Thursday, June 21, 2018

Pointing Out Heretics

A Catholic once came to me asking if I had read a certain book, and I was a bit shocked by who the author was. The author, who shall remain nameless (to protect the guilty), denied a few major Christian doctrines regarding salvation (technically referred to as "antinomianism" from the Latin for "against the law") and therefore I told my friend to be very careful reading him because the author was a heretic. He looked at me like I had just said that the author was a three-headed-alien from the planet Neptune.

He proceeded to express to me an extreme displeasure with the way I was "calling anyone a heretic", and even once asked why I would use such an archaic term; after all "the Church doesn't have that category any more" (he claimed). We had multiple conversations afterward regarding "heretics", and each time he asked whether I was "still thinking that way". The concept of a "heretic" was clearly a difficult one for him, and, as he made clear, he thought it was mean and cruel to attack someone that way.

Quite an interesting perspective, I must say. The Catholic Encyclopedia refers to Antinomianism as "a heretical doctrine", and the Catechism defines heresy as "the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same". It would seem that to many in the Church today (for I have come across this same perspective more times than I can count) heresy is an abandoned idea. They treat it as an antiquated term that no longer applies to anyone (or at least not anyone who claims to follow Jesus).

Heresy, however, is something which seriously threatens us; especially today. It attacks our minds and hearts with lies that tempt us to deny God and His truth. This is a threat because it leads us away from the path of righteousness and salvation. To accept a heretical teaching is to deny the truth of Christ, and that encourages us to fall further into sin and error. In this way, as I have said before, we are talking about dragons. The "dragon" of heresy is flying around seeking minds to attack, and we must not remain passive toward it. In pointing out a heretic, I am not attacking him; rather I am defending myself and my people from his attacks!

Sometimes those who are uncomfortable with the very word "heretic" express their distaste by saying it is contrary to what it means to love others, and that it is "not merciful". Other times it is so vehemently mocked that it would appear that people believe that there is an 11th commandment: "Thou shalt be nice to everyone, at every time, even though it mean thou must compromise the whole of the faith". Whatever the reason, the denial of heresy is a significantly dangerous position to hold. For, I hope everyone reading this realizes that with the definition given above in the Catechism, the denial of heresy, is a heresy (and thus endangers one's soul)!

There are a few different things that can be motivating this rejection of Catholic doctrine, but they can all be boiled down to a basic problem that is infecting many today. Although most Catholics would reject the lie of relativism, great numbers of them have accepted it in practice. In other words, they have become practical relativists. No, they would never state specifically that they believe that all truth is relative, but they live as though they believe this. To "relativize" doctrine to the point where nothing is heretical means that there is no error. It means that it is perfectly fine to teach things that will, in reality, lead you onto the path to hell. This is what the Church calls "heresy".

Moral and doctrinal relativism is indeed a dragon to be slain, but it appears that many would rather make a peace treaty with the dragon. You must understand that not everything that claims to follow Jesus really does so. Mormonism is heresy; Jehovah's Witness teaching is heresy, and there are many more that could go on the list. Many aspects of Protestant teaching is heresy. Anything that denies an essential Catholic doctrine is heretical regardless of whether the speaker says he follows Jesus, or even if he is a Catholic (!). Practical relativists (whether doctrinal or moral, or both) are a plague on the Church and they lead many to eternal damnation.

If there is a truth (and I believe that there is), then there is also falsehood and lies. Many years ago the Church guarded the truth with the zeal of John the Baptist. Today it seems as though many Catholics (both laity and clergy) believe that we need to take a lighter stance on truth and not make such a big deal of it. Canon Law (an important part of Catholic life, no matter who scoffs at it) tells us that pastors have the obligation of protecting the faithful from error and correcting them when they stray (can. 529). That is why I write on this blog the way that I do; to protect and correct. Therefore, I must point out heresy. I must declare something wrong if the Church has declared it to be so. I do not make these declarations on my own, nor from my own judgment; I am a herald, pointing out those things that threaten our very souls.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Idol of Self

It is so nice to see that the search for "self actualization" and "self esteem" has brought us to such a happy and healthy situation in society. Excuse me . . . I am being facetious. Actually, the "selfism" movement (which has infected almost every aspect of modern society) has brought us to a long list of unexpected experiences (at least, unexpected by those who had no biblical knowledge--more on this below). Let me name just a few of these results: increased suicide numbers, school shootings, massive divorce rate, children on drugs (legal and illegal ones), and widespread decreased spiritual commitment.

Now, some of you may be saying, "how can you make the correlation?" No, I do not believe that I have perfect knowledge of historical connections between events; only God can know that for sure. Yet, we do have a wealth of information in Scripture which tells us that the more we seek self first, the more we will end up with foolishness, misery, and spiritual compromise. Once those things set in, we find ourselves falling into the state which the word of God says is deadly. The book of Proverbs says that whoever hates God and His wisdom "loves death".

It may seem as though I am harping on the pursuit of self a lot lately, yet it has touched so many things in the world that it is impossible to avoid it. For many the problem is not evident, though, because it is has become hard for them to see the "forest through the trees". One outcome of this degeneration that we are experiencing is hard to describe with polite terms. Let me try: we are finding it increasingly difficult to process basic information without becoming confused to the point of being unable to determine the accuracy of proper communication. It may be easier to be more direct: we are ignorant. Simple points of logic and proper argumentation are foreign to large numbers of people in modern society.

People just do not want to think. While claiming to be an "individual" many in society just want to be told what to believe. It is one of those oddities of living in a fallen world, but the more we pursue the glorification of self, the more we end with the destruction of self; heart, mind, soul, and body. I hear about things that are being taught in schools today and it shocks me. Education has been steadily dumbed down over the last 30 years (children know how to use a contraceptive, but not their own mind), and the Church has not been immune to this societal trend.

This all means that we need to do what is necessary to grow in our knowledge of the faith (and absolutely stop trying to build up more self-esteem). It also means that parents need to work harder to teach their children so that they will not grow up and perpetuate the cycle of ignorance.. The things of God are strange to a pagan society, but they should not be strange to the baptized. Even many Catholics today avoid increasing their knowledge of God, and few are willing to spend any time reading the Holy Scriptures. As St. Jerome said, "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ", and we are a very ignorant people.

Self seeking and self serving, we have become a miserable people who desperately want to find new ways to help us to forget our misery. Yes, we want to forget it (but never actually repent of what we have done to cause it). I have said this many times over: sin makes you stupid. The sin "of the devil" is usually referred to as pride, and pride is the basic issue when it comes to seeking self first. Only in humility will we be able to rise out of this pit that we have jumped into. When we seek self first, we end up miserable, and then try not to think about anything that would take away our idol of self. When we seek Christ first, we find true joy, and then we can give greater consideration to the things of God (which in turn grants us even more grace to move forward with). Let us all reject the idol of self; and turn instead to the Almighty Lord.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Pop Culture and the Mass

What style of liturgy do you like? Contemporary? Ultra-modern? Conservative? Traditional? The very question reveals a certain mindset that many Catholics today are unaware of. What it reveals is a presumption that "what we like" has a bearing in the liturgy. That, in itself, is a problem. Try to imagine, if you can, someone asking the same question of the Apostles in the first century: "most Reverend Apostle Paul, do you prefer the Mass in modern or ancient form?" Paul likely would have said, "it does not matter what I prefer, it is supposed to be for God, not us!"

I do not want to put words in the mouths of the Apostles, but we can be pretty sure that the concept of "modern vs. traditional" would not have come into their minds other than the question of Old Covenant temple versus the New Covenant Church. Down through the centuries, there were various changes that the liturgy of the Mass encountered. Some things were done away with once the Church apparently recognized they were not for the best. Other practices "morphed" into something else over time. No one imagines that the Mass was unchanged until the Council of Trent. Yet, those changes were not for the sake of "pop-tunes" or "contemporary innovations".

In all of these adjustments that took place, none of them appears to be for the purpose of "updating" the Mass; the very concept is foreign to the minds of our forefathers. Although I may have missed something, I know of no point in history (before the last century) that the Church felt it needed to "modernize" anything. There was one point when it became clear that fewer and fewer people were able to understand the Greek language so the Scriptures were then translated into Latin. This seems to be about the same time (4th century?) that we find Latin becoming the language of liturgical use as well (both, by the way, were for the purpose of helping people to understand, and not to make things more "comfortable" or "entertaining").

With that in mind, we have to be critical of the concept of "style" in and of itself. What does "style" mean after all? A technical definition would tell us that a "style" is "the way that something is done". We can acknowledge that there are essentially two "styles" of the Liturgy that have existed since at least the second century. There is the Eastern and Western style. What we are used to in most dioceses in North America is the Western "style". Visit an Eastern Catholic Church sometime and get a truly different taste of Catholicism. The idea of "style" being a distinction between the way we "used to do it" and the "new way to do it" is outside the historic understanding of this concept. This modern idea stretches us beyond the historic faith, and turns the Mass into an ever-changing practice that is always seeking to suit one's personal tastes (which also might change on a daily basis).

The greatest danger of a "modern style" of the Mass (even beyond the grossly individualistic aspect) is that it quickly becomes subject to the desires and ideas of society around (and society, modern or ancient, should never lead the Church). Think of "liturgical dance" (still completely forbidden in Catholic Church's in the United States!), "praise teams", and numerous other innovations that come from "pop culture" and not from the desire to honor God.

To be "modern" in the early Church meant that it was understandable (like in the switch from Greek to Latin) and not that it incorporated particular practices that suited personal entertainment preferences of the day. This very idea of changing personal preferences in the Mass makes the concept of "Catholic" become almost insignificant. The "Catholic" Mass implied that it was going to be the same, and appreciated by all in every country, because it was "timeless". The timeless nature of the Mass is retained if the Mass is focused on reverential worship of God; if the Mass is focused on time bound "styles" then it is no longer accessible to all the laity. This is not what it means to be Catholic.

This also touches on the idea of "options" in the Mass (which I have spoken about before) and how that leads to the sense of a "style" in the Mass. I have heard someone say to me more times than I can count "each priest does the Mass differently". This is true, but it is not good. If "each priest" does Mass differently enough where the laity notice it, then we have far too many options. Furthermore, in today's culture of gluttonous entertainment the pressure will always be there to choose the options that are the most entertaining (or worse, make up a few entertaining options). Yet, when people have been submerged in a diet of me-first philosophy, then we will expect them to want the casual and easy-going options (besides, which priest would be crazy enough to choose the more traditional options?).

It is more common than I like to admit for me to hear someone say that they willingly choose to drive to a parish (other than the one they live near to) because they like the "style of worship" that the Church has. "Style" should never be the reason, unless by "style" the person means a "reverent style" as opposed to an "irreverent style" (which is really not the proper manner to refer to a "style" of worship). The very idea of going to a parish because of the "style" of the Mass reveals a deep problem in the Church today. It reveals a competition between people's personal preferences, which inevitably ignores God's personal preferences. What would God prefer in the Mass? Does He "just want us happy"? Or does He want us to offer up a holy and reverent sacrifice? How does the idea of "style" fit in with that?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

How We View the Pope

Someone a few weeks ago mentioned having been to a music concert, and gave me the musician's name. I responded with the "smile and nod" and said, "oh, good". He knew I had absolutely no idea who the musician was. Dumbfounded, he came right out with it: "you've never heard of him have you?" I had to admit I had not (and I have to admit right now that I do not even remember who it was). He even asked a second time to see if I was joking, but, no, I was not. Generally speaking, I do not have an attraction to celebrities. I have no interest in meeting them or getting my picture taken with them--they are just humans in the difficult situation of being in the public eye.

Let us try an experiment on this subject. Name a celebrity that everyone has heard of. Go ahead and take a few minutes to think of one. It might be hard to think of one that everyone has heard of. Sadly, I can name one: Pope Francis. I could not say whether he has created this state of affairs, but it is true. I am not speaking just about the fact that people know his name, for that is not the same as being a celebrity. There are many whose names might be known by a lot of people, but they are not celebrities, per se.

A "celebrity" is usually someone who is not only well known, but also provides some kind of entertainment (though he does not need to be a professional entertainer to provide entertainment). A celebrity is someone whom others want to get their picture taken with, or get a signed autograph from. A celebrity has fans. On the other hand, a person who is merely well known, will usually not fall into these categories.

Whether this situation is by the hand of Pope Francis or not, it is a genuine situation. People are seeing and treating Pope Francis as a celebrity. I am not sure if he has shown up on the cover of The Enquirer yet, but I would not be surprised if he has. It is this treatment of him as "celebrity" instead of "Holy Father" that has helped to contribute to much of the confusion that we have in the Church today. The Catholic usage of the term "father" is not an accident (the Apostle Paul used it of himself in relation to his parishes that he founded), nor is it unbiblical (in spite of what many protestants claim). It is fully intentional.

The priest as "father" of his parish has certain "fatherly" duties. He is the one in charge (the buck stops here). He is the one to lead his "children" in the worship of God. He is also the one to teach them about Him. The same is true of each Bishop, and the same is (supposed to be) true of the Pope. When, however, the Pope is treated as a celebrity who is in charge of a large corporation (like the man who owns Facebook, Mark something-or-other; I think it starts with a "Z") then we get confused. This somewhat prevents the Pope from doing his duty as "Holy Father" of the entire Catholic Church.

It also, unfortunately, creates an awful temptation for the Pope. This is so because he is tempted to behave like a celebrity. Bring to mind the "photo-ops", and the quick conversations with off-the-cuff unprepared comments ("Pope Francis--over here--can I get a few words from you? Please speak into the mic. What is your opinion of the latest Avengers movie?"). Additionally, this has also encouraged the world to go overboard with the understanding of the Pope's authority. No priest or bishop is an infallible leader of his people; they (like physical fathers) make mistakes and commit sins, and they need to repent of them. So, generally speaking, we understand this in the arena of a parish or a diocese; but it seems to have been confused for the Pope.

To a certain degree, it may be better if the world would just ignore the Pope for a while. Then he might be able to focus on the duty of leading the Church throughout the world, and stop being concerned about the media throughout the world. After all, a good father does not draw attention to himself, but rather sees his duty to help his children to grow in their faith so that they can go out into the world and do what they are called to do. Let us pray that our Holy Father would see this as his duty; let us pray that Christ our Lord would grant him this grace.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Encouraging Divorce?

Why do children of divorced parents so often get divorced? Many of the things I have read on this well known statistic imply that the problem stems from the fact that the children become calloused to divorce because they have seen it happen firsthand. Although this is certainly influential in things, I do not think that it is as simple as children following an example. This is especially clear when we see how often children today reject the teachings of their parents and go down a completely different path in their lives. With how common this "children's rebellion" is in the modern era, why would they choose to copy their parents in this one area so much?

There is another factor that I think is rarely recognized, yet has much more influence. People who divorce are not doing so because of some hidden "copycat" behavior. No, rather they are doing so because they never learned how to stay married. It is a vicious cycle: the parents do not know how to "remain married" because they do not know the basics of living in self-sacrificial relationship with someone else. Therefore, they are unable to teach their children how to live in relationship with others. They, in turn, are unable to teach their children, etc.

Marriage is not a relationship of two people making each other happy all the time. It is a relationship of humility and sacrifice and if people do not know how to live that out, then they are not ready to take the vows of holy matrimony. If two selfish people happen to make each other happy, then getting married will not secure that happiness. In fact, it will ruin it because the more that they "make each other happy" the more they prevent reconciliation on the day that they do not "make each other happy". If the marriage relationship is filled with grudges, selfishness, petty complaints, rude comments and unreasonable demands, then we cannot imagine that this relationship will endure the slightest problems life throws at them.

In the questionnaire for a petition for a marriage annulment, there is a question that asked whether the couple intended to live in a relationship based on "mutual love and respect". Good words (very good), but what do they mean? For many today they have no more substance than "be nice to each other"; being "nice" does not accomplish much in a real marriage if it is not coupled with a willing sacrifice of self for the eternal good of the other. The questionnaire is seeking to understand if the couple had "what it takes" to make the commitment to each other.

Under proper circumstances, all parents would teach their children the basics of living in a loving relationship. Yet, that does not often occur today. The main signs of this are seen in the way that most children today speak to their elders. Do they show respect? Do they look them in eye and answer their questions with a sincere "yes sir" and "no sir"? Do the children know how to reconcile with others? Are they quick to reconcile or do they have to be forced to do so? Do they seek to participate in the family and help others that are in need? All of these are clear signs that a child has learned how to commit himself in a marriage relationship.

Today's gospel reading for the Mass tells us about Jesus' teaching that marriage after divorce is adultery (and thus not true marriage). It stems from the fact that a genuine marriage is indissoluble and thus to attempt to contract another marriage on top of the first one is adulterous (regardless of what the state may say). I am regularly amazed at how few Catholics know this basic fact. Divorce is rampant today, and it shows little sign of diminishing. Parents, are you protecting your children from adultery? Are you giving them the emotional and spiritual tools to avoid divorce? If you are teaching them how to live their lives in the love of Christ, and to commit themselves to living selflessly, then that means you are working toward that goal. If not, you may very well be encouraging them to get divorced some day.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Looking for Counseling

The other day when my truck started acting odd, I decided I needed to take it in to get repaired. So I went to McDonald's and asked the kid at the cash register to come out into the parking lot to look at it. You are probably thinking, right now, "what is he talking about?" I am going to presume that everyone reading this thinks that sounds a bit crazy. Well, it does. I do not know of anyone who would think that was the right thing to do (except maybe for the woman who called 911 because Burger King did not make her cheeseburger correctly). Car repairs are done by auto mechanics. No, I did not do what I said above. I was only joking; I went to the auto mechanic--exactly the way you would expect me to.

We all have a general sense that there are things that require the work of specific professionals. You do not ask a plumber to do open heart surgery, or a computer technician to design your new home. It is because of this that we seek a "counselor" when we need counseling. Seems simple and straightforward; right? Wrong. Just because someone is called a "counselor" does not mean that he can give good counsel to others. In fact, I have known some professional counselors who do more to foul-up people's mental stability than to help it.

Part of the issue with today's "counselors" is that many of them are trained in secular ideologies regarding human behavior, and yet have absolutely no training in the human soul (which is a significant factor since we all have a soul). Now imagine with me for a moment, a doctor who was trained in treating ailments of the respiratory system, but had absolutely no knowledge about the rest of the human body. There is no guarantee, but there is a good chance that what he does to help his patients may very well cause them untold physical harm. Now compare that idea with a counselor who does not believe in God or the human soul. This counselor believes that we are merely a physical being whose thoughts and feelings are just chemical reactions. How much genuine help can someone like that give a person?

The "counselor" like the one described above, will likely be able to help a hurting person to "feel better"; at least for a short time. Yet, the patient will only be receiving part of the help that he needs and thus it is comparable to a band-aid for a broken arm, or an aspirin for a cancer. It will provide a temporary help, but not a long lasting cure. It may seem like it is insignificant because "a person is a person". That is not, however, the case; a "whole person is a whole person" and if a counselor is only knowledgeable about part of the person, then he cannot help the whole person.

This applies in many areas. How about a marriage counselor who does not believe that marriage is a sacrament and that there is grace involved in the marriage? Will he be able to help a Catholic couple with their struggles? Again, all he is trained in is behavioral issues from a (largely) pagan perspective. Or, let us consider a counselor who is giving advice to someone who lost a loved one? If the counselor does not believe in Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Judgment, or the human soul, he can only give advice in a very small portion of the person's grief (and will likely never be able to provide any lasting cure, so that the patient is then "hooked" on the counselor and has to continue returning for years to come, rather than being able to heal and move forward in life). These counselors end up forcing the patient to return regularly just to receive another "pain killer" but never heal them.

I am sure that there are many "good counselors" out there who are solid Catholics and are able to speak to their patients about all the aspects of what they need help with, but I have also heard many stories of counselors who were Catholic that never mentioned the faith at all. Some are bound by the business that they work for. Some are afraid of backlash from atheists (or the ACLU--mostly the same thing). Some (which is even worse) are not even aware of what is lacking because they have been trained in pagan psychology at pagan schools by pagan professors and have never given it a second thought that there is something missing.

Have you sought out counsel on something from a "counselor"? Who did you go to? What was his philosophical understanding of behavioral and personal issues? Did you ask? Did he really help, or did he give you some drug to impact the body (but not the soul)? Consider these things, and weigh them heavily when issues like this come up. The best source of personal and behavioral help is the truths of Christ and the Sacraments of His Church. Modern science has virtually nothing to offer in this area because it knows virtually nothing about the human person beyond a few things it can see under a microscope. Go to Christ and the resources that He provides. Only in Him is true help found.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

How Do You Suffer?

Have you learned how to suffer yet? It might sound like an odd question, but the truth of the matter is, from my experience, very few people know how to suffer. Yes, everyone can suffer, but not everyone knows "how" to suffer; by which I mean "suffering in the right way". During my time as a Protestant, I recall many times when I would preach on suffering. There were times when it was well received, and there were times when, shall I say . . . it was less than well received. This is understandable, because no one (except those who are mentally depraved) likes to suffer or see others suffer. It is, sadly, common in these days for people to be confused about the grace of suffering.

Let us just begin with the basic fact of Christ's suffering. It was, as we all know, of great merit. The sufferings of Christ are, as we read so many times, worthy of saving the whole world. Our suffering is also of value, if we "suffer rightly". The Apostle Paul points out the merit of our suffering in the book of Colossians when he mentions his own sufferings being able to help others in the Church (Col 1:24). This, of course, requires that we offer up the suffering, and not let it "go to waste". We could, after all, experience something painful, and be so wrapped up in our self-pity that we never actually offer the suffering to the Lord. This would be comparable to me buying medicine for someone who is sick, and then throwing it away without giving any to the sick person.

Here is an example of suffering in "the wrong way": let us imagine someone who has lost a loved one. He has gone through the grieving process, and followed the Church's guidelines on this: vigil service, funeral Mass, and Christian burial. Yet, afterward he still feels great pain for what has happened. He worries about the soul of his loved one, and is not sure how to find hope. As he struggles, he reaches out for help from his priest. This all sounds normal, but what has he done to offer the pain up to the Lord? Much of the description above shows this man only dealing with his pain because he wants it to be gone. He may gain some personal spiritual benefit from his experience, but it is not "given" to God so that the value of his pain can be applied to others as well.

All suffering can be of value, but much of that value is often lost because we "waste" the pain by focusing on ourselves. When, however, someone goes through the same process as in the previous paragraph, but from the beginning presents it to God, things change. He would pray something similar to the following: "Lord, this really hurts, but I know that You never give us more than we can handle. I know that there is a purpose for this bad experience, even if I do not know what that is. Therefore, I ask that you would help me overcome this grief, but in the meantime, please help me to endure with the patience and love of Jesus, so that You can receive my suffering and use its merit for the good of others."

No, I do not say that these are easy words, but they are good words. They are important words, for they enable the speaker to find perspective in what he is going through. The enable him to focus his grief, and seek for the entire experience to be virtuous. This helps him to heal more easily, as well as (likely) more quickly. It also helps one to grow in faith, hope, and love, granting him the grace of coming closer to Christ. Recall how we are told many times in Scripture that we will be raised to glory with Christ, as long as we "suffer with Him". That does not mean just to "suffer as well as" Jesus, but genuinely "with" Him, for in this we unite our sufferings to His (as the liturgy for the funeral Mass says).

Therefore, I ask once again, "how do you suffer?" Is your suffering purposeful? Is its value and merit being used for others? Do you seek to join with the sufferings of Christ? If these are not true, then you are not "suffering rightly". True, it is hard to keep this in mind right in the midst of suffering, but this is the reason why it is so important to think about it before the suffering begins. Let us each prepare ourselves to be able to stand firm with our Lord Christ when that pain arrives, and let us, with Him, offer our sufferings up to God the Father in Heaven. This is what leads to the true glory of God.