Tuesday, July 31, 2018

"He Smites, but His Hands Heal"

I am taking a break today from my series of posts on evangelism. I was so struck by the words of today's Old Testament reading at Mass that I felt it important to write about it. As a pastor I often speak to people during times of pain and suffering. It is not uncommon for people to ask why God would let bad things happen. A few have even asked whether or not God was actually able to stop bad things from happening. When I try to explain that sometimes God actually causes some (apparently) "bad" things to occur, I frequently get shocked looks and sometimes outright denial of such an idea.

I always make a clear difference between God causing something, and God allowing something; one is active, the other is passive. Yet, I also point out that whether He allows it or causes it, He never does anything unwillingly. This is simply because He is God; nothing is stronger than He, and nothing can force Him to do anything against His will. That said, we also must acknowledge that God is all-knowing, and therefore everything that He either causes or allows is done because He knows it is for our best. He allowed Judas to betray Jesus, because His death and resurrection brought about our redemption.

With that in mind, look at the reading I mentioned above (Jeremiah 14:17-22) from the Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version:

      17 “You shall say to them this word:
           ‘Let my eyes run down with tears night and day,
            and let them not cease,
            for the virgin daughter of my people is smitten with a great wound,
            with a very grievous blow.
      18 If I go out into the field,
           behold, those slain by the sword!
           And if I enter the city,
           behold, the diseases of famine!
           For both prophet and priest ply their trade through the land,
           and have no knowledge.’ ”
      19 Hast thou utterly rejected Judah?
           Does thy soul loathe Zion?
           Why hast thou smitten us
           so that there is no healing for us?
           We looked for peace, but no good came;
           for a time of healing, but behold, terror.
      20 We acknowledge our wickedness, O LORD,
           and the iniquity of our fathers,
           for we have sinned against thee.
      21 Do not spurn us, for thy name’s sake;
           do not dishonor thy glorious throne;
           remember and do not break thy covenant with us.
      22 Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain?
           Or can the heavens give showers?
           Art thou not he, O LORD our God?
           We set our hope on thee,
           for thou doest all these things.

The prophet Jeremiah speaks of awful trials; death, famine, and apostasy (vs 17-18). Then he asks if this means that God has abandoned His people (vs 19). He points out that he is fully aware that the sinfulness of the people merits this very kind of suffering (vs 20), but asks that the Lord would show mercy in spite of this, reminding Him of the covenant (vs 21). He exalts the wonders of the almighty power of God, and then says that the only hope God's people have is God Himself because He "doest all these things" (vs 22) [the NAB says "You alone have done all these things"].

Notice the question in verse 19: "Why hast thou smitten us". Jeremiah knows that God either causes or allows all that happens. He does not leave his suffering to mere chance, and clearly acknowledges that God could end it if He chose to do so. The prophet is placing all power and authority in God's hands--and that is the very thing that gives him hope. Do not miss this most important fact. If God were not all powerful, He could not either cause or stop the bad things from happening; since He is all powerful, He is able to do both. In other words, the only way he can expect that God could stop the suffering, is if he also believes that God (somehow) willed it to happen. No, God did not will the horrible experiences because He wants people miserable, but rather, because in His ultimate wisdom He knows that it is for their good (as hard as that might sound).

This is not some random idea, or an isolated verse of Scripture that contradicts testimony elsewhere. Just because few are willing to talk about it (and you almost never hear about in homilies) does not mean that it is false. This is the unanimous testimony of more verses of Scripture than I can recount here. Jeremiah is not the only prophet who speaks this way (Isaiah, Daniel, Hosea, Amos, Nahum, Zechariah, and Malachi are only a few who speak this way). The Psalms are filled with this idea (see Psalm 2, 29, 47, 66, 75, 110, and 135 to name just a few). There are long passages of the New Testament that outline this idea (for example Romans 9). I am not saying that I understand perfectly the concept of the sovereignty of God, but I am saying that we cannot deny it without denying Who God is.

Can we respond the same way that Jeremiah does when we suffer? Can we equally place our hope and confidence in our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as acknowledge that He either allowed or caused the suffering to occur? It is what our forefathers believed, but we often seem to prefer a "mushy" kind of God Who "wouldn't hurt a fly". The same deity, however, who "wouldn't hurt a fly" is not a deity that has almighty power or knowledge. That is not the God of the Bible, but rather the god of modern sentimentality.

Only the Almighty God, Whom Jeremiah says "can bring rain" is the God for us to "set our hope on". There is nothing that can give us more confidence in times of trial than to be assured that God is able to fulfill all His promises. As we read in Job: "For he wounds, but he binds up; he smites, but his hands heal" (5:18); and in Hosea: "Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn, that he may heal us; he has stricken, and he will bind us up" (6:1).

Monday, July 30, 2018

Evangelizing Naturally

It is probably not a surprise for me to admit that I do not agree with everything that Pope Francis (at least) appears to be doing. I will not go through a long list, but let me say just this much: whatever he personally believes, the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage, reception of communion, and sodomy does not, and cannot, change. That being said, the Holy Father has stated a few times, in different contexts, that he wants the entire Catholic Church to be more "outgoing" and open to Evangelism. I have to ask, however, after five years of his pontificate: are we? Or, have his efforts actually made us become even more inwardly focused than we were before? It is sad to say, but I think that is exactly what has happened.

No pastor can say things as confusing as he has (and give virtually no helpful clarification) without expecting people to begin to fixate on the Church itself, and ask "what in the world are we doing?" The end result is we think less about reaching out to those who do not know Christ (somewhat like not wanting to invite guests over to the house when the whole place is sloppy and dirty!) and more about our own identity. This can lead to a good deal of self-focus that prevents us from proper evangelism.

Yet, even with saying that, I think that we may find that there is actually a good effect. As we see many times in the Scriptures, God is able to take the worst of events and turn them into good things that end up revealing His glory. In other words, I am saying that we should consider our evangelistic efforts less as a specific planned event, and more as the natural outgrowth of who we are. If we plan something while we are confused, we can make confused plans. If, however, we grow in our faith and are able to live it out better, then we are naturally better evangelists in whatever state of life we are called to.

As I mentioned in my last post, we are supposed to evangelize "by example" more than by "argumentation" (though sometimes it is good and necessary to make a cogent and logical argument to refute foolish thinking--which can be a wonderful example that we as Catholics know how to think, and are not just "dumb sheep"). With that said, we should realize that much of that example should be more an issue of living out the Catholic faith naturally. It should be just as natural to acknowledge our Lord in public as it is in private. Is it possible that people will stare? Yes, that might happen--but having people see our faith is the goal, is it not?

As many people today struggle with their faith, and are having difficulty with various temptations, it seems that "just living as Catholics" is more of a challenge than in years past. When our faith is challenged, though, we can take advantage of it and do the work to deepen our understanding of it. The result will be that we know who we are, what we believe, and how to live, more than we did before. Therefore, we will find ourselves to be evangelizing merely by being good Catholics. In this way, we can say that it is almost easier to evangelize in the Catholic manner than in the protestant manner; because it is something that is supposed to flow right out of who we are as God's servants.

So as the Holy Father has caused many of us with a traditional mindset to look more closely at our faith, we could say that he has caused us to be "less evangelistic". The long term result, however, would clearly be that we would become better at living out the gospel, and thus better at showing it to others naturally (I give credit for this idea to Ross Douthat who makes the point in his profound book on Pope Francis, "To Change the Church"). Therefore, living as good Catholics--e.g. observing a clear Friday fast throughout the year, praying in public, controlling our tongues, saying no to pagan music and corrupt movies, etc.--is how we evangelize more than any other way. So live your faith, and live it clearly and openly (regardless of society's rejection of it) and you will be preaching the gospel to those around you; likely without even thinking about it.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Evangelizing by Example

I recall a little "gospel tract" that was very popular when I was a protestant. Maybe it still is? It was called "The Four Spiritual Laws", and it encompassed the very idea of evangelism that I have been saying is rooted in protestantism. It tried to bring together four basic ideas about spirituality in a summary form that could be read in a matter of a few minutes. It did the job well. It did not, however, touch on many of the essentials of the gospel. It merely focused on individual (and somewhat selfish) ideas for the person to consider.

There are, of course, some things that we must simplify for them to be understood by the common man. When something is too complicated, it is a good idea to help others to grasp it. There are also, however, some things that when simplified end up becoming too simplistic, and no longer of much use. The danger is when we do not just simplify, but also "dumb down" things. We live in an age of weak thought, and there are many things that are dumbed down (just look at what has happened to most public education over the past few decades); the gospel should never be "dumbed down".

No one likes the idea of giving a two hour explanation for evangelism, certainly. That is not what I am advocating. Yet, when we aim at a "quick" version to get more people "saved" then we are in danger of cutting out so much that we do not get a genuine conversion, but only a temporary change of heart. Consider the parable where Jesus says that a man was possessed with a demon, and when the demon was cast out, he ended up coming back with others and things were worse than before. No, I am not saying that all protestants are demon-possessed. I am saying, however, that it is possible for a conversion to be temporary. This is why quick and simplistic presentations of the gospel can often do more harm than good.

All people learn by example, and the example that they need most is of Catholics who love their faith. They need to see people holding to the truths of God, and remaining joyfully committed to the Catholic Church (especially during times of trial). Evangelism is not an "advertising campaign", but rather a display of the wonderful grace of Christ our King. It is easy to say "Jesus forgives", but we need to show what that means by being people who willingly go to confession. It is easy to say "Jesus will help you", but we need to show that we believe that by how we respond to difficult circumstances in our lives.

Our goal is more than to get a person to "sign on the dotted line" (or "throw a pine cone into the fire"--for those of you who grew up Baptist). A good example of this is from a movie called "Bella" (if you have not seen it, you should). It is about a woman who finds out that she is pregnant out of wedlock, and decides to have an abortion. A friend convinces her instead to have the child. He does not do this by arguing with her, or by showing her the grave evils of abortion. He does it, rather, by having her spend some time at his father's house. She sees family, and the joy of relationships, and as a result sees the need to allow the child to live. This is what Catholic evangelism is like.

St. Paul the Apostle many times says how he lived among his converts so that they could see his manner of life. This was him giving example so that they could see what the gospel really is like in personal experience, and how it impacts one's thoughts and actions. It is true that we want the lost souls to "trust in Jesus", but that statement is not enough when people do not really know Who Jesus is (and the majority of modern society has an incredibly small amount of knowledge about Christ). We need to be that example, and that is a central part of evangelism.

Our efforts in evangelism are intended to bring someone to become something new. To be a "new creature" as it says in the Scriptures. If we are aiming at bringing a new creature to life, then we must acknowledge that it takes time for something newly conceived to be ready to be born. Treat those you are seeking to convert like babes in the womb. They need to be nourished and cared for. The beautiful example of the grace of Christ in your life is the lifeblood that will enable the Spirit of God to work on their hearts. Above all, give it time and allow it to grow to fruition.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Evangelism in Context

In the Catholic view of evangelism, what is it that we are trying to accomplish in the potential convert? Our protestant brethren are most often trying to change the person's view of Christ; which is a noble effort, and is sometimes accomplished. The problem with this is that in seeking to change just one aspect of a person's point of view, we leave the rest to chance. What will a person think about the sacraments? What will they think about the Church? What will they think about holiness? If we do not fill those issues with a certain content, then there are many directions that a person can go in theologically.

This is to say, that we are aiming at changing a person's entire view of the world, not just their view of who can save them from their problems. To aim at making the person see Who is the Savior of the world is certainly a good thing, but it is not sufficient; especially in modern society when the very concept of "savior" is so unclear. Furthermore, if we limit ourselves to the salvation aspect of our Lord Christ, then we have the great potential of encouraging conversions based solely on selfish motives. Guilty feelings about one's sin are never a sufficient basis for forgiveness or reason for conversion (cf. CCC 1453).

Catholic evangelism is not merely attempting to "convince" someone of a certain fact, it is aiming rather at explaining a body of facts and then encouraging that person to respond rightly to this "new world" that he has found himself in. That may seem like merely a matter of the quantity of doctrinal content; it is much more. One or two facts removed from the larger whole are often open to varying interpretations (that is why protestants who all use the same basic method of evangelism still are split into a multitude of denominations). When we lay out for a person an entire world view--most specifically the view of a world that Jesus is redeeming through the ministry of His Church--that person cannot remain neutral, he must act on that new reality.

In essence, the protestant view of evangelism is . . . well . . . very protestant. It is based in an individualistic perspective that unintentionally (I hope) leads the convert to a very prideful and selfish manner of life; the attempt to meld this selfishness with Christian ethics is what often causes fights in protestant circles (I have seen many of them first-hand). It is difficult--not impossible, but difficult--to encourage the virtues of faith, hope and love, and a life of self-sacrifice, when the spiritual life was begun on selfish grounds. To maintain the same view of the world and only add in a new character of Jesus as Savior does not lead anyone to full submission to God; much more must happen if we are to grow in faith and not stagnate in individualistic self-service.

In Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) faith is not something that ever happens to us privately. It is always in relation to the larger body of God's people and to society around. The gospel Jesus told the Apostles to preach was never something that was only going to "save the soul"; it was something that was going to transform society, and that is what every baptized person is called to be a part of. Even our protestant brethren recognize this (it "spills over" from the grace of their baptism) but they have to try to figure out how to fulfill this calling without the Tradition of the Church to guide them (which usually leads to grave divisions). If we evangelize outside of the larger context of all that it entails, then are we truly doing evangelism?

Knowing the full extent of the gospel means that we will need to confront more than the sinful individual with the Lordship of Christ. It means that we will also have to confront the entire world around. The Catholic Church has never been much for bowing to civil authorities, and (usually) tries to avoid being led by the fashions of the world and the ideas of the devil. Countless Saints have shed their blood in order to say "No" to the world's view of things. They knew that submission to Christ involved their whole life, and that is what evangelism should be aiming at: bringing people to the point where they will give their whole life to Christ.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Evangelizing the World

As already mentioned yesterday, Catholic evangelism is more all-encompassing than is the protestant view of evangelism. The self-stated goal of most protestants in evangelism is merely to get someone to "believe" in Jesus (which often encompasses no more than a couple facts about Christ's work on the cross). The goal of the Catholic who is seeking to explain the gospel to a lost soul involves a bit more; quite a bit more. The Catholic is also trying to bring the person to love God with their heart, soul, mind and body. Yet, evangelism does not actually stop there. When the Second Person of the Trinity was incarnated in human flesh, it was not merely to do a "last ditch effort" to get a few souls up to Heaven. He came to restore what was lost at the beginning of creation when Adam and Eve fell.

When Catholics consider the fact that Jesus came to "save the world" they take this truth at face value. Evangelism is not a "salvage operation" nor is it a cry of "retreat" in hopes that someone might listen and get out before the end. Evangelism is God's chosen means of expanding the Kingdom of Christ in this world; and that does not mean just a little expansion. When a Catholic properly seeks to "evangelize" people, he is enlightening them about the massive event that is going on already: this world is being saved.

Jesus did not come to save just a bunch of souls (and forget about the rest). He came to save the "whole world". As it says in one passage of Scripture, it was God's plan all along to "unite all things in" Christ (Eph 1:10), and in another place we are told that God will "put all things in subjection under [Christ's] feet" (1 Cor 15:27). To imagine that God created this vast universe (and other universes if they exist) and is not going to redeem it misses the point of creation. Now, the "problem" (for want of a better word) to this spread of the Kingdom is that not everyone wants Christ to spread His Kingdom. There is nothing they can actually do to stop it, but they do their utmost to make sure that they are not a part of it. This is the point of the evangelistic message: "Christ is taking back the world, reshaping it in His own image, and He wants you to be a part of this" (cf. 1 Cor 15:24ff for this type of image).

Therefore, when a Catholic is seeking to do evangelism, he is telling others that they have the opportunity to be part of this expanding Kingdom, and they do that by joining the Catholic Church (which is Jesus' primary means of expanding His Kingdom). This is much larger than "get your soul saved" and is nothing at all like "just believe in Him and you can go to Heaven". Those ideas have a certain measure of truth in them, but as with most of protestantism, they are a truncated version of the truth; reduced to the point of being almost unrecognizable. There is no place in this creation that Jesus does not say "that is Mine and I want to redeem it", but there are many people in this creation who (at least until they hear the gospel) say "I don't want Jesus' redemption".

This is why the Catholic Church works to redeem things; like when it abolished the Saturnalia celebration and replaced it with the celebration of Advent and Christmas. This is not "baptized paganism" as many protestants claim. Rather, it is redemption. If we seek to convert people, why would we not seek to convert the world that people live in? Everything about this world is subject to the redemption of Christ, for He came to save it all. Years ago someone complained to me that I wanted to "take over" the town we lived in and make everyone convert to Catholic (they did not know the half of it! I expect Jesus to "take over" the whole world!). A protestant once defended his method of evangelism by saying "you don't polish brass on a sinking ship, you just get the people off". Although it is true that you don't polish brass on a sinking ship, you could get the people to fix the holes in the ship (and that is precisely what evangelism is about!).

This is one of the reasons why Catholic evangelism can be difficult. We are not just seeking to explain Jesus' conversion of the sinner, but of the entire world. There is no way properly to write a mini pamphlet that encompasses the full concept of Catholic evangelism. I have seen some that have been printed by various Catholic organizations, and the best of them will just "begin the conversation". They say, "here are the basic facts, if you accept this, then head over to the nearest Catholic Church and get the process going". That, in principle, is the right way to open the doors, but it is never enough in itself. Explaining the redemption of Christ to people today can never be just a few facts, because becoming Catholic involves more than just a few facts (or "spiritual laws" as some protestants like to say).

When you approach family or friends who do not know Christ, make sure that you are not just giving them "tidbits". Evangelism is not something that can be accomplished in merely a couple of minutes. Even the Apostle Paul in his evangelistic efforts that we read about in the book of Acts would always take aside those who responded to his message and "explain to them the gospel" (the truths of Christ). Let us make this our effort as well. Christ is doing a great work, and He gives us the opportunity to be a part of it. Let us join with Him, and call others to do the same.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

What is Evangelism?

Picture this: I am speaking to a young man about a young lady that he is interested in. I tell him that she is a godly young woman who would make a good wife, and that I believe the two of them would be a good fit. He expresses interest and says that he agrees completely with what I have said. Then, he decides it is time for action. He thinks quietly about her, commits himself to loving her, gets a picture of her and keeps it in his pocket, and then decides that he will never change his mind.

But . . . he never speaks to her face to face; he never visits her or her family; he merely admires her from afar. He is totally committed, but holds his love "just in his heart" because (as he says) that is what is really important. Would anyone think that this is a proper response to his love for her? Would it not be right for him to approach her, seek to court her, and eventually ask her father for her hand in marriage? Of course, we all would agree on that.

In the same way, we cannot imagine that evangelism (the effort to convert a soul to God) is nothing more than getting someone to make "a decision" about the Lord. To do nothing more than making a decision about Christ is comparable to the story above. We certainly must do more than "decide" something about God (the devil has decided much about God, but it does him no good), there must be genuine action, an action that moves to a commitment that is visible to all. This is why the Church requires the initiatory sacraments for converts. These are genuine acts that display what is in our hearts; for if we keep it in our hearts alone, then there is no real commitment. Just like a couple that is in love will act on that love by committing to holy matrimony.

When we think about what evangelism is, we cannot avoid the fact that protestants and Catholics have very different views of evangelism. Yes, it is true that many Catholics go about evangelism as though they were protestants, but that is in spite of Catholic teaching, not because of it. Protestants would not actually want to described their evangelistic efforts like I did in the odd story that I gave above. They would prefer very different terms, yes, but the story is a perfect description. The most common summary of protestant evangelism (often from their own words) is as seeking to get someone to "make a decision for Christ" (with often little or no reference to Church membership or baptism).

On the other hand, the Catholic view of evangelism would be best compared to the proper response we all expected from the young man above. To get someone to follow through with one's heartfelt emotions, and publicly make a commitment. Catholic evangelism could be described as seeking to get someone to join a family, whereas protestant evangelism is more akin to getting someone to change which brand of shoes they buy. Protestants are aiming at the heart of the person they are seeking to convert (which is not a bad thing!). Catholic evangelism, however, is more difficult, since it is aiming at the entire person: heart, soul, mind, and body.

In the Catholic perspective, it is an entire life change; not just a mental decision. It is moving out of one culture into another, and then seeking to do what is necessary to fit into that culture. The protestant view is almost exclusively individualistic, and thus it has little association with the larger picture of the historic Church. For most protestants, the convert makes a mental commitment, and then "Church stuff" might come later. There are certainly some protestants whose evangelistic efforts are more like the Catholic perspective that I describe here, but they are distinctly out of accord with the tenets of protestantism (and thus more like Catholics, whether they admit it or not).

The subject of evangelism has so many aspects to it, that I could not possibly cover them in one post; at least not one post of the normal size that I write. Therefore, I will work over the next few posts to delve more deeply into this subject. May the Lord guide my words, and our hearts, that we may all be able to serve Him as we seek to spread the gospel of Christ.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Heeding the Warnings

It is all over the news, so I assume that you have all heard about the boating accident at Table Rock Lake a couple days ago. I live only about an hour north of the area, so it has hit home for a number of people around here. It is a terrible tragedy and I grieve for those people. As we pray for God's mercy on those that passed and their families, and also ask Him to bless the survivors, I want us to consider briefly what we can learn from something like this. No, I am not speaking about boat safety; I am speaking about the safety of our souls.

What can we do as a result of this that would help us in our spiritual walk? Although it appears that it will take a while for the NTSB to come up with results, right now it looks like the boat went out when the winds were already up to 73 miles per hour and there were waves over 4 feet high. That is not exactly what most would call safe. I know here at home we had the weather radio alarm go off a couple hours before the accident happened and it warned us that there were "severe thunderstorms" predicted for multiple counties around us for the next few hours.

I am not going to make a judgment on the captain or driver of the duck boat -- I was not there and I have no experience in the field. Let us just ask the simple question: how do we respond to warnings in our lives? When you hear that there is something that is dangerous, what do you do? Are you humble enough to listen, or do you pretend like you are "bullet proof" and nothing can hurt you?

What about spiritual warnings? Do you listen to the things that the Church warns are problematic? Do you even know what Church dogma warns us about? When you are given a warning in the readings in the Mass, do you heed what it says? Or do you let it slip in one ear, and then continue out the other? Scripture tells us in more than one place that when God is merciful and does not judge people quickly for their sins, that often people abuse that mercy by becoming callous and assuming that His judgment will never come. People frequently will "hedge their bets"; they assume if they got away with it once, they can get away with it again.

This is exactly how sin digs itself in deeply into our souls. Commit one sin and it makes it easier to commit it again if there were no noticeable and immediate bad consequences. Then when you are given a warning about that particular sin, you will find a justification for it because you got away with it last time; "I'll be just fine, God will be merciful so I can keep doing it". This is exactly what the devil wants us to think.

The proper response would be, rather, to ask of every warning, "does this apply to me? can I learn from it? how can I take advantage of this and become more faithful to God as result?" Are those the questions that go through your mind? To presume that you do not have to listen to any warning is comparable to walking blindly into the face of disaster. When we do that, we can hurt both ourselves and others.

What warnings have you been given lately? Can you remember what warnings have been in the most recent Scriptures that you have heard? It is possible that there were no technical "warnings" per se, but if you cannot remember, that may also mean that you have tuned them out, and are no longer willing to listen to them. Open your heart and mind to what the Lord may be saying to you, for many of the stories and examples in the Scriptures are said to be "warnings for us, not to desire evil" as others who fell into sin and were punished quickly (cf. 1 Cor 10:6).

God is not in the business of just punishing everyone instantly; He shows mercy because He wants us to heed His warnings and repent. Yet, when we do the very opposite we are turning our back on His mercy. That is not respecting the mercy of God; it is making a mockery of it. God speaks to you on a daily basis, but you must be receptive to what He is saying. Often when He communicates to us (in the Scriptures, a homily, a good online post, etc.) He is warning us that if we continue in our behavior that it will lead to disaster. Are you listening?

Friday, July 20, 2018

Recovering the Sacred

When you walk into a Church, you look for the holy water to cross yourself. When you arrive at the pew, you genuflect to the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle. When someone comes over to speak to you in Church, you whisper. When you hold your rosary in your hand, you are gentle with it, being careful not to drop it. Or do you? If these are not your responses, then you can be pretty sure that you have lost (or maybe never had) a sense of the Sacred. For something to be sacred, means that it is separated from common use, and is reserved for something special.

Sacred vessels are the chalice, paten and ciborium that are used for holding and distributing the Eucharist. It would be sinful to use them for a common meal because they have been taken out of the area of common usage and dedicated for holy things. We are supposed to recognize this special usage, and respond rightly to it. Holy places, images, books, and various other objects are supposed to be distinct from what we use in our ordinary lives and are supposed to be treated in a distinct way.

This means that you are not supposed to use a crucifix (whether blessed or not) as a paper weight. A newspaper should not be placed on top of a Bible or a Catechism. An image of the Blessed Virgin should not be packed away in a box and forgotten. It also means that certain words should be spoken with reverence and never flippantly or casually; certainly the names of God, but also the Saints and other holy things. A home altar should not be treated as another piece of furniture when it not being used for prayer or devotion.

We could go one step further though, and acknowledge the holiness of certain things by showing a physical sign of reverence toward them. The old tradition of bowing the head at the name of "Jesus Christ" or "Christ Jesus" is a practice that should be retained (both inside the Mass and in everyday life). I have the habit of saying to myself, "blessed Jesus", every time I hear someone say the Lord's name in vain. Some today still acknowledge the presence of the Sacrament by crossing themselves when they pass in front of a Church (while driving or walking). There are also some people who still kiss the hands of a priest to give thanks for the ordination he received and the many things that a priest's hands do for the people.

These are all signs of recognizing things that are sacred and giving proper honor to them. There are many things in our lives that are sacred, and if we have become callous towards them it will impact our spiritual health. If you are callous toward sacred things, you will eventually become callous toward the One Who is Sacred in Himself. To go about our days acknowledging the sacred may seem--if you do not already do it--as a burdensome task. Yet, once the habit is formed you find that recognizing God's hand in your life is a great blessing.

Many today (sadly, even some clergymen) have encouraged a disrespect for God and sacred things. This disrespect will always lead to fear, isolation, confusion, and depression; when we move away from God, we move away from joy--always. So when your priest encourages you to acknowledge the awesome nature of the sacrifice of the Mass, and the great blessings of the Eucharist, he is showing you the path to holiness, peace, and joy. He is reminding you that the Sacred is a wonderful blessing in our lives. The existence of the Sacred means that we do not live in a pagan world; we live in a world created by God that is being redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ (did you bow your head when you read His Name?).

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Are You Without Hope?

Presumption is here considered as a vice opposed to the theological virtue of hope. It may also be regarded as a product of pride. It may be defined as the condition of a soul which, because of a badly regulated reliance on God's mercy and power, hopes for salvation without doing anything to deserve it, or for pardon of his sins without repenting of them.
In the above quote from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, we are given the difference between presumption and hope. Some may think that this is merely an academic issue that is splitting hairs in a theological debate, but that would be a false presumption (pun intended). When we seek to place our hope in God, there is a right way to do that, and a wrong way. When we ignore our own circumstances and try to bank merely on God's willingness to forgive, we have greatly misunderstood what hope is.

Hope, which is so greatly needed today, is a reliance on the promises of God. This means that we must know what the promises are if we are going to rely on them. If we believe that God has promised to provide us with monetary wealth in this life, and we maintain "hope" in that (faulty) promise, then we do have hope; it is, however, a hope in something that is false, and that is not the virtue that we are called to have. The theological virtue of hope is always grounded in truth (not in our selfish desires).

The Lord is certainly able to provide us with monetary wealth (it is not as though He is incapable), but since He has not promised that (and sometimes promised the opposite!) we cannot ground our hope in a lie. This is what the Catholic Encyclopedia refers to as "a badly regulated reliance on God's mercy". No one should say that we should not rely on God's mercy, but there comes a time in which that reliance has become something other than godly hope if we have distorted the promises of God into a list of self-serving daydreams.

The monetary wealth falsehood (though not much of a concern in the Catholic Church) is a fairly easy point to make. Catholics pretty much know that this is not how God does things. A much more challenging issue comes up when we begin to seek to hope in a promise regarding our eternal salvation. That is the real issue that the Encyclopedia is concerned about. Hoping for salvation without doing anything to deserve it (works of faith and charity, etc.), or hoping for forgiveness without repentance are not truly the virtue of hope; that is what we call presumption.

As a protestant I experienced many different groups and denominations whose entire understanding of Christian salvation was based on a presumption. Scriptures were twisted to serve personal ends in ways that would make most logician's heads spin. In their desire to avoid anything that appears to look like the holiness the Catholic Church encourages, they sought out ways to justify a novel idea of salvation. For those who have been taught this understanding of salvation, I can understand they want to hold to it; for us as Catholics, we should not be copying that grave error.

I recall once having someone say to me that he did not really need to go to confession because he knew that God was merciful and would forgive his sins whether or not he told them to a priest. That is presumption, not hope. Notice how the Encyclopedia quote above refers to a "badly regulated" reliance. What would lead someone to have a badly regulated reliance? It stems largely from either a badly formed conscience, or a badly informed understanding of the faith (or both!). Therefore, let me ask the simple question: what are you doing to properly form your conscience and your understanding of the faith? What did you do today? What did you do last week? Are you doing anything towards those ends?

To sit back and presume that God's mercy will save someone who is impenitent even when 2000 years of Church teaching says otherwise is not even a Christian response. It is, in fact, just like the Encyclopedia says: a "product of pride". When we focus on ourselves and presume upon our well being, we pridefully ignore what the clear testimony is and then fall into a presumption about our eternal status. "I can keep sinning like I am and it will all work out in the end because God is merciful" is not found on any of the Saints' lips.

Should we trust in God's mercy? Yes! In the right context and with the right understanding of what mercy really is (as well as what hope really is). A blind, or foolish trust in something that looks like God's mercy is not what we are supposed to do though, and there are many who fall into this category today. Where is your trust? Where is your hope? Is it in something that contradicts the clear testimony of the Church? Are you relying on God to go against all that He has revealed in His Word? If so, then you have no hope; all you have is presumption.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Children Are Not Cats

Yes, I do own a cat. She is a very gentle feline, who is not like the typical smug and pompous house cat. Yet, she is still a cat, and that means that she often decides for herself what she wants to do (and there is no way on earth to change her mind). I might be able to stop her from doing what she wants, but that will not necessarily make her want something else. I have also owned dogs in my life, and dogs are very different. They want to please their masters so much, that they seem willing to change their minds on a moment's notice. Dogs want to be loyal, and cats want to be whoever they want to be.

Children, however, are not dogs or cats. I am sure that you can find certain similarities in the behaviors of dog or cats with children, but that is not what I am referring to here. There is something else that I am considering that is much more significant. It seems that many parents today have the idea that their children will behave either like cats or dogs. I do not think that this is an intentional decision of the parents. Rather I think that it is some sort of default behavior that most are not even conscious of. Let me point out a few details.

The parents that treat their children like "dogs" are those who expect them to be just fine after they train them just a little bit and then can let them go on their own. Dogs, after all are pretty sturdy. They want to be loyal, but they also can get by just fine on their own when forced to do so. I believe that there are a few parents today in this category. On the other hand, the parents that treat their children like "cats" are those who believe that their children have to be left always to "decide for themselves" and just hope they will make the right choices. In these days, it is fairly evident that there are many more parents in this category than in the previous.

When I want my cat to do something, there are few behaviors that she will follow through with, but it is usually based on her awareness that she is going to get something out of it for herself. It is virtually impossible to teach a cat just about anything unless they already want to learn it. All cat owners know this for a fact. Yet, children can learn, and if they learn rightly, they will retain those truths for their entire lives (cf. Prov 22:6). Some have said that it is impossible to train a child perfectly, so you just "hope for the best". This is a denial of the clear testimony of the word of God.

I once had a parent tell me that his 3 year old would not let him teach him how to sit still. I asked, "he won't 'let you'?" After all, this dad was easily 180 pounds, and his 3 year old was about 30 pounds! How can he say that his child "would not let him"? I have raised five children of my own, and I know what it means for a child not to want something. Yet, the child is not the head of the household, and he does not have the power or the authority to tell the parent not to do something. Sometimes parents do not want to go through the hassle of training a child, but that is not because of the child; it is the parent's choice.

If a child is doing something wrong then the parent has the ability and the authority to step in and "train" him so that he can make a better choice in the future. If the child does not listen to the instruction, then proper discipline is necessary (cf. Prov 23:13), but accurate instruction given to the child in love will have great impact on his behavior. Cats, as most people know, are not very good at being disciplined. I am not sure whether they just refuse to learn, or are actually unable to learn; but children can learn, and can often learn much more than parents think (and sometimes are learning when we do not really want them to!).

I am not encouraging parents to abuse their children or be cruel to them. In fact, it is more cruel to allow a child to descend deeper and deeper into sin, than it is to help him out of it! It is completely possible to train children in the life of holiness without ever being hateful or abusive. Yes, at times they need discipline (and discipline should be more than a "tappity tap" on the wrist) but it does not mean that a parent has to cause physical harm to bring a godly and loving discipline. Nor does it mean cruelty to insist (with loving firmness) that a child stop sinful behavior and turn instead to the path of righteousness.

To leave a child to "decide for himself" and just hope that he stops doing something bad is essentially rejecting God's grace that He promises to provide the parent who obediently seeks to train up his own children. God has made the parents (every parent) the "first teachers" of their children, and has given them the grace to be able to guide their children in the right way if they will just take proper advantage of it. In addition, when a child is left to "decide for himself", it will not only cause problems for him while a child, but it will cause problems when he grows older as well. Life does not allow us always to decide for ourselves; we all know that. How often do you "decide for yourself"? In many things in life, we are unable to decide for ourselves. To lie to a child about how life works--that is cruelty! Prisons are filled with people who insist on the freedom to decide for themselves in everything. Is that where we want our children to end up?

Children are not cats; we are not to throw up our hands saying "what can you do?" as though we as parents have been forced to let them go along in life and make all their own choices. Children are not dogs; we are not to presume that whatever they go through in this life, that things will turn out right in the end. We are called to step in a help them turn the course of their lives on the right path. As it says in the Scriptures: 
The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother (Prov 29:15).
Children should not be "left alone"; especially when they are falling into sin. They need guidance (specific and clear guidance) as well as boundaries (specific and clear boundaries) in order to follow that path which the Lord has laid out for them; and they need this from their earliest years. I have seen numerous 1 year old children learn how to have self control, even to the point of being able to close their eyes, hold their hands together, and remain silent during a prayer that lasts for a minute or two. I have seen 1 year olds learn complete self control while at the dinner table; it is not impossible. Only proper and loving instruction can teach things like that; and if a child that young can learn things like this, then how much can children who are even older be able to learn? Do not assume too little of their abilities. They are God's creations who can learn much!

If you want a dog or a cat, get one. Children are not, however, dogs or cats. They cannot be raised like them, nor can we presume that they will respond like them. It is cruel to presume that children are no better than brutes, and when parents do this, they are leading the children to behaving like brutes when the are adults. Today we live in a brutish society, with many people behaving more like animals than like people. Let us as good Catholics stand out as different. Let us raise our children to be shining lights of faithfulness in a world of darkness; children who have been trained to love God and love neighbor. This is what we are called to do.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Grilling a Sacred Cow (and marinating it in bbq sauce)

"What is your political party father?" "I'm somewhat un-political." "Could you be more specific?" "Nope."
Politics, in principle, does not matter nearly as much as a person's heart does. I know it is unlikely, but it is possible that a person could be a radical fascist dictator and yet if his heart were holy, then he would end up doing what is right (regardless of the consequences). This would of course mean that he would cease to be a radical fascist dictator, but that is the point. The heart will lead more than one's political philosophy.

So when people ask about my view of politics, I often say "republicans are too liberal, democrats are too socialist, and socialists are too statist". I myself am more of a constitutional monarchist; which is good for me because it enables me to step aside from the political sphere and see things more distinctly in relation to the commandments of God (and thus enables me to give counsel with virtually no bias to people from any political party). In other words I can avoid being blinded by political associations or commitments; when doing so, I find that politics really has become a religion in itself, and statism is actually prevalent in many more than just socialists. I have met a few Libertarians who were much more statist than they realized!

There are certainly some who are going to be quite upset that I am speaking negatively about American politics. Yet, if we have made our personal political practices something that can never be criticized, then we have made them into "idols of our destruction". I recall a few years back when the Pope cautioned about the dangers of capitalism--from the response of some Americans, you would have thought he said that he hated Jesus. If one's politics becomes a sacred cow, then it is time to make hamburger.

When we consider "political issues" in relation to one's spirituality, regardless of what your political stance is: if you are a Catholic, politics must never exert more authority in your life than does the Lord and His Church. I have seen many people get more fired up over a political candidate than they ever do over Christ Himself, and this is true for Republicans, Democrats, and Socialists. Something has caused us to think this way, and I believe that it is often a lack of love for Christ that does it. If we have genuine faith, hope, and love for Christ, then we will see that His authority in Heaven has more importance for our lives than any politician. If, however, we do not have this, then we will exert our energy to leaders other than Christ. We will put too much emphasis on the underlings because we neglect the One Who is really in charge.

This confusion has found its way into our thinking in so many areas, but it is clear that the more emphasis we place on civil government as the ultimate authority, the more we will inevitably slide into statist thinking. What is the state, and how is she supposed to work? In America we tend to assume we know the answer to that question. We are used to things working a certain way, and rarely do we consider any other possibilities. We have had the same system of civil government for the last 242 years; or have we? Is it possible that things have been subtly changed without our noticing it, because it was done slowly, or it was during a time of difficulty and confusion? Quite a question to ask. Those countries that have had multiple changes over the last century are not as quick to presume on what form of government is being used by their leaders. Often, they know it because the change was open and recent.

When we ask the question of how the state is supposed to work, we have an additional issue that arises (at least in the USA; I am unaware of other countries). We have the problem that most Americans actually like the system of government that we have (even when it does not follow our Constitution!), so we rarely ask the question of how it is supposed to perform. The "how" of government is a worthy question, though, because behaviors can easily slip and become different than they were intended to be and citizens can easily miss the change.

Generally, when we look at Scripture we find that the purpose of civil government is to protect the people; both from one another, as well as from outside invaders. This is not something I made up; it is found in many places in our dogmas (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2234ff). When the government fails to do this there are many possible causes. The first is that she has forgotten what her duty is; the second is that she has gotten herself entangled with things that are not her duty and is thus keeping herself from her duty by distraction; the third is a combination of both of these.

In principle, it does not matter if you are a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian (or any other stripe of political philosophy); you can still slip into statism (though some are certainly less likely to do so than others!). Civil government is not our Savior, nor is she supposed to be our Nanny. Civil government, without encroaching on family government or Church government, is supposed to protect the people. It is not supposed to be there to "run everything", and it is certainly not supposed to ignore the Church and do whatever it wants. The idea of the separation of Church and state (not technically in the Constitution or Amendments) is not a Catholic idea at all. To be faithful to Catholic teaching, we each must be willing to submit our thinking to the Church. There is only One Person seated at the right hand of God, and we all know Who that is, and who that is not.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Do We Need a New "Oath Against Modernism"?

Is modernism still an issue? Back in 1907, Pope Pius X condemned it, but today it seems as though we have forgotten about it. This condemnation came just a few years after Pope Leo XIII had condemned "Americanism" as a heresy (in case you do not know what "Americanism" is, you should read up on it; it was condemned, denied, and has since taken a foothold in most American Catholics!). I heard someone recently who said that modernism is no longer a concern because after Vatican II we have been able to integrate it into Catholic thinking and it is no longer a threat to us. That is like someone saying he does not have to worry about cancer now that he has contracted it.

It is true that there are a few aspects of what Pope Pius was condemning which have found their way into Catholic thought, and have commonly become accepted. Is that supposed to make it right? How is it that something that was condemned as a major heresy could become a part of commonly accepted Catholic thought? Was Pope Pius X wrong? Was he merely over exaggerated? Or have we failed to fight off an enemy and instead chosen to make a peace treaty with him, allowing him to move in and take control?

It seems when you read some Catholics today that the only people who care about modernism are those in the SSPX, and everyone else just ignores it. I will openly admit that I agree with much of what Abp. Marcel Lefebvre was concerned about (he is the Archbishop who founded the Society of St. Pius X--the "SSPX"), although I disagree with how he responded to it. As I understand it, the clergymen in the SSPX are required to swear the "Oath Against Modernism" that Pope Pius X wrote as a part of their vows. No, I am not planning on heading off and joining the SSPX (or even the FSSP, the break-off from the SSPX that is in full communion with the Catholic Church), but there is something to this idea. After all, they did not invent it, it came from Pope Saint Pius X.

Here is the last paragraph from The Oath Against Modernism, (written in 1920):
Finally, I declare that I am completely opposed to the error of the modernists who hold that there is nothing divine in sacred tradition; or what is far worse, say that there is, but in a pantheistic sense, with the result that there would remain nothing but this plain simple fact--one to be put on a par with the ordinary facts of history--the fact, namely, that a group of men by their own labor, skill, and talent have continued through subsequent ages a school begun by Christ and his apostles. I firmly hold, then, and shall hold to my dying breath the belief of the Fathers in the charism of truth, which certainly is, was, and always will be in the succession of the episcopacy from the apostles. The purpose of this is, then, not that dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; rather, that the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed to be different, may never be understood in any other way [italics mine].

I have no doubt neither Pope Francis, nor many other Bishops in the United States, would approve of such a move as my title suggests; writing and requiring a new "Oath Against Modernism". Yet, it is something that should be considered. This is most especially significant when we realize the problems that we have today with clergymen who do not appear to be faithful to the Magisterium and who want To Change the Church into something different from what was founded by Christ. Obviously if something like this were required of priests (at the very least of parish priests, and priests who write publicly), there would be some who would lie and say "yes" when they never really planned on being obedient; but it would become evident soon enough.

I presume that all of you know the "frog in the kettle" illustration, but just in case not I will reiterate it here. If you put a frog in pot of boiling water, he will jump out right away; he knows if he stays he will die. If, however, you put a frog in a pot of cold water, and then turn up the heat slowly, he will slowly boil to death. Has the slow spread of modernist thought effectively established itself in our very hearts and minds? I think it is very likely the case.

It does not take much to see that our thinking has been infected with various forms of modernism (and quite a bit of Americanism) in many areas of the Catholic Church. Errors have been taught for so long (in pulpits, RCIA courses and in children's religious instruction) that we can no longer sit back and presume that whatever we believe is genuinely Catholic. Each of us must be willing to subject our thinking to a deep examination; only pride would prevent it. We must understand what Modernism and Americanism are (or we will never recognize them!), and we must be cautious that we not be holding to these heresies, as well as that we not be teaching them to our children. The Church will endure, but that does not mean that we ourselves will.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Neither Marry Nor Be Given In Marriage

I am going to say something that might be a bit shocking (especially for anyone who knows me personally). In eternity I will not be saddened by the fact that my wife and I are no longer married. Boom! There it is. For those who know me and my wife you likely know that we have a terrific marriage and that our bond has only grown stronger every year. Like a good wine, our marriage is aging well. So it might be a surprise to think that I will not miss our marriage.

Of course, I need to qualify that statement. Would I miss her if I never saw her after I die (assuming only one of us perseveres in the faith and goes to Heaven)? Absolutely; she has been a wonderful helpmate and encourager in my life (and especially in my ministry). I would willingly be condemned if I knew it would enable her to spend eternity with Christ (cf. Romans 9:3). I am not saying that I do not like her, or that I do not have a great love for her as my dear bride. I am, however, saying that our love is as strong as it is precisely because she is not the one I love "more than anyone else", nor am I the one that she loves "more than anyone else". We have built our marriage on the fact that our goal is to love Christ more than anyone else.

When the Sadducees asked Jesus about how marriage works in Heaven, He told them that they did not understand the Scriptures. Explaining that things are different than we think, He said that "when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" (Mark 12:25). Jesus makes it clear that marriage is an earthly experience; this is why the marriage vows say "till death us do part". It is also why a widow can remarry. We cannot know exactly what Jesus means by "like angels", but--at the very least--it has the connotation that we will not be walking around in Heaven depressed because we just want our spouse back.

If I love my wife more than I love Christ, then I "cannot be His disciple" (cf. Luke 14:26-27). We cannot set aside these words of our Lord as though they did not apply to us; especially when the greatest commandment says that we must love Him, "with all our heart, soul, and mind" (in other words, more than anything else). If we love anything, or anyone, more than we love Christ, then we are idolizing that person or thing. In fact, loving the Lord before all other things, actually helps us to show love properly to other people (including our spouses).

Now some of you reading this may be saying, "I know what you mean, father, and I do love Jesus, but I love my spouse a whole lot!" How much is "a whole lot"? If you cannot imagine eternity without that person as your spouse, then you very well may be loving that person too much and not loving the Lord enough. When speaking with people, I often notice certain earthly attachments (and there are so many of them around these days). If I get the opportunity, I will ask people if they can give up that attachment for the sake of the Lord. Most will say "yes", but do so hesitantly. I have never once asked anyone whether they were too attached to a spouse; though I have wondered a few times if it were the case.

We often hear a homily about spouses needing to love one another, and we know that many marriages have trouble because the husband and wife lose their love for one another (which is always a conscious decision, and never an accident). Be clear about this: I am not telling you to stop loving your spouse. Yet, we hear almost nothing about loving someone too much. As I have said often before, the love of many has grown cold these days. When, however, our love (our proper, godly, love) grows cold, then we will always seek to redirect our love elsewhere, and that means we will always love the wrong things, or the right things in the wrong manner.

Therefore, I do not want anyone to go to my wife and say, "father said he doesn't love you all that much". Knowing her, she will likely say, "I'm sorry that you are confused, I will pray for you". In fact, she and I have already spoken about this (or I would not be writing this), and are in full agreement on the subject. Christ is our Savior; I am not her Savior, and she is not mine. The same truth applies when it comes to our children or our friends. As much as parents love their children, and friends love one another, they each must love the Lord more, whatever happens in this life.

As we say in every Divine Worship Mass, "Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets'." Love God with your whole being, and love your neighbor (including your spouse) as yourself, but never love them as much as you love God.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Are You Serious?

I read an interesting article today describing what happened when the King George VI of England died in 1952. Of the many details, the one that stood out to me at that moment (yes, I know this is odd) was the fact that England cancelled all comedy t.v. programs. In essence, the entire country said, "this is not a time to be joking and laughing". Being an Ordinariate priest, and having respect for my English heritage (both spiritual and genealogical), I was immediately hit by the point that is being made. There are times to laugh (think: Monty Python), and then there are times when laughter is just wrong.

When I was a kid I would often get people upset because I would examine things critically. Even when someone would tell a joke, I would sometimes look for consistency in what was said and then "reword" the joke so that it was accurate. Yes, I know, I am weird. People back then would tell me that I did not have a "sense of humor". Actually, I liked to laugh; a lot. A "sense of humor" is an interesting phrase. Whenever we hear that someone does not have a sense of humor, we think that he or she does not laugh very much. Sensing humor, however, is not just whether a person can see funny things. The exact same joke or funny event can be entirely "un-funny" in the wrong context.

How would you feel if someone tried to tell a joke during a funeral? Is it proper, or improper? I am not going to answer either way, but your response will determine how you feel about boundaries for comedy. If the UK thinks that it is best not to be joking around when in mourning, then we might want to take it into consideration that maybe they have something there. Let me say this much: I will at times use a joke in my homilies (not every time, but occasionally) because I do not believe that it is always wrong to laugh in the Mass (after all, the Scriptures are filled with jokes; most of them are missed because we do not understand the ancient sense of humor). I do believe, however, that there are places in the Mass in which we should never laugh, and to laugh in some places would verge on sacrilege.

Modern society wants to be able to laugh at things, and there is nothing wrong with that. Yet, if we take movies as any kind of a guide, it seems that most people cannot laugh about anything other than what happens in the bedroom and the restroom. That truly shows a serious lack of intelligence and maturity. It also shows that moderns do not know what they are supposed to laugh at, so they also do not know what they are not supposed to laugh at. Our "sense of humor" will greatly determine our "sense of seriousness" (something I have never heard anyone talk about).

How serious are you during the Mass? Even if the homily has a good joke (and not all of mine are as funny to the parishioners as I think they are!), you can still be serious. When, however, we reach the consecration and the priest elevates the sacred host, that is not a time to be laughing. I doubt anyone reading this will be surprised by that. I have never seen anyone actually laugh during the consecration, but the point should be clear: we all know that our emotions are part of our worship of God and He wants the right emotions at the right time. Just because someone is not laughing during the consecration, does not mean that he is being genuinely serious or reverent!

I also wonder if most people today know what "seriousness" really is. It is certainly more than just a lack of laughter. To be "serious" is to be intent on something or in earnest towards something. The old English word (which I have referred to before) "solempne" is a wonderful summary of what we are called to in the Mass. "Solempne" means to have a serious joy. It is quite the same emotion as you would experience at a wedding when the bride is being escorted down the aisle by her father: solemn and joyful; so much so that one would be considered a fool to behave with anything less at that moment.

There are times to laugh, and times not to laugh. There are times to be serious, and times not to be serious. How can we tell the difference in a society that rejects reverence for anything that is truly sacred? We seem to be going through life with blinders on; only able to see what makes us happy in the moment. People today scream when they get the wrong cheeseburger, but they celebrate with joy when children can be murdered in the womb. We truly do have our emotions all mixed up. Do you remember the part of Mass where the priest tells you to "lift up your hearts"? What kind of a heart are you lifting up in that moment? Lax? Reverent? Confused? Bored? Serious? In today's context, we need all the more to seek to ensure that we are genuinely offering up our hearts in the way that God would have us do.

So then, what is the "reverence" that you are seeking when you come into the presence of Christ? Is it merely a lack of "goofiness"? Or is there something deeper, something more profound? Seek in your heart, both for you and your family (as well as those around you) to encourage that reverence. Plan ahead for how you will dress; consider your own personal mood and the mood of your family members; pray beforehand for a right disposition for all involved. Ask yourself (long before you walk out the door to go to Mass), "what can I do to achieve that proper joyful seriousness that God calls me to?"

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Catholicism and "Not-Catholicism"

Imagine for a moment a fictional story. A man buys a Burger King franchise and decides to change the menu. He wants to serve just spaghetti and remove all the burgers, fries, etc. Do you think that the corporation would ignore it? Or, rather, would they step in and say, "No"? There are a few things that make a restaurant chain what it is. They have certain menu items that all the customers expect to find when they go there. You cannot change the key elements of a business and consider it to be the same business as before.

Now imagine, for another moment, that when the corporation stepped in and said "No" that the new franchisee said, "it's still Burger King, it's just a bit different." How much different can you be and still be the original item? I could not answer that question (in spite of the fact that when I was a kid I worked at Burger King for years), but there definitely is a point that is "too different" and that is determined by those in charge of the corporation, not by the employees (or even the customers for that matter).

Did you know that the same situation exists for the Church? There is a point at which things can become "too different". No, I am not referring to the Church herself (for Jesus promises that she will never lose the faith), but to Catholics. There are some today who continue to say "I'm Catholic" while denying major truths that the Church teaches. Yet, Catholicism is definitive. It is not a mish-mash of various opinions that are up for grabs.

Now it is certainly true that "once a Catholic, always a Catholic". Contrary to the opinion of many, you cannot wipe away a baptism (or ignore it, or replace it, or erase it). If someone has been baptized, then he is a Catholic, but that does not mean that he will necessarily live like it. Many who have been baptized live exactly like the world, and they think little of it. They are genuine Catholics, but they are living in contradiction to their identity. For those who do this, to say "I am a Catholic" as though there is nothing wrong with their behavior is a lie. It is comparable to those who imagine that socialism is compatible with the American Constitution.

I deeply appreciate those who will make comments like "I am a Catholic, but I do not agree with the Church on [fill in dogma here]". No, I do not want them to disagree with the Church, but at least they are acknowledging that it is a disagreement. To pretend that certain practices like, defending abortion, refusing to go to confession (ever), divorcing and remarrying without an annulment, or any other grave sin is an allowable part of one's faith is to call God a liar. God has revealed His truth through the Church, and truth does not change. An immoral act is always immoral and we cannot expect that some things will just get forgotten over time. It was Chesterton who once said, "we do not need a Church that moves with the world, we need a Church that moves the world."

Integrity is something of a lost art, but it always was, and always will be, a virtue. To hold to the faith "once delivered to the saints" is a matter of our integrity. If you have a different opinion than the Church on any issue, then make sure that you are clear that it is your personal opinion and not a position of the Church. Then spend some serious time pondering why you are at odds with the Church. If you disagree with the Church on an issue of dogma (the trinity, the sacraments, redemption, etc.) then you are in eternal peril. If, however, you disagree with the Church on a custom, then that is a different issue. Customs may change (and they may not!), but your response to them must be humble and submissive. You do not have special permission from God to disobey because you imagine that you are smarter than 2000 years of Saints!

I believe it was Bishop Robert Morlino who once said
"If one is called to be Catholic, one follows what the Church teaches; that is the correct understanding of conscience (as upheld also by Vatican II). And if one really cannot follow what the Church teaches, then one's conscience requires that one leave the Church. That is the adult decision. One's conscience does not require that one makes up one's own personal religion and then pretend that it is Catholic."

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Escorting the Men Out of the Church (part 3)

We forgot to turn on the sprinklers in the vegetable garden until late the other night. So my wife and I headed out about 8:30 to get them. Then, we headed back out to turn off the water about 9:30 (the lines run from a well so it's basically "free"), and she said "which one you want?" "I'll get the one in the field, you get the one by the chapel" I told her. You see, the one by the chapel is clearly visible from the security light and I did not want her trekking down through the dark field. I took a flashlight with me just in case there were any snakes roaming around late at night. About 10 feet from the faucet I heard a rustle in the bushes to my left; nothing visible in the flashlight, so I skirted the area and kept going. Then the thought went through my mind, "if someone's gonna get bit I'm glad it will be me and not her".

There are some "man's duties" that we all know instinctively, but we are not used to thinking about them. It is the man's duty to go out in the dangerous areas and "get bitten" if need be, in order to protect the women and children. Yet, today we are so used to seeing movies where men stand back, and the women "take point" in military actions that it seems archaic for me to speak this way. I am not about to try to explain the thinking of a woman who wants to "take point" and head into danger (I am not a woman so I cannot understand it), but all men (even those who are cowards) know the sense of "I need to man-up because that's my job".

I find it interesting that this seems to have been generally squelched when it comes to serving at the altar. As I have been pointing out, men are being escorted out of the Church in various ways. I think it starts when they are young. As much of the Mass has been "feminized" making it soft, cuddly, and sweet, so those males who really want to be men are turned off by it and slowly fade away. When there are girls serving as altar boys, the boys will naturally think of it as a "girly" thing, and most will not want to be there.  Start escorting them out when they are 10 years old, and it will a foregone conclusion that they will check out (at least mentally) by the time that they are 18.

When did this allowance for girls serving at the altar come about? It was actually a result of a (somewhat stretched) interpretation of the Canon referred to in yesterday's post (230.2) which does not directly refer to altar servers. When it was noticed that it said that laity can fulfill the role of lector and acolyte, those who were already (yes, that means disobediently) allowing girls to serve at the  altar, asked whether it was OK ("I'm doing this, you're not gonna stop me right?"). The result was a letter, in 1994, that gave permission for girls to serve at the altar. In essence, a way was found to justify a behavior that was already occurring, so the  permission was "squeezed out of the text" (in my humble opinion).

Yet, in that very same letter, the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments said that this was "permissive" and not "prescriptive"; meaning each Bishop could decide whether he wanted girls serving at his altars or not (and also that no priest was bound to have girls serve at the altar for him). It also stated emphatically that: "it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar."

So then, if the allowance came from a notion of finding a "loophole" in the text of Canon Law, then I must ask, what was the motivation? Was it a sense of egalitarianism in regard to liturgical duties? Quite possibly, though we can never be certain. Yet, why would the CDW declare that it is "always very appropriate" to have just altar boys if one's sex made no difference in the chancel? There clearly is a difference. I heard of a priest who once told the girl altar servers that they would no longer be allowed to serve at the altar because (as he told them) "you cannot be called to holy orders, so it is not healthy for you to be here, and it keeps the boys who may be called to holy orders away from the altar". Quite a powerful statement.

Were people who wanted altar girls motivated by a lack of altar boys? I am not sure that this was the case the way that it was with a lack of instituted lectors (as mentioned in the previous post). Since it was already going on (in disobedience, I must point out again), it is hard to believe that there was a holy and reverent intent behind it. No sinful behavior is ever motivated by holiness! So then, once again, it appears that the motivation was egalitarianism. There were those who desired to allow the girls to "do something" and others who intentionally were aiming at feminizing the Mass (after all, girls certainly look much prettier walking around up there than do those clumsy boys!).

There is another factor that is often not thought of. As a priest, I have had many altar servers and as much as I have to admit that the girls often do a better job, I also have to admit that it makes me nervous to have girls there. If while celebrating the Mass I run into an altar boy, no big deal. If I run into an altar girl, big problem. I am not sure who would be more embarrassed, me or the girl. A priest should not have to think about things like this when he is at the altar. Guys can brush against each other, and it is not a problem (just watch a football game!), but I cannot tell you how many times I have had to stop and gauge my actions, the position of my hands, and the manner of comments because the server was a girl and I did not want to give the wrong impression.

I will always obey the Church, but I must confess that I do not agree that allowing girls to serve at the altar is the best long term practice--it clearly has discouraged numerous boys from considering the vocation to the priesthood. I have heard of various boys who reject serving at the altar (and consequently reject considering the vocation to the priesthood) because they have been led to believe that it is "sissy stuff". Telling girls that they can serve at the altar, but "not to like it too much" gives the wrong impression to just about everyone. It is dogma that the priesthood is exclusively male, and  confusing the "training ground" for the priesthood makes it difficult to keep that clear. Furthermore, whenever we discourage boys and men from fulfilling their proper Church roles, they become more and more passive in their spirituality (thus helping all of them to be "escorted out of the Church").

As we seek to restore a godly masculinity and femininity we must be teaching boys and girls about what they are (and can be) called to as the people of God. There must be an encouragement for girls to see their proper roles and say "I want to do that" or  "that is what I am called to". The same is true for boys. As I said in my beginning illustration, boys need to be able to say "I want to take my place before God", and if that place is holy orders, then he needs a clear setting in which he can make that decision. He needs to be able to look at the altar and say "I want to serve there" without any discouragement. Serving alongside a godly priest who can encourage him to faithfulness (as only a man can do with a young boy) is a necessary setting, and it should not be confused by the wrong images.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Escorting the Men Out of the Church (part 2)

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, something has been happening over the last fifty years that is best described as an "escorting out". This "escorting" has been pushing out the historic teachings of the Church and replacing them with modern ideas--largely influenced by feminism. It has impacted people's thinking about ordination (leading them to want women to be ordained; just like the protestants do), but it has also touched on other areas that we do not think about. The push to ordain women in the Catholic Church  has been encouraged by things that have happened in other arenas. That is to say, as people have gotten more used to seeing females take duties at the altar during Mass it has made many of them easily slip into wanting women to be priests as well.

Let me explain, moving from the general to the specific. Generally speaking, the men (adult males) were escorted out of the Catholic Church. The numbers of faithfully committed men in the Church are certainly down (though there are a few signs that they  are starting to come back in some areas). As a result of this, over the last fifty years, men have also reduced their involvement in the Church. Specifically speaking, the men have been "escorted out" of the chancel (the area around the altar).

Few, if any, men understand that the chancel is properly the place for the clergy (which, as I defended yesterday, is obviously limited to males in the Catholic Church) and only secondarily the place for any lay people at all. Even those men who do attend Church, often just sit quietly in the pew and have no engagement with the life of the Church in other areas. Yes, there are certainly some notable exceptions -- but that is the point, they are exceptions to the general norm. Vocations to the permanent diaconate and the priesthood are down. Fewer and fewer men are willing to engage with the Church. The trend is clear: women do the work, and most men sit back and watch (which influences their service as husbands and fathers whether they like it or not!).

As a result, the Church realized that she needed to look at the situation, and make a few adjustments to remedy this. In 1983, when the new code of Canon Law was promulgated, it allowed (notice the word "allow" does not mean "require" or "expect") women to serve as a temporary (notice the word "temporary" does not mean "keep doing it as long as you want with no end in sight") reader (Canon 230.2). The paragraph that mentions this does not actually say "women can serve as a lector", but it does use the generic word for "laity" which is neither male nor female. When it gives this permission, however, it is quite a different explanation than what we see actually happening today.

The paragraph before Canon 230.2 (230.1) should, however, be looked at to see the context in which it shows up. It is the first paragraph in the section and sets the tone for what comes afterward. It refers to adult males holding the position of "lector". "Holding the position of" means that they are in that position (not an ordained position, but an appointed one) "on a stable basis". Thus, men (and not women) are expected to hold a stable ministry of lector in a parish; that is the first point of the section. Then, only after that has been made clear, does it say that "lay people" can "fulfill the function of lector". Do you see the wording there? That means that the laity, male or female, who are not "instituted lectors" (which only males can be) can "fulfill the function" of the lector. When someone "fulfills a function" it means to do the job even though it is not yours; in other words, they are not actually lectors (for that is only the position of a man who has been "instituted" as a "lector" by a bishop). This is the reason why I will use the term "reader" when the individual is not an instituted lector.

Why would the Church allow other laity to "fulfill the function" if it expected there to be an instituted lector in the parish? Only because there were parishes without an instituted lector, so they were allowing (in those odd circumstances) a lay person to "fill in". The third paragraph in Canon 230 makes the context clear by explaining that this is to be done when "ministers are not available" (i.e. properly instituted ministers). As I said above, the description does not say that they can fill in as long as they want to do so, or that this situation is supposed to become permanent. In fact, it says precisely that they can fill in only "temporarily". Yes, that is the wording. To allow it on a temporary basis is because the desire is that the problem of not having a male who is an instituted lector would eventually be remedied. How many parishioners even know that this is what the Church wants?

Once, however, that you "allow" something--even if you state that it should be temporary--you have opened to door for it becoming permanently grandfathered in (or maybe we should say "grandmothered in"?). Think of what it would be like in the average Catholic parish for the priest to say: "Sadly, we do not have an instituted lector the way the Church wants. We are therefore going to remedy this situation." He would then proceed to relieve all of the "temporary" lectors from their position so that a properly instituted lector (again, an adult male) could fulfill his role. Can you imagine the uproar that would ensue (I know of one situation where many people left a parish because the priest did this very thing)? The priest would quickly be branded an archaic, Vatican II-hating, misogynist (all because he wanted to do what the Church told him to do!).

I cannot imagine that this is what the Church intended when she chose to allow a temporary solution to the problem of fewer males fulfilling their roles. When priests are afraid to obey the Church because of a potential backlash from the parish, something is seriously wrong with the Church (which hearkens back to yesterday's post about the Clergy being under attack). Feminism has come a long way, and it has infiltrated the Church in so many areas, that we are scarcely aware of it. Certainly, habits are hard to break, but there is more at stake here than whether a person can "do a ministry" that he or she wants in the Church.

If men are neglecting to step up where they are supposed to in the lay-duties of the Church, then it is either because they are ignorant of their duties (which I am trying to remedy with this post), or it is because their spirit has been whipped; they have been emotionally and spiritually "escorted out" of the Church. I know that many of them fit into both categories, but we can remedy this if we are willing to do the hard work. Many of these men likely are sitting back thinking to themselves: "if it is OK for women to do this, and they are willing, then I don't have to". Abdication sometimes is caused by direct rebellion, and other times by sheer laziness.

Is this where we intended to be? Is it good for the Church to run on a temporary permission, and just forget about the ideal? What can we do to encourage the move back to what is best? There are certainly many ways in which women can serve the Church, but if they are "temporarily" filling the roles that men are supposed to be filling on a permanent basis, then what happens to those roles that women are called to fulfill? Is anyone doing them? Are they being neglected? Certainly a first step in this direction is for women to seek out the wonderful ministries that are properly theirs, and intentionally encourage the men in their lives to take their proper place. Men also must "man up" and realize that there is no position in the Kingdom of Christ for a "bench warmer". Not every man needs to be an instituted lector, but if none of them in a parish will serve that role, then something is definitely not right.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Escorting the Men Out of the Church (part 1)

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty (1 Tim 2:8-15).
Can we talk about it? This passage from the letter of St. Paul to Timothy, the Bishop of Ephesus, gives us issues of faith and morals.It is part of the deposit of faith that has been handed down to us by the Church through the authority of the Magisterium in the writings of the New Testament Scriptures. For anyone to pick and choose which parts of the Bible that he wishes to ignore is a grave sin. We cannot say on our own personal authority that some parts are "no longer applicable" for there is no standard by which that is decided outside of the Magisterium of the Church, and it has never pronounced that these verses no longer apply to our lives.

This is important because the Church says that "we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures" (CCC 107). I know that people do not like talking about these passages but is it right for us just to "ignore" a section of the word of God? It may sound a bit extreme for me to say that we are "ignoring" God's word, but it is not an exaggeration. You may not be aware that these verses quoted above never show up anywhere in the three year lectionary for Sundays and Solemnities, or in the two year lectionary for weekdays that we currently use in the Church.

A few years ago, a dear Catholic woman referred to this very passage and said to me "it's a good thing the Catholic Church doesn't teach that anymore". I asked her where she got that idea, she said she remembered hearing it "somewhere". This appears to be the opinion of many, and I suspect that this is what drives this kind of idea. "We never talk about that anymore so I guess we don't believe it anymore". Is that the issue? Are people just hoping if we keep it out of sight/out of mind, then it will eventually just disappear?

I have no idea why these passages were left out of the lectionary (I do not even want to speculate). Yet, I do know that if you can keep them out of people's hearing, then it is easier to keep them out of people's thinking. And once something is no longer thought of it is easier to ignore it completely. In other words: if the truth about the roles of men and women in the Church has been quietly excluded from our hearing, then we could say that it has been "escorted out of the Church". When this happens, it becomes easier to "escort" the men themselves out of the Church. The Church has declared emphatically that women cannot (not "should not") be ordained. This passage quoted above is one of the most significant to show that this is not merely a "cultural idea" that can be done away with someday; it is a part of the written words of God. Has the massive spread of feminist thinking caused us to fear speaking the truth?

We are also told in the Catechism that:
The Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful … to learn 'the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,' by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. 'Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ' (CCC 133)."
Therefore, ignorance of these types of Scriptures (ones that speak to us about these particular subjects) is ignorance of what Christ want.s us to know. It is necessary for us to grow in the knowledge of Christ and what He wants for us, but we cannot do that if we "skip" certain uncomfortable aspects of God's word for these things were "written for our instruction" (Romans 15:4).

This passage from St. Paul clearly has to do with authority issues in the Church, and thus it relates to the question of whether women can be ordained or not. The Apostle gives a few detailed explanations of what should be happening in the Church. Below is my summary of each of the basic points that the Apostle gives (while trying very hard not to "over-interpret").
  1. Men should possess a holy attitude when in the Church (the place of communal prayer).
  2. Women should take special care to dress modestly (especially when in the Church).
  3. Women are not allowed to hold a position of hierarchical authority in the Church.
  4. The reason for all these rules is grounded in the order of Creation and therefore unchangeable.
Once again, we cannot ignore these things, and I am not giving an interpretation of this passage that is new or novel. It is in accord with that taught by the Church Fathers. For example, here is an interesting quote from St. John Chrysostom. This comes from his book "On the Priesthood" written sometime around A.D. 400.
For all these wild beasts, and more than these, are bred upon that rock of which I have spoken, and those whom they have once captured are inevitably dragged down into such a depth of servitude that even to please women they often do many things which it is well not to mention. The divine law indeed has excluded women from the ministry, but they endeavor to thrust themselves into it; and since they can effect nothing of themselves, they do all through the agency of others; and they have become invested with so much power that they can appoint or eject priests at their will: things in fact are turned upside down, and the proverbial saying may be seen realized—"The ruled lead the rulers:" and would that it were men who do this instead of women, who have not received a commission to teach. Why do I say teach? for the blessed Paul did not suffer them even to speak in the Church. But I have heard some one say that they have obtained such a large privilege of free speech, as even to rebuke the prelates of the Churches, and censure them more severely than masters do their own domestics.
It is not for hatred of women that either St. Paul or St. John Chrysostom wrote what they did. They wrote those words with a sincere love for God, and therefore a love for all of humanity. They wrote those words knowing that what God has laid out as the best roles for men and women in the Church really are the best roles; and that we should not try to change it to fit with modern ideas and sensibilities. Just because feminists tell us that women should be able to be ordained, does not mean that we need to accept their opinions in the Church. St. Paul and St. Chrysostom both resisted the world's ideas, and held to what God has ordained as proper roles in the Church. Following their lead, and in full submission to the Magisterium, I must proclaim the same thing: men and women both have a proper role in the Church and we should joyfully submit to it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Why Are You Celebrating July 4th?

While in High School, I had a friend who liked to crash parties. He would just find out when one was going on and join in. One time he joined in a birthday party for an older gentleman; he said it was fun because they had alcohol and no one asked his age. I asked him once whether his conscience bothered him about this. His response was a surprise for me: "What do I care? I just like the fun, it doesn't matter what they are celebrating." Even back then I had a different philosophy about life. This same attitude that he had has only grown more common today and been applied in more areas of life. If something makes people happy, they do not care what the details are that go along with it.

Although this is true in many aspects of the modern world, there is one that really causes me concern; especially on this day. When people in America celebrate July 4th, I wonder what they are actually celebrating. Today is supposed to be a recognition of when our forefathers said no to a tyrannical king. The majority of Americans have never been under the tyranny of a king, so what are they celebrating? Except for maybe a few people who have immigrated to this country, we do not know what our forefathers experienced except from books. Are we really grilling burgers and shooting off fireworks because we are happy that England does not force us to pay their taxes?

I need to be perfectly clear that I have great appreciation for what our forefathers did for us; especially those who died for our sake. That is not at all what I am criticizing. I am concerned as to why we are celebrating. If I were to take the celebrations themselves as keys to interpretation, then it appears that we are celebrating the Chinese (who invented fireworks) more than anything else. When someone says "July 4th" what is the first thing that comes to mind? Fireworks abound on this day. Have you noticed, however, that the fireworks start about a week beforehand, and usually continue for a few days afterward? That is quite telling. It does not say much about the historical awareness of the day itself. It is kind of like opening Christmas gifts a week early, just because you want to (who cares about what day it is?).

So then, I will ask it again: what are we celebrating? The declaration of independence was 242 years ago. That is quite separated from our modern experience. And although we can learn about the events, they are not very similar to what we are going through today. How many Americans can give me a detailed explanation of the exact political situation in 1776 England? I will give the benefit of the doubt at this point, and acknowledge that many of those who are celebrating are celebrating America itself. They are celebrating their appreciation for our country. Yet, in doing this there seems to be little to be patriotic about. If today's current state of affairs in the USA is a result of the work of our founding fathers, then their efforts appear to have led to a great deal of sinful behavior.

Let me give the benefit of the doubt, though, and take patriotism as the issue for celebration. What is it about America that people are feeling patriotic towards? Are they celebrating the fact that a number of people are ready to start a civil war because they hate our president? Are they celebrating the fact that abortions are still continuing at an astronomical rate? Are they celebrating the fact that the Catholic Church is under attack? Are they celebrating the intense strife that is dividing our communities? Are they celebrating the fact that marriages are crumbling, the divorce rate has only diminished because fewer people are getting married, and parents are abusing and killing their children? Are they celebrating the fact that sodomy is flourishing? Are they celebrating the increasing corruption in the government?

I may sound a bit depressing right now, but let us be honest and admit this is America, warts and all. I know that some of you will think of some good things that you can name off about the USA (for which I am definitely thankful), but when we are honest, we will acknowledge that those are in spite of, not because of, American culture. If we are celebrating the successful war against England so long ago, we should also ask what it has led to. Jesus tells us that you "will know them by their fruits" and America's fruits today are pretty rotten. If this is the result of the "American system of government" then maybe we should reconsider whether that system is as "great" as we often hear. Unless of course we idolize America and refuse to look at ourselves with humility and wisdom.

I am also concerned that large numbers of Americans appear to be celebrating "freedom". Yet, I wonder if they know what godly freedom really is. I am not saying that freedom is a bad thing. I am concerned that when people are happy about "freedom" it is not the freedom that our founding fathers fought for. They were not fighting for a government to grant them the freedom to sin as much as one wants; it was a freedom from foolish politicians. Even Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (who were by no means faithful Christians) would be appalled at what "freedom" means to a modern American (who screams "yeah!" with a beer in his hand, and his fist in the sky because he thinks he can do whatever he wants). Sadly, it appears that by celebrating our "independence" we are celebrating our right to say "don't tell me what to do" (is that really what Washington, Adams, and Madison fought for?).

I so desperately want to be able to celebrate my nation, but I cannot. Yes, I can celebrate and be thankful for what Christ has done, but when I look at my country she has largely turned her back on Him. I am thankful for my motherland, but I am not at all pleased at the path that she is on. If someone is celebrating "America" and loves what this land has become, then I believe that there may very well be something errant in his understanding of what is right and wrong. To rejoice on this July 4th and say "isn't America great!" is to deny reality. America is my home; I was born here, and will likely die here someday. I am an American, but I am ashamed at how my country is behaving. To celebrate our country, and turn a blind eye to our rapid descent into immorality is not wise.

I am sorry if you think that I am a "downer" today, but it would be wrong for me to encourage anyone to celebrate disobedience and strife. It would be wrong for me to say that "things are a-okay" and ignore the problems that exist. I can be thankful that we have not degenerated as far as we possibly can; there are many nations that are far worse off than we are, but most of them do not have the blessings that were granted to these United States throughout our short history. Our accountability for our current problems is so much greater because we have been given so much by the Lord. We have such great opportunity to be a nation of faithfulness and holiness, and yet we have chosen instead to pursue evil; we have "sold our birthright".

I want to be able to proclaim "God bless America", but it is not that simple. God already blessed America, more times than we can count, and far more than we deserve, but we have taken His blessings and used them for our own lustful ends. There is a passage in the book of Chronicles where God speaks to Solomon and lets him know the right way for a nation that has been blessed by God to respond to difficulties and trials. He says there:
"...if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chr 7:14).
Let me point out a few specifics in what our Lord commands here. First He says that His people must "humble themselves". Selfish pride is so common today in America that it is almost seen as a virtue. There is little in the way of humility, and few who encourage it. The next thing that the people need to do is "pray" and "seek God's face". This implies for us that we should be spending a significant amount of time and effort in the Mass, and fully engaging with it when we do. Need I mention that Mass attendance is down, and distractions are up? The last thing that the Lord gives as a requirement for a land to be healed is that the people must "turn from their wicked ways". This would imply genuine repentance that lasts. The way this would be seen is if priests have to schedule extra times each week to accommodate the long lines of people coming to confession. Anyone seen long lines outside the confessional each week?

God does promise to heal a land that has fallen into sin and is suffering. He does not, however, promise it regardless of what the people of the land do (especially the Catholics). He promises it in connection with a sincere repentance. He says that He will forgive and heal, if, and only if, the people do as He has commanded. This is why I cannot find much cause to celebrate America today; we are not doing what God said. I will celebrate where there is penitence and holiness. I will celebrate the wonderful works of God and pray for His mercy. As I say Mass today, I will celebrate the great works of Christ and His grace; I cannot, however, celebrate the sin of my nation.