Thursday, November 29, 2018

Praising God for Everything He Does

How do you feel about eternal punishment? I know, that sounds like I am asking, "how do you feel about getting dental surgery without a pain killer?" Yet, when you think about the reality of Hell (and it is a reality) how do you respond to it? Does it make you shudder? Do you get squeamish? I sincerely doubt that any of us responds with joy. What if we were to find out that the Saints in Heaven actually praised God for the fact of an eternal recognition of His divine judgment on the wicked? Woah.

Today's readings for Mass give us a passage from the Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation) in the New Testament. In that passage we read that the Saints in Heaven praise God for three things: 1) His saving power and glory; 2) His punishment of those who lead people into sin; and 3) the continuing remembrance of her punishment (Apoc 19:1-3). The second one is tough enough, but that last one seems almost impossible to fathom. It reads this way in the Douay:
Alleluia. And her smoke ascendeth for ever and ever.
The Catholic edition of the Revised Standard Version reads similarly:
Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.

It is not just a recognition of the fact that the smoke of Hell exists. It is specifically giving praise to God that He does not let us forget it. Judgment is not a pleasant thing, of course. Yet, here we find that those who are perfectly redeemed in Heaven are thankful enough to express praise to the Lord that the "smoke" rises "forever". We should note that it is not saying that they can see the actual punishment itself (as though they were watching the tormented souls in agony), yet it does say that they see a reminder of it. Just as you can see smoke rising from a fire even though you do not see the fire itself, so this is a sign that reminds them that God brings, and has brought, judgment.

What bothers so many of us is that we feel uncomfortable with the idea of taking pleasure in someone's pain, and that is a good thing. We should never rejoice that someone is suffering (anyone). The reason why this is so, however, is because in our fallen state we do not yet have a perfectly redeemed heart and mind that can perceive things the way that God can. We are prone to feelings of selfish vindictiveness and revenge and those are sinful. No, I am not saying that there is a holy "gloating" going on in Heaven, but I am saying that the Saints can give praise to God for all His works (including His judgments). Consider this: we are told many times in Scripture to give thanks "in good times and bad" and to "praise God for all His mighty works". If we can achieve praising God for His judgments, then the rest is easy.

Imagine the holy Saints telling God, "I like all Your nicey, nicey works, but I really do not like that judgment and punishment stuff; could You hide it back in the corner of eternity so I don't have to look it at?" Yeah . . . probably not. If, however, it is a holy and saintly thing to praise God for His judgments, then why do we here on Earth still get uncomfortable about it? Because we are still on the path to holiness, but have not yet arrived. I admit that I cannot stand talking about Hell in a homily (did it a few weeks back and stressed the whole way through!). Yet, each of us needs to be moving further along that path.

I do not expect anyone to be running around tomorrow yelling "hooray, God sends people to Hell!" Once again, in our fallen state (and in the current theological confusion of our society) that would be the exact opposite of speaking the truth; it would come across as a hateful vendetta (the Book of Revelation was sent to the Churches to read, not the pagan world). We should, though, be working on being able to give our Lord praise for everything He does; not just for saving us, but for bringing justice where justice is needed. That is what eternal punishment is all about: justice. If God did not cast the wicked into Hell, then He would be unjust--and an unjust God cannot be trusted in anything (even salvation). Let us each seek to praise Him for His glorious works; each and every one of them.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Prayer For These Days

We humbly beseech Thee, O Lord: that of Thy unbounded mercy Thou wouldest grant unto the Holy Roman Church a Pontiff, who by his tender care towards us may ever find favour in Thy sight, and, studying to preserve Thy people in safety, may ever be honoured by us to the glory of Thy Name; through Jesus Christ Thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Although this prayer was intended for use in the Mass when a new Pope is being elected (Divine Worship Missal, For The Election of the Pope), I have found another usage for it. Notice the words "grant . . . a Pontiff". The intent of the phrase "grant . . . " is to say "grant us a new Pope". Yet, it is grammatically possible for it to mean "grant unto our current Pope that he would . . . " I have been praying this prayer (twice a day) with a two-fold direction. First, I am asking the Lord to grant Pope Francis to see his sins, and to repent of them; publicly, fully, and sincerely. Second, I am asking that if that is not going to happen, I am praying that the Lord would grant us a new Pope; soon and very soon. God is God, and I leave it in His hands as to how He answers this prayer.

No, I am not praying for Pope Francis' death (as I have heard many are doing). Yet, as I have mentioned before, Pope Francis is not, at present, a good Pope; he has clearly shown himself to be working against the Catholic faith in many areas. As Dr. Taylor Marshall said recently, it is time to "take the red pill" about Francis. The current Pope is not helping the Catholic Church to withstand the world, the flesh, or the devil. He is actually doing many things that are encouraging sinful behavior. We need a good Pope. We need either for Pope Francis to repent and be a good shepherd, or we need a different Pope (Cardinal Sarah would be a great choice!).

I would encourage all of my readers to begin praying this prayer on a regular basis. I would encourage you to make sure beforehand, though, that your heart be right about it. Do not pray it with anger or in a vindictive mood. Pray it with humility and holiness. Pray it with trust in our great Lord, that He will show us mercy in these times of great trial.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Christ the (One and only) King

Yesterday morning, Christ the King Sunday, I woke up with a terrible cold. I had felt fairly healthy the night before when I said the Mass at two of my parishes. The aspect that was an extra bummer for me, was the fact that Christ the King Sunday is actually my favorite day on the entire liturgical calendar. Yes, I like it even more than Easter and Christmas! I know I have said this before, but in principle Christmas and Easter would not mean much if Christ never sat down at God's right hand to rule as King of the Universe. It is that most important fact that we cannot do without.

Christ, being seated on the throne of Heaven, is bringing together all that He did in His life, death, and resurrection and applying it to the world now. If it were not for His current reign, then we would not be able to receive any of the benefits of His grace; they would all be lost. This is why it is my favorite day of the liturgy. If we lose that truth, we lose everything that came before.

Furthermore, the encouragement that we receive from knowing that Christ is ruling in Heaven goes far beyond the worst problems that the world or the devil can throw at us (and even beyond what we can do to ourselves!). Are you in pain? Do not worry; Christ is still on His throne. Are you confused? Do not worry, Christ is still on His throne. Are you fearful? Do not worry, Christ is still on His throne. That is really the answer to every challenge that can ever be encountered, because were He not on His throne, then we would have something to worry about. As it is, we can take full confidence in Him because His love for us is not useless; it is the love of the One Who is King of kings and Lord of lords.

So then, back to the beginning point. I was sick (and technically still am) with a pretty bad cold. I woke up on Sunday morning and thought to myself "great! now I can't deliver my homily that I had prepared for this day". What is it that I hear the Holy Ghost saying to me? "Do not worry, Christ is still on His throne". I respond, "but, I have such good things to tell them!" Holy Ghost: "They are not dependent on you for their salvation, they are dependent on Christ as their King and Savior". Me: "OK, smack down accepted".

It is those wonderful experiences (yes, I did just call it "wonderful" that I got sick and could not offer the Mass, but please remember the context), that help us to keep ourselves on track and remember Who really is in charge. It is easy for each of us to overestimate our importance, and what better day to get it straight than on Christ the King Sunday? Let us each keep in our hearts a remembrance of what it means to be servants of the King of kings. Let us each rejoice that He is in charge and we are not. Let us each be thankful that it all depends on Him and not on us. Let us each give praise to Christ our glorious King.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Working the System

Walking through the grocery store the other day, I saw a couple of teens that were a perfect example of what most people would consider "teenage rebellion". I had the sad thought about what their parents must be feeling; I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt that they actually did care (many today do not). We all know these types of children; we see them regularly and anyone with a concern for someone's eternal soul will agonize about it.

There are other categories of children. There are the ones who have troubles, and they regularly go back and forth through the cycle of rebellion-repentance-depression-normalcy-rebellion-etc. Most families have at least one child like this. They can usually be identified because they are not too good at covering up their problems in the long term. There are also those children who have an occasional struggle, but are generally what we would consider to be devout and holding their faith.

There is, however, one more category that is not as widely known. There are children in Catholic families that, for lack of a better phrase, have figured out how to work the system. I have seen them many times, and these are the ones that I worry about the most (even more than those in the first paragraph who are in open rebellion). You see, the rebellion of this category is hidden and many people do not see it. In fact, their parents are often the last ones to see it. Out of the natural desire to see their children do well, parents will often put all the weight on their children's good behavior and rarely ever peek into their hearts to see if it is sincere. These children know this and take full advantage of it.

When a child has degenerated into this behavior, it is because something has happened to their hearts that draws them away from Christ; and it probably happened long before. Hypocrisy (for that is precisely what it is) does not show up over night. It is most often a planned attempt to cover up a deep-seated evil that the person knows is wrong and does not want to get caught in. These children will often look "faithful" in general terms. They still attend the Mass with their parents (when they cannot come up with an excuse to avoid it), they ask religious questions, and will even participate in prayer. This is because they have learned how to mimic these actions while their hearts are far from God.

It is not hard to figure out how to say the right words and make the right actions. Children raised in Catholic homes are frequently around it quite a lot, so they have multiple examples of it to copy. All the while, they are ready to bail on the faith in a moment as soon as they get the opportunity (which usually comes when they finally get out on their own). When this happens, these parents are quick to say "we never saw it coming". It is, of course, hard to look into anyone's heart, and only the Lord knows a person's heart perfectly. The signs of hypocrisy, however, are easy to spot (even if the specifics are unclear).

Sadly, these children have learned how to put on a show; they are hypocrites in the deepest way. The reasons that they choose this path will vary, but generally it comes from an event where they open themselves up to some kind of doubt about the Christian religion (parents who are not in complete unison about the faith is a common cause today). They often have some semblance of faith, but it is severely weakened because they are seeking selfish pleasure first. What little faith they have is often just enough to blind those around them to what is really going on deep in their hearts. They are often just biding their time until they can be out from their parents' authority and be able to "come out of the closet" about their denial of the faith.

It should be obvious to all that there is only one way to deal with this type of problem. Parents must win the hearts of their children. It is easy to win their behavior (outwardly forcing them to comply), but getting their hearts is much harder. It takes a lot of self-sacrificial love that shows the children that the parents really do care. It takes a lot of talking things over, and reaching out to the children before they start down these corrupt paths. If you find that your children have already gone down this path, they can be brought back, but it is not done with just a few firm commands to "snap out of it". What it takes is protecting them from what will pull them away, and staying close to them with a loving authority that is willing to pull them back from the edge.

Of course, pray for your children; of course be wise and clear in your leadership (and never, never, never, try to be their friends before being their parents). It is not easy to do, I know, but you must prove to your children that nothing else carries the importance that they do for you. Your job, your income, your personal pleasures, your comforts and conveniences; all these you must be willing to sacrifice in order to show your children what really matters to you; their eternal salvation. God never said parenting would be easy, and if all we do is a bare minimum, then we cannot expect to lead our children to Christ.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter . . .

I have passed an important point. After having seen the sad outcome of the US Bishop's meeting in Baltimore, and watching (on video -- I was not present) Cupich, Wuerl, and Mahoney walking around and talking as though they are innocent and orthodox, I have lost confidence. No, I have not lost hope -- but then my hope is not based in anyone other than Almighty God. I have lost confidence, which I was trying to hold onto and give the benefit of the doubt that maybe the Bishops (including Pope Francis) would be moved by a pastoral concern to do something good.

Therefore, the point that I have passed, is this: having confidence that there are enough good Bishops to make a difference. There were times in history past that God had to remove disobedient clergy from the Church and that may very well be what needs to occur today (I have heard that St. Charles Borromeo once said that most of the Bishops in his day were going to Hell!). If God is going to bring a temporal judgment on those "shepherds who destroy" (cf. Jer 23:1), it is obviously not in my hands. I will continue to pray for them, and for the future of the Church. No, I cannot just "move on" and forget it all, but I cannot continue to dwell on this.

If a parishioner of mine comes to me with an "abuse" issue, then I will (of course) minister to him. I cannot allow the problems in the USCCB (which appear to be very deep seated) to keep me from ministry; I have people to care for. The cares and concerns of the average parishioner (based on those I have spoken with each week) are not based in the problems of the Bishops. We all want them to get these things fixed, but we have lives to live. We have Masses to attend, children to raise, work to be done, bills to be paid, and prayers to be said. We should not forget the problems (and we should step up immediately when we encounter one in our own parishes!), but we have done our duty in calling those involved to faithfulness.

If those who want to maintain the problems (as though they were a good thing) have taken hold of the reins and outnumber those who still love the Lord, then we must sit back and wait for God to bring His judgment. Yes, there are good Bishops out there who are seeking genuine faithfulness, but they are a minority today and their hands appear to be tied. I know it may sound somewhat "defeatist", but if we become obsessed with all of this, then it will drag us down. We will end up unable to serve God in the manner we are called to do.

It is hard to have any hope at times like this. I know that Cardinal DiNardo said he ended with a hope that they may be able to do a better job if they take more time to work through things. I certainly want them to, but I do not have much confidence that they will be able to, especially when you realize how many prelates are against them. Further delays may very likely cause even more loss of hope in many. I pray that they will not lose their hope in Christ, and will realize it is time to "hunker down" and fight the good fight of the faith where each of us is able to do so.

Thinking as a pastor, if I were to delay dealing with a problem of this magnitude and just keep putting people off, I would be in grave sin. When I encounter a serious issue, I cancel appointments and go to "accompany" (Pope Francis' word!) those who are hurting. If Pope Francis had done this last summer when so many were hurting, things might not be where they are today. If a parishioner comes to me and begs for help with a crisis, for me to tell him "wait until next February" is a prime example of the behavior of a hireling (I believe the technical term is "clericalism"), and not the Good Shepherd (cf. John 10:12-15).

Let us fight diligently to maintain our faith in the Good Shepherd, and pray for those whom He has put over us. Let us make sure that we are getting on with the lives that God has called us to live. Even if your confidence is lost, like mine has been, you can still maintain a strong devotion to the faith, and continue to be a holy Catholic. Do not forget those who are hurting and always be ready to reach out to them with whatever grace God has given to you. Together we can endure and prepare for the future where our blessed Lord will grant us a renewal and restoration of His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Friday, November 16, 2018

NFP or NFA?!

I have read quite a bit of information about Natural Family Planning; some helpful, some not so much. My wife and I never actually practiced NFP since our philosophy was, "just let God give us as many children as He wants to, and trust Him in all of it". I have met a few other Catholic couples who have the same perspective, and it is quite refreshing to see (especially since it was pretty much the only position until the last century!). While the Church is working hard to teach the evils of any form of artificial contraception, and seeking to promote natural family planning, it seems to me that something has gone awry.

Someone once said to me, after I had given an explanation of NFP, that it seemed that the only difference it had with artificial contraception was that it was natural. "So the Church just wants us using natural contraception?" At first I saw it merely as a naive misunderstanding of things. Then, after a time, I began to find out that vast numbers of married couples were using NFP as a "Church approved contraception". They were still contracepting, just doing so in the way the Church approved of. They were not using NFP to put "space between" children's births, but to avoid more than their predetermined number of children. Rather than "Natural Family Planning" this should be called "Natural Family Avoiding".

We have become so convinced that children should only come when we want them, and when we decide to have them, that "some form" of contraception is being practiced by most. I am sure that there are couples who have 8, 9, or 10 children that practiced NFP (and not "NFA") but all the ones I met with large families had the "other" perspective I mentioned above: just trust God. Natural Family Planning should not be used to avoid more than two children, but that does seem to be the case in a number of instances.

In fact, much of the material that I have read, and many (not all) of those who teach NFP describe it in these exact terms. Although they never actually say "Church approved contraception", that is the way that it comes across in their talks (I speak from first hand experience). Quite often, the manner that NFP is explained sounds more like "here is the way the Church allows you to trust yourself in contraception"; as though we all know that you certainly cannot trust God in something like that (let Him give you a couple children and the next thing you know you will have 5 or 6!).

NFP is considered a godly practice of spacing out the births of children. One question has not been asked in this subject matter: in this day of modern advancements, great conveniences, and better living conditions, why do we need to "space out the births of children"? I am not saying that there are no advantages to having a certain amount of time between children being born (two of ours were born just a year apart--I know what it is like). I am asking when that became a proper motivation, and what is it that we are trying to achieve? I personally know a woman who had great difficulty after each of her children were born, and I can see a good reason for her to use NFP. Outside of circumstances like that, it seems many are still using NFP for entirely selfish reasons.

Yes, I am probably making a few new "unfriends" in saying this. My goal is not to harm anyone or cause strife and stress, but we each need to look at our motivations in what we do. NFP is supposed to be for promoting godliness, but it is hard to deny that it is used often to support an ungodly attitude, and becomes the very thing that it was developed to avoid: contraception. I even overheard one person encouraging another that "you have to use NFP since the Church does not allow artificial contraception". It was presumed that everyone wants to limit the number of children they have, so this is the holy way to do it.

My dear wife and I have only 5 children. Although we wanted more, that was not how things worked out for us. We rejoice in what God has given us, and are always thankful. Five children is not really that many though (I met an older woman the other day who is number 7 of 14 children, and knew someone years ago who had 19 children). It was not long ago that 8 or 9 was considered a normal Catholic family; nowadays it is almost unheard of. Do we really still believe that children are a blessing of the Lord? Do we really give Him our whole trust; especially in the area of children? What has happened to our hearts?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Bad Leaders

While driving to one of my parishes to say Mass the other day, I passed a truck going the other direction and could not help but notice the driver. She was a woman of about 25 or 30 years old and had two children with her. At least those were the ones I saw, there may have been more in the back seat. I was able to see the two quite well because they were in the front seat with her. Let me be even more specific. They were physically, in the same front seat with the woman who was driving. The one child was about a year old and she was holding that one with her left arm. The other child was about two years old and she was apparently standing on the center console with her arms around the woman's neck.

I suppose it is possible that there is a valid explanation as to why this was necessary, but I have yet to be able to come up with one. I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt and presume that she believed that she was keeping her children safe and that her actions were protecting them. What a vivid picture that is of what leadership has become today (clergy, parents, politicians, etc.). For someone who believed the same as what I am presuming of that woman, seat belts might seem to "too restrictive" and an "overreaction".

As Catholics, we all understand the importance and the need for leaders -- good leaders, that is. The problem, of course, is that there are so few good leaders and a large percentage of those in leadership positions today are not just "bad leaders" they are "horrible leaders". I am not as familiar with other countries, but political leaders in America are...well...ummmm...embarrassing. Yes, I know, that is a bit too vague. Maybe the phrase, "astronomically incompetent and childish" would be more clear (both liberals and conservatives)? I know that a lot of attention gets thrown at bad leadership in the Catholic Church these days (and we certainly do have a large collection of bad leaders), but it is not just in one area that this has occurred.

Examples of good leaders in any field are few and far between. This is why leaders are generally not trusted today. In the Church (especially here in America) we seem to have deepened that lack of trust so far that it seems impossible to restore it. It is possible, but not if we continue to practice the same kind of leadership that got us into this problem. Leaders have to change, and that means that their hearts have to change.

The horrendous moral compromise that took place over the span of the 20th century was not created "ex nihilo". It was the result mostly of the (so-called) Enlightenment of the 18th century (which was itself the necessary result of the Protestant apostasy of the 16th century). The more that people rebelled against authority and sought to recreate it in their own image, the more authority became corrupted. We went from the medieval concept of authority (under God, and for the sake of the people, not the leader himself) to a modern concept of authority (under no one, for the sake of getting what I want). This is true of vast numbers of politicians, clergy, and parents today.

Going back to my original illustration at the beginning, leaders are racing down the highway with the presumption that they are doing what is good and right for their people, yet all the while they are putting those who are under their care at great risk. Leading people is much more than just knowing what is supposed to happen and then making it happen. The motivation behind leadership is crucial. It is certainly difficult to maintain a godly attitude in any leadership position (especially when those under one's care are malcontents). The Lord, however, calls us to holiness and service. For leaders that means that they are supposed to be doing their job for the glory of God and for the sake of the people. Selfishness and personal pride should never come into the picture.

I once heard someone say that if a leader likes being a leader, then he is doing it only for himself. That may be a bit exaggerated, but only a bit. As a leader in the Church and in my home, there are many days when I do not like being a leader -- helping those who are hurting, guiding the confused, juggling difficult schedules; it all can weigh down on you. If I were to imagine that I am called to lead for my own sake, and I come to find that I do not enjoy what I am doing, then I will manipulate things until the circumstances are pleasing to me. If, however, I know that I am called to lead for the sake of others, then my personal comfort is not going to be the primary factor in the decisions I make. In fact, I should be willing to surrender my personal comfort regularly for the sake of others.

Does it take longer to lead rightly? Yes, it often does. Do we have to have a greater knowledge and experience in order to lead rightly? Yes, we do. Is there a personal and spiritual dimension to godly leadership? Absolutely. Those who approach leadership humbly and with a servant's heart, will find that the Lord can easily assist them by guiding their daily actions. Those who approach leadership for their own good (especially those who try to claim it is for the good of others when it is not) are blocking out the Lord and preventing the Holy Spirit from granting them wisdom. Governmental leader, business leader, Church leader, or home leader; let us pray for them all, and ask the Lord to inspire penitence and restoration so that leaders can once again be trusted.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

"Train the young women..."

What if I said that married women have to love their husbands and children? Would anyone of my readers disagree with me? What if I said that married women are required to have wisdom and self-control in sexuality? Probably fairly safe there as well. How about if I told them that they had to make the home their primary duty and responsibility in life? I suspect that I might get a few grumblers who say that I have "crossed a line". Yet, what if I went all out and said that they have to be in joyful submission to their husbands? I suspect that most of my regular readers would be on the same page, but some "passers-by" might very well be planning my demise at this point. What if I told you that this is exactly what St. Paul said in today's first reading at Mass?
train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, chaste, domestic, kind, and submissive to their husbands
The Church has not cut out this passage and removed it from our Lectionary. We are still supposed to read it, hear it, and follow it. I am not making this stuff up; it comes from the word of God. In fact, the Church traditionally teaches this exact thing. Look at what is written in the Catechism of the Council of Trent (part 2, chapter 8, question 27):
It should also be a principal study of [wives] to train up their children in the practice of religion, and to take particular care of their domestic concerns. Unless compelled by necessity to go abroad, they should willingly keep themselves at home; and should never venture to leave home without the permission of their husbands. Again, and in this the conjugal union chiefly consists, let them always remember that, next to God, they are to love no one more than their husband, to esteem no one more highly, yielding to him in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, the most willing and cheerful obedience.
This is something many today do not want to talk about. It appears that they have been frightened by feminists to the point of where they neglect (or outright deny) the truth. We have come a long way when you realize that just one hundred years ago, I could have spoken this without a pause, and today eyebrows go up just at the mere mention of women's submission to their husbands. It is not, however, just a matter of "controlling women" (as a feminist once told me), it for the sake of a much larger good. The rest of passage from today's first reading is as follows:
that the word of God may not be discredited
You see, the Apostle is arguing that if our homes are not ordered rightly, then the world will have reason to distrust God and what He says. We are always giving an example to the world; either a good example (of exactly what God says) or a bad example (contradicting what God has said). In fact, in the same passage when the Apostle is encouraging faithfulness among young men (which is just as important!), he says there that the reason why the family is to be ordered according to God's rules is,
so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us
This is not merely an issue for the first century that no longer applies. Disorder in the home can be seen by everyone. If the world is disordered, and our families are equally disordered, then we merely look just like them and have no grounds to encourage repentance. If, however, our families are ordered rightly while the world is messed up, then they will look at us and see that God must be doing something in us for us to be able to stand faithful in these difficult times. What example are you giving in your home?

Ladies, I know you have been told by the world to pursue feminist ideals, and reject the Church's historic positions regarding the distinctive roles of male and female in the world. Stop listening to them; I plead with you, stop now. Seek to learn what the Church has always held to, and seek to see the beauty in it. Parents, teach this to your children, boys and girls both. Help them to see that the order that God lays out for us is a wonderful grace that should not be forgotten. We must live as God's holy people in a dark and foolish world. As St. Paul said at the end of the reading, we are,
to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ

Saturday, November 10, 2018

How to Criticize (and still be holy!)

Criticism; no one likes to receive it, but we all know we need it at times. When you receive a criticism, how do you respond to it? Do you get upset and find ways to defend yourself (even if the criticism is accurate?)? Or, do you respond with humility and acknowledge that we can always learn from a criticism? Much of what makes us respond in a certain way is how the criticism is given. Even an accurate criticism can be delivered in a way that prevents it from being properly received (and thus completely wasting the criticism).

We should all consider what the right way is to criticize, as well as when we should criticize. Many today want to criticize the Bishops who have failed to bring proper discipline and/or have genuinely covered up grave sins. If, however, we proceed to criticize in a manner that is unhelpful (or even downright sinful), then we will be wasting the effort. It is comparable to serving a wonderful meal on dirty dishes; no one wants to eat it no matter how nice the meal itself happens to be.

Let us, then, ask the first question. When should you criticize a clergyman, and when should you not do so? It all depends on the particular circumstances. Some things are just "fishy" and it is obvious that a gentle criticism is needed; other things are a matter of personal preference (regardless of how passionate you are about it) and should be left alone. For example: you should criticize any priest's desire to be alone with your teen son; you should not criticize his choice of time for the Easter Mass. Another: you should criticize a priest who rejects Church dogma; but you should not criticize when a priest explains the Church's teaching just because it causes you personal inconvenience.

The real issue at hand is, what exactly is the subject matter that you are criticizing about? Many have told me that they could never criticize a priest -- by which, they mean, in regard to an issue of Church dogma or liturgy. This is generally a good thing, but what if the priest does something that all can tell is a grave disobedience (like, for example, allowing a woman to preach the homily in Mass)? Should you "just let it go" and leave it between him and God? No. If the Church has said "no" then the answer is "no" even if the priest does not like it. If you are unsure of the Church's position, then ask (you can ask the priest himself, or find another whom you know will be honest with you).

Then we have to ask the next question: how does one properly criticize a clergyman? It is not something that is easy to explain, but the simple principle of "always with humility" is essential. The manner of the criticism is key; anger or pride, should never be part of a criticism (to anyone). You must always show respect for the clergyman's position before God; any other manner of criticism is unacceptable and is like an attack on the Church itself. Deacons, Priests, and Bishops all sin, and at times need to be corrected, but that does not mean that you can do so with a domineering pride. Sometimes a simple question that asks for an explanation of a behavior or decision is all that is necessary.

So then, it is possible to criticize and correct, if done in the right way and for the right reasons. If the subject matter is of a nature that a criticism is necessary, then be sure to approach it in the right manner. Ask someone else about his opinion of things before you jump into it (at least in most matters; do not wait even a second if the priest is aiming at abusing someone). Never be presumptuous or prideful, and always recognize that you too may fall (even in the midst of your criticism). This is the only way that we can help one another on the path of holiness.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

God's People are Hurting

A few months back, when all the ugly stuff about sexually immoral clergymen started hitting the news, I had a few ideas about how this would all turn out. Then Archbishop Vigano's letter became public and that ratcheted things up a bit more. When Abp. Vigano's second letter came out, it was beginning to look like little was going to be done. Now that he has released a third letter (and basically says, "time to fish or cut bait") it is getting even more surreal. I will admit that I never thought that Pope Francis would basically just ignore the entire problem (he has clearly failed in his ministry as Shepherd). I also must admit that I never really thought that the vast majority of Bishops (even in America) would just stand by and say almost nothing about it.

Then, I went back and read some more history. Did you know that in the vast majority of the times when genuine renewal and restoration happened in the Church that it was not the Bishops or Priests who were leading the charge? It was the laity and often the religious as well. They were the ones (with humility and respect!) calling for holiness. They were the ones who were asking for the clerics to do something about the problems that existed. It appears to be the same today.

Serving three parishes means that I am working "in the trenches" and therefore I often get my hands and feet dirty. People come to me and talk about their struggles, and it is not uncommon for me to hear people ask why more Bishops are not taking a clear stand against what every honest person can see is the problem? Sodomy on the one hand (let's call it what it is), and liturgical abuse on the other (no it is not a "different style"); they are the two sides of the coin (those willing to abuse the worship of God, will be more willing to abuse their fellow man). One person suggested that Bishops laicize every priest who either has homosexual tendencies or who abuses the liturgy on a consistent basis immediately; he said "I'd rather be without a priest each Sunday, than have one who offends God, and is a threat to my son's virginity".

That is the real issue here that seems to be hindering genuine godly progress. Many seem to be afraid that the priest shortage will get worse. Yet, it appears that most laity would be willing to do without some good in order to avoid a horrible evil. Will the Bishops follow this pattern and do the serious work to "cut off the hand that offends" us all? I will confess that I hope and pray that something of this nature is what they choose to do when the USCCB meets next week. It is not my place to tell a Bishop (any Bishop) what to do, but it is the place of every one of us to call for a "cleansing of the temple". Even Canon Law says that the laity are supposed to speak to their Bishops about their problems. The offense of sodomite priests is in many ways worse than the offense that caused Jesus to drive people out of the temple in the first century. Some today need to be "driven out" by the Bishops!

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, it is hard to be a parent and bring proper discipline on children. The tendency of many today is to let things slide and hope for the best. It should be obvious that this sin has "slid" all the way to our spiritual fathers as well. Many of them are committing the same sin of neglect as are parents, and the results are the same -- disaster. Those who are abdicating their parental responsibilities (even a little) need to take to heart what it means for them to be screaming at the Bishops to "fix things" when they refuse to "fix things" in their own homes. Compromise breeds further compromise, and these Bishops who have failed in their calling were raised in homes that experienced the exact same failed parenting techniques as the rest; how can we possibly be surprised at what it going on? Looking at the problems in the home over the last 75 years, we should have seen this coming.

Therefore, those in positions of leadership need to be doing the hard work to overcome this plague which has hit the Church. While the faithful are crying out for truth, holiness, and traditional reverence, there are Cardinals and Bishops who are seeking to promote lies, abominations, and modernism; they have sold their souls for a pot of beans (Hebrews 12:16). God's people are hurting terribly right now and as a pastor they come to me to express their suffering. I have been making it my regular effort to give them hope. Yet, there are not many signs of hope when those over us are so unclear about what needs to be done. We, as the Church of God, have been betrayed, and not just by a few laity who have fallen away, but by a band of clergymen who want to abandon our Church's historic faith and follow the path of Judas Iscariot (remember how he ended up?).

My own faith is strong; strong in Christ and His power. Yet, it becomes harder day by day for many to keep the faith. There were times when God went through ancient Israel and wiped out large portions of the leadership for their disobedience and failure to protect those under their care. I truly pray that does not have to happen today, and yet we all need to be praying that God will do something to protect His people when those called to do so fail in their task. My Patron Saint is St. Jude. Starting today I am going to be saying the novena to St. Jude. It will end on the last day of the USCCB meeting in Baltimore. I encourage all of you to do the same or find some similar set of prayers. Pray for our Church; pray for holiness; pray for reparation.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

No, really, I want to know . . .

Back when I was a protestant pastor (Presbyterian at the time) there was an instance after one Sunday service that I will never forget. My children were 7, 4, 3, and 6 months. My wife Catherine sat in the pew by herself with all four of them, since I was always up front leading the service. A parishioner came to me after services and said, "OK, I've gotta ask it. How does your wife keep all four of your children quiet through the entire service?" (you need to understand this was a traditional Presbyterian service; not 50-60 minutes like many Catholic Masses, but closer to 90 minutes with a 45 minute sermon!).

My response was simple and straightforward (since we had been asked it many times before). "I just do what it says in the book of Proverbs". He stood there staring at me as though I had just told him that I received a message from aliens on the planet Venus. He clearly did not believe what I was telling him. Finally he spoke, "No, really, I want to know." I quoted a few passages to him as examples, and he acted like I was insulting him with a fake answer. I never did convince him of it, and it has been the same for many other people that I have spoken to about this same subject.

To this day, I am saddened that so few people believe me when I tell them this. It is as though they think that it is just too simplistic to be true. I do, now as a Catholic, have the added advantage of being able to refer to the book of Sirach (Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, was deleted from protestant Bibles back in the 17th century), but it has not had an apparent change in people's responses. Most seem to be looking for a magic trick, or some sneaky ploy that we press upon our children to fool them into behaving properly. It appears that the idea that God's written word has an actual set of guidelines for parenting is just too hard to believe.

Let us face the facts here. The parenting methods of the last 75 years have completely failed; they do not work; they cause more problems than can be resolved; and have led countless souls (of both parent and child) away from God (and possibly into eternal hell). It is time for something old. Yes, you read that right: "OLD". The older way of doing things was perfect -- God's way of doing things is always guaranteed success. His ways never fail, it is we who fail to follow them consistently. The failure is always in us, never in what God has said. When we do not follow through with something, or we choose our own path, then we fail (remember the story of Adam and Eve -- they sort of displayed for all of us the paradigm of self-will).

Someone may say, "then please just outline for us what the book of Proverbs says". Here is an outline: Proverbs chapter 1 through 31. In other words, you need to read the entire book, not just little excerpts. It needs to be read regularly, so that it can become second nature to your thought process. Yes, it would be helpful to have a guide in it (that is what priests are for anyways), but many of the basics are simply straightforward and can be understood by any parent. You just have to do them; and that is the hard part. In fact, it is harder for parents to implement God's guidelines than it is for the children! As parents we get lazy, we let things slide, and look for a way to compromise the rules. That is what leads to the behavior problems that most Catholic children have.

The book of Proverbs says right at the beginning the words, "hear, my son, your father's instruction" (1:8). It is clearly aiming at teaching children. The book of Sirach begins chapter 2 with an admonition to "my son" on how to deal with temptation (2:1), and then continues this train of thought throughout the 51 chapters. If this is what we call the "wisdom literature", why do so few people seek wisdom from it? Whenever a parent steps away from God's word in the raising of children, it is a guarantee that problems will arise. Those problems will create temptations for the parents. Those temptations will always lead to even worse parenting habits (compromised morals, lack of discipline, etc.).

In summary, I can put it this way: a lack of wisdom regarding the godly manner of parenting leads to bad parenting; this in turn leads to bad discipline (or a complete lack of discipline by compromising God's law); this, then, leads to anger in the parents at how things are not going well; the outcome of that is some form of abuse (mental, emotional, or physical), or a complete neglect of godly instruction. When this occurs it always leads to even more bad parenting (it is a perpetual cycle). It is possible that some parents hit on some of the right methods without actually drawing them from Proverbs or Sirach, but that will often be somewhat haphazard rather than clear and organized (and it rarely remains consistent).

Is it difficult to do this? Of course it is. I never said it was easy. I will say, however, that it is easier than the alternative. God's word guides us in learning what it means to avoid temptation and gain self-control. Only when we are on that path, can we as parents guide our children down that path. Furthermore, when we do guide them down that path, we find that they are able to find a genuine joy in obedience, not merely a tolerant acceptance of it for the sake of maintaining peace. In doing this, we and our children, can "understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God" (Proverbs 2:5).

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Grim Reaper at the Church Doors!

This last Wednesday I said a vigil Mass at one of my parishes for All Saints Day. Across the street there is protestant church (which I will leave unnamed to protect the guilty). They were having a "Halloween" celebration and parents were bringing their costumed children to the church, entering in, and after about 15 minutes coming back out and leaving. I have no idea exactly what the celebration was like, but there was one thing that was hard to ignore; it was the man standing at the door greeting the families as they entered. He was dressed like the grim reaper. No sickle in hand, but the costume could not be mistaken.

I could not help but notice a stunning imagery that was being presented there. When the grim reaper greets you at the door of the Church, how can one not think that something is amiss? I am not criticizing the observance of Halloween, but rather asking: what is being said by that particular choice of the "greeter's costume"? I pray that no one noticed the imagery and that it was just a matter of ignorance (otherwise, someone was saying that entering that church leads to death!). What does protestantism lead to? It is hard to say that it leads clearly and definitively to Christ, especially when there are so many errors in it.

Now I know that there are a number of protestant churches that are much more Catholic than they wish to admit (and many, like high church Anglicans, who willingly admit it). Yet, we have to acknowledge that protestantism is not merely "another church". Protestant churches are better referred to as "ecclesial communities". As I have said many times, the Church's position on protestantism is not a neutral acceptance. As with my previous post, the Church has had a very hard time since the vast misunderstandings of Vatican II began (right after the Council ended). It appears, as I speak with many Catholics (and even some clergy) that the confusion has not been gotten rid of.

No, we do not want to demonize our protestant brethren who remain in their churches--if it is done in ignorance. Yet, at the same time, we must admit that there is nothing in Catholic dogma that guarantees that those who are baptized, but out of communion with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, will be able to enter into the presence of Christ in eternity. It is a hope based on the mercy of God, and how He deals with those who desire to serve Him but are ignorant of the right ways (cf. Romans 2:14-16).

If a person eats a "pretty good" diet, but avoids certain essential nutrients, we can presume that his health will suffer for it. In the same manner, if a person has some of the historic Catholic faith, but his protestantism has rejected portions of it, we expect that it will be that much more difficult for him to stay on the path to eternal life. How can one believe the faith if he only has some of it?

This is even more serious a matter when it comes to considering our Catholic brethren who are living and believing things that are contrary to the faith. They are fully accountable to believe and practice the faith, and, for many (especially the clergy!), a rejection of it is not likely a matter of ignorance. What will we do in these days, when there is so much ignorance? Parents, catechize your children; adults, seek to teach the truths of the faith to those around you; and everyone, live a life of faithful devotion to our Lord, so that others will be drawn into the Barque of Peter; outside of which "there is no salvation".

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A "Pernicious Irenicism"

In addition, it is necessary to comment about ecumenism. The Apostolic See praises, undoubtedly, those who promote initiatives, in the spirit of the conciliar Decree on Ecumenism, that foster charity toward our separated brothers and to draw them to unity in the Church. However, it is regrettable that some interpret the conciliar Decree in their own terms, proposing an ecumenical action that offends the truth about the unity of the faith and of the Church, fostering a pernicious irenicism [the error of creating a false unity among different Churches] and an indifferentism entirely alien to the mind of the Council.

(Paragraph 10 of "Circular Letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences regarding some sentences and errors arising from the interpretation of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council" published by the CDF, July 1966)

What is "ecumenism"? The above paragraph says that many in the Church after the Second Vatican Council had seriously misunderstood it. I recall once telling someone that part of the mission of the Ordinariate was to help to bring protestants into full communion with the Catholic Church. The response I got was, "Why would you do that? If we are all Christians just with different traditions, then there is no need for that". The key word in "separated brethren" might seem to be "brethren", but it is actually "separated". They are separated from the Church, and not in communion with the Body of Christ. That is not a neutral issue.

The letter I quoted above was published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome in 1966. That means it was only a year after the close of the Council. The very fact that it had to be published at all shows how far things had gone astray so quickly (and there are a number of other concerns that are stated in the letter that we do not have time to cover here). Notice the phrase "pernicious irenicism". The bracketed words that define what that is referring to are from the original (you can see them on the Vatican website page that displays this document). It is an "error" that creates a "false unity". Something that is "pernicious" causes great harm. Therefore, a "pernicious irenicism" refers to a false "peace" that leads souls into eternal danger.

To promote the idea that Protestantism and Catholicism are merely two different ways to practice Christianity is exactly what the CDF was aiming at condemning. Sadly, I must say that it does not appear that Rome was successful in combating this. I still meet devout Catholics who think that Catholicism is just another denomination in a sea of choices. This is why they often have no problem when their children marry non-Catholics (which the Church still says is not normally supposed to be done except in special circumstances and with express permission).

To pretend that there is a "false unity" between Protestants and Catholics is what leads to people frowning when Catholics seek to evangelize Protestants (which you should still do, by the way). I recall someone telling me that when he first visited a Catholic Church and said he wanted to convert, that the priest told him he did not have to do so since he was already a Christian, and there was no real difference between Catholics and Protestants (!). He knew that something was wrong, and so he kept searching around until he found a priest who would help him to convert.

Yes, our separated brethren do have baptism, and that is a wonderful grace. They do not, however, have all the sacraments, and therefore do not have all the grace that God makes available for us to help us toward salvation. Why would anyone want to keep their protestant brothers from receiving the fullness of grace? Protestantism has many errors in it (some of which can be detrimental to one's salvation) but it does have some truths (trinity, creation, etc). This is why it is best to view protestant teaching as a truncated form of Catholicism. They have lost some of the key elements that help us to come to Christ (and added in some things that keep people from Christ).

So, if you were not sure before, you should be sure now. Evangelize, teach, and guide people to come to Lord through His holy, Catholic Church. This means, most especially, our brethren who are protestant. They are so close to the faith and merely need to brought into the fullness of it. Help them by showing them that the amazing grace that God has offered is more than just some internal feelings; it is the fullness of the sacraments, and it involves the communion with all the Saints. They are very much like the prodigal son (I know, I was there for years) who needs to be pointed home. Let us be faithful to the Church's teaching, and reach out to those who are out of communion; without compromise.