Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Habits of Good Leaders

A number of years ago, I read a book on the history of Byzantium. Good stuff, but somewhat depressing to read about all the corruption in politics. This or that emperor killed his brother, married his sister, and engaged in various other forms of immorality that will not be mentioned here, etc. I like history, but I do not like the fact that so many people refuse to learn from history. I meet people regularly who have very little knowledge of history, and some even tell me that they just "learned the dates and stuff" in school, and then forgot it right after (typical "facts-in, facts-out" form of public education).

What I find so startling right now is that, in spite of the fact that history has so many examples of bad leaders getting themselves (and all around them) into horrible trouble, few seem to be learning from the errors in these historical examples. There are many events that I read about on the news that make me think that we are actually in a more corrupt situation than they were in the worst days of Byzantium. Leadership today is a quagmire of corruption and confusion. There are so few morally good civic leaders in the world these days that it is shocking when you actually come across one.

Leadership in the world is not terribly different from leadership in the Church. Yes, there are vast differences in duties and technical procedures; that is not what I am referring to though. I am speaking about the simple principle of what makes someone a good leader as opposed to a bad leader, and the principles are largely the same wherever the leadership is being applied.

Leadership in the Church has sought to follow the pattern of the leadership of God Himself. We call Him "Father" and His "father-ship" is applied to many areas. Firstly it is to applied to the physical father of a human family. Secondly it is to be applied to the spiritual father of the Church family. The manner in which God leads, as father, is crucial for us to understand if we are going to apply it to any other area in life.

So then, what is God's "father-ship" like? First of all, He actually leads. This means that He takes charge and tells His subjects what is good and right, and speaks clearly against what is bad and wrong. Second, He listens. This means that His authority does not eliminate His ability to pay attention. He is still able and willing to listen to those under Him when they bring to Him their concerns. It does not mean, however, that He needs to do everything that His subjects request of Him. "Help my team to win", or "kill my boss", are not requests that God can be expected to answer. Yet, He always listens. Third, He corrects. This means that when the subjects are doing something wrong, He will speak to them about it. Maybe He will wait a bit until they are more receptive, or until the circumstances are better, but He does not fail to bring correction.

Applying this principle to the Church, first, we find some clear and helpful guidelines for pastors of parishes to implement. Being "democratic" in the Church does not work; pastors need to be leaders. Refusing to hear the opinions of the laity does not work; pastors need to know what people are thinking and feeling. Letting people continue in their sin does not work either; pastors need to guide people in holiness so that they can discipline themselves (before the Church needs to do so).

We can also apply this principle to those leaders who are not in the Church. Whether political or business related, we will find the same encouragement. I know of a situation in which a group of people had a weak leader that would not listen to their cries for help, and he ignored the problems that surfaced as a result. This leader was later replaced by someone who was following the principles I outlined above. Some today might think that a strong leader stepping into that situation would be rejected. Exactly the opposite happened. The people came to the new leader after only a few months and said, "thank you for being a strong leader, we need this".

No one wants to be dominated, but we all appreciate (and enjoy) good leadership.We all know (down deep inside) that good loving leadership helps people to flourish in their circumstances and enables them to unite under a single purpose. Christ is that Head, truly more than anyone else. He does not, however, rule directly in every situation. Rather, He rules through those He appoints as His representatives. Whether that be a clergyman, a politician, or business manager, those who submit themselves to the headship of Christ, will find Him working through these representatives. They will find that it becomes easier to follow a good leader. They will find that Christ is on His throne, and that He does minister to us in many ways.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Science and Science Fiction

So, I like science fiction; I admit it. It is fun, and often is an insightful way to represent certain philosophical questions. Yes, there are times when science fiction has wandered off into heresy and outright moral goofiness, but, even then it can be an interesting way to examine the perspective of the writers (assuming that one reads carefully, and critically).

There really are times when truth is stranger than fiction. I heard a quote recently that said the only difference between science and science fiction, is that science fiction has to make sense. I, personally, am tired of being amazed at the ridiculous claims made by scientists. They do not just "not make sense", many of the claims are completely insane. Sometimes they are promoting and encouraging the most heinous and sinful practises in the name of "scientific progress". Maybe we need to "regress" a bit in the area of science (or did I just speak scientific blasphemy?).

The scientific pursuit of knowledge is, in itself, not a bad thing; please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that I want to revert to the middle ages level of science (blood-letting is not very appealing, in my opinion). What I am saying is that there are many people who assume that science is always holy in its efforts. They believe that if science can discover something, it is always good. This is not so. Far too many people (including some Catholics) have been catechized more by scientists than by the Word of God.

We live in an age when "scientific progress" has been leading the way in societal advancement more than almost anything else. "Scientific progress" has given us the internet, cell phones, heart surgery, air conditioning, infanticide, hallucinogenic drugs and torture devices; the list could go on and on. Hence, we have to ask: how do we discern just what is an acceptable scientific endeavor, and what is unacceptable? Most scientists have no idea how to do this, because they broke away from the moorings of morality long ago. As soon as "science" has no God to guide her, she also has no way to tell the difference between a baby, and a blob of tissue.

The Church needs to return to her place of being the conscience of technological and scientific endeavors. Yet, this will not happen until the scientists themselves wish to submit to an authority higher than their own. This is a difficult thing to do and is very humbling as well. Once again, as I have said many times before, we need to be working to change people's hearts before we can expect to change society.

Science fiction has given us zombies, aliens, and monsters, and yet much that is behind these fables is being experimented with now by scientists. Dr. Frankenstein used to be viewed as insane; it appears today that he was just a bit "ahead of his time". Nowadays, we can do it right and not make the mistakes he made; right? Wrong. We have been pushed along the scale of scientific shock for about a generation, and we no longer think it odd to delve into areas that our forefathers would have considered foolish.

As "science" becomes more like science fiction, I do not think that the old idea that only science fiction needs to make sense is going to hold up. Instead, I believe we will be subjected to a "science" that not only does not make sense, it also does not work for the good of mankind. Some of this is already happening, it will likely only get worse if we do nothing about it. Scripture says that evil always destroys itself (because it is inherently self-destructive). In the same way, evil science will destroy itself as well. I know this to be true, because Christ is on His throne, and He will conquer all His enemies. The only fear I have is, will science destroy a few of us in the process as well?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Remarkable Contrast

Well, maybe it is not totally remarkable, but it is a contrast, and that does make things a bit clearer. I have been thinking a bit lately about the modern phenomenon of radical feminism. In case anyone reading this post does not know me well enough to guess my opinion on the subject: I am significantly less than favorable to radical feminism. I have encountered varying forms of feminism (radical, simple, progressive, old-style, etc) in my years, and have never seen it encourage truth, beauty or goodness.

Aside from its positions regarding the murder of unborn children and the promotion of pornography (yes, feminism is highly supportive of pornography, in case you were not aware of this), there is the undermining of the family that is destructive to the very fabric of society. These positions are all at odds with the Church and the Scriptures. Yet, there is something else that I realized recently that makes me say that feminism is an ungodly system of belief.

Feminism is not actually at war with overbearing masculine types who promote a chauvinistic or patriarchal society. That is too simplistic. Yes, feminists are adverse to strong masculine types (except when they themselves are the strong masculine types!), but that is more of a by-product and not the cause. Feminism (as a system) only resists and attacks men when they speak in defense of a Catholic understanding of masculinity and femininity. Hence, there is something deeper that feminism is seeking to combat, and this is what makes it more pernicious.

Although feminists will often say that they are content for women "to choose" for themselves how to live, this does not reflect reality. When a woman wishes to stay home, take care of the children (even homeschool them), and manage the house while her husband works to earn the sole paycheck, a typical feminist will complain that she has been brainwashed and needs to be enlightened. Although this may sound a bit far fetched, I have experienced it firsthand. My oldest daughter (who just wants to get married, have children, and be a homemaker) is often the source of raised eyebrows when she tells this to people. Some seem to insist that she has to "go to college" (which she has no interest in) and "have a career" (as though being a wife and mother is necessarily unfulfilling).

You see, feminism is not just wanting to recognize women more. In fact, there are some women that feminism would like to eradicate completely (because they consider them bad examples of womanhood). Feminism is definitely at war. Yet, it is not a war that you might imagine, and herein is where we find the amazing contrast. Feminism is not at war with anything masculine, feminism is at war with something decidedly feminine. Feminism is at war with the Blessed Virgin Mary herself. This is where it all begins.

The Roman Catholic Church puts forward the Blessed Virgin Mary as a role model for everyone (male and female), honors her above all other saints, and has numerous special devotions to her. Imagine a feminist trying to use the Blessed Virgin as a role model. She is quiet, unassuming, humble, and submissive--all things that are contrary to the heart of feminism. She points away from herself and tells us to "listen to Jesus". She willingly sacrificed her own freedoms for the good of others, and was willing to endure persecution for Christ's sake. It is this type of woman that feminism wants to eradicate from society.

Modern feminism (in all its forms) wants to promote a culture of evil, and its hatred of our Lady is the source of this. Only a few times have we seen this in any direct or outward form (ever heard of a so-called entertainer called "Lady Gaga"?), but Hillary Clinton's recent statements that she wishes to destroy the Catholic Church because it "hates women" shows just how far it has grown. Not only does feminism seek to destroy the order of creation and erase all differences between the sexes, it also wants to create a culture of death. In the name of "health care" (it still amazes me how a phrase that refers to something good can be used to connote murder!) it seeks to legitimize infanticide (born and unborn) through all the various modern methodologies.

Hence, modern feminists seek to promote a womanhood that has sex without conception, and the Blessed Virgin conceived without having sexual relations; quite a significant opposite! In the feminist frame of mind this is getting all the bad results without any of the "fun". After all, feminism, in its quest for personal pleasure (at all costs) cannot cope with someone who willingly chose to sacrifice pleasure for the sake of a greater good. It cannot understand what it means to find power in humility. Once again: feminism and the Blessed Virgin are at complete odds with one another.

No, I am not into patriarchy, but, I do, however, wish to keep men as men, and women as women, so that each can find godliness in the manner that God intended. God created us different, and the recent explosion of "gender identity" foolishness is a total rejection of the created order. The Virgin Mary is the clearest example of a full acceptance of God's choice for one's life ("may it be done to me according to your word"), and we do society great harm if we forget her example.

Feminism will lose this war, but in the process it is going to gain a number of adherents, and create quite a few casualties. Brothers and sisters, learn what it means to be men and women by spending some time reading the Scriptures and the catechism. Parents, make the lines between godly femininity and godly masculinity as clear as possible in your home. Everyone, pray for those who are confused in this area, and beg God for His grace in this confusing time.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Saving Souls From Death

While driving along the road the other day, I passed a truck going in the opposite direction. The driver was towing a trailer with a load of heavy boards on it. It was obviously too heavy for the trailer because one of the wheels was broken at the axle, was bent at a 45 degree angle, and was chugging out blue smoke because of the friction with the road. It was obvious that the driver was completely unaware of what was going on, and I wish had been able to signal him, but he was already past me when I realized what I was looking at. When I came back that way a couple hours later, the truck and trailer were parked on the side of the road, wheel still hanging at an extreme angle, about 1 mile down from where I passed him.

He figured it out eventually, but it took a bit. Maybe someone signalled him or flagged him down before something caught on fire. Either way, he noticed and was able to stop before a worse disaster happened. This is similar to what is going on in people's souls today. Vast numbers of people are heading down the pathway of their lives, and are completely oblivious to the burden that they are carrying with them which will eventually lead to their destruction if they do not stop.

Will we be the ones who help them to see the danger they are in? Will we be the ones who bring them the gospel of God's redeeming grace so that they can stop and change the course of their lives? Scripture tells us that "whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:20). Paganism, heathenism, and secularism, have all shown themselves to be bankrupt systems of belief, and they are each quickly degenerating into chaos. The atheistic and humanistic perspective is reaching an end, and we are living in the days when it will collapse.

We can take advantage of this experience and be ready to step in the gap. This means, though, that we need to get ready now, and not just wait until the last minute. The Roman Catholic Church has a wealth of knowledge and guidance that can be provided to hurting and confused people, but we have to know what that truth is if we are going to disseminate it. Furthermore, we need to learn how to be winsome in the manner that we present it, or we will come across merely like one more self-centered cultist who wants to salve his conscience by bringing someone into his circle of misery.

The evil and hatred that is so prevalent in modern society cannot continue for long without destroying itself. Yet, who will step forward when it does collapse? Will it be the Catholics? If we do not get ourselves prepared to speak the truth, then it will not be us, but rather one more ungodly system based in the philosophy of the devil. Nature abhors a vacuum, and sometime soon there will be a vacuum that needs to be filled. We can fill it with truth, goodness, and beauty, or we can fill it with a new form of lies, evil, and ugliness (it has been done before, so it could happen again).

Even though I seem to write much about the problems in the modern world, I tend to be big on "hope". In other words, I really do have a strong hope in the reign of Christ in our behalf. That means that I have no doubt that Jesus will conquer all His enemies; maybe not in our day, but He will do so eventually. If we want to be able to reap the fruits of the Kingdom of God, then we need to be working right now to be a part of that. We will be rewarded if we remain faithful to the calling that each of us has received. It not only shows our willingness to serve, it also shows that we worship a sovereign Lord Who rules over all.

Monday, November 21, 2016

So Much Hate

"You're not doing what I want so you are hateful!"  
"No, you're hateful for saying that I'm hateful!"  
"I am not hateful at all, but if I speak loudly about your hate, then no one will notice my hate!"

I will admit, I have never heard a conversation go like this, and you probably have not either. I have, however, heard (and read) many conversations that, if reworded for accuracy, would sound exactly like this. This type of caustic conversation is becoming more and more common today, and there are many who are asking, "where did this come from?" It is not really hard to see the roots of it, and as there are so many examples, it is easy to pinpoint. There are so many examples that I have to say it is somewhat sickening to hear so much talk about hate. Although the Lord does call us to hate some things (cf. Rev 2:6), the emotion He is encouraging in us is not the commonly seen lashing out in vile anger that is so common today.

Interestingly, all the hatred that we are hearing about in America, was clearly foreshadowed years ago in many places. Maybe you remember some of them, but let me give an example. Have you ever read the comment boxes on a website? Just take a casual read through the comments on a site like Fox News and you will find people lashing out in hate at each other on a daily basis. I can only imagine (because I never go there myself) what the comboxes look like on sites like CNN and the like. It has been a gradual slide into this abyss of anger, and many have not even seen it happening.

We have been "hating each other" from a distance for so long now (I can recall reading garbage of this type on the internet 15 years ago), that we have ingrained it into our societal norms. It only takes a few years for our society to move the "private" hatred of impersonal internet interaction, and begin to extend that in ever increasing amounts into the public sphere. Children in their early teens have grown up knowing almost nothing else. As things progress in this manner, and we become more and more desensitized to the spread of hate, it makes it harder to recognize it if we are not living regularly in a context of love.

In fact, love is the very issue that we need to consider as we look at the causes of hate. No, I do not mean that love leads to hate, but rather that our understanding of love is related to our understanding of hate. Think on this: it is true that hate is the opposite of love, but that does not mean that everything that is unloving is necessarily hateful. Nor does it mean that everything that displeases us is unloving! "Hate" is not an all-encompassing word for any behavior that you do not like. Yet, we hear so much discussion about hate these days. It is in the title of protests; it is in the news articles; it is on the lips of people every day. Yet, virtually none that I have seen or heard about recently is actually the biblical form of godly hate that is acceptable (such as hatred of genuine sin, but not the sinner).

In my home, my wife and I have worked long and hard to make "love one another" more than just a vague phrase for our children. All of our actions, duties, and even our play with the children has been guided by this primary Law of God. This means that we have made sure that the definition of "love" has been emphatically clear: "love as Christ loved, self sacrificially". Even when the children were little, we would ask "are you showing love?", and the way we would determine that answer was by the rule of thumb: "are you being self-sacrificial?" As they grew to understand better what that meant, the sacrificial sense of love became second nature for them.

I can see the clearest example of how far our society has come when I tell my (older) children about some of the hateful actions that people are engaging in these days. They stare at me with shock. My 20-year-old daughter even started to cry one day when I told her of some of the behavior at the riots that have occurred in the last couple of years (Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland, etc.). When you live in a loving family, then hatred is repulsive, and it is never appealing to you in any way. I fear that much of America has become calloused to the emotion of (sinful) hate, and thus has not noticed just how far we have degenerated.

Here is the key (in my opinion) to this entire experience of the growing hate in America. People have been talking about "love" quite a lot since the 1960's, and the more they have spoken about it, the less accurate they have been. The word "love" has been used to refer to various activities such as sexual immorality (which it has nothing to do with at all), and "niceness" (which is also a wholly different concept). I have heard people refer to someone as "unloving" because he gave a gentle correction. I have heard people say it is loving to ignore someone's sin. Clearly, we do not, as a nation, know what love really is. If we do not know how to do the most important commandments of God, then how can we clearly understand what the opposite is?

Lacking a true knowledge of genuine godly love, we easily attribute "hate" to all the wrong things (as per the imaginary conversation at the beginning of this article), and also ignore the hate in our own hearts. We do not know how to love, so we do not know how to hate (or not hate, as the case may be). These two confusions go hand in hand, and can only be solved by deepening our knowledge of the love of God.

As the Scriptures have made clear, love is rooted in God, Who is love. Thus, only in relation to God can we truly understand what love is. As soon as we devolve into paganism or atheism, we separate ourselves from God and thus lose any (and all) knowledge of what love is. Love is only seen accurately, as I said above, in the context of Christ's self-sacrifice on the cross. All other definitions are in error. Hence, if we do not understand love, then we also will not understand what "hate" really is. There is a godly form of "hate", but it looks nothing like the sinful form of hate that so pervades the pages of the news today.

Therefore, we are hating in a sinful manner because our love is likewise performed in a sinful manner. Trying to understand what hate is, without understanding what love is, would be like trying to understand what masculinity is without understanding what femininity is (oh, sorry, we're already doing that!). People say that they are loving, while they are not; and people say that others are hating, while they themselves are hating. Confusion abounds, and only a return to recognizing the love of God shown on the cross will get us out of this pit. Let us pray that we can live in such a way that we show what it means to be loved by God, as well as to love God and love neighbor.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Helping People Move On

I once knew someone who was very loquacious. Maybe I should say he was verbose; no, garrulous is a better word. On the other hand, lets just come right out and say: he did not know when to stop talking; most specifically--about himself. Being around him was difficult at times, because other people wished to talk as well, and he either did not let them, or he only waited for an opportunity to turn the conversation back to himself. Maybe you have experienced something like this yourself, or know someone who has.

Those who are "chatty" like this, often have a million stories that they like to draw on as they "pour forth speech". The person I knew was not as well equipped; this means that his friends often had to listen to the same stories repeatedly. This can be annoying enough when someone is carrying on a conversation, but when the person runs in and dominates the conversation, then it is completely exasperating.

Lately, I have got the same feeling when I read the news. Everything is about the election or its consequences. "Trump is bad", "Trump is good", "more fighting", "more hatred", "more whimpering", "poor Hillary", "poor Democrats", "poor minorities", etc., ad nauseam. I cannot recall an event that garnered this much (obsessive) focus since the 9/11 attacks. At least the discussions then were focusing mostly on unity and hope; today's discussions are focused on division, and hopelessness. I have to say that it is fairly depressing. My preference is to continue on with life and keep my focus on Christ (whether I appreciate the President or not). Yet it seems as though this is going to keep dragging on.

Clearly, people are hurting. Clearly, people feel offended by the "revolution" against the mainstream media and Hollywood. Clearly, people are not responding in a mature manner. Clearly, the people who are screaming for the need for tolerance are far more hateful than those that they are screaming against. Something is deeply wrong with the character traits of many in American society. 

I recall in elementary school having a classmate who had social issues. He screamed when he did not get his way. He would hit children who did better than he in class. He refused to take "no" for an answer; from anyone. He lasted about three months and then was moved to a special school for children with behavioral issues. The last I heard, he was in trouble with the law for various unspeakable actions. Is this what we are dealing with today? Have we become a society filled with people who have behavioral disorders?

The biggest problem with this situation, is that most of those we are speaking about are unwilling to seek help. Behavioral disorders are something that inherently prevents one from seeking help, since there is little acknowledgement that there is a problem. How will we genuinely take advantage of the time we are in and change the course of our nation before we degenerate into a full-scale civil war? At this point in time, it appears like the only thing that will help is an intervention by the Holy Spirit Himself. New policies will not change a society. New laws will not change a society. New politicians will not change a society. Those are all outward aspects of the inward reality. Only a complete change of heart will actually change the way a society goes (regardless of the policies, laws, or politicians).

What will we do to take advantage of these days and show a confused world what it needs to hear? How will we spread the gospel into modern culture so that it is completely transformed? The collect for this coming Sunday--Christ the King Sunday--speaks of Christ freeing people from spiritual slavery, and restoring all things. This is actually my favorite day on the liturgical calendar--the remembrance of the victory and supremacy of Jesus Christ. Evangelize the world; that is how we transform the culture. It may seem like a daunting task, but then we do so at the command of the One Who rules the universe. Let us move forward, in the power of our Almighty Lord, and show this world how to obey its Creator.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Losing Our Humanity

I recall a story years ago about people who were basically hiding inside their homes, more comfortable to communicate with people through their email and "chat rooms" (remember them?). I am glad to say that this behavior has diminished (at least as far as I have heard). Another behavior has replaced it though, which may be far worse. People are no longer hiding in their homes, rather, they are back out interacting with society; but they are not interacting in a good way. They are present and walking around, but they have not overcome the impersonal interaction of the chat room.

They are interacting "outside the four walls" of their homes, yes. Electronic medium is being used to the neglect of personal interaction. (Yes, I am going to pick on Facebook again.) Much of American society has begun to think that electronic communication is a perfectly acceptable form of communicating with others (at all times) and that there is nothing wrong with it replacing personal communication. We have all seen the groups of people sitting at the same table at a restaurant, all the while they are texting someone else who is not present.

What has led to this? What is it that has made us "introvert" ourselves into the shell of a video screen? I am going out on a limb here, but I would like to propose the idea that Facebook has contracepted the humanity out of our souls. That is a challenging phrase, I understand. Let me unpackage this idea. The term "contraception" refers to the effort to "prevent" something from "conceiving". This is what has happened in the very core of our personhood. As we grow from childhood, we learn what it means to be human, and part of that humanity is the desire to be with other people. Yet, today, many people (especially youth) would rather spend time on Facebook with their (so-called) "friends" than face to face with real flesh and blood friends.

Hence, something has happened as a result of the heavy load of Facebook usage (and other Facebook-styles of medium) that most people engage in. The humanity that we are born with--that which makes us want human contact and interaction--has been prevented from coming to fruition and maturity. It is as though many people have received an inoculation that makes them immune to the natural desire of human interaction. Each of likes some time alone; we need that time of privacy and solace. Yet, generally that "alone time" has limits where people recognize their need for one another.

This basic part of our humanity is a result of our very creation in the image of God. The triune God has always had personal and perfect interaction; Father, Son and Spirit, for all eternity. The one time when this interaction was in any way limited among the three persons of the trinity was when Jesus spoke on the cross, "my God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" That  loss of the personal contact (in whatever form that actually took--we can only speculate), was a tragic moment. We could say that that experience was the worst part of Christ's death on the cross, surpassing all the pain of the passion He endured.

Therefore, when we engage in good and proper personal interaction, we are showing what it means to live in relationship with the eternal trinity. We are showing that it is a good thing to look each other in the eye and communicate. Separating ourselves by various electronic forms is not a bad thing in itself, if it is used as a necessary means to communicate when we are not personally together. It becomes a bad thing when we choose it over personal involvement in each other's lives. Let us each ask ourselves the question: could we turn off the computer or smart phone and communicate more like a human? Could we find the joy of living life in the presence of the triune God of the universe? What a blessing that would be!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Real Mercy

The year of mercy has had a unique flavor for me in numerous ways. I have experienced God's mercy beyond what I could have ever asked for, and I have had various opportunities to show God's mercy to others. All of these have helped me to be more thankful for the blessings that I have. The scripture says "blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy". It can go the other way as well, "blessed are those who have obtained mercy, for they shall be merciful".

Mercy creates mercy. Meaning, of course, that mercy is contagious; like love, it encourages those who experience it to repeat the experience for others. Yet, I have heard some people who had a faulty understanding of mercy. As I have written before, not everything that is called mercy, is actually mercy. Mercy is not mere kindness or niceness. Mercy is a much deeper action than simply being nice to another person. If I smile at a stranger, I am being nice, it does not necessarily mean that I am being merciful to that person at the same time.

One way to distinguish mercy is to ask what it is not. We all know that mercy and justice are not the same thing. The problem with this acknowledgement is, however, that we can easily slip into thinking that anything which is not justice is automatically mercy. That would be a grave error. Many of the things that are not truly "justice" are actually injustices. It is not justice for a criminal to avoid prosecution and walk the streets endangering other people.

For another example: it is not merciful to neglect to tell someone their sin; rather this is an injustice. To hide sin from another person is comparable to hiding the fact that someone is drinking poison; doing so is the same as encouraging them in the action. I once heard someone confront another person about a sinful action and the individual's response was "what ever happened to mercy?" If we do not help another person who is in sin when we are able to do so, we are thereby leaving them to suffer the consequences of their actions. Although many people neglect this very duty every day, it should not be so among us. Wrong understandings of  mercy is one more "dragon" that we need to slay.

As we are coming to the close of the year of mercy, let us first ask whether we understand correctly what mercy actually is. Then, let us each ask ourselves "have I been merciful this year?" Do a healthy examination of conscience as you consider each of the works of mercy, and ask yourself "have I become a more merciful person during the past year?"

The corporal works of mercy are:

    To feed the hungry;
    To give drink to the thirsty;
    To clothe the naked;
    To harbour the harbourless;
    To visit the sick;
    To ransom the captive;
    To bury the dead.

The spiritual works of mercy are:

    To instruct the ignorant;
    To counsel the doubtful;
    To admonish sinners;
    To bear wrongs patiently;
    To forgive offences willingly;
    To comfort the afflicted;
    To pray for the living and the dead.

Sometimes it may be hard to show mercy to another person, especially if that person is someone that we do not think deserves mercy. Yet, we must ask: "do any of us really deserve mercy?" In spite of this, God has shown each of us mercy beyond what any of us truly deserve (that is the point of mercy after all!). Having a right understanding of mercy is crucial, but then we need to bring it to bear and engage in genuine acts of mercy. Once again: "blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy".

Why Go to Mass?

"Thank you for bringing Jesus to us today." This was the comment from one of my parishioners after Mass recently. As we spoke briefly at that time, it was clear that he meant more than just the Eucharist. Certainly the Eucharist is the primary means by which we receive Jesus, but He also comes to us in the homily, in the individual Scripture readings, in the prayers, as well as in the meditations when all is silent. When people genuinely want to see Jesus, their behavior will reflect that desire to do so.

Let me ask it another way: What is it that makes people want to go to Mass? The reasons can be either good ones or bad ones. Bad reasons for attending the Mass would be: to see a friend; to make others think good of you; or, the worst reason, because it entertains you. Among the good reasons, however, one really tops the list. That reason is: to be with Jesus.

At the heart of the matter, every Catholic wants to be with Jesus; some of them are just a bit confused about how this is done. In helping them to see it there are a few things that will better set the direction so that everyone coming into the Mass will be guided properly. These things will both help to explain what it means to be with Jesus as well as create a stronger desire to do so.

The first thing that will draw people to the Mass is deeper reverence. The second thing that will lead them to Mass is good preaching. The third thing, which we do not often think about is a sense of joy within the community. Reverence toward our blessed Lord (especially through the Sacrament of the Eucharist) is naturally attractive to everyone who seeks to serve God. Good preaching will draw people, since it directly applies to our lives and gives us encouragement. The last factor, that sense of joy, is the one that is not as clear as the others, but it is just as noticeable when it is absent.

I recall once visiting a family in their home, and there was a definite sense of tension in every member of the family. At first I thought it was me--it was the first time I had been in their home as their priest and that was certainly a possibility. It was made clear to me, however, when the Dad had to run outside for a few minutes (to care for some livestock), and the rest of the family actually relaxed in a visible manner. This is the very opposite of joy in a home--it is misery.

How does one create that sense of joy that we are speaking about? There is no formula that anyone can write down because it is a mixture of distinct and unique factors that change based on the mood and relationship of the family. Some today think that this mood can be created by being "nice" to everyone. Not so. In fact, if a priest really is "nice to everyone" then he will learn quickly that this kind of behavior ends up driving people away. "Niceness" is a syrupy, compromising, and quite fake expression that often comes across as weak and desperate. So then, let me ask again, "how do you create it?" There is only one proper way for a priest to do this, and that is when he simply behaves like a good father of a household.

A good "fatherly" presence is what every Church needs. A good father will play with his children, teach his children, and protect his children. Where this presence exemplifies strength, love, discipline and wisdom, then the parish members will long to be a part of the Mass. When this fatherly presence exemplifies for us a typical abdicating father who is weak, unloving, unruly, and foolhardy, then the people will have little or no interest in the Mass, and they will not thrive in their faith.

Priests: work to accomplish this in your parishes. Parents: work to accomplish this in your homes. If all of us worked together to accomplish this in every sphere that we had an influence on, can you imagine what the Church would look like today? What is the atmosphere or general culture of your home? Does it exemplify loving relationships and peaceful comfort, or is it something else? What is the atmosphere or general culture of your home parish? Does it make you want to be with Jesus? Let each of us work toward this, and pray for it with all diligence.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Blinders and Earphones

As I was driving down the freeway I passed a car that was driving a bit slower than I. When I got alongside of him I happened to glance over at the driver, and noticed that he had a set of earphones in his ears and he had on a pair of very dark sunglasses--the kind with the blinders on the sides. I assume that the sunglasses are probably illegal because of the blocked vision; I also assume that if the earphones are not illegal to drive with, they would at least be extremely dangerous to have on because of how they block one's ability to hear.

Have you ever met someone who just did not seem to be able to understand something that you thought was perfectly clear? Maybe it was only a mundane concept, but they still could not seem to grasp it no matter what you said to explain better. It was like they had some "noise" in their ears preventing them from hearing what you were saying, and a type of blinders on their eyes. I have at times met people that I think were behaving as though they had background noise in their hearts, and blinders blocking their minds, and it is painful to experience.

I was speaking with some visitors after Mass this evening and we were together lamenting the sad state of catechesis over the last few decades. Teaching has been largely poor and confused, and numerous children have been led astray as regards many of the basics of the Catholic faith. When you think about the massive confusion that exists among Catholics today just over simple subjects like the widespread murder of the unborn (the term "abortion" is just too neutral in my opinion), it is clear that the evil one has been spreading his lies quite effectively for about a generation now.

Many Christians (of all denominations) have been lulled into a passive state of mind and thus opened themselves up to various types of false beliefs. They have confused mercy with "niceness"; they have sought entertainment over reverence; they have put more effort into politics than into spirituality. These and many other things have worked to corrupt hearts and minds in such a way that we have become largely ineffective in influencing the surrounding culture and because of a general blindness to it, we have not even seen it happening.

I dread the thought of what will have to happen to turn this around. It is hard to catechize people who have already been led to accept many of the lies of the world. Some are aware of the problem, and for them that knowledge makes them more responsible to work to fix this. If some parents were to turn the tide in their own homes, and teach their children the fullness of our Catholic faith, they could begin to prepare a new generation to stand firm. In addition, if they were to safeguard this effort by teaching their children the value of marrying only within the Catholic faith, then future generations could be raised up to change the course of history.

We cannot ignore the fact that many of our brothers and sisters are "driving down the street" with "blinders" on their eyes, and loud noisy earphones in their ears. They do not see the consequences of their actions, and this is having disastrous effects on future generations of Catholics. If every one of us works to turn the tide in our little area of influence, then we can genuinely make a difference. We can lay the groundwork, even now, for what will open the eyes and ears of future generations.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Temper Tantrums (postscript)

This is just stunning. My previous post pointed out the childish nature of those who are protesting President-elect Trump's victory. I have nothing to retract in this, but I do have something to add. It now appears that those who are engaging in this are not randomly protesting. Rather, they appear to have been recruited, organized, equipped, and then bussed in to the areas where they are protesting. I am not joking--look it up.

If this is so, then I have two things to say. First, anyone who willing engages in something like this is just as foolish and selfish as someone who would do so on their own initiative. Second, anyone who instigated these protests in this manner is not childish; he is malicious and seeking evil. Truly this reveals a sad state of our society. Pray for these people, please, and also pray for our nation that in the coming months and years we would take advantage of the blessings God has given us and find the path of genuine peace and righteousness.

Temper Tantrums

I guess I am kind of weird. I was kind of a nerd back in high school, and many of the kids said that I just was "not cool" so maybe I should have seen it coming. You see, the problem is that I just do not follow the trends and fads like most people do. Well, apparently the most popular fad today is to hate something or someone, and claim that you are doing it because the person or thing you hate is (*get this*) "hateful". I have to assume that these people have never had a class in critical thinking or basic logic (I suppose that may be my big problem--I expect people to do things that make sense--silly me!).

Watching all the protests over the election it feels like I am watching children throwing a temper tantrum. "I didn't get my way so I'm going to scream and yell so that I will get some attention". The hatred and selfishness that I hear spew out of the mouths of those who choose to respond in this manner is a clear demonstration of where their hearts are at. I guess that I just do not hate as well as they do, so I never get involved in protests and shouting matches. It does not appear to me to be very fun (am I missing something?) to run around like an undisciplined child demanding to get my way. So, as I said at the beginning, I guess I am kind of weird.

Hating others because you do not like people who are hateful is quite a common behavior these days. It seems as though most people want to be victimized (I guess if your life is empty, you feel better about yourself if others say "I feel so sorry for you"), so they seek for something to complain about; even if it runs contrary to basic common sense. Am I angry at the current state of affairs in our nation? Yes (although, I must admit I am NOT angry that we avoided having a criminal who hates the Catholic Church as our president). Am I going to march in a protest yelling like a hyena to make myself feel better? No. I choose less childish and more effective means to respond to things I do not like.

I honestly believe that if Clinton had won the election, and the republicans were the ones protesting in the streets they would be branded as "hatemongers", "racists", and "homophobes". The problem is, just because someone gathers a number of other people around them and calls their actions a "protest" does not make it any less childish to behave in this manner. It was a fair election (as far as we can tell) and it shocked almost everyone that Trump won. Many of us had to deal with having Obama as our president for the last 8 years, and we had to sit back and watch his continual stream of compromise, poor judgment, and incompetency. I do not recall anyone "marching in protest" back then--did I miss something?

It is time for us to begin to exemplify maturity; a long forgotten concept. Those who think that protests are the solution when they do not get their way in perfectly legal proceedings, need to realize that this does not help to heal the rifts that our nation is experiencing. Those (especially in Hollywood) who are calling for others to "fight" a legally carried out presidential election are not helping to make peace, but are instead fomenting hatred and division. We have enough of that already. Celebrities: are you really that foolish and selfish? I want to give you benefit of the doubt, but you do not give us much reason to do so.

Once again, I turn to parents. Undisciplined children who were spoiled and never taught the basic lessons of life (i.e. "there is a God, and you are not Him!") end up living completely undisciplined lives. This is what causes me fear at times: the future of a nation filled with selfish people who do not understand how to discipline themselves. Children need to see the right way to deal with disagreements and adversity. They need to be encouraged to seek a culture of life and not a culture of death. They need to know what godliness and peace really are (and also what it costs to achieve them).

One more thing in conclusion. I have been thinking about this "screaming protest" behavior compared to the behavior of those in past generations here in America (especially those who have been forgotten). Every Wednesday I say Mass at a Veteran's home. I go there and see these folks who were willing to put their lives on the line to protect us from evil tyrants, and I am humbled at the sight of it. Then I think about the current state of society; what a stark contrast. Those people who are reaching the end of their years, who were willing to sacrifice self for strangers, and then I see protests by those who are only willing to scream and yell to get their own way. We have lost something: the mature sense of honor and duty; it is time to find it once again.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Seize the Day

The plane was bumping around, shaking, and wobbling. I do not usually get airsick, but I was starting to worry that I might not be able to keep myself from "losing it". Finally, after about 10 to 15 minutes of this, it suddenly just stopped. The plane was flying level and all things seemed calm. I noticed that the "fasten seatbelt" sign was still on so I just waited, but I heard a few clicks going on around the cabin and even saw one person get up and start heading for the lavatory. Then the captain came over the speakers: "OK folks, so sorry about that disturbance, and I know that you may want to get up now that things have seemed to settle down, but I am going to have to ask you to remain seated with your seatbelts tightly fastened. We are not past the area of bad weather and there is a chance that we may hit some turbulence again unexpectedly." Though I heard a number of groans from other passengers, I was glad he said that. My first thought when things got calm was, "when will it start up again?"

Right after a trying experience, we often jump to the conclusion that we can settle down and relax without any worries. In actuality, that is often the worst time to let our guard down. Feeling the relief of "dodging a bullet" makes us easily miss other problems. As the captain of the airplane said (in essence), "don't assume nothing bad can happen now", so also I am going to say, "don't assume nothing bad can happen now". The majority of Americans (who voted) chose not to elect someone who openly expressed hatred for the Catholic Church, approves of murdering babies, refuses to take national security seriously, and who appears to be involved in numerous criminal activities. Instead they chose someone who . . . well, someone who . . . someone who . . . ummm . . . is not exactly like that.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that I expect President-elect Trump to be just as bad for the Catholic faithful as it appeared that Mrs. Clinton would be. That is not my point at all. My point is this: just because Clinton did not win, does not mean that we can sit back and "enjoy the ride" right now. Rather, we need to double our efforts. Not in the sense of defending ourselves from outright attack, but rather in the sense of taking advantage of the current state of freedom that we have been granted. Freedom is not free; it has cost many people their lives to ensure that we today would have the liberty to worship God as we believe is right. Now, we have to recognize that the faithfulness of God's people will play into the future of our nation.

After the 9/11 attacks on the USA there was a massive surge in Church attendance. Everyone was saying "God bless America". Well, guess what? He did bless us. Then we went right back to the way that things were; Church attendance returned to normal (it even went down in a number of places), and then the terrorist attacks kept coming. If we just stand back now and say "God bless America" but do not show Him our love and devotion (for longer than a few weeks), how can we feel confident that He will do so? God does not bless us if we remain in our sin and show no desire for repentance (though it is merciful when He sends us messengers to tell us to repent!). Christ has shown us mercy by apparently allowing us to have the coming four years be somewhat peaceful. Will we take advantage of this peace or will we take it for granted? Now is the time that God has given us to do the work of spreading the gospel message. Now is the time that we can show what it means to be thankful for God's gifts. Now is the time that each of us (especially parents) need to stand firm, and speak the truth in love. Seize the day; who knows, it may not last for long.

Monday, November 7, 2016

It's a Wonderful Time

What a wonderful time this is in the history of the world. I made my formal confession into the Catholic Church a little over four years ago, and in that time I have not had to struggle to deal with a single doctrinal question. In the previous 23 years, I was struggling with a different doctrinal question at a rate of about 1 per year (not counting the 17 doctrinal questions I had to struggle with in the last year before my reception into the Catholic Church). This was due to the fact that I was a protestant; not just an average protestant, mind you, but one who really, really, really wanted to know what the Bible meant and what the Church Fathers said about it (which is a hopeless state for someone who does not want to be Catholic!).

During those long and challenging years, I was regularly "readjusting" my protestant perspective to fit with the historic Church; all along not realizing that I was thinking like a Catholic. Now that I am Catholic, I do not have to "readjust" anything ever again. I have, for the last four years, merely settled into deepening my understanding of God's truth. At the same time, I have watched the world become more and more hateful of the Catholic Church. I have seen many non-Catholics persecuting the Church (both inside and outside of the US borders). These attacks are not something we would ever seek, but at the same time, they are something that will lead to our good.

Persecution is always for the good of Church, because it always leads to a strengthening of the faithful, and a "weeding out" of those who persist in their rejection of God. No, I do not want anyone to have to leave the Church; I would much rather have them repent and be able to remain. Yet, as Bishop Robert C. Morlino once said:
"If one is called to be Catholic, one follows what the Church teaches; that is the correct understanding of conscience (as upheld also by Vatican II). And if one really cannot follow what the Church teaches, then one's conscience requires that one leave the Church. That is the adult decision. One's conscience does not require that one makes up one's own personal religion and then pretend that it is Catholic."
In other words, since it is proper for those who persistently reject the Catholic faith to leave the Church, it will be all the more likely that this will happen if they are going to be persecuted and tortured for believing something that they actually do not believe.

While the world changes constantly ("the more things change, the more they stay the same"), the Church stands firm. She has withstood 2000 years of dictators and tyrants, and has outlived every one of them. That is the great security of being Catholic. While America may not survive its next president, the Church will remain firm and faithful. Whether we flounder for a few more years, or descend into general chaos, Christ never gave a promise of endurance to any nation; He gave that promise to the Roman Catholic Church, and to her alone. As St. Augustine said, "the city of man may fall, but the city of God will remain forever".

So here we are, in a time when the Catholic Church is once again going to be able to prove her divine foundations. She is going to show herself to be faithful to Christ her Lord, and though it may mean that she will be much smaller because of it, it will also mean that she will be much stronger. The Church will remain to the end of the world, because Christ remains on His throne until the end of the world. The two go hand in hand (cf. Matt 16:18 and 1 Cor 15:24-25). The Church has spoken clearly and warned all of society about what is righteous and what is sinful; she has not changed truth, and she will never do so. This is why we can take confidence and stand firmly within the safety of her courts.

Finally, remember this: if you happen to find yourself on the way to the voting booth, remember to take with you one crucial object: the eternal and uncompromised teachings of the Catholic Church. If you forget them when you go there, you will likely forget them in other places as well. Casting a vote for the future leader of the United States is no small issue, and you should trust Christ's voice in the Church to guide you on how to do that (especially in the problematic situation we find ourselves in today). Therefore, make a godly choice; stand for life and for truth, and be confident--Christ and His Church will stand firm.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Whose Influence?

Reading an article on the upcoming election, I was struck by something that made me have to do a double take. The author of the article was pointing out how crucial it was to make a good decision in the upcoming election (all good and true). Then the author pointed out that whoever it is that is chosen as the next president of the United States is going to be "the person that comes into your home more than any other non-family member for the next four years". Whoa!

Trying to give the benefit of the doubt, I have to assume that the author meant it would be through the media (t.v., radio, internet, etc.) that the president will be speaking in people's homes. I am not sure what else he could have been speaking about. Given that assumption (if there is any other way of taking that statement, please someone write to me and tell me!), I have to ask: is it true? Is the president the one non-family member who speaks in your home more than anyone else? If so, I have to say that you have been duped by statism.

You see, statism is the belief that the State is the primary authority and source of truth in all creation. This is basically the view of communism, fascism, and other totalitarian regimes, but it is not (naturally) the view of a democratic republic like we (are supposed to) have in America. The federal or state governments are not the primary source of truth or highest authority in the United States, and anyone who thinks they are in essentially a statist. Those who know that God the creator of the universe is the highest authority and source of truth (and live accordingly) are not statists.

I can honestly say that for the previous 8 years President Obama's voice has never been heard in my home. His face is rarely seen, and his views on morality, economics, and politics are largely rejected in a very clear (yet respectful) manner. The same lack of influence from previous Presidents has also occurred in my home. No, I am not a statist, and no, I do not allow any politician (even the nicer ones) to be a significant influence in my household or on my children.

How, you may ask, is this done? Well, for one, we do not have any broadcast or cable t.v. reception. Secondly, my wife and I control the internet usage and keep it at a bare minimum. Thirdly, we have supported the Catholic Church's view of civil government--respect it, obey it (when it accords with God's law), but recognize that it is under the authority of Christ Almighty. Fourthly (and most importantly), we teach our children the Catechism--without reservation, qualification, or compromise.

Who influences your home, and how? Is it really the Church? Maybe it is the musicians that "come" into your home through the speakers. It could be the movie stars who spew their opinions on the t.v. screen. Maybe it is a school teacher who is not teaching the Catholic faith in its entirety. It might also be the people who design the video games your children (or you) are playing. Whoever it is, you invited them into your home when you allowed them to enter through whatever medium they can (CD, DVD, internet, etc.). Would you invite a pagan to come and catechize your children? It could be happening through the various forms of media that they are exposed to--if you are not careful.

Parents, you need to take charge and guard the borders of your home. In doing so you are guarding your children's hearts. "A child left to himself is grief to his mother and a burden to his father" the Proverbs tell us. That means that children are not naturally able to choose right and wrong, and parents must have an active influence in guiding them to right. This goes farther than what you say, it also includes what you allow (actively or passively). Protect them, and do not let any politician or celebrity be a primary influence in your household. Let the influence be Christ; from first to last.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Instructing the Ignorant (even when that means us!)

The teacher asked the student, "what is the difference between ignorance and apathy?" The student answered, "I don't know and I don't care." "Exactly!" He hit it on the nose in more ways than one. This is also exactly attitude of much of American culture today--especially the youth. They have been fed garbage and hypocrisy for so long that it is hard to get many people even to care what their eternal destiny is. I have written before about apathy, but today I wish to speak more about ignorance. I do not meet many Catholics who are genuinely apathetic about what the Church says; though I have met many of them who are ignorant of what the Church says.

One of the spiritual works of mercy is to "instruct the ignorant". We often take "ignorant" as an insult, and are afraid to use it, but it really just means someone who does not know something. For example, I am ignorant of the technicals of rocket science; I am ignorant of the exact list of ingredients in Twinkies; and I am ignorant of why anyone would prefer the pagan view of abortion over the Church's view. There is nothing offensive to me in being ignorant here, it is merely a fact that I am not fully informed on these issues.

In some areas, however, ignorance is horrible. Ignorance over Who God is has eternal consequences. Ignorance of the Church's teaching about marriage can ruin your life. Ignorance about the rules of proper reverence in the Mass can destroy our souls. These types of ignorance are definitely "dragons" that need to be slain. All too often, however, people allow ignorance in areas like those listed above to remain, and do little to nothing to overcome it.

What does it mean to instruct the ignorant? It does not mean hitting them over the head with a copy of the Catechism, nor does it mean giving them a copy for free and telling them "read this". Instructing the ignorant means helping them to understand the truth. This is a merciful thing because it means that we are helping someone to know what is good and right as opposed to what is and wrong so that they can turn to the path of godliness. This, in turn, leads (quite often) to repentance and greater faithfulness. Who would not want to be able to do that?

This is not an easy task though. It means that we ourselves need to know what the truth is if we are going to be able to instruct someone else. The first step in instructing others who are ignorant, is overcoming our own ignorance. You cannot help others if you yourself are just as ignorant as those you wish to instruct. No, I am not saying that everyone needs to have a master's degree in theology. Yet, everyone of us can certainly grow in our knowledge of Christ and His Church.

Furthermore, I have met numerous people who think that they know what the Church teaches ("doesn't the Church teach x, y, and z?"), and yet are gravely mistaken. I have heard people say: "the Church doesn't believe in confession any more does it?" "the Church says that homosexuality is OK", and "the Church said evolution is true" (all of which are false--look it up). Maybe they heard a statement from a Catechist or even (God forbid) an errant priest, who said that something was true, but it is entirely contrary to official Church teaching. Ignorance is certainly the reason that someone would willingly approve of any politician who promotes the murder of unborn children. This mistaken understanding of Church teaching occurs more often than not today, and that means that each one of us should be willing to "verify" our beliefs, by deepening our own knowledge.

So where do you start? I already mentioned the Catechism--have you read it? Even part of it? Ever? Yes, it can seem daunting and overwhelming when you look at the entire thing. How about just one part of it? Look at the table of contents or the index and find a subject that really does interest you, then read about it. Just reading that one subject will increase your knowledge in that area of theology. If you do not find anything interesting, then maybe you need to spend some time in prayer asking God to help you know why this is so.

Moving from there, you can find other areas that you are able to study and learn about. Then, once you discover the wonders and the beauty of the Church's teachings on truth, you will find that the Catechism also references the Scriptures, the writings of the Saints, and the official documents of the Church. This is one of the reasons why I like the catechism so much--it is so wonderfully integrated with the rest of God's revelation. This is truly Tradition (with a capital "T") working rightly. Scripture, related to those things that God has revealed through the Saints, and they are both combined to make a perfect expression of the truth of God.

I see many of the works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual, being carried out in various ways. The one that seems to be lacking the most today (and is so urgent given the poor catechesis of the last 40 years) is instructing the ignorant. Let each of us work to make sure that we are not ourselves ignorant, and then when we do encounter someone who needs some help in understanding the (accurate) teachings of the Catholic Church, we can do a wonderful work of mercy.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Protecting What We Love

I live in Missouri, and like some of the other states that I have lived in, Missouri is a "castle" state. This means that citizens have the right to protect themselves if they genuinely believe that they or a member of their family are in danger in their own home. I am not going to get into the discussion about guns, but someone will likely ask so I will just say that it is not a safe society if law-abiding citizens are unable to defend and protect themselves. I have heard of cases where people have been punished for trying to protect themselves; when laws protect the guilty more than the innocent, something is wrong.

The principle that I am speaking about is clear to all: when we feel threatened, our (God-given) instinct is to protect ourselves. Few people really believe that it is wrong to protect yourself. We all know and understand the desire to guard those things that we love. This is why we have locked safes, door locks, security systems, and insurance policies; we know that it is good to create protections for those things that we value. Now, it is certainly possible that someone may have an obsession about something. There are those who put too much value on some objects, and too little on others. Yet, we all know that you place value on (and therefore wish to protect) those things that you love the most.

With that in mind, I would like to propose the idea that the Roman Catholic Church places so many rules on sexual activity precisely because she values it. Some have asked me why the Church "hates sex", and that always hurts when I hear that. If you hate something you do not seek to protect it. In fact, you would either let it go and ignore it or actually seek to destroy it. The Church has never behaved like this in regard to sexuality. Never do you find someone hiring armed guards to protect something that they detest. Hence, the Church--out of genuine and heartfelt love for God's gift to mankind of sex--has said "this and that behavior are destructive to sexuality and to the very dignity of humanity".

Take, for example, the Church's prohibition on sodomy. It has nothing to do with a hatred for those who have fallen into this grave sin, but rather just the opposite. Because the Church loves those who commit this sin, and also because the Church loves the action of pure and godly sexual activity, she has said "do not engage in this, for it is harmful". No one in their right mind would imagine that trying to keep something in its original purity is a sign of hatred or rejection of that thing (any more than someone would think that my refusal to allow someone to pour gasoline in my coffee is a sign that I hate coffee!).

This is also why the Church has strict rules on the Sacrament of Matrimony. Not because she hates or even just tolerates marriage, but rather because she loves it and does not want to see it abused. I cannot tell you how many times I have had someone tell me "if I had only followed the Church's rules on marriage I would not be in this mess". If all people were to love matrimony (as God has defined it) as much as the Church does, we would be less willing to try to choose our own way of doing things, and the end result would be far fewer divorces, far fewer abortions, far fewer broken families, and far fewer children who fall away from the faith.

The Church has been thinking about the boundaries of godly sexual activity for 2000 years (and she has learned much from our Jewish forefathers who had to deal with just as many perversions in their day that we do in ours), and in that time, she has never rejected sexuality. She has, rather, rejected abuses of godly sexuality. In fact, there are wonderful documents like Familiaris Consortio that outline the beauties and joys of God's orderly guidelines for family, marriage and sexuality. Never once does this document say that sex is a "bad" thing, or even that it is a "tolerable evil". No, the Church says that the "conjugal union" between husband and wife (only) is a beautiful gift of God, and it should protected and guarded to show that we appreciate the delicate and sacred nature of this gift.

It is true to say that the Church gives us rules because God has revealed to her what is best for us, but it is not the whole truth. It is also necessary for us to explain that the Church gives us rules because she loves us, and because she loves the things that God has given to us. There are no armed guards to protect marriages. There is no insurance policy to prevent sexual mistakes. There is only our willingness to listen to what Christ says to us through the Church. Parents, here this, you are responsible to teach your children what the Church says about sexuality in clear and definite terms. May we all commit ourselves to being faithful to what God has said.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Beautiful Purgatory

I have told this story a few different times, so bear with me if you have heard it before. A while ago, I was called to visit someone in the hospital. I did not know the person beforehand, so we spent some time getting to know one another. One subject that came up (as it often does in hospital visits) is life after death. When I mentioned the subject of purgatory, the patient said, "I thought the Church didn't teach that anymore". Surprised at this comment, I asked where he had heard that. For the sake of propriety, I will only say I was saddened by his answer.

Purgatory; I have written about it many times before (and not just because I am a former protestant), but it bears repeating because this doctrine touches so many areas of our faith. Purgatory is a favorite doctrine to hate among our protestant brethren, and it is an often misunderstood doctrine among Catholics. Yet, the Church still teaches it (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1031), and we are supposed to believe it. It was the subject of my homily just this morning for All Souls Day Mass.

We are not, however, just supposed to "tolerate" the doctrine of purgatory. We are supposed to take comfort in it. Let me make a comparison. There are many things that people have to tolerate in this life: chemotherapy, root canal surgery, and Lima beans (maybe that last one is just me). Do we, though, tolerate being healed? Do we tolerate being loved? Do we tolerate receiving a wanted gift? Of course not, because those things bring us joy. Likewise, the process of purgatory is designed to bring us joy; the joy of eternal blessings that come after the process is finished.

The process of purgation is what purgatory is all about. It is not a place (contrary to common representations) so much as an event or an experience. The purging of our unhealed sins is something that God provides for our good. It is comparable to a host providing soap so that the guests can wash their hands before a meal. After all, he wants us to be with Him, and that can only happen if our sins are properly "purged" from us. Either we purge them here in this life, or they will need to be purged after if we wish to spend eternity with our Lord. Those who are able to purge themselves of their sins in this life will not need purgatory, certainly, but there is only one Virgin Mary; the rest of us need at least some purging.

Imagine with me for just a moment what it would be like if there were no purgatory. There are only two options with this speculation. The first option is, the faithful departed (who still need some sins to be purged) "go to Heaven" and are told by the angels, "come right in, there's no need to purge the rest of those sins because dying gives you a free ticket to eternal bliss" (i.e. you never had to repent of the other sins either since they all just get "ignored/erased" once you died, which also means that God is not concerned much about justice).

The second option is, the faithful departed (who still need some sins to be purged) "go to Heaven" and are told by the angels, "sorry bud, I know you were devout in your faith and tried to repent of all your sins, but God never came up with a means after you die to help you to deal with those sins that you had a harder time with, so you're condemned to Hell for all eternity". Quite a fairly pitiful view of things, is it not?

The first option is basically the protestant view of Heaven, and the second option is no one's view (that I know of). The second is, however, the only other possibility if purgatory is not a reality. What a blessing it is to know that God loves us enough to make sure that we have a means to overcome those sins that we were not able to rid from our souls in this life. What a blessing to know that if we remain faithful to Him, and are consistent in our efforts to repent of our sins and grow in our love for God and neighbor, that God is gracious enough to reward us with His mercy. What a blessing Purgatory is. You do not want to be caught dead without it!