Saturday, June 29, 2019

We Cannot Keep Doing Nothing

It does not take long to find someone who will tell you that the Catholic Church is behind the times, and that we need to "update" things and "get with the program". Some would even say that the Church is behind as much as 100 years. I would disagree. In my opinion, the Church is "behind the times" about 2000 years. What I mean by this is that the Church, in herself, is supposed to remain One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, exactly as she was on the first day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples.

Yes, we grow in our knowledge of things, but we do not genuinely "change" who we are; truth and holiness are eternal. Yet today we are experiencing a massively growing tide of people (many of them Catholic) who want to refashion the Church into something she never was, and is never supposed to be. This leads not only to an attempt to change doctrine, but morality as well. The general term for this is "apostasy". I do not know whether this is actually The Great Apostasy spoken of in Scripture and prophecy, but what we are going through is certainly a great apostasy.

How do we as Catholics respond to times like these? There are four basic responses:
1) Stick our heads in the sand, deny the problem, and wait to see what happens
2) Run away from the problem by trying to surround ourselves with distractions
3) Attack the problem with our own personal wisdom of what to do
4) Deal with the problem in the way that our forefathers did for the last 2000 years
Anyone want to guess which I am going to suggest?

How did the Catholics of ages past deal with periods of great defection from the faith? The Blessed Virgin at Fatima gave a clear reminder to us. She told us to do acts of reparation. Many today have spoken about this with various directions and suggestions, but we have not seen much in the way of application. This is not to say that no one is doing anything (I am not omniscient), but one would expect that if there were "acts of reparation" in at least a majority of people, we would also see an impact on the Church. I know that I have not done enough in this regard; have you?

We have all experienced a trial or difficulty in our lives where someone said to us "offer it up". The purpose of that is to ask God to apply the merit of our endurance to whatever need He sees fit. Yet, acts of reparation are not supposed to be done only in response to a personal experience. They are supposed to be done intentionally, with the very purpose of sacrificing something of ourselves in order to make a "compensation" for the evil deeds done by others (this is the term used by Pope Pius XI in his encouragement for acts of reparation).

Certainly, many things could be done by individuals in various ways. When, however, a larger group gathers to do acts of reparation with a single purpose, the value and merit of this unified action is always of greater spiritual impact. I would like to see something done in every parish in the world, but of course, I can only influence the parishes that I minister to. I wish to begin at St. George in Republic, Missouri--my primary parish--with a monthly act of reparation that all can be a part of. I plan on celebrating a Mass of reparation followed by a time of Eucharistic adoration on every first Friday of the month for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences by which God is offended every day.

I pray that everyone in my parishes will seek to be a part of this (even inviting faithful Catholics from other parishes), and that it will eventually spread far and wide. Will you be a part of this? It is certainly easier to ignore the problem and expect someone else to do something about it. Some will likely read this (or just hear about it) and say they are too busy and decide not to work it into their schedule. These choices are the path of compromise (and they are the very things that got us into the problems we are currently suffering under). If we take to heart Jesus' words that there are many who say "Lord, Lord" but will not enter Heaven, then we cannot just sit idly by and wait for someone else to do something; Jesus calls us serve Him today.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Church is Not an Organization

How do you kill an organization? What does it take to make an organization collapse and fall? There are many ways that a company or business can fail. You could make all its employees leave; you could tarnish its reputation in the world; you could even just instigate a massive confusion in the staff that prevents it from doing its job. It is this last method that is currently being used against the Catholic Church. The devil loves confusion and chaos, and so this is exactly the type of thing that he likes doing (and it seems he got some politicians and some clergymen to help him!).

Interestingly, what many do not understand is that the Church is not an organization. Yes, there are organizations attached to the Church, and there are many reasons why someone might think that the Church is an organization (especially when she acts like one), but this is a basic misunderstanding that is common today, even among a number of Catholics (especially in nations influenced by capitalism). The Church, however, is an organism. It is quite different from an organization, and it has the defense of the risen Redeemer Who is seated at God's right hand, ruling with all power and authority over all things.

This is more than just a play on words or a sneaky way of avoiding the attack. An organization is something organized and established by men and is thus subject to the limitations of men. An organism is something created by God and is thus only subject to the desires of Him Who created it. God created human organisms, and said clearly that the norm for humans is to die and then go to the judgment (cf. Heb 9:27). Yet, He said something different regarding the Catholic Church. He stated that it would endure even against the "gates of Hades". In essence, the Church will never cease to exist, but will, in eternity, continue as the fellowship of all the faithful who live with Christ in the new Heavens and new Earth.

So then, the next question should be obvious. How do you kill an organism? You either separate the body from the head, or stop the heart. First, it is impossible to separate the Church from her Head. Christ is the true Head of the Church and nothing came make Him break His promise to His Bride (cf 2 Timothy 2:13). Christ's promise makes it clear that He will not separate from the Church itself (even if all the members were to separate from Him). We could debate what would classify as the "heart" of the Church since the phrase is virtually never used in Catholic dogma, but there are some pointers in Catholic tradition that will get us headed in the right direction.

A vision of Christ that St. Padre Pio saw would certainly seem to imply that Christ's own Sacred Heart is the heart of the Church. If we take that as our guide, then the rest of the vision clearly shows that an irreverent Mass is the worst sacrilege against Jesus' Sacred Heart; and thus is the one thing that will cut off the people of God from the "Heart of the Church". We would also do well to take note that St. Peter Julian Eymard once said "An age prospers or dwindles in proportion to its devotion to the Holy Eucharist. This is the measure of its spiritual life and its faith, of its charity and its virtue."

So, for all those who are seeking to destroy the Church (Communists, Fascists, Atheists, Muslims and Clintons), they can harm her, yes. They can cause confusion, yes. They can even infiltrate her ranks with ungodly ministers (and it appears that has been done also). Yet, that will only lead to difficulties and trials. Jesus said, however, that we should expect trials and tribulations if we are seeking to be faithful to Him. When there were attacks on the faith of God's people in the first century, St. Paul said,

They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let every one who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity” (2 Ti 2:18–19).

When we see so many falling from the faith today, and are uncertain of how to stay in the faith ourselves, then these words should be our guide: depart from iniquity and the Lord will know that you are His faithful servant.

Therefore, I am not daring them, but I would say, "Pagans, do your worst". They can harm our flesh and maybe even frighten our souls if we are weak, but they can never touch our Lord and Savior. They cannot bring down the Church of Jesus Christ unless they find a way to become more powerful than God. Do I really want the world to come after us even more than it already does? No! Of course not. Even though I may fear suffering I do not fear the world because I know that it cannot overcome the King of kings. No matter how bad it gets, no matter how many may fall into apostasy, I know that Christ is still on His throne and neither He nor His Church can be overcome.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Protecting and Nurturing

I came across a quote from St. John Paul II recently and I loved the "counter cultural" nature of it. He once said, “God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman.” Of course, most in today's world (and, sadly, many in the Church) would hate this statement and all the presumptions that go along with it. What are those presumptions? At the barest minimum, we can see that God has assigned roles to men and women that are different, and should not be confused. There is also the presumption that men are called to be protectors and women are called to be protected.

This last point does not mean that men have nothing to do other than protect, nor does it mean that women should just sit back and do nothing other than be protected. Rather, it means that there is a reason that women are supposed to be protected. The traditional Catholic understanding of this (like what we find in the Catechism of Trent) is that women are to be protected, because the work that they are called to do is so important, and because that work is done best when it is undisturbed. In essence, we could say that women are called to nurture the world, and men are called to protect women while they nurture the world (parents, take note here; please!).

How does each woman do this? Certainly, no two are called to the exact same role of nurturing. Even two women called to the married life are not called to marry the same man; each has distinct aspects to what their calling is. Nurturing, however, is a perfect way to describe the calling that God has given to women as a whole and to each woman in particular. When a little girl is being raised, she should be taught how to nurture, in the general sense. This will help her to learn to apply that role to whatever calling she fulfills. If she chooses the religious life, she will apply it there; if she chooses the married life, she will apply it there.

Furthermore, even a woman who chooses the married life, will have the role of nurturing continue beyond the time that her children are at home (and I do not mean just with her own children). Each married woman will be given different and various opportunities to nurture in some fashion once her "nest is empty". One might find a calling that she had never considered before when the children were in the home, and another might put herself into the work of her local parish in a new way (with religious education for children, or many other areas). This is all to say that women are to nurture--and when they are protected properly by the men, they can do it quite well.

This leads to the original point once again. Men are called to protect. How do they protect? Notice that St. John Paul II made the point quite broad. "Men are to protect the dignity of women". When men think of women as means to their own pleasure, they are not only not protecting, but they are also attacking the dignity of women (in one way, they do this to every woman in the world at the same time!). It should be obvious how a man protects the dignity of a woman that he is married to, or who is his own daughter. Yet, he is also to protect the dignity of those women that he sees at the workplace or next door, or at the grocery store; especially if they do not hold to the Catholic understanding of morality (since they usually do not know that they need to be protected).

If men (whatever calling they have chosen in life) were to be about the business of protecting women's dignity, and if women (whatever calling they have chosen in life) were to be about the business of nurturing, then things would be quite different in society today. In addition, if parents would teach their children what this means (even from the youngest years), then the next generation might see greater holiness in the homes, and that would lead to the end of the modern attack on the family.

What a revival of holiness this could all lead to. The repercussions are far beyond the scope of what we can see today. At a minimum it would definitely have an impact on lessening the numbers of those who fall into the trap of temptation to sodomy. It would also impact the security of many marriages. Finally, we can easily see that it would help many people to understand better what their calling is in life. Let us each take to heart what God has called us to, and never forget that He created us male and female, and then glory in the differences.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A Guide Through This Vale of Tears

I am approaching the seventh anniversary of my ordination as a Catholic priest (July 8th), and it is extra special for me this year. First of all the number seven is biblically significant -- it is usually used as symbolic of perfection or maturity (I am not perfect, but I hope I am maturing!). Second of all, I can say that this is the longest period of time that I have spent since I first became serious about my faith (when I was 17 years old) that I did not have the feeling that I was headed somewhere and had not yet arrived.

For the last 7 years I have felt completely content as a Catholic. During the previous 26 years I was constantly in motion towards becoming a Catholic (though I did not realize that was the case until about 12 years ago). As I look back over the last 7 years of joy, I think about all those who helped me along in the process to guide me to where I am right now. These people would not all have the same joy as I do if they found out that they helped me to become Catholic! I will not give names, but D.T., D.W., B.W., K.S., S.W., S.C., W.B., M.C., R.B., and J.B. all played a significant role in my conversion (two of those people would be happy about it, the rest might commit suicide if they found out!).

In our lives there are always various individuals who influence and "spiritually nurse" us in our faith. As I stated above, many of them never even realize what they are doing. That is so because of the wonderful providence of our Almighty Lord. It is just as significant when we find those who are intentionally working to guide people forward in their faith; and I am not referring primarily to those devout clergymen (either alive or dead) who minister to us. Sometimes you will just meet someone who touches your heart in a significant way and points your soul in the right direction.

This led me, today, to thinking about those who are called to guide and influence others on their path; and, once again, I am not referring to clergy. I am referring, instead, to those that are appointed as godparents. In 7 years as a priest in the Catholic Church I have met a quite a large number of godparents. In my experience (and that is all that I speak from), I would estimate that about 5% of those godparents took their role seriously. The rest are doubtful whether anything "godparentish" happens after the baptism or confirmation occurs.

Do you know someone who really follows through with the responsibility of godparents? Do your own godparents genuinely continue the role of raising children (or adults in the case of converts) in the faith? When was the last time your godparent actually gave spiritual advice to you? If it is regular for you, then you are quite blessed and should be thanking God regularly. If your godparents have shirked their role, or if they have passed from this world, then it may be a good idea to seek to find someone else to fill that role. We all need a "spiritual nudge" once in a while, and it is good for us to have a guide through this "vale of tears".

If you are a godparent for someone and have not fulfilled your duty, then it is time to renew your vows. Where are your godchildren right now? How are they doing in their spiritual life? If you cannot answer that question, then something is amiss. If they fell from the faith, what did you do or say? Here is one of the main reasons that I discourage choosing godparents who live a distance from their potential godchildren--you have to be close enough to have an influence in their lives. Have you ever said to them, "I am your godparent, so I need to speak to you about something"? If you never had to say anything like that, then maybe you are the godparent of a living Saint (what an honor!).

God-parentage has become, in many circles, nothing more than a sentimental notion. It is as though it were merely an honorary title, given to a figurehead who has no real responsibility. Is that what the Church intends by requiring godparents for everyone receiving baptism or confirmation in the Church? We all know that it is not. Pray for your godparent; pray for your godchildren; pray that the Lord will help us to renew our responsibilities and fulfill our calling to assist one another on the journey to Heaven. We all need each other's help and that is why were brought into the Church. May God have mercy on us all.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

And Lead Us Not Into Temptation

So Pope Francis recently approved a change in the translation of the Lord's Prayer. He is concerned (apparently) that people will get confused and think that God is the One Who tempts us. Although this never seems to have been an issue in the previous 2000 years, we do live in an age of great misunderstanding of the faith, and I suppose it is possible that someone might get his theology all wrong on this point. Hence, I admit it is a concern, but I cannot say that I agree with the proposed resolution. Here are a few issues of concern.

The original Greek of the text in the gospel of Matthew does not say "do not let us fall into temptation" but "do not lead us into temptation". It is not the same thing, and to change the translation in this manner is not true to the text; this is more than a paraphrased interpretation, but an actual change in the meaning. In other words: not good, and not faithful to the biblical text. Another one of the problems we encounter with this twisting of the passage is that the Greek word for "temptation" has just as much a connotation of "trial" as it does "temptation" (because trials are a temptation to sin, and temptations are always a trial--the difference is in context).

Let me add one more layer to this entire situation that I have not heard anyone else refer to. There is another text in the Scriptures that specifically says that God does lead into temptation (at least once). Yes, I know that sounds crazy; I also do not pretend that I can perfectly interpret what that means, but the Scriptures say it so we cannot deny it. Here is the passage I speak of:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1).
He was led "by the Spirit" "to be tempted". In other words, Jesus was "led into temptation" by the Holy Spirit Himself. Again, I am not saying I can perfectly understand how this works, but we can all be confident that whatever the Holy Spirit did it was not a sin. In the gospel of Luke it also says He was "led by the Spirit" and in Mark it says the Spirit "drove" Him there. There is no doubt about it (and we all know it) that Jesus was specifically sent there to be tempted. If it was not wrong to say that God did it to Jesus, how could it be wrong for Him to do it to us?

Let me add another Scriptural detail here. In the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord tells the Hebrews that, after delivering them from Egypt, He led them into the wilderness and sent them through trials to "test" them (Deut 8:16; and there are many other passages of similar reference). Thus, the Lord intentionally put them through certain experiences of difficulty and trial so that He could test whether their faith was genuine. This does not surprise anyone who is familiar with biblical history.

What does this mean for us in this question of the translation of the Lord's Prayer? At the barest minimum it means that there is nothing wrong with saying "lead us not into temptation" and it should not give anyone the wrong idea. We know that God Himself does not tempt us to sin (the original wording of the Lord's Prayer does not say that He does!). The Lord's Prayer asks that He not "lead us" into a place where there is temptation (i.e. trials, testing, etc.). Just as we pray that He will deliver us from evil--and yet we know that at times He chooses not to do so--also we are to pray that He not lead us into that same kind of trial and temptation like Jesus experienced (even though we know that He may choose to do so in order to test our faith like He did with the ancient Hebrews, or even with Job).

In the end, however, we must ask: does it make a difference? We are asking not to be tempted (however we attribute the causality). I think it does make a difference and that there are two very important things at stake here. First, the desire to change the wording of the prayer to the phrase "do not let us fall into temptation" reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what temptation is all about. Being tempted is, of course, never a good thing (in itself), but it is a trial and testing of our faith that (when we overcome it) is comparable to the strengthening of a bone after it heals from a break. We are able to stand firm afterward, like Jesus did after His temptation by the devil.

We are all going to be tempted to sin at various times because we are fallen beings who live in a fallen world (cf. Luke 17:1, "temptations to sin are sure to come"). Many of these temptations we are able to overcome by the power of the Spirit of God. When, however, we encounter a situation that is a much more serious trial and temptation we are called to remember that God is still present and able to help us. No, we do not want to go through that trial, but when that prayer that He "lead us not" is not answered, then we are still supposed to turn to Him Who is always with us "unto the end of the age".

This is the second thing at stake. In removing the reference to "leading us" into temptation (which echoes the temptation of Jesus) we are also removing the point that God is involved in every aspect of our lives, even when we endure great trials and are tempted to sin. Asking God not to "lead us" is acknowledging that our temptations that each of us experience are not mere happenstance events, but are actually a part of God's oversight in our lives. He is there when we are tempted, and sometimes He brings us into that situation precisely because He wants to test our faith, have us pass the test, and then be stronger as a result.

This does not mean He does the tempting with us (any more than He was the one who tempted Jesus in the wilderness), but it does mean that all of our spiritual struggles are a part of our relationship with Him. All He has to do in this is place us in a situation where He knows temptation will occur, and if He does it, then we know it is for our good as much as it was for Christ's good. If we merely petition God not to "let us fall" into temptation, then it makes it seem as though He is just a passive observer Who is being asked to step in when things get messed up in our lives. He is much more than that; our Lord is an active participant in everything we experience, and He is there to help us through it (as the Spirit was for Jesus--cf. Mark 1:13).

All in all, we can take hope in this one most important thing. Even though the world is filled with temptations, and we know that we will encounter them, and even though we are told to ask not to be led into temptation, yet you can always be confident that "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength" (1 Cor 10:13). This means that He does allow us to be tempted, but always makes sure to provide for us a means to overcome the temptation. So then, whether He is merely "allowing" us to be tempted or actually "leading" us into temptation, we can be sure that it is always for our good, and we can always go to Him to find the strength to endure.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

To Your Advantage

A man was once sitting in his car at a stoplight. He was the first in a line of about 7 or 8 cars. The light turned green and he took his foot off the brake and went to give it gas, but as soon as he did the car stalled. In frustration he put it in park and then went to restart it, hoping he could get it going before the drivers behind him started to honk their horns at him. Before he even turned the key, however, a big 18-wheeler diesel truck came barreling through the intersection at about 50 miles per hour; it had run the red light. Reports said that the diesel's brakes had failed and he was unable to stop. The mere difference of about 5 seconds, and the man in the car was alive rather than dead. It is unlikely that he would have survived being hit by that semi.

Certainly, in those few brief seconds, while he was frustrated for his car stalling, all he could think about was how annoying the inconvenience was. That was until he realized that his stalled car saved his life. There are many things in our lives that are like that, but we just do not know about all of them. These are the things that frustrate us, and make us say "why God?" but in truth they are there for our good. Sometimes they help to prevent something worse from happening, and sometimes they are replaced by something far better than we could have hoped for. Although we do not always know what the reasoning is, since we know that God is behind these things, we know that there is some good that will come from them.

In the gospel reading for Mass earlier this week, Jesus told the Apostles that He was going "to him who sent me" (the Father in Heaven) and that this caused them to be saddened. This last Thursday at St. George Catholic Church (as well as in a few other dioceses besides the Ordinariate) we celebrated Ascension Day. We think now about the Ascension as a wonderful event, but that is not exactly what the Apostles were thinking when it first happened. Jesus had to explain to them why they should not be sad. He tells them that "it is to your advantage that I go away". They would only see the sad parts of Jesus' ascension up into Heaven, but He was explaining to them that sometimes God allows one sad thing to come into our lives so that it can pave the way for a joyful thing to come afterward.

As difficult as it may sound, we do not always get to see the blessing that God gives to us after the "sad events" that we are talking about. That is when it becomes quite difficult to keep our faith. Imagine if the man in the illustration at the beginning had been looking down and not noticed the truck rush through the red light in front of him. He might never know the wonderful grace that had been provided to him. I like to think about my guardian angel at times, and I often wonder how many things he protected me from that I do not even know about. In the same way, a challenging event that we do not like may not have a clear connection to the blessing that God sends; but that does not mean that there is not a blessing somewhere!

What events in your life have been giving you difficulties lately? Maybe it is a co-worker whose ungodly behavior is making it difficult for you to maintain a holy composure? Maybe it is your finances that are not what you think they should be? Maybe you have lost someone close to you and cannot understand why God would allow that person to die? Whatever it is, we can take hope that God does not send us anything bad unless there is a good reason for it. Sometimes we know the blessing that comes and sometimes we do not, but God always knows whether it is better for us to know it or not. If He wants to stretch your faith, He might allow the reason for His actions to remain hidden. We cannot get angry for His choice, however, since He always has our best in mind.

If we lived in a world of chance and happenstance, and there were no God, then those bad events would definitely be nothing more than bad events. Yet, those of us with faith know better. We know that God is on His throne and that the world is not a mere chance collusion of molecules. Every single detail of God's creation was put there for a reason, and our Lord is so powerful that nothing can happen outside of His control. Therefore, when things look like they are going sideways, we can always take hope that (in some way) it is for "our advantage" (as our Lord told the Apostles). Yes, we are still supposed to strive for holiness and work for the good of all, but we do not do that hopelessly, but with great hope; hope in our Sovereign Redeemer.