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]).

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Do Manfully (6)

I have always appreciated the phrase, "better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt" (it is actually based in the Bible--Prov 17:28). In the book of Ecclesiastes it says there is "a time to keep silence and a time to speak". These two ideas are basically the same. Controlling one's tongue does not only apply to avoiding certain words (as we say in the South: cussin'), it also applies at times to avoiding using any words. In other words, keeping silent; not just for the sake of reducing the amount of noise (though that is a great reason to keep silent!), but more importantly so that one can listen. Listening is a lost art, and a strong man who is in control of his faculties will learn to shut his own mouth and listen to others.

As a priest I find it essential that I listen to my people. Sometimes I agree with them, sometimes I do not; sometimes they change my mind, sometimes they do not. These factors are not nearly as important as is the simple fact of just listening to them and being ready to receive insight not previously known. In the same way, a husband and father should be listening to his wife and children. He should do this, not to allow himself to be swayed by them (sometimes it is not wise to follow the family's advice), but for the sake of keeping oneself accountable and avoiding any sort of dictatorial behavior ("I'm the head of this household so you do what I say even if I've gone insane!").

How often do you listen to others? I am not asking about how often you pause in what you are saying to allow the other person to speak. One can still totally ignore another person in that situation. What I mean is, how often do you generally keep your mouth shut and just listen to what another has to say? One way to gauge this is to consider how often others come to speak to you. Do they avoid giving you their opinion on things? If so, it is likely that they do not believe that you will really listen to them.

Not all men, however, need to learn the silence part. Some men do fine with the silence; too fine. There are a number of men who just sit passively silent and refuse to speak up when they need to. This is not masculine either. Remaining silent when you should speak up (especially in issues of disciplining your children!) is a sign of being emasculated. It is the behavior of a male who wishes to abdicate his responsibility, not a man who is willing to take a stand and do what is needed to resolve a problem. If this is your problem, men, then you are still not in control of your tongue, because you do not use it when you need to.

All this has to do with good, godly leadership. As a man, you are responsible to lead, but that does not mean leading arbitrarily, or just by your own opinion. All good leaders listen to their people and take their views and needs into consideration. The alternative is what we call tyranny. Additionally, there is a spiritual dimension to being silent. It is not just a matter of "lack of noise"; it is a matter of self-control and willingness to pay attention to one's surroundings. The Scriptures are filled with references to the importance of learning silence (which is one more reason why there is a significant value in the silent parts of the Mass--they should not always be filled with one more hymn!).

Consider the references to controlling one's tongue in the book of James. We read there that if a man can control his tongue, then he can control anything in himself. In other words, controlling the tongue is a key step in learning to find complete self control. Furthermore, what better way to learn to control your tongue, than by learning to keep quiet so you can listen? Listen to your loved ones; listen to the Scriptures; listen to the voice of God. Masculinity does not mean perfection in learning silence; it means that a man is putting a significant effort into it (and he is willing to teach his boys to learn the same thing). Are you working on it? If you are, then keep up the good work; if you are not, then it is time to begin. As I said before, do manfully!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Anglicanorum Coetibus Society blog

I was asked recently to be a contributor to the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society blog. I accepted (in spite of my time constraints) because--I have to admit--I really enjoy writing. I will try really hard not to allow it to reduce my writing here at Beware Yon Dragons (please pray for me). Anyways, here is a link to my first post over there: Awe