Saturday, June 15, 2019

Protecting and Nurturing

I came across a quote from St. John Paul II recently and I loved the "counter cultural" nature of it. He once said, “God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman.” Of course, most in today's world (and, sadly, many in the Church) would hate this statement and all the presumptions that go along with it. What are those presumptions? At the barest minimum, we can see that God has assigned roles to men and women that are different, and should not be confused. There is also the presumption that men are called to be protectors and women are called to be protected.

This last point does not mean that men have nothing to do other than protect, nor does it mean that women should just sit back and do nothing other than be protected. Rather, it means that there is a reason that women are supposed to be protected. The traditional Catholic understanding of this (like what we find in the Catechism of Trent) is that women are to be protected, because the work that they are called to do is so important, and because that work is done best when it is undisturbed. In essence, we could say that women are called to nurture the world, and men are called to protect women while they nurture the world (parents, take note here; please!).

How does each woman do this? Certainly, no two are called to the exact same role of nurturing. Even two women called to the married life are not called to marry the same man; each has distinct aspects to what their calling is. Nurturing, however, is a perfect way to describe the calling that God has given to women as a whole and to each woman in particular. When a little girl is being raised, she should be taught how to nurture, in the general sense. This will help her to learn to apply that role to whatever calling she fulfills. If she chooses the religious life, she will apply it there; if she chooses the married life, she will apply it there.

Furthermore, even a woman who chooses the married life, will have the role of nurturing continue beyond the time that her children are at home (and I do not mean just with her own children). Each married woman will be given different and various opportunities to nurture in some fashion once her "nest is empty". One might find a calling that she had never considered before when the children were in the home, and another might put herself into the work of her local parish in a new way (with religious education for children, or many other areas). This is all to say that women are to nurture--and when they are protected properly by the men, they can do it quite well.

This leads to the original point once again. Men are called to protect. How do they protect? Notice that St. John Paul II made the point quite broad. "Men are to protect the dignity of women". When men think of women as means to their own pleasure, they are not only not protecting, but they are also attacking the dignity of women (in one way, they do this to every woman in the world at the same time!). It should be obvious how a man protects the dignity of a woman that he is married to, or who is his own daughter. Yet, he is also to protect the dignity of those women that he sees at the workplace or next door, or at the grocery store; especially if they do not hold to the Catholic understanding of morality (since they usually do not know that they need to be protected).

If men (whatever calling they have chosen in life) were to be about the business of protecting women's dignity, and if women (whatever calling they have chosen in life) were to be about the business of nurturing, then things would be quite different in society today. In addition, if parents would teach their children what this means (even from the youngest years), then the next generation might see greater holiness in the homes, and that would lead to the end of the modern attack on the family.

What a revival of holiness this could all lead to. The repercussions are far beyond the scope of what we can see today. At a minimum it would definitely have an impact on lessening the numbers of those who fall into the trap of temptation to sodomy. It would also impact the security of many marriages. Finally, we can easily see that it would help many people to understand better what their calling is in life. Let us each take to heart what God has called us to, and never forget that He created us male and female, and then glory in the differences.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A Guide Through This Vale of Tears

I am approaching the seventh anniversary of my ordination as a Catholic priest (July 8th), and it is extra special for me this year. First of all the number seven is biblically significant -- it is usually used as symbolic of perfection or maturity (I am not perfect, but I hope I am maturing!). Second of all, I can say that this is the longest period of time that I have spent since I first became serious about my faith (when I was 17 years old) that I did not have the feeling that I was headed somewhere and had not yet arrived.

For the last 7 years I have felt completely content as a Catholic. During the previous 26 years I was constantly in motion towards becoming a Catholic (though I did not realize that was the case until about 12 years ago). As I look back over the last 7 years of joy, I think about all those who helped me along in the process to guide me to where I am right now. These people would not all have the same joy as I do if they found out that they helped me to become Catholic! I will not give names, but D.T., D.W., B.W., K.S., S.W., S.C., W.B., M.C., R.B., and J.B. all played a significant role in my conversion (two of those people would be happy about it, the rest might commit suicide if they found out!).

In our lives there are always various individuals who influence and "spiritually nurse" us in our faith. As I stated above, many of them never even realize what they are doing. That is so because of the wonderful providence of our Almighty Lord. It is just as significant when we find those who are intentionally working to guide people forward in their faith; and I am not referring primarily to those devout clergymen (either alive or dead) who minister to us. Sometimes you will just meet someone who touches your heart in a significant way and points your soul in the right direction.

This led me, today, to thinking about those who are called to guide and influence others on their path; and, once again, I am not referring to clergy. I am referring, instead, to those that are appointed as godparents. In 7 years as a priest in the Catholic Church I have met a quite a large number of godparents. In my experience (and that is all that I speak from), I would estimate that about 5% of those godparents took their role seriously. The rest are doubtful whether anything "godparentish" happens after the baptism or confirmation occurs.

Do you know someone who really follows through with the responsibility of godparents? Do your own godparents genuinely continue the role of raising children (or adults in the case of converts) in the faith? When was the last time your godparent actually gave spiritual advice to you? If it is regular for you, then you are quite blessed and should be thanking God regularly. If your godparents have shirked their role, or if they have passed from this world, then it may be a good idea to seek to find someone else to fill that role. We all need a "spiritual nudge" once in a while, and it is good for us to have a guide through this "vale of tears".

If you are a godparent for someone and have not fulfilled your duty, then it is time to renew your vows. Where are your godchildren right now? How are they doing in their spiritual life? If you cannot answer that question, then something is amiss. If they fell from the faith, what did you do or say? Here is one of the main reasons that I discourage choosing godparents who live a distance from their potential godchildren--you have to be close enough to have an influence in their lives. Have you ever said to them, "I am your godparent, so I need to speak to you about something"? If you never had to say anything like that, then maybe you are the godparent of a living Saint (what an honor!).

God-parentage has become, in many circles, nothing more than a sentimental notion. It is as though it were merely an honorary title, given to a figurehead who has no real responsibility. Is that what the Church intends by requiring godparents for everyone receiving baptism or confirmation in the Church? We all know that it is not. Pray for your godparent; pray for your godchildren; pray that the Lord will help us to renew our responsibilities and fulfill our calling to assist one another on the journey to Heaven. We all need each other's help and that is why were brought into the Church. May God have mercy on us all.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

And Lead Us Not Into Temptation

So Pope Francis recently approved a change in the translation of the Lord's Prayer. He is concerned (apparently) that people will get confused and think that God is the One Who tempts us. Although this never seems to have been an issue in the previous 2000 years, we do live in an age of great misunderstanding of the faith, and I suppose it is possible that someone might get his theology all wrong on this point. Hence, I admit it is a concern, but I cannot say that I agree with the proposed resolution. Here are a few issues of concern.

The original Greek of the text in the gospel of Matthew does not say "do not let us fall into temptation" but "do not lead us into temptation". It is not the same thing, and to change the translation in this manner is not true to the text; this is more than a paraphrased interpretation, but an actual change in the meaning. In other words: not good, and not faithful to the biblical text. Another one of the problems we encounter with this twisting of the passage is that the Greek word for "temptation" has just as much a connotation of "trial" as it does "temptation" (because trials are a temptation to sin, and temptations are always a trial--the difference is in context).

Let me add one more layer to this entire situation that I have not heard anyone else refer to. There is another text in the Scriptures that specifically says that God does lead into temptation (at least once). Yes, I know that sounds crazy; I also do not pretend that I can perfectly interpret what that means, but the Scriptures say it so we cannot deny it. Here is the passage I speak of:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1).
He was led "by the Spirit" "to be tempted". In other words, Jesus was "led into temptation" by the Holy Spirit Himself. Again, I am not saying I can perfectly understand how this works, but we can all be confident that whatever the Holy Spirit did it was not a sin. In the gospel of Luke it also says He was "led by the Spirit" and in Mark it says the Spirit "drove" Him there. There is no doubt about it (and we all know it) that Jesus was specifically sent there to be tempted. If it was not wrong to say that God did it to Jesus, how could it be wrong for Him to do it to us?

Let me add another Scriptural detail here. In the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord tells the Hebrews that, after delivering them from Egypt, He led them into the wilderness and sent them through trials to "test" them (Deut 8:16; and there are many other passages of similar reference). Thus, the Lord intentionally put them through certain experiences of difficulty and trial so that He could test whether their faith was genuine. This does not surprise anyone who is familiar with biblical history.

What does this mean for us in this question of the translation of the Lord's Prayer? At the barest minimum it means that there is nothing wrong with saying "lead us not into temptation" and it should not give anyone the wrong idea. We know that God Himself does not tempt us to sin (the original wording of the Lord's Prayer does not say that He does!). The Lord's Prayer asks that He not "lead us" into a place where there is temptation (i.e. trials, testing, etc.). Just as we pray that He will deliver us from evil--and yet we know that at times He chooses not to do so--also we are to pray that He not lead us into that same kind of trial and temptation like Jesus experienced (even though we know that He may choose to do so in order to test our faith like He did with the ancient Hebrews, or even with Job).

In the end, however, we must ask: does it make a difference? We are asking not to be tempted (however we attribute the causality). I think it does make a difference and that there are two very important things at stake here. First, the desire to change the wording of the prayer to the phrase "do not let us fall into temptation" reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what temptation is all about. Being tempted is, of course, never a good thing (in itself), but it is a trial and testing of our faith that (when we overcome it) is comparable to the strengthening of a bone after it heals from a break. We are able to stand firm afterward, like Jesus did after His temptation by the devil.

We are all going to be tempted to sin at various times because we are fallen beings who live in a fallen world (cf. Luke 17:1, "temptations to sin are sure to come"). Many of these temptations we are able to overcome by the power of the Spirit of God. When, however, we encounter a situation that is a much more serious trial and temptation we are called to remember that God is still present and able to help us. No, we do not want to go through that trial, but when that prayer that He "lead us not" is not answered, then we are still supposed to turn to Him Who is always with us "unto the end of the age".

This is the second thing at stake. In removing the reference to "leading us" into temptation (which echoes the temptation of Jesus) we are also removing the point that God is involved in every aspect of our lives, even when we endure great trials and are tempted to sin. Asking God not to "lead us" is acknowledging that our temptations that each of us experience are not mere happenstance events, but are actually a part of God's oversight in our lives. He is there when we are tempted, and sometimes He brings us into that situation precisely because He wants to test our faith, have us pass the test, and then be stronger as a result.

This does not mean He does the tempting with us (any more than He was the one who tempted Jesus in the wilderness), but it does mean that all of our spiritual struggles are a part of our relationship with Him. All He has to do in this is place us in a situation where He knows temptation will occur, and if He does it, then we know it is for our good as much as it was for Christ's good. If we merely petition God not to "let us fall" into temptation, then it makes it seem as though He is just a passive observer Who is being asked to step in when things get messed up in our lives. He is much more than that; our Lord is an active participant in everything we experience, and He is there to help us through it (as the Spirit was for Jesus--cf. Mark 1:13).

All in all, we can take hope in this one most important thing. Even though the world is filled with temptations, and we know that we will encounter them, and even though we are told to ask not to be led into temptation, yet you can always be confident that "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength" (1 Cor 10:13). This means that He does allow us to be tempted, but always makes sure to provide for us a means to overcome the temptation. So then, whether He is merely "allowing" us to be tempted or actually "leading" us into temptation, we can be sure that it is always for our good, and we can always go to Him to find the strength to endure.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

To Your Advantage

A man was once sitting in his car at a stoplight. He was the first in a line of about 7 or 8 cars. The light turned green and he took his foot off the brake and went to give it gas, but as soon as he did the car stalled. In frustration he put it in park and then went to restart it, hoping he could get it going before the drivers behind him started to honk their horns at him. Before he even turned the key, however, a big 18-wheeler diesel truck came barreling through the intersection at about 50 miles per hour; it had run the red light. Reports said that the diesel's brakes had failed and he was unable to stop. The mere difference of about 5 seconds, and the man in the car was alive rather than dead. It is unlikely that he would have survived being hit by that semi.

Certainly, in those few brief seconds, while he was frustrated for his car stalling, all he could think about was how annoying the inconvenience was. That was until he realized that his stalled car saved his life. There are many things in our lives that are like that, but we just do not know about all of them. These are the things that frustrate us, and make us say "why God?" but in truth they are there for our good. Sometimes they help to prevent something worse from happening, and sometimes they are replaced by something far better than we could have hoped for. Although we do not always know what the reasoning is, since we know that God is behind these things, we know that there is some good that will come from them.

In the gospel reading for Mass earlier this week, Jesus told the Apostles that He was going "to him who sent me" (the Father in Heaven) and that this caused them to be saddened. This last Thursday at St. George Catholic Church (as well as in a few other dioceses besides the Ordinariate) we celebrated Ascension Day. We think now about the Ascension as a wonderful event, but that is not exactly what the Apostles were thinking when it first happened. Jesus had to explain to them why they should not be sad. He tells them that "it is to your advantage that I go away". They would only see the sad parts of Jesus' ascension up into Heaven, but He was explaining to them that sometimes God allows one sad thing to come into our lives so that it can pave the way for a joyful thing to come afterward.

As difficult as it may sound, we do not always get to see the blessing that God gives to us after the "sad events" that we are talking about. That is when it becomes quite difficult to keep our faith. Imagine if the man in the illustration at the beginning had been looking down and not noticed the truck rush through the red light in front of him. He might never know the wonderful grace that had been provided to him. I like to think about my guardian angel at times, and I often wonder how many things he protected me from that I do not even know about. In the same way, a challenging event that we do not like may not have a clear connection to the blessing that God sends; but that does not mean that there is not a blessing somewhere!

What events in your life have been giving you difficulties lately? Maybe it is a co-worker whose ungodly behavior is making it difficult for you to maintain a holy composure? Maybe it is your finances that are not what you think they should be? Maybe you have lost someone close to you and cannot understand why God would allow that person to die? Whatever it is, we can take hope that God does not send us anything bad unless there is a good reason for it. Sometimes we know the blessing that comes and sometimes we do not, but God always knows whether it is better for us to know it or not. If He wants to stretch your faith, He might allow the reason for His actions to remain hidden. We cannot get angry for His choice, however, since He always has our best in mind.

If we lived in a world of chance and happenstance, and there were no God, then those bad events would definitely be nothing more than bad events. Yet, those of us with faith know better. We know that God is on His throne and that the world is not a mere chance collusion of molecules. Every single detail of God's creation was put there for a reason, and our Lord is so powerful that nothing can happen outside of His control. Therefore, when things look like they are going sideways, we can always take hope that (in some way) it is for "our advantage" (as our Lord told the Apostles). Yes, we are still supposed to strive for holiness and work for the good of all, but we do not do that hopelessly, but with great hope; hope in our Sovereign Redeemer.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

That's Not Nice!

One of my parishioners has taped to her office wall a drawing done by one of her children. It has written on it (by the teacher) things that the child appreciates about the parent. One of the things in the list says "you are nice to me sometimes". We had quite a laugh about the "sometimes" part. She mentioned to me that it was completely true though -- there were times when she and her husband could not be "nice to her" because they loved her.

I know that I have said this many times, both in writing and in personal communication, that parents cannot be both good parents and friends to their children. Your children do not need you as a friend, they need you as a parent. If parents are going to be responsible to God and fulfill their calling of teaching their children the Catholic faith, then they must realize that being "nice" to their children is not the goal. That does not mean that they should be "mean", but that "niceness" is not actually a trait of good parenting.

When parents are teaching and guiding their children, their goal should be to point them to Christ in a loving manner. Sometimes that means doing things that are not very "nice". I recall once hearing a story about a couple whose children had all left the Catholic faith that they were raised in as soon as they hit 18 years old. The person telling the story said, "it is so hard to believe, they were so nice as parents". I immediately thought, "maybe it was their 'niceness' that actually caused the children to stray from the path." Being a good parent means disciplining the children; it means telling them "no" more than once in a while (and sometimes when "yes" is OK, but "no" is for their better good). Those types of things are not "nice".

Niceness does not allow a parent to tell their children (especially when they are teenagers) that they cannot do something. Niceness does not allow a parent to spend time explaining to a child the problems with a certain behavior of theirs. Niceness may be fine when it comes to how we play a board game together, but it has little to do with parental authority. Now, do not get me wrong; I am not saying that a parent should be harsh and cruel in their instruction of the children. It is the attitude of "niceness", however, that causes a parent to choose the path of least resistance, and avoid any kind of conflict (even if it means that the child will continue in gravely sinful behavior).

This same principle (though there are nuances that are too detailed to outline in this brief post) can be applied to how a priest should minister to his people. Yes, he should be kind to them, and show a gracious attitude. Yet if he is always a "nice" priest then he will never tell them about sin in a homily, and he will avoid speaking to them about the sins that they refuse to repent of in the confessional. Niceness will not allow a priest to be clear about what sin is. It is probably the case that nice priests have bigger congregations, and that they rarely have people complain (or just leave), but the "non-nice" priest, however, can sleep at night because he knows that he spoke to his people (with gentle love) about what they truly need.

I know about a young man who told his Dad recently that he was glad that he had been tough on him. He said that he needed it, and was finally starting to realize the blessing that it was in his life. Although he did not use the term, he was saying that he was thankful that his Dad was not "nice" to him, but instead had showed him love. What a remarkable testimony. Parents should make it their goal to love the children enough to be able to avoid the niceness that leaves a child in his sin. It is certainly not a nice thing to tell a child that he is sinning and must stop, but it is truly loving.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

More Important

Which is more important -- eating right, or wearing the most popular clothes? Which is more important -- having a high paying job, or having genuine peace? Which is more important -- helping someone in need, or taking time to rest? When we compare things like this, it makes us dig deep and ask some significant questions about what really matters to us, and about how much effort we will put into things. These are questions that we usually do not think about unless forced to do so. Some comparisons are fairly easy (though I bet there are some people whose priorities lead them to worldly answer to the questions above), and some are more difficult. Each of the comparisons above makes us think about what our priorities are.

On a daily basis, each of us is forced to make decisions based on what we consider to be more or less important in our lives. Sometimes we will answer those questions with a view to short term happiness, but if that is our sole consideration, then we are seriously missing what is, by far, a greater happiness and joy. In fact, what we are doing in answering the question of "importance" is not as simple as "what I want". It also carries with it the issue of what impact the importance of a particular thing has on either the greater number of people or the more long term impact.

Let me throw out a couple of other comparisons. Which is more important -- getting your children to their team practice, or getting your children to Church on Sunday? The amount of effort a parent puts into both will determine which they consider to be more important. Let us switch it up a bit and ask another question. Which is more important -- getting a good education for your children, or instilling the Catholic faith in their hearts? Some might say they want both, but if you had to choose which would it be? I have never had a Catholic say that he thought sports teams more important than eternal salvation, but I have had parents tell me that they were going to miss Mass because one of their children had a "game" on Sunday, and they would be cut from the team if they missed it. Their priorities are obvious.

Here is another comparison: Which is more important -- giving financially for the support of your home parish, or buying the newest video game (pair of shoes, electronic device, etc.)? If I were to take the statistics as a testimony of what people think in this regard, then I would have to say that people think that tithing is quite insignificant. Did you know that only a small percentage of Catholics obey the Church precept that requires (yes, requires) us to give to the support of our parish? Yes, some are financially limited, but almost everyone can give something (and that means that the majority of "almost everyone" is in active disobedience).

Let us try one more (and this one comes up quite often). Which is more important -- to go to work when you are not in the mood, or to go to Mass when you are not in the mood? Did you ever think about this? I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people talk about how essential it is to go to work whether they want to or not ("I need the paycheck"), and yet, when it comes to the Mass, they will allow the slightest little inconvenience to prevent them from attending. Which do you consider more important? Most do not have to pick between, but which one are you willing to exert more energy to accomplish?

There are many things that I have mentioned that are a false dilemma. We are often able to do both of the options, and do them faithfully. That is not the question I am putting forward. What I am aiming at is to encourage each of you to consider how much effort you put into these tasks and responsibilities. If you really exert yourself more for your career than you do for your God, then which one do you care about more? Jesus said in many ways that our actions reveal our hearts.

It reminds me of a story about the man who was in process to join the Catholic Church. When he first heard about the Eucharist, he thought it sounded a bit like silly kid's stories. Then when he came to believe in it, he told others that he would give up anything to be able to receive the real body and blood of Jesus just once in his lifetime. He was revealing what he put as his highest priority. So then, what are you revealing?

Saturday, May 18, 2019

What is Our Problem Today?

In a conversation with another priest recently, he made a comment which struck right to the core. We were speaking about many of the current problems that the Church is having to undergo. We also spoke much about how people are responding in many different ways. He pointed out to me (since he knows my particular weaknesses) that all the problems are not doctrinal. Yes, there are doctrinal problems (and many of them are rampant--even among Catholics), but that is too simplistic an explanation of what we are dealing with.

The real heart of the problem is a spiritual issue, rather than a doctrinal one. My tendency is to examine things in a doctrinal way. It is certainly easier to consider things as doctrines: "either you believe in this doctrine or not". The spiritual corruption that is spreading like wildfire today, however, is much more slippery and harder to get hold of. To say that someone is wrong spiritually is not as easy to pinpoint, and it is much more difficult to remedy. You can tell when a person is spiritually damaged, but how they got there and how they can overcome it are not that easy.

It is precisely because people are spiritually damaged that we hear so many doctrinal errors and not the other way around. Yes, it is true that doctrinal errors will damage you spiritually, but that is not what the majority are experiencing today. Spiritual laziness has led to compromise in morals, lack of appreciation for things that are eternal, disrespect for God and His commands, and a general reorientation to worldliness. When people become spiritually corrupted, they become confused and will often fall for any foolish idea just because it sounds good (like global warming).

We are dealing with a spiritual and moral problem, and it has been increasing for a couple generations now at an astronomical rate. It was not as noticeable in the past as it is now, and that is what makes it hard to overcome. It has become so deep-seated in people that they often cannot even see their spiritual problems (and even think, sometimes, that their spiritual problems are actually a good thing). We can spend our time working to correct doctrinal issues (and some of that is necessary), but if we fail to work on the spiritual and moral problems that we have (which are much more difficult to diagnose) then we will just return to some other doctrinal errors in the end.

I was once asked, "how do I overcome this challenge in my life?" My answer was "increase your devotion to the Lord". The person I was speaking to stood there and stared at me for a bit with a look that made me wonder if I had just spoken in Chinese. It may seem overly simplistic, but our level of devotion always impacts our lives (in more ways that we usually expect). "Seek first His kingdom and all the rest will be added unto you" (but we do not like that, do we?). People want entertainment and a pat on the back, but not reverence for Christ and encouragement to repent.

This increased spiritual compromise has spread like a disease to the point of where there are more infected by it than not. It is like living in the days of the Black Plague, but instead of physical boils and fever, we have spiritual symptoms. The problem is, most are either ignoring the disease, or they are trying to solve it with the very same things that are causing the problem. Maybe, a few centuries from now, they will refer to this as the "Spiritual Black Plague". Whatever they call these days we live in, I suspect it will be remembered with sadness.

Numerous clergymen are compromised in their faith and practice (morally, liturgically, and doctrinally). Mass attendance is decreasing. Tithing is not what it used to be in most parishes. In general, Catholics do not know enough about their faith to distinguish it from Protestantism. We cannot blame it all on the abuse of Vatican II (we can blame quite a lot on that, but not all of it!). So then, where do we go from here? As a priest, I am going to buckle down, and work first on increasing my own holiness and that of those under my care. Every one of you should do the same in your sphere of influence and work to find a renewed spiritual vigor in your soul. There are no gimmicks or tricks to fix this. There is Christ and His grace, and to Him we must turn; will you go there with me?