Wednesday, August 12, 2020

We the People?

Someone once said that "sacred cows make the best hamburger". I agree, but I do not want to be the one to butcher the cow (the process is somewhat repulsive). As Catholics, however, we should be very careful about our personal "sacred cows". Apart from the Lord Jesus and His commandments for us, there should be nothing that is absolutely sacred. With that said, I want to touch on something that some might see as off limits for criticism: the United States Constitution. No, I am not going to attack it; I just wish for us to consider one of its basic aspects and compare it to Catholic teaching.

So then, at this point, someone reading this is wondering whether I am a socialist, or some other kind of traitor to our country. Have no fear, few things could be further from the truth. I love my country; I love it enough to point out its weaknesses (in hopes of fixing them). If anyone is curious (although I have said this before elsewhere) I am closer to a constitutional monarchist, but America is my home, and I love her (warts and all).

The words that begin the preamble to our Constitution are "We the people". Every American child learns about them in school: big gigantic letters, standing tall so that no can miss them. This is often a prideful point for many. "We" made this government; it was not made "for us" I have heard people say. Not everyone realizes that the concept of the people independently setting up their own governmental structures comes more from Jean Jacques Rousseau (who was not faithful to his Catholic education) than from anything distinctively Catholic.

When someone says "we the people" in their reference to the creation of a governmental structure, they are asserting their own authority to create their own authority (no, that is not actually a tautology). Although many Catholics may not recognize it, this is a decidedly protestant way of thinking (which should not surprise us since all of our founding fathers were protestant). Yes, there are many differences here and there, but protestants pretty much all agree that authority begins with the people. Whether it is Baptists ruling by committee, or Episcopalians ruling by a vestry, it is not much different.

Of course, there will be some protestants who object to this. They will say that my experience (in multiple denominations over a span of 22 years) is not universal. Yet, when the protestant principle of private interpretation is coupled together with the fact that most protestants see Christianity as a buffet style religion ("pick and choose what you like") it is hard to deny.

In contrast, the Catholic position has a different way of viewing the subject. Although not always well articulated (especially in places where there is a push to have more and more "lay leadership" in the Church), the Church teaches that power comes from God and should be determined by what He says first. In 1878, Pope Leo XIII wrote Quod Apostolici Muneris, where he said:
Hence, by a new species of impiety, unheard of even among the heathen nations, states have been constituted without any count at all of God or of the order established by him; it has been given out that public authority neither derives its principles, nor its majesty, nor its power of governing from God, but rather from the multitude, which, thinking itself absolved from all divine sanction, bows only to such laws as it shall have made at its own will. 
It is all quite clear, but notice especially the final statement. Those of this mind only bow to laws that they themselves made by their own will. You do not need to be an atheist in order to behave in this manner. There are many who claim that they want to serve God and yet will only serve Him when He commands those things that they already want to do or believe. True, the Declaration of Independence does make mention of a "Creator" but it only does so in reference to the freedom he has given to us and not in any sense of our accountability to him.

That final detail is a crucial point to realize. In essence it is saying clearly that "God gave us freedom to do what makes us happy" but never acknowledges that God calls us to obedience to Him and requires us to live by the principles that He has laid out (including in the area of political decisions). If it had done so, it would have been hard to start with "we the people", and the first words would likely be "thus says the Lord" followed by a reference to God granting us His grace to "have dominion" in this world (e.g. something about kings from the book of Proverbs).

It is interesting to note that the American Constitution has no reference to God at all. Many people have noticed this before me, and the usual explanation of this is that the Constitution is a political document and there is no need to refer to God when designing your own political sphere. Presuming you are rejecting the Catholic position, then that would be true; but not for us. Including reference to "the Creator" in the Declaration of Independence, but leaving Him out of the Constitution is like saying, "God gave us freedom to rebel against England, but from there we make our own choices". I wonder what Pope Leo XIII would say about that?

No, the Scriptures do not lay out for us a specific plan of political theory. Yet, that does not mean that we can ignore what the Scriptures say about good and bad politics, or what they say about where authority is derived from. If that had been included in our Constitution, bill of rights, and the Declaration of Independence, what might our nation look like today?

I have heard that when the Confederate States of America were setting things up at the beginning of the War Between the States, they also rejected such references to the Lord and His authority. Selfishness just seems to breed further selfishness. Where would be if all our forefathers had made a Catholic choice in these areas? And how might the hearts of Americans be impacted by this important truth? These questions need to be asked, and we need to consider them as we see the turmoil America is in today.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Stop Worrying!

Once, when I was about 10 years old, I jammed my finger back very hard, and it hurt incredibly. My grandfather asked if I wanted him to make the pain go away, and I said "yes". He stomped on my foot! It did not actually make the pain go away, but I did not think about my finger for few minutes because of the pain in my foot. That was what my grandfather was like; a bit rough around the edges.

Here is a funny little detail about all this Covid stuff going on: I do not remember the last time that we were feeling perplexed about some odd and seemingly unorthodox comment made by Pope Francis. This does not mean that he has not made any odd comments, just that we have not heard about them; our attention has been focused elsewhere of late. We have been more worried about riots, and communist takeovers, and toilet paper shortages! It is funny how a simple thing like a pandemic can change your perspective.

I have seen, more than once, that the fear of Pope Francis' (apparently) unorthodox comments and behavior, is often worse than the actual outcome of his unorthodox comments and behavior. One comment he made a couple years ago caused quite a few people that I know to respond with serious worry. They were concerned that the end result was going to be a total collapse of Church authority and an open acceptance of immorality in the Church. The actual result? well, I am not even sure that most people remember that he said it.

It is good for us to be concerned about something that our Holy Father says if it sounds contrary to the Catholic faith; we are called to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" in our lives. This means that we are foolish if we do not take notice at some of these things. We can, however, go overboard and spend more time fretting about what is happening than trusting our Lord to help us through it. To live in fear about something Pope Francis says or does (or any clergyman for that matter) is to live in disobedience to Christ's encouragement to trust Him in all things.

Fear is exactly what the devil wants to inspire in us, and it does not matter to him what we are afraid of, just so long as we are truly afraid of something other than God. Fear cripples us and prevents us from being able to grow in faith. We end up making decisions based more on what we fear than on the power of God (which is stronger than anything that we can ever fear). This is not the way to live.

Yes, we are supposed to be concerned about bad things happening, so that we can respond to them with wisdom and holiness. Responding to them, however, does not mean hiding in a back room, whining, and wringing our hands together because we have no confidence in our God. After all, ask yourself right now, what has greater influence on your decisions in life (especially the major ones)? Is it something that someone does or says, or is it our Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ? Are you taking as many precautions, right now in your life, to protect your soul as you do to protect your body?

This can be seen in many ways today. I have said it before, and I will repeat it often because few seem to recognize this. Worrying about what the Covid can do to you has far worse long term effects than what the Covid can actually do to you. Jesus said to trust Him and not to worry! The fear of the virus is worse than the virus itself. This may cause some to be upset at me (that is certainly not my goal), but: we cannot live in fear -- dying from a virus is not as bad as turning away from Christ and ending up in eternal Hell. I have seen many people who are cowering in fear and willing to do just about anything to avoid physical death, yet it seems that very few are willing to do much of anything to avoid an eternal death.

Do not give in to the devil. Turn away from him and place your full confidence in Christ. Our Lord does not want you to live in fear of anything in this world. Jesus is still on His throne, and He still rules over all. Develop the virtues of faith and hope; faith in the promises of Christ, and hope in His great power and love.

Friday, July 31, 2020

The Priceless Pearl

(The following is a brief summary of the homily I gave last Sunday in my three parishes. It is written at the request of a few of my parishioners.)

This does not happen to me often, and I do not want to give the impression that I am something special because of it, but it did happen and it stayed with me. I was praying for my parishes recently and pleading with the Lord that He would grant a particular request. In the midst of my prayer, I was overwhelmed with an "inner voice" that spoke to me. It was not merely an impression, but specific words that I could repeat out loud. In my heart I heard: "Don't presume to tell God what's needed here, as though you know more than He does; God knows what is needed, and He will always give exactly what is needed and it may not be the same as what you want!" Then as the words finished, I was struck by the realization that it was not the Lord Who was speaking to me, but rather the Blessed Virgin. Like a Mommy wagging her finger and saying "shape up kiddo!"

I had to change my perspective in that prayer. I knew how to pray rightly, but was not doing so at that moment. I quickly adjusted and said, "Lord, I think this is what is needed, but You know best." We have to do that at times in our lives: readjust our perspective on what really matters, and what the Lord considers valuable. In the gospel reading last Sunday we are told about a pearl of great value, and we all know that the ultimate Pearl is none other than Christ Himself. Yet, once we realize that truth, then we also must follow along and submit all our "values" to Him for that very same adjustment I referred to above. This is a hard task, but it is essential (and somewhat natural) for those who see Christ as that Pearl of ultimate value.

How do you determine whether you are keeping Christ as the most important and valuable thing in your life? Ask yourself quickly: "How do I make spiritual decisions?" If you are deciding on spiritual matters based on convenience then you can be sure that you are not keeping Christ first. Whether it is Mass attendance, prayer, Scripture reading, or any other spiritual discipline, we cannot decide our engagement with them based (even the slightest bit) on convenience. In essence, every decision must begin with the question "what will please Christ the most?" If we begin with any other question, then we will fail to obey our Lord (sorry, but this is guaranteed).

So then, quickly ask yourself, what is your "pearl of great price". What are you willing to give up everything to get? If it is not Christ Himself, then you are not walking in faith. If we place anything else first then that thing becomes an idol to us. It was St. Augustine who said, “idolatry is: worshiping anything that ought to be used, or using anything that ought to be worshiped.” When we get things upside-down in our spirituality then idolatry always happens.

What we have to consider now is the state of things in our nation. Things are looking quite bad, and they are only getting worse. We should not be surprised if things degenerate to the point of there being a severe trial and persecution against the Church. How we will respond will depend largely on whether Christ is first in our lives, and whether we have allowed Him to order all our other "values". If things get bad and we do not have Christ as our "Pearl" then we will not endure. If He is indeed the most important thing in our lives, then we can endure anything. As St John Vianney said, "for those whom God loves, trials are not punishments; they are graces." My dear brethren, pursue that priceless pearl which is Christ Himself. Then, and only then, can you stand fast in whatever comes our way. God bless you!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Decline of America

The fireworks sale tents are up and running. People are preparing to observe July 4th in America. As I have asked in years past, I wonder what they are celebrating. The current state of our nation does not offer much in the way of joyful recognition. I have been thinking a lot lately about how we have seen things decline in these USA, and I came across a quote that was very helpful in thinking about the progression of a society.

Regardless of who said it first (and there are various debates about it--I won't bore you with them), the following quote is amazingly insightful.
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship...The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been about 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage.
Notice the first half of the quote before the ellipsis. That is always the danger of democracy -- voters with bad hearts. Give freedom of choice to people without a conscience and they will almost always choose evil. Yet, it is the second half of the quote that I want you to be thinking about more. Most of you know that I like studying history. The pattern listed here can be seen in numerous civilizations of the past. Ancient Rome is one of the most obvious; and there are volumes written to lay it out for us.

So then, we should be asking ourselves, what stage are we at here in America? After all, we are well past the 200-year mark that it mentions. Most would admit that we appear to be past apathy and heading into dependence. Of course, there is not a guarantee that we will move smoothly through these stages; any one of them could occur quickly and last only a short time, but that is not usually the case.

We have been forced into depending on the government for many things, and (by our own choice) we have manufactured various devices that force us to depend on them as well. Not all dependence is bad, but the current "nanny state" in these USA is certainly not encouraging faithful and diligent hard work. You can see dependence encouraged all over this land, and many of our politicians appear to want even more of it (they call it socialism--as if that were a good thing--but it is just another form of tyranny). This runs contrary to the basic principles of the Catholic understanding of subsidiarity and solidarity. Every time I mention how problematic Social Security and Welfare are (most specifically because they discourage family unity, parental responsibility, and basic hard work) people respond with, "but how else will they get the money they need?" It rarely occurs to people that there is another way.

So as we continue to go through this decline in our civilization, it is helpful to know that there are certain patterns that we can expect. And maybe, just maybe, this time we could prepare ourselves to move away from the phase of bondage to a new spiritual faith much quicker. Maybe, just maybe, parents could see the errors of the previous generations and decide to be faithful in how they raise their children. Maybe, just maybe, our penitence will be a part of turning this land of America into a new land of greater holiness that will not follow the pattern in the quote above. Remember, God loves doing miracles for His faithful people.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The World's New Normal; or the Lord's New Normal? part 3

Until recently, most Catholics throughout the world had been missing Church. Now what did you think of when you read the word, "missing"? Did you think I was saying that most Catholics have not been to Church, or that most Catholics have felt sad about not being at Church? There are two different connotations of the word "missing". People missed Church (they were not in attendance) but how much did they miss Church (feel saddened that they were not able to be there)? I am sure that most everyone reading this post "missed" Mass quite a bit.

What else did you miss? Did you miss the community of the Church? We here in southern Missouri have had public Mass celebration available for a few weeks now. In this, we are still required to practice social distancing (which should be called anti-social distancing!). Things are looking ugly in many places, and though not as bad here, it is still tense; everyone is a bit nervous about what will happen in the near future to our nation and to our Church. Which, however, are you more concerned about? Are you more concerned about the coming disintegration of this falling nation, or about the potential persecution on the Church (which always seems to come along with societal break-down)?

Considering the new normal that we are moving into, we want to be sure, as I said before, that we are moving into our Lord's new normal and not just falling into line with the world's desire to create a new normal from its own selfish motivations. I said in a previous post that the Kingdom of God does not grow the way that the world thinks (we looked there at the "how" of Kingdom growth). Politics and physical institutions may be related to the growth of the Kingdom, but they are not the heart of the Kingdom. Now we need to consider another vital aspect of Kingdom growth: the "where".

If you are one of the many Catholics who comes to Mass but really does not connect with anyone else in the parish, then you are working against the primary place of "where" Jesus is working. Just because you are attending the Mass does not mean that you are truly engaged with the community of the parish. You can be in a crowded room and still be "alone". The people you worship God with should not be strangers. No, you do not need to be best friends with every member of your home parish, but if you have no friends there, something is not right. Scriptures tells us that a parish is a small "body of Christ" and that the parts of the body cannot ignore each other (1 Corinthians 12:14ff).

Where do we find the center of all spiritual growth? It is always in the Church. That does not mean that only the Church grows, but it does mean that everything else is merely a by-product of the growth of the Church. The Church is not exactly equated with the Kingdom; rather it is the "region" where the Kingdom is experienced most clearly. With this being the case, that should inform how we think of the Church. Do you think of the Church as one of your hobbies? I hope that is not the case. The Church is the center of the Catholic life. That is not a new idea, but it is not always lived out in the lives of Catholics today.

How are you involved with the community of your home parish? Where do you find your best friends? What do you think about first when you think about Church? Is it just that thing you do on Sundays, or is it the center of your life? I am not exaggerating with that last statement. Some think that only priests and religious should have the Church at the center of their lives, and that is not true. To be clear: I am not saying that the laity are supposed to be at the Church 23 hours and 59 minutes of every day, but how do you make your decisions through the week? Does the Church come last in your plans?

It is in the Church that we find the grace to keep us moving on the path to Heaven. It is the Church that tells us how to obey our Lord, and it is in the Church that we find others who are on the same path (who can help us on our journey). It is possible to make the Church an essential duty, but not a major portion of our lives. It would be comparable to one of those 24-hour allergy pills -- some people really need to take them, but they ignore it for the rest of the day. When Catholics make Church the center of their lives, they find that their lives begin to have greater peace, and challenges become easier to bear. Our Lord Jesus rules over all creation for the sake of the Church (Ephesians 1:15-23); let us love it as much as He does.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

When Economics Contradicts Our Spirituality

With the recent surges in Covid infections in the general area around southern Missouri where I live, people have been worried about another potential "lock-down". Of course, this comes after many people have noticed that the lock-downs were not as successful as the politicians claimed they would be. Yes, many are still saying that lock-downs work, but with all the lies, it is hard to trust anything they say anymore. In fact, I read recently that a number of places that did not have lock-downs did not have any noticeably higher rates of infections. What the lock-downs did accomplish, however, was to damage our already shaky economy (which is to be expected when our entire economic system in America is based on greed).

So now the debate ensues: are we concerned more about financial stability or our physical health? Quite a difficult choice to make, and I thank God that it is not my job to be a part of that discussion. However they choose to come down in that issue, I think that something is entirely being missed. Few of those in positions of authority outside the Church (and not too many inside the Church, it seems) are talking about the tension between financial/health issues on one side, and our spiritual stability on the other. They are not even talking about the "mental and emotional" state of our nation (which always has to do with spirituality). It is as though the spiritual realm does not even exist on their radar.

Yet, we all know it is there. Just look at the news as ask yourself what the spiritual state is of those who are rioting, burning down buildings, and destroying the symbols of our American heritage. That did not show up overnight. It was the result of years of indoctrination in the public school system and an overwhelming emphasis on self-esteem (or, as one of my parishioners said recently: "those people didn't get disciplined enough when they were young").

So then, our current state of strife and unrest is a result of what came before; and I am not necessarily referring to racism (though that may play a part in some situations and cannot be discounted). Much of our situation is the automatic consequence of the fear of global disease coupled together with forced lock-downs, and them compounded by decades of governmental moral failures. Add to that the fact that our colleges have been promoting socialism and immorality for generations (and most Catholics are still sending their children to them [please stop!]), and you have a perfect recipe for spiritual instability.

Numerous times I have heard Christian parents justify sending their children to "good schools" (by which they mean a school that can teach them how to make lots of money) so that they can "get an education and a good job". In these instances, the children's financial stability is being chosen over their spiritual stability because the education being given at these schools is often anti-Catholic and gravely immoral. It is possible to show a concern for both spiritual and financial issues by sending them to a genuinely devout Catholic school (as long as the priority of spirituality is maintained by all involved). Yet, clearly, many have not done this.

This spiritual instability is not just seen in the fact that Catholic children leave the faith, but when they do, they often head towards complete spiritual chaos. Furthermore, those Catholic children who do not leave the faith will often be so confused about what the faith is, that they are living like non-Catholics. Outside the Church, things are even worse as large numbers who call for change to our nation have no more clear idea of what that change should be other than "I want my stuff (and I do not want to have to work for it)".

So then, what do we do when the leadership of the nation is focused on economic and health issues and ignores spiritual issues? What do we do when the means to accomplish economic and physical security contradict with the requirements for spiritual security? Which will you choose? Which will you teach to your children? The decision is not a small one, and if you do not decide now and take a stand, the day may come when it is too late. Our leaders are going to make certain choices for our nation, but that does not mean that we have to follow them or agree with them. It does mean, however, that we still have the priorities God has given us, and we still must persevere in the faith.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Are You Ready?

It has been over a month since public Mass was again resumed here in southern Missouri. I have been watching how things are playing out, and it is interesting to watch. In these last few weeks there have been some people (it is hard to tell if the reports are exaggerated or not) who appear to have a specific desire to destroy anything made before they themselves were born. That is the way that anarchists and totalitarian dictators like to do things, and we have seen it before (that is assuming you actually know something about world history).

Whenever this type of chaos is promoted in a society, the Church is usually the first to get attacked. What will those attacks look like here in these United States? I cannot predict, but I can say that we have an idea if we just look at the past. Think, for example, of how the communists treated the Church in 1917 when the Blessed Virgin appeared at Fatima. During times like those (and we may be saying "times like these" here in America pretty soon) when there are people who attack the Church directly, what should be our response? We can either turn away from the Church and save our skin; or we can deepen our commitment to the Church.

Yet, we must ask the question: how easy is it to deepen our commitment in the time of persecution if our commitment is weak beforehand? The answer is: not very easy at all. Whenever a society begins to have internal strife like we are experiencing today, there is always something going on in Heaven. What I mean is, our Lord is doing a work down here on Earth, and He is likely including the heavenly host of angels in the effort. There is a war going on and we are at the center of it.

I hear, almost daily, more and more people talking about these events like they are a clear sign of the end of the world. Yes, many of these things are awful, but that does not mean necessarily that the world is about to end. A thousand years ago there were even more trials going on and people all over Europe thought for sure that the world was about to end. Obviously, it did not. Yet, that does not mean that they were wrong to ask the question. In fact, the very asking of the question will often encourage people to look more deeply into their hearts to ensure that they are right with the Lord.

Have you been doing any of that introspective self-examination lately? If not, it may be too late someday. The world does not have to end for things to get really bad. Whatever happens, God is going to dividing up the "sheep and goats" (and some of this has already begun to happen). Those whose hearts are not really committed to Christ and His Church are either going to trickle away, or they will leave in a "huff" because someone let them know that they have to repent of their sins. When this division occurs it sometimes just looks like typical disagreements, but God is purging His Church of those who refuse to follow Him.

Look at what St. Peter said right before the persecution under Nero Caesar (who murdered Peter):
For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17).
God always judges His own "household" before He turns to the world. This is because He loves us and wants us to be able to repent. St. Peter also said:
The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
So then, He gives us time to get our souls right, but that time is limited; He does not wait forever. So I encourage all of you: time to get your spiritual health taken care of. If you are struggling right now (with anything) do not let it wait until later to work on it. Now is the time; today is the day to put in the effort. The world may not end tomorrow, but we never know when God will call each of us to account.