Friday, June 29, 2018

The Eucharist is Not a Fellowship Meal!

"Are you Catholic?" "Yes, but I have not been to confession in 30 years, so I can't take communion; is it OK if I stay though?"
Can you say "Wow!", I knew you could. Clearly, this individual gets it: Holy Communion is not a reward for showing up at Mass. Here is the situation: I was getting ready to say Mass at a local care facility and someone came in and sat down in the back of the room. I always go and greet people I do not recognize, so I headed over there to introduce myself. Occasionally, we have someone come in who thinks that it is a protestant service. Occasionally, when someone hears that I am about to celebrate Catholic Mass, they politely excuse themselves (with the look on their face like they just walked into the wrong bathroom!).

When, however, someone decides to stay, I ask if they are Catholic. If they are not, I have to explain to them (as politely as I can) that I cannot give them communion, but if they wish to become Catholic, then I can certainly help them to accomplish it (!). The vast majority of the time, the visitors understand about communion. This was the situation that I am describing above. Her response to me focused on the fact that she was "out of communion" with the Church. No, that was not her wording, but that was exactly what she meant. "I haven't been to confession" says, "I am not currently doing what the Church says I am supposed to do".

Think about the assumptions being made by this person. I am reminded of that well known statement of the prodigal son: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son" (Luke 15:21). In other words, "I am your son, but I've not been behaving like it." The assumption that one's personal behavior has no bearing on receiving the Eucharist, stems mostly from a mistaken notion of what the Eucharist is. The places where it is referred to as a "supper" or that the altar is a "table" could (mistakenly) give the notion that the Eucharist is a "family meal", but that is not the case. There is a significant difference between a communal meal where the people gather to have dinner, and a ceremony where a sacrifice happens and people partake of the sacrifice.

The New Testament does give us pictures of the "fellowship meals" that the early Church partook of, and they are never confused with the Eucharist. Interestingly, even those fellowship meals had strict boundaries (something that would shock many modern Catholics). Take for example the passage where the Apostle Paul says that the Church is not "even to eat with" a Catholic who is unrepentant and continues in grave sin (1 Cor 5:11). If that boundary exists at a "fellowship meal" for the community (which is a non-liturgical time of community interaction), how much more should we expect that the Church would have a boundary on a liturgical ceremony where the Sacrifice of Christ is re-presented before God?

The Apostle Paul points out the clear need for each person who partakes of communion to "examine himself" beforehand (1 Cor 11:28). The presumption is not that he examine himself, ignore any sins that he discovers, and then go ahead and partake anyways. With the clear warning that those who partake "unworthily" are "guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord", it is evident that he is speaking about clear boundaries given to a sacred ritual (and, once again, not a fellowship meal). The very word "profane" comes from the Latin root that means "outside the temple". Profane things are "unholy" and sacred things are "holy" by definition. Thus, to profane something is to abuse a sacred thing by treating it as if it were common. To profane the Blessed Sacrament is to treat it like common food and assume that it is equal to the food Jesus had when He ate dinner "with tax collectors and sinners" (or to assume that is like a Church's fellowship meal!).

Just as it would be wrong for me to show up at a friend's house unannounced and assume that I was going to be given a place at the table, so also it is wrong for anyone to assume that the reception of communion is open to anyone (even any Catholic) who shows up in the pew. We are not having a common meal. The Eucharist is not breakfast, lunch or dinner; it is the sacrifice of the sacred body and blood of Christ brought from Calvary to the present and must be treated as such. This was the underlying statement of the visitor to Mass that I mentioned above. "I have to be in a state of grace in order to receive communion" (even if I myself do not believe in the Church's definition of what that state is). Quite remarkable, is it not? Someone who has not been to Mass for 30 years knows that confession is necessary before receiving communion, while large numbers of those who attend Mass weekly ignore it; something is seriously wrong here.

Does the Lord love us? Of course He does. That is why He will not ignore our sins, and provides us with the sacraments to help us overcome them (when used in proper order). Yet, every sacrament is sacred, and is (usually) connected to a liturgical celebration. This is why the sacraments have boundaries; precisely because they are not casual or common, they are holy and reverent events that transcend the normal activities of day to day existence. They are the means by which God lifts us up from the things of this Earth and allows us to touch the things of Heaven. How could we possibly imagine that they are anything less than an experience of the divine in our lives?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Church Growth, the Hard Way

A couple days ago, the gospel reading for Mass spoke of the "easy way" and the "hard way" to live. What Jesus called the "easy way" was the way that leads to destruction. It appears easy because it allows one to choose his own pleasures first. The way that Jesus called "hard" leads, instead, to eternal life. It is genuinely hard because it requires obedience. It demands repentance and a diligent effort in righteousness. We think of these two ways of life mostly in relation to our own spirituality, and that is good, because that is what Jesus was speaking about primarily. Yet, there are other applications for this principle.

When we think of Church growth, we must realize that it is an effort in spirituality. It is an effort in making people go from a life of sinfulness, unto a life of holiness; that is indeed the major issue of spirituality. In fact, any other kind of Church growth would be somewhat "anti-spiritual" for it would lead a person away from God and closer to the evil one. Hence, evangelism is spiritual growth on a large scale, and Church growth is the specific goal of proper evangelism. After all, the reason we evangelize is to just to get people in the pews, but to enable more people to sing the praises of God while they are on the path to eternal life.

It would not take long to show that there are a number of ways that have been utilized to bring more people into the Church. During my years in the Protestant Church, I saw many different ways (some of them embarrassing and others even sacrilegious). Catholics usually tend to be a bit more discerning about how to bring people into the Church, but not always. I read about a Catholic priest recently who brought large numbers of people back to his parish. He told them that Jesus accepts them "just as they are" and that neither repentance nor the confessional were truly necessary, so long as they came to Church faithfully.

Here we have a prime example of the "easy way". Virtually no rules or requirements are given, and morality is openly referred to as not really necessary. Is this the path that leads to life? With Jesus description in the gospel, we can almost always assume that if we have found an easier method for spirituality, then it is probably not the best one. The whole idea of spirituality for imperfect people (as we all are) is that we must "strive" and "labor" to do good works for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Although nothing can genuinely be earned by our good works, we are still called to do them because that is how we grow spiritually.

When it comes to growing the numbers of members in a Church, we can easily accomplish a short term growth, but that growth has no long term strength if we choose the "easy way". That cannot, however, be our goal.  Just filling the pews with warm bodies does not help anyone to stay on the path to Heaven (and will encourage many down the path to Hell because they are led to believe that the "easy road" leads to Heaven!). I could probably get a number of people to come and sit in the pews by offering a "free gift" to the first 25 new visitors (someone did this in a protestant Church in Southern California years ago, and I am sure others have tried it since then). That kind of growth is more like piling rocks than making a tree bear fruit; it gains volume, but not real life.

The "hard way" to grow a Church is to give people the authentic gospel, not a watered-down version of it. Tell them of the wonderful grace of Christ available to those who truly repent and follow Him. Foster a community of people who seek to live in relation to one another and are willing to help each other in their lives. Help parents in raising their children in the faith. This is nothing new or surprising, but these details are often taken for granted (or outright forgotten) because modern man is always looking for the quick and easy, new-fangled method. How these truths are communicated may differ from parish to parish, but the primary component in spreading the word is that the laity do so in their own particular circle of influence (work, school, neighborhood, etc.).

This is the method that the early Church used, and though it is difficult (the "hard way"), it is what leads to lasting spiritual growth. This is how people are brought to love Christ and to love one another. This is what Jesus calls us to when He says to "[g]o therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." The "easy road" may offer baptism, but it also teaches people to be unconcerned with "all that Jesus commanded us". Let us, willingly, choose the hard road, and place our hope and trust in Christ to fulfill His promises.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

That Uncomfortable Cassock

"What are you wearing that thing for?"
"It is the standard outfit for a priest."
"Is it required?" 

This conversation between a parishioner and myself occurred years ago before my current assignments. I knew that they were not used to it, but the "norm" for Catholic priests still remains the cassock. I know that the USCCB got special permission to allow the "black suit"; there is an issue with this "new norm" though. The "black suit", though it is recognizable for many once they are close up, there are many more who do not see it as anything other than a strange outfit. I cannot tell you how many times people have seen me in the "black suit" and said, "is that some kind of special uniform?" It does not connote "Catholic priest" the way that it used to.

So then, no, it is not required, but the Church's Directory for Priests says that we should be wearing something that is noticeably different from the rest of society. This is for the purpose of being able to be seen when needed; the presence of the man of God in the community is important. He should stand out because when someone realizes we have not gone away, it impacts their understanding of the Church ("yes, we're still here!"). Just a few weeks ago I was stopped by someone in the store and told "I didn't know there was a Catholic Church around here; it is good to see a priest wearing his clericals." Just being in the store said that I had a Church nearby, and it made the individual (who was not actually Catholic) realize that the town has a Catholic presence.

Aside from the fact that the "suit" does not stand out nearly as well as the cassock, there is another aspect that I have to mention. The cassock is a bit uncomfortable--and that is a good thing. It is good because it reminds me that I am not running through life to make myself happy, but to serve others (and doing so is often uncomfortable!). It is like the collar itself (which carries the symbolism of a slave's shackles) personally telling me: you are not your own. In our modern age, we have been pampered beyond some of the wildest dreams of our forefathers; and we are constantly demanding more. The priest should never give in to this because he must be an example to his flock.

The Directory mentioned earlier even says that if a priest refuses to wear his clerical garb, then it could very likely be a sign that he does not understand what it means to be a priest. So many priests have been influenced by bad practices, and even worse theology that many of them today think that they are supposed to be "one of the guys" and avoid any sense of being different from the laity. This is truly a sad state of affairs. If a priest really wanted to be "one of the guys" then he should not have been ordained as a priest.

The more that society around us loses its touch with reality, the less it understands about the Church. Theology becomes personal opinions and the Church becomes a support group. In this context, we must go out of our way to make sure that we are being clear about who we are and what we believe. This is a part of evangelism, for if the world thinks that we are just like them, and we do nothing about it, then we are, essentially, complicit in their errors. Will this mean that we will have to suffer for it, as so many of our forefathers have done before us? Likely, yes. But that cannot deter us. I have gotten stares and even an occasional bad comment, but for the ones who come up and say, "you're a Catholic priest, right?", it is all worth it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Fathering or Managing

Many of you already know that I worked as a restaurant manager for many years before I became a protestant minister. I worked both with the employees and with a number of other managers, and had a good deal of experience. There are certain duties of a manager that are basically the same wherever you go, and whatever business it may be (restaurant, grocery store, etc.). A manager is the "head" of the business and is the one to call the shots. He hires and fires, as often trains as well.

When I became a protestant minister (waaaay back in 1995), I found quickly that some of the principles were the same in being the pastor of a congregation and being the manager of a business. Some of the techniques were the same, and some were different, but much of my experience in being "in charge" of a group of employees was similar. A few of my congregants even called me "boss" or sometimes "the CEO". It was never exactly to my liking, but I tolerated it because no one was mean about it. It did, however, reveal something about people's thinking. "The boss" of the organization was the one whom people were supposed to answer to.

Then I did that (crazy!) thing a few years back and switched to the Catholic Church. Being one of those who was able to move quickly into holy orders (5 months as a layman, 1 month as a deacon, then I was ordained a priest--all with Rome's permission, and only after jumping through a number of hoops), I found that the "taste" of protestant ministry was still remembered. Although there were certainly some differences between Anglican ministry and the rest of protestantism, the similarities are closer between Anglican and protestant, than between Anglican and Catholic.

It did not take long for me as a Catholic priest to realize that I was not playing the same "game" as in protestantism. All of those concepts of "boss" and "CEO" were gone. That was not how it worked, nor was it how it was supposed to work. There is a reason that the Catholic Church wants its priests to be called "father". To look at someone as the "father" of the house is quite different than to look at someone as the "CEO" of the business. One is relational and the other is pragmatic.

The concept of "father" is important for how we behave as Catholics. It connotes authority, but it also connotes relationship and tender care. There is very little of relationship in a "manager"; especially when he can fire the employees and be fired by a bigger boss. Yes, things can change in a Catholic parish, but when it ends up looking like a business, that is a mistake and not the proper nature of what it means for the priest to be the "father" of the "family". The Catholic Church (though she is relatively quiet about the fact) still considers the father of an earthly family to be the "head of the household". This means that he is in charge, yes, but it also means that he is the one who has to give account for the family as a whole (the captain goes down with his ship) before God.

Although both the priest and the manager have authority, it is not the same kind of authority. A father's authority is (supposed to be!) used because he cares about his family and wants the best for them. A manager's authority is used because he cares about the business and wants the best for it. Those two ideas are radically opposed to each other, and we cannot dispense with this distinction merely because we do not like to think about it. Albeit, there may be a manager somewhere who generally cares about his employees (I have met a few), but that is not the same as a manager who is "father" to his people: one who is there with the people at times of birth, marriage, death, trials, and life decisions.

Authority is something that many today struggle with, and the attempt to reduce the priest's authority (as is common in many modernist settings) will only cause less and less spiritual growth for a parish community. Many try to eliminate the idea of submission in every area of life and "democratize" the family and the Church. This is what is leading many down the pathway of chaos. Those who also wish to get rid of the idea of a wife's submission to her husband as head of the home have a big problem. They not only have to overcome numerous passages of Scripture, and a large portion of Church tradition, but they also (by consequence) would need to get rid of the submission of the laity to their priest and bishop (a "father" is a "father").

Priests do not do well as managers, because the parish is not a business it is an organism (no, not an organization). And in this way this "organism" is a spiritual family like no other. A spiritual family needs a spiritual head, and that is the priest. If we get this relationship wrong it will have terrible effects. For the people to treat the priest like "manager" is to invite a host of other wrong views of the Church and the relationship that people and priest should have. It will also foster a sense of competition between priest and people ("us" against "him") rather than a sense of familial unity (this is also one of the reasons why I am an advocate of permanent priestly assignments, but that is another subject).

How do you think of and treat your priest? Although you likely call him "father" is that how you treat him? If he is the "father" of the parish, and you want to treat him as such, then do not get confused with any ideas of him being your "buddy-chum-pal", for that will not help him to be a good priest, nor you to be a good parishioner. Also, do not treat him as a business manager. The Apostle John said he rejoiced to see his "children" doing well in the faith. Every priest would agree, but they cannot be a good priest to those that they are supposed to "manage"; they can only be a good priest to those whom they love as their children.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Drug Addiction

Things in our modern society are degenerating at an amazing speed. Just about everyone can see it, and many are talking about it, but few are doing anything about it. I am not about to pretend to be immune to society's problems, but I have tried very hard to step back so that I can view them from the "30,000 foot perspective". As most of you know, I do not do Facebook or Twitter, I do not have any kind of broadcast or cable t.v. in my home, and when I read the "news" I do not believe everything they claim.

Many opinions and behaviors that were considered, just 15 years ago, by most people to be foolish, are now common place. Someone asked recently if we are actually living in the novel "1984". I would have to say that we are not; this is because "Brave New World" (by Aldous Huxley) is a much closer depiction of our current state of the world (I have written about this comparison many times before). "1984" just describes a totalitarian regime that controls all behavior; whereas "Brave New World" describes a totalitarian regime that does not have to control behavior -- it just makes people stop thinking for themselves so that they will follow blindly (and not notice, or care, that they are being controlled)!

The long and short of this modern state of affairs, is that much of the world's population have been "brainwashed". Our thinking has changed (or it may be better to say we have stopped thinking) to such a degree that it is comparable to having been transplanted to another planet from what our forefathers lived on. As I ponder this state of foolhardiness, I am compelled by the fact that, although there are many things that are crippling us, few of them can (technically) be dispensed with quickly and simply. Imagine, if you will, an addictive drug, that not only prevents you from overcoming its effects, but it also blinds you to the addiction itself.

Something like this would be a perfect weapon (and would be used regularly by the devil). All you have to do is release it publicly, and in a short matter of time, the vast majority of the population would not only be infected, but most would not even be aware of the infection, and the few that were aware, would be largely unable to cure it. This would be a diabolically perfect combination of both a modern "drug of choice" as well as a "disease" that prevents us from seeing the problem.

What would make this modern "drug" that much more effective, would be if it were not inherently evil. Something that is comparatively neutral would enable us to emphasize its neutrality (at least in our own minds) and thus prevent us from recognizing any negative aspects at all. What I am speaking about, broadly of course, is technology (are you really surprised?). Specifically, we can see the concentration of this technological addiction in one place, and that is the "so-called" smart phone. With it, we can talk to people, avoid talking to people (and just text them), play games, buy stuff, keep our schedules, and search the internet (I am sure there are a few more things I am unaware of, but since I do not own one that is all that comes to mind).

Much of what I am saying here might seem like merely a grumpy priest spouting off, were it not for the fact that this has been recognized by many of those both outside and inside the Church. There are even some places in the USA where I have read about city councils who are considering declaring it illegal for children under 18 who live in their city to possess a smart phone (making it comparable to alcohol). Right or wrong solution: they see the problem. In fact, I have never (yet) met anyone who would deny that vast numbers of society are addicted to their smart phones. The issue is, however, that even though many are willing to admit the problem, they are not doing much (if anything) to separate themselves from that which they know is harming them.

As I said above, we can technically separate ourselves from it (all you have to do is throw it away), but it is more easily said than done. I once heard an adult say, "I could not go a few hours without my phone; my whole life is in there." Although the individual would not call it an "addiction" per se, the reality is that we have plugged ourselves into it so much (possibly because of the so-called conveniences it offers) that now we are unsure of how to unplug ourselves.

"The sin that clings so closely" (cf. Hebrews 12:1) has become "the technology that clings so closely". I recall once suggesting to someone who had a porn addiction to get rid of his smart phone. He looked at me as though I had suggested he get rid of his soul. His response was not actually violent, but he was clearly offended by the idea. "You don't understand; I need it because...", and you know how the rest goes. This is something the world did without for millennia and now people "need it".

Some of you may have read how a (former) major executive at Facebook said recently that he regrets ever having helped to develop it, because he said it has corrupted our very thinking at the deepest levels. He went on to discuss this "change" has made us become more and more isolated from each other, and addicted to pleasing self with our technology (wow!). The change in thinking would not be such an issue, in my opinion, if we were unable to check "our Facebook status" while on the go. Facebook, like so many other social media outlets (which are remarkably anti-social!) is mostly effective because it can follow us around and draw us in like animals to a trap.

I even tried to think through it the other day: what would it take to separate myself from those technologies that I myself am dependent upon (for, I do not imagine that smart phones are the only form of addiction; just an easy one to point out)? There were some aspects I could not answer easily, and others that would require a great deal of expenditure to accomplish it. What would we do if it were forced upon us? How would we respond if it were all taken away in a moment (like with a massive EMP or something like that)? That is the real question, is it not? For the difference will be in whether we merely appreciate these devices, or whether we idolize them. It is quite painful to let go of idols.

I assume most of you remember the old t.v. series "The Twilight Zone". One of the things about it that many people do not realize is that a large percentage of the stories were more about issues of irony than about the supernatural. Yes, there was a deal of science fiction (with an emphasis on the "fiction" part), but even then, it was the irony that fascinated and shocked the watcher more than anything else. That irony that Rod Serling loved to portray for us was often people doing oddly unexpected behaviors in ways that pointed out the main character's poor choices in life (go back and watch a few episodes and you will see it clearly).

Watching people wander around (or sometimes drive around) staring into these little digitized screens, with that eerie glow on their faces: it seems surreal. At times I expect Mr. Serling himself to step out from behind a corner and say something like, "America, a country that has blindly fallen into an addiction that is killing her. The addiction is bad enough, but the worst aspect of it is that she does not see how it is destroying her. America is taking a journey; the destination, unfortunately, is . . . the twilight zone." I can even hear his voice saying it, can you?

What is the irony in this? Like I said above: odd behaviors that the viewer sees as foolish, but the character himself does not recognize. An addictive drug that we "cannot do without" has infected society. We presume upon it and try to justify it in our minds. Yet, since our thinking has been rewired to accept the drug as "not that bad" we hear the criticisms and see the problems and then just ignore them. The question often asked of an alcoholic who denies his problem is, "can you just give it up?" If you have a smart phone (and most today do), can you give it up?

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Do You See What I See?

Right now, I have a pounding migraine. It is actually a bit hard to write because the light hurts my eyes. I also am experiencing an allergy attack; runny nose, sneezing, irritated throat. In addition, I think I pulled a muscle in my back, or maybe I slept wrong last night; either way, it hurts when I bend over or genuflect. What a miserable list. My next sentence, though, might shock you. I have an enormous amount of joy right now. No, it is not because of some other circumstance that overrides these unpleasant experiences. It is, rather, because of my perspective.

This morning's gospel reading spoke of having eyes of "light" or eyes of "darkness". In other words, Jesus was encouraging us to see things that way that God sees them. To view all of our existence through the eyes of our blessed Redeemer. So when I think about my discomfort, I might get a bit annoyed by it, but the solution is not just to make it go away, but rather to trust in God's goodness and love. He is allowing (or maybe causing) this discomfort for my good. He is loving and therefore is showing me love (even when I cannot see it clearly). Rabbi Kushner who said that God means well but is unable to help us with our problems, is worshipping a different God than the one of the Catholic (and ancient Jewish) faith.

I am reminded of the story about the man from the big city who was criticizing the man from the country for just sitting on his front porch and watching cars go by, "I couldn't live like that. It is way too boring. I need to be alive and active." The man from the country said, "I couldn't live like you. Always so busy that you don't have time to sit on the porch and watch the cars go by." Two different perspectives on the same event, and much of the difference comes from their point of view. Regardless of whom you side with in that story, we all must acknowledge that our perspective determines our mood.

For someone who is experiencing hard times, he can view them as just a series of bad stuff; or he can view them as an opportunity to experience the loving hand of God in a new way. The first part of today's gospel reading, before the reference to having "eyes of light", speaks to us about our treasure. Christ tells us that if we treasure things that are passing and solely of this world, then we will be missing out on so much joy. Those things that are temporal and just fade away over time, will always dissappoint us. Seeing those things as important means that our eyes are "dark" and cannot see the beauty and wonder of God's blessings. When we view God's creation through His eyes, we can see the beauty in it, but we see it as a lesser beauty than those things that are eternal.

On our journey through this life, there are many things that can cause us to feel depressed, but none of them is stronger than Christ our Lord. He is genuinely able to overcome all those trials, and will help us to overcome them if we will just work at seeing things as He sees them. Then we can gain the proper perspective. Difficulties are then not seen as causes of depression, they are seen as the hand of God seeking to teach us something. To shut ourselves out from God's perspective (especially in the area of trials) is to shut ourselves out from His grace.

I usually write about something that is bad (a "dragon" that needs to be slain), so this post might seem a bit different. I suppose it may be the case that I am writing about the dragon of being gloomy, but that is not the primary focus. It is the joy itself that I am speaking of. What an amazing blessing it is to be able to strive for that joy, and to find it in Christ. Let us each seek to remove the "scales" from our eyes that darken them, and instead plead with our gracious God to give us the light of what He sees. Only in this way can we stand with joy in the midst of the worst challenges that the world and the devil can throw at us.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Pointing Out Heretics

A Catholic once came to me asking if I had read a certain book, and I was a bit shocked by who the author was. The author, who shall remain nameless (to protect the guilty), denied a few major Christian doctrines regarding salvation (technically referred to as "antinomianism" from the Latin for "against the law") and therefore I told my friend to be very careful reading him because the author was a heretic. He looked at me like I had just said that the author was a three-headed-alien from the planet Neptune.

He proceeded to express to me an extreme displeasure with the way I was "calling anyone a heretic", and even once asked why I would use such an archaic term; after all "the Church doesn't have that category any more" (he claimed). We had multiple conversations afterward regarding "heretics", and each time he asked whether I was "still thinking that way". The concept of a "heretic" was clearly a difficult one for him, and, as he made clear, he thought it was mean and cruel to attack someone that way.

Quite an interesting perspective, I must say. The Catholic Encyclopedia refers to Antinomianism as "a heretical doctrine", and the Catechism defines heresy as "the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same". It would seem that to many in the Church today (for I have come across this same perspective more times than I can count) heresy is an abandoned idea. They treat it as an antiquated term that no longer applies to anyone (or at least not anyone who claims to follow Jesus).

Heresy, however, is something which seriously threatens us; especially today. It attacks our minds and hearts with lies that tempt us to deny God and His truth. This is a threat because it leads us away from the path of righteousness and salvation. To accept a heretical teaching is to deny the truth of Christ, and that encourages us to fall further into sin and error. In this way, as I have said before, we are talking about dragons. The "dragon" of heresy is flying around seeking minds to attack, and we must not remain passive toward it. In pointing out a heretic, I am not attacking him; rather I am defending myself and my people from his attacks!

Sometimes those who are uncomfortable with the very word "heretic" express their distaste by saying it is contrary to what it means to love others, and that it is "not merciful". Other times it is so vehemently mocked that it would appear that people believe that there is an 11th commandment: "Thou shalt be nice to everyone, at every time, even though it mean thou must compromise the whole of the faith". Whatever the reason, the denial of heresy is a significantly dangerous position to hold. For, I hope everyone reading this realizes that with the definition given above in the Catechism, the denial of heresy, is a heresy (and thus endangers one's soul)!

There are a few different things that can be motivating this rejection of Catholic doctrine, but they can all be boiled down to a basic problem that is infecting many today. Although most Catholics would reject the lie of relativism, great numbers of them have accepted it in practice. In other words, they have become practical relativists. No, they would never state specifically that they believe that all truth is relative, but they live as though they believe this. To "relativize" doctrine to the point where nothing is heretical means that there is no error. It means that it is perfectly fine to teach things that will, in reality, lead you onto the path to hell. This is what the Church calls "heresy".

Moral and doctrinal relativism is indeed a dragon to be slain, but it appears that many would rather make a peace treaty with the dragon. You must understand that not everything that claims to follow Jesus really does so. Mormonism is heresy; Jehovah's Witness teaching is heresy, and there are many more that could go on the list. Many aspects of Protestant teaching is heresy. Anything that denies an essential Catholic doctrine is heretical regardless of whether the speaker says he follows Jesus, or even if he is a Catholic (!). Practical relativists (whether doctrinal or moral, or both) are a plague on the Church and they lead many to eternal damnation.

If there is a truth (and I believe that there is), then there is also falsehood and lies. Many years ago the Church guarded the truth with the zeal of John the Baptist. Today it seems as though many Catholics (both laity and clergy) believe that we need to take a lighter stance on truth and not make such a big deal of it. Canon Law (an important part of Catholic life, no matter who scoffs at it) tells us that pastors have the obligation of protecting the faithful from error and correcting them when they stray (can. 529). That is why I write on this blog the way that I do; to protect and correct. Therefore, I must point out heresy. I must declare something wrong if the Church has declared it to be so. I do not make these declarations on my own, nor from my own judgment; I am a herald, pointing out those things that threaten our very souls.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Idol of Self

It is so nice to see that the search for "self actualization" and "self esteem" has brought us to such a happy and healthy situation in society. Excuse me . . . I am being facetious. Actually, the "selfism" movement (which has infected almost every aspect of modern society) has brought us to a long list of unexpected experiences (at least, unexpected by those who had no biblical knowledge--more on this below). Let me name just a few of these results: increased suicide numbers, school shootings, massive divorce rate, children on drugs (legal and illegal ones), and widespread decreased spiritual commitment.

Now, some of you may be saying, "how can you make the correlation?" No, I do not believe that I have perfect knowledge of historical connections between events; only God can know that for sure. Yet, we do have a wealth of information in Scripture which tells us that the more we seek self first, the more we will end up with foolishness, misery, and spiritual compromise. Once those things set in, we find ourselves falling into the state which the word of God says is deadly. The book of Proverbs says that whoever hates God and His wisdom "loves death".

It may seem as though I am harping on the pursuit of self a lot lately, yet it has touched so many things in the world that it is impossible to avoid it. For many the problem is not evident, though, because it is has become hard for them to see the "forest through the trees". One outcome of this degeneration that we are experiencing is hard to describe with polite terms. Let me try: we are finding it increasingly difficult to process basic information without becoming confused to the point of being unable to determine the accuracy of proper communication. It may be easier to be more direct: we are ignorant. Simple points of logic and proper argumentation are foreign to large numbers of people in modern society.

People just do not want to think. While claiming to be an "individual" many in society just want to be told what to believe. It is one of those oddities of living in a fallen world, but the more we pursue the glorification of self, the more we end with the destruction of self; heart, mind, soul, and body. I hear about things that are being taught in schools today and it shocks me. Education has been steadily dumbed down over the last 30 years (children know how to use a contraceptive, but not their own mind), and the Church has not been immune to this societal trend.

This all means that we need to do what is necessary to grow in our knowledge of the faith (and absolutely stop trying to build up more self-esteem). It also means that parents need to work harder to teach their children so that they will not grow up and perpetuate the cycle of ignorance.. The things of God are strange to a pagan society, but they should not be strange to the baptized. Even many Catholics today avoid increasing their knowledge of God, and few are willing to spend any time reading the Holy Scriptures. As St. Jerome said, "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ", and we are a very ignorant people.

Self seeking and self serving, we have become a miserable people who desperately want to find new ways to help us to forget our misery. Yes, we want to forget it (but never actually repent of what we have done to cause it). I have said this many times over: sin makes you stupid. The sin "of the devil" is usually referred to as pride, and pride is the basic issue when it comes to seeking self first. Only in humility will we be able to rise out of this pit that we have jumped into. When we seek self first, we end up miserable, and then try not to think about anything that would take away our idol of self. When we seek Christ first, we find true joy, and then we can give greater consideration to the things of God (which in turn grants us even more grace to move forward with). Let us all reject the idol of self; and turn instead to the Almighty Lord.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Pop Culture and the Mass

What style of liturgy do you like? Contemporary? Ultra-modern? Conservative? Traditional? The very question reveals a certain mindset that many Catholics today are unaware of. What it reveals is a presumption that "what we like" has a bearing in the liturgy. That, in itself, is a problem. Try to imagine, if you can, someone asking the same question of the Apostles in the first century: "most Reverend Apostle Paul, do you prefer the Mass in modern or ancient form?" Paul likely would have said, "it does not matter what I prefer, it is supposed to be for God, not us!"

I do not want to put words in the mouths of the Apostles, but we can be pretty sure that the concept of "modern vs. traditional" would not have come into their minds other than the question of Old Covenant temple versus the New Covenant Church. Down through the centuries, there were various changes that the liturgy of the Mass encountered. Some things were done away with once the Church apparently recognized they were not for the best. Other practices "morphed" into something else over time. No one imagines that the Mass was unchanged until the Council of Trent. Yet, those changes were not for the sake of "pop-tunes" or "contemporary innovations".

In all of these adjustments that took place, none of them appears to be for the purpose of "updating" the Mass; the very concept is foreign to the minds of our forefathers. Although I may have missed something, I know of no point in history (before the last century) that the Church felt it needed to "modernize" anything. There was one point when it became clear that fewer and fewer people were able to understand the Greek language so the Scriptures were then translated into Latin. This seems to be about the same time (4th century?) that we find Latin becoming the language of liturgical use as well (both, by the way, were for the purpose of helping people to understand, and not to make things more "comfortable" or "entertaining").

With that in mind, we have to be critical of the concept of "style" in and of itself. What does "style" mean after all? A technical definition would tell us that a "style" is "the way that something is done". We can acknowledge that there are essentially two "styles" of the Liturgy that have existed since at least the second century. There is the Eastern and Western style. What we are used to in most dioceses in North America is the Western "style". Visit an Eastern Catholic Church sometime and get a truly different taste of Catholicism. The idea of "style" being a distinction between the way we "used to do it" and the "new way to do it" is outside the historic understanding of this concept. This modern idea stretches us beyond the historic faith, and turns the Mass into an ever-changing practice that is always seeking to suit one's personal tastes (which also might change on a daily basis).

The greatest danger of a "modern style" of the Mass (even beyond the grossly individualistic aspect) is that it quickly becomes subject to the desires and ideas of society around (and society, modern or ancient, should never lead the Church). Think of "liturgical dance" (still completely forbidden in Catholic Church's in the United States!), "praise teams", and numerous other innovations that come from "pop culture" and not from the desire to honor God.

To be "modern" in the early Church meant that it was understandable (like in the switch from Greek to Latin) and not that it incorporated particular practices that suited personal entertainment preferences of the day. This very idea of changing personal preferences in the Mass makes the concept of "Catholic" become almost insignificant. The "Catholic" Mass implied that it was going to be the same, and appreciated by all in every country, because it was "timeless". The timeless nature of the Mass is retained if the Mass is focused on reverential worship of God; if the Mass is focused on time bound "styles" then it is no longer accessible to all the laity. This is not what it means to be Catholic.

This also touches on the idea of "options" in the Mass (which I have spoken about before) and how that leads to the sense of a "style" in the Mass. I have heard someone say to me more times than I can count "each priest does the Mass differently". This is true, but it is not good. If "each priest" does Mass differently enough where the laity notice it, then we have far too many options. Furthermore, in today's culture of gluttonous entertainment the pressure will always be there to choose the options that are the most entertaining (or worse, make up a few entertaining options). Yet, when people have been submerged in a diet of me-first philosophy, then we will expect them to want the casual and easy-going options (besides, which priest would be crazy enough to choose the more traditional options?).

It is more common than I like to admit for me to hear someone say that they willingly choose to drive to a parish (other than the one they live near to) because they like the "style of worship" that the Church has. "Style" should never be the reason, unless by "style" the person means a "reverent style" as opposed to an "irreverent style" (which is really not the proper manner to refer to a "style" of worship). The very idea of going to a parish because of the "style" of the Mass reveals a deep problem in the Church today. It reveals a competition between people's personal preferences, which inevitably ignores God's personal preferences. What would God prefer in the Mass? Does He "just want us happy"? Or does He want us to offer up a holy and reverent sacrifice? How does the idea of "style" fit in with that?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

How We View the Pope

Someone a few weeks ago mentioned having been to a music concert, and gave me the musician's name. I responded with the "smile and nod" and said, "oh, good". He knew I had absolutely no idea who the musician was. Dumbfounded, he came right out with it: "you've never heard of him have you?" I had to admit I had not (and I have to admit right now that I do not even remember who it was). He even asked a second time to see if I was joking, but, no, I was not. Generally speaking, I do not have an attraction to celebrities. I have no interest in meeting them or getting my picture taken with them--they are just humans in the difficult situation of being in the public eye.

Let us try an experiment on this subject. Name a celebrity that everyone has heard of. Go ahead and take a few minutes to think of one. It might be hard to think of one that everyone has heard of. Sadly, I can name one: Pope Francis. I could not say whether he has created this state of affairs, but it is true. I am not speaking just about the fact that people know his name, for that is not the same as being a celebrity. There are many whose names might be known by a lot of people, but they are not celebrities, per se.

A "celebrity" is usually someone who is not only well known, but also provides some kind of entertainment (though he does not need to be a professional entertainer to provide entertainment). A celebrity is someone whom others want to get their picture taken with, or get a signed autograph from. A celebrity has fans. On the other hand, a person who is merely well known, will usually not fall into these categories.

Whether this situation is by the hand of Pope Francis or not, it is a genuine situation. People are seeing and treating Pope Francis as a celebrity. I am not sure if he has shown up on the cover of The Enquirer yet, but I would not be surprised if he has. It is this treatment of him as "celebrity" instead of "Holy Father" that has helped to contribute to much of the confusion that we have in the Church today. The Catholic usage of the term "father" is not an accident (the Apostle Paul used it of himself in relation to his parishes that he founded), nor is it unbiblical (in spite of what many protestants claim). It is fully intentional.

The priest as "father" of his parish has certain "fatherly" duties. He is the one in charge (the buck stops here). He is the one to lead his "children" in the worship of God. He is also the one to teach them about Him. The same is true of each Bishop, and the same is (supposed to be) true of the Pope. When, however, the Pope is treated as a celebrity who is in charge of a large corporation (like the man who owns Facebook, Mark something-or-other; I think it starts with a "Z") then we get confused. This somewhat prevents the Pope from doing his duty as "Holy Father" of the entire Catholic Church.

It also, unfortunately, creates an awful temptation for the Pope. This is so because he is tempted to behave like a celebrity. Bring to mind the "photo-ops", and the quick conversations with off-the-cuff unprepared comments ("Pope Francis--over here--can I get a few words from you? Please speak into the mic. What is your opinion of the latest Avengers movie?"). Additionally, this has also encouraged the world to go overboard with the understanding of the Pope's authority. No priest or bishop is an infallible leader of his people; they (like physical fathers) make mistakes and commit sins, and they need to repent of them. So, generally speaking, we understand this in the arena of a parish or a diocese; but it seems to have been confused for the Pope.

To a certain degree, it may be better if the world would just ignore the Pope for a while. Then he might be able to focus on the duty of leading the Church throughout the world, and stop being concerned about the media throughout the world. After all, a good father does not draw attention to himself, but rather sees his duty to help his children to grow in their faith so that they can go out into the world and do what they are called to do. Let us pray that our Holy Father would see this as his duty; let us pray that Christ our Lord would grant him this grace.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Encouraging Divorce?

Why do children of divorced parents so often get divorced? Many of the things I have read on this well known statistic imply that the problem stems from the fact that the children become calloused to divorce because they have seen it happen firsthand. Although this is certainly influential in things, I do not think that it is as simple as children following an example. This is especially clear when we see how often children today reject the teachings of their parents and go down a completely different path in their lives. With how common this "children's rebellion" is in the modern era, why would they choose to copy their parents in this one area so much?

There is another factor that I think is rarely recognized, yet has much more influence. People who divorce are not doing so because of some hidden "copycat" behavior. No, rather they are doing so because they never learned how to stay married. It is a vicious cycle: the parents do not know how to "remain married" because they do not know the basics of living in self-sacrificial relationship with someone else. Therefore, they are unable to teach their children how to live in relationship with others. They, in turn, are unable to teach their children, etc.

Marriage is not a relationship of two people making each other happy all the time. It is a relationship of humility and sacrifice and if people do not know how to live that out, then they are not ready to take the vows of holy matrimony. If two selfish people happen to make each other happy, then getting married will not secure that happiness. In fact, it will ruin it because the more that they "make each other happy" the more they prevent reconciliation on the day that they do not "make each other happy". If the marriage relationship is filled with grudges, selfishness, petty complaints, rude comments and unreasonable demands, then we cannot imagine that this relationship will endure the slightest problems life throws at them.

In the questionnaire for a petition for a marriage annulment, there is a question that asked whether the couple intended to live in a relationship based on "mutual love and respect". Good words (very good), but what do they mean? For many today they have no more substance than "be nice to each other"; being "nice" does not accomplish much in a real marriage if it is not coupled with a willing sacrifice of self for the eternal good of the other. The questionnaire is seeking to understand if the couple had "what it takes" to make the commitment to each other.

Under proper circumstances, all parents would teach their children the basics of living in a loving relationship. Yet, that does not often occur today. The main signs of this are seen in the way that most children today speak to their elders. Do they show respect? Do they look them in eye and answer their questions with a sincere "yes sir" and "no sir"? Do the children know how to reconcile with others? Are they quick to reconcile or do they have to be forced to do so? Do they seek to participate in the family and help others that are in need? All of these are clear signs that a child has learned how to commit himself in a marriage relationship.

Today's gospel reading for the Mass tells us about Jesus' teaching that marriage after divorce is adultery (and thus not true marriage). It stems from the fact that a genuine marriage is indissoluble and thus to attempt to contract another marriage on top of the first one is adulterous (regardless of what the state may say). I am regularly amazed at how few Catholics know this basic fact. Divorce is rampant today, and it shows little sign of diminishing. Parents, are you protecting your children from adultery? Are you giving them the emotional and spiritual tools to avoid divorce? If you are teaching them how to live their lives in the love of Christ, and to commit themselves to living selflessly, then that means you are working toward that goal. If not, you may very well be encouraging them to get divorced some day.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Looking for Counseling

The other day when my truck started acting odd, I decided I needed to take it in to get repaired. So I went to McDonald's and asked the kid at the cash register to come out into the parking lot to look at it. You are probably thinking, right now, "what is he talking about?" I am going to presume that everyone reading this thinks that sounds a bit crazy. Well, it does. I do not know of anyone who would think that was the right thing to do (except maybe for the woman who called 911 because Burger King did not make her cheeseburger correctly). Car repairs are done by auto mechanics. No, I did not do what I said above. I was only joking; I went to the auto mechanic--exactly the way you would expect me to.

We all have a general sense that there are things that require the work of specific professionals. You do not ask a plumber to do open heart surgery, or a computer technician to design your new home. It is because of this that we seek a "counselor" when we need counseling. Seems simple and straightforward; right? Wrong. Just because someone is called a "counselor" does not mean that he can give good counsel to others. In fact, I have known some professional counselors who do more to foul-up people's mental stability than to help it.

Part of the issue with today's "counselors" is that many of them are trained in secular ideologies regarding human behavior, and yet have absolutely no training in the human soul (which is a significant factor since we all have a soul). Now imagine with me for a moment, a doctor who was trained in treating ailments of the respiratory system, but had absolutely no knowledge about the rest of the human body. There is no guarantee, but there is a good chance that what he does to help his patients may very well cause them untold physical harm. Now compare that idea with a counselor who does not believe in God or the human soul. This counselor believes that we are merely a physical being whose thoughts and feelings are just chemical reactions. How much genuine help can someone like that give a person?

The "counselor" like the one described above, will likely be able to help a hurting person to "feel better"; at least for a short time. Yet, the patient will only be receiving part of the help that he needs and thus it is comparable to a band-aid for a broken arm, or an aspirin for a cancer. It will provide a temporary help, but not a long lasting cure. It may seem like it is insignificant because "a person is a person". That is not, however, the case; a "whole person is a whole person" and if a counselor is only knowledgeable about part of the person, then he cannot help the whole person.

This applies in many areas. How about a marriage counselor who does not believe that marriage is a sacrament and that there is grace involved in the marriage? Will he be able to help a Catholic couple with their struggles? Again, all he is trained in is behavioral issues from a (largely) pagan perspective. Or, let us consider a counselor who is giving advice to someone who lost a loved one? If the counselor does not believe in Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Judgment, or the human soul, he can only give advice in a very small portion of the person's grief (and will likely never be able to provide any lasting cure, so that the patient is then "hooked" on the counselor and has to continue returning for years to come, rather than being able to heal and move forward in life). These counselors end up forcing the patient to return regularly just to receive another "pain killer" but never heal them.

I am sure that there are many "good counselors" out there who are solid Catholics and are able to speak to their patients about all the aspects of what they need help with, but I have also heard many stories of counselors who were Catholic that never mentioned the faith at all. Some are bound by the business that they work for. Some are afraid of backlash from atheists (or the ACLU--mostly the same thing). Some (which is even worse) are not even aware of what is lacking because they have been trained in pagan psychology at pagan schools by pagan professors and have never given it a second thought that there is something missing.

Have you sought out counsel on something from a "counselor"? Who did you go to? What was his philosophical understanding of behavioral and personal issues? Did you ask? Did he really help, or did he give you some drug to impact the body (but not the soul)? Consider these things, and weigh them heavily when issues like this come up. The best source of personal and behavioral help is the truths of Christ and the Sacraments of His Church. Modern science has virtually nothing to offer in this area because it knows virtually nothing about the human person beyond a few things it can see under a microscope. Go to Christ and the resources that He provides. Only in Him is true help found.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

How Do You Suffer?

Have you learned how to suffer yet? It might sound like an odd question, but the truth of the matter is, from my experience, very few people know how to suffer. Yes, everyone can suffer, but not everyone knows "how" to suffer; by which I mean "suffering in the right way". During my time as a Protestant, I recall many times when I would preach on suffering. There were times when it was well received, and there were times when, shall I say . . . it was less than well received. This is understandable, because no one (except those who are mentally depraved) likes to suffer or see others suffer. It is, sadly, common in these days for people to be confused about the grace of suffering.

Let us just begin with the basic fact of Christ's suffering. It was, as we all know, of great merit. The sufferings of Christ are, as we read so many times, worthy of saving the whole world. Our suffering is also of value, if we "suffer rightly". The Apostle Paul points out the merit of our suffering in the book of Colossians when he mentions his own sufferings being able to help others in the Church (Col 1:24). This, of course, requires that we offer up the suffering, and not let it "go to waste". We could, after all, experience something painful, and be so wrapped up in our self-pity that we never actually offer the suffering to the Lord. This would be comparable to me buying medicine for someone who is sick, and then throwing it away without giving any to the sick person.

Here is an example of suffering in "the wrong way": let us imagine someone who has lost a loved one. He has gone through the grieving process, and followed the Church's guidelines on this: vigil service, funeral Mass, and Christian burial. Yet, afterward he still feels great pain for what has happened. He worries about the soul of his loved one, and is not sure how to find hope. As he struggles, he reaches out for help from his priest. This all sounds normal, but what has he done to offer the pain up to the Lord? Much of the description above shows this man only dealing with his pain because he wants it to be gone. He may gain some personal spiritual benefit from his experience, but it is not "given" to God so that the value of his pain can be applied to others as well.

All suffering can be of value, but much of that value is often lost because we "waste" the pain by focusing on ourselves. When, however, someone goes through the same process as in the previous paragraph, but from the beginning presents it to God, things change. He would pray something similar to the following: "Lord, this really hurts, but I know that You never give us more than we can handle. I know that there is a purpose for this bad experience, even if I do not know what that is. Therefore, I ask that you would help me overcome this grief, but in the meantime, please help me to endure with the patience and love of Jesus, so that You can receive my suffering and use its merit for the good of others."

No, I do not say that these are easy words, but they are good words. They are important words, for they enable the speaker to find perspective in what he is going through. The enable him to focus his grief, and seek for the entire experience to be virtuous. This helps him to heal more easily, as well as (likely) more quickly. It also helps one to grow in faith, hope, and love, granting him the grace of coming closer to Christ. Recall how we are told many times in Scripture that we will be raised to glory with Christ, as long as we "suffer with Him". That does not mean just to "suffer as well as" Jesus, but genuinely "with" Him, for in this we unite our sufferings to His (as the liturgy for the funeral Mass says).

Therefore, I ask once again, "how do you suffer?" Is your suffering purposeful? Is its value and merit being used for others? Do you seek to join with the sufferings of Christ? If these are not true, then you are not "suffering rightly". True, it is hard to keep this in mind right in the midst of suffering, but this is the reason why it is so important to think about it before the suffering begins. Let us each prepare ourselves to be able to stand firm with our Lord Christ when that pain arrives, and let us, with Him, offer our sufferings up to God the Father in Heaven. This is what leads to the true glory of God.

Monday, June 11, 2018

When We Are Hurting

Earlier today my oldest son (who works in construction), fell at work and cut open the back of his leg. At first he thought it was a minor cut, so he proceeded to get in the car to head to the next job site. After just a few minutes he realized he was getting light headed and pulled over quickly. When I answered the phone we had a bad signal, but I got as much of his words to know that he was hurt and needed me to come take him to the doctor. He is a tough young man, who works very hard at his job (with a bunch of other tough guys who frequently give him opportunities to "practice patience"), but he said "Pop, I need you here".

There are a few different ways that he could have responded to that situation. He could have kept driving (and likely gotten in an accident and hurt himself further as well as possibly others). He could have pulled over and just tried to wait it out until he felt better. He could have called a friend or co-worker to help him. Instead he chose to call his Dad. Sometimes it is hard to ask for help, and it takes a certain degree of humility. Even when we do ask others for help, we do not always do so with a willingness to accept the help they offer (we sometimes ask people to help just in the way that we want).

This appears to be the same in the spiritual dimension as well. Many (very many) people get themselves into spiritual difficulties and refuse to ask for help. Of those who do ask for help, many of them only want one kind of help (their kind). If someone offers another solution to their problem, they treat them as though they refused to help. Someone once came to me and asked for help with a spiritual problem he was having. When I told him what the Church says about dealing with that problem, he got upset with me. He claimed that I "refused" to help him and said I "didn't care" about him. In other words, he already decided what was best and just wanted me to agree with him.

I know of many people who are struggling with various things in their lives (parenting problems, addictions, confusion, etc.) and I have reached out to them to offer help, but they often refuse to be helped. Some have slipped into thinking that there is no way to help (which is usually wrong) or that others are not really willing to help (which is also usually wrong). When we settle into our problems and make "peace agreements" with them it is comparable to saying that God is not able to use others to help us. Christ wants us to have peace, in all things; we cannot ignore that truth.

How do you respond to it when you find yourself in a spiritual difficulty? It is common for people to be embarrassed about asking others for help; even from their priest. Many today think that they can handle it themselves and go about trying to deal with spiritual issues on their own (which is even more dangerous than self-diagnosing physical ailments). Part of what the Church is here for is to help each other on the path to Heaven. In the gospel yesterday, Jesus spoke of those who obey the will of God being like His family. Living like family means helping one another as brother and sister. It also means accepting the spiritual father as just that: the Father of the parish (i.e. someone you can get advice from!).

Jesus created us to live in community; for it is "not good for man to be alone". He wants us to spend enough time in each other's lives to know each other. He wants the Church to be the place where you have your closest relationships, and where you know you can always find others who care about you and are willing to help you when you are in need. He wants us to notice when someone in the parish is in need, as well as to be willing to ask others for help. Pride keeps us apart, both when we refuse to notice, and when we refuse to ask.

In the end, my son's injury was not as bad as he had worried, but it was good that we were able to go help him. In the same way we need to be available for each other. Do you know the person you sit near in Church each week? Do you notice when someone is not there (and what do you do about it)? Is there anyone in the parish that you could reach out to when you need help or advice? How would you respond if a fellow parishioner that you see each week asked for help? We are not supposed to be a nameless group of people who come together on Sunday, but really have no other connection to each other's lives. Those who obey the will of God are Jesus' "mother, and sister, and brother"; let us live like it.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Flirting With Newness

"Father, in case you didn't get the memo, we recently finished the 12th century and entered the 21st century." This comment, made somewhat tongue in cheek, was said after I had pointed out that I do not send or receive text messages on my phone. I did not take any offense at it for it was said in a spirit of fun. I suppose it might be said that I have something of a nervousness around new things, especially technology. Yet, I do have various technological devices that I use. I own a computer (windows 7, XP theme), cell phone (a flip phone, no camera), mp3 player (15 years old, black and white LCD screen), and a t.v. with dvd player (no cable, no broadcast and no streaming).

For me, technology is something to be used, not something to be used by. Just as much as I have a distaste for many modern things in general, so also the majority of the world today has something of the opposite perspective. My presumption with the "new" things in the world is hesitation and distrust. On the other hand, the modern world has the presumption of attraction and acceptance. The modern world has a fascination with modern things. This might sound obvious, but it is not the only fascination possible. The modern world could just as easily have a fascination with antiques (that would be interesting). Maybe "fascination" is the wrong word. Actually, the word "preoccupation" might be better. No, "obsession" would be more accurate.

This obsession has created a whole new world view. It is how the majority of the world is currently structured to think; "new" is always good, and "old" is always bad. There are so many things that lead us down this path that I cannot count them. You can hear the comments every day: "get with the times", "don't be outdated", and "we need to be more contemporary". In a world infected with modernism (a genuine heresy condemned by the Catholic Church) we expect this to be the common opinion of many, but it should not be so for those in the Church. When members of the Church (who are supposed to stand fast in the truth) begin to follow the lead of the world, it will always lead to horrible confusion.

This is not to say that anything that is new is automatically wrong or sinful. Absolutely not; there are a number of different things in the Church that could be considered "new" and are in complete accord with Church tradition. For example, the Divine Worship Mass is, in essence, a new form of the Mass, but it flows directly from the Old Sarum Missal (used in England long before the Protestant revolt) and in that sense is not much more "new" than is the 1962 version of the Latin Mass (!). Modernism, on the other hand, would reject anything that either is old, or even just feels old because there is a belief that it is bad and that it will harm us.

Yet, in this attraction to everything "new and improved" we have developed a desire to make things more "relevant" to the world around us (which is yet to be proven as a good thing). As a result, many members of the Church have shifted their thinking to be more like that of the world and less like what our Catholic Tradition has given us. Let me ask this question: do you want the Church to be "relevant"? That is a hard question to answer. If by "relevant" we mean, similar to the world and following the patterns of the world, then you had better be saying a loud "No". If, however, by "relevant" you mean, able to communicate the truth of Christ to a sinful world, then you had better be saying a loud "Yes". There is an enormous difference between these two things.

We have somehow been convinced that "relevance" and "contemporary" are always good things, and that is not necessarily the case. The presumption of these ideas, however, can be even more dangerous than the practice of them, because it makes us critical of many things that are actually in full accord with the truth of Christ, and also makes us accepting of many things that are contradictory to the truth of Christ. To make things worse, this frame of mind is usually advanced "in the name of Christ" (which in some cases is a sinful use of Christ's name).

Wherever the Church gives in to the world's obsession with "newness", she always seeks to accommodate herself to the world. Rather than the Church telling the world what is good and right, and warning her of what is wrong (what we usually call evangelism and catechesis), the Church instead listens to the world's ideas and then tries to fit in with it and be "cool". This is something like what happened in the garden of Eden; Satan speaks, Adam and Eve listen, the rest is history (yes, history; not myth!).

Is this really the path we want to follow? As Catholics, Tradition is much of our heart and soul. That does not mean that all "traditions" (small "t", local practices) are good, but it does mean that there is a lot of "old stuff" that we must retain in order to remain Catholic. Yet, this retention of the old is not merely up to a personal decision on what we like, or what we are entertained by. It is much more grounded in eternal truth than that. Having become obsessed with "newness" in itself we have forgotten that generations ago "newness" was looked upon with caution since it was associated with "immaturity", and "oldness" was associated with "maturity" (remember those concepts?).

It is the fascination with the "new" that must be rejected, and not the "new" in itself. As long as we keep wanting the newest tech device, the newest fashions, and the newest cars (etc.), we will be drawn to want the same things in the Church and in theology. We must seek to learn what it means to be content (a forgotten virtue!) and find the wisdom that is properly critical of the world, and always trusting of Christ and His truth. We can do this, but not as long as we are thinking like the world.

Friday, June 8, 2018

A Cold Faith

At Friday morning Masses I usually have a good number of people in attendance. Once in a great while that is not the case; today was one of those days. In fact, today, I had only one of the faithful in attendance. There is something significant about this, especially today. Today, you see, is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is the day in which we are supposed to deepen our devotion to Christ because we recognize the great love He has for us. Yet, the low attendance at Mass was quite vivid. No, I do not think it was anything more than mere coincidence, but it was definitely an illustration of the state of things in the Church today.

All over the world, the faith of Catholics is weakening; both laity and clergy. It seems that most are going about their daily lives with little to no recognition of the things of God. I wonder just how many Catholics even know that it is the feast of Sacred Heart today? There are liturgical calendars that they have, there are numerous sites on the internet that can point it out, it is not hard to discover this. Besides, the celebration of Sacred Heart is always the second Friday after Trinity Sunday. Yet, it seems people are not paying enough attention to our faith to notice important days like this one.

I am reminded of the passage in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus is giving the prediction of the destruction of the Jewish temple in the first century and He says, "because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold" (Matthew 24:12, emphasis mine). This is indeed what we are experiencing today. No one doubts that there is an increase in wickedness, both inside and outside the Church. Yet we do not always make the immediate association that an increase in wickedness also leads to weakening of our love for God and neighbor. The cause is simple: the only reason we "increase wickedness" is because we are enjoying it. Whenever we are enjoying wickedness the result will be spending less time enjoying righteousness, and all righteousness comes from love of God and neighbor.

It would be comparable to a husband and wife's marriage going bad. First something draws them away from their commitment to each other. Second, they grow in their devotion to that "other" thing. Third, their love for each grows even colder, to the point of where they likely say "I don't love you anymore" (because they have chosen to love something else more). Fourth, they end up in divorce. The same pattern is followed in our relationship with God. Attracted by other things (and there are a million of them out there today to do this) we are drawn away from our commitment, and then our love grows cold.

Here we arrive at a moment of necessary honesty: let us each admit (and say it out loud if you can), "I do not love Jesus as much as I should, and it is because I do not fully appreciate His love for me." What better day to renew our love and commitment to the Lord than on this solemnity? We are told in Scripture that we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Yet, the inverse is also true, if we do not truly know His love for us, we will not truly love Him. With the fact that there are extreme consequences to ignoring this great need (remember that "Hell" thing?), we absolutely must not say "yeah, that's important, but I don't need to increase my commitment to the Lord".

I am not a "big and famous" blog writer, but I do have a number of people who read these posts quite regularly. Once in a while something touches people a bit more and they send it out to others. I once had a post get almost 5000 views in a few days! I wonder what this one will do (I suppose if I get another 5000 views it will say people do care about it). After all, if it is true that "the love of most is growing cold" today, then most who read this will not consider it to be very important. I will admit it will be heartbreaking to see the spiral of waning devotion continue, and I do not think that I alone can stop it. But we, together, can. You can commit yourself to renewing your devotion right now (in actual behavior, not just in word!). You can tell others about it (and maybe sending them a link to this post will help?). Not all will respond, but for those who do, we can have an impact on Christ's Church and the whole world.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Impact on Ministry

I once heard a priest admit: "although I work hard to be blameless in my interactions with children and with women, I am constantly concerned that someone will make a false accusation against me and that my ministry will be destroyed by it" (in case you did not know, a number of the accusations made today are found to be false). Now most of the priests I know are not that deeply fearful of being falsely accused, but I suspect that the concern is genuine in every one of us. Of course, there are likely some priests out there who have already fallen into deep sin, and are not concerned about "false accusations" because there is every reason for them to be rightly accused. Those are not the ones that I am writing about here.

Whenever one of my brother priests falls into sexual sin, it is like a knife to my heart. His behavior does not affect him only, it affects the entire Church. Although I am certainly concerned for those who are the victims of this kind of abuse, I want here just to speak about the impact that the recent "scandal" has had on other priests. This is what we might call the collateral damage of the "scandal". This came to the light for me more than once when I was sitting in the confessional with someone who chose the "face to face" side rather than behind the screen. No, I was not being tempted in any way, but I briefly had the thought go through my mind that the potential for a false accusation was there.

One of the worst aspects of this is that a priest must be concerned about his behavior in a way that impacts his ability to reach out with genuine love and compassion to the members of his flock. If a priest is always concerned that his love for his people might be misunderstood (or worse, twisted for someone else's selfish ends), it makes it difficult to be a "father" to his people. A wall is created between he and them that makes proper ministry a challenge. Yes, I already know that priests cannot have genuine "friends" in the parish (in case you did know this, it is because it is a hindrance to his ability to assert his authority with a friend), but he still should be able to be a loving father to them. There is, after all, a proper way for a spiritual father to love his people and let them know that he cares for them, which has nothing to do with any immoral or abusive behavior.

The relationship between priest and parishioner has changed dramatically over the last few decades, and I am fairly sure that it is for the worse. It is like someone suddenly threw a large number of marbles up around the altar during Mass and told the priest, "continue with the Mass, don't look at the marbles, and certainly don't step on any of them" and yet expects him to go on with his duties without missing a beat. I will confess I have felt it a few different times; a woman comes to me and asks me to counsel her on something in private, and while speaking to her I begin to get concerned about saying something that will offend her. "What if I make her upset and she flips out and accuses me of sexual advances?" No, I do not think this every time someone approaches me, but even just once means that ministry is impacted because this is not a healthy way for a priest to think about his people.

Even when I am not in the confessional, there is still an impact that only a priest feels. There are the "looks" that I sometimes get. Yes, it is less common here in southern Missouri than in other places I have been, but they are still there. The "look" that assumes all Priests do the exact same thing; the look that says, "I heard about someone who was abused by a Catholic Priest, so you must be an abuser as well" has been thrown at me more than once when I am at the store or in a restaurant. This obviously effects how I reach out to those who are not in the Church. I often find myself questioning whether that "look" is going to be followed by a fist (or worse). Catholic priests tell the world to repent; we already have enough reason for people to hate us, we do not need any more. Then this concern about what others think of the priesthood (and me in particular) becomes a concern for whether my parishioners think this way; it is a vicious cycle.

Therefore, what is the solution? The damage has been done, and that cannot be changed. I go about, day after day, trying to be faithful in my calling. Seeking to make sure that I am blameless when I interact with people (especially women and children). Our image as priests (not to mention the Church as a whole) has been tarnished and it is not going to be cleaned up overnight. It will take years (maybe generations) to restore confidence in the priesthood to the level that it was years ago. Yet, it will not happen if all we do is keep behaving like we always have. Priests need to accept the current context and work even harder to be pure in all their actions; laity need to recognize the struggle that priests have and seek to help by not trying to place them in a situation that makes them concerned about what they might be accused of. Together, let us work to restore things the way that they should be, a local family of the people of God. For we have a job to do; we are supposed to be calling this fallen world to serve Christ the Lord.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

St. Norbert

What do you think of when you hear that someone wants to "reform" the Catholic Church? What images come to your mind? In today's context, you are likely thinking of those who wish to make the Church more contemporary; to change some of her rules and practices so that they fit comfortably with the world. When you think, however, about the modern day context of chaotic Church practice, there is another option. When numbers of clergymen and parishes are already doing the very things that people are wanting to see established in the Church (in disobedience to many of the Church's canons and dogmas), the word "reform" might have a different meaning. It may be more accurate to think of "reform" as a movement to get the Church just to do what she is supposed to do.

That is what St. Norbert was known for. His feast day is today and he was known during his lifetime (early 12th century A.D.) as an advocate of Church reform. He was not one who wanted to "change the Church" (as some appear to be attempting today) but rather as one who wanted to "rework" the Church back to her proper "form" (i.e. "reform"). Much of what he preached about and encouraged, before and after he was made a Bishop, was simple dedication to what the Church already said.

It is remarkable that those who seek "reform" today are trying "re -- form" the Church into something different than what she used to be. This kind of direction is better referred to as "deform" than "reform". Thus, today we find there are people who want to "deform" the Church and others who want to "reform" the Church. The attempt of these "deformers" to change what cannot be changed is ultimately futile, but in the short term it can be very destructive. This is especially true in an age where many of the laity have little clear knowledge of the faith, and are very confused by numerous competing ideas. The faithful can be led astray with little effort if they do not know with certainty what the path is supposed to be.

I recall once trying to explain to someone the Catholic Church's views on sexuality. Knowing that many people reject the idea that sex outside of marriage is a grave sin, I wanted to be cautious in approaching the subject. The person I was speaking to was shocked when I mentioned the immorality of fornication. She said, "I didn't think anyone actually believed that, I thought it was a just a silly story to insult Catholics with because they rejected abortion." Consider what she was saying. She acknowledged that the Church declares abortion to be a sin, but did not know that the Church says the same about fornication. Confusion abounds, and the Church needs to be clear about the truth.

This, my dear brethren, is why I speak so often about things that need to change: because the Church needs to be "reformed"; meaning to "regroup" and "form" herself once again the way that she is supposed to be. I am not really asking for anything new in the ultimate sense. I am more like one "crying in the wilderness" for God's people to "prepare the way of the Lord". In that sense, you could call me a reformer. Not that I desire to form the Church into something new, but rather to encourage her willingly to "form" herself rightly and properly.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Worthiness for Communion (yes, again!)

"Are you saying I'm not worthy to receive communion anymore? Just because I got married in a way the Church doesn't like?"
Yes, this was a real conversation, and, yes, I agonized over the answer. Whenever someone who is upset puts forward a question that is loaded (or forces a false dichotomy) I agonize over it. I agonize because, to someone in that frame of mind, it sounds like I am attempting to make up an answer off the cuff. In truth, that question is impossible to answer without qualifications.

First, look at the point of concern: "worthiness". Let me ask that question in a universal manner: "Who is worthy to partake of Holy Communion?" We all know the answer, do we not? We recite in every Mass "Lord I am not worthy..." Have we ceased to believe those words? It should be clear to us that no one on Earth is truly worthy. We all need the grace of Christ to make us worthy (the liturgy for the Mass points this out multiple times). Therefore, we have to restructure the question: "Who has cooperated with the available grace to make themselves worthy to partake of Holy Communion?" That is the proper question. The answer is going to depend on each person.

Let us take just the example from the comment above. If you are a Catholic and have gotten married outside of the Church without permission, then your marriage is not valid; in other words, you did not cooperate with the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage that the Church offers and chose instead to pursue a marriage covenant on your own terms. If there is a prior marriage that was not annulled, then that is one more grace that you have not cooperated with. When we do not take advantage of the grace of Christ offered in the Church's sacraments and disciplines, then we cannot say that we are "in a state of grace". It is not a very complicated issue, but many still miss it.

If you find that you are not "in a state of grace" and you want to be, then that means you must remedy your disobedience with obedience. Many today, however, do not do that. Instead, their reaction to discovering disobedience is to continue with another disobedience. When Jesus tells us that we must do whatsoever He commands (and He often does!), then that means that if we have not obeyed, then we deal with our disobedience by doing what Christ says to do when we have disobeyed. Not surprisingly, the Church has a means of grace that is designed to be used precisely in that circumstance. We call it the Sacrament of Confession. So then, once more in summary: you are supposed to obey what Jesus says, and if you do not, then you are supposed to obey what Jesus says to do when you disobey.

For one to assume that disobedience can be followed by another disobedience and have no consequences is to ignore completely our Baptism and the call to holiness. I wish that I could have a quick way to answer that question from the beginning of this post, but the false assumptions that go along with it make it too difficult to do so. It is disheartening to have someone put up walls in his mind to protect his sins, and to prevent anyone else from helping him to overcome them.

Whenever someone presumes upon their own worthiness, and becomes resistant to any criticism, he is opening himself up to deeper and deeper pride. He is becoming someone who will not hear spiritual admonition when he needs it. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not a bad thing to seek humility and to begin with acknowledging our own unworthiness to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist. For, this is the only way that we can truly see what that unworthiness entails, and then we can actually do the work to overcome it. This is what it means to cooperate with God's grace.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Do You See?

"I had a pentecostal friend once tell me that 'this is my body' actually means 'this represents my body'." A parishioner told me this after Mass this morning. It is quite remarkable what theological gymnastics people will go through in order to avoid the truth. It is also remarkable for Christians who claim to believe in miracles to refuse to believe in the miracle of the Eucharist.

Today is Corpus Christi (also known by its overly elongated name: the solemnity of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ). Today the Church tells us to remember the significance of what happens on the altar at every Mass: that amazing change of bread and wine into body and blood. This is important because modernism has infected most of us to the point of where we easily grow bored with things that we are familiar with.

Of all the things that we can become bored with, the Sacrament of the Eucharist is the worst. It is the worst because it is the miraculous gift that God has given to us. I wish that I could describe with mere words in this post the true nature of the Eucharist, or at least the full weight of how amazing it is for God to have given it to us. Yet, I cannot do so. There are not words in the English language that fully communicate just how enormous a blessing it is for us to be given the opportunity to receive, in our very bodies, the actual body and blood of the Second Person of the Trinity.

At times I ponder what the faith would really be like if God never had given us Christ in the Sacrament. All we would have is some mental knowledge, and some spiritual feelings. There might be a "sense" of the presence of God, but nothing that could be touched and felt to confirm it. It would be an overly spiritualized religion with little to keep it pertinent to us (not much different from ancient Gnosticism). Yet, we are a physical and spiritual people, and God gives to us a physical and spiritual means of receiving Him. If Jesus had never been incarnated in human flesh, then it would be understandable that He would not give Himself to us in physical form. Yet He did come in the flesh, and He did hand on to us a means by which we can receive Him regularly.

What an amazing thing it is for God to be willing to give us this great gift. He did not have to do so, and sadly, I can remember the days as a protestant where I believed that God did not give us the Eucharist. My heart aches for all of our brethren who do not genuinely believe this beautiful truth. I know that they seek a greater devotion to our Lord, but if one rejects "some" of Jesus under the guise of being faithful to Jesus it is a sad confusion to live in. Devotion to the Eucharist is devotion to Christ, for He is truly present in the Sacrament.

Seeing things as God sees them is always a great blessing, but in the Eucharist it is even more so. What do you see when you look at the host during Mass? The priest holds it up and says "behold the Lamb..."; do you see "the Lamb" Himself? Do you see what God sees? For when God looks down on the altar after the consecration, He sees "this my sacrifice and yours" and joyfully accepts it because it is Christ Himself; His own Son. I have said it before, and I will keep saying it; if we truly appreciate what God does on the altar, we would be forever changed by it. We would never want to leave.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Tempting and Being Tempted

When I was about 15 years old, I remember getting a friend mad at me. She had worn a t-shirt to school that day that had a logo of some rock band on the front of it. When I saw her coming over to speak to me, I noticed the logo, and looked down to see it (a natural response, correct?). For some reason, she assumed that I was not looking to read the words on her shirt, but rather was staring at "something else". Try as I might to convince her otherwise, she did not believe me, and it caused a rift between us because she said she did not like "being gawked at".

Regardless of my innocence in the situation, think with me about it for a moment. If she did not want someone to look in the direction of her chest, then would we not all agree that she should not wear something that draws people's eyes in that direction? Yes, I would agree completely that men need to learn to control their eyes (Matt 5:28), but we all agree that controlling your eyes these days feels like you are a bull in a china shop (every direction you look there is danger)? So, although I am not letting the guys off the hook for their need for self control. I would like to present the idea that maybe the ladies need some self control as well.

Now, in spite of the fact that there are numerous women who genuinely want to be viewed as "sex objects", I know that Catholic women (at least the majority of them) do not desire this at all. Yet, a very wise older lady once said to me, "most women have no idea how much their clothing tempts men's minds to wander into lust". I am going to guess that the majority of women would be shocked to find out how much temptation they actually cause in men (often by clothing decisions that seem to them to be "perfectly fine").

Am I being sexist to say that women need to think about their part in this issue? What about how they dress? There is nothing wrong with women seeking to make themselves beautiful. Yet, what is their real goal in that effort? Would they like it if men looked at them and said "wow! you're ugly"? Probably not. So then, do they want men to see them and not think they are attractive? And if so, how do they want men to respond to those feelings of attraction? One type of attire can encourage a man (who has self control) to say "she is a pretty lady", and leave it at that. Another type of attire can encourage a man (yes, even one with self control) to say "she is a pretty lady" and then have his mind wander (you know where).

I am not about to set a rule and say "this much exposed skin is OK; and this much is not OK" (though even St. Peter's Basilica in Rome has done this very thing!). I do, however, want the ladies to realize that they are all much more beautiful than they realize. Also, they should be aware of the fact that certain behaviors (like bending over to pick something up when they are wearing a low cut blouse) can be very difficult for those men who are seeking purity of heart. Dress beautifully, yes, but please consider whether you are also creating a temptation (that you are likely not aware of) that could have been avoided.

If a woman knowingly tempts someone to sin by what the clothes that she is wearing (or the lack thereof), then you cannot be considered innocent in the man's lustful thoughts. When we ignore these kind of things they always turn around to bite us. Worse yet, when we claim we have a "right" to them because we want to "be comfortable" then we usually find ourselves on the bad end of the deal. It may take a while, but bad choices lead to bad consequences.

I find it kind of remarkable how years ago we heard Hollywood gloating and mocking the Church over sexual scandals that popped up (while they continued to encourage sexual promiscuity and immorality), and now it is being slammed with its own scandals. Ladies, you are beautiful. Any man who seeks purity of heart will know that already; you do not need to try to prove it with revealing too much. Show us your beauty in a way that encourages holiness in heart, mind, soul, and body.