Growing Apologist

Becoming a Defender of Truth

Where Better to Start?

Here I am, on the path of growing apologetic’s– which is nothing like growing pains I hope– and I thought to myself, Self where better to start than the bible.  Or more appropriately, Catholic Answers pointed me in that direction, but that is hardly the point.  The point is that I’ve done a series of posts on the Rosary, Communion of Saints, Advent, and Prayer.  But I have not yet done one on the bible.  It is very prudent that my first series of posts since a long batch of silence would be on the thing that has been giving Christians hope and inspiration and teaching for a very long time.  Just how long? Read the rest of this entry »

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Christmas: Pagan or Christian?

Christianity sprung from the roots of the Jewish people and the gentiles some years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first ‘Church’ was

Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the S...
Announcement of Christ’s Birth to the Shepherds

not really a church in the way that we think of it today, but a collection of people who believed in Jesus and looked to the disciples for leadership. Just as any organization instituted in modern times, this collection of people had to develop the mission, goals, traditions, celebrations, teachings and so forth of the early church and organize it in a meaningful way. After all, if it were empty and disorganized, it would have been stale and died like a diseased flower.

These were the people who first believed in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and the people who established the beginnings of the first Christian church. During this time, it was not only the Jews who formed this first church. The gentiles were also converted. Just as a good friend explained to me once, a gentile is another word for non-Jew or even pagan.

It is only logical that the people establishing this new religion would not abandon everything familiar to them when they chose to follow Christ. It is from these roots that the people established the traditions and symbolism of Christianity. But why are people so surprised and outright disgusted when presented with the history of various Christian traditions, celebrations and symbols? We should rejoice in the rich history and culture of our religion, not deny its existence. After all, everything has a beginning.

I believe that realizing and accepting this is a step in the correct direction to help those outside the faith to understand that it is not ignorant people who follow religion blindly, but wonderful, smart, analytical people. People who have taken to the time to think through their beliefs and are prepared to defend the faith to the skeptics.

It is on this basis that I present a brief history of Christmas day and the Christmas tree. However, don’t take my word for it. Click on my references and search for answers so that you can know for yourself as well. Take possession of your faith.

Christmas Day

World Calendar

A World Calendar

It was not until around the year 273 AD that Christ’s birthday was pinned to the calendar to be celebrated on December 25. In fact, there was much argument as to whether Christ’s birthday should be celebrated at all because celebration of the gods’ birthdays was a pagan practice. The actual day of Christ’s birth was unknown—it had never been recorded. The early Christians were left to debate on the date that his birth should be celebrated. The favored dates were January 2, April 18, April 19, April 20, May 20, May 28, March 21, March 25, November 17, and November 20. December 25 hosted two other pagan festivals, one for the Roman god Saternalia, “Unconquered Sun”, and another for the birthday of the Iranian god Mithras, “Sun of Righteousness”. It was fitting that the birth of the one true “Unconquered Sun” and “Sun of Righteousness” was celebrated instead of the pagan gods.

Reference

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2000/dec08.html

Additional Reading:

http://www.bib-arch.org/e-features/christmas.asp

http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/25th.shtml

Christmas Tree

candlelit Christmas tree

Tree Lit with Candles

Along with morphing the birthday of the pagan sun gods into the birthday of the true God, some of the pagan traditions were absorbed into Christianity, such as the Christmas tree. Plants and trees that remained green all year had been the symbol of life because winter could not conquer them. The early church and pagans believed that these plants had special powers to keep away evil entities and sickness. Many different pagan religions used the evergreen plants in worship of their gods. In particular, the Romans decorated a tree with lit candles for their god Saternalia, “Unconquered Sun”. The decorating of the Christmas tree as it is today was not until the 16th century in Germany (legend credits Martin Luther) and nearly four centuries passed before America caught onto the idea. The symbolism of the Christmas tree is much the same as the way the Romans used it except with a Christian twist—a reminder of the miracle of the birth of the true Unconquered Son.

Reference

http://thehistoryofchristmas.com/trivia/trees.htm

http://www.mysticlightpress.com/index.php?page_id=123

Additional Reading:

http://www.orlutheran.com/html/chrtree.html

http://www.historyofchristmas.net/

What do you think? When we celebrate Christmas on December 25 or decorate a Christmas tree, are we celebrating pagan traditions?

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Greatest Commandment

From the St. Mary’s Newsletter October 21, 2011:  The Magnificat

Here is the Gospel reflection for this upcoming weekend.  This is a continuation of last week’s reflection regarding the Pharisee’s trying to trap Jesus.  The readings that the reflection is based on can be found here.  Enjoy!

Greatest Commandment

From Dr. D’Ambrosio

 They are at it again. In this Sunday’s gospel Jesus’ opponents enlist a lawyer to do what lawyers do best- ask a question that puts a person on the hot seat. “Which commandment of the law is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:34-40). If the law consisted in only the Ten Commandments, this would be tough enough. But the written “Torah” included many more moral, ceremonial, and dietary prescriptions.

 Jesus, of course, is a radical. A “radical” is one who goes to the “radix” or root of the issue. The root problem was that these Pharisees majored in the minors. They loved to strain out gnats and swallow camels. They missed the forest for the trees, going to great lengths to observe the letter of the law while totally missing its spirit.

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

  So Jesus fires a broadside. Splicing together two passages from the Torah, he sinks them. “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5). “This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Leviticus 19:18).

This sinks them for a couple of reasons. First it brilliantly sums up the entire law because every single precept is an expression of these two commandments. Read the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and you’ll see that the first three are about loving God and the other seven are about loving your neighbor. If you read every line of the Bible, you’d be able to put each command in column A (love God) or column B (love your neighbor). So these two commandments are indeed the root of them all.

 But the other reason his answer sinks them is that these two root commandments are precisely the ones the Pharisees keep breaking. Observance of the law for them is not an act of divine worship but rather of self-promotion. Rather than their observance of the law leading to love of neighbor, it leads to scorn of neighbors who fail to live up to their standards (see how they treat the blind man in John 9:24-34). Note what Paul, the converted Pharisee, says: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1).” Paul knew this from experience–he spent years as a gong. On the positive side,St. Augustinesays “love and do what you will.”

 Yet Jesus did not say just to love. He said we must love the Lord with our WHOLE heart and soul and with ALL our mind and strength. I made a discernment retreat at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani when, at age 21, I felt torn between a desire for religious life and marriage. As I walked into the retreat house, I shuddered to see this phrase inscribed in the stone over the entryway: “God Alone.”

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove above the H...

Does wholehearted love of God leave no room in your heart for a spouse or children?

 If that were the case, there would be no second great commandment in this story. In fact Jesus says the second commandment is like the first. That’s because the kind of wholehearted love Jesus is talking about is charity (agape), which means loving God for his own sake and all others for his sake, and doing so not by human strength, but with the divine love that is poured into our heart by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). When we love others with charity, we love God through them. Our every loving act towards them becomes an expression of our love for God.

 So at bottom, the two great commandments are just two sides of the same coin. Jesus says to render to Caesar what is Caesars and render to God what is God’s. The two-sided coin of charity is the only legal tender we can use to pay the obligation that’s even more important than taxes–the one owed to the Creator.

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What Keeps You Awake Tonight?

I know what keeps me awake tonight.

Taking pictures, caffeinated coffee, the desire to relax before falling asleep, the horror of 7 plus hours of lectures watched at 1.5x speed, a test only 40% done after working on it for 15 hours in two days, the frustrations of wanting to know but having no clue.  There are other things too, added on top of the test nightmares of this weekend… like the physical state of my house, the financial standing of my family, the desire to be involved in a million things but having to limit myself only to the essentials.

But how do I figure out what the essential things are?  This has been the long-standing question of my life.  Even in middle school, my interests and passions were so wide in variety, and there was never enough time in the day.

I have come to the realization that there are a lot of things in my life that I just need to make time for and then everything else will fall into place.  I remember a presentation at my protestant church years back, where the women’s ministry leader demonstrated how to fit God into a person’s life.  She had this huge jar that she dumped little marbles into it (these represented the everyday things, like responsibilities and entertainment) and then tried to add larger marbles to the jar (these represented time with God).  The large marbles wouldn’t fit.  Instead, she reversed the order, first dropping God into the jar, and then the everyday things.  The little marbles filled in the gaps between the large marbles, and everything fit into the jar.

It’s just like this post I read the other day at the blog called Let’s Go Then, You and I… titled It’s All In The Start.  The author described how she would love to start the day, on her knees spending time with God, but the difficulty of getting out of the warm bed prevented her.  She goes on to describe the difficulty of the day, how everything just becomes so overwhelming, and she came to the conclusion that it is all in how she starts off her day, in idleness or in worship.

Perhaps those things that keep me awake tonight would not be so big if I re-arranged my life a little to be centered first on Christ.  Perhaps if I got up a little earlier, started my day with God, and then moved onto the everyday things, then maybe the stress of life would not be so overwhelming.  Maybe then the peace of God would settle into my soul, and I would have the courage to face whatever life throws at me.

How about you?  What keeps you awake at night?

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Magnifacant, St. Mary’s Newsletter (10/13/11)

For those of you unfamiliar with the Catholic mass, we always have three readings from the bible at the beginning of mass: one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and then one from the Gospel.  Every week, I receive a newsletter from my church in my email usually with an article relating to the Gospel.  This one comes at an interesting time for me and my family, as a relative of mine is struggling with paying taxes on their house.  Here is the article for your enjoyment.

*[10/16/2011 Edit] It occurred to me that it is rather difficult for an article on scripture to mean much without knowing what scripture said article is based on.  This is based primarily on the gospel reading from Mathew 22, 15-21, but also the old testament reading Isaiah 45, 1-6 and the new testament reading 1 Thessalonians 1, 1-5.*

Render Unto Caesar
 Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio
Despite their flattering words, they were trying to trap him, to force him into a no-win situation.
Consider the circumstances.  They are living under the iron boot of a brutal empire which filled the earth with its idolatry.  Patriotic Jews longed to throw off the yoke of the tyrants.  They prayed for an anointed king who would free them from the Romans as David had freed them from the Philistines. Anyone advocating collaboration with the invaders could not possibly be the hoped-for Messiah.  No, he would appear as a traitor.  But on the other hand, anyone preaching resistance to Rome would be branded an enemy of the Empire and would wind up suspended from a cross.
So the Pharisees decided to put Jesus on the spot in front of the crowd.  They asked him a question bound to get him into trouble one way or the other. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor or not?”

First of all, Jesus teaches us how to deal with a bogus theological question.  He unmasks it for what it is, an effort to trip him up rather than an inquiry proceeding from a sincere desire to know the truth.  And then, rather than letting himself be controlled and put on the spot, he takes charge of the conversation and puts the Pharisees on the spot.  He answers a question with a question.  “Whose head is on that coin that you have in your pocket, the coin that you are using to pay for the temporal necessities of life?”  “Caesar’s.”  Next Jesus says something that makes them think, much like he did with the men eager to stone the woman caught in adultery (John 8).  “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar, but give to God what is God’s.”  (Mat 22:15-21)

Jesus wins the battle.  He transforms an attempt to make him look bad into a teaching moment recorded for all time, providing all peoples and ages with some very important food for thought

Government is a fact of life.  Rulers, laws, police, taxes.  What should a worshipper of God make of it?

One thing Jesus points out to the Pharisees is that they participate in this societal infrastructure.  They don’t live on a deserted island but are dependent upon the imperial system for everything from the food in the marketplace to protection from thieves.  One rural community in the US recently celebrated their independence after seceding from the nearby township and its taxes.  A few days later, they were unpleasantly surprised when the town trash trucks failed to show up.

Jesus says we can’t have it both ways–if we benefit from secular society, we need to support the infrastructure of society.  This can take the form of taxes, military service, jury duty, and informed, conscientious voting.

On the other hand, Jesus says that we need to give to God what is God’s.  This is the real punch line of the story.  For God has given us everything.  In fact, it is he who raises up kings and nations and through them provides for us.  The Lord used the Babylonians to punish the stubborn disobedience of the kingdom of Judah.  But when the time of exile was completed, God used the pagan Persian king, Cyrus, to break the stranglehold of Babylon and allow the Chosen People to return home.  The prophet Isaiah even calls this unbeliever the messiah or anointed one! (Is 45:1-6)

But there are also times when political rulers overstep their authority.  Sometimes, they demand to be worshiped, like Caesar did.  Other times they attack human dignity, violating natural law which demands that innocent human life be respected and that liberty be protected.  These are times when Christians have a duty boldly to insist that while Caesar is owed his due, we won’t stand by and silently watch him step on God’s toes.

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio’s Website click here

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Ave Maria!

I am just an itty bitty Catholic.  I went through confirmation three years ago.  And while I had a great eight month class (called Rite for Catholic Initiation for Adults) that gave a high level overview of Christianity and Catholicism, I really had no idea of why I became a Catholic.  It had something to do with the mass and the Eucharist.  I was Protestant and deeply enthralled and in love with Jesus.  Jesus was there, in the mass, in the Eucharist and that’s what I desperately wanted.

But my conversion, the mass and the Eucharist is a totally different matter.  The point is that the reason I didn’t know why I became Catholic is that I did not believe in organized religion (it was corrupt); I did not believe in the papacy (that was just an old man who is hungry for power and control (forgive me, Father, I do not believe this now)); I did not believe in praying to the Saints (that was idolatry worship); I did not believe in the validity of the traditions (Catholics just did what they did because that is what they always have done); and most of all, I did not believe that the Virgin Mary deserved the high honor that Catholics gave her.

I became Catholic anyways, because there was Jesus, my Lord, my Savior, beckoning me to Him, and I will never forget the true joy and peace that enveloped me when I first took communion, every time I take communion.  And that is why I am Catholic.  All of that other stuff, well I’m still learning and Jesus is teaching me, one thing at a time.

All of this just to say– This month is the so-called month of the Rosary, declared by Pope Benedict VXI.  The Rosary, a litany of prayers passed from Mary to the children of Fatima.  And a great starting point for me to learn more about the faith that I follow.  This month I’m going to post on the history, the meaning, a guide and more on the Rosary so that maybe together, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, we can learn God’s intention for the Rosary.

 

The month of October is called the month of the Rosary. This is a “spiritual intonation,” so to speak, provided by the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, which is celebrated on October 7. We are thus invited to let ourselves be guided by Mary in this ancient and ever new prayer, which is especially dear to her because it leads directly to Jesus, contemplated in his mysteries of salvation: joyous, luminous, sorrowful and glorious. In the footsteps of the venerable John Paul II (cf. Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae), I would like to recall that the Rosary is a biblical prayer, completely interwoven with Sacred Scripture. It is a prayer of the heart in which the repetition of the “Hail Mary” orients one’s thought and affection toward Christ, and thus one confidently supplicates his Mother and ours. It is a prayer that aids meditation on the Word of God and is likened to Eucharistic communion on the model of Mary, who carries in her heart all Jesus did and said and his presence itself.

– from Pope Benedict XVI’s Angelus message, October 10, 2010

-Source-

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All Awesome Things Have a Beginning

Every great thing needs an introduction, me thinks, and so here is my introduction.  I am sure it will be asked, what is the point?  Why?  Therefore, here is the reason for me creating this blog: because it is AWESOME.  J Pure and simple.  Okay, on a serious note, not that I wasn’t serious about my blog being awesome, I have a few things in mind for what I wish to accomplish with this.  Every great thing should have a direction and a purpose.  My direction is Christ and my purpose is to chat and write, reflect and gab, to learn and teach, share all the laughs and the tears.  While the title of the blog is very religious in nature, I have no plans of being theological all the time.  Even I would get bored of that.

What I do discuss, while maybe in nature is not religion related, will be faith based because faith cannot be separated from life and the Good News is not only spoken of but lived.  When I do discuss theology and the Church, I make no claims to be correct, to know everything or to be a theologian.  I am just a simple layperson trying to learn more and to share.

Please feel free to introduce yourself, to object or comment or discuss (or correct me, please!), but as always, keep it clean and friendly.  Debates are welcomed, fights are not.  Thanks!

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