Thursday, October 15, 2020

Maturity, Wisdom, and Childlike Humility

In an old science fiction comedy movie from about 20 years ago, there is a scene where a scientist makes a comment about some visiting aliens. He says, "by definition, an advanced species will be peaceful". Soon afterward, the aliens land on the Earth and proceed to try to destroy every person on the planet. The irony is sometimes missed since the two scenes are a few minutes apart, but the point is clear if you make the connection. That is, however, the way most people today tend to think: technology equals peace and happiness.

Modern mankind tends to have the perspective (except for a few of us who refuse to accept every idea that is thrown at us from the scientific establishment) that newer is always better, and thus grown ups are always smarter than little kids (just ignore the fact that older folks today largely want to do everything possible to look like they are a teenager!). There is a sense in which age often leads to wisdom (though that is becoming less and less true). Yet, there is more to the picture than merely to say older people are smarter than younger people.

Being "advanced" does not always mean that one is more wise, and being older does not always mean that one is spiritually mature. There is actually a spiritual strength that becomes harder and harder to maintain the older that we get. Our advanced technology is clearly not a sign of peacefulness. As I have said more times than I can count, we today have become barbarians: barbarians with cellphones. It is remarkable that people still think that since we have technology that we are automatically wise; the massive amounts of hate and foolishness evident in modern society proves that to be false.

Yet, Jesus encourages us to become like "little children" more than once in the gospels. Let us think about children for a bit. We all know that children left to themselves are unable to learn for themselves what is right and wrong. They need to be guided and directed in what is best for them, because although they may be able to figure a few things out, there are some big issues that they need help with. This world is a dangerous place to live in, and no one is born with the knowledge of what happens when you walk into the tiger pen at the zoo.

Our spirits are like a child. They need help and guidance. Yet, because we are fallen, we do not always behave as a child. Instead we sometimes slip into wanting to be a grown up ("don't tell me what to do, I can make my own decisions in life!"). This means that each of us needs to recognize our need for help from others. When we fail to do that, that means we are acting "like an adult" when Jesus wants us to be like children. When this happens we are denying our basic needs before God.

This is the reason why teenagers tend to fall into a rebellious streak at times. They are still children by age (so they have very little experience in the world), but they want to be an "adult" and make their own choices in life. Thus, in doing this they are rejecting the humility of needing help and guidance, and trying to shake off any rules that they do not agree with. When we become adults, we all seem--in some way--to become too big for our britches. We do need to make decisions on our own as adults, but that does not mean that we need to make decisions without the help and guidance of others. Trusting ourselves as though we are completely self sufficient is the standard error of growing up. Just because you have the right to make your own decisions, does not mean that you know how to do so.

Sadly, there are many people who may read this and think that I am speaking only about others. Those who have not become "like a child" as Christ encourages us to do, are the ones who are blind to their "adult" pride. In other words, if we do not think we need help from others, we will presume we are fine without help from others (no, that is not redundant). Prideful faith does not humbly seek the assistance that can be found when we reach out in our times of need.

This is the reason why no one can make it through life unscathed. We all make wrong choices at times and mess things up around us. The problem arises when we insist on continuing to make our own choices without the help of others that we truly need. The end result of this is someone who has grown old, but not actually grown up. Many a man in his early twenties thinks that he knows everything he needs to know to get through life, but actually knows barely a fraction of what he thinks he knows. We could say that growing older hinders our ability to grow up.

We all need help at various times in our lives. Spiritually speaking, however, we need help every day, but are not always willing to seek it out. Primarily we need the help of our Almighty Savior; no one doubts that. The means by which He often grants us that help is through the strength of others around us. This is why God has set up the various structures and authorities in our lives (parents, clergy, etc.). Let us each seek to humble ourselves "like a child" and not keep trying to show off our supposed maturity, which is probably a lot less significant than we tell ourselves.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

What Every Catholic Needs to Hear!

 I strongly encourage everyone to listen to this homily by my dear friend and fellow Ordinariate priest, Fr. Meeks: 

Fr. Ed Meeks homily

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Majoring in Minors

 Although they were not dealing with a world-wide pandemic in today's gospel reading, it is interesting how there is application from it to our current situation. I am not going to speak to the legitimacy of many of the common claims about the Coronavirus outbreak (but there is serious reason to doubt much of the rhetoric), I think that we should all make sure that we are dealing with things in the way that our Lord Jesus wants us to do.

In the gospel today, a Pharisee criticized Jesus. Apparently the disciples had failed to wash their hands before eating (a standard Jewish practice). Whether for ritual or hygienic reasons, it makes no difference; he and other Jews wanted Jesus to have His disciples wash their hands. His response is interesting for our modern context. He does not say that they should not wash their hands (following proper rules for ritual practices is always correct, and good personal hygiene is also good and right). He does, however, say that the Pharisee was "majoring in minors". 

Our Lord tells him that he was a "fool" because he was so concerned with a practice of lesser importance that he neglected his spiritual health. Jesus says that the Pharisees might have looked nice and clean on the outside but inside they were full of "wickedness". He is, of course, speaking about priorities. What is your priority? Do you ever ask yourself if there is a conflict between your choices regarding the Coronavirus, and your choices regarding your faith? Which one, really, is more important to you? Your actions will reveal where your heart is at (regardless of what you may say verbally). 

I know that I have said this many times before, but it bears saying again, because there are quite a number of people who are imbalanced in this. They live in constant fear of catching a virus (which may or may not be deadly for them), but have very little fear of God (something our faith tells us is necessary). Do you have the same concern for proper reception of the Eucharist as you do for avoiding getting sick?

Our Lord does want us to be physically healthy; no doubt about it. Yet, in the gospel He does not pull any punches. Being more concerned about what is "outside" (our personal health) than what is "inside" (our spiritual health) is a "foolish wickedness". In Scripture, we see many times that we can only control a small bit of our physical situation, but we (by the strength of Christ) can control our spiritual well being by the choices we make in our spiritual disciplines. St. Paul says in one place that bodily health is a good thing, but that spiritual health is what really matters for eternity (1 Timothy 4:8). Do we really believe that?

What are you focusing on right now? Do you have the same amount of concern for your spirit as you do for your body? Or is one more a priority in your life? If so, which is it? We are all going to die someday; nothing can stop that (unless you are one of those alive on the day of the Second Coming of Christ). We can only put off mortality for so long, and the more effort we put into that action the less we will put into our eternal state. This is not an issue of finding a balanced ratio, it is an issue of what really matters when you stand before God. The strongest, healthiest person in the world has no hope on Judgment Day if he did not follow Christ above all else.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Why Is No One Mentioning This?

I am not a expert on statistics, but I have had a few courses in statistical analysis and critical thought, and something is not adding up. I would greatly appreciate it if someone (anyone) had an answer to this, and could explain it to me. Let me begin by using an illustration (as I do so often). If, hypothetically speaking, 10,000 people moved into the city where I live (current population about 15,000), then you would expect the population to grow, right? Even accounting for the usual number of people who move out of a city in a given time period, an influx of that size would be noticed in the overall numbers, right? Let us imagine for a moment, that after that influx of 10,000 into a population of 15,000, that a census was done and it was found that the current population was 14,000. You would stop and ask, "what?!" That does not seem to make much sense, does it?

Compare that with our current "pandemic". There is a statistic called Crude Death Rate ("CDR") that gives the numbers per 1,000 people that die in a given time period. As a reference point, the CDR in 1919 (at the height of the Spanish Flu) was about 17 (17 people per every 1,000 in the world died that year). At the peak of the Black Plague, the CDR was estimated at about 500 (i.e. 50% of the world's population). In 2019, the CDR for the entire world was 7.8. In 2020 (after and including the onset of Covid), the CDR for the entire world (i.e. including all deaths for any reason whatsoever) is estimated that it will reach 7.7 (go look it up).

If we compare that with America, the numbers are only a bit different. In 2019 the CDR for America was 8.8, but the current number for the year of 2020 so far is 8.3. Am I missing something here? Seeing these numbers made me ask a question: how many deaths are occurring for things like heart attacks, cancer, lung disease, etc. Interestingly, the totals for those common fatalities are all down recently. This cannot be due to Covid. It is not as though a spread of a deadly virus suddenly cures tons of people of common fatal conditions.

If Covid is killing as many people as we are told, then we would expect even a small increase in the CDR, would we not? Yet, both worldwide and in America there is a decrease, not an increase. Someone is not telling us something here. We might presume that if people were traveling less, that it might decrease the numbers of death by car accident, but it would not impact the physical ailments that take people's lives.

Therefore, what is going on? I would expect with almost a million deaths to the "novel Coronavirus" (not to mention all the supposed suicides and other deaths caused by the despair that Covid has led to), that the CDR would go up; even just a little bit. Yet, that does not appear to be the case. If we throw into the mix all of these recent admissions that people have been "fudging the numbers" (i.e. calling certain deaths Covid, when that was not the actual cause), then something is not right. As my Grandma once said, "something stinks and it ain't the septic tank".

Consider it this way: in late 2019 things are going along as usual; people are dying at the normal CDR of 7.8 per 1000. Then a new virus shows up and begins taking lives in addition to those already dying of all the other maladies. That does not lead to a decrease in deaths (a CDR of 7.7), it leads to an increase in deaths. If, somehow, someone can explain how it works that Covid leads to less deaths in the world, then how is that a bad thing? A virus shows up and some people die of it rather than from other causes, but the end result is that less people are dying overall; that does not sound like something to run in terror from.

Without a clear explanation of why there are "so many people dying of Covid" and yet less people dying overall than last year before Covid, we really need to keep our eyes open. It appears that we are being lied to, and that someone is using this for a less-than-godly purpose. We have known that civil governments have lied to us in the past, but we do not always know the reasons. Whatever it may be, we need to persevere in our faith at this time. We need to recognize that there is a good possibility that someone is preparing to catch us off guard.

Whatever comes against us, if our faith is strong, then we can endure. If our faith is weak, we will give in to the wicked rulers and follow their lead. Will you stand fast? How will you respond when they encourage you to deny Christ? How will you respond when they demand that you deny Christ? You might save your life if you deny Him, but your eternal state will not be so pleasant.

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:9-13).

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Being Willing to Help

I took a short ride on my motorcycle this afternoon. I like the back roads; I never drive in the big cities. Flying past the farms on a two-wheeled mechanical beast and seeing the countryside sprinkled with cows and horses is one of the most relaxing experiences (at least to some). This is true until something starts to rattle on the motorcycle. It was only my fly-screen (a very small "windshield"), but I needed to pull over and make sure it was not going to fall off. 

There I am on the corner of "N" and "M" highway, just down the road from the community of Possum Trot (not joking, there really is a Possum Trot, Missouri; it has an abandoned school and one house!). I was not really worried; you can ride a bike without a fly-screen but I stopped the bike and got off to check the bolts. After about a couple minutes a truck came by. The driver slowed down and looked over and signaled to me, asking if I was OK or needed help. He was a complete stranger, and might not pay attention to me in any other context, but he slowed to see if I needed help.

Is this simple act of neighborly help disappearing today? I am not asking whether it ever occurs (I know it does), but whether it is fading away. It seems that there is a growing hatred of others everywhere in American society. Those rioting in various places in these USA do not seem to protesting anything of real substance. They just seem to want to create more hatred. This is not helping us to overcome prejudice and bigotry. We all know this; it is nothing new. Yet, do we know how far we ourselves have fallen in this? Are we Catholics becoming just as hateful and disrespectful towards those whom we do not like?

How do you think about the lapsed Catholics who are running for political office? It is one thing to refer to them as lapsed, and entirely another to use vulgarity when referring to them. Do we speak about those who clearly want to promote the destruction of our society with similar hatred? I ask this question, but I am not really needing an answer because I have heard it multiple times. Disdain and anger are voiced by Catholics towards those who do not hold the faith (sometimes of their own fallen brethren). 

Just for a moment think of the politician that you like the least. Now imagine what you would do if the two of you were in an elevator together and he (or she) was in need of your help. Would you genuinely reach out to help him with the love of Christ? If you are not certain that you would, then you likely are part of the problem of spreading hate. Jesus never said it was OK to be hateful toward those that we dislike, but we all know it can be very hard not to get upset at sin (it is, after all, aggravatingly stupid!). Yet our anger just drives people away and does nothing to bring others to conversion.

How do we treat one another these days? Are we still willing to be kind to strangers in need? And if we are willing to stop and help someone whose vehicle broke down, would we also be willing to help someone whose soul has broken? That is what we are dealing with when someone comes against us with sinful foolishness. Although many (if not most) are probably not willing for us to help them with their eternal salvation, we will never get the chance if we do not try. Have you tried to reach out to someone blinded by their sin and lead them to the saving Grace of Christ Jesus? They are all over the place; you cannot miss them; go find one and ask God to help you show him Who his Redeemer is.

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.