Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Value of Fear

There was once a 14 year old boy who was reading a scary story. One night he read a particularly frightening chapter right before going to bed and found that he was not able to sleep all night. The next day his mother scolded him for falling asleep at the breakfast table. He told her what he had done, and then asked whether it was a sin to read a scary story since the Bible says that "perfect love casts out all fear". Good question; it deserves a good answer.

Fear, in itself, is not wrong. What is wrong is when we let fear overcome us. After reading a book (for example, about zombies) that frightens us, how do we deal with the fear? If it keeps us up all night, then the fear is overcoming us. If we consider the situation, think it through, and trust the Lord to help us, then we are overcoming the fear. When we give in to fear (especially for things that we are not supposed to be afraid of) then it becomes our master and we are crippled by it. This is the fear that Jesus wants to rid us of.

There is actually a significant value in fear -- it is the natural response that God created in us to help us deal with dangerous situations. It alerts us to our need to deal with things, and if we protect children from any and all experiences of fear, then we will be preventing them from dealing with life. God does not want us to live life in terror--of course not--but He does want us to be able to deal with anything that this world sends our way. Fear alerts us so that we can turn to the Lord and overcome the fear. As has been said, bravery is not the absence of fear, but courage while one is afraid.

When we experience a trial or a difficulty in our lives, our Lord does not desire that we respond like we are living in a "Prozac" stupor. Fear is that internal response that tells us that we need to call upon Christ Jesus for help and then prepare ourselves for what is to come. If everything is "calm and peaceful" in our hearts when things are falling apart around us, then we will not be thinking clearly about what we are supposed to be doing. Even Jesus said there are things that we are supposed to be afraid of (cf. Matthew 10:28). To eliminate all fear from our lives is like eliminating smoke detectors from our homes; fear tells us that something is wrong. It is not this kind of fear that perfect love drives out.

No, this is not just a shameless plug for scary movies (as many of you know, I do like them, but I would write this even if I did not). Many "scary movies" are just blood and guts portrayed for sadistic people; that is not what I would ever encourage. The people who produce those have something seriously wrong with them. I do, however, encourage parents to expose their children (of course at age appropriate times) to "scary stuff". This does not mean that everyone should watch scary movies or read scary books, but it does mean that we each need to learn how to deal with a scary world. The fact is, though, that not all scary stories or movies are filled with hideous violence; some have great moral lessons, and some even come from true events that clearly give support to the Church's teachings on evil and the demonic realm.

I am one of those people who, oddly enough, thinks that boys and girls should be raised differently because they were created differently (no "co-ed" stuff in our homeschool). Because of this, I often (especially lately) encourage parents to be sure to "toughen up" their boys by having them learn how to deal with the scary stuff in life. Our children (boys and girls) should not be brought up in a sanitized, sterilized, secure bubble that prevents them from realizing the world is fallen.

One way to help children learn how to deal with this fallen world, is by exposing them to "safe" scary stuff (stories, etc.). A book is "safe" because you can actually put it down and consider what you would do if you were in the same circumstances as the characters (think of the Hardy Boys books). This is one of the greatest values of it; to train the mind in "what would I do" scenarios. Of course, you do not want to show them the movie "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" when they are 10 years old, so there is always supposed to be a clear discernment of what a child is ready for.

I know of a family who agrees with what I am saying in principle, but they have (in my opinion) ignored proper restraints. This same family allows their children to read and view things that are vastly inappropriate for the maturity level of the children (or maybe I should say, the lack of maturity). I warned them about it long ago, but they believe that "everything will be fine". Time will tell, but this is a common habit today. A deep discernment is required in this effort (I cannot say this too much!), so I do not encourage people to be haphazard in making these decisions.

Our family does not "do Halloween", but the principles behind a "playful scare" are exactly what I am speaking about. A "scary challenge" that makes the mind respond with "how should I deal with this?" is the way that we attune ourselves to being ready for when the challenge is actually life threatening. Consider children play-wrestling (what I call "wrassling"); they are just having fun, but they are also learning how to deal with real life situations that they may encounter someday (and should be guided by their parents in this).

As the civil governments continue to seek more and more laws to prevent every possible accident from occurring, we should realize that there will never be enough laws for that; and that is a good thing. God occasionally wants us to "skin our knee" so that we can better deal with how to respond when it is more than just skinned, but broken. All of these little challenges are the things that help children to grow into the wise and mature adults that their parents want them to be. Parents, will you give your children this extra help that they need?

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Chastity and Modesty

This last week I was in Houston at the Ordinariate Clergy Assembly. We meet once a year to be with our Bishop, to reconnect with those who live far away, and to study a subject that our Bishop wants us to learn about. This year, not surprisingly, we spent the majority of our time hearing lectures about the Church's teaching on family, sexuality, and how to help guide those who struggle with the confusion that exists today surrounding these topics.

One subject that was touched on in more than one lecture was the impact that homosexuality has on society. This got me to thinking ("chicken and egg" fashion) on how homosexual thinking and society have mutually fed each other over the last few decades. Let me explain. Does society fall into various sins, and then encourage homosexuality, or does homosexuality rise up and then encourage other sins? It happens to be both, and it is almost impossible to determine which really comes first. There is one specific pattern, though, that we cannot ignore.

This pattern that I am referring to is almost universally the case whenever a society falls into the mortal sin of sodomy. Before sodomy can become accepted in a society, chastity must be compromised. It may sound overly simplistic, but let us consider this for a brief moment. As the Church clearly teaches, any deviation from the law of God is sinful, and homosexual practices are always gravely sinful. There are many sexual sins that exist, but sodomy is clearly contrary to nature itself; it is a rejection of the created order of God. Therefore, we should never accept the notion that sodomy is anything less than an extreme perversion.

How, then, does the devil accomplish the widespread acceptance of such an immoral act? It can only come about if he is able to loosen sexual morals on a broad scale. Once the basic idea of chastity (i.e. sexual self control) is doubted (by whatever means he chooses to do this), then it is just a matter of time before more and more sexual sin is practiced. Consider it this way: if theft is common in a society, then respect for personal property has been weakened; if hatefulness and anger are common in a society, then love of God and neighbor have been weakened; likewise, if homosexual behavior is common in a society, then chastity has been weakened. The devil has to beat down the good before he can promote the bad.

You may be asking yourself: how do we get out of this quagmire? There are three things that parents need to be teaching their children (and be doing so specifically before they hit puberty). The first is chastity, the second is modesty, and the third is chastity. In other words, do not allow them to get the slightest impression that the general perspective of the majority of Hollywood entertainment has any idea what sexuality actually is. We need to explain to children (once they are old enough to understand) that what Hollywood calls "romance" is closer to chimpanzees mating in the wild than to genuine godly love. They need to learn that God's laws of chastity are for the express purpose of granting us greater joy in sexuality rather than less!

How does one teach modesty in an immodest world? The easiest way that this is done is by teaching children how to dress in a manner that is becoming of a chaste heart and soul. Modesty is always beautiful (as G.K. Chesterton once said), and the habits of modesty must be ingrained into a child in his first few years of life. If you see a child that is dressing immodestly when she is 8, then that child will be dressing immodestly when she is 18. Parents, lost ground can always be made up, but it is always harder to do so. Furthermore, do not let Hollywood teach your children what is appropriate to wear; set a clear and holy standard for them and stick with it.

Chastity used to be an assumed part of a child's upbringing in the Church (maybe it became "too assumed" and people got lax about it?), now we must take extra steps to ensure that our children know what it means (remember, the world is going to try to teach them that it is bad). Boys especially must be taught how to respond to immodesty; what it means to "avert the eyes" rather than to gawk at something that is immodest. This also means that parents must exemplify modesty. Think about it Moms and Dads: do you dress modestly yourselves? How about the magazines that you allow in the home, or the commercials you ignore on the tv? This all comes into play when we are dealing with teaching our children to be holy. Either you will teach them to appreciate God's laws, or you will teach them to ignore them and accept the world's immorality; which will it be?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Washing the Dishes?

I once heard, second hand, about a comment that a priest made after a Mass wherein the celebrating priest obeyed the rubrics (gosh!). The comment was: "washing the dishes is not part of the liturgy". He was referring to the portion of the Mass after the distribution of communion where the priest (or deacon) purifies the sacred vessels (either at the altar or at the credence table). Aside from the fact that it is part of the liturgy (the rubrics define specifically how it is to be done), the manner in which he referred to it was crass and disrespectful of the celebration of the Mass.

The proper term for this purification is the "ablutions"; which means the "rinsing" or "cleaning". The reason we use a technical term like "ablution" is to separate this event from any other cleaning that occurs in common experience. The Church will frequently single out specific terms to signify holy things. We do not call them "liturgy clothes" but "vestments"; we do not call it "snack time" but "communion"; nor do we say "chief executive officer" but "priest". So terms really do matter (whether we like it or not).

In addition, there is another aspect of the ablutions that cannot be considered insignificant. What is going on in the ablutions is not merely getting things "cleaned up" (as though it were no different than sweeping the floor). The priest is carefully making sure that every drop of precious blood, and every particle of the body of Christ is properly tended to. They cannot just be "tossed out" (does any Catholic really think that it is acceptable to "toss out" Jesus?). The careful and meticulous purification may seem to be just a "housecleaning" item in the Mass (no pun intended), but it is much more.

As one parishioner once told me, "Father, watching you clean those vessels after communion is a powerful reminder that it is the actual divinity of Christ in the Sacrament". You may not have ever considered that part of the Mass to be of a devotional nature, but it was for that one parishioner (and that was someone who was referring to the Divine Worship Mass where I am not facing the people during the ablutions!). For those in parishes where the priest is versus populum (facing the people) you should be even more aware of this fact! It may seem like merely coincidental, but the fact that the laity are supposed to be praying at that time (which is made quite difficult when a hymn is being sung) is a helpful reminder of the reverence they are supposed to have regarding what they just received.

Although the rubrics do allow for a priest (or even an appointed lay minister) to do the ablutions after Mass "in a reverent manner", what does it say when the priest just scoots the vessels aside and will "get to it later"? I am sure that for many the motivation is to make Mass go quicker (where does God ever say that this is a worthy goal?). What does it teach people if this is how priests treat the celebration of the Eucharist? It says, pretty much, the exact opposite of tending to every single crumb and drop by carefully and respectfully cleaning the sacred vessels. One says "take it easy and relax, this will be over soon", while the other says "do not rush this, we are dealing with the things of God".

Taking the ablutions as one example, how do we properly show respect during the Mass? If you are participating in the Mass just hoping it will get finished soon (though the way many priests today say Mass, I can sympathize with the sentiment at times) then you are not approaching it with a godly heart. Whether you are a clergyman or layman, do not rush through the Mass as though the whole point is to make the people happy. The whole point of the Mass is to make God happy (which can only be done by obeying Him and His words). Take time with the Mass, do not rush it; take time with your spirituality and devotions to Christ. Nothing worth doing should be rushed through.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Broken Vows

(Although this post was written before Archbishop Vigano's most recent testimony, the content of this post remains the same since it merely confirms what I have said.)

Vows. Do you have any? Have you ever taken a vow? If you have been baptized, you took a vow (even if it was through your parents). If you were confirmed, you took a vow. Married people take vows. And of course, as we all know, clergymen take vows when they are ordained. In case there is any confusion, that means that deacons, priests and bishops take vows. Ordinarily today, priestly vows include a vow of celibacy, which I (especially as a married priest) highly respect and consider to be a non-negotiable custom of the Church.

So, as we consider the vow of celibacy that priests take, I (sadly) feel the need to make them clear. A vow of celibacy is just that: a vow that the man will remain celibate (no sexual activity of any kind, with anyone, ever). No, I am not being insensitive to my brother priests who are celibate (ask those who know me best). A vow is a vow, and it must be held. My vows are to chastity, and theirs are also to chastity. Because I am married does not make my vows "easy" and theirs "difficult". A celibate man must maintain his vows in the manner he was called, and I must maintain my vows in the manner that I am called (cf. 1 Cor 7:17).

This leads me to my point. As I have said before, when a priest breaks his priestly vows (in any area) it makes it easier to break his vows in another. If he has broken the rules in the liturgy or in personal counsel, then he is more susceptible to the temptation to break his vows of celibacy as well. Thus, when a priest falls into sexual sin, we cannot limit the issue to saying that he is a "pedophile" or even a "sodomite" in his behavior. He is a vow-breaker; that is the real issue before God. He has shown himself to have broken his priestly vows and cannot be treated the same as the priest who sinned by being mean to a parishioner. He has broken one of the most specific aspects of his priestly ordination (whether he is married or celibate!).

I cannot be clear enough about how tired I am about hearing that people are concerned with sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults as though the breaking of ordination vows is small matter. Yes, that is a grave sin, and I do not deny that for a moment. Yet, these sins are a by-product of the actual thing that we should be concerned about. The root sin is a disrespect for and a violation of one's vows to God. If we do not show a greater concern for clergy keeping their vows, then we will find even worse "clergy abuse" that what we are experiencing now! I know this might seem insensitive coming from me, but the vows that a priest takes on that day of ordination, are the vows he is bound by. Whether it would be a married priest with someone other than his wife, or a celibate priest with anyone at all, we are all required to be chaste.

While not neglecting the importance of protecting children and vulnerable adults (or non-vulnerable adults for that matter), we need to begin to work harder at taking all vows seriously. How serious are you about the vows of your baptism and confirmation? We all know that marriage vows should be taken seriously, but how often are those vows worked on beyond just issues of sexual purity ("for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health...I plight thee my troth")? The very concept of vows has been treated lightly for far too long. Parents: show it to your children, teach it to your children, live it for your children. While we are praying for the victims of abuse, let us also pray for broken vows to be restored and for greater faithfulness to our vows (especially in our clergy).

Friday, October 19, 2018

Good Fathers

What does a good father look like? Now, when you read that question, what type of "father" did you have come to mind? Were you thinking of a "biological" father or a "spiritual" father? Maybe both? There is a reason that the Catholic Church chose long ago to follow the example of St. Paul and use the term "father" for priests (e.g. 1 Corinthians 4:15--which, by the way, proves that St. Paul did not take Jesus' words in Matthew 23:9 literally). They wanted to acknowledge that the "fatherly" aspect of ecclesiastical leadership is essential.

So then, once again, what does a good father look like? It should be obvious that a good father will have similar traits whether we are speaking about biological or spiritual. There are four essential areas (not in order of importance) that I would like to propose as necessary behaviors for a good father. First, he will communicate to his family well. Second, he will show them how to reverence the Lord. Third, he will lead them firmly but gently. Fourth, he will prove to them that he loves them.

The first trait means that a priest will make sure that his homilies are clear, and helpful. He will spend time to prepare what he says, and never be satisfied with a cheap and careless personal commentary. For a dad, this means that he actually has to talk to his family. Yes, that may be a challenge for some out there, but imagine where we would be now if our Heavenly Father did not take the time to talk to us (!). Children whose fathers do not communicate well with them, are not going to be able to communicate well with others. I remember a child who was once falsely diagnosed with autism; it turned out that his "issues" were all due to bad examples he had learned from his father.

The second trait implies that a priest will celebrate a deeply reverent Mass for his "children". Only a proper understanding of our relationship with God will enable us to grow in righteousness. If we have a wrong view of the Lord (which will always be the result of irreverence) it will prevent us from relating to Him rightly. The manner that a priest celebrates Mass (which may be as simple as just obeying the rubrics--which seems to be rare today!) will determine how his people see the Lord. Likewise this means that a dad will choose a parish where the Mass is fully reverent and that he will also encourage that reverence in the rest of his family's practices (e.g. never allow children to say "oh God!" as an exclamation--it is taking the Lord's name in vain).

The third trait says that a priest needs to be a leader, not just a rubber stamp. One of the things that a priest is (supposed to be) trained to do is to guide a parish. His guidance must be clear (wishy washy priests are a plague on the Church) and his people must be able to have a good idea of what he expects of them. Yes, they will need to ask questions at times, but if they never know where he is at on any given subject, he is not leading; he is abdicating. Dads are no different. They should be firm and yet gentle in their leadership. Standing idly by while sin is going on and saying "what can you do?" is not what it means to be a dad. There are times when they need to rebuke, times when they need to correct, times when they need to encourage, but since (contrary to popular belief) the Catholic Church still says that the man is the head of the home, the dad always needs to lead.

The fourth and last trait is actually the hardest. Notice that I did not say that a father needs to "love his family" but that he needs to "prove his love" to his family. It is easy to say "they know I love them", but that is just a way of avoiding actually doing something that is directly loving in a way that they see it. Love is not something that we can just hold in our hearts. It is something shown by actions. For a priest, it means he will always be available for his people. He must be willing to sacrifice himself for their well being. A dad is no different. He is not called to be a dad so that he can make himself happy, but so that he can lead his wife and children to Christ, and they will not follow if they do not genuinely believe that he loves them unconditionally.

So, whether it is the father of a parish, or the father of a household, he must be a good father. Fathers have been attacked by the devil, and many of them are absentee fathers (both priests and dads!). It is time for a change in this pattern, and if dads in the home will work to be godly fathers as I have described above, then their sons will feel encouraged to be priests who will also be good fathers. We have our share of "bad fathers" in the clergy; those men who have harmed (physically and spiritually) their parish children (adult and minor) have created even more confusion about the priesthood than already existed. Let us turn the tide and work to return to holiness.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Don't Change Anything!

The manner in which sacred doctrine is spread, this having been established, it becomes clear how much is expected from the Council in regard to doctrine. That is, the Twenty-first Ecumenical Council, which will draw upon the effective and important wealth of juridical, liturgical, apostolic, and administrative experiences, wishes to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion, which throughout twenty centuries, notwithstanding difficulties and contrasts, has become the common patrimony of men. It is a patrimony not well received by all, but always a rich treasure available to men of good will.
These are the words of Pope John XXIII in his opening address for the Second Vatican Council in 1962 (the official title of the declaration is "Gaudet Mater Ecclesia"). It should be apparent that what he wanted, and what actually happened, are not the same thing. He said the purpose of the Council was to "...transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion..." If that had actually happened, where would be we today? The SSPX might never have been formed! The catechetical disaster of the 70's, 80's, and 90's might never have happened! The vast number of liturgical abuses of the 50's and 60's might never have taken root and been grandfathered in! What a world that would be.

Alas, however, it was not to be. Here we stand, struggling with all the doctrinal error, abuse, immorality, and compromise that has escalated over the last 40 years. Pope John XXIII essentially said, "don't change any doctrine, just figure out how to communicate it better" and what happened was almost the exact opposite. Many proclaimed doctrine changed, and most of the rest communicated the truth quite poorly. Think of the deeply heretical "catechism" published by the Dutch Bishops in 1966. Pope Paul VI spoke against it, but did not accomplish eradicating it (and I will not comment on how much effort he put into that task). People tried to change the truth. Even Bishops came out and admitted that they did not hold to Catholic dogma. They did not use such words, of course, but they did say things like "the Church doesn't teach that anymore" (as though that were possible).

I know that there are some who have said that Vatican II should not have happened in the first place. It had one intent, was seemingly "hijacked" in the middle, and ended up without a clear direction for the future. When various Bishops came back, they seemed to have given a "personal interpretation" to the documents and directives (quite a "protestant thing" to do, but then many of them did say that they wanted things more protestant in the Church). This leads me to believe that one of the biggest problems that occurred with what John XXIII and Paul VI wanted from the council was that they did not have all the Bishops on board with them.

Let me describe it another way. Imagine a priest who has a good idea for a parish (like restoring the tabernacle to its proper position in the center of the chancel). Imagine also that his Bishop is behind him one hundred percent. Should he move forward with it? Many may say yes. I would put a qualifier on it: he should not move forward until he has his people with him on it. You can make a small division into a big division if you press an issue prematurely; every clergyman should know this. It is possible that John XXIII thought he had that when opening Vatican II. I cannot say what Paul VI thought, but it should have been clear that he did not have that by the end of Vatican II.

Add into that mix the media influence (which Benedict XVI lamented) and you have a perfect setting for discord. In essence, I would say that the Church's Second Vatican Council although it intended to be pastoral in its focus, it failed. What failed was that it was not pastoral in its implementation. What would have happened if Paul VI had insisted on unity before ending the council? I suppose it is possible that it would still be going on today (Rome really knows how to drag things out!). Better, however, to have likemindedness (especially among clerics) than to allow for errors to be fostered.

Hindsight is 20/20, and I am not sure that what I have said is even that. I do know, however, that the manner in which truth is implemented is vital in its reception. I learned that from reading the documents of Vatican II! Yet, the manner in which the truth of God was sent out in the late 60's and early 70's was not very pastoral. Bishops who clearly disagreed with the authoritative documents (and John XXIII's desire "not to change any doctrine") were allowed to disseminate their errors. Many who did so were not even called to account for it or ever disciplined.

What can we learn from this? Only time will tell, but we are reaping the fruits of this lack of pastoral care. At the very least, let us learn what real pastoral care is. It is not to stand idly by and allow error to be taught. It is not to hide the hard truths and talk only about nice things. It is not to do nothing when sin is happening right in front of us. We should have learned that long before all the recent scandals (and maybe they happened precisely because we did not learn it!). May God have mercy on us.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Rules in Romance

There is apparently this young woman who made a list of "demands" for her fiance, and someone posted it online for all to see. The list sounds like the young lady may be dealing with some control issues. "I can inspect your phone anytime I want", and "you will not spend more than 15 minutes per day with your friend", are a few examples. Of course, there are people all over the web commenting about it and calling her a future "bridezilla". Yes, at this point she is probably mortified to know how many people are talking about her in such derogatory terms (or maybe she does not care?).

I find it interesting, however, when I read the actual comments that people are giving right now. They center mostly on how the woman was demanding that he do certain things, and they were saying that he should be allowed to have his freedom. Well, I agree that she did go overboard in what she was insisting on (some of it almost screamed off the computer screen), but I am more annoyed with the responses than I am with the woman's demands. The majority (I did not spend the time to read them all) are concerned with the fact that she was demanding things of him. I cannot perfectly interpret their hearts in this, but "don't tell anyone else what to do" was clearly being demanded by most of the commentators I read.

Do you see the internal contradiction? To demand that someone else not demand anything, is, to say the least, problematic. Here we have a typical example of the world's understanding of romantic relationships. Although people know that we are not living in the 1960's, they still want to have as much "free love" as they possibly can. There is still the concept in their minds that when it comes to relationships that everyone should be allowed to do whatever they want, and that to demand something of another person is stifling.

Consider this for a moment: what if I demanded that you not take a drink of something that I know has poison in it? Am I being "demanding"? I am pretty sure that most people would acknowledge that am looking out for the well being of another person in that scenario. It would not be considered (by most) to be intrusive. So then, in principle, it is not wrong to "demand" something of other people when you are seriously concerned with their very lives.

Let us take that one step further. Is it wrong for parents to demand a certain type of behavior from their children when it comes to romantic relationships? I know most of my readers would say "no" but there are many Catholics out there who will let their children go on "dates" with nothing more than "be back by midnight, and don't get into trouble". It is sort of like saying "go ahead and have a sip of poison, just make sure that you have the antidote nearby". What is good and proper for Catholic parents when it comes to their children dating? Did you know that the Church still uses the standard terms of "courtship" (which is not just an old word for dating) and "betrothal" (which is also not just an old word for getting engaged) in many of their official documents? There is a reason for this.

Courtship (where there are more specific boundaries and very clear goals for the relationship) is being recognized by more and more Catholics as the more godly way of allowing young adults to consider the married state. The rules will vary from family to family, but the essential rule is that the young couple not be the ones to "call the shots" on what the boundaries are. Firstly, it should come from the law of God and, secondly, it should be applied by the father of the young lady (oh no! someone is demanding things!). If the young man is not willing to control himself and submit to the young lady's father, then he is probably not good marriage material (to make it clear).

If we have rules in the marriage relationship, and those rules are taken from God's word and applied by the Church, then in the same way we should be able to have rules in those relationships that lead to marriage (or are supposed to). When you consider how the dating culture (whoever, whenever, wherever, whatever, however) has taught a few generations of people how to marry, divorce, get over it; marry, divorce, get over it; marry, divorce, get over it (ad nauseam), then you can see that something different needs to happen. It should be obvious to all that the way it has been done for the last few decades is not working. There is much material out there on the Catholic understanding of traditional courtship, but however it is implemented, let us all see that we are working to protect the future of the family itself.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Bible, or Science?

I had been listening to a friend who is Baptist having an argument with an atheist. It was hard, but I was staying silent through the entire thing. What was annoying to me was that I disagreed with both of them at various points. Sometimes, my friend would make a good point about God as Creator, and sometimes the atheist would make a good point about scientific discovery. Yet, neither of them was exactly correct in their position. My friend knew I am not Baptist so he was not sure I was on his side, and the other gentleman knew I was not an atheist so he was sure I was not on his side.

Essentially, they were both coming at the subject from their own personal presuppositions, assuming that they had all the knowledge that was necessary to determine certain subjects. The Baptist was saying "nothing but the Bible" and the atheist was saying "nothing but science". This is where they were both wrong. Aside from the disagreements between the baptist view of theology and the Catholic view, there are a number of problems with the idea of "only the Bible". When the atheist knows those problems, he is not going to accept what the baptist says. There are also a number of problems with the idea of "only science", and when someone knows those problems, he will not accept the atheist position.

It is common for many Catholics to respond to this entire issue with the perspective of "why not both?" There is some merit to this idea, after all, both the Bible and science come from God. On the surface, this sounds like a proper way of dealing with the situation (at least for those of us who accept the divine origin of the Catholic Church). Yet, there are some significant problems with this idea, and there are few today who recognize what they are.

Let us take first the circumstances with the idea "just the Bible". Most of my readers will likely agree with the Catholic criticism that there must always be some form of interpretation, and that we can never truly ever have "just the Bible". Since someone has to interpret what is read there is always an opinion of the words of the Scriptures, and never a raw, uninterpreted, truth. If a Baptist reads the Bible he will interpret it in accord with his baptistic principles that he believes. If an atheist reads the Bible he will interpret it in accord with what he believes.

Most Catholics know well that the only way that God has given us a perfect interpreter of holy writ is in the unbroken Tradition that has been handed down for 2000 years. Just because someone says "the Bible says..." does not mean that they have interpreted it correctly. They may say "the Bible says that Jesus is just a good person, but not divine"; that does not make it true. To imagine that every time anyone says "the Bible says" that he is speaking infallibly is absolute chaos, for there are millions of interpretations that contradict each other about what "the Bible says" in the world today. I think this point is fairly easy to grasp (even if one disagrees with it).

We have to be fair, however, and apply the same principle appropriately. Just as we know that not all interpretations of the Bible are necessarily accurate, so also we need to acknowledge that not all interpretations of science are perfectly accurate (this is why something is supposed to remain a "theory" until it has been proven). How many times has a scientist said "science has proven..." only to have the theory changed just a few years later? Therefore, whenever someone says "science says", we have to realize that he is giving an interpretation of what he sees in science, and not the perfect revelation of eternal truth. In principle, the study of science refers to that proper observation of the created world (and never the perfect interpretation of it).

There is nothing about the study of science that makes the scientist a perfectly neutral observer (though they really try to convince us that they are!). The scientist brings his presuppositions with him to scientific examination just as much as the theologian brings his. An honest scientist will admit that there is no such thing as a "bare fact". How many times have we heard those arguing for the "scientific" position that "science says, such and such" with the foolish idea that science is perfectly neutral and never subject to personal interpretation (the arrogance is staggering when you think about it). An atheist will interpret scientific observations according to an atheist view of the world; should we expect him to interpret science in accord with Catholic dogma? Of course not. We should expect him to deny Catholic dogma to a certain degree.

If the atheist (and the pagan, the buddhist, the muslim, etc.) are giving us their interpretation of science, then why do we trust them to tell us what is right if we know that they deny some of the most fundamental principles of truth (as revealed by Christ through His Church)? In my experience, it seems that many Catholics will be critical of protestant interpretations of the Scriptures, but show no discernment about non-Catholic interpretations of science. That is quite a foolish choice when you realize that (though they do make bad interpretations) protestants are often much closer to the truth than are atheists and pagans! Remember the scientists people trust in so many areas are the same ones telling us that the unborn child is just "a blob of tissue" and that homosexual behavior is "personal choice".

In fact we must go one step further: science is always on shaky ground (since it can always be changed by a new discovery), but the Church's interpretation of the Scriptures are never shaky--they remain true forever. This should impact us greatly, and even cause us to change our perspective on a number of issues. To give "science" the upper-hand over the Church's declaration of truth (especially those declarations that have been around longer than modern scientific study) because it is supposed to be "neutral" (when it should be obvious that it never is) is to let go of the authority of the Church. That is something, as a Catholic, that I am not willing to do.

Is this the way that our Lord Jesus wants us to learn about God's world--through the interpretations of those who deny God exists? Can an atheist give us a proper interpretation of something in science? Yes, it is possible; I am not saying it is not. Yet, protestants can give proper interpretations of the Scriptures, but they are not (supposed to be) allowed to be teachers in the Church. How then should we learn science? Whether taught by a Catholic or atheist (or otherwise), let us be cautious and critique their opinions with that which we know the Church affirms as undeniable truth. We are always to see the world (especially in science) through the eyes of the Church, and always for the glory of God above all else.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Bad Habits in the Mass

I once knew someone who had thought that my first name was "Chris". He called me Chris when we were first introduced (though I know I said my name was "Chori"), and then continued with the habit. I thought it was kind of funny, so I just let it go at first. After a bit, though, it got annoying so I realized I needed to correct him. When I told him that I was not "Chris" he was so embarrassed he could not stop apologizing. I laughed and said it was no big deal, and did not want him to worry about it. Story done; right? Wrong.

Because I waited to tell him (actually months after we met), he formed the habit of calling me Chris, and thus could not easily break the habit, even after he knew it was incorrect. Have you ever tried to change a habit that was strongly formed and found that it seems impossible to break? There is something like that in the Mass, but since it is still not widely known that it is incorrect, most Catholic laymen do not know they are supposed to stop. Now I presume you are terribly curious; here goes...

Do you (assuming you are a layman), raise your hands during the Our Father? Did you know that you are not supposed to do so? It is a big error (big, as in how many people fell into it). Here is the simplified and short version of the whole thing. The US Bishops requested permission from Rome to have people raise their hands during the Our Father; this was done to eliminate the people holding hands at that time (which is even worse). They were denied this permission because the raised hands (called "orans") is limited only to the priest, and is not supposed to be done by the laity. The problem was that the denial was poorly communicated, and thus many thought therefore that permission was given (and that was 20 years ago). Here is link (and here) that might be helpful.

Hence: a request, a denial, and then a lack of communication; all these led to the practice becoming ingrained as a habit, and the US Bishops have not made it clear what the status is. There are even some Bishops today who were not yet consecrated as a Bishop back when this all happened, so they are completely unaware of the circumstances (though you can easily look it up!). Ignorance seems to be the primary reason why this has continued to occur. I seriously doubt that there is anyone who knows it is wrong and who chooses to continue it because he thinks that he is wiser than the Church. Some might be thinking, "but the Bishop told us to do it". I commend your desire to submit to the Bishop; the problem is, even a Bishop is wrong to order you to do something that the Holy Father did not allow.

The reason why the Church denied the request by the US Bishops is not crucial, but it will help us to see better what is going on in the Mass. Of course, I cannot presume that I know perfectly what was in the minds of those who made the decision, but I think that our own Church teachings will help us. The "orans" position (hands held up, about shoulder height, palms facing forward) is specifically reserved for the priest, and has pretty much always been so. It is a symbol that signifies many things, but specifically points to the one who is leading the prayers for the people and has thus always been reserved for the Bishop or Priest who is leading Mass. The proper position of the hands for the laity (for the majority of Church history) has always been holding them in front of one's chest, palms facing each other. Rome did not appear to want to go against that traditional practice, and thus she said "no" to the request.

So then, are we speaking about a horrible grave sin that will make the Church crumble if not dealt with? No. But it is a habit that has formed, and many of those who even know that it is not supposed to happen have found it hard to break. Yet, this is a wonderful example of what our spiritual life is like. We will often form habits that lead us to greater and greater sin. Then, we get so used to those habits that we justify them as "the way I do it" and fail to examine them in light of God's commandments. Because of this danger, we should be regularly examining ourselves so that we make sure we are walking a life of faithfulness (either in our spiritual devotions, or our practice of the liturgy). How about  some healthy self-examination this week?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Musical Twinkies?

"Interesting post, Father, but I'm not convinced". That was in regard to yesterday's post about the problem with using a large repertoire of hymns at Mass. I am not surprised, nor upset. I was not trying to change anyone's mind about the subject, as much as trying to make an observation about why so few people participate in singing at the majority of Catholic parishes. With my previous post still in mind, I would like to consider another aspect of the subject. This does not apply to all hymns, just a majority of them; it does, however apply to all of those things called "praise tunes".

You have probably heard the old saying: "you are what you eat". My grandma used to tell me that every time I wanted an extra serving of dessert (not sure if it meant "I'm sweet" or "I'm junk food"?). I would like to take that idea and apply it elsewhere (the phrase, not my grandma's meaning). We could say "you become what you sing". The Church has always said that we are formed by the liturgy we participate in; garbage in, garbage out; bad liturgy, bad spirituality. Let us just set aside the general form of the liturgy itself for a moment and consider the music of the liturgy (which is not just "frosting" on the cake).

Music has a powerful influence on so many things in our soul. It can impact our emotions (think of how they manipulate you in movies with music). It can impact our inhibitions (think of how people will "dance" to some raunchy lyrics). Music stays with us in ways that we do not always think about (I can still remember tunes from commercials that were on t.v. when I was a kid). Take just those three factors, roll them into one concept, and you can see that music plays a part in forming our spiritual well being (whether we know it or not).

If the music we hear (regardless of whether we participate in the singing) in Mass is trite and irreverent, if the words are weak, or if the themes of the lyrics are limited to what is comforting (and never challenging as a large chunk of the Psalms are!), then what can we expect to be the spiritual impact on people's souls? Mollycoddling music makes mollycoddled people. Music that appeals only to a desire to be "affirmed" leads to people who believe that they always need to be affirmed (even in their sinful choices).

Think about the words of the hymns that you are familiar with. Can you think of any hymns that actually challenge your faith? It is one thing for a hymn to say "everything's gonna be OK" and completely another for a hymn to say "Jesus is Lord of all, so stand up and be courageous". There are some out there that have words like the latter, but they are few and far between ("Christ Shall Have Dominion" is a great one, but few people know about it). If you sing about "soft and fluffy" things all the time (especially when you are in holy worship of the Lord), then you become "soft and fluffy" yourself.

Think of music like food. Could you survive on a diet of Twinkies? We all know what that would lead to: diabetes, clogged arteries, possibly even cancer, then death. Some may say, "but Father, not all hymns are like musical Twinkies!" True; I will not deny that fact. Let us take that to its logical conclusion though. If there are some songs that have musical and lyrical value, then which ones are we choosing? You also cannot survive on a diet of just one food. Eat nothing but lettuce, or nothing but chicken, and even with those foods being good for you, you will be missing out on a host of essential vitamins and minerals that are not found in them. We need a well balanced diet with our food; and we need a well balanced diet with our music (because we need a well balanced diet in our theology).

Let us take this one step further and consider the music we listen to outside of Mass (because it will often have some kind of an impact on how you engage with the music in the Mass. If you choose to listen to music written by pagans, you must be very careful in what you choose. Consider the words of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes:
It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools (7:5).
The "song of fools"; now that is an interesting perspective! The context of the chapter is saying "be careful about what you find pleasure in, because some pleasure leads to ultimate misery". The warning should be clear. If we find joy in things that do not lead to a well balanced and healthy spirituality, then that is not a godly joy. If the music you listen to in your spare time has you sing about fornication, disrespect, and selfishness, then you will become a fornicator, disrespectful, and selfish -- it is virtually unavoidable. St. Augustine said "he who sings, prays twice", and we all know that we are formed by our prayers. Therefore, we are formed twice as much by what we sing.

So, I urge you, do not think of music as a neutral issue that is entirely a free personal choice. You may like something musically, but that does not mean that it is good for your soul; and it certainly does not mean that it is worthy of giving to God as an offering in the Mass (because all music in the Mass is offered for His pleasure, not ours). As you consider this, look at where you are spiritually. Are you growing in your faith? Do you struggle with the "hard parts" of Catholic truth? It may be because you are avoiding those hard parts (both in your music, and in your very soul). Whether you are making choices about the music in Mass or not, do everything possible to make good choices in the music you listen to on your own. Then pray that we all do what is necessary to lift up holy voices to the Lord and praise Him with the music we present before His throne.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Why Hymns Prevent Active Participation

With the motivation to encourage greater participation in the faithful, the Church chose to give permission for the use of modern hymns instead of the proper chants in the Mass (I once had a diocesan liturgist tell me "chant" means "hymn"; sadly, it does not). It is believed by some that a simple melody can be easier for people to learn than a Gregorian chant (though that is debatable). Therefore you would expect that those parishes that use hymnody (clearly, the wide majority) would have greater participation in the musical portions of the Mass. That is not, however, the case.

In fact, in my six years of being a priest, and having visited a wide number of Catholic parishes in different states, I would say that about one out of fifty has a decent amount of participation from the people in the music. Although the intent was to increase participation, the result has been just the opposite; it has decreased (drastically). The rubrics for the Mass say that "polyphony" should "foster participation" of the people -- does it actually do so today? What went wrong? I am going to take a stab in the dark and say that the massive proliferation of available music (pushed by the motivation to have "more options") has actually smothered the whole effort.

Consider this: we all know that the large majority of people in the pews do not have much, if any, training in singing. This is not an insult, it is a fact; just like the fact that the vast majority of people in the pews do not have much, if any, training in historic Catholic architecture. With that in mind, we have to consider also that when we are dealing with music, it is not like something that everyone can be anonymous with. If someone is a poor singer, then he is very unlikely even to open his mouth during a hymn; he will just stand there and stare off into space--effectively being prevented from active participation by something that was intended to include him. As a result, the more one tunes out during the music, the more he will also tune out during the rest of the Mass (!).

One of the reasons that this "tuning out" during the music happens is because unless a parish is using a collection of only about fifteen or twenty hymns and rotating through them each week (and I know of no single parish that would even consider doing something like this -- music ministers would say "that is far too monotonous"), most people will not know many of the hymns that are being sung. Add to this the fact that whoever chooses the music in these parishes is probably choosing "new and different" hymns on a regular basis, and they want to "give variety", what they are actually giving is something that is barely possible to learn before the hymn is finished (after all, the entire congregation does not show up for practice before Mass).

How do I know this? I have had multiple "music ministers" tell me that it is rare for more than about 10% of the people at Mass actually to join in the singing at the parishes they serve. When, however, do we see them joining in? In the parts that are repeated each week (the Sursum Corda, the Alleluia, the Agnus Dei, etc.). When the people are given time to learn something (or at least have heard it repeated for weeks) then they become familiar with it and gladly join in. I see it regularly: a new hymn is chosen by the song leader, the musician plays it well (he or she had time to practice it), and the people will mostly not even look at the hymnal, while a few softly mumble out the words trying to figure out just how the tune goes (they usually "get it" just in time for the last stanza to end).

What is the solution? As is so often the case -- go back to what the Church used to do. Gregorian chant is really not that hard to learn (as the Church said at Vatican II: chants are "always to be preferred" over hymns!). If you give the people a few weeks to catch on (and stop using a repertoire of hymns that is so vast that only those who can read music well can follow it (which is about 5% of the parishioners)) then they will learn them and find them easier to learn than hymns. In the forms we use at St. George Catholic Church there are only a few basic tunes that are used and the words to the chants change based on the Mass (we repeat the forms for the Gloria, the Kyrie, etc.). We have about 95% participation in the chants on an average Sunday (and do not use any hymns during the Mass).

Furthermore, the chants given in the Missal allow us to sing about the full breadth of our faith and not limit it to the syrupy content in many hymns. I do not even want to go into the vapid and empty words of most of those musical pieces called "praise tunes" (maybe "nursery rhymes" would be better). When was the last time that a "praise tune" or a hymn sang words like:
Haste thee, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord: let mine enemies be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul. Let them be turned backward and put to confusion: that wish me evil
This is what was sung for the Introit (the opening chant) a few weeks ago (the words come from Psalm 70)? Furthermore this helps to prevent the one choosing the music from sticking to the "nice stuff" (which keeps the faithful from numerous aspects of the faith).

Will this change? Will parishes choose to use exclusively the proper chants that are listed in the Missal and abandon the hymns that have caused so much disconnect from the Mass? I believe that it will happen; someday. Yet, it will only happen when we turn ourselves to a deeper commitment to reverence in the worship of God. It will only happen when we realize that any sense of entertainment (which is the root motivation in most musical choices in Catholic parishes) in the Mass is to be condemned as an attempt to please self more than please God. It will only happen when we turn our hearts to the Lord and worship Him above all else.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Standing and Fighting

I think I would rather have the barbarians attacking the gates than having them sneaking out of the closet and attacking from within my house. Technically speaking, I would rather that they do not attack at all, but that is not an option right now. Why do I say "barbarians" you may ask? Those who willingly stand opposed to Catholic holiness and faithfulness (as did the pagans and heathens of the middle ages) are appropriately recognized as distinct in some manner. Therefore, if one sees the uncivilized hatred and bestial behavior of many in modern society, then "barbarian" is an accurate name (and if you do not see it, you need to know it is out there).

So here we are with the barbarians attacking; and I am sad to say, their attack is largely from within the Church. It seems like lately we as Catholics are more concerned about the sins of those within the Church than those outside (which is not necessarily a bad thing). It is what we have been talking about so much recently. At the same time, the attacks against the orthodox faith (which has been held to for 2000 years) are also coming from within more than from without. It makes me wish I could run inside the Church and just stay there in the presence of Christ and avoid all the "yuck" that is going on. Of course, there is the fact that Jesus said that was not what we are supposed to do. So we must stay; and that means stay and fight (not hide in the basement).

How does one "fight" against members of one's own household? The rules are not the same as fighting against those from the outside. Having said that, I need to make clear what I mean by "fight" (just in case anyone reading this does not understand the context that I am speaking in). I am not saying to go and punch impenitent bishops in the face (leaving aside the fact that St. Nicholas may have actually done that to Arius). No, the fighting that I am referring to is much more scary. It is a fight of the spirit that works to defend the faith and remain devoted to our Lord in midst of severe opposition from liberals, modernists, and sodomites (and that growing group who are all three at the same time).

With that type of a "fight" before us, we have to ask the next question: what place do you have in the fight and what part do you play in it? We are not all called to fight in the same way. The way that I as a priest am supposed to fight is not going to be the same as the way that a homeschooling mother of 6 should, nor the way that a 73 year old widower should. Seeking faithfulness is certainly key, but we are all called to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15), which means (obviously) that we are supposed to speak the truth to others who need to hear it.

In the context of that verse in Ephesians I just quoted, St. Paul is telling us to mature in our faith,
so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles (Eph 4:14).
The very reason to speak the truth is because there are those who are trying to distort it with their own ideas; it happened in the first century and it is happening today. We cannot give in to them, and that is what it means to fight. We fight by saying "no, I will not accept the lies of the world, and I will stand firm in the truth of Christ". Will you stand with me?

It is high time for us to learn what it means when the Psalms (149:5-9) say,

Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches. Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to wreak vengeance on the nations and chastisement on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written! This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the Lord!

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Plague of Improvisation

There is a phrase that shows up frequently in the various liturgical books of the Roman Rite that I wish were not there. The words are some variation of "in these or similar words". They show up in different places where the priest is told to address the congregation and say something like what is given in the book. In the book for Baptism of Children, for example, the description is so "optional" that it seems that a priest can say pretty much anything he wants (and I have seen a few Baptisms where that actually did happen).

This is what I call the "plague of improvisation". Now I know that there are some of a more liberal and modernist mind in the Church who will point out to me that in the first few centuries of the Church they did not have liturgical books and did most things from memory. I do not deny that. The problem with using that as an argument for improvising the wording in texts is that we have no evidence that the Church Fathers did this because they believed it to be the right and proper method of celebrating the liturgy. It was more a consequence of the fact that "books" (i.e. scrolls or codices) were hard to copy and costly to own. Once the challenges to different wordings between "dioceses" became apparent, they began to make sacramentaries and then maintained the practice (sort of like the fact that we do not practice the sacrament of confession publicly anymore).

There is another problem, however that I must mention. It encourages priests and bishops to improvise in other areas as well (and I have seen this often). I was the concelebrant at a Mass once and the celebrant tried to improvise in his own words the opening collect (the first prayer of the Mass). After the first line of "O God, You are just so great, and we really like You for all the, for all the, the things that You do for us..." I knew that the train had come off the rails (there is no allowance anywhere for him to change the words of this prayer). It only got worse when he did the same thing a few times in the Eucharistic prayer. It was as though he was trying to make absolutely sure that whatever he said was different from what was in the written words.

How "making it up as you go along" became a virtue, is beyond me. What most do not consider with this encouragement for "extempore" speech, is that the practice of "ad-libbing" is tantamount to being "unprepared", and to proceeding "without restraint" (as many dictionaries define it). Trying to be fair about the motivation itself, we must acknowledge the "possibility" of it being done right. It is likely the case (though not definitely) that if all priests and bishops were completely orthodox in their views (though I am not sure that has ever been the case), and if they all had a strong commitment to reverent and traditional liturgy, that permission to "extemporize" might be safely allowed. Sadly, that is not the situation we are in, and the problems are obvious when you see all the liturgical bedlam that exists in so many Catholic parishes today.

Clearly the vast majority of those priests who improvise parts of the Mass (even though the book is sitting right in front of them) do so with the intent to modernize the wording even more than it already is (and the current edition of the Roman Missal was published in 2011; wow, that is old!). It would be one thing if the priests who wish to improvise would at least spend some time and write down the different words they want to use (to ensure that it at least sounds coherent), but instead they appear to believe that "off the cuff" is more holy (though it almost always sounds clunky and confused).

For myself, improvisation scares the heck out of me. I run from it like the plague (which is what I already called it). I prefer to speak the exact words as they are written in the Missal, and leave the accountability for the words on those who made the original choices (that is their job after all). There are a few places, however, that I do a small bit of rewording. Although never in the Mass, in a few other places I have chosen to use "these or similar words". My choice, however, of "similar words" is to use words that are more technical and reverent than modern English tends to be.

Therefore, while some wish to take advantage of the allowance for "other words" and make the ceremonies more casual and relaxed, I choose instead to take advantage of it and do what I can to make it more reverent. Generally speaking, the Mass (even the Roman Missal) can be done quite reverently if one just follows the exact words and rubrics that are laid down and avoids anything off the cuff. The tendency of priests and bishops who are more modernist in their perspective to aim at making the Mass more of an informal and "everyday" event has been bearing fruit for a half a century; and a careful examination of the fruit shows that it is rotten (rancid, in fact), and we know what Jesus said about rotten fruit.

In truth, there are only a couple places that the Church allows for improvisation in the Mass (and they are not in the Eucharistic Prayer). So, I cannot possibly tell you just how much improvisation would make a Mass invalid, but why would you want to play on the edge of a cliff? Stay away from it. When people feel casual in the Mass, they may keep coming back, but it is not because they experienced the presence of Jesus. It is rather, because they were either entertained, or they felt good about themselves (or both). When people feel reverence in the Mass it will impact them. If they are impenitent, they will leave because they feel uncomfortable around Christ; if they are penitent they will keep coming back because they want to be with their Savior.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

What Are You Thinking About?

When you get sick with a cold, do you spend time thinking about being sick? Most of us do, even if we do not want to. It is hard not to do so. I know when I am sick I will often try to do things to distract myself from the sickness, like reading a good book or watching a movie that holds my attention. I do this (and I assume others do as well) because thinking about being sick is fairly depressing. Being miserable is not exactly high on anyone's list of preferred daydreams.

So then, what do we do when we are not sick, but we are experiencing something that causes emotional or spiritual depression? Sad to say, but we usually dwell on the bad stuff (don't we?). I have caught people, who are experiencing depression, dwelling on the very thing that is causing their depression with such intensity that they tune out everything around them. We do this, even though we all know that it causes us to deepen the very depression we want to get rid of. Therefore, let me ask a question: what are you dwelling on lately?

Give it some serious thought; because if you are like most, with all the "yuck" going on lately you probably spend a good deal of time talking and thinking about it. Now let me try an even more difficult question. Which do you spend more time thinking about, Pope Francis and those who are in cahoots with him, or our wonderful Lord Jesus and His Blessed Mother? Have your thoughts been captured by all the "mud" that we have to wade through almost every day (after all, the Pope seems to come up with new things to confuse us with on a regular basis)?

Have you been dwelling on the "bad" more than on the good? It will take its toll on you if this is the case. I am not saying that we cannot think through some of these things, nor that we should stick our heads in the sand and ignore what is happening. In times like this we need to think through these things and give serious consideration to how we are to respond. What I am saying is that we cannot surrender our hope; we must maintain a diligent commitment to our Lord, and pessimism (which the devil would love to instill in you) will only drag you down and prevent you from serving our Lord in the way we are called to do. The real question is, who do you spend more time with: Jesus, or those who are disobeying Him?

I will not deny that my heart aches when I think about the extent of the sexual abuse that has been committed by my own brethren in the priesthood (upon children and adults--male and female both). To think that there are still some clergymen who have not (yet) gotten caught and are still committing these crimes gives me the creeps; it feels like I need to do a Mass of reparation every single day. Does this hover in my thoughts at times? Yes, and I hurt inside whenever it does. Where, however, do we go when we feel that hurt? We should not "circle the wagons" of our hearts and continue to dwell on it. I will usually go and spend some time in the presence of Jesus in the Sacrament.

Being in the presence of our Lord is always a helpful remedy to whatever is going on in our lives and the world around (see Ps 73:12-28). It helps to reorient (pun intended) our thinking and point us in the right direction. If you can go to an actual time of adoration of the exposed Sacrament, even better. Either way, Christ should be our focus in life, and He should be first in our thoughts. If the devil has succeeded in depressing you and causing you to dwell on that which is ugly, false and unholy (even if you are repulsed by those things) then return to the wonders of the beauty of the Lord. Give Him the glory, and give Him all of your mind.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Defending the Faith . . . Faithfully

I decided about five years before I converted that I wanted to be Catholic. Like G.K. Chesterton, however, it took some time before that actually happened. Mostly it was due to the process that we were in for the establishment of the Ordinariate but also, there were various hoops we had to jump through. It seemed like a long stretch at the time, but it was all worth it.

During those years I had numerous "friends" attack me for "denying the faith" (I guess that they meant "deny the protestant faith" and not "deny the faith of the Christians of the first 1500 years of Church history"). As the attack came, I spent more and more time studying Catholic dogma and the Scriptures. In wanting to learn how to respond to my opponents, I had to know how the Church thinks about things. That was the only way that I could see it possible to be prepared for any questions (and I got some weird ones back then!). That helped me to know the official teachings of the Church on many subjects and thus be able to see how extremely Catholic the Bible actually is (which shocked me back then).

As a result, I was able to take what I learned as a protestant, correct it, refine it, and rework it to be in accord with Catholic teaching. Once I was able to look at the world through "Catholic eyes" I found that the answers in the Catholic Catechisms were making more and more sense over time. It was like having a "rebirth" within a "rebirth". I grew accustomed to responding to arguments against the Catholic faith, even to the point of where now I enjoy it. It is like a mental exercise.

The remarkable thing is that in all of the times that I answered those arguments against the Church (whom I now love and am fully devoted to as the very bride of Christ), I was always trying to prove to people that the one true Church was the Catholic Church. In doing so, I never expected that I would ever have to defend the Catholic faith against some of her own members (especially not against the efforts of some of her clergymen!). Things have changed.

Now I am finding myself having to defend the historic teachings of the Church against the words of not just a poorly catechized layman, but against a number of Bishops! What an odd feeling (especially for a priest) to know that I am supposed to learn from the Pope and Bishops, while finding myself having to refute what they say because it denies certain parts of our faith (thank God that my own Bishop, Steven Lopes, is not one of those that I have to refute).

In this fiasco that we are experiencing, I am sadly aware that I must be respectful and show due honor to those clergymen who are above me in the Church (which is not to say that we do not need to honor those outside the Church who disagree with us). It is quite a difficult thing to honor someone who is encouraging immoral behavior (as with those Bishops today who make it clear that they support the practice of sodomy), but it is possible to do. As God commanded children to honor their parents (regardless of whether they deserve it or not), so also we must show respect to those over us (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:12).

So then, how do you speak about those Bishops (especially Pope Francis) when you disagree with something that they have said or done? Do you "speak evil" of them (as the Scriptures describe it)? Do you insult and tear down, or seek by every possible means to build up? Are you humble in what you say? The Pharisees were always prideful when they spoke of others they disagreed with; we cannot be so. It is not a sin to disagree with a Bishop (and it is required if they encourage sin), but it is always a sin to be hateful or rebellious. I truly hope that you disagree with anyone's encouragement to sin. I also, however, hope (maybe "insist" is a better word) that you do so with the love that Christ says we must show to others (especially when they behave like the enemies of the Church!).

Monday, October 1, 2018

Avoiding the Extreme

I like satire, and I like British humor. I know that not everyone has the same sense of humor, so I do not expect everyone to see the same things that I see as funny. British humor, if you do not understand it, can be hard to grasp for some. Satire is that form of comedy that sees the extremes in things, and then makes fun of something that is taken far beyond reality. While all aspects of comedy deal with irony in some way, satire is the most overt (in my opinion).

One of the problems with satire today, is that so many people are behaving so foolishly, that things that used to be considered satirical are now commonplace. That is a sad statement on the current conditions in modern society. For example, there is the old comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes" that I used to think was such an extreme portrayal of disobedient children (as well as a commentary on many of the problems in the world). I just went back and re-read an old volume of the series and noticed that many of the behaviors of "Calvin" are now commonplace in children (especially in those called "millennials").

I seriously doubt that the comic strip itself caused these things, nor do I think that the author was being prophetic. Yet, in truth, it is quite remarkable to compare what we used to consider "extreme" and see it now as quite normal. This is the manner in which the devil likes to work. He takes something that is viewed as "too far" and works to make us get comfortable with it.

If he can break down the walls of resistance and make us become accustomed to something that we used to reject, then he can lead us to compromise our convictions. Think about sodomy for instance. I do not think that there was a single movie in "normal" theaters that portrayed practicing sodomites in a good light in 1980. Today, if you look at what is being released in the theaters, about half of the movies in the "romance" category are about sodomy (and a couple even about pederasty!). Work it in slowly, let people become used to it, then it is tolerated, then it is accepted.

Knowing this principle is important for us in our own spiritual walk. Just do a spiritual inventory in your own life. Ask yourself what you have become accustomed to over the last few years. Have you been softening your perspective on things that are sinful? Do you no longer feel repulsed (or even offended) by certain sins? It may even be helpful to get someone who knows you well to help you think it through. It is possible that your "softening" is a good thing (you might have had a bad perspective that needed changing), but that is not necessarily the case.

Each of us should take a good look at our own behavior to see if we have given in to things that we used to consider "off limits" and ask why we have changed. Look deeply into your heart and seek the Lord's help to determine whether you have moved in the direction of accepting that which is against the teaching of the Church. Do you now tolerate what you used to consider extreme? We all need to be "pulled back" from the edge occasionally. Better to discover the need yourself and move back before it is too late.