Thursday, January 21, 2021

A Catholic wants to come back to the Church... Where do you begin?

My purpose in these posts is to bring a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


You're a Roman Catholic who simply walked away, or were in some way hurt or turned away, or who may actually have been "drawn" by God to other churches for a number of years. Now, you have begun to feel dissatisfied with your isolation or with various points and elements in those various Christian churches or "exotic" religions, and, ironically, you feel drawn - again by the Lord - to have another look at the Roman Catholic Church.

Where do you begin?

Well, a good place to start would be of course to ask God to guide you as you try to follow his calling and to continue to do your best to walk in the steps of Jesus. Then, as you continue to pray in this way every day, even several times a day and night, take a step. Visit a Catholic church, or if your city is in lock-down and the churches are closed, visit nearby R.C. parishes via their websites. In addition, you can visit Pope Francis via the Vatican website, and through various Catholic news outlets, you can "listen in" on Pope Francis' homilies and read his writings.

You could then take a more personal step by getting in touch with your local Parish and then your Parish Priest. If you don't like the reception you get, shake the dust off your feet and try another parish and another priest until you find the "one" to whom the Lord is guiding you; where you feel welcomed, respected, and where you sense you can bring your questions and not be given a "bum's rush".

During this exploration, you will also benefit from praying every day, often during the day - which just means "visiting with God" within your spirit - and opening the Word of God in the Bible to "listen" to the Lord speaking. It is, after all, his millenially inspired and "living Word". You can also explore various additional sites and resources on the Internet.

So here are a few links which will help you find additional resources for your ongoing study, reflection, and prayer; as, like Mary the Mother of Jesus, you "ponder" the "things of the Lord and his ways" and allow the Most Holy Trinity to continue to guide and form you from within. Here now is a link to my "Home Page" on Blogger leading to a number of other pages. I regret this somewhat "impersonal" or distant connection, but those Blogger pages provide a good overview of the essentials of the Christian faith and life in response to the Lord Jesus' call in the Roman Catholic Tradition. This is not exhaustive, because after all, this Tradition has been developing for two millennia. Also, most Catholics take a lifetime to become more personally connected with the Most Holy Trinity by faith through Jesus Christ, and over time, more intimately familiar with all the riches of what God is offering to humanity through his Church in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The Pillar, Heart, and Soul of discipleship in Jesus is of course the Most Holy Trinity, God Himself.

God manifests his presence and ongoing creative and life-giving action in Nature or the Universe, sometimes called the "Book of Creation"; so we do well to walk outside, look up at the stars, and contemplate the wonders of Creation. This is also done by scientists and us who read their work as they contemplate the intricacies of biology, astronomy, and so on. As we explore we can "wonder as we wander" and send up glory, praise, and thanks to God our Creator.

The Father manifests his will in his Son Jesus as He founds his Church on Simon Peter, aka "Petros" which in Greek means "Rock" or, in American English, "Rocky". There is only one Church as testified in the Nicene Creed, which is common to all principal Christian denominations. Our RC Tradition witnesses to the Church as the "Mystical Body of Christ" of which He is our "Head". Where He has gone first, we hope to follow, that is, through death and resurrection. 

So the Church is all those who have been baptized, in whom the Holy Spirit has come as in a temple with the Father and the Son, and begun the work of sanctification - also called divinization - whereby the Most Holy Trinity distills into a human soul the divine life of the Most Holy Trinity; granting us to participate by spiritual adoption through faith in Jesus in the divine life enjoyed by the Most Holy Trinity - in a partial way for now - but which will become full in eternity, in heaven.

So the Church is made up of all the baptized, whether we are aware of them or not, whether they belong to "our group" or not, whether on Earth (the Church militant) or in Purgatory (the Church suffering) or in Heaven (the Church triumphant). At the end of time all things will be accomplished in accord to God's holy will and all will be in their proper places in accord with the choices they have made.

Purgatory will no longer exist, for it is simply the "time of purgation" needed by those souls destined for heaven but who are not yet ready for heaven because something of Earth still clings to their soul; such that they are still in need of God's mercy to set them completely free of mortality or "sinful attachment or inclination"; until such time as there remains in them only the one holy desire given by God, namely, to love God above all things and to love everyone for love of God.

The first step is opening your mind, heart, and soul to God; then reaching out to his Church

The next steps are guided by the Holy Spirit and take up the rest of our lives on Earth


The Liturgy of the Hours
The Sacred Scriptures
Prayer: alone, with spouse, with family, with community
The Sacramental Life - encountering Jesus in accord with his wishes through his mysteries
Christian disciplines and resources

THE LITURGY OF THE HOURS - The Prayer of the Church - for example in the app Divine Office

The Prayer of the Church - which originated with the "fathers of the desert" who learned the Scriptures by heart and recited them in prayer and fasting to escape the sinful distractions of the big city and await the coming of Jesus in glory or the end of their earthly lives, whichever would come first. Over the centuries this sacred and life giving practice developed into the normal way of daily prayer for clergy - deacons, priests, and bishops - and for religious - all men and women who sought to help each other live the Christian life by turning away from the ways of the world in order to erect a "Christian society" and community, such as in monasteries.

Since Vatican Council II from 1962-1965 in Rome, the Liturgy of the Hours has been renewed in many languages and the laity are invited to pray as much of it as they can; meanwhile the clergy and religious make a life long commitment to pray all the hours daily. You can sign up for it at this link, there is no cost because they work on donations alone, and this link is for today, Thursday. Once you're "in" it, read the brief bio of the saint of the day, Saint Agnes, and then click on the Morning Prayer tab and you will find there a typical "hour" which includes a hymn, psalms, a reading from the Word of God, intentions, the Lord's Prayer, and a concluding prayer and blessing.

Today's Morning Prayer expresses well a key dimension of the life of faith and discipleship in the Roman Catholic Tradition. We understand that Jesus, in Himself as divine pre-existing Son of God and as human son of Mary is in effect and in fact a "marriage" between God and humanity. That is why Jesus refers to Himself as the Bridegroom with his Church (all of us) as his Bride. John wrote that Jesus' first "sign" He performed at the wedding banquet at Cana where he turned water into wine at the request of his Mother Mary. The Wedding Banquet is an image of Heaven where we will be immersed in the joy of the "Wedding Feast of the Lamb of God". DIVINE OFFICE:

THE SACRED SCRIPTURES - THE DIVINELY INSPIRED WORD OF GOD - The Bible contains the Jewish Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures - in our day there are many versions available, even on line, such as the NRSVCE - New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition - which is used at Mass in English

The Apostles were the first - actually Jesus was the first as witnessed by Luke in Luke 24:13-35 (Jesus meets the two disciples on the road to Emmaus) - to interpret everything in the Old Testament - the Jewish Scriptures - that applied to Him as the Messiah, the Lord, send by God the Father for the salvation of humanity. Thus began the divinely inspired INTERPRETATION of the Jewish Scriptures as correctly and truthfully applicable to Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

The initial interpretations, teachings, and writings of the Apostles became the letters, Gospels, Acts, and Revelation of the New Testament. After that first generation, those who followed them came to be known as the "Fathers of the Church" and these continued to "ponder" as Mary did the "ways of the Lord" and to further develop this sacred tradition of divinely inspired interpretation of the Old Testament in light of the New. In their preaching, teaching, life witnessing, writing, and dying, these Fathers of the Church made practical applications of the Word of God to everyday living and faith in action.

The Church has prepared a banquet of all this sacred Tradition of the Word of God and the teaching, preaching, and witnessing of the Church in the Liturgy of the Hours, and especially in the Office of Readings, which gives us every day a lengthy passage from Scripture (both Testaments) and a second lengthy passage from the Fathers and Saints of the Church.

In addition, zealous Christians accept the grace offered by God and the invitation of the Holy Spirit to open the Bible every day and "feed on" the Word of God. The Liturgy of the Hours provides a "carefully prepared diet and banquet" from the Lord, and personal reading of the Bible is a more spontaneous initiative and approach. Both are needed: our personal initiative and the guidance God offers us through his Church.

PERSONAL, SPOUSAL, FAMILY, AND COMMUNAL PRAYER - Praying daily alone, with one's spouse, with one's family, and with one's community of faith. You can check out my various web pages on Blogger where you will find an abundance of resources. Here is Father Gilles' "Home Page" with several links to other pages, some of which also lead to even more pages....

Prayer is simply "visiting with God". All the Gospels give witness that Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer with his Father. Jesus' entire life was focused on his Father's love, to do his Father's will, and to commune with his Father. Luke testifies that even at 12 years of age Jesus had a highly developed sense of being called to "be about his Father's business". In the prologue to his Gospel, John declares that "to all who believe in Jesus He gives the power to become children of God. All the baptized are called to remain open to God, to welcome the Most Holy Trinity within them, in their soul, and to be open to communing with the Father, in Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. God grants us to become more familiar, to come to know and to love the Father, and Jesus his Son, and the Holy Spirit. We can pray to each singly as well as to all three together.

Whenever we address one or more of the saints - Mother Mary, Joseph, Peter, Paul, Agnes, Francis of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, Dominic, Benedict, his sister Scholastica, Brother André, Pope John Paul II, etc.... - we are merely "communing" with our sisters and brothers in Christ, and this "great cloud of witness" amplify our own zeal and love of God and encourage us on our way of faith, hope, and love. All good prayers and hymns addressed to one or more of the saints always end with a doxology, that is, giving glory and praise to the Most Holy Trinity.

Prayer alone can be silent, or include "murmuring" or moving the lips, or voicing out loud, or two or all three of these ways. We can let Scripture lead us into prayer, especially the psalms, but there are hymns also embedded in other sacred Bible books, including the New Testament; such as Jesus' own prayer to the Father in John 17 or N.T. hymns also called canticles, e.g. Phil 2:6-11; Ephesians 1:3-10; Colossians 1:12-20; 1 Peter 2:21-24; Revelation 4:11, 5:9, 10, 12; Rev 11:17-18, 12:10b-12a; Rev 15:3-4; Rev 19:1-7. Of course the most famous and frequently used canticles are the Canticle of Zechariah - Luke 1:46-55; of Mary also called the Magnificat - Luke 1:68-79; and of Simeon - Luke 2:29-32.

Spouses and families need to explore and configure their ways of praying together in such ways as to include everyone, to respect everyone, and to include both silence and oral (out loud) texts and prayers. Different postures can also enhance praying: standing, kneeling, prostrations, sitting, lying down, even walking. Intentions can also be voiced and shared so as to create oneness of mind and heart in making intercession to God.

THE SACRAMENTAL LIFE - encountering Jesus in accord with his wishes through his mysteries

Jesus fully intended to remain faithful and fulfill his promise - recorded in Matthew 28:16-20 - to remain always with us: "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." That is why He initiated immediately or allowed the Apostles to develop in response to emerging needs what are now called the Seven Sacraments. You can find a lot on the Internet from Catholic sources, most of which are good and true, but one must always be vigilant.

BAPTISM - Jesus clearly commanded his apostles to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you." 

CONFIRMATION - After his resurrection, Jesus clearly poured out his spirit, the Holy Spirit, onto his apostles. The Holy Spirit confirmed this divine gift at Pentecost by coming down upon and filling all 120 people gathered to wait and pray for "the promise of the Father".

HOLY EUCHARIST - Jesus never intended to leave a "symbolic meal" but literally commanded his Apostles to eat his body "broken for you" and drink his blood "poured out for you" and that they should "do this in memory of me." The Apostles, the authors of the N.T. Letters, and the Evangelists all offer united testimony that they all experienced this gift of Jesus are real, true, authentic, and although illogical from a human point of view, God's wisdom and truth for God's outpouring of his divine life into us who believe and receive Jesus in faith. The N.T. references are too numerous to list here. RC's are under obligation to receive Holy Communion at least once a year during the Easter Season. Since Jesus declared what unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood we have no life within us; it is highly recommended and useful to our soul to receive the Lord at least every Sunday, if not also during the week. During a pandemic such as we now endure, when churches are closed, we are encouraged to welcome the Lord into our soul by way of a "Spiritual Communion".

PENANCE & RECONCILIATION aka CONFESSION - Jesus went about for three years forgiving sins, even that is not what people asked. He was preceded and his way was prepared by his cousin John the Baptist who preached a baptism of water for repentance, declaring that one greater than he was coming after him who would baptize "with Spirit and with fire". Jesus clearly gave the Apostles, in the person of the one He chose to lead them, Peter, the authority to forgive sins or to retain sins. This has always been clearly understood from the time of the Apostles through the time of their successors, later known as the "Fathers of the Church".

How this "mysterious encounter" with the Risen Lord Jesus happened and was offered to the faithful evolved over time as the society changed and the needs of the faithful for repentance and forgiveness changed; until this sacrament took its present form around 1200 A.D. In the early Church, for the first half of the first millennium, the confession of sins was made in public in front of the bishop, and the penance was also public; such as wearing sack cloth with ashes on one's head for months or even years, depending on the gravity of the sin and its impact on the community of faith; such as in the case of sexual scandals or offering sacrifice to the Roman gods so as to avoid execution.

Since the 13th century it has been our experience that the Lord Jesus effectively forgives sins, as He once did in Palestine, and also reconciles the sinner to Himself and to the living Body of his Church, through this Sacrament of Reconciliation consisting of confession to a priest, sincere regret and contrition, a firm resolution to repent and live a life of ongoing conversion, a brief, discreet, and respectful dialogue as needed, absolution worded by the priest and given by Jesus, and an appropriate penance for the sake of reparation and some step or steps towards doing the will of God by prayer or action or both.

RC's are under obligation to confess at least once a year if they have serious sin. However, this sacrament has been experienced universally as a great aid in coming closer to Jesus and opening more widely the gates of our heart to Him and also to forgiving others.

Here is Bishop (Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, CA) Robert Barron's YouTube Channel, where you will find a number of short talks on various topics of interest. He also has his own website and Internet apostolate called Word on Fire where you will find different resources.


FASTING, PENANCE, ALMS, AND WORKS OF MERCY - Unlike many Protestant denominations which minimize the importance of works and over emphasize the place of justifying faith; the Roman Catholic Tradition has always understood, taught, and preached a proper balance between faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour (by which God justifies us in Jesus' Blood shed) on the one hand, and on allowing this grace of God to unfold and bear fruit, thereby giving honour and praise to God, in a whole variety of practices, such as fasting, penance, and mortification of the flesh, and works of mercy - both physical or corporal works of mercy and spiritual works of mercy - to the benefit of those who receive these acts of love. In 2016 Pope Francis called on all Christians to add an 8th work of mercy: "Care for our common home".

PONDERING THE MYSTERIES OF THE MOST HOLY ROSARY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY - Our RC Tradition understands the practice of praying the Rosary of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and the Life of Jesus to have developed over time from the middle of the first millennium until the middle of the second millennium - over a period of around a thousand years - to the form it has today. Then in 2002 Saint Pope John Paul II published his "Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae to the bishops, clergy, and faithful on the Most Holy Rosary". In this letter he declared the Rosary to be his favourite prayer because in the course of meditating on the Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary - so many windows in the life of Jesus which also includes his Mother Mary - she actually accompanies us and helps us to "contemplate the light shining on the face of Jesus".

In the history of the Church the praying of the Rosary with faith, devotion, and trust in God has been the occasion for God to work wonders and miracles, as reported in the Wikipedia article linked above. I was told and later confirmed by research on the Internet that in the mid-1950's the Archbishop of Vienna together with all the bishops of Austria - which since 1945 had been occupied, oppressed, and controlled the the U.S.S.R. - appealed to all the faithful of Austria and all people of good will to unite in pledging to meditate prayerfully the Rosary everyday as an offering to God of one million people united in prayer of the Rosary; as a plea to God through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary to free Austria from the yoke of the U.S.S.R.

Well, since 1945 the governments of France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States had divided Austria into for zones of occupation. In the 1950's they talked of re-establishing the independence of Austria, but the U.S.S.R. in particular dragged their feet. In 1954 - the centenary of the Papal Declaration of the God given privilege of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary - the bishops called on the people to pray the Rosary with the intention of reaching one million pledges of daily Rosary praying. Once that goal of one million pledges was achieved and surpassed, on May 15th, 1955 those four occupying governments signed what they called the "Austrian State Treaty"; thereby agreeing to lift their occupation and leave. The treaty came into effect July 27th and on October 25th the country was free of occupying troops. Our Lady interceded with God in response to the people's prayers and God helped the process along which had been stuck and stalled. At the time people were stunned that it actually worked and, especially, that the Soviet Union left.

LIVES OF THE SAINTS, DEVOTIONS, & SPIRITUAL READING - This whole dimension of R. C. Tradition is our "hall of heroes", the stories of our "elder sisters and brothers in the faith", a "great cloud of witnesses" that spur us on to victory in the Kingdom of God. Paul in chapter 11 went through the list of the key Israelite witnesses; so in our time, that would include all the martyrs and saints since Jesus' day. We can only be enriched by getting to know them, allowing the Holy Spirit to activate the "communion of saints" to grant us a living connection with the saints - as we have in our own families on Earth - and confiding in them our hopes and fears, needs and aspirations; that they might join us through the communion of saints in presenting to God our prayers for ourselves and others. The various "devotions to the saints" are like a family home having a "rogue gallery of family pictures", and venerating relics of the saints (particles of their bone or clothing or hair) is like families keeping a lock of hair of their children in the family album. Relics are better and more effective "bonds of love" to the saints because the saints are right now alive in God's radiant Presence in Heaven.

PILGRIMAGES & RETREATS - One can go on pilgrimage as simply as visiting a church or cemetery or monastery or site of supernatural apparitions. A pilgrimage is a journey of faith undertaken by a Christian in order to get in touch with the roots of our faith or with one or more of the saints; for the purpose of growing in faith, in knowledge and love for God, and in personal experience of our faith Tradition and Church. Spiritual Retreats are pockets of time during which we stay put in a particular place in an appropriate environment where we can remain in safety, in silence, in prayer, and hopefully also in community of faith, and there to experience daily spiritual exercises such as the celebration of Holy Mass, communal prayer, and silent adoration.

SPIRITUAL ACCOMPANIMENT, GUIDANCE, or DIRECTION - Since the time of the Apostles, as shown by Luke in 24:13-35, Christian disciples have shared their faith and struggles with one another, encouraged one another, and sought the Lord together. This happens in many ways, at many levels, and with varying degrees of competence and authority. There is in Montreal "The Ignatian Spirituality Centre" which offers spiritual accompaniment and formation at various levels of progress in the faith journey. There are throughout the Church many such centres, but one must always remain vigilant to assure that what is offered does not include any admixture of "new age" confusion that only try to take our attention and focus away from the Lord Jesus Christ.

VOCATIONAL DISCERNMENT, COMMITMENT, & ONGOING FORMATION - The Roman Catholic Tradition witnesses to the development of the Church Jesus founded into dioceses under the spiritual leadership, pastoring, and fatherhood of a bishop appointed by the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, and answerable to him. Each diocese is an independent "living cell" of the universal Church, the Body of Christ. However there is a kind of "oversight" exercised by the Pope and his officers to assure that bishops don't stray from the truth or from the essentials of the RC Tradition, Teaching, and Practice. In each diocese, the Bishop ordains and sends out deacons and priests to assist him in caring for the Lord's flock. These are all responsible and answerable to their bishop. No cleric can just "hop" from one diocese to another; they can only move to another diocese with the approval of both bishops. Here is Montreal Diocese.

FORMATION TOWARDS DISCIPLESHIP & STEWARDSHIP - There is a great variety of materials on the Internet touching on what it means to be a Disciple of Jesus and to exercise good Stewardship as his Disciple. Another document explores these two dimensions of our faith response to the Lord as "Making the Journey of Discipleship & Stewardship". The primary reason why there are such materials is because we can simply benefit from the experience of others, which includes what pitfalls to avoid.

MISSIONARY DISCIPLESHIP - In his letter "The Joy of the Gospel" Pope Francis wrote about our call as Christians to be "missionary disciples" and respond to Jesus' call to go out into our world to proclaim the Good News; so that, hearing our words and seeing our example, people who do not yet know God or his love and mercy might look up towards Jesus and "recover their sight". Here is a report on what Pope Francis means and how that is essential to our faith response to the Lord Jesus in our own lives. Along these lines, here is a R.C. site that gives witness to what the Holy Spirit is now doing, right now, in R.C. parishes throughout Canada, the U.S.A. and around the world. Here is another, more personal reflection on this topic from the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

CARRYING THE CROSS, PERSECUTION, MARTYRDOM, & FORGIVENESS OF ENEMIES - This is a topic and a basic dimension of the Christian faith and life in the steps of Jesus which is often forgotten or outright avoided by denominations or churches preaching a "prosperity gospel", which as Saint Paul warned in his letters, is a "different gospel or different Jesus" than the one he preached. Jesus made it abundantly clear - and all the Gospels testify to this truth - that if we want to truly be his disciples, we must deny ourselves, carry our cross, and follow Him. Moreover, we should not expect better treatment from the world than the treatment He himself got, namely, persecution, false accusation, false condemnation, torture, and death. Some literally follow Jesus in all these steps, but most Christians only do so to lesser degrees. However, there is no avoidance of the cross in one shape or other.

THE COMMANDMENTS & THE BEATITUDES - The Ten Commandments are the absolute minimum requirements for human beings to live a good life, a life that avoids offending God. However, Christians are called to far surpass this minimum, and in his sermon on the mount, Jesus summed up the new life He has come to offer in God in the Eight Beatitudes. These give the key points or elements in our new life in Jesus as children of God. There are unlimited reflections and meditations on the Beatitudes in print and on the Internet. Again, we must be vigilant to weigh what we find and, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Church's teaching, keep what is good and reject what is defective.

God's peace to you and to your family, dear sister, dear brother in the Lord Jesus.... Happy, Healthy, and Holy New Year!


My purpose in these posts is to help spread the contributions of a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


© 2004-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal  QC
© 2004-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC

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