell, and earth, prevent one from going from one place to another, but it also prevents communication or knowledge from one place to another. That is why the author, Colton’s dad, writes, “That got Mom wondering whether those who have gone ahead of us know what’s happening on earth. Or is it that in heaven, we’ll know our loved ones–even those we didn’t get to meet in life–by some next-life way of knowing we don’t enjoy on earth? As Catholics, we know it is the former, but this is hard for some Protestants to understand based on their understanding of the Communion of Saints and the interaction between the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant. (Hebrews 12:1 – “cloud of witnesses”)

On page 95, Colton says that God the Father adopted his unborn sister, the one who had been miscarried. Colton explicitly explains that God the Father adopted her and not God the Son, Jesus. This would be Biblical. For example, Romans 8:15 says, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!'” Also, Galatians 1:4b-5, says, “In love he [God the Father] destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will…” In our baptism and through our faith in Jesus, we are adopted by God the Father.

In some ways the events on page 96-97 seem odd. When asked what the miscarried girl’s name is, Colton responds, “She doesn’t have a name. You guys didn’t name her.” A couple of lines later he continues, “Yeah, she said she can’t wait for you and daddy to get to heaven.” For some reason, the author and his wife connect these two statements and just assume they have to wait until they get to heaven to name their unborn daughter. Again, maybe it is the evangelical assumption that there is no communication between heaven and earth. If I had been their pastor I would have encouraged them to name their child right away. In the last year, I had a couple that lost a child still-born. I encouraged them to name the child and we had a funeral ceremony for the child, using the ceremony for the unbaptized child found in the Catholic Funeral Rite.

This brings up another theological point. Again, God has revealed to us that the ordinary means of salvation are through baptism of water and the Holy Spirit. (See Bible passages referenced in paragraph 2 of this article.) In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI called a Pontifical Commission to study and pray about the pastoral question of the destination of the unbaptized, especially those who die so young that they could have no personal sin, but would still be marked with the deficit of original sin, one of the things that Baptism washes away. Basically, the Commission concluded that we still don’t know for sure. Yes, the revealed, ordinary way to heaven, to salvation, is through baptism of water and the Holy Spirit (or Baptism of desire or blood). However, God is not limited to His revelation to us. He may save souls through other means. Thus, pastors and parents are to pray for the souls of their unbaptized and hope in the mercy and love of God. Without getting into the subject too deeply, one could argue that children are baptized at the desire of their parents. Could the unborn, in an analogous way, like an adult who dies during the middle of RCIA, be said to have received the Baptism of Desire by the desire of their parents? Colton’s experience of heaven would seem to suggest that the answer to this question is, “Yes.” Th author’s argument is that Jesus loves the children even more than we do, so therefore, they must be in heaven.

Again, on page 102, the author seems surprised that Colton would have prayed for him from heaven. Again, as Catholics, we don’t believe there is an unbridgeable chasm between heaven and earth. We believe there is an intimate union between the souls in heaven, earth, and purgatory. This union allows us to pray for each other. (Although, remember the souls in heaven don’t need our prayers. They are already in heaven. The souls in Purgatory very much need our prayers as do others on earth. The souls in hell will never escape so praying for them is useless as well.)

Another couple of interesting theological questions come up on pages 122-123. It is interesting that Colton doesn’t recognize Pop when shown photos of when Pop was older. He recognizes Pop when shown a picture in which Pop was about 29. At the end of the Creed we say every Sunday at Mass, we say we believe in the resurrection of our bodies. There has been endless speculation about what kind of bodies we will have. Yes, we will have glorified bodies, but what does that mean? We get some insight into Jesus’ body after His Resurrection. For example, He can walk through locked doors (John 20:19, 26) and He can disappear in an instant (Luke 24:31). The Old Testament talks about the sacrificial lamb being a year old and unblemished. Some have equated this to about 33 years old in human years. Old enough to be wise in mind and soul, but not so old that your body starts to fall apart. In other words, the prime of your life. So some have speculated that our resurrected bodies will look similar to what we looked like when we were 33. Thus it would make sense, if this were true, that Colton would recognize Pop in a picture in which he is 29, but not when he was much older.

However, there is a deeper rub here. Catholic theology says most of us will receive our resurrected bodies at the end of time, at Jesus’ Second Coming. (Jesus already has His, as does Mary.) Thus, it would seem odd that Colton would recognize Pop by how he looked and not by some immaterial spiritual way. Throughout history, angels have appeared to human beings on earth in human form. (Jacob wrestles with an angel in Genesis 32:22-31.) Maybe in a similar way, the souls in heaven took on a body in appearance only for Colton’s sake. That way he could interact with them in a way he could digest and understand.

In pages 133-134, Colton affirms that Satan is an actual individual evil being, not just an idea, the absence of good. Satan is so evil that if we could see him, as it would appear that Colton at least caught a glimpse of Satan, we too would be speechless in sight of Evil Itself.

Catholics sometimes get accused of focusing too much on the the Crucifixion and not enough on the Resurrection. “Why do Catholics still have Jesus crucified on their crosses? Don’t they realize Jesus has risen?” Todd Burpo, a Protestant, on pages 148-149 gives a great answer.

“When I was a kid, I always wondered why the cross, Jesus’ crucifixion, was such a big deal. If God the Father knew he was going to raise his Son from the dead, how was that a sacrifice? But now I understand why God doesn’t view Easter as just the endgame, just the empty tomb. I understand completely. I would’ve done anything, anything, to stop Colton’s suffering, including trading places with him.”

Todd affirms that Colton saw Mary. Colton saw her kneeling before the throne of God and at other times, standing besides Jesus. He does not mention a crown on Mary’s head and her being the Queen of Heaven. However, we need to remember this is a Protestant author so he is going to have a Protestant bias. Also, along those lines, throughout the whole book, there is no mention of Purgatory. You would think in a book that talks about death, heaven and hell, purgatory would be in there too if it existed. To this too, I just say, maybe Colton did receive and even see Purgatory, but a Protestant father isn’t going to inquire about it or write about it. Not that there is any malicious thinking here. He is a Protestant minister so he is going to write and experience things from that viewpoint.

Can I just say I was disturbed by the movie’s portrayal of Todd’s relationship with others? Maybe it did happen, but the book does not portray any conflict with parish members or wife. In fact, in the book, he talks about how supportive they were.

Again, there is nothing in the book (or movie) that contradicts what we believe as Catholics. And this makes sense. If Colton had an authentic experience of God and Heaven, and we believe that the fullness of Truth has been revealed to God by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 16:16-19) to the Catholic Church, then it would make sense that what the Catholic Church teaches and what Colton saw would be in agreement.

June Courier Article: What is an Indulgence?

Here is a link to my June Courier article. (Obviously this post is a little late.) The article is on the issue of indulgences. I think sometimes people think the Catholic Church got rid of them after the Protestant Reformation. Yes, they were being abused, but indulgences are a powerful way to participate in the graces won by Jesus on the Cross.

“What is an Indulgence?” – page 8


February Courier Article: Should youth go to the March for Life in DC?

This month, due to miscommunication and space, I thought some key paragraphs were left out of my February article. Therefore, I am posting here the article as I wish it had appeared. I highlighted the paragraphs and sections that did not appear in the Courier with “<<” and “>>”. I thought the second to last paragraph was important to the question at hand.


You should not be reading this article. One, because I turned it into the editor late. Secondly, because of my life story. See, my life’s history begins when I was one. I was found on the doorstep of the police station in Mokpo, South Korea. I was put in an orphanage. I was cared for by people who had no reason to other than they believed it was the right thing to do. I was then adopted by a family in Iowa (I know some of you think that living in Iowa is a detriment, but if it is, it is minor in the grand scheme of things.) Bill and Mary Kay, my parents, were loving and open enough to invite me into their family. Then they paid for (with the help of insurance) open heart surgery soon after I arrived. I have no idea what happened during the first 21 months (one year plus nine months in the womb) or so of my life. I just don’t know what sacrifices my biological mother made. Maybe she was told to get an abortion. I don’t know if doctors in Korea in the early 70’s can tell, but today doctors can tell if a baby in the womb has a weak, deficient heart. Today, would she have been encouraged to abort me because of my heart condition? So, it is a minor miracle that you are reading an article I wrote.

Steve Jobs, Scott Hamilton (Olympic ice skater), Melissa Gilbert (who played Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie), Faith Hill, Dante Culpepper, Edger Allen Poe, Eleanor Roosevelt, Aristotle, George Washington Carver, Mark Twain, President Gerald Ford, and many others were adopted. Now I don’t know if all of them were ever an any danger of being aborted, but these people, as was I, were given a chance to make the most of themselves, to reach their God-given potential because someone stepped up and loved them and gave them opportunities. The world would be a radically different place without these people in our history. (Some of you may argue it would be a better place, but that’s beside the point.)

Think about your own life. We all have so much potential for great things. This year we remember that it has been forty years since Roe versus Wade. Who knows what greatness, what love, what impact on us and on the world we have lost in the estimated 50 million people we have lost.

This is why we need to send people, especially the youth, the policy makers of tomorrow, to the March for Life in Washington, DC. We need to be reminded that while we go on with our lives day in and day out, there are thousands each day who lose their lives before they’ve even had a chance to really start.

I didn’t even know the March for Life existed for most of my life. The first time I went was with my seminary classmates in 2009. I have been fully pro-life since my days of college at Iowa State in the late 90’s. However, it wasn’t until I was with hundreds of thousands of others, that hope really began. When we look at statistics, when we watch TV or read the news, or talk to people we know, it is easy to be discouraged that public opinion will ever change or that Roe versus Wade will over be overturned. However, when you stand in the middle of hundreds of thousands of others from different faiths, it gives you the hope that someday we will again respect all human life, no matter what <<their background is, what their ethnicity is, what their IQ is, what their athletic ability is, what stage in life their are in-in the womb, out of the womb, in a nursing home.>> Living in southern Minnesota, I think it is sometimes easy to forget there are others out there fighting for the truth and lives of the unborn. It can seem to be a very lonely and impossible fight. This lie is soon forgotten as you are marching towards the Capital building with over 500,000 other people, mostly youth. That was one of the things that amazed me. The March is not full of crusty old people, but it is full of vibrant, energetic youth. In just this our second year, we had two buses go from our diocese. Benedictine College (in Atchison, KS), an awesome Catholic college, took a record (for them) seven buses of college students. Youth all around the country are beginning to see the truth. By going, our youth realize they are not alone in this. This is a really important realization. At the March there is a somber joy. A joy that comes from so many gathering for the same good cause…but a somber mood remembering all the lives that have been lost and will be lost.

<<Another good reason for our youth to go to the March for Life in Washington, DC is because there are a lot of good speakers and events that go on. I don’t know why, but sometimes young people get tired of hearing the same thing over and over again from their parents, teachers, and even their pastors. While in DC, the young people have a chance to hear nationally known speakers who are trained in conveying and evangelizing people to understand the truth of the dignity of all human life, from conception to natural death. There will also hear mothers talk about the pain and anguish that has come from knowing they have killed their own children. However, they also speak of the hope and forgiveness of God. So just by hangout out, they learn more theology and arguments for being pro-life.>>

<<I don’t have the room to do so here, but last year, the first thing we did in DC was visit the Holocaust Museum. Not to make light of what happened in Europe over a half-century ago, but it is a good reflection to think about the parallels between the Holocaust and the millions of children losing their lives in the womb in our country. (If you want to see my reflection, click on entries from January 2012 on my blog at fathervogel.wordpress.com.) Also, I recently read an interesting article comparing the thoughts about slaves around the time of the Civil War and the thoughts about unborn babies. I can’t find the specific article I read, but Google search seems to indicate it is a well written topic.>>

<<<<Some may make the argument that all of this is fruitless. Why did the diocese spend good money sending people to DC? It hasn’t changed anything in the past 40 years and it isn’t going to change government policy now. That may or may not be true, but when we do things like this, even if it is just sending a letter to our senators, it changes us. Our going on the March for Life may not change our nation, but it changes us. When we stand up for the truth, even if others around us aren’t changed, we are changed. We learn to stand up for the truth so that doing so next time is that much easier. We are drawn ever deeper into the life-giving womb of Mary, the womb that gave life to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who is thee Way, the Truth, and the Life. Pray to Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of the Americas, to intercede for us.>>>>

One last thing, the next time you see a large family, go up to the parents and thank them for saying yes to life. Thank them for seeing children as a blessing and not as a curse or a bill. Thank them for saying yes to being partners with God in creating eternal souls. The victory of the culture of life over the culture of death begins today and it begins with us.