Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A Lovely Argument for Priestly Celibacy

I do not recall who the author was, but I recall reading a quote years ago by an atheist who said that it was hideous and immoral to try to make virginity a virtue. His motivation was as clear as can be: someone who attacks something that everyone (even if only "down deep" in their souls) has a profound respect for is doing so to salve his conscience and cover up something that he does not want others to know about. Even though our modern society does not clearly express a respect for self-control, we all know the value of it and are struck by it when we see it happening.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about "A Lousy Argument for Priestly Celibacy". Today I would like to talk about a "Lovely" argument instead. This is, of course, only one of many good and proper arguments for retaining the predominant custom of Priests in the Roman Catholic Church being celibate. In my title for this post I did not just seek to come up with another word that starts with the letter "L" because "Lousy" started with an "L". It was convenient, but the choice of the word "Lovely" is fully intentional. Celibacy, especially in the priesthood, is a "lovely" thing.

What I mean by this is that those men who willingly and joyfully choose to surrender having the love of a wife and children of their own, for the sake of the love of Christ's Church are exemplifying love in an amazing way. Each and every sacrifice that comes from a desire to serve the Lord is a "lovely" thing. It is always beautiful to see the women religious who have committed themselves to the service of Christ and His Church, but we all know that the average man's libido is much more powerful than a woman's. Hence, for a man to say "no" to something that the world says everyone has to have (in any way that they want regardless of what God says!) is a powerful testimony of one's devotion to God.

Although we should never say that a person who wants to get married is selfish for doing so, we would all admit that when someone is willing to surrender the great joy of marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of God it is a holy act. Now, I have met a few people who have chosen the celibate life (I will not be any more specific than that in referring to them in order to protect the guilty!), who clearly did so out of a motivation of avoiding the horrible situations that so many married people get themselves into. This is not a motivation of holiness, but rather a motivation of selfishness. That is the very opposite of the "lovely" symbol of holy virginity that is portrayed by those who acknowledge that marriage can be a joyful blessing, and they choose to surrender it in order to better serve God.

Many years ago I met someone who said she did not want to get married because she wanted instead to focus on helping the poor. This is the type of holy motivation I am speaking of. And when a man is moved in this way to pursue the priesthood, he is telling the world there are things more important than personal pleasure. In fact, it is precisely the testimony to the world that is so important in the custom of celibacy. While the world is fighting so hard to allow anyone to have sex with anyone (or anything) else, the declaration of "I am seeking a greater joy" is a testimony that flies in the face of modern immorality. That is truly lovely.

I heard a married priest a while ago say that his dual vocation worked well for him (but might not for other priests). He also pointed out how his marriage complemented his priesthood, and vice versa. This is true, and I fully agree that it is the case for me as well. I have seen many times how this uncommon mix of two vocations has value and importance. In a certain sense there is a valuable testimony of both married priests and celibate priests. Both can exemplify an aspect of personal holiness in a unique way, but celibacy (especially in this modern age) is a more powerful example.

To return to the quote referenced in the first paragraph, it is easy to attack virginity and celibacy when modernists are obsessed with sexual activity. Yet, every one of us knows that there is something beautiful about the self control of virginity, and the intentional choice of a life of celibacy. The entire concept of "consenting adults" (so abused by pagans today) shows us that a lack of consent changes everything. A willing choice in the realm of sexuality is essential--hence one's choice of celibacy is valued even when they do not want to admit it.

Thus, the celibate priest is showing the world the wonders of Christ's love in a way that the world can barely wrap its head around. My celibate brothers are saying "I love you" to God by seeking first His Kingdom. My celibate brothers are saying "I love you" to their parishes by committing their time and effort to them first. My celibate brothers are saying "I love you" to a dying world by choosing to give up an earthly pleasure so that they can help the lost to find eternal pleasure in Christ. And as I said above: that is truly "Lovely".

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Wonderful Grace of Balance

I had the wonderful grace (ha-ha!) of being able to see a political commercial today. As most of you know, I do not watch tv (it has been almost 30 years), but I happened to be somewhere that a tv was playing and I thought it would interesting to pay attention for a moment -- I was wrong. The candidate is apparently running for the Democratic nomination for president. The commercial did not give his last name (I guess he believes that everyone knows who he is?), nor did he actually tell me anything about himself (I guess he believes that everyone already knows what his positions are?) other than his first name and his desire to be nominated.

What he did spend the entire 60 seconds talking about was how much he wants to impeach President Trump. From that one commercial I know nothing more than his opinion of our current President. Seriously, why would anyone think that such a presentation would be an encouragement for people to support him? I can tell you why. It is precisely because the thinking of most people in America today is unbalanced. I do not mean merely that their thinking is odd, but genuinely unbalanced.

Many people today have been taught "muddy" thinking (and others have been taught just to "feel" rather than actually think). Thus, if I were to say "this person is good because he hates that person", the majority of Americans would not recognize that that is a completely ridiculous argument. What moves people to action is more often something that irrationally sits on the extremes; in other words, "unbalanced" thinking.

Just listen to many of the points that are made in discussions today. You will find that vast numbers of people always run to an extreme to make their case. To say that something is good, people will say "this is the absolutest, most fantastic, most wonderful, amazing thing ever, in the history of the world." To say that something is bad, people will say "this is most horriblest, terriblest, awful and hideously bad thing in all of existence". No balance. It seems we no longer know how to examine things carefully and critically (in a proper manner).

It is an amazing grace (at least in this modern era) to be able to look at something and see both the good and the bad in it. I am not claiming that everything is a balance of good and bad (that is Chinese pagan philosophy), but rather that the things that we see as "bad" often are not as bad as we think. Additionally, those things that we see as "good" often have some "less than good" aspects.

This is to say, when I see a "good" thing, someone else may see it as "bad" because they are not looking at the same things that I am (and vice versa). People often end up at odds with each other merely because they are both holding to extremes, and because of muddy thinking they are unable to recognize the error of this behavior. Thus, both parties take a stand on a foolish position, when both are wrong. It does help only to exemplify balance, for people who are unbalanced do not recognize balance as anything other than "wrong" in their minds. We must go farther and make sure that we are teaching people how to think.

If we were to become more precise in our thinking as well as more careful in our reactions to things, we would be able to deal better with this world. When we are criticized for something, we will not have a knee-jerk reaction that makes us look like a lunatic. When we see something that we know is wrong, we will not react as though the world is falling apart (and even if it is, Jesus is still on His throne!). To be ready to speak to a fallen world with the grace and wisdom of Christ is an essential duty if we are wanting to teach the grace and wisdom of Christ. What else would we ever want to teach the world? A reactionary and muddy-thinking group of Catholics will not make anyone want to convert, and those who cannot think clearly are not able to think clearly about our precious Redeemer.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Identity

OK, to begin with, I know that this is going to sound strange. I have always wondered, however, what it would be like to have amnesia. No, I do not actually want to have something happen that causes me to forget who I am, but the experience has always fascinated me. I have read stories about people who had amnesia and it sounds so completely unsettling. We are accustomed to knowing our identity, and valuing it highly. It has been shown, in fact, that not knowing one's identity can be destructive. This is not only true for a person, it is also true for a Catholic parish.

St. Paul in this last Sunday's second reading in Mass exclaimed that he was confident he had "fought the fight, run the race, and held the faith". This is something we all want to be able to say some day. In order to reach that point, however, we need to know what to fight for, which race to run in, and what faith it is that we are holding. This is the reason why I have recently begun a homily series at St. George, my Ordinariate parish, on the subject of who we are. The Ordinariate has a very unique calling in the Catholic Church today, and if we take that lightly, we will be missing what it means to serve the Lord.

This year, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the publication of Anglicanorum Coetibus, the Apostolic Constitution by which the Ordinariates were established by Pope Benedict XVI. In addition, just a few weeks ago, Cardinal John Henry Newman was canonized -- he who is often considered as the forerunner for all of us former Anglicans who have returned to Mother Church. The time is perfect for us to examine who we are and what our calling is.

Although every Catholic parish has the same basic calling, not every Catholic parish has the same specific calling. Even within the same diocese individual parishes will have different duties before God (one may have a food pantry, while another has an outreach to unwed mothers). There are some specific details to the culture of the Ordinariates that need to be embraced if Ordinariate parishes are going to remain faithful to the duty placed upon them. Yes, each Ordinariate parish will (at least eventually) have a special calling in itself, but we can say that every Ordinariate parish has the responsibility to carry on the heritage of English Catholicism.

It has long been the case (over a thousand years) that England was referred to as "the dowry of the Blessed Virgin Mary". This is because England had a unique place in the Roman Catholic Church and was even allowed to retain special traditions that were clearly distinct from those outside of the British Isles. It was those very traditions that were "kidnapped" at the time of the English departure from Rome (in the 16th century under King Henry VIII). Now in the 21st century, many of those traditions have been restored and are preserved in the Ordinariates.

Pope Benedict XVI established the Ordinariates because, according to his own words, he wanted these very same English traditions to "be shared" with the rest of the Catholic Church. He said he wanted these practices to spread and enlighten the rest of Catholicism. They are not merely to be "kept" and continued, but to be an influence on the rest of the Church throughout the world.

St. George parish, as a part of the Ordinariate here in America is supposed to be different from other parishes; not just by being "weird", but because we are to hold to certain traditions for the good of the whole Church. We are a small community (very small in fact) but we can still fulfill our calling, because God enables us to fulfill it (as He does with every parish). So, as a community learns its place in the Kingdom of God, it also learns how to serve God (since the two go hand in hand). These, then, are fighting orders. Members (present and future) of St. George, prepare for the fight, and be ready to take up the call to battle; for we fight for King Jesus.

Friday, October 18, 2019

A Lousy Argument for Priestly Celibacy

There are many Catholics today who claim that no priest can take care of a family and a parish at the same time; they believe it is just too much for one person to balance. Not trying to draw attention to myself, but I think I can contribute at least a little bit to the discussion. For those of you who are unfamiliar with my situation I will give a brief summary. My wife and I have been married almost 30 years now, and we have five children (oldest is 23, youngest is 9). I was given special permission to be ordained as a priest by Pope Benedict XVI seven years ago. Prior to my reception in the Church, I served for sixteen years as a protestant minister, so my wife and children are all familiar with what it means for me to work in a ministerial setting.

Now, I must admit, right at the start that I am busier now than I ever was as a protestant pastor, but that only goes to support the point I am making. Therefore, I will say that it is possible for a married Catholic priest, not just to get by, but to maintain a good marriage, have all five of his children stay in the faith, and maintain a pretty good relationship with the members of my parishes (I serve three right now). This does not mean that we have never experienced any problems; both my family and my parishes have experienced their own share of challenges. It does mean, however, that it is not impossible for a married Catholic priest to attend to his duties with both his own family and his parishes.

Having said that I must say, it is very, very hard to do it right. In fact, if the option was open, and a  young man came to me trying to discern whether to get married before pursuing the priesthood, I would tell him, "No, choose the celibate life instead." Yes, that might shock some people, but it is true. The current custom of priestly celibacy is definitely best, and it does enable the man to attend to his priestly duties in a clearer fashion (as St. Paul says, cf. 1 Corinthians 7:32-34). If God genuinely calls a man to do both vocations of husband and priest (and it is my opinion that this happens less often than many people think), then He will grant him the gifts to do both. Not every man is called to celibacy, nor is every man called to marriage (cf. the important comment of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:7!).

It is difficult to be a good Catholic father to any household; if you add in a ministerial responsibility that can call you away at a moment's notice (24 hours a day), then it makes it even more difficult. As I said, "difficult", but not impossible. This is why I will say (and have said many times), I am not an advocate of eliminating the custom of priestly celibacy. Some men (and I really mean only "some") can maintain a good marriage and keep their children in the faith. Few priests (and I really mean only "few") can maintain a good marriage and keep their children in the faith. Open the doors up to large numbers of married priests in the Catholic Church (especially here in America), and you will be opening up the doors to a whole new set of problems that were never considered.

I will even mention (in just general terms) that my family has experienced a few "trials and tribulations" but we have come out faithful and strong in spite of them--due largely to the fact that we raised our children to work through their problems with the help of the rest of the family. In addition, my parishes have had some experiences that were difficult (which one has not?). Yet, none of these challenges had anything to do with the fact that I am married with children still in the home. In some ways my experience of working directly with my own family helped me to know better how to lead the parish through its challenges; but that is not necessary for every priest.

One thing that people do not think about is that in some ways the priest frequently treats his own family as he does other parish families --- he needs to minister to them according to what they need. Someone once asked the direct question, "how do you choose between family and parish when the two conflict?" Even though it may seem like that is a genuine conflict that celibate priests never experience, it is not true. There are times when I have had to leave a meeting with a parish family because I got called to something more serious (like giving last rites); they always understood. There are times when I have to leave when I am with my own family (like the time I had to leave my youngest boy's birthday party because of a ministerial responsibility--and he completely understood, and held no grudge over it).

If a married priest is really doing the (additional) hard work to maintain a good marriage and if his wife is supportive of him in the raising of their children, then their family bond will be such that the wife and children understand what it means to "share" him with an entire parish, and he will never have to neglect either. As I said above, however, it is not easy to accomplish this. If the desire is there to allow more married men to become priests, then the vetting process will need to become twice as stringent as it is now. This is precisely because the responsibility of a married priest is more challenging (but, once again, not impossible).

Catholics really need to stop using the "it's impossible" argument against extending the option of married priests. It is not accurate, and it is far too pragmatic (and pragmatism is rarely a good rule of thumb for determining what is best in the Church). Just because something is difficult does not make it wrong. It is difficult for me to celebrate 8 Masses in 72 hours, but I do it every Easter season -- because it is good and right. It is difficult for parents to raise their children properly in our modern pagan society; that does not make it wrong. There are plenty of reasons not to allow for more married Catholic priests, but "its impossible" is not one of them.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

They Already Know

I felt like I was speaking to a brick wall. I would make a point regarding the existence of God, and the person I was speaking to would respond as though he had not heard a word I said. It was quite remarkable to see his mental/emotional wall block every single thing I said. He did not actually respond with anything that could be called a refutation, but mostly just a deflection of the subject at hand. He had already told me that he did not believe that God existed, so I knew I had a battle. Scripture, however, tells us that his claim is not true.

We are told in today's first Mass reading that God has revealed Himself sufficiently to everyone, such that there is no excuse for denying His existence (cf. Romans 1:19). This revelation is given within the heart of every human. No, He has not revealed enough to everyone for them to know the specifics of Catholic dogma (that takes special revelation which comes only through the Church), but if they know that He exists, then they are obligated to learn more about Him. Thus, while I was speaking to the man mentioned above who was denying the reality of God, I knew that down deep he was only trying to cover up something that he did not want to admit: God is real, and we are all accountable to Him for everything that we do.

Knowing that people already know God exists changes our perspective on evangelism. We are not speaking to people who are completely ignorant, we are instead speaking to people who really do know the truth; we know that they know, and yet they do not want us to know that they know. It should be obvious that there is a radical ignorance of the details of the Catholic faith. Yes, many pagans recognize what a rosary is, but few know how to use it. Furthermore, numerous people have never even heard the word "Eucharist" or even know the basics of what a Mass looks like.

When you couple together the innate knowledge of the existence of God with the common ignorance of the things of God, we have a wonderful situation. This means, for those of us who want to live out our faith and seek to evangelize the lost, people are "ripe for the harvest". They know God exists, but likely do not have a burden of errant views of Catholic theology. We can tell them what "Eucharist" means without having to refute errors. Certainly, there will be those protestants who have been told all the lies about Catholics worshipping both the Blessed Virgin, and statues (etc.), but evangelizing them is quite different from the average pagan; and pagans are increasing in number at a remarkable rate these days.

The so-called "nones" who proudly claim that their religious identity is "nothing" are needing to be dealt with. You likely know a few of them (even if you are not aware of it). Their ideology is "forget about God, all I care about is my own feelings and opinions" (something of a solipsism in disguise). The want to claim that they "do not know" if God exists (and likely say they do not care), but Saint Paul tells us differently, and that matters for us. We can approach them with the awareness that they are merely trying to suppress the truth in their sin (cf. Romans 1:18). Essentially, we do not need to "prove" God to them, but rather make them see that their denial is contrary to reality.

Live out your faith in this faithless age. Exemplify what it means to believe in the Triune Creator of all things. Know that down deep they know that you are correct, and that they must repent if they are going to find any true peace. Above all, speak to them of the wonderful saving grace of Christ. Help them to know of His love and mercy so that they can feel confident in approaching Him. This is what it means to evangelize.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Wait a Minute

Wait a full minute before reading further...

Did you actually wait; even half a minute? or did you just go ahead and read this next line? If you did not wait, then you proved my point. We do not tend to be a patient people, do we? We have been trained to expect things to come quickly, and we do not like having to be patient. Patience is actually one of the fruits of the Spirit, but rarely do people really want to have it. It has been almost two weeks since I posted anything here. No, it was not intentionally to see if anyone could be patient, but I was reminded recently about how we all used to wait for new publications that might take a week or more to arrive in the "snail mail", and found the comparison fascinating.

How patient are you in waiting for God to answer your prayers? There are many places in Scripture which tell us of the blessings of waiting (e.g. Lamentations 3:25-26), but we still do not like to wait. Being forced to wait patiently causes us to feel like something is wrong (or worse, like we are being wronged). We want things to be fixed now, and do not think that we should have to wait for resolutions. Modern technology has enabled us to make many things in our lives happen faster, and now we expect everything to be faster.

One of the ways that we have the most trouble today in being patient is when someone does something wrong to us (or even when we merely perceive that a wrong has been done). If we lash out in anger, it is because we are not patient to allow the wrong and offer it to the Lord (which is actually a great grace, cf. 1 Cor 6:7b-8). We want justice immediately, and sometimes take things into our own hands to bring it about. Patient people are willing to bear wrongs because they know that without God's grace they would be doing the same things to others. Only foolish pride supports impatience.

Impatient people are grumpy and usually seek to make others miserable along with them. They get an idea in their minds about how something is supposed to be (either in their own lives, or in the lives of those around them), and if it is not changed at the speed that they demand, then they become angry and frequently seek ways to become a "martyr for their cause". This latter behavior is how they bring others down with them. By spreading their sinful attitude, they encourage others to have the same attitude of discontent.

Although I wish it were different, Catholics are not immune to this behavior. Sinful pride can make people do some horrible things, and I hear stories all the time from my parishioners about problems that could easily be avoided if people would just choose to be patient with each other. It is an amazing grace to say to another (even if only in the silence of our own hearts), "I will bear with what you are doing because I know that I too am sinful and hope that others will be patient with me when I fail them". What does it take to respond like this? The grace of God. Let us all seek it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Devilish Wisdom

I took a bite and immediately spit it out; the food had turned bad. Something was definitely past its expiration date. We can thank God for the sense of taste; not just for the enjoyment of good foods, but also for the recognition of things that are bad for us (though we rarely think of this special gift, we appreciate it when we need it!). I am told that there are no poison plants that taste pleasant, and most have a horrible taste. God has granted us the ability to recognize when something needs to be spit out. Yet, there are some people whose taste buds have been ruined for some reason, and they might not recognize something that tastes bad.

Just as physical taste can tell us that something is wrong, so also is there a spiritual action that does the same thing. In every person's spirit there is a conscience that tells them that they have done something wrong. Now it is possible for someone's conscience to become so calloused by sinful behavior that he does not feel any sensations of guilt. This is actually one of the deepest points of sinful degeneration (as St. Paul points out: cf. 1 Corinthians 8:10, 1 Timothy 1:19 & 4:2, and Titus 1:15); when a person's conscience is so damaged that he no longer senses the evil of his actions.

The Catholic Church today is filled with fights and divisions. The list of disagreements is more than I can put here. Many of these quarrels are likely not necessary, and can be resolved if we, as God's people, would take advantage of sacramental grace and reconsider how we disagree. Ignoring our conscience for the sake of winning and argument is never right. This means that we each need to do some self examination and determine whether our conscience is rightly formed, and whether we are following the path of holiness in our disagreements.

There are a number of ways that we can recognize damage to a person's conscience. The most obvious is when a person openly says that he has no remorse or guilt for his sinful behavior. Of course, there are those who will say that they do not have any feelings of remorse (when they actually do have them), and they do this because they are trying to cover up their pain. Those whose consciences are truly "seared" are not always this overt in their behavior though. Sometimes--in the name of righteousness--there are those whose consciences do not recognize one of the worst expressions of selfish pride: divisiveness.

In more than one place in Sacred Scripture we find the references to the sin of divisiveness (Leviticus 19:16, Romans 16:17, Galatians 5:20, Titus 3:10, etc.). In essence, any behavior that is done intentionally to cause antagonism between one brother and another is considered to be divisive. There are certainly those who behave divisively, but are doing so out of ignorance, or they somehow do not realize that they are being divisive. Although still genuinely divisive, they do not hold the same level of culpability as do those who cause division purposefully. To cause division is the same as destroying love and encouraging hate.

So we should then ask the straightforward question: what is it that causes quarrels and divisions? There are many types of circumstances where people become quarrelsome, but they can all be summarized as: one person thinks he is smarter than another. If you and I disagree about something and neither is willing to change his mind, then we both think we are smarter than the other. If neither party insisted on his or her way, then there would be no quarrel. The disagreement can be caused by a mere misunderstanding, or it can come from a prideful unwillingness to be humble. The first can easily be resolved by just discussing the matter (assuming both parties are willing to do so). The second, however, is a much deeper problem.

The Scriptures refer to the attitude of "I know more than you and I'm unwilling to change" as "devilish wisdom" (cf. James 3:15). In other words, it is a wrong manner of thinking that causes one to believe things that are errant, and stubbornly to insist on maintaining that belief. The Apostle James says that this worldly wisdom causes "bitter jealousy and selfish ambition" (3:14), and that leads to "wars" and "fightings" (4:1). Thus, this kind of quarrel is caused by someone falling into a prideful foolishness and refusing to repent. Once a person is overtaken by worldly wisdom, if his conscience is seared (as above) then it will be even harder for him to find penitence since he becomes "stuck" in his divisive behavior.

For those who are immature in their faith, it may be hard to discern the difference between stubborn divisiveness and faithful perseverance. The main point that will help us to see the difference is the manner of someone's disagreement. We need to look for who is expressing holiness and purity as Christ did when He was attacked. If someone angrily demands that he is right and runs around telling others about it to garner support, he has clearly fallen to divisiveness. If, on the other hand, someone remains humble, accepting the wrongful treatment with a cheerful expression of another opinion on the matter, that is the one who is remaining in the grace of Christ.

Of course, as mentioned above, not all who fall into divisive behavior have a completely "seared conscience". There are, by the grace of God, some who eventually see their behavior for what it is, and they repent of it. For which, we should give thanks to God. How do we help someone like this to find repentance? There is no one right method, for each person is different and will need a unique grace to help him. This means that if you know someone like this (and he is still talking to you) then you should do your best to seek out how to get through to him so that he can return to faithfulness.

Are you currently in a quarrel with someone? Have you made the presumption that you are in the right and the other is wrong? Have you even given a moment of consideration that your reasoning may be wrong ("devilish wisdom") and that you may need to change your position and admit error? That can be very hard to do, of course, but it always leads to greater holiness. As the people of God we should never presume upon our own brilliance, but always be willing to ask "is it me?" "did I make the mistake?" "how can I do better?" Imagine what differences of opinion would look like if every one of us asked these kinds of questions from the start!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Saturno!

How many of you know what a "saturno" is? In short, it is a hat that (more traditionally minded) Catholic priests wear with their cassock; it is seen very often in Rome. The name comes from the fact that is shaped something like the planet Saturn. It is a noticeable statement that helps the priest to express his calling to others so that they can find him when they need him (trust me, this really makes a difference for many people). You have probably seen them in old pictures and occasionally in a movie here and there. Would any of you like to see me wearing one? With the recent "criticism" of traditional priests wearing a cassock with a saturno, there are a few projects started in order to purchase a saturno for a priest (they can be quite expensive). My name has been put forward to receive one (someone must think I am kind of traditional?), and you can help it to happen by donating a small amount to a gofundme page (see here). Once mine is purchased, the funds will go for a saturno for another priest, so you are helping either way.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Good Guys, Bad Guys, and the Family

I have mentioned before that I like a good scary movie once in a while. No, I am not referring to those "gore fests" that are for people who actually enjoy death and mayhem; I am speaking, rather, about those stories where someone is in a scary situation (supernatural, science fiction, etc.) and has to work to overcome it. Of late, there has been a clear increase in the number of "scary movies" that portray children as the "bad guy" in them (either because they are possessed, or insane or otherwise). If we go back just 30 years, there were almost no children even seen in scary movies, and now there are children who are the main antagonists; something has changed.

Aside from the fact of what is happening to the souls of the children involved in the filming of these movies, there is clearly something wrong with this. What is it that Hollywood is saying in doing this? Unless it is a "Freudian slip" and is expressing the fact that those who are making these movies think their own children are evil, I cannot figure out what the motivation is. It is true that our entertainment is often a reflection of what is going on in society, and sometimes it is even a encouragement from the movie-makers about what they want to have going on in society (like with the push for the normalizing of sodomy back in the 80's and 90's).

So then, what conclusions can we take from this? At the very least it appears that we are seeing stories that show us that parenting has failed. Parents are supposed to teach their children to be good (which all would agree with regardless of their definition of what is "good"). This is not a blame game, but the numbers of people with children who are "out of control" while in the home, who have lost their faith after moving out, or who have left the Church and become protestants is staggering! The parenting techniques used by the vast majority of people (including Catholics) today (which can be summarized as a basic refusal to discipline) has failed; miserably. Something went wrong, and we are now reaping the consequences of it.

Hollywood's surge of movies about "evil children" could very well be an attempt to shove the blame somewhere else. There was a comedian back in the 60's who used the excuse "the devil made me do it" and made people laugh with it. Today, it seems that we can take from these movies that people are wanting to say "the devil made THEM do it" (i.e. their kids). It comes across as "don't blame me for my kids behavior". As a parent, I know that I have made mistakes; I know that I have not always done what was the absolute best for my children, and have not always made the best decisions in every instance. The only hope for success that parents have is the grace of God (no matter how good they are at parenting). Parents fail, and that is why they need to trust our Lord Jesus to help them in their task. Blaming someone or something else never helps to make things better (unless all you care about is your own feelings).

Coupled with this "evil children" surge in movies is another surge which is clearly related to it. If we have degenerated so much that we see it as acceptable for children (who used to be considered innocent and pure) to be the main "bad guy" in our entertainment, then we can just take the next step and have no good guys at all. How many movies are there that are just stories about one bad guy fighting against another bad guy (you may be surprised at how common this is)? How many movies have the police portrayed as the antagonists in the story? How anyone can watch an entire movie or series where everyone is evil, with no movement toward the good and holy, is amazing. Some stories will have a few "good guys" but they are just insignificant background characters (as I have heard about the series called "Game of Thrones"). It takes an incredibly calloused heart for someone to be comfortable with watching stories devoid of what is "true, good and beautiful".

The only way that we can get this far down the scale of moral compromise is if we step away from the godly norm of what family is supposed to be. One of the purposes of the Catholic family is to raise children in a safe environment and train them in how to deal with the world. In other words, teaching them the difference between "good guys and bad guys". Yet, if we are teaching them through entertainment that it is OK for us to cheer for the bad guys, and that children can become the source of evil, then we are not properly training them. Are we surprised in a culture like this that we have children wanting to kill other children at school?

For many in the world today, commitment to family has dwindled down to almost nothing. Many children actually desire to move far away from their parents and relatives (usually for a bigger paycheck or some kind of self-fulfillment!). Fewer and fewer people care about the importance of family, and even fewer understand what a family actually is. Godly family order is becoming a rarity, and it appears that most people do not really care about that either, because they openly express that they do not have a desire to restore it. The family, ordered and disciplined according to the word of God, must be restored. It must be something that we are willing to fight for.

How much are you willing to do to reject the world (and especially its immoral entertainment) so that your family can be faithful? Fathers, are you ready to sacrifice your own desires for the sake of your wives and children? It is what every dad is called to. The Church has, unfortunately, not done a great job of supporting families in recent years, but the means of doing so are firmly planted in our Traditions (cf. the encyclicals, Casti Connubii, Humanae Vitae, Evangelium Vitae, and especially Familiaris Consortio). Parents, have you read them? Do you know what truths they contain? Get copies now; you can download them off the web freely and easily. Know them, learn them, and teach them to your children. This is who we are as Catholics.

Friday, September 13, 2019

How to Learn Like a Catholic (part 2)

Picking up on the topic of my previous post (well over a week ago now--sorry, I've been busy), I need to point out one of the greatest problems that occurs whenever people try to learn more about their faith (which, as I said before, is always a good thing--in principle). We are warned in Sacred Scripture, many times and in various ways, that knowledge can make us become prideful. St. Paul says it this way:
“Knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know (1 Cor 8:1-2).
In other words, frequently when people get a bit of knowledge in their heads (especially those who are immature in their faith) it makes them think they know a whole lot more than they actually do (and then leads to pride). Thinking that you are really smart, proves that you are not!

As I mentioned in the previous post, we can practice wrong methods of learning without even knowing it. This creates a problematic situation for those who have a (good!) passion to learn. They begin with the wrong methodology, and then end up applying it to their continued practice of learning. Being prideful about one's knowledge does not go away when further knowledge is gained. The pride just taints that knowledge as well.

I recall once seeing a Dad explain to his 5 year son something about how a car worked. The boy then proceeded to run to all his friends explaining what he had just learned. By the look on his face you would imagine that he had just figured out quantum physics on his own! New converts to Catholicism can easily get puffed up in the exact same way because they read a few books about the faith and then think they are so brilliant they deserve an honorary doctoral degree. People who are more mature in their faith will always be humble about their knowledge. This does not mean that they do not speak about it, but that when they do, they are always aware that they do not know "as they ought to know" (and their humility is evident).

It is a common example of immaturity in the faith when someone presumes that since he knows one detail about a situation or subject that he knows all that he needs to know. This causes these immature "puffed up" Catholics to make quick accusations against others, to be fast to declare every error a "heresy" and to think it right to examine every comment of a theological nature with a fine tooth comb. I often refer to those who are struggling with this issue as being in the "cage stage". The cage stage is when someone is on fire for the faith (which is a good thing) and that fire gets out of control because they do not have enough spiritual formation to know what to do with what they have learned. This state is so dangerous that they should probably be locked up in a cage for the next five years (metaphorically speaking); thus, the "cage stage".

There are many ways to spot when someone is in the cage stage (but is roaming around freely!) and each of us should examine our own hearts in this regard. One is that they constantly want to talk about theology, but have no genuine depth; their topics are often limited to the same few subjects without variation. Another sign of the cage stage is when someone is so excited about their new found faith, that they presume that they should be everyone's teacher (especially on the internet). A third sign is when they portray themselves as being well read (because they have an opinion on everything), but they constantly pronounce technical terms incorrectly (this is because they have no formal training, and have not spent the time to verify what they are reading, they just rush through a few things without any mature guidance).

It is occasionally the case that people with a little bit of "dangerous knowledge" can be calmed down by a friend, parent, or priest, but if their personal pride is at stake, then they usually will not listen to anyone other than those who agree completely with them. It can be frustrating when you meet someone struggling with this type of error because you want to help them, but the error itself is the very thing that will make them doubt your sincerity. When criticized, they usually respond with a claim that the critic is "deceived" or "compromised" because he does not see it their way; they just have a few bits and pieces of knowledge without the genuine depth of the truth (that takes years to grasp fully) so they have gotten "puffed up" as St. Paul said.

Those who are in the cage stage, if left unchecked, will often become satisfied with their limited knowledge and presume that they cannot trust anyone with true spiritual wisdom because the others do not agree with their perspective on things. One of the saddest things about this is that those who could learn more--because they are genuinely hungry for knowledge--end up stagnating because they presume on their own brilliance and refuse to listen to the wise counsel of others.

There are a number of evidences that the Catholic Church recognizes this problem and has worked to overcome it. For example, this "cage stage" experience is the reason why engaged couples need to wait six months between the betrothal and the wedding; it takes time to learn the things necessary to receive the sacrament of matrimony rightly. Another example is the standard RCIA process of catechesis. Most often classes last at least eight months. This is so that they can take time to let things sink in and not presume that what they know on day one is sufficient to understand the Catholic faith. Bad decisions are always made when someone does not have enough information. With formal training we can grow in our faith, with "I taught myself" we can get stuck in a prideful rut of distrust.

Look deeply into your own heart to see if you suffer from the "cage stage" in any way (realize some people can get stuck in this stage for many years!). Humility is hard, but it is always worth the effort. Take to heart St. Paul's admonition that none of us "knows as we ought" to know. We all have room for growth. Next, if you know someone in the cage stage, then pray for them. Pray that they will find humility and pray that they will realize the need to "learn like a Catholic" and be in full submission to the Church and the deposit of the faith (all of it). Let us work to restore the faith of our fathers, but let us do it in a godly manner.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

How to Learn Like a Catholic

I have heard more stories about bad religious formation in Catholic Churches during the 70's, 80's and 90's than I can count. Before I was received into the Church, a Catholic tried to warn me about this situation; he did not have to do so. The overwhelming testimony from unrelated individuals made it perfectly clear: catechesis in those decades was a disaster. Numerous Catholics today are ignorant of large portions of their faith, and many of them that do know what the Church teaches openly express that they do not believe it. Every one of us knows that we need to learn our faith better, no matter how much we know currently, but this problem is much bigger than that.

Thankfully we can see that a good number of Catholics are seeking to remedy this problem. Some are working to develop better catechetical programs in their local parishes, and a good deal of parents are doing the same in their own homes. There are basically two ways that we can grow in our knowledge of the teachings of the Church and they are not morally equivalent. First, learning can be done the way Catholics have largely done it for 2000 years: in submission to the doctrines of the Church and under the guidance of the clergy that God has placed over them. Second, it can be done as protestants have done it for all 500 years of their splintering existence: in self-determined authority, distrusting any and all of the authorities over them.

Now, to be perfectly clear, I have never heard any Catholic come to me and say that he chose to "learn like a protestant", but I have met a number of Catholics who are doing so without realizing what they are doing. I truly believe that if most of them knew what they were doing that they would stop and seek to do things properly. This more protestant methodology has infected many more areas than you may think. It is largely what is taught in public schools and is the reason why there is so much rebellion seen there. If the most common place where Americans are educated takes on this self-focused manner of learning, it is bound to further taint the rest of society.

Here we arrive at the big issue: how you learn will determine how you grow. I know many people who went to public school and never really learned how to read a book. Yes, they know how to read, but they do not know how to dig deeper into a book than the mere surface subject matter. Thus, when they are adults they continue to struggle with how to learn because they were never really taught how to think and examine a subject properly. How you learn, determines how you grow.

In other words, the manner of education determines more than just "what" you learn, it also determines "how" you will think, and that determines much of your future growth. Many "cradle" Catholics were sent to public school for their education, and they learned a very anti-catholic method of learning. These same Catholics now are influencing much of the Church and perpetuating this error without realizing it even is an error. Furthermore, many of those who convert to Catholicism were not only sent to the public schools, but had this selfish methodology ingrained into them in their years as protestants (double whammy!).

Rarely are converts to the Church taught that they need to change their method of education. I try my best to get this point across in every RCIA catechesis class that I teach, but I know that it is not the norm. What I try to teach them is what is stated in 1 Corinthians chapter 2. St. Paul says there that there is a "wisdom" that is different than the world's wisdom. This wisdom can only be understood by those who have the help of the Holy Spirit of God. The very manner of thinking that the Church endorses will look "foolish" by those who have only the world's wisdom, and are ignorant of God's wisdom.

It should be obvious to the most casual observer that this is a crucial aspect of spiritual formation, and yet most people take their manner of thinking for granted. I know that I did for years. This is most especially the case for those who are spiritually immature. They believe that learning is nothing more than stuffing some facts into their heads, so they keep themselves on the throne of their personal knowledge, and everything they learn is done in this way. Because they are seeking to learn about our Lord, they presume that it is all good and holy; all the while unaware that they are opening themselves up for contention and quarrels whenever anyone disagrees with them (not Catholic practice at all).

This is a serious concern, and it is hard to overcome because few realize they are "learning wrong". Usually when you confront someone who is thinking as an independent non-catholic, they process what you have said as an independent non-catholic (the dilemma is obvious). Their very rejection of the truth is because they have brought their errant thinking with them when they converted and became Catholic. Let us each look deeply to see if we have fallen to this same error. In my next post, I will expand on this problem.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Rejecting the Sacrament of Confession

Many (if not most) Catholics think of the confessional somewhat akin to a torture chamber. They avoid it with the attitude of "why would anyone intentionally go there to harm themselves?" In truth, it is a place of grace, peace, and (true) empowerment. Yet, I know that many priests have not made it seem to be so. How do I know this? Because more people than I can count have told me that they had "bad experience" in the confessional years ago and have not been back to confession since then (i.e. they are admitting to being in a state of mortal sin). Thankfully, some say this when they are returning to the sacrament for the first time, but not all do (ever).

There is another group of Catholics who think of the confessional more like a dentist's chair: something they will do when they absolutely have to, but will avoid it until the very last minute. Usually those in this category are making this choice because just do not want to deal with their sins, and they are banking on the hope that they will go to confession the day before they die suddenly and unexpectedly (yeah, right!). These people already know that they need to go to confession, but they are hedging their bets. I am not writing to them; they know what they need to do, and they also know that they have no idea when they will be called to meet the Lord.

The first group of people--those who have willingly chosen to reject the one sacrament that grants us the full pardon and remission of our sins--is who I wish to speak to today. First off, let me say, "sorry". I apologize for every one of my brother priests who did anything that drove a child of God away from the forgiveness of God. I do not know their intentions (that is only between them and God), but I suspect that a good portion of them thought they were doing something good and right (regardless of how non-Catholic they were behaving). The liberalism that infected and poisoned many clergy who were ordained between the 70's and 90's caused them to think that it is a good thing to break the rules of the Church.

Secondly, I also want to apologize for those priests who went further than merely breaking some rules. I am speaking about those who committed a horrendous sin against someone in the confessional itself (I have heard a number of these stories as well). What they did was vile. There is no excuse for it (though it can be forgiven if they too repent), and if his Bishop did not properly discipline him, then I apologize for that Bishop as well. They both committed grave sin, and will have to give account for it someday before the judgment seat of Christ.

I will stop with the apologizing. I do not wish to get schmoozy. What you need to hear is that not every priest is like those mentioned above. No, they are not all "great confessors", but there are good priests who know what the rules are in the confessional, and they are willing to obey them. It may take some time to find them, but if you ask around to other Catholics you will find them; then go to them (frequently). Take advantage of the grace available to you in this wonderful sacrament; do not let a bitterness rule your life and keep you from God's grace.

Recognizing the difficulties that go along with searching for a good confessor, let me mention also the boundaries of a good and proper confession. I have people come and ask me, "Father, I just went to confession at St. Waldo's and Fr. Looseygoosey did it different from what I expected, was it a valid confession or do I need to go again?" Something can be "illicit" (rules broken) and still be "valid" (a genuine experience of the sacrament). The priest must actually hear your confession (he cannot be asleep); you must confess all known grave sins in kind and number; you must express genuine penitence; he must give you some kind of a penance; he must say an absolution (which is recognizable as an absolution--"bless you, now go" is not a valid absolution); you must follow through with performing the penance as soon as possible. There is a lot of latitude there, but those are the minimums; if something fell between the cracks, find another priest that will do it right.

Excuses are easy to find if we really do not want to do something, and I know it can be hard to want to go to confession. Leave behind all excuses; now. As times around us get more difficult, you are even less certain that you will have time to go back to confession before you go to meet your maker. Whatever you experienced, do not allow a foolish priest's mistakes (or a wicked priest's sins) to keep you from receiving God's grace. Christ gained it for you, and He wants you to have it. Confession is not optional, and if you really want to go to Heaven, God will provide a good priest for you; ask and you will find.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Reasons to Disobey

Someone once told me that everyone thinks more highly of their own spirituality than they ought to. Taking that as a basic fact (which we all should admit the truth of), there are many ways that each of us will deal with it. Some will "excuse themselves" by various and sundry explanations that make it OK for them to do less than is required. "I'm too busy today" or "my circumstances are special" comes easily at times. Others will look to certain actions (of their own choosing) to prove (to themselves) that they are actually much more holy than others ("it's OK that I skipped Mass on Sunday, because I watched it on TV instead").

Neither of these two behaviors will hold out against the judgment of Almighty God. In yesterday's gospel reading for Mass, Jesus gives us the parable of the King who invited people to a wedding feast for his son. Those who were invited refuse to come for one reason or another, but they are all doing one of these two behaviors listed above. Either they are making excuses not to come, or they respond with an attitude of superiority (even to killing the servants who invite them!).

The symbol that Jesus is displaying for us in this parable is His own invitation to us to come into His Kingdom and enjoy the fruits of it. We could describe it this way: Jesus says "I have a great blessing for you, but you have to do the work of getting here to receive it" and those invited say, "I don't need what you're offering". What do you do to justify your spiritual weaknesses (for we all have some)? Do you tell yourself that are already doing fine and do not need to do anything "extra"? Do you make excuses like "it's not required"? You may call it a "reason", but that does not make it right.

The attitude of spiritual superiority is something of a plague that the devil wants to infect us with. If we think that we are "too good" to need to work on our spirituality, then we will not only stagnate in our faith, but we will eventually fall into total apostasy. It was St. Jerome who said:
Be on your guard when you begin to mortify your body by abstinence and fasting, lest you imagine yourself to be perfect and a saint; for perfection does not consist in this virtue. It is only a help; a disposition; a means though a fitting one, for the attainment of true perfection.
Good words that we should all take to heart, for each of us can be tempted to think too highly of the meagre actions that we perform in our spiritual disciplines.

Alternatively, the other attitude that says, "I know the blessings of Christ's Kingdom are good, but I should be excused from having to do the work because my situation is special", is a horrible cycle that the devil wants us to fall into. Make an excuse one time, and it is easier to make an even more lame excuse next time, ad nauseam. One translation of the gospel reading says that those invited "made light of the invitation". In other words, they went so far as to say "the wedding feast is nice, but it is not all that great". This means that they thought they were fine without it; but who will actually be fine without the grace of God on judgment day?

What is your normal weakness? "I'm doing great so I don't need more spiritual effort" or "I know I need it, but I have an excuse to skip out"? Whichever it is, then you need to begin working to overcome it. If you think you are doing fine, then sincerely ask God to let you see your spirituality as He does (remember the passage "be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect"?). If you are making excuses, then make a determination either to reject all excuses, or (if you really think you have one that is valid) then ask your priest about it--he is there to counsel you on this very type of issue. In this age of spiritual compromise, let us not get caught in the knot of self-justifying pride. The path of humility is the path to Heaven.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Who Can We Blame for All This?

When something goes wrong in your life, what is your first response? Do you ask, "who did this to me?" or "what did I do wrong?" Neither one is the perfect answer, and both can be used in a good way or a bad way. Yet, today, most people seem to opt for the first answer. Because this is the case, let us look first at the second answer to make sure that we understand it.

When someone questions their own error in a situation, that is usually a good thing. This, of course, presumes that the actual question the person is asking is, "how can I learn from my mistake and do better next time?" There are some people (relatively few) who have something of a "guilt complex" and blame themselves for everything. That is an entirely different topic and I do not have time to deal with it here. Let it suffice to say that this attitude of "everything is my fault" is usually caused by poor parenting, and needs serious counseling (spiritual and emotional) to overcome. This type of behavior is not good (it is often a denial of the grace of God) and I do not want anyone to fall into it.

Now for the first, more common, response. "Who did this to me?" is what most people ask today. In other words, they are looking for someone else to lay the blame on, and presume that they were completely innocent in the circumstances. Take for example the parent who sees his teenager falling into grave sin and tries to figure out who it was that caused this. In ignoring the fact that he refused to discipline the teen when he was a toddler, he is showing that he is unwilling to accept responsibility for his own actions.

Yes, as I said above, it is true that we do not want people only to blame themselves for everything that goes wrong around them, but to presume first that someone else is always to blame is an attempt to avoid accountability. Few people today are actually willing to be challenged in their spiritual life. That is one of the reasons why Catholic parishes that seek to make the Mass entertaining, and where the priest preaches only about "nice" things are usually the ones that are the largest. People do not want to be told that they have to repent, so they go where they know that will not occur ("tell me everything will be OK but don't tell me to change to make that happen").

The desire to blame others for our problems (especially the ones that we know we ourselves caused) is an inherent part of our sinful fallen nature. We all do this at one time or another, so I am not pointing a finger at anyone in particular but at all of us. Why do we do this? Because it is also natural for us to desire to feel good about ourselves (which can be done in the right way when it is based on the grace of Christ, as well as the wrong way when it is based on our own selfish pride). This "blame game" is often engaged in by those who have fallen into a Pharisaical piety (i.e. self righteousness). The attitude is "I don't want to admit that I could be at fault, so if I focus on someone else, I won't have to consider my own weaknesses".

We also need to realize that those who quickly say "where did I go wrong?" are not always willing to accept the blame. Sometimes this is used as a cover-up. There are those who will use these words as a falsely humble way of saying "I did nothing wrong, so how could this happen?" This is not genuine humility. The words may sound the same, but if we are only seeking a self-serving justification of our actions, then the words mean nothing in the end.

Therefore, who do you seek to blame? If you consider first your own accountability (for longer than 1.2 seconds!), then you are at least starting out in the right direction. If, on the other hand, you assume that you are in the right and start pointing the finger as quickly as possible, then you might make your own conscience feel good for a while, but you will just continue on the same path. You will keep having things go wrong, and keep blaming everyone else for it. It is easy--especially today--to blame the Pope, the Bishops, the President, the police, the public schools, and the liberals for what is going wrong (and, many of them have done awful things and caused numerous problems), but constantly blaming others and never asking "what can I do to make things better" does not fix anything; it only allows the "blamer" to feel superior.

Do you feel superior right now? If so, what is the root of it? Is it because you found someone else to complain about? Is it because you have successfully taken the focus off your own weaknesses and gotten even those around you to be grumpy about another person? Time for humility. Time for introspection. Time to ask yourself the real question that we are encouraged repeatedly in Scripture to ask: "How do I need to repent?"

Friday, August 16, 2019

English Catholic Tradition (Hiding in Protestant Traditions)

This is the second part of my previous post (Catholicism in Protestantism). Just in case you have not read the first part, please go back and read that before continuing.

Going all the way back to Augustine of Canterbury in the sixth century, who came to England to "clean up" a practical mess, there was a distinct set of practises in the Catholic Churches of England, that he chose to retain. It has to do with a "flavor" of spirituality and a unique manner in celebrating the Mass. Augustine of Canterbury did not feel the need to eliminate everything he found in the Churches that were still in England when he arrived. That which he retained was approved by Pope Gregory, and it remained and continued on through the Sarum Mass of centuries later.

It was that same Sarum Mass that Thomas Cranmer cannibalized and turned into the Book of Common Prayer. Yet, when he did this, he did not remove enough to eliminate that manner of "English Catholicism" that had fostered the Catholic faith of so many of God's people for centuries. Therefore, what is the result? Just as we would expect, the Catholic faith was maintained "in a place of division" such that many in the English Churches were drawn back to the Catholic faith (though Cranmer himself would probably hate the idea!).

Augustine of Canterbury was a Benedictine monk and that (of course) highly influenced his practice of the faith. This means that a Roman Catholic monk, was sent to England by the Pope and told to bring the accurate Catholic faith to the indigenous peoples. When he did so, he incorporated some of what was already there (since there were many Celtic churches already in England at the time) and used it to form something "new" to the British Isles. He essentially developed a Roman/Benedictine/Celtic faith that is the beginning of what we now think of as English Catholicism (this is a very simplified description of what took place -- Augustine actually encountered many challenges, but he clearly planted the seeds for what came later). One of the most obvious testimonies to "English Catholicism" lingering on in the Anglican Churches is the fact that so many Anglicans (especially today) claim that they are already Catholic and do not need to convert (!).

The remaining influence of English Catholicism in the Church of England is what led Cardinal John Henry Newman to leave Anglicanism and join the Catholic Church. It is what led many of those in the Oxford movement to become Catholic. It is what is leading many Anglicans back to it today (it did for me!). These roots of the English practice of the faith that remained influential in the Church of England and her offshoots cannot be ignored. It is as though the Holy Spirit planned all along on using these "spiritual nuggets" to convert numerous Protestants to Catholicism. Is this "English Catholicism" something so different that it is like a different faith? No. It is distinctly western and very similar in some ways to the more common practises of Catholicism. Many who are used to the more general practice of the faith (which largely stems from Rome) found in the Tridentine Latin Mass, and (somewhat) in the Novus Ordo, easily find a home in the English practises.

English Catholicism, however, did something almost no other localized practice of Catholicism did. It survived even after being taken into the protestant denominations (which is remarkable considering that Protestants were working hard to make sure they were not Catholic). It survived in a distinct form that can be recognized and restored. It was the English Catholic tradition that "left" and "came back" (more on this below). It endured and survived, we might say, in "exile" and returned to the faith from which it came. God is always in the work of redemption -- especially when it comes to good and holy traditions.

We must notice that the Catholic Church did just fine for 500 years with little acknowledgement of these ancient English practises; it is not as though the Church cannot make it without the "Anglican" patrimony. Yet, there was no other manner of Catholic practice (i.e. Jesuit, Franciscan, etc.) present in protestantism that God used to bring people to convert to the Catholic faith like He did with this. It is almost as though the distinct English practices that were begun by Augustine were forgotten for centuries except in history books. If this were lost completely it would be a great loss.

Are these English practices found anywhere in the Church today? None of my readers should be surprised if I say that it has been restored and protected in the Ordinariates of England, America, and Australia. Our form of the Mass and of the offices of prayers stem directly from these traditions. As I have said before, the Divine Worship Mass that we have been given might just as easily have been named the "New Sarum Mass", for it flows directly from those old forms from centuries ago. When he established the Ordinariates, Pope Benedict specifically said that they were going to have and protect a spiritual treasure so that it could be safely shared with the Catholic Church forever. He saw that the spirituality of English Catholicism had done something different from all the others, and he knew that it could continue to be used by God to do even more when it was restored to the Church.

This might seem like just an isolated event were it not for the fact that so many other protestant denominations were (and still are) influenced by this English Catholicism. Take for example the fact that both the Methodist and Wesleyan denominations are direct offshoots of the Church of England. In addition, American Episcopalianism is still in communion with the Church of England (at least for the time being). Taking just those three groups and their break-off groups (Evangelicals, Continuing Anglicans, etc.) the numbers who have been influenced by them in protestantism is enormous. Yes, many of those separated groups have lost even more of the English Catholicism than was originally lost under Thomas Cranmer, but Jesus told us that even little "mustard seeds" can grow into trees!

What does this mean for you? It does not mean that you necessarily need to practice "English Catholicism" to be a good Catholic. I am not saying that these English Catholic cultural traditions are necessarily better than other practices of the Catholic faith. This is not a pitch to try to get anyone to join the Ordinariate. What I am seeking to convey is that there is something distinct and unique about English Catholicism that is unlike any other approved practice of Catholicism. It has been used by God (while still present in non-Catholic circles) to draw non-Catholics into full communion with Rome, and that is not a small thing. Many today think of the Ordinariates as just an odd practice that a few traditional Catholics like; that is a gross misunderstanding of the providence of God, and how His grace has worked down through the centuries.

It is important to acknowledge that the Holy Ghost has done a wonderful work of bringing protestants back into communion through these English spiritual exercises. Just as the East retained the rudiments of the Catholic faith and thus when they return to communion are allowed to retain their distinct practice of Catholicism, so also do those who have been influenced by (and drawn in by) the unique manner of English Catholicism have a safe haven for their English Catholicism to be practiced. It is not a necessity for anyone to practice it (I know a number of converts from Anglicanism who are happy with the more well known practices of the Traditional Latin Mass or the Novus Ordo [when done well]); it is a necessity to acknowledge the great work done by God.

If you have never seen the Divine Worship Mass, then I encourage you to go visit an Ordinariate parish sometime. If for nothing else than to see what the Lord has done in spite of the great division of the protestant revolt. And above all, pray. Pray that the Lord will continue to use these remaining aspects of ancient English Catholicism to bring many more back to full communion. Whether those converts join an Ordinariate parish or a diocesan one does not really matter. What matters the most is that they are drawn in, find the grace of Christ and that God is glorified. Remember, one of Jesus' prayers before His death was that we would "all be one".

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Catholicism in Protestantism

The Eastern Schism with Rome, which was finalized largely in 1472, happened. It cannot be denied. After a long series of quarrels and bad feelings between eastern and western Catholics, the Bishops of (most of) the Eastern Churches (called Patriarchs) decided to break communion with the See of Rome. The result, which still remains today for most of those who left, is that the (so-called) "Eastern Orthodox" Churches are disconnected with the majority of their brethren in Christ. There are a number of eastern Churches who have returned to full communion with Rome, and they are properly called "Eastern Catholics".

The Protestant departure from the Catholic Church in the 16th century happened; no one can deny that either. Even though it mainly occurred in Europe, the results can be seen today throughout the world. Protestant congregations abound and thousands of protestant denominations have been formed. The Catholic Church has, for the last 500 years, sought to restore the descendants of those original Protestants back into communion with the Roman Catholic Church that Christ founded 2000 years ago. Some have returned, many have not. All of those who descended from this protesting revolt are western in form and manner, which is distinctly different from the "Eastern Orthodox" mentioned above.

It is easy to see what happened to the Eastern Orthodox who returned to full communion and became the Eastern Catholics. They retained the vast majority of the faith, and saw the need for full communion. They rejected the quarrel and realized that it is not right to be separated from the Vicar of Christ on Earth. Their liturgies and practises were retained during the time of their schism, and since these were distinctly Catholic (albeit of an Eastern flavor), the spirituality and grace present in them led them back to the fold. For which, we praise God in His mercy for granting this to them, and pray that He will do the same for those still caught in the schismatic "Orthodox" Churches.

In Protestantism, however, it is a bit less clear to see what happened. This is particularly so because the Protestants broke with Catholic practice to such a degree that they lost the essentials of what makes a Church to be a Church. This is why protestantism is not said to be a Church, but rather a collection of "ecclesial communities". They do not have the fullness of the sacraments (the way that the Eastern Orthodox still do), because they intentionally chose to reject a major portion of the historic Christian faith. In other words, some in the East broke and stayed as valid Churches; the protestants in the west broke and gave up being Churches.

Therefore, we can ask the question of what it is that brings Protestants back into the fold of Catholicism? They do not have valid sacraments (other than baptism and marriage--which is another story), and they have chopped out sections of the Bible; what, therefore, is it that remains to bring them back? Now, we must admit, God can work conversion any way that He wants to do so; He is not bound by our limitations, so I am not speaking at all about His Almighty Power. I am asking the question about protestantism itself: what raw materials are available in the practice of protestantism that God can use to convert the "lost sheep" back into the fullness of the Catholic faith?

One thing that many converts from protestantism will tell you is that they found things in the Bible that pointed them to the Catholic Church (after all, even though Protestants have less than the whole Bible, they still have some of it, and what they have has mostly been translated well enough to see the Catholic faith in it). Another thing that they have--although it is not a part of protestantism per se--is the simple facts of history. It is hard to deny that history supports the Catholic Church's claim to exclusive authority from Christ; once a Protestant sees history for what it is, it is hard to remain a Protestant.

There is something else, though, that has led many a Protestant back into the Catholic Church. It might not be what many would expect, because it is not often spoken of, but its branches extend far and wide, and it has a great impact on a large number of Protestants today. What I am speaking about it English Catholicism. No, "English Catholicism" is not referring to a distinct "branch" of the Catholic Church, nor is it talking about what is currently present in Catholic Churches in England (after the protestant departure, English Catholics mostly tried to be "more like Rome" in their practice of the faith--which was a great idea). It does not even refer specifically to the English language. It is referring, rather, to a set of Catholic cultural practises that found a unique manner in ancient England and remained for centuries after (even when some tried to destroy them!).

It is this fact of English Catholicism surviving the protestant split with Rome that I wish to consider in depth. Some may think it an accident, but God does not use accidents -- He is almighty and sovereign and does things intentionally. Others might say that what I am referring to is just a useless detail of history; that also is a mistake. Still others may not give it much thought. When we look at history and Catholic theology we find that even in the midst of the worst experiences (like the departure of the protestants in the 16th century) God is always working behind the scenes and doing things beyond what we can expect.

[Part 2 Coming Soon]

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Listening to Bad News

There is a man (let us call him "Archie") who struck his wife. He hit her so hard that it broke three of her ribs and put her in the hospital with multiple bruises and internal injuries. In addition, he broke one of his own fingers in the process. A police investigation was done, but it was closed based on "insufficient evidence" to charge him with abuse. Now, hearing that, what do you think of Archie? Do you think he is a kind man? Do you suspect he may have some trouble controlling his temper? Maybe he drinks excessively as well? You may even be thinking about the importance of getting his wife and children some protection. I would guess that your opinion of Archie would be very negative and you would not likely be willing to trust him to work as a catechist with little children at your parish; right?

Now, how about if I throw another piece into the puzzle? There is another factor that must be considered. What if I told you that Archie "struck" his wife when he tripped on a child's toy while coming down the stairs and his wife was coming up the same stairs toward him? Would that change your perspective? The "hit" was not intentional, and no, there was no animosity between the two at all. The police investigation happened as a matter of course, even though Archie's wife said clearly that it was an accident. Both Archie and his wife recovered just fine, and they even were able to have a laugh about it afterward.

Yet, what if all you heard was what I said in the first paragraph? That would definitely skew your view of Archie and make you have an opinion of him that was based on a radically misrepresented view of the "truth". Just because someone tells the truth, does not mean that it is the "whole truth" and "nothing but the truth". It is often the case that getting only a few details is more confusing than no details at all. The question, of course, is: "which" details are being given? We all know that it is possible to represent a story in such a way as to make it appear to be something completely different from reality. Since the intent is to deceive, the "truth" that is spoken is essentially a lie, and it causes others to have an opinion based on a lie (because it is a twisting of the actual story).

This is what is most often the basis of rumors. Someone hears a rumor about something, fails to investigate fully, and thus ends up with a final opinion about the situation that is not actually based on the full truth. If all you tell someone about Jesus is that He died on the cross and do not mention the Resurrection, then you have not given them the full truth. To compromise the truth by hiding certain aspects of it is not genuine honesty. To participate in such dishonesty is tantamount to being the instigator of the "lie" in the first place. Yet, many participate in the dishonesty, not out of a desire to deceive, but just because they have been drawn in to the cycle of sadness.

What do you do with rumors? How do you respond when someone gives a detail or two about something that could easily have multiple explanations? Are you one who tends to jump to conclusions about others, always presuming the worst? Or maybe you are like those who will not actually "believe" the lie, but will still entertain feelings of doubt and suspicion towards others? I have said it many times (and will continue to point it out) because it is so important for us to get this point. The technological advancements of the modern age that enable us to communicate quickly are both a blessing and a curse. They can be used to help us (like with the ability to call 911 from almost anywhere) or they can be used to hurt us (like with reports released before they have the whole story).

How many times have you seen someone recant a piece of gossip that he or she spread around (has it ever happened?)? How frequent are acknowledgements of error in the news media? The old term for someone who went around telling stories to others for the sake of getting attention was "talebearer"; someone who carried a story from place to place without genuine concern for the well being of others. This term was used long before modern news outlets, and it helps us to see the importance of truth; the whole truth. If you do not know the whole truth to some situation (and you rarely do) then you should be terribly careful in what you spread abroad. Whether it is about our president in these United States, some celebrity, or the guy down the street, talking about others behind their back is not spiritually healthy. It makes us become people who doubt others constantly, and then find it hard to maintain trust in the Lord Himself.

Guard your heart. Guard it against doubt and dissension. Yes, it is true that there is much to be concerned about in the Church these days; errors seem to abound and little seems to be done to stop it. Yet, how we react to these errors (and they are many) will make a difference. Do you presume the best about others, and give them the benefit of the doubt? It is pride that will make us become quick to believe the worst of other people, not humility. In the book of Philippians, St. Paul is speaking to a Church community that was struggling with internal strife. A division had occurred in the people's hearts to the point of where the parish had lost its true joy in Christ. As the Apostle was seeking to help them move past their quarrels he gives them this piece of advice:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. [emphasis mine]
Notice the last phrase? "Count others better than yourselves". That is the very thing that does not happen when we believe "stories" and make quick judgments on others. If those who enjoy gossip thought of others as better than themselves, then they would reject the gossip outright. If those who want to sow dissent and sadness among others thought of others as better than themselves then they would seek to find the most positive representation of something that they hear rather than the most negative. In a day and age when people seem to want to be offended, I encourage you not to let the "bad news" get you down. Do not spiral into the depressing mode of seeing everything in the worst light possible. It can tear you up inside, and--if left unchecked--it can destroy your soul.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Do We Love to Hate?

Who do you hate? Really, be honest. Is there someone that you feel hatred for? If not, then "Amen" and "Hallelujah", because hatred is quickly becoming something of a cultural expectation. No, I do not think anyone would actually say "you have to hate someone", but when you speak to people and read the news (even the fake news) it is obvious that many people in the world today take a certain enjoyment in hating. It goes right along with the desire to be "victimized" that is so prevalent today (but that is another topic entirely). 

You may not have seen it in the news, but apparently a mass-shooting was thwarted here in southern Missouri. A man walked into a Walmart with weapons in hand a few miles from where I live and was stopped before actually pulling the trigger. So far the reports do not state anything particular about motives (etc.) but with the general culture around here I am not fully surprised that he was stopped. Quite a few people around here "conceal and carry" because most have the attitude that we are all responsible to protect each other. Whatever was going on in this man's mind, I find it hard to believe that he was motivated by a deep love for mankind. Even if all he was intending was to "go out in a blaze of glory" that desire has at its root a selfish love that leads to hatred of others.

There is an explanation that goes with this spread of hatred, but most will not like it. Our modern hatreds stem from a desire to blame someone else for our problems. If I have a problem, and do not want to admit that it is my own fault, then I can salve my conscience by blaming someone else. Take for example all the hatred that exists in the political realm today. As each side blames the other for our societal problems, each side feels a sense of relief because they are making people focus on someone other than themselves. If we all keep saying "see how bad he is" it makes it easier to say "if you'll just listen to me then all our problems would be solved".

In other words, the more we indulge in hatred of others, the more we lift ourselves up as little saviors. "He's bad" must lead to "I'm good" and therefore we fill our pride with more reasons to ignore our own sinful behavior. So the Democrats hate the Republicans, and the Republicans hate the Democrats (while both of them have politics wrong!). Blacks hate whites, and whites hate blacks (though neither skin color matters). We seek to hate someone else because it makes us feel good about ourselves and helps us to distract from what really is at stake: our need for personal repentance.

One more proof of this is found in the enormous number of "hate crimes". This is not to say that more "hate crimes" are occurring (as though there is a crime which does not stem from some kind of hatred!), but that more crimes are being labeled as hate crimes. Why is this so? Precisely because we all know that hatred is not a good thing; so while our society wishes to indulge in hate, it has to make sure that the label of "hate" is pointed away from itself. The devil wants us to hate each other, but he also does not want us to realize we are hating each other, so he seeks ways to disguise the hatred. Yelling "he's bad" means that you are looking at "him" and not the one who is doing the yelling. So, naturally, the desire is going to be there to point to others being hateful (while yourself being the one who is hateful).

The common practice of hatred seems to be so deep-seated that we could go so far as to say that people today "love to hate". You can watch many people's disagreements and see that they actually find joy in their anger. Our lives must be quite empty if we can find joy in something so evil. As a young boy, I went through some pretty horrible experiences and they made me bitter inside. When I was a teen, there was a period of quite a few years when I became steeped in hate for those people who hurt me. Then I met someone who made me see the world in a different way, and my hate began to fade away. It took years for it all to go, but when it did I found that I "hated to hate". 

There is something liberating about loving others, but few people today find it. We have been taught relativism for so long that hatred seems like a virtue to many today. I recall once watching someone scream in fury that another person was acting hateful (all the while ignorant of her own hatred). It may seem simplistic, but let us each seek to love. Let us each seek to let go of our desire to hate others, and let us begin to "hate to hate". We cannot forget that those who live their lives in hatred will never enter into the presence of God, Who is love. As our society reaps more and more of the seeds of nihilism and tries to tear itself apart the only testimony that will make any difference is the love of Christ in us. Will you give that testimony?

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Faith in the Midst of Suffering

I read about a protestant musician recently who abandoned his faith and became an atheist. He claims that he went through a very difficult time in his life and that his faith was unable to help him through it. Therefore, he gave it all up and now believes in "science". I feel sorry for him, and am deeply saddened by whatever those trials and challenges were to his life; I am sure that they were painful. I am also saddened by the fact that it appears that he did not consider whether the problem may be more in his understanding of the faith than in the faith itself.

At the very root of the issue, the protestant understanding of the Christian faith is based on the same details as the Catholic understanding: the trinitarian view of God and divine redemption. Yet, when we dig a bit deeper, we will find that the protestant faith is actually a truncated view of the faith of the Christians of the first few centuries. I am not the first one to point this out; even as a protestant (years ago) I knew that there was a difference in protestantism and the early Church. Most protestants today would resolve the dilemma by saying that the early Church was wrong (when I stopped saying that, I became a Catholic).

This is the reason why I would say that the above mentioned musician is doubly wrong. Not only is he wrong in his understanding of the Christian worldview, he is wrong in his choice to embrace a pagan worldview. Yet, on the other hand we can say that he is correct, because protestantism does not truly have what is necessary to help us through all the trials of life. Yes, it does have some of the Catholic faith still present; just enough, as a matter of fact, to help most protestants to make it through. It does not, however, have the fullness of the faith, and that makes it more like a medical clinic than like an actual hospital.

I could go so far as to say that any protestant who rejects the Christian faith because of its inability to help in times of need is like someone who would take his bicycle back to the store because the engine would not start. You cannot complain that Christianity is unable to help because protestantism is unable to help. It is the Catholic understanding of suffering that makes such a difference. There was once a man who explained the Catholic view of suffering to an unbeliever who had never heard it before; the response was priceless: "Wow, I did not know that the Church had worked out the details of suffering so much--I guess it is because Catholics have suffered a lot for the last 2000 years!" Yup.

What is your view of suffering? There is a lot of suffering going on these days, and just because you are (probably) a Catholic does not guarantee that you have a Catholic understanding of suffering. The Church teaches (and has always taught) that our suffering can have a redemptive impact, not just for ourselves, but also for others. Just like Christ's death has an eternally redemptive impact, those united to Christ can accomplish a similar (albeit smaller) impact on others. This means that suffering is not just "bad stuff", and also that it is not always supposed to be avoided! The modern Catechism says that Christ, while on the cross, gave new meaning to suffering. He changed what it can do. I have never met a non-Catholic who had that exact understanding of suffering. I will bet that the musician mentioned above did not either.

So when we look out at the miserable state of things in the world (and in the Church as well) and wonder why this is happening, then the answer should be clear. God has chosen us to go through this suffering, not just because the world is a sinful place, but also because there can be great blessings that come from suffering. Do not just say "why me?" when you suffer, but recognize that you may be able to help others with your suffering. Consider also that suffering can be endured with great faith and hope in the gracious hand of God. When that happens, even greater blessings ensue.

What is your view of suffering? How do you perceive it? Is it something to be avoided at all costs? Or, rather, is it something that can be used for the glory of God and the good of mankind? How we approach suffering will determine the difference in how we approach all of life. We have to admit that we are going to suffer at some time in our lives--no one is fully exempt from that--and if we admit it, then we have to deal with it somehow. We can deal with it like a pagan (no hope, suffering is pointless, just try to find some happiness before you die); we can deal with it like most protestant theology says (some hope, and maybe God will help you); or we can deal with it like a Catholic: God ordained it because He knows it can be used for good--now trust Him.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Gender Relativism

I read in the news the other day that a man who "identifies as" (i.e. read: "pretends to be") a woman, has won a women's weight lifting competition in New Zealand. As a result, people all over the place are crying "foul" and saying that he (I will not call him a "she") should not be allowed to compete with women because it is unfair (can you say "duh?"). Supposedly, it is fine for people to choose their gender in every other area of society, but not in sports. I guess sports are just too sacred to allow gender relativism (!).

It is truly amazing that many of these same people want gender to be untouched in numerous other areas in life. They do not want gender to matter in marriage; they do not want it to matter in the home; they do not want it to matter in the workplace; and now it appears that many do not want it to matter in the military. Pick and choose where to apply your self-seeking ideas and eventually something is going to collide. God designed the universe to work in a certain way, and we can only try to ignore that for so long before something goes awry.

Well now, it is quite revealing that someone has finally said there is a limit to relativistic gender ideology. I wonder if someone is going to yell "foul" at those who do not want him to compete with the women? Can you hear them yelling: "He should be allowed to do whatever he wants since he decides for himself who he is and what he does!"? Relativism and other self-determined ideologies always destroy themselves. Sadly, it often takes a horrific disaster for many people to notice it, and some girly-guy winning a sports competition is probably not enough to make people reconsider.

I am not denying that there are many things that women can do just as well as men; there are some things that women do better than men. The problem is that we have been ignoring the fact that "doing just as well or better" is not the proper criteria to use in determining "who should be doing what". Just because you can do something does not mean that you should do it. Scientists can invent more efficient ways to kill people in a war; that does not mean that they should do so. Women might be just as good at a certain field of work as men are, but if that is the only question we use to determine right and wrong, then we will end up with the dilemma of gender-ideology that has hit us today. Neutrality in societal roles leads to neutrality in sexual roles (ad nauseam).

The proper question to ask is, therefore, what has God ordained for us? He has revealed it to us in many ways and times. I suggest that everyone go read the Catechism of Trent and see how it defines the roles in society for men and women--even the most conservative of Catholics today might be a bit surprised that this is still official Catholic dogma! I could expound it here, but I will let the Church speak for herself. When we remove the divine guidelines for society, then we can head off in many directions; the worst of which is relativism.

I know, of absolute certainty, that Jesus will win in the end, and that He will conquer all His enemies (cf. 1 Cor 15:24), including the gender neutral nightmare that we are experiencing today. I also suspect that before He fully destroys this satanic kind of thinking, that we will see more and more "train wrecks". The more we allow people to "choose their gender", the more we will see massive complications in society (even worse than which symbol to put on the bathroom door). Let us each brace ourselves for the repercussions, for we will likely experience the after shocks of most of them. Let us also stand fast in our faith. Let us teach our children what it means to be male and female according to God's standards, and let us never allow the world convince us to deny eternal truth.