Thursday, January 11, 2018

Welcome

He was not harsh about it, but he did speak with clear conviction: "I don't like the Catholic Church; it is mean to people. I like protestants better because they accept everyone." Hmmmm...an interesting observation; skewed, misconstrued, and confused, but still interesting! I heard this comment once many years ago, and came across someone recently who had the same perspective and it reminded me of that earlier conversation. Of course, one of the major problems in that perspective is that it makes a basic (unproven) assumption. That is the assumption that it is a virtue to "accept everyone".

The only living being I know of who genuinely "accepts everyone" who comes to him is not who you might expect. Although many (even Catholics) would quickly attribute this to God, that is not correct. It is, rather, the devil who has this trait. Yes, you heard me right: "the devil". How could we possibly imagine that God accepts and welcomes everyone without any discernment? He sends people to Hell, right? That does not sound like "accepts everyone"; not in the least. That means that He does not accept those who obstinately refuse to repent of their sin. Few would disagree with that (except maybe universalists who do not believe in Hell). It is the devil, rather, who says "yes" to anyone who comes to him. He's glad to have every soul possible (regardless of whether they are willing to serve Him or not). How can we, therefore, imagine that a trait of the devil has somehow become a virtue?

Now, having said this, I need to be clear that I am not advocating an exclusive Church of just a few perfect people; nothing of the kind. Yet, the "all are welcome" philosophy does not hold up under any serious scrutiny (and do not even get me started on that horrid hymn by the same name!). Either "all" means "all" or it means "something other than all". If "all are welcome" means that we have no boundaries on who is allowed to be an active part of the parish, then we have a problem here. I have heard (more than just a few times) comments in regard to the "all are welcome" concept that make it clear people think we should accept everyone and never encourage them to change their behavior. Those who have this opinion appear to believe that if we tell someone to change and repent, then we would be (somehow) saying that they are "not welcome" (which is not exactly accurate). The "all are welcome" philosophy is truly a dragon to be slain.

Let me ask, for the sake of argument, would there by anyone who would not "be welcome" at a Church that claims to believe that "all are welcome"? Would a suicide bomber be welcome? How about an unrepentant child molester; would he (or today "she" also) be welcome? Would anyone be comfortable with welcoming a person into their Church service who had the bubonic plague, or smallpox, or rabies? Of course not. Each of those people would be asked to make some change in their person or behavior before they would be "welcome". I am not exaggerating here. Rather, I am pointing out that everyone has some sort of a standard by which they determine who is genuinely and fully welcome in their Church.

Thus if we all have some kind of standard, what would be a good description of the basis of that standard? How about if I describe it as "those who will bring serious harm to the members of the congregation are not welcome"? Would that describe it well? I think so. Thus, here we are in a quandary. By what standard do we determine who is going to cause harm? Do we use an arbitrary case by case basis (and keep "niceness" as the underlying principle) that leaves us with no real clarity? Do we assume that it is only the extreme cases (homicidal maniacs and the like)? Or do we ignore the subject and hope we never have to deal with it (which is what many appear to do).

There must be something more solid and clear for us to use as a guide. It would seem that God's determining factor is primarily those who are impenitent (for that is who receives the discipline of excommunication). The Lord does not tell us to exclude those who struggle with their sins and are not perfect (they are precisely who the Church exists for, after all!), but He does tell us to exclude (i.e. not treat as "welcome" without their repentance) those who refuse to struggle, who give in, and then remain in their sins (cf. Matthew 18:17, Titus 3:10-11, etc.). Should that not also be our determining factor?

Therefore, I would ask once again. Who ever said that "welcoming everyone" is a virtue? I know many people who believe that, but when it comes down to it, I have never met someone who actually practises it consistently. You may ask about my own practises in my parishes. Do I "welcome" those who come to visit? Of course I do; exactly the way that Jesus welcomed those who came to Him. Which means I treat them as those made in the image of God; people who are called to turn from sin, and seek holiness (cf. Luke 18:18-25). If they are seeking penitence and want to be faithful to Christ, they are welcome (Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but the sinners -- to repentance!). If they want to stay in their sins, remain impenitent, influence others in the parish, and expect to be told all is well, then I am truly sad to say, they are "not welcome".

Monday, December 18, 2017

Clarity

She looked depressed when I saw her after Mass, so I went over to ask her how she was doing. She seemed a bit reluctant to speak so I did not push, but after a few minutes I offered to make an appointment to speak with her some more apart from the crowd of people in the gathering area after Mass. First she said, “no thanks”, and then seemed to warm to the idea. When I asked her what time would work for her schedule she said something that stuck with me for a while. She asked, “Will you really meet with me to talk? Priests don't usually do that, do they?” It was her sincerity that made me think more deeply about what she was saying. She really wanted to know whether it was the norm for priests to sit down and talk to their people. Over the years, I have come to find out that this is the perspective of quite a few parishioners.

Many of the laity in the Church today do not believe that their priests are talking to them enough. They feel as though they have been left out in the cold and given little to no help in dealing with life's challenges. I have personally heard of a few instances where there were priests who did take the time to sit with their people and discuss the challenges that they were going through, but often the advice that they gave was problematic. More than once I have heard of priests who told parishioners that the sin that they were struggling with was “no big deal” and “did not need to be confessed”. The person's conscience was deeply scarred by this because they usually (trusting their priest's truthfulness) went away confused about what the Church meant when it said “no” while the priest was saying “yes”. In other words, the laity are usually not being given the opportunity to form their consciences in a godly manner so that they can know what is holy, and feel guilt when they fall into what is sinful.

Let me mention that I am a “dotted i’s and crossed t’s” kind of guy. I like everything done appropriately, and when I make a mistake or forget something, I lament my actions for quite a while. So when someone says something like “Pope Francis did ‘such and such’ wrong” I am concerned that things be done right. Yet, in that, I know that I must not jump to conclusions regarding the actions or beliefs of anyone at all (especially the Holy Father). I am not a pessimist or an optimist, per se, but rather a realist; because “that’s the way things really are”. So my inclination is to help the person think through the situation and try to find a path to holiness that enables each of us to deal with the challenges that are being thrown at us today.

With this whole fiasco about the apparent unorthodoxy of Amoris Laetitia and now the added layer of the Buenos Aires Bishop’s guidelines, I have heard numerous Catholics lamenting the consequences of this. I have also read a large quantity of articles regarding what this all does and does not mean for us. As a result, I have come to realize one thing: many of us (myself included) tend to seek the quickest and shortest way to deal with our circumstances, and rarely do we want to put in the harder (and more time consuming) effort. Traditionals will tend to believe the bad news about things that look modernist, even when they do not want to, and modernists will tend to believe the things that look traditionalist, even when they do not want to.

Therefore, I chose to grit my teeth, and wade through the daunting task (!) of actually reading what the Bishops of Buenos Aires said, as well as the Pope's actual response to them. I was a bit surprised that none of it was as extreme as it has been claimed by many. True, I wish it was more clear and direct on a few issues (the way that my own Bishop, Steven Lopes, has done recently). Yet, I cannot claim that they are advocating something that they are not. I cannot claim that they are clearly and intentionally contradicting Church teaching. To do so would be to assume that I have perfect knowledge and understanding of their intentions. Furthermore, if they are trying to create a situation where unrepentant Catholics in invalid marriages can receive the Sacraments, then they are not doing a very good job of it.

Their guidelines never say “they don’t have to repent, just go ahead and let them have the Eucharist”. In fact, they are carefully worded in such a way that it appears very difficult (though, unfortunately, not impossible) for anyone with that interpretation to squeeze that in there. Realize that there are a lot of “ifs” in the document, and that makes it clear that there are conditions. This made me ask the question, “have I been blinded to what they are really saying (because I am so concerned that they not teach something unorthodox) and missed the actual primary point that Pope Francis said was ‘the only proper interpretation’?” I think this may be the case. I do need to be clear here on a couple things: I do wish that both the Holy Father and the Bishops of Buenos Aires were more clear about what they were saying, leaving no wiggle room (dot your i's and cross your t's!), yet to assume the worst of their intentions because someone can find a way to twist it is positively sinful.

Let me explain this last comment a bit more in depth. If I say something that can be taken in more than one way, then I may be guilty of inaccuracy, but not necessarily am I guilty of intentionally trying to lead people into sin. Alternatively, if I say something that can be taken in more than one way, then it may be the case that I want my statement to be taken in more than one way, which is a bit odd, but still possible. Finally, if I say something that can be taken in more than one way, it may be that I am intentionally trying to be vague to allow for the worst possible interpretation of what I am saying—but who would actually do that? The first two options, yes, I can see that these may occur, but the third seems like utter foolishness (and who would imagine that his words would not eventually be noticed as such?).

To insist on perfect clarity in every statement that a person makes is asking quite a lot. When I preach a homily, I occasionally find myself needing to take a moment to clarify something that I just said, because I realize that it may be misunderstood. That does not, however, mean that my clarification will satisfy every single person in the pews (as the questions I occasionally encounter after Mass rightly show). How could a person ever be sure of all the possible interpretations (or misinterpretations) of his words? This is especially so when we are dealing with words written in another country with another set of circumstances and another type of culture. I honestly do not know the situation in Buenos Aires, or what they are currently dealing with. It is likely similar to our situation here in North America, but also not likely the exact same.

There is one other problem with this insistence on accuracy. If I apply this same judgment to the Holy Scriptures, then about half of them are unorthodox, for there are a multitude of places where the Bible is not as clear as I would like it to be! We must seriously consider this as a major factor in this situation. Even Jesus Himself said that He made statements that will be misunderstood by those whose motivations are not holy, and only rightly understood by those who are seeking for holiness (like with many of His parables). Do we want things to be intentionally vague and unhelpful – of course not, no one does. So then, yes, I will say again, that I would prefer that there was greater clarity. Yet, if we are looking for errors, rather than looking for truth, then we can easily find a lack of clarity in even the most holy of writings, the very written words of God Himself.

So, then, what is that point (and this goes back to the first paragraph of this post)? Priests need to stop giving out quick answers to everyone’s situation and actually spend some time sitting down and talking to people. They need to find out what their circumstances are and help the faithful to think through what the Church says about repentance, holiness, and the Sacraments (and the proper process and order for those to occur). That is, after all, what the Buenos Aires Bishops are clearly emphasizing in their guidelines: how to deal with complicated and unclear situations that Catholics, in this day and age, get themselves into. They did not say that priests can break Canon 915, nor did they say that everyone can decide for themselves whether they need to stop sinning (things that I have heard upset Catholics [who appear to have not read the guidelines] claim).

Are there unusual circumstances that priests need to deal with? A resounding “yes!” is the answer. Is everyone’s situation clearly able to be resolved? An even louder “no!” is the answer. Yet, we cannot treat every one Catholic in a bad marriage situation as though they are “obstinately persisting in manifest sin”. Marriage is under attack and large percentages of the faithful have not been properly taught how to do marriage right (mostly because, once again, their consciences have not been formed properly).

Sometimes Catholics are in marital situations where the other spouse has chosen a behavior which leads the first into a sinful situation. The first spouse wishes to repent, but for fear of having the marriage destroyed (especially when there are children in the home), he or she is torn with trying to discover what really is the greater sin in the circumstances. Should they make this decision on their own? No. They are supposed to go to their priest and ask him to help guide them in what is the best way to deal with the situation. Yet, precisely because we live in an age where priests flippantly throw out “pat answers” to their people (if they spend time talking with them at all, and many do not!), then priests need to hear the admonition of Amoris Laetitia (in spite of its vagueness), “accompany your people to help them figure out how to deal with life’s challenges, and use the process of reconciliation—first—and Eucharist—second—to lead them to faithfulness.”

I, for one, will take a stand right now and say that I am going to give the best assumption to Francis' intent in Amoris Laetitia (as my own Bishop, Steven Lopes, has already done). I am going to accept his statement that the Buenos Aires Bishops have made the proper interpretation, and not assume that they are saying something that they have not clearly said. If any of them come out and clarify that they are teaching something that contradicts the moral teachings of the Church, then we can deal with that at that time, until then, let us give each of them the grace that we ourselves wish to receive. Remember, we can know for certain that we will be blessed if we “[d]o nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than [ourselves]” (Philippians 2:3). Here below is the actual English translation of the text of the Buenos Aires Bishop’s guidelines, and Pope Francis’ letter to them. Please read it, and read it carefully.

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Buenos Aires Pastoral Region

Basic criteria for the implementation of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia

Dear priests,

We have received with joy the exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which invites us, above all, to encourage the growth of love between spouses and to motivate the youth to opt for marriage and a family. These are important issues that should never be disregarded or overshadowed by other matters. Francis has opened several doors in pastoral care for families and we are invited to leverage this time of mercy with a view to endorsing, as a pilgrim Church, the richness offered by the different chapters of this Apostolic Exhortation.

We will now focus on chapter VIII, since it refers to the “guidelines of the bishop” (300) in order to discern on the potential access to sacraments of the “divorced who have entered a new union.” We deem it convenient, as Bishops of the same Pastoral Region, to agree on some basic criteria. We present them without prejudice to the authority that each Bishop has over his own Diocese to clarify, complete or restrict them.

1) Firstly, we should remember that it is not advisable to speak of “permissions” to have access to sacraments, but of a discernment process in the company of a pastor. It is a “personal and pastoral discernment” (300).

2) In this path, the pastor should emphasize the fundamental proclamation, the kerygma, so as to foster or renew a personal encounter with the living Christ (cf. 58).

3) Pastoral accompaniment is an exercise of the “via caritas.” It is an invitation to follow “the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement” (296). This itinerary requires the pastoral charity of the priest who receives the penitent, listens to him/her attentively and shows him/her the maternal face of the Church, while also accepting his/her righteous intention and good purpose to devote his/her whole life to the light of the Gospel and to practise charity (cf. 306).

4) This path does not necessarily finish in the sacraments; it may also lead to other ways of achieving further integration into the life of the Church: greater presence in the community, participation in prayer or reflection groups, engagement in ecclesial services, etc. (cf. 299)

5) Whenever feasible depending on the specific circumstances of a couple, especially when both partners are Christians walking the path of faith, a proposal may be made to resolve to live in continence. Amoris Laetitia does not ignore the difficulties arising from this option (cf. footnote 329) and offers the possibility of having access to the sacrament of Reconciliation if the partners fail in this purpose (cf. footnote 364, recalling the teaching that Saint John Paul II sent to Cardinal W. Baum, dated 22 March, 1996).

6) In more complex cases, and when a declaration of nullity has not been obtained, the above mentioned option may not, in fact, be feasible. Nonetheless, a path of discernment is still possible. If it is acknowledged that, in a concrete case, there are limitations that mitigate responsibility and culpability (cf. 301-302), especially when a person believes he/she would incur a subsequent fault by harming the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia offers the possibility of having access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist (cf. footnotes 336 and 351).

These sacraments, in turn, prepare the person to continue maturing and growing with the power of grace.

7) However, it should not be understood that this possibility implies unlimited access to sacraments, or that all situations warrant such unlimited access. The proposal is to properly discern each case. For example, special care should be taken of “a new union arising from a recent divorce” or “the case of someone who has consistently failed in his obligations to the family” (298). Also, when there is a sort of apology or ostentation of the person’s situation “as if it were part of the Christian ideal” (297). In these difficult cases, we should be patient companions, and seek a path of reinstatement (cf. 297, 299).

8) It is always important to guide people to stand before God with their conscience. A useful tool to do this is the “examination of con­science” proposed by Amoris Laetitia 300, specifically in relation to “how did they act towards their children” or the abandoned partner. Where there have been unresolved injustices, providing access to sacraments is particularly outrageous.

9) It may be convenient for an eventual access to sacraments to take place in a discreet manner, especially if troublesome situations can be anticipated. At the same time, however, the community should be accompanied so that it may grow in its spirit of understanding and acceptance, without letting this situation create confusion about the teaching of the Church on the indissoluble marriage. The community is an instrument of mercy, which is “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” (297).

10) Discernment is not closed, because it “is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can ena­ble the ideal to be more fully realized” (303), according to the “law of gradualness” (295) and with confidence in the help of grace.

Above all, we are pastors. This is why we would like to welcome the following words of the pope: “I also encourage the Church’s pastors to listen [to the faithful] with sensitivity and seren­ity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church” (312).

With love in Christ,

The Bishops of the Region

5 September, 2016

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Vatican City, 5 September, 2016

To the Bishops of the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region

Mons. Sergio Alfredo Fenoy, Delegate of the Region

Dear brother,

I received the document of the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region entitled “Basic criteria for the implementation of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia.” Thank you very much for sending it, and let me congratulate you on the work that you have undertaken: a true example of accompaniment of priests…and we all know how necessary it is for a bishop to stay close to his priests and for priests to stay close to their bishop.

The bishop’s “neighboring” neighbor is the priest, and the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself begins, for us bishops, precisely with our priests.

The document is very good and thoroughly specifies the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no further interpretations. I am confident that it will do much good.

May the Lord reward this effort of pastoral charity. And it is precisely pastoral charity that drives us to go out to meet the strayed, and, once they are found, to initiate a path of acceptance, discernment and reinstatement in the ecclesial community.

We know this is tiring, it is “hand-to-hand” pastoral care which cannot be fully addressed with programmatic, organizational or legal measures, even if these are also necessary. It simply entails accepting, accompanying, discerning, reinstating.

Out of these four pastoral attitudes the least refined and practised is discernment; and I deem it urgent to include training in personal and community discernment in our Seminaries and Presbyteries. Finally, I would like to recall that Amoris Laetitia resulted from the work and prayers of the whole Church, with the mediation of two Synods and the Pope.

For this reason, I recommend a full catechesis of the exhortation, which will, most certainly, contribute towards the growth, consolidation and holiness of the family.

Once again, thank you for your work and let me encourage you to carry on studying and teaching Amoris Laetitia in the different communities of the dioceses. Please, do not forget to pray and to remind others to pray for me.

May Jesus bless you and may the Holy Virgin take care of you.

Fraternally,

FRANCIS

English translation courtesy ReligiĆ³n Digital in Madrid, Spain.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Shocked, but not Surprised

We are currently encountering a flood of "sexual misconduct" accusations. Almost daily we hear about someone else who has been accused. Hollywood producers, actors, politicians; all the movers and shakers seem to be in the cross hairs. The more I read about it, the more I am shocked by it. No, I am not shocked that is has happened, nor am I shocked by who is being accused. What shocks me is the fact that anyone is surprised by this. Just look at the sexual ethics that have been dancing across the movie screens for years and you can tell what their heads are filled with.

The actors and producers that have been deciding what we are entertained by have not been portraying things that they themselves do not want to see. They have been making these movies and tv shows that encourage a certain perspective on sexuality precisely because they want to encourage the rest of society to behave in a similar fashion. So, just to be fair, what type of behavior should we expect from people who make morally filthy movies? I know of no one who would say that Hollywood moguls should be sought after for their moral wisdom; and there is a reason for that.

The only other thing that I would say genuinely surprises me is that it took this long for these things to come to the surface. I would guess that the best explanation is that those who are making the accusations are not exactly themselves paragons of virtue. In other words, it does not appear that they are coming out because it is a holy and righteous thing to help someone caught in the grip of sin to overcome it and find the forgiveness of Christ. I cannot begin to imagine what their exact motivations are -- that is between God and them. Yet, I wonder how they would handle this if their motivations came from devotion to Our Savior Jesus Christ.

What can we take away from this? Once again I will say, "garbage in, garbage out". What are you pumping into your head? What things are you exposing yourself to? Are you offended and disgusted by immoral behavior, or have you gotten calloused to it? Do you now tolerate it because "everyone is doing it" (because that is likely what the "accusers" once did before they made their experiences public)? It seems appropriate to remind everyone of the quote "there, but for the grace of God, go I". Let us learn from this whole experience, and the failings of those who have been idolized for so long, and realize that we need to be even more diligent to protect our hearts and minds (and never forget the hearts and minds of our children!).

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Never Compromise

I had a daydream. At least I think it was a daydream. I was awake, and I perceived these thoughts going through my mind, but it seemed more like they were happening to me than that I was controlling them. Anyways, I could "hear" this voice saying, “why do people ignore me? they don't visit me; they usually walk right past me without even acknowledging my existence.” At first I thought it was a vagrant on the street, and when I finally realized who it was, I could not get the idea out of my head.

You see, the One speaking was Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He was telling me that it is easy to "visit" Him in spirit because He is, in this way, present everywhere. All you have to do is speak and He will hear you. Yet, that is not the same as His physical presence in the Sacrament Itself. In the couple years since I had this "thought" I have not been able to shake the feeling that we all need to put a concentrated effort into increasing our respect and reverence for the presence of Christ. I would go so far as to say that lack of reverence for Christ is at the very core of the current trend of weakening faith in the Church.

This is not something that we can take lightly. Whenever our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament wanes, we always fall into some kind of idolatry, for if we refuse to worship the (miraculous) physical presence of Christ in the Sacrament, then we will have to dedicate ourselves to worship something else. Remarkably, there are many (especially from among our protestant brethren) who would say that deep devotion to the Sacrament and adoration of it is a form of idolatry; when in truth the exact opposite is true.

It is because of this that I believe that it is essential for all Roman Catholics to make an active effort to increase their devotion to Christ, most especially in the Sacrament, and to do so while seeking the intercession of all the Saints, but most especially the Blessed Virgin. I have noticed that fewer and fewer people feel drawn to spend time in adoration of the blessed Sacrament. It seems like "wasted time" to a large percentage of Catholics. In fact, if a Catholic says that he is not interested in spending time in the adoration of Christ in the Sacrament, then something is seriously wrong with his spirituality.

When it becomes time to prepare for battle, then a soldier will put more effort into getting himself ready (and not less). It certainly seems that we have already in this day and age entered into a serious battle for the integrity of the Church, and that means that we all need to work harder to remain faithful, because the evil one does not want us to be equipped to resist him. Scripture passages like, Ephesians 6:10-20, and 2 Peter 1:3-8, come to mind right now; especially because they both speak about doing the spiritual work necessary to ready oneself to say "No" to the world.

This cannot be merely a vague idea, or an idea that never comes to fruition. As a priest of God I am called to help the people of God grow in the faith and find greater commitment to our Lord. Yet, I cannot do this by myself. I therefore am calling anyone who is reading this, to come alongside me in this effort. Let us not accept the status quo of mediocre faith and wishy-washy spirituality (for to do so is to surrender to wickedness). Let us commit together to resist the increasing tide of immorality and choose instead the path of righteousness, grace, and peace. Let us sit down together and discuss how to go about this, so that we strive toward true holiness and never compromise.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Dealing With Bullies

I was bullied; a lot. It made me frustrated, angry, resentful and at times depressed. It was not just me though; in fact, there were a number of children that were bullied in various ways when I was a young boy. I recall one day when I was fourth grade and on the way home from school, a large group of boys my age started picking on me; they yelled, taunted, and hit me. It was rude, crude, abusive, and filled with cruelty. I felt shamed, intimidated, and desperately wished that I could "beat them all up". That never happened, and now I cannot even remember exactly who they were; names and faces are completely gone from my memory.

Yet, in all those years going through elementary, junior high, and high school, there was never--in my recollection--anyone who committed suicide as a result of bullying. I think if it had occurred, we all would have been told since it was so unheard of. It may have occurred somewhere, but even there in southern California we did not once have it come into our experience. It is not as though we were untouched by tragedy; I saw fellow students taken away by police for drugs and gang activity; there were teen girls pregnant, and some getting abortions; there were fights (sometimes even physical fights with teachers), and I know of a 15 year old that committed suicide, but not because of being bullied; we had our share of bad stuff even back then.

So what is it that is making children today choose suicide when they are bullied? I read about an eleven year old girl this last week who committed suicide because she had been bullied (yes, 11 years old!). I am not about to pretend that I can discern the heart of any of these children who have taken their own lives, but I do want to consider my own experience and postulate a theory. Might it be possible that bullying has not actually gotten worse? Though it may in some instances be more hateful, it does not appear to be the case overall. Rather, is it possible that we (and children in particular) are responding to it differently?

What I am saying is, I believe that children are not often being raised with the sense of hope that allows them to deal with adversity (especially wicked adversity). Think of our forefathers who died at the hands of evil tyrants millennia ago. Take the story of Blandina, for instance; a young virgin in the second century that stood faithfully in the arena as the pagan Romans tortured her and her companions. They were all about to die for their faith, and she stood firm and gave them an encouragement to trust Christ. Imagine what it would have been like if all the persecution that led up to that moment had resulted in Blandina committing suicide. It is not as though the Christians of that era lived peaceful lives until the day they were martyred; they were often hated by society for their faith, and all kinds of persecution would go along with that.

Now, I am not saying imagine the loss of Blandina's example of faithfulness (though that is immense). I am saying imagine what it would be like to read in history that the Catholics who went before us committed suicide in the face of persecution. I know of no instance of this being the case [someone write to me and let me know if you have heard otherwise]. They stood firm in everything that led up to their martyrdom, and today children kill themselves when bullied. How were the martyrs able to stand firm? Hope. That is the only thing that will make a difference in our lives as well. Adults and children bully others; it is not right, but it is not likely that we can put a stop to it easily. It is a part of the sinfulness of men to attack others in order to make them feel better about themselves.

If we have no sense of hope or strength, then we can easily be beaten down by bullying, and we will find it difficult to overcome the selfish behavior of others. I do not personally know any of those children that we have read about in the news lately who have committed suicide, nor do I know their parents, so this is not a judgment call on them or how they were raised. Yet, it is a statement that hope cannot be taken lightly. Hope in Christ is something that can help us to overcome the lions of the arena, the knives of terrorists, and the taunts of a selfish teenager.

Someone once said to me (excuse me if I have told this story before) that he did not like the confession of sin that we use in the Divine Worship Mass because "we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness" and it mentions God's "wrath and indignation against us"; apparently both of those lines made him uncomfortable. Were we to refer only to these things, and not to the unfathomable love and forgiveness that God offers us, then I could understand what he meant. In our liturgy we talk about the depth of our sins in a number of places, which could easily make us completely depressed, if there were not given to us any sense of hope. We must hear the "sad stuff" about our sins in order for the "good stuff" of redemption and forgiveness to mean anything at all.

Having had this critique of the Divine Worship confession of sin spoken to me a number of years ago, I now am thankful to hear those exact words of the confession of sin. They hold an even deeper meaning to me. A meaning which reminds me that if I take them lightly and ignore their true depth, then I have become callous and heart-hearted. They remind me that it is no small thing that God reaches out to help us -- because if we begin to think that we deserve it, things are way off track.

So how do we deal with the "bad stuff" of life? Because, there is quite a lot of it out there today. How do we deal with it when people "speak evil of us" and persecute us (whether for the sake of Christ or not)? We must teach our children a (balanced) sense of hope so that they have the anchor of the Lord to keep them from thinking that suicide is a means of overcoming pain. The Saints overcame their persecutors because of their hope; "And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death." (Rev 12:11). Let us seek that same hope.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Continuing

With the individual personal responses that I received from my previous post above, it is apparent to me that the dilemma is just as troubling to my readers as it is to me. Is it right to use electronic media (like a blog) to help people to break the dependence on electronic media? How will they hear if it is not preached, etc.?

I have decided that I am going to continue (albeit hesitantly) to write. I do wish, however, to include the proviso that I still have the concern and caution that we do nothing that would contribute to the continuing degradation of our spiritual development. Let us take nothing for granted, and always be willing to question our own motives and the level of our purity. May God bless us and keep us.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Helping or Hurting?

Hello! It's me again. I know some of you probably thought I had been kidnapped, or maybe that I had moved out of the country. No; but I have been struggling with something, and it is that same "something" that has made it hard to write. I have been pondering the question, "am I contributing to the very problem that I am trying to overcome?" That would, in fact, be a great evil; both to condemn and encourage the exact same action. The question of hypocrisy is what is at hand here. Given this coming Sunday's gospel reading about hypocrisy, I thought it good to write once again (while acknowledging the interior difficulties).

As anyone who has read my writings in the past knows, I have a deep concern for technological possession. No, I do not mean "possessing technology". I own various electronic devices -- I am writing this post on a computer, after all (but I do have limits -- I will go entirely without a cell phone before I will own a smart phone). What I am actually referring to is being possessed by our technology. In the phrase "technological possession" it is the technology that is doing the possessing.

I recall years ago reading Neil Postman's fantastic book "Technopoly" (if you still have not read it, you need to -- it is eerily prophetic). In there he spoke of the trend in modern society to move from simple technological advances to technological obsession, and finally end up in technological possession (I do not think he ever used these terms, so I claim them as my interpretation). This entire process not only effects our actions, but it also changes our very thinking processes. We begin over time to submit our thinking to the demands and requirements of the very same technology that we fashioned to serve us. In the end we fine that we serve it.

A recent rock song titled "Machines of Our Disgrace" said it quite well: "A narcissism we so eagerly embrace, smile as we assemble the machines of our disgrace". So, as these machines surround us, and take control of our manner of thinking (and thus our actual behaviors), it is my desire to help others to break these addictions and turn instead to a life of freedom from the "trinkets and baubles" of the world, and submission unto our great Lord and Savior. Whatever I do, I want it to contribute to that goal, and not hinder it. Hypocrisy was sharply attacked by Christ more than once.

I recently received a letter in the mail highlighting all the wonderful things in a new Catholic online service that collects together all the best videos, pod-casts, and articles of solidly Catholic teachers. My first thought was, "hmmm, I wonder if some of my parishioners would use this". My second thought was, "I am spending a major chunk of my ministry trying to help people break free of the addiction to technology, why would I encourage them to spend more time with it?" It is something of a catch-22. Am I using a "dragon" to try to get rid of a "dragon"?

With this goal in mind, I found it startling one day a few months back when someone commented spending hours on his smart phone checking new posts on his favorite blogs. Talk about a kick in the head! Was that really helping him in the end, or was it merely another "sanctified" distraction from genuine spiritual growth? So here is my dilemma, does my writing help, or does it create more of the same problem? Is there any way to move people to something as convenient as a blog, while not creating more "blue face" Catholics? I leave you all with the thought (and encourage you to contact me with ideas and thoughts [no, I will not open the comment section here]).