by Father Don Thomas
History and everyday living experiences are great teachers when it comes to recognizing that many of the arguments, disagreements and divisions in our society are the result of the failure to recognize and identify the influence and power of animate and inanimate agents of instrumentality. To limit the scope of this reflection, I would like to focus attention on the field of religion, for it is definitely an aspect of daily life that clearly gives evidence to the truth and reality of our opening statement above.
In dealing with religion and more specifically with the tenets of the Catholic Church, one can easily come up with countless examples of how God has used men, women and children (animate creatures) and also inanimate creatures like books, animals, stars, water, wine, bread, spittle, dust, oil, fire, clouds and hundreds of other things that have been used as agents of instrumentality. Let us now proceed to concentrate our attention on two topics of interest and importance in the lives of millions of people: the production of life and the forgiveness of sins. Let us consider each one.
Religious-minded people of various denominations believe that God created the first man and woman with no help from anyone. In other words, God created life directly. Centuries later, Jesus was to be conceived in the womb of Mary in a miraculous manner, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Extraordinary situations! But ordinarily, how is life produced? God uses the bodies of men and women to provide a body for each individual soul that He creates.
What a privilege it is, to be an instrument of God in the privilege of procreation. It is hard to believe that some men and women are bold and brazen enough to maintain that having babies is all up to the couple to determine. They will tell you it is so personal that it is in no way the business of the parents, the church, or even God to get involved in this decision. It is all up to the couple. I ask these "free thinkers" this question: if it is all up to the couple, why is it that we have millions of childless couples in the world? I'm talking about couples who really want to have children. It really is God's business because if He does not create a soul, you will never have a baby , no matter how long you may try.God creates the soul and the men and women are instruments in bringing life into the world. Therefore, the same God who can create life directly can also create life indirectly. He does this three or four thousand times a day. Keep that distinction in mind as we now move on to the next topic for consideration: the forgiveness of sin.
God's plan for procreation must be respected, and also His plan for the forgiveness of sin. When we make up our own plans and they do not relate to God's plans, we have a problem on our hands. This is precisely why we have so many contradictory positions in religion. We know that Catholics believe in Confession to a priest, while other religions or denominations reject such a plan. What I would like to show in this reflection is that millions of these people are very sincere but they are not being honest with God or themselves in this matter of forgiveness of sin. Over the past fifty years I have had hundreds of Non-Catholics describe their position in this fashion. They say that they are Baptists, for example, and they sometimes even say that they were thinking of becoming Catholics, but Confession was the main obstacle in the way. One might say for example: " I am a Baptist, baptized in Hartford, CT in 1998 by Rev. John Smith, at Trinity Baptist Church. From the time I was a little girl I was taught that my salvation is such a personal matter, that it is all about me and God. I was also taught that only God can forgive sins. No man can forgive sins. The Bible clearly makes it known in Paul's letter to Timothy that there is only one true Mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus Christ. I have nothing against the Catholic Church, as my husband is Catholic and I have a lot of Catholic friends. I do not understand why they go to the priest to confess their sins. The Catholic Bible also says that there is only one true Mediator, one true Middleman, and that is Jesus Christ. I don't understand where the priest fits in, and that is why I do not think I could ever change my thinking, no matter what you say to me, Reverend.
Here is the response to that position or objection. I immediately proceed to praise the person for speaking up, and I tell her I am giving her 100% for sincerity, because I think she really believes what she just said. She really is sincere. But for honesty, I will not give you a mark, but after I am finished with you, you can give yourself a mark for honesty. All I want is your permission to go over what you just told me, and the reason I want to use your words is because I do not want you saying that I put words into your mouth or that I tricked you in some way. Here is why I think you are dishonest with God, with yourself and with other people when you talk about the forgiveness of sin. You have made it so clear by quoting the Bible that there is only one true Mediator or Middleman and that is Jesus Christ.
Keeping that in mind, and recalling how you said that your salvation is a personal matter between yourself and God, I want you to know that I was very happy when you told me you were a Baptist, and it pleased me when you told me where, when and how you were baptized. But when I asked you who baptized you, I would have bet a thousand dollars that you were going to say that either Jesus Christ came down and did it or else you baptized yourself, because didn't you say your salvation was a personal thing between yourself and God? Well, I want to ask you why you went to Rev Smith to be baptized? I thought you said you did not believe in a middleman. Why do millions of Protestants say they do not believe in a middleman, and yet every Sunday they go to their ministers for communion, to hear him preach, to get baptized, and more.
It is dishonest to say you do not believe in a middleman, but then you go to the minister. Why didn't you just baptize yourself? No, you were not wrong in going to your minister, because your minister is God's instrument to help you work out your salvation. But why are Catholics condemned and ridiculed when they go to their priest? Oh, that is all wrong, but it is all right for you Protestants to do the same thing. Related to this consideration is the matter of forgiving sin. The Non-Catholic position is "No man can forgive sins. Only God can". You want to know something: That is what Catholics believe also. Only God can forgive sins, but here is how we differ as Catholics and Non-Catholics. Can a man forgive sins? The answer to that question is "No—not by his own power. Can God use man as an instrument for forgiving sins? Yes, and it is easily proven by the Bible as well as what happens every time Protestants get baptized. When a Baptist, for example, gets baptized, a sin is forgiven every time. Does the minister forgive it? No, only God can forgive sin, but He uses the voice and the hands of the minister as an instrument for the forgiveness of sin. It's in your Bible. It says: "…through Baptism.we are buried with Christ in a death to sin, so that we may rise with Christ to a new life". It is an exemplification of the Easter Mystery. Jesus died on Good Friday and came back to life on Easter Sunday. Through Baptism, we die to Original Sin in which we are all conceived (and that is like Good Friday) and when baptized, we are born again to a new life that is called "grace". It makes us children of God. So, God can forgive sins directly, all by Himself—and He can also use men and women as His instruments to forgive sins (indirectly).
Read the gospel for Easter Sunday and you will hear Jesus telling those men (the Apostles) that He was giving them the power to forgive sins. So, after all these years, how can we still go around and say that no man can forgive sins? Jesus said they can. Are you still going to say they can't? I thought we all said that we believe in Jesus. One statement expresses it clearly: God alone can forgive sin in any way He wants. Directly or indirectly. There's the answer. In all walks of life—medicine, religion, education, marriage, law, and all other occupations and callings we are all instruments of God. Let us all strive to be effective!!
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