Thursday, January 31, 2019

Rejoicing in the Truth

"Did you hear what the Pope just said?" That is the point that my stomach gets tied in knots. During the pontificate of Benedict XVI if I heard that comment I would respond the exact opposite: excitement and interest. Now I respond with worry (and sometimes even say "please don't tell me"). Yet, a couple times lately Pope Francis has said something that was quite solid. Once recently he gave clear support for priestly celibacy as the norm (yes, I know about his reference to the viri probati). On another instance earlier he endorsed the removal of priests who have homosexual inclinations.

I recall someone who mentioned these comments to me saying that he expected it to be withdrawn as a misquote. Although I understand his pessimism, there is another possibility. As many problematic comments and actions that we have seen come from Pope Francis, he has yet clearly and firmly to advocate a heretical doctrine. Yes, he has skirted the edges quite a few times, but never actually fallen to this (he is a poor communicator who is often hard to understand--maybe intentionally?). What does he actually believe? I suspect that we are better off not knowing -- finding out might be a serious cause of stress.

No one who has read this blog regularly will be surprised to hear that I am at times critical of things that are coming out of Rome lately. I am not a pessimist, nor am I an optimist -- I tend to think of myself as a realist. At least, that is true when it comes to things of men. When, however, we are speaking about the things of God, then I would be a radical optimist. The Lord is always stronger and more loving than we can imagine, and that means that He is always doing things that are better than we expect.

One thing that our Lord promises to do, but we often forget about in times of trial and confusion, is to protect us. He promises that He will keep the truth clear and available for us. He promises that the Church will remain indefectible. He promises that the Pope will not promulgate a heresy. It can be hard to remember these things when our current Pope, and many of those who surround him, are flirting with error, and speaking in ways that are so vague that we cannot clearly tell whether their comments are orthodox or not. Then, along comes a statement from Pope Francis that is solid and defends the truth.

We can hear solid truth and have two bad responses. The first bad response is to say, "see, the Pope is holding to the truth, what are you worried about?" The second bad response is to say, "sure, it sounds orthodox, but I'm sure he will deny it tomorrow". The first is foolishly hopeful, and the second is foolishly hopeless. A godly response is to say, "God promises to guide us in the truth, and that is what He is doing now"; that is real hope. In one sense, it does not matter whether Francis is orthodox or not -- that is the beauty of God's promise to protect us; it is not dependent on any one of us. God alone is the One to ensure that we have the truth from an authoritative source (regardless of how faithful or wise that authoritative source actually is).

Do you trust the Lord to provide you with the truth? Do you trust Him to ensure that the truth is spoken to all? This is what we are supposed to do so that we can remain open to the work of the Spirit. When an errant word is spoken, yes, it can be difficult; and none of us is the final interpreter of those things. Yet, something that contradicts the dogmas of the Church will usually be obvious, and whenever someone says he is advancing something "new" in doctrine you can be fairly sure that he is in error. New doctrines is how our separated brethren work (I know, I've been there), but not how the Church works.

Therefore, give thanks to the Lord for protecting us. Give thanks to Him that He still guarantees that truth is spoken even by those who make mistakes in other things that they say. Pray to the Lord that He continues to protect us from errors (especially our own errors!), and guide us into all wisdom. With this kind of faithfulness, we can all rejoice at seeing the Holy Spirit doing His work in our Church, and in our lives.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Coping With Liturgical Abuse

The other day, someone came to me with a comment. It was not a complaint (he was clear about that), but just an observation. He said, "you seem to talk about liturgical abuse quite a lot these days". He actually agreed with everything that I have said, and told me he did not want me to stop bringing it up since it was so important. We had an extended conversation about this fact. I compared the whole thing with how (I suspect) some Russians might have talked about the Communist revolution of 1917 right after it happened. It was all around them and could not be ignored since it impacted their lives so heavily. Another illustration that might be even more poignant is to think about how most people react when they have been diagnosed with cancer. They talk about it often since it is a major issue that has changed their lives.

The first comparison is fitting since it shows an intentional overthrow of an opposing regime. Even without the Schillebeeckx admission that the documents of Vatican II were written with intentional vagueness in order to allow for modernist interpretations, we can still see that much of liturgical abuse is an intentional rejection of the rubrics and an attempt to push things away from Catholic tradition. Many priests were taught to think that breaking the rules is a good thing that pleases God. Some priests even admit it openly and say that they are celebrating Mass with the expectation of their actions being "grandfathered in" to the rubrics in the future. This is clearly an intentional attempt at an overthrow with the purpose of making a "new Church".

The second comparison is fitting even more so, though, because liturgical abuse is genuinely a cancer. The liturgical abuse that is so common today is effectively destroying the faith of Catholics everywhere. It is like a disease and every time that it rears its ugly head, we are forced to struggle with it since it is leading to a degradation of the health of the Church throughout the world. The Church is still indefectible, but that does not mean that certain branches of the Church cannot falter and even die. Parishes can be closed, and Bishops can fall into grave sin; no individual or institution is indefectible in itself, only the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church has the promise.

So what does a priest do who sees the attempt at a new Church and the spreading cancer? Keep quiet about it? That is not faithfulness (nor is it genuine love). He tries to give the most faithful example of Who Christ is; especially in the Mass. You may have heard the protestant thing years ago about "What would Jesus do?" It was based on a book that was genuinely horrendous, but the question is certainly valid. How would Christ Jesus respond to any given circumstance? The Catholic Church has many answers for this, but it also has chosen to give a specific example of it. Every priest is supposed to live "in persona Christi" -- in the person of Christ. Priests are supposed to exemplify what Christ does, and Who He is. People are supposed to be able to look at the priest (especially during the Mass) and see an example of Christ.

If, however, every priest is innovating the actions and words of the Mass (always from what he thinks is better for the people) then the people are going to see and learn from contradicting examples. In principle, it does not matter one tiny bit what I think Jesus would do, or Who I think Jesus is. What matters is how He has revealed Himself through the Church, and one of the ways that the Church has determined for all to see that is through the actions of the priest in the Mass. The rules and rubrics of the Mass are given so that everyone (including the priest himself) can see Christ in action.

If the priest is breaking the rules (either in the Mass, or in his own personal life) and saying it does not matter how we live our lives then that is the "Christ" that he is portraying for the people. He is portraying a Christ Who contradicts Himself; is that the Christ Who came to save us? If that confused rendition of Jesus is what is being portrayed for the laity week after week, should we be surprised if people have a hard time with obeying God? They keep seeing a priest who lives "me first" and eventually are led to follow in that path. Is Christ pleased when His priests lie about Who He is by giving examples of disobedience? What do you think?

What does our Lord do in Heaven when these liturgical abuses happen? Does He say, "it's not that big a deal, so just ignore it and please stop bringing it up in conversation"? Not likely. As a finite human, I cannot imagine how the Lord responds to liturgical abuse (we do know that He got quite upset at in Jerusalem -- He even whipped a few people for it). I can guess at what the devil does, however. He likely smiles with glee. He rubs his hands together and is happy for a disobedience that leads so many astray.

This is why I talk a lot about it these days. It is a cancer that is eating away at our faith; it is the intentional actions of many who wish to overtake the Church and replace it with something else (it appears they want something more protestant). It is something that we must point out and discuss so that we are not led astray ourselves. Pray for your own heart in this (no matter how much you see the truth) so that you will not be deceived. Pray for the conversion of those clergymen who have perpetrated such errors. Pray for the seminary professors who started them down this road. Pray for the people who are still subject to this, that they would see the errors and separate themselves from it. St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Day of . . . ?

What is today? The Bishops of the USA declared today as "Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children". This is the anniversary of the horrendous "Roe v. Wade" decision that legalized abortion throughout this country. Although in many places children were already being murdered, this made it a requirement that all states allow it. Most of you reading this already know these details, but I say it to make a point. We are supposed to be doing something about the "legal protection" of the unborn.

Once again, the title is important. It is not the "day of lobbying for the legal protection..." or the "day of voting for the legal protection..." or even the "day of protesting for the legal protection..." That is not to say that we should not do those things--but that is not what is being put forward. Ostensibly, there was no problem getting people to do those other things (and that is fine, since they are needed as well). So then, why do we need to have a distinct reference to it in a liturgical observance? After all, I said Mass this morning for this exact observance.

Consider it with me for a moment. If those other things are going on, but we forget prayer, it is like showing up at the hospital for surgery but the doctor has no idea what he is supposed to be operating on. Sort of a foolish thought, right? Yes, of course it is. You can go through all the preparation for a surgical procedure, but if the doctor has never been spoken to, how much do you expect him to do? (I know I do not want a doctor operating on my while doing guess-work!). Yes, of course, God already knows what we need, but He also said He wants us to pray about it, and He promises to respond to our prayers (often, more than anything else we do!).

All the voting, lobbying, and protesting will have no genuine effect if we are not keeping prayer as the most important thing. Prayer is the proper communication with our Lord that enables all those other things to have a lasting impact on what we are doing. Yet, we are not supposed to pray just that the laws change (that is really only a small part of things). We are supposed to be praying that people's hearts change; and not just few that we know personally, but all of them. We are supposed to be praying for those people who were screaming and yelling at the students from Covington Catholic School (I am sure you read about this already). They are the ones who are influencing those around them with their hate and violence; they are the ones who are working for the legal murder of unborn children.

We are also supposed to be praying for the doctors who are murdering this nation's children. Some of them actually do repent and come to Christ for redemption. There is a long list of things that we are supposed to be praying about, but I will not give it here; I am sure you can figure it out. We need to be praying for all the details that influence this situation, and all the people who are promoting this horrible evil--we pray either for them to repent, or to be stopped (however God chooses to do that).

So then, on this "Day of PRAYER..." what are you doing? How much time did you spend in prayer? Who did you pray for? These are important questions since prayer is far more powerful than all the voting, lobbying and protesting we can come up with. It is great if millions of people show up for a march (really, it is!), but it is even better if millions of people pray. Let us remember that we serve a sovereign Lord Who promised to change the world through our prayers, and let us never lose faith in Him.

Saturday, January 19, 2019


A non-Catholic asked me recently a very pointed question about Pope Francis. It was not actually critical of him, but was asking why he is not a better example of what the Catholic Church teaches. It was actually very profound for someone who is not trained in Catholic theology. I gave a simple answer that points out the problems with treating the Pope as a celebrity, and also the fact that the Pope in Catholic theology is never viewed as perfect in holiness.

This also reminded me of the medieval acronym for "Vicarius" (the word in the Pope's title of "Vicarius Christi" which means "representative of Christ"). "Vir Inutilis Carens Auctoritate Rare Intelligentiae Umbra Superioris" shows up somewhere as a unique example of how they often thought of the Popes. The Latin phrase means essentially: “A useless man, lacking authority, rarely of intelligence, the shadow of his superior” (thanks Fr. Z). Yet, the Church still stands even when led by "useless men" (and that has happened more than once).

It does not appear in medieval times that there were people leaving the Church in droves when they had bad Popes. Rather, they just hunkered down and focused on what really matters -- faith in Christ Himself. One of the bad effects of having two very likeable Popes in a row (John Paul II and Benedict XVI) is that we expect to be able to like the current Pope. No such promise exists, and we should be careful not to presume that if we do not like him that he is automatically out to destroy us. Maybe he is out to destroy us, but whether or not that is true, we are still supposed to maintain our hope and faith in our Savior, not His "Vicarius".

Is it OK to dislike Pope Francis? Well, I would want to be cautious about that. We each must examine our hearts to determine if our dislike is genuinely an outgrowth of our love for God and all the things of God, or if we are just being cranky and finding reasons to gripe about every bad thing that occurs. In fact, if you spend some time reading 1 and 2  Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles in the Old Testament, you will see that God often gives us bad leaders precisely because He wants to test us to see if we will respond with faith in Him or throw up our hands in despair (and those who did the latter, were dealt with by the Lord accordingly). We each need to examine our hearts to determine whether we are passing this test that God is putting us in.

Do we have a good Vicarius or a bad Vicarius? I have spoken my opinion about this previously, but that is not really the issue. What matters is that we trust God to protect us from idolizing a good Vicarius, as well as from the attacks of a bad Vicarius (which is certainly possible). What would the latter be like? God never promises that we will not have to go through serious persecution (and He actually says if we are faithful, we will have to!). Ready yourself now. Husbands, help your families to be ready. Priests, help your parishioners to be ready. Let all of us do what is needed to stand firm for the future.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Two Confessional Errors

Some of you may be old enough to remember those commercials back in the 1980's where there was an announcer who spoke so fast you almost could not understand him. It was not a blur of words, because he actually voiced all the letters in each word he said, but it was like listening to something on fast forward. I think that I heard the confession of one of his grandchildren earlier this week. I got the impression that the individual wanted to get the confession over as soon as possible and had practiced saying the whole thing in under a minute.

The only thing that is actually worse than those "lightning confessions" is when someone wants to turn their confession into a counseling session. I once heard a confession where the actual confessed sins would have taken about 60 seconds to state, but the penitent was in the confessional for 30 minutes (yes, I tried, politely, to end it but it is not as easy as it sounds)! Although I do not mind giving counsel to a sinner who is repenting and wanting guidance about how to find holiness, it is not supposed to occur during the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

These are two errors that occur in Confession which are vital for all Catholics to avoid. Let us consider the first. It is true that no one really likes having to say those sins out loud (that is why the sacrament works -- it forces us to deal with our sins and not ignore them!). Yet, if we approach the Sacrament with the intention of speeding through it as fast as possible it is doubtful that we will be paying proper attention to what is going on, and thus not receive the fullness of the grace that is available.

Sometimes a priest can tell that a "penitent" is not there because he wants to be and that his heart is not really into it. The most obvious sign of this problem is when the penitent says the act of contrition so fast that he garbles up the words and ends up saying something ridiculous ("and I test all my sins cause I dread the lost in Heaven"!). If a person is nervous about going into confession, to rush through it is not going to make it easier. To a certain degree one's confession should never be "enjoyable" because we are doing spiritual surgery and sin never leaves happily. Slow down, and allow the grace to come to you (and parents, make sure you help your children with this!).

The other error is even more of a problem though. There are those who do not understand what the Sacrament of Confession is actually about. One of the things that has led to this error (and I pray that it will eventually be banished) is the "face-to-face" chair in the confessional. Many penitents come and sit in the chair and get this idea that it has now become a chat session. "Let's talk about my sins and you can help me figure out how to stop them". We have become a psychologized culture that genuinely believes that psychology has more answers than theology so it is not surprising that people will bring that into the confessional as well (at least no one has a "doctor's couch" in the confessional; at least I hope not).

Furthermore, we must realize that there may be other people waiting to say their confession as well (and one does not know how many others have come into the Church since he entered the confessional). I know of someone who was saying his confession, and then noticed it was taking a while so he said, "I should finish up, but since there wasn't anyone else in line, can I ask another question?" Regardless of whether someone else is there (and like I said, we do not know), that is not the purpose of confession; get an appointment, and ask the question later.

The other thing that causes this is that in a culture that virtually worships doctors, we should not be surprised if more and more people are wanting to have their own therapist for everything. With that desire so prevalent, we should not be surprised that people want to take advantage of a free therapist! To be completely clear, I do not mind giving counsel to those in need. I regularly do quite a few hours of counseling in an average week (and not all of it in appointments). Yet, that is not the purpose of Confession. In the confessional we are supposed to confess our sins, and receive a brief advice from the priest, a penance, and then our absolution. Anything else should be reserved for the office.

In all, make sure that you really believe what God says about the Sacrament. It is for your forgiveness to be granted so that you can find holiness and move forward in the faith. Yes, sometimes you may need extra guidance and counsel, but that is not what God is granting in the Sacrament; He is granting the redemptive grace of the forgiveness that was bought by Christ. That forgiveness does not need any guidance to make it effective; it comes because of the gracious love of God. Receive it with all faith; trusting that God will do exactly what He says He will do. Go to confession!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Zombie Apocalypse?

It is quite funny how people use the reference of "zombie apocalypse" to refer to the general concept of total societal breakdown where everyone on the planet Earth is running for their lives. I have even heard people who do not like to watch zombie movies use the phrase. Maybe it is because there is a general consensus that whatever horrible events come in the future it would never be an actual zombie apocalypse so it is an easy fictional reference. I hope so.

What if, however, I was to tell you that the zombie apocalypse has already happened? In a recent trip to the grocery store, I was tempted (more than once) to check to see if someone that I was speaking to had a pulse. Some of them really did seem to be like the living dead. They were behaving mindlessly and carelessly; as though they were nothing more than re-animated corpses who thought about nothing but their own stomachs. Many people drive this way, should we be surprised that they live this way also?

People of this character are spoken of in Scripture frequently. Take for example the reference that St. Paul makes about those who are "enemies" of Christ: "Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things" (Philippians 2:19). Although not actual cannibals (as far as I can tell) some of these modern "zombies" seem to be bent on hurting others as though that were the only way for them to survive. They often mindlessly lash out in anger as though the anger and hatred of others is in itself enjoyable.

We have become an angry society (what else should we expect when we reject the peace of Christ and seek the peace of personal self-satisfaction?). What makes it worse is that a large number of people are acting like anger is a goal to achieve rather than an evil to avoid. The manner in which many people react to the slightest mishap tells us that they are actually looking for something to be angry at. The anger that we see from Jesus in the gospels is a calculated and intentionally planned expression. People had sinned and his anger was not over a personal offense, but an emotional and yet self-controlled response that says "God has been offended, and we cannot sit by and ignore it". That is not what we are seeing in people's anger these days.

Anger and hatred seem to have become (in the minds of many today) a justifiable state to live in on a regular basis. I know someone who works in construction and he has told me stories of the attitude of most of his fellow employees. These men appear to spend their lives in a constant state of anger and discontent with their lives. Nothing makes them happy, and so they seem to want to make sure that no one else is actually happy either.

What is most common in people is a mindless response (zombie-like) to the world around. They (as though their spirit is dead) do not think through their actions or words; they are behaving like brute animals who act only on instinct. This brutality is not new. Many times in history this is exactly what happens when people reject God. St. Paul gives a vivid description of people who have fallen into this frame of mind and it sounds like much of our modern world:
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them (Romans 1:28-32).
There is an older movie that is a satire of zombie movies; it is called "Shaun of the Dead" (it is not for everyone!). It was done as a comedy and it has a subtle underlying "jab" that it gives on society. At the beginning, there is running display of people in a town who are behaving like mindless automatons (i.e. like zombies). Then after the zombie apocalypse happens, they mostly just continue the same deadened behavior. The point is, we are already zombies, so the zombie apocalypse would merely be a continuation of the trend. There really is some truth to this, but my point in this post takes it one step further; we are not just mindless and unthinking, we have become a people who are mindless and vicious.

Is this what we have become? Are we merely a culture of brutes and beasts who behave no better than a pack of wild dogs? God tells the prophet Ezekiel that when people refuse His commandments and instead choose false idols as their gods, that He would deliver them "into the hands of brutal men" (Ezek 21:31). This has truly happened to us. This is why those of us who seek faithfulness to the Lord need to concentrate our efforts at being even more holy than before. We need to stand out as mindful, caring, and loving people, who are willing to speak the truth because we care. We need to promote the fullness of godly life in a culture of death. We need to show the world the truth of Christ.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Basic Tutorial for Communion on the Tongue

Communion on the tongue; it frightens many Catholics, and makes others a bit nervous. Most of those who practice it regularly know how it works and are likely doing fine, but if they have never received any specific instruction, then there is a potential of room for improvement. Certainly, anyone who receives communion on the tongue is likely more concerned than most with the need to show reverence to the Sacramental Christ, so they will wish to be sure that they are doing so in the best manner possible. So then, with no particular person or error in mind, here is a basic tutorial for how to receive communion on the tongue. You may have already read something in this regard, but please consider the points that are made here.

There are three things that you need to be attentive to: the "shape" of your tongue and mouth, the position of your head, and how much you move. First, there are a few mistakes that new-comers make, and positioning the tongue and mouth are usually involved. I want everyone to think "basketball hoop" and not "coin slot". Holding your mouth open only a small amount means that the priest is needing to "insert" the host between your teeth, rather than to place it on the tongue (which is always preferable). If the mouth is only open a small amount, then your tongue will be "hiding" inside and is not easily reachable by the priest (who really does not want to touch your tongue, lips, or teeth, any more than you want him to).

Additionally, your tongue should be laid out flat on your lower lip. A "flat" tongue is an easier space for the priest to place the host. There are some who stick their tongue out and "point" the tip of it, thinking that this will make it easier, but it actually has the opposite result. A tongue with a "rounded" tip, laying flat on the lower lip acts like a "landing pad", whereas a stiffened tongue with a pointed tip acts like a "landing strip". The difference is that the host sits and remains more easily on the wide and flat tongue than it does on the thin pointed tongue. Therefore, there are far more occurrences of the host falling off the pointed tongue than of the flattened tongue. The only time I ever had a host fall off of a wide flat tongue was when the person had a very dry mouth and pulled his tongue in quickly, thus forcing the host to fall off.

Second, we have to consider the position of the communicant's head. A head that is leaning forward causes the tongue (even if laying flat and wide on the lower lip) to be more in a vertical position than horizontal. Therefore, if the tongue is in the least bit dry, the Sacrament is likely to fall off. This means that it is best to hold the head tilted back just a bit so that your tongue is closer to a horizontal position. You, obviously, do not want to tilt your head so much that the priest has to "reach over" your chin to serve the host, but just enough so that your eyes are about at a 45 degree angle to the priest (as though looking toward his eyes when he says "the body of Christ").

Finally, there is the factor of the movement of the head. Even if the above two points are followed, but a person moves his head (either wobbling or "jutting" it forward towards the host) then the host can still be knocked to the ground because the priest is having to "hit a moving target" (not fun--trust me). Please work to keep your head stationary, and let the priest bring the host to you. Certainly, there are some older folks who have health issues that make them shake, but the priest can usually tell that is the case and he can deal with it. If he presumes that you do not have any such health issues then he will also assume that you are going to stay in one place.

The only factor that can influence the head movement is if an altar boy is not holding the hand-paten directly under your chin. Technically, even with all the above "rules" followed, accidents can still happen (we do live in a fallen world). So the hand-paten is the "catch all" (pun intended) to make sure that the host does not touch the ground. Therefore, if the hand-paten is not directly under your chin, do not open your mouth until you see it moving in that direction. I once had someone move his head at the last second to get his chin over the paten, and that caused me to "bump" the host on his tongue, and it bounced right back out of his mouth.

With all this said, I must make it clear that these are merely suggestions gleaned from years of serving communion on the tongue. There may be other suggestions that a different priest may make, but these seem to work the best for me. Consider these helpful points, and--to make it easier for you--practice beforehand; you can do so in a mirror at home, but it is not best to wait until you get to the rail and try to remember all that was said here (and parents, help your children to prepare!). This way you will be ready to receive Christ in the most reverent and godly manner.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Catechism(s) on Husbands and Wives

I am currently preparing an article for the next edition of the Ordinariate Observer (the official magazine of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter). This time I will be discussing the role of the Catholic husband and father. I first went to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1993) to get some useful quotes. I was not surprised, but definitely disappointed. Although it says much about spouses and marriage, it gives no specific references to the role and duties of a husband or father (or of a wife or mother, either). Yes, it does talk about the responsibilities of spouses to each other, but no difference is made between the husband and wife.

If I were a young man preparing for marriage and wanting to know what my role as a future husband and father was, I would be left with virtually nothing except a few generic statements that apply to both husband and wife. Why is this so? Why did the Church spend so much time defining matrimony and the significance of spousal relations and chastity, without giving anything of any usefulness to the specific differences between men and women (which it does affirm the existence of in other places; e.g. CCC 372) in the marriage covenant? There is a long list of the offenses to marriage and the various types of sexual sins, but that only refers to what not to do in marriage.

Furthermore, the references to the role of husband and wife as spouses is not much different than the role of one Catholic to another: be good to each other, forgive one another, and pray for each other (yes, I am simplifying and summarizing, but not much). Thankfully, the new Catechism does refer to the importance of raising children, but it consistently says "parents..." as though there is no distinction between how fathers and mothers are to fulfill their roles. I am not even speaking about the duties in the home (though the Trent Catechism was very specific in this way!), but merely the fact that God made them "male and female" and not some androgynous duo with different shapes. Yes, the devil does want us to believe that is the case, but we are not supposed to give in to him.

Sometimes we teach volumes by what we do not say just as much as by what we do say. I have had quite a few Catholics say that they do not accept the "old teaching" that husbands are the head of the home. Where did that come from? I suspect that it was taught to them in their home as they were growing up, but it also had to be supported by the clergy. Although I cannot get into the minds or motivations of those who wrote the modern Catechism, the choice to leave out this important matter is not a small thing. Few today will read the Trent Catechism (though I wish they would!), and that means that most Catholics who look to the Catechism are left with a very vague (and unhelpful) explanation of what the roles in marriage are.

I do not want to believe that it was done for egalitarian purposes. I will give them the benefit of the doubt that the choice was because the Catechism of the Council of Trent had already done such a stunning job that Rome felt that nothing else needed to be said. Either way, even a passing reference to Trent would have been helpful (it is cited in other places). I will leave aside criticisms and critiques and merely say this: much of our faith has been watered down in many places. Even some clergy have caused grave confusion about what the Church teaches. Let us not allow our families (the "domestic church") to be infected with this same confusion; to do so is to let our children be catechized by the world.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Lousy Excuses

What is the technical and theological definition of the term "Holy Day of Obligation"? I have searched far and wide and read through many sources to come up with the most accurate and clear definition, and I would like to give it to you here, right now.
"Lousy excuses don't cut it"
Actually, here is the rule in Canon Law:
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to assist at Mass. They are also to abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body (1247).
The Catechism also says that we can only be excused "for a serious reason", and thus we have my original (very tongue in cheek) definition. "Serious reason" is not specifically defined, and in many instances that is left up to the individual. Just how sick a person really is, is not subject to the determination of others -- you know how sick you really are and how bad you really feel (and you know that God knows as well!). "I have a hangnail that is really bothering me" or "I'm having a bad hair day" are what we would categorize as a "lousy excuse".

We always tend to be too easy on ourselves when we make determinations about things like this. One general rule that people like to use (though it too can be abused) is "would you go to work?" If not, then you probably should not go to Mass. It would be helpful though if I gave a few examples of some things that are really "lousy excuses" (otherwise known as "justifying your sinful choice").
1) I can't drive myself and don't want to bother anyone else (most priests would be happy to find someone to come get you)
2) I'm not in the mood (all the more reason to grow in sanctification)
3) I have company, and they are not Catholic (the testimony of your commitment to your faith may be the very thing they need to be told about -- before they arrive!)
4) I forgot it was a Day of Obligation (there are a million resources to plan ahead for Holy Days and many people even ask for time off months in advance to make sure they can attend--if you care about it, you will do the work to make it possible!)
We must also add to this list the "long term" excuses. Except for those in "mercy vocations" (doctors, nurses, police, firemen, etc.) where they help others who are in genuine immediate need, there is no job that can be considered a justifiable excuse for missing Mass (regardless of how much more money you can make). If someone has a job in which he believes it is necessary to work and miss Mass (Sundays, or Holy Days of Obligation), then he should check with his priest about it (before missing Mass). The priest may be able to give him a dispensation (and transfer the obligation to another day of the week), but that is up to the wisdom of the priest, not the individual's self-determination (ever!).

We all know why this subject is so sensitive to us in these modern days. Every one of us struggles with being told what to do, and extra "days of obligation" can seem like a silly rule (and terribly inconvenient in our self-focused busy lives). We often get a bit "snarky" when the Church gives commands that require certain distinct behaviors (do not eat meat, give money to the Church, etc.). Therefore, the discipline involved in obeying (especially when we struggle with the command) is there precisely for our own good. The Church does have the authority to tell us what to do in many and various areas of our lives, and being present at the amazing event of the sacrifice of the Holy Mass is not a "duty" as much as a "privilege".

How else can I say this other than to be direct and clear? Yes, in case anyone missed it: it is a grave sin to choose to miss Mass by our own action. Although there are legitimate reasons to be absent from a required Mass, we cannot take God's generosity for granted. If we really knew what was going on in the Mass (that remarkable miracle that occurs when Jesus comes to be physically present with us in the Eucharist), we would never ask whether it is "required", we would be seeking the next wonderful opportunity to attend!

What about those situations where someone does not actually miss Mass, but they are not genuinely present for the entire celebration? If you intentionally show up late (for whatever reason) you have not fulfilled your obligation. Yes, things happen (flat tires, unruly children, etc.), but those are out of our control; if you are in control of the decision, you are accountable. Also, if you intentionally leave early (i.e. before the final blessing) you are also not fulfilling your obligation. "Attend Mass" does not mean "attend until you no longer want to be there" but "attend all of it"! Once again, if we understand what the Mass is, we would want it to last longer, and not seek to find ways to avoid it.

Looking out at the pews at a particular Holy Day of Obligation last year, I prayed that those who were not present were attending somewhere else that day. I do not know their situation, but I know that priests all over say that attendance is rarely the same on Holy Days of Obligation as it is even on an average Sunday. Commitment to the Mass equals commitment to our Lord. If you do not want to be with Jesus in the Mass, how can you say you love Him? What is your commitment to the Mass itself? Do you struggle with the requirement? Ask the Lord to change your heart; seek to understand Christ better; and commit yourself to following Him--especially when you are not in the mood to do so!