20 Times Mark Shea Blew Us Away at the National Catholic Register – EpicPew

20 Times Mark Shea Blew Us Away at the National Catholic Register

Mark Shea is a blogger, book author, Catholic speaker and a self-proclaimed ‘double jump convert’ – first from an agnostic pagan to non-denominational Evangelical, and then to the Catholic Church. Many of us were converted from his wonderful apologetics work from Ignatius Press, By What Authority: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition. 

Mark Shea                          Mark Shaved

Top top it all off, he has a fantastic beard  – what more could you ask of a Catholic writer? Check out these twenty articles that he has published on the National Catholic Register.  Each of the articles has reached thousands of people throughout the world, tickling our bellies with laughter, and making us think hard about our faith life. There’s certainly a deep archive to pull from, but here’s 20 times Shea blew us away.


1. Imagine if People Actually Fell for John Lennon’s Nonsense

“The 60s were a decade. They were not the apex of human experience and the generation that came of age in that decade is not the summit of human life….Everyone who lived through the 60s experienced them a lot. Some of them even learned from the folly of that decade.”


2. Ten Things to Do as a Catholic Before You’re Dead 

Well, obviously number one is ‘Go to Rome.’  But have you ever thought about reading Shakespeare and the Cantebury Tales? Or researching the Catholic influence in music pieces like Let it Be and the collected works of Bing Crosby? While you’re adding things to your own Catholic bucket list, be sure to check out Mark’s post for some great ideas.


3. Mary: Mother of God 

As Catholics, the Church’s teachings on Mary as the Mother of God are often questioned by our Protestant brothers and sisters.  Why bother with Mary? Why not focus our attention and petition to Christ himself? In this article, Mark delves into the rich depths of Catholic tradition and history to answer questions about Mary. Nope, she’s not a goddess.  Yep, she’s the Mother of God.


4. What’s the Story with Relics? (Part 1) 

Why do Catholics venerate the bodies of dead people? In this article, Mark explains the Catholic practice of relics through the lens of Church history and tradition, along with some good old fashioned logic.  “It’s a classic instance of grace perfecting nature: taking our natural impulse to cherish Dad’s watch, gawk at Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers in the Smithsonian, or sleep where George Washington once slept and putting that impulse in touch with the sacramental power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives.”  (For a great post about popular relics in the Church today, check out part two of the relic article.


5. Love Ain’t Feelings 

As Haddaway famously penned…’What is love?’ (Baby don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me. No more.)  In this article, Mark tackles the commonly held misconception that love is just a fleeting feeling.  Utilizing resources such as C.S. Lewis, Biblical passages and Star Wars references, Mark talks about love throughout the liturgical celebration of the Mass and our relationship with God.

“We “go through the motions” as Christ offers Himself to the Father in the Eucharist — not because the Mass is “empty ritual,” but because it is full and we are empty. We join in with Jesus’ self-offering and are not told to “take, feel” but “take, eat.” We may or may not feel something, but as long as we obey the command to eat, we are pleasing to God — because we obey Him.”


6. What Catholics Need to Know about Marriage and Sex

Speaking of love, let’s talk about sex.  Or rather, let’s read about Mark talking about sex.  In this article, Mark discusses how God is neither male or female, and the implications that has in our worship of him as human beings.  He also sheds light on the ability of marriage as a foreshadowing of our final relationship with God.

“Bottom line: Marriage refers to Christ and the Church. If we are going to understand what every Catholic needs to know about marriage and sex, that’s where we start, because that’s where God starts. As Catholics, your marriage and mine takes its reality from the fact that it is a sacramental participation in the only fully Real Marriage there is: the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. It is a spiritual reality in Christ before it is something that happens in a bed.”


7. Why a Celibate Priesthood? 

A sign of contradiction – men giving up sex for the greater good of the Kingdom of God.  They’ve got to be crazy, right? Wrong.  In this article Mark talks about how Catholic priests are married to the Bride of Christ – the Catholic Church.  In a culture that is obsessed with sex, priests act as a light in the darkness, proving the beauty of sexuality.

“Since Jesus is celibate, and since, as Paul says, virginity for the sake of Christ is a higher state than marriage, and since a priest is an alter Christus or other Christ, when he is standing in the place of Christ to celebrate the Eucharist (i.e., the marriage supper of the Lamb) we should not be terribly surprised that in antiquity the discipline grew up (spontaneously, from the grass roots) of more and more priests likewise choosing to be celibate (though some were married).  The discipline got lived out in different ways depending on where you were in the Church.”


8. St. Thomas Aquinas and the Sciences 

Science and the Catholic Church – not as incompatible as you may think.  In fact, even the great Doctor of the Church, Thomas Aquinas thought the Church and Science were a pretty neat combination.  Mark writes about how the Catholic faith and the exploration of the world through science are interwoven.  God is a God of order, and discovering the beauty of the natural world should point us back to the Creator Himself.

“But with the rise of Christian culture, the came with it the conviction of the Faith that the universe was the creation of a just and orderly God who is the Logos: the ordering principle behind the universe.  That was the first thing needed for the rise of the sciences: a fundamental belief that the search for order in the universe would not be a waste of time.”


9. “Why Me?” “Why Not Me?” 

Suffering is a part of the human existence on this earth.  But too often, we let suffering pass us by without taking the incredible opportunity it offers us to connect our pain with the pain of Christ crucified.  Mark writes about how to switch our mentality from questioning why we suffer, to instead rejoice in the opportunity to unite our suffering to the cross.

“I suspect that many—indeed most—people who think they disbelieve in God are really just angry at him. It’s hard to believe he loves you when you are suffering great pain or loss. But the Sign of the Cross is the sign that God is with us in our suffering. Not merely “with us” in that empty, tedious Hallmark greeting card way….Rather, God is with us—right at our side—in the very worst suffering the human person can endure.”


10. Mary: First Guardian of the Faith 

In another epic post (and we love things that are epic) about the beauty Marian devotion, Mark writes about the beauty of Mary as an example of the perfect disciple of Christ.  It is she that guards Jesus through his birth onto the earth, and sees him grow and mature as a child.  Not only is she a guardian of the faith, but she is also a ‘type of Church’

“The life of Mary is divinely ordained to establish a pattern. Her motherhood of God Incarnate means something, reveals something. She is not simply a mammalian incubator unit who is (regrettably) necessary until Jesus can take care of himself. She is not the disposable first stage of the rocket of salvation. Her relationship with Jesus begins in grace and is divinely ordained to stand as a sort of icon for all time. By her “yes” she becomes, in the words of St. Ambrose of Milan, a “type of the Church”. God involves her in his saving work. Therefore, her life and her fortunes are inextricably linked with those of her Son.”


11. Would Jesus Salute the Flag?

Short answer, yes.  Long answer – loving your country is an extension of Christ’s commandment to love your neighbor.  Mark makes sure to differentiate between loving one’s country and chugging a good cold Budweiser while shouting ‘Merica.

“It is the recognition that love does not stop at my front door, or even at my next door neighbor’s front door, but that it extends to my town, my state, and my country (and beyond). Seen in this light, patriotism is simply common sense. As we are to love our neighbor (including our enemy) we are to love our country (even when she sins).”


12. How Tradition Gave Us the Bible

Did you ever wonder about how the books that are in the Bible were selected? Or why we read from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John but not from the Gospel of Thomas in Mass? Mark (Shea, not the apostle) writes a great article about the tradition behind the books of the Bible.

“The Church said, in essence, “Does the book have a widespread and ancient tradition concerning its apostolic origin and/or approval?  Check.  Does the book square with the Tradition we all learned from the apostles and the bishops they gave us?  Check.  Then it is to be used in public worship and is to be regarded as the word of God.”


13. The Belief in Purgatory is Much Earlier than You Realize

Purgatory.  Actually a Biblical belief that has been held since early Jewish tradition.  So it wasn’t invented by the Catholic Church? Nope.  Check out Mark’s article to learn more about the origins of our understanding of Purgatory – and what it means for our lives today.

“Purgatory is the assurance that there will, in the end, be absolutely nothing to dim the mirror of our lives from reflecting the glory of God. We, who have been captive to sin for so long, will be released. Moreover, as sharers in the life of Christ, we have an extraordinary promise from him.”


14. Don’t be Afraid to Tell the Truth, God Can Take it 

“I don’t feel like I’m allowed to express any pain over how bad I hurt inside, because I’m a sinner and so anything I’m suffering is my fault anyway. That makes me angry, but then I think ‘I can’t be mad at God because being mad at Him suggests that He did something wrong, and since He’s never wrong, it’s wrong for me to be angry at Him.'”

If you’ve ever struggled with telling God the truth about how you’re feeling in your heart and soul, join the club.  The good news is that God can handle your suffering – He is a God with broad shoulders.  Read more about how to overcome the fear of vulnerability over at Mark’s article.


15. Mother Angelica: An Appreciation 


Mother Angelica passed away to her Heavenly reward this past Easter. In this article, Mark talks about the time he met Mother Angelica.  It turns out she was pretty awesome.  And fiery.  Read more by clicking through to his article.

“Mother stared at the ground and clutched the arms of her chair as her face blackened. “I promised… I’d be… good!” she said quietly through gritted teeth. “BUT I’M GOING TO SPEAK MY MIND!” she exploded. “AND WITH YOU HERE!”, she said, looking at me.

I was starled (knowing nothing of the woman but her soft grandma hands) and thought. “It’s your show, Mother. Knock yourself out”, but said nothing.

Then she ripped into the priest and bishop to the effect that they should be working themselves to death saying Masses and not allowing any of this lame communion service stuff. It was epic. I loved her. A character straight out of Dickens.”


16. God’s Gift of Lent 

How do we explain Lent to our Protestant brothers and sisters? Is it just a time where we give up chocolate or soda pop for forty days, grit our teeth and count down ’til Easter? Or is it a time of sacrificial love that draws us closer to the heart of Christ and His Passion? Check out what Mark has to say.

“Many of my Protestant friends are uncomfortable with Lent. “It’s all about mortification and self-discipline when we know that the Risen Jesus is joyful and alive!” they say. “We don’t need to mortify ourselves to please God. That’s why Jesus died for us, so we don’t have be ‘good enough’. Moreover, Catholics call it a ‘holy season’ and Paul says in Colossians 2:16-17 that we shouldn’t observe any day as special. So hasn’t the Church disobeyed the Bible by doing the Lenten thing?”


17. A Sanders Fan Asks About Church Teaching on Voting 

It’s election season and what is a Catholic to do? Do we vote for a candidate or do we use our vote as a vote against the other side? Mark’s reader asks him his opinion on voting pro-life, and Mark answers eloquently.

“How did we get here? And how do we avoid being dragged any further away from our goal of saving children by this repeated and now spectacular Mission Creep that afflicts us each and every election cycle?”


18. The Only Real Use for Money is to Help You Get to Heaven 

Tithing.  Giving out of our first fruits and not our surplus.  It isn’t always easy and we don’t always like to talk about it.  But money is a tool that God gives us to get us to Heaven.  How exactly does that work? Check out what Mark has to say.

“So what do we do?  Well one useful rule of thumb is to tithe: five percent to the Church, five percent to some other charity.  However, the thing to bear in mind is that this is simply a baseline.  In short, don’t go below it, but feel free to go as far above it as you like.  The idea is that you are using your resources to give as much life and love as you can, not that you are fulfilling a minimum daily adult requirement of eating spinach.  “Generosity” is related to words like “generate” and “generation”.  It speaks of a joyful willingness to create the conditions for life and love and human flourishing.”


19. Hurt by the Church? 

The Church is the Body of Christ.  And sometimes we can be pretty messy as human beings.  If you’ve been hurt by something in the Catholic Church, check out what Mark has to say about forgiveness and healing.

“And all this sets the stage for a rich and colorful pageant of Catholic history in which Catholics drive each other crazy, hurt each other, lie to each other, cheat each other, make war on each other, rape each other, and kill each other.  And by this, I mean Catholics from every walk of life.  You can find everybody from Pope to dog catcher in the rogue’s gallery: clerical, lay, male, female, young, old, black, white, unlettered ruffian, cultured scholar, foreign, and domestic. 

No wonder Paul has to exhort us to bear with one another (Colossians 3:13) and Jesus tells us to forgive one another.  It’s easy to forget that these instructions are not some platform for general social reform in which saintly Christians march out and show a barbarous world of buffoons the True Path.”


20. We’re All Bad Catholics 

Instead of concerning ourselves with fear over whether we’re being a ‘good Catholic’ or a ‘bad Catholic,’ Mark uses this article to talk about how we are all called to embrace God’s unconditional love.  We’re all in need of His mercy.  If you want to learn more about how to love like God loves, check out this article.

“In short, in every age there have been a) Catholics who don’t much feel like acting or thinking as Catholics; b) Catholics eager to find such people and kick them and anybody who might smell a bit like them out of the Church for the sake of purity; c) ordinary people caught in the middle and d) the Church herself, trying to shepherd this vast herd of cats toward heaven.”

Keep up the fantastic work, Mark! We can’t wait to see what you write next!

To keep up with Mark’s writing on epicPew, check out his profile! You can also scroll through the pages of his archive over at the National Catholic Register.