Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Not a Big Fan of Camping

Occasionally, a friend will ask me, “Do you ever go camping?” In my mind, that question is no different than if he had asked, “Do you ever barbecue puppies?” Both activities are equally reprehensible. 

Let’s take a macro view of human history. For tens of thousands of years mankind has worked hard to make life safer, healthier, and more comfortable. The most important aspect of this relentless quest has been the invention of a thing called a “building.” Buildings keep rain off our heads. They are able to keep at bay both biting cold in the winter and oppressive heat in the summer. They prevent wild animals from gnawing on our jugular veins while we sleep. And buildings stop insects from regularly crawling inside our ears and nostrils and the nether regions of our underwear.
When someone chooses to go camping, all of these amazing advancements in human safety, health, and comfort are thrown right out the window. Except when you’re camping, there is no window, just a flimsy screen by the tent entrance, which causes bears, racoons, snakes, spiders, and earwigs to laugh heartily while saying, “Oh fellas, this is gonna be a fun night. We’re gonna drive these humans CRAZY!”

The one word in the previous paragraph that makes me shudder is the word “chooses.” People actually choose, of their own free will, to go camping. I could understand it if they had lost a bet. “Yup, your favorite team lost a playoff game, so you either owe me $100 or else you have to spend the night outdoors inside an oversized trash bag!” 

Or I could understand if someone decided to go camping on a dare, or if they did it to barter for goods or services. “OK, if you actually spend the entire night outside, then I’ll let you borrow my pickup truck.”
But people do this horrible activity willingly! And furthermore, they spend a lot of hard earned money in the process. Camping equipment is not cheap — tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses, battery-powered lanterns, bug spray, coolers, cooking equipment, etc. Then there are the fees at campgrounds, which can be rather pricey. Purchasing all this stuff, just so you can spend a long weekend at a campsite, costs about the same as seven days in a fancy hotel. Just in case you weren't aware, hotels have walls and ceilings. And heating and air conditioning. And beds and toilets. And TVs and mini-refrigerators. And hot water and towels. Also, many hotels are located near state parks and lakes, so if you really want to go swimming and hiking during the daylight hours, you are not required to spend the night sleeping on the ground and feeding your blood to mosquitoes, gnats, and grizzly bears. 

By the way, there is another activity often called “camping,” but it is nothing of the sort. Some people spend the night in a three-bedroom raised ranch on wheels, and actually tell their friends that they went camping. Sleeping in a recreational vehicle (or RV) is not camping. Everything I previously listed that is available in a hotel room is also available in an RV. The cost of purchasing an RV — along with gas, maintenance, camp site fees, etc. — is equal to the cost of booking a hotel room … every night for the rest of your life.
So, I think it’s clear that the proliferation of camping is a sign that a sizable percentage of Americans have simply lost their minds. That’s the only explanation. For all you campers who are going to write me a nasty email, I bet you will write it from a comfortable BUILDING, rather than a tiny tent. Which kind of proves my point.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The Eucharist, Part 3

This is the third and final segment in our series about the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, the belief that the bread and wine at Communion truly become the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Not coincidentally, a large Eucharistic Congress is taking place in Indianapolis this week. So, please pray for those people.
So far, we’ve discussed the fact that some groups accuse the Catholic Church of inventing the doctrine of the Eucharist during the Middle Ages, many centuries after the time Jesus walked the earth. These folks insist that everyone during the early years of Christianity knew that all the talk about Jesus’ “body and blood” was just symbolic. No one, it is claimed, believed that bread and wine somehow miraculously changed into the real body and blood of Christ. 

Last week we examined some passages from the Bible, specifically Jesus’ words in John, chapter 6, and St. Paul’s writings in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11. When you read these verses from Scripture, there is no hint of any figurative or symbolic meaning; the words about eating flesh, drinking blood, and recognizing the body of the Lord come across as quite literal.

This week, let’s take a look at the teachings from some early Church fathers. These words all come from the first few centuries of Christianity; that is, way before the Middle Ages, when the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was allegedly invented.
  • St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110 AD): “[Heretics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our savior Jesus Christ” (Letter to Smyrnians 7:1).

  • St. Justin Martyr (c. 100 – 165 AD): “For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (First Apology, 66).
  • St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 140 – 202 AD): “[Jesus] has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be His own blood...and the bread, a part of creation, He has established as His own body” (Against Heresies 5:2:2).
These quotations, and many similar ones, clearly spell out what the early Church believed and practiced regarding the Eucharist. (See my book “The Gospel According to Morty,” specifically the section titled, “Is the Real Presence Really Real?” Available on Amazon Kindle.) It is simply impossible for an honest seeker to claim the Catholic Church “invented” the idea of the Real Presence sometime during the Middle Ages. 

Renowned historian J.N.D. Kelly was a professor at Oxford and an expert on the early Christian church. Although Kelly, who died in 1997 at age 88, was a life-long member of the Anglican Church (a Protestant denomination), he had the honesty to write: “Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood” (Early Christian Doctrines, page 440).

A significant percentage of practicing Catholics do not accept the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist. They think it’s just a symbolic ritual. I suppose that’s understandable. It is hard to wrap your brain around the claim that mere bread and wine are transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus, just because a priest said some words. 
Here is one last quotation, from St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 350 AD): “Do not, therefore, regard the Bread and Wine as simply that; for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but be fully assured by the faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the Body and Blood of Christ” (22 [Mystagogic 4], 6) (Emphasis added.)

Please take the time to investigate the doctrine of the Eucharist, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the “source and summit of the faith.” Christ is truly present. The Eucharist is the closest we can get to Our Lord on this side of Heaven. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

A Day at the Beach

Recently, I spent a lovely afternoon hanging out at a beach in Rhode Island. Here are some random thoughts:

I saw a woman come out of the water and I said to myself, “Oh, she’s got seaweed all over her leg.” Then I looked a little closer and said, “Oops, never mind. Just a massive tattoo.”

As the afternoon wore on, I thought, “That sunblock I sprayed on myself four hours ago should still be working, right?” Later that evening, I had my answer: “Wrong!” Say hello to Mr. Redneck. Or if you prefer, Mr. Red Calves. Or Mr. Red Left Ear. (I have no idea how one ear got burned but not the other.)

Speaking of sunburn, I get it that the beach in the summer is not my ideal environment. I’ve never had a tan in my life, and I’ve had skin cancers removed three times. But now that my hair is gray, I look more pale than ever. I look like Andy Warhol and Edgar Winter had a baby. To give you an idea, if I took off my shirt and stood next to the Pillsbury Dough Boy, I’d make Poppin’ Fresh look like he was from Puerto Rico.
Speaking of taking off one’s shirt, I was pretty much the only person on the entire East Matunuck State Beach who kept a shirt on the whole time, even when I was in the water. I do that partly to avoid the sun and partly to keep young kids from exclaiming, “Look Mommy! Frosty the Snowman is swimming!”

I can only assume that tattoo artists are now in the same tax bracket as investment bankers. There were more works of art on display on that beach than in the entire Louvre. Have you ever gone to an event at, say, a fancy country club, and walked through the parking lot filled with Mercedes, BMWs, and Bentleys, and thought, “I wonder what all these cars are worth?”? Well, I took a long walk on that beach and thought, “I wonder what all these tattoos cost?” The total has to be equal to the annual GDP of some mid-sized country. The U.S. economy is not in recession as long as people can afford that many tattoos.
Walking around for hours while barefoot is something I do exactly once each year, when I visit the Rhode Island shore. Even though I pamper my feet with socks and shoes the other 364 days, I’m always taken by surprise at how tender the soles of my feet are. I’m pretty sure every part of my body is tougher, including my corneas. Walking around the smooth sand at the edge of the surf was OK. But then some areas had a lot of pebbles, and the walkway at the pavilion where the bathrooms were located was made of some kind of asphalt with embedded gravel. So, by the end of the afternoon, my doggies were howling. But on the plus side, this year the blisters on the soles of my feet healed in only nine days.

Even though I’m not cut out for the sunny shore, and even though I limp for a week afterward, I love going there. The smell of the salty green ocean and the steady drone of the crashing waves are delightful sensations. Whenever I go to the beach, I just close my eyes, inhale deeply, and listen. Within 15 minutes my blood pressure drops 20 points. It’s awesome.

I had so much fun at the beach this year, maybe instead of waiting until next year, I’ll go again later this summer. I just have to wait for the burns, the blisters, and the sand-in-your-shorts chafing to heal.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

The Eucharist, Part 2

Last week we noted that some groups claim the Catholic Church invented the concept of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist during the Middle Ages, long after the time Jesus walked the earth. Further, it is claimed that everyone understood from the beginning that the bread and wine were just symbolic, and nothing in the Bible describes the false Catholic view.

Well, this week let’s take a look at that claim. In the gospel of John, chapter 6, Jesus says some interesting things. While speaking to a large crowd, in what became known as the “Bread of Life Discourse,” Jesus compared Himself to the manna that came from Heaven and fed the ancient Israelites. He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
At this statement, many in the crowd were shocked. They argued among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” This was not an unreasonable question. 

Because Jesus’ statement was so shocking and offensive, many people conclude that He must have been speaking figuratively. Throughout His ministry, Jesus often spoke in figurative and symbolic language, for example, comparing Himself to a gate and to living water. But during this sermon, right after the people grumbled, read what Jesus said next, and count how many times He used figurative and symbolic terms:  

“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” 

Whoa, there is nothing figurative or symbolic there at all! Jesus not only did NOT offer any symbolic interpretation of His original claim, He instead repeated the harsh and startling statement four more times!
There is just no way an open-minded person can read John’s gospel, chapter 6, and conclude that Jesus was only speaking in figurative language. This is strong proof that the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist came directly from the mouth of Our Lord, rather than from some scheming Church leaders in the Middle Ages.

Here is some additional biblical evidence. In St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11, he discussed the believers’ communal gathering each Sunday. He wrote, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord....For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

Interestingly, one of the most popular Evangelical translations of the Bible, the New International Version, is even more stark: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” 

Whether it’s the current Catholic translation, “...without discerning the body,” or a popular Protestant translation, “...without recognizing the body,” it is quite clear that St. Paul believed the body of Jesus had to be present in order to be recognized. How could Paul, a brilliant man who chose his words carefully, have picked the words “discerning” or “recognized” if he thought the bread was simply bread, a mere symbol and remembrance of Jesus? 

How could Paul possibly have been so upset, accusing the Corinthians of conducting the ceremony in an “unworthy” manner, of “sinning against the body and blood of the Lord,” if the body and blood of the Lord was not actually there to sin against? 
It is illogical that Paul would write these words if he believed the bread was just bread and the wine was just wine. This passage in 1 Corinthians, along with John chapter 6, are clear evidence that the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is found in Scripture. Claims that the doctrine is unbiblical are simply wrong.

Next week, the National Eucharistic Congress will take place in Indianapolis. For our third and final segment of this series, we will review next time what the early Church fathers said about the Eucharist. Then you can make your own educated decision about the accuracy of the claim that the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist was “invented” in the Middle Ages.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

How Many Photos Are Enough?

From the time I was born, up to the age of 10, there were exactly nine photographs taken of me. Each one was in black-and-white, and they were spread out fairly evenly. There was one of me as a baby, one as a toddler, one as a young boy on a tricycle, and so on, up to the ninth photo, me as a buck-toothed 5th grader wearing what seemed to be an odd version of Capri pants. Actually, I had a growth spurt that year, but our family rule was: no new pants until the “back to school” sales at the end of August. So, I had to go an entire summer wearing “high-water pants” and getting sunburned shins.

Compare that to my four-year-old grandson, known as the “Rhode Island Wonder Boy™.” In the 48 months since his birth, there have been approximately 97,000 photos taken of him, along with over 1800 hours of video. I’m pretty sure in four short years he’s had his picture taken more often than the Beatles did from 1959 through 1970.

Every person the “RIWB™” knows — my daughter and son-in-law, each of his four grandparents, various aunts, uncles, neighbors, etc. — own smartphones with cameras. And these smartphones have multi-gigabyte storage capacities, so it is possible to record every moment of this young boy’s existence. We don’t do that, of course. Instead, we just record every OTHER moment of his existence.

This is not to say that each of those 97,000 photos and every minute of those 1800 hours of video have ever been viewed by anyone. We are all in the habit of taking zillions of pictures of the boy, but never actually doing anything with them once they’re stored on our phones. I suppose our plan is to have archeologists a thousand years from now unearth one of our phones and conclude that a particular young boy must’ve been crowned monarch of the nation, which required all of his court jesters to chronicle every move during his imperial reign.

Well, that’s not exactly correct. Some of those photos do see the light of day. The younger folks involved in this whole process — that is, those who weren’t around during the “black-and-white photos are the only option” days – are familiar with exotic wizardry such as Instagram and Snapchat. So, some images of the “RIWB™” are posted on these online platforms for others to view. But over 99% of the recorded images remain as unseen piles of zeros and ones in the memory chips of various smartphones.

Compare technology throughout the ages. George Washington never was photographed. It hadn’t been invented yet. Ol’ George had his portrait painted half a dozen times, and that was about it. Unless you were famous or wealthy, your image was never recorded for future generations. 

Then photography came into existence. If you were fortunate, maybe you’d be able to save up and have your picture taken — but only once in your entire life. If your eye twitched the moment the button was pressed, or if you were having a bad hair day, tough luck. That one image is how your descendants knew you for multiple generations.
So nowadays, billions of people worldwide, including a youngster in the Ocean State, are having their pictures taken more frequently than Marilyn Monroe ever did. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I have no idea. All I know is when a cute little boy says, “Papa, let’s go outside and play,” I grab my Red Sox hat and my phone, to make sure I record the delightful moments I’m about to have. Maybe someday when I’m in a nursing home, those images will be the one thing that makes me smile.

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Is the Doctrine of the Eucharist a Recent Invention?

In 2021, the U.S. Catholic bishops announced a 3-year Eucharistic Revival campaign. The first two years focused on promoting the Eucharist at the local parish level. Now, during the final year, there will be a National Eucharistic Congress, which will be held in Indianapolis on July 17 through 21.

With the Eucharistic Congress coming up soon, this is a good time to discuss the Eucharist, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls “the source and summit of the Christian life.”
First, let’s take a look at the origins of the Eucharist, the Church doctrine that claims the bread and wine at Mass are transformed in the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.

There is a popular Bible tract that discusses the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist. By the way, Bible tracts are small booklets, sometimes with comic book illustrations, that present religious teachings. Fundamentalist Christians distribute Bible tracts by the millions. 

In this popular tract about the Eucharist, an unnamed pope during the Middle Ages is shown hatching a scheme to keep people in fear of the Church. With the aid of a trusted adviser, whose comic book image looks suspiciously like Satan, this pope announces out of the clear blue sky a brand new doctrine: he and all ordained priests now have the magical powers to transform bread into the body of Jesus Christ. All people must bow down and worship this bread, a practice which the tract calls blatant idolatry.

Furthermore, all people are required to eat this magical “bread of life,” or else they will NOT go to Heaven. And finally, if people disobey or in any way question anything said or done by priests, then the priests will withhold the magical bread, which means the disobedient persons are destined to spend eternity in Hell.
The Bible tract alleges this diabolical scheme was implemented during Medieval times, hundreds and hundreds of years after Jesus walked the earth. Therefore, the Catholic Church’s claim that the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Christ is not only unbiblical, but it is also based on purely selfish and power-hungry motives.

The comic book tract concludes by urging readers to flee from the non-Christian, Satan-inspired, demon-possessed Roman Catholic Church.

Fortunately, few Protestant groups nowadays go to this extreme in presenting nasty anti-Catholic teachings. However, the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is a major stumbling block. The Catholic Church does indeed teach that mere bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus Christ when an ordained priest says the prayer of consecration during Mass. Most Protestant groups, on the other hand, believe Communion is just a symbolic ritual, and the elements used, bread and wine (or grape juice), remain unchanged. When the worship service is over, any leftovers are tossed in the trash. Compare that to the Catholic practice of reverently putting any leftover hosts in the Tabernacle, typically located behind the altar in the church sanctuary.

To further complicate this issue, a sizable number of Catholics, including many ordained priests, do not believe the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist. They simply find it too fantastical that bread and wine can turn into the body and blood of Jesus.
If the Catholic belief is correct — that Jesus’ body and blood truly become present at Mass — then the Eucharist is the most powerful way for a person to be in union with the Son of God on this side of Heaven. It is “Emmanuel,” God with us, and therefore should be the central focus of the Christian life. But if the Protestant view is correct — that the bread and wine remain just bread and wine, and the whole ritual was meant by Jesus to be merely a symbolic gesture — then the Catholic Church, as the little comic book tract declares, is guilty of promoting the worst sin of all: idolatry, the worship of anything other than God.

Next week we will examine the claim that the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is not biblical. Are there any verses in Scripture that indicate whether or not the Catholic teaching about the “Real Presence” is true?

Stay tuned for next week’s episode.