Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Rejecting the Sacrament of Confession

Many (if not most) Catholics think of the confessional somewhat akin to a torture chamber. They avoid it with the attitude of "why would anyone intentionally go there to harm themselves?" In truth, it is a place of grace, peace, and (true) empowerment. Yet, I know that many priests have not made it seem to be so. How do I know this? Because more people than I can count have told me that they had "bad experience" in the confessional years ago and have not been back to confession since then (i.e. they are admitting to being in a state of mortal sin). Thankfully, some say this when they are returning to the sacrament for the first time, but not all do (ever).

There is another group of Catholics who think of the confessional more like a dentist's chair: something they will do when they absolutely have to, but will avoid it until the very last minute. Usually those in this category are making this choice because just do not want to deal with their sins, and they are banking on the hope that they will go to confession the day before they die suddenly and unexpectedly (yeah, right!). These people already know that they need to go to confession, but they are hedging their bets. I am not writing to them; they know what they need to do, and they also know that they have no idea when they will be called to meet the Lord.

The first group of people--those who have willingly chosen to reject the one sacrament that grants us the full pardon and remission of our sins--is who I wish to speak to today. First off, let me say, "sorry". I apologize for every one of my brother priests who did anything that drove a child of God away from the forgiveness of God. I do not know their intentions (that is only between them and God), but I suspect that a good portion of them thought they were doing something good and right (regardless of how non-Catholic they were behaving). The liberalism that infected and poisoned many clergy who were ordained between the 70's and 90's caused them to think that it is a good thing to break the rules of the Church.

Secondly, I also want to apologize for those priests who went further than merely breaking some rules. I am speaking about those who committed a horrendous sin against someone in the confessional itself (I have heard a number of these stories as well). What they did was vile. There is no excuse for it (though it can be forgiven if they too repent), and if his Bishop did not properly discipline him, then I apologize for that Bishop as well. They both committed grave sin, and will have to give account for it someday before the judgment seat of Christ.

I will stop with the apologizing. I do not wish to get schmoozy. What you need to hear is that not every priest is like those mentioned above. No, they are not all "great confessors", but there are good priests who know what the rules are in the confessional, and they are willing to obey them. It may take some time to find them, but if you ask around to other Catholics you will find them; then go to them (frequently). Take advantage of the grace available to you in this wonderful sacrament; do not let a bitterness rule your life and keep you from God's grace.

Recognizing the difficulties that go along with searching for a good confessor, let me mention also the boundaries of a good and proper confession. I have people come and ask me, "Father, I just went to confession at St. Waldo's and Fr. Looseygoosey did it different from what I expected, was it a valid confession or do I need to go again?" Something can be "illicit" (rules broken) and still be "valid" (a genuine experience of the sacrament). The priest must actually hear your confession (he cannot be asleep); you must confess all known grave sins in kind and number; you must express genuine penitence; he must give you some kind of a penance; he must say an absolution (which is recognizable as an absolution--"bless you, now go" is not a valid absolution); you must follow through with performing the penance as soon as possible. There is a lot of latitude there, but those are the minimums; if something fell between the cracks, find another priest that will do it right.

Excuses are easy to find if we really do not want to do something, and I know it can be hard to want to go to confession. Leave behind all excuses; now. As times around us get more difficult, you are even less certain that you will have time to go back to confession before you go to meet your maker. Whatever you experienced, do not allow a foolish priest's mistakes (or a wicked priest's sins) to keep you from receiving God's grace. Christ gained it for you, and He wants you to have it. Confession is not optional, and if you really want to go to Heaven, God will provide a good priest for you; ask and you will find.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Reasons to Disobey

Someone once told me that everyone thinks more highly of their own spirituality than they ought to. Taking that as a basic fact (which we all should admit the truth of), there are many ways that each of us will deal with it. Some will "excuse themselves" by various and sundry explanations that make it OK for them to do less than is required. "I'm too busy today" or "my circumstances are special" comes easily at times. Others will look to certain actions (of their own choosing) to prove (to themselves) that they are actually much more holy than others ("it's OK that I skipped Mass on Sunday, because I watched it on TV instead").

Neither of these two behaviors will hold out against the judgment of Almighty God. In yesterday's gospel reading for Mass, Jesus gives us the parable of the King who invited people to a wedding feast for his son. Those who were invited refuse to come for one reason or another, but they are all doing one of these two behaviors listed above. Either they are making excuses not to come, or they respond with an attitude of superiority (even to killing the servants who invite them!).

The symbol that Jesus is displaying for us in this parable is His own invitation to us to come into His Kingdom and enjoy the fruits of it. We could describe it this way: Jesus says "I have a great blessing for you, but you have to do the work of getting here to receive it" and those invited say, "I don't need what you're offering". What do you do to justify your spiritual weaknesses (for we all have some)? Do you tell yourself that are already doing fine and do not need to do anything "extra"? Do you make excuses like "it's not required"? You may call it a "reason", but that does not make it right.

The attitude of spiritual superiority is something of a plague that the devil wants to infect us with. If we think that we are "too good" to need to work on our spirituality, then we will not only stagnate in our faith, but we will eventually fall into total apostasy. It was St. Jerome who said:
Be on your guard when you begin to mortify your body by abstinence and fasting, lest you imagine yourself to be perfect and a saint; for perfection does not consist in this virtue. It is only a help; a disposition; a means though a fitting one, for the attainment of true perfection.
Good words that we should all take to heart, for each of us can be tempted to think too highly of the meagre actions that we perform in our spiritual disciplines.

Alternatively, the other attitude that says, "I know the blessings of Christ's Kingdom are good, but I should be excused from having to do the work because my situation is special", is a horrible cycle that the devil wants us to fall into. Make an excuse one time, and it is easier to make an even more lame excuse next time, ad nauseam. One translation of the gospel reading says that those invited "made light of the invitation". In other words, they went so far as to say "the wedding feast is nice, but it is not all that great". This means that they thought they were fine without it; but who will actually be fine without the grace of God on judgment day?

What is your normal weakness? "I'm doing great so I don't need more spiritual effort" or "I know I need it, but I have an excuse to skip out"? Whichever it is, then you need to begin working to overcome it. If you think you are doing fine, then sincerely ask God to let you see your spirituality as He does (remember the passage "be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect"?). If you are making excuses, then make a determination either to reject all excuses, or (if you really think you have one that is valid) then ask your priest about it--he is there to counsel you on this very type of issue. In this age of spiritual compromise, let us not get caught in the knot of self-justifying pride. The path of humility is the path to Heaven.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Who Can We Blame for All This?

When something goes wrong in your life, what is your first response? Do you ask, "who did this to me?" or "what did I do wrong?" Neither one is the perfect answer, and both can be used in a good way or a bad way. Yet, today, most people seem to opt for the first answer. Because this is the case, let us look first at the second answer to make sure that we understand it.

When someone questions their own error in a situation, that is usually a good thing. This, of course, presumes that the actual question the person is asking is, "how can I learn from my mistake and do better next time?" There are some people (relatively few) who have something of a "guilt complex" and blame themselves for everything. That is an entirely different topic and I do not have time to deal with it here. Let it suffice to say that this attitude of "everything is my fault" is usually caused by poor parenting, and needs serious counseling (spiritual and emotional) to overcome. This type of behavior is not good (it is often a denial of the grace of God) and I do not want anyone to fall into it.

Now for the first, more common, response. "Who did this to me?" is what most people ask today. In other words, they are looking for someone else to lay the blame on, and presume that they were completely innocent in the circumstances. Take for example the parent who sees his teenager falling into grave sin and tries to figure out who it was that caused this. In ignoring the fact that he refused to discipline the teen when he was a toddler, he is showing that he is unwilling to accept responsibility for his own actions.

Yes, as I said above, it is true that we do not want people only to blame themselves for everything that goes wrong around them, but to presume first that someone else is always to blame is an attempt to avoid accountability. Few people today are actually willing to be challenged in their spiritual life. That is one of the reasons why Catholic parishes that seek to make the Mass entertaining, and where the priest preaches only about "nice" things are usually the ones that are the largest. People do not want to be told that they have to repent, so they go where they know that will not occur ("tell me everything will be OK but don't tell me to change to make that happen").

The desire to blame others for our problems (especially the ones that we know we ourselves caused) is an inherent part of our sinful fallen nature. We all do this at one time or another, so I am not pointing a finger at anyone in particular but at all of us. Why do we do this? Because it is also natural for us to desire to feel good about ourselves (which can be done in the right way when it is based on the grace of Christ, as well as the wrong way when it is based on our own selfish pride). This "blame game" is often engaged in by those who have fallen into a Pharisaical piety (i.e. self righteousness). The attitude is "I don't want to admit that I could be at fault, so if I focus on someone else, I won't have to consider my own weaknesses".

We also need to realize that those who quickly say "where did I go wrong?" are not always willing to accept the blame. Sometimes this is used as a cover-up. There are those who will use these words as a falsely humble way of saying "I did nothing wrong, so how could this happen?" This is not genuine humility. The words may sound the same, but if we are only seeking a self-serving justification of our actions, then the words mean nothing in the end.

Therefore, who do you seek to blame? If you consider first your own accountability (for longer than 1.2 seconds!), then you are at least starting out in the right direction. If, on the other hand, you assume that you are in the right and start pointing the finger as quickly as possible, then you might make your own conscience feel good for a while, but you will just continue on the same path. You will keep having things go wrong, and keep blaming everyone else for it. It is easy--especially today--to blame the Pope, the Bishops, the President, the police, the public schools, and the liberals for what is going wrong (and, many of them have done awful things and caused numerous problems), but constantly blaming others and never asking "what can I do to make things better" does not fix anything; it only allows the "blamer" to feel superior.

Do you feel superior right now? If so, what is the root of it? Is it because you found someone else to complain about? Is it because you have successfully taken the focus off your own weaknesses and gotten even those around you to be grumpy about another person? Time for humility. Time for introspection. Time to ask yourself the real question that we are encouraged repeatedly in Scripture to ask: "How do I need to repent?"

Friday, August 16, 2019

English Catholic Tradition (Hiding in Protestant Traditions)

This is the second part of my previous post (Catholicism in Protestantism). Just in case you have not read the first part, please go back and read that before continuing.

Going all the way back to Augustine of Canterbury in the sixth century, who came to England to "clean up" a practical mess, there was a distinct set of practises in the Catholic Churches of England, that he chose to retain. It has to do with a "flavor" of spirituality and a unique manner in celebrating the Mass. Augustine of Canterbury did not feel the need to eliminate everything he found in the Churches that were still in England when he arrived. That which he retained was approved by Pope Gregory, and it remained and continued on through the Sarum Mass of centuries later.

It was that same Sarum Mass that Thomas Cranmer cannibalized and turned into the Book of Common Prayer. Yet, when he did this, he did not remove enough to eliminate that manner of "English Catholicism" that had fostered the Catholic faith of so many of God's people for centuries. Therefore, what is the result? Just as we would expect, the Catholic faith was maintained "in a place of division" such that many in the English Churches were drawn back to the Catholic faith (though Cranmer himself would probably hate the idea!).

Augustine of Canterbury was a Benedictine monk and that (of course) highly influenced his practice of the faith. This means that a Roman Catholic monk, was sent to England by the Pope and told to bring the accurate Catholic faith to the indigenous peoples. When he did so, he incorporated some of what was already there (since there were many Celtic churches already in England at the time) and used it to form something "new" to the British Isles. He essentially developed a Roman/Benedictine/Celtic faith that is the beginning of what we now think of as English Catholicism (this is a very simplified description of what took place -- Augustine actually encountered many challenges, but he clearly planted the seeds for what came later). One of the most obvious testimonies to "English Catholicism" lingering on in the Anglican Churches is the fact that so many Anglicans (especially today) claim that they are already Catholic and do not need to convert (!).

The remaining influence of English Catholicism in the Church of England is what led Cardinal John Henry Newman to leave Anglicanism and join the Catholic Church. It is what led many of those in the Oxford movement to become Catholic. It is what is leading many Anglicans back to it today (it did for me!). These roots of the English practice of the faith that remained influential in the Church of England and her offshoots cannot be ignored. It is as though the Holy Spirit planned all along on using these "spiritual nuggets" to convert numerous Protestants to Catholicism. Is this "English Catholicism" something so different that it is like a different faith? No. It is distinctly western and very similar in some ways to the more common practises of Catholicism. Many who are used to the more general practice of the faith (which largely stems from Rome) found in the Tridentine Latin Mass, and (somewhat) in the Novus Ordo, easily find a home in the English practises.

English Catholicism, however, did something almost no other localized practice of Catholicism did. It survived even after being taken into the protestant denominations (which is remarkable considering that Protestants were working hard to make sure they were not Catholic). It survived in a distinct form that can be recognized and restored. It was the English Catholic tradition that "left" and "came back" (more on this below). It endured and survived, we might say, in "exile" and returned to the faith from which it came. God is always in the work of redemption -- especially when it comes to good and holy traditions.

We must notice that the Catholic Church did just fine for 500 years with little acknowledgement of these ancient English practises; it is not as though the Church cannot make it without the "Anglican" patrimony. Yet, there was no other manner of Catholic practice (i.e. Jesuit, Franciscan, etc.) present in protestantism that God used to bring people to convert to the Catholic faith like He did with this. It is almost as though the distinct English practices that were begun by Augustine were forgotten for centuries except in history books. If this were lost completely it would be a great loss.

Are these English practices found anywhere in the Church today? None of my readers should be surprised if I say that it has been restored and protected in the Ordinariates of England, America, and Australia. Our form of the Mass and of the offices of prayers stem directly from these traditions. As I have said before, the Divine Worship Mass that we have been given might just as easily have been named the "New Sarum Mass", for it flows directly from those old forms from centuries ago. When he established the Ordinariates, Pope Benedict specifically said that they were going to have and protect a spiritual treasure so that it could be safely shared with the Catholic Church forever. He saw that the spirituality of English Catholicism had done something different from all the others, and he knew that it could continue to be used by God to do even more when it was restored to the Church.

This might seem like just an isolated event were it not for the fact that so many other protestant denominations were (and still are) influenced by this English Catholicism. Take for example the fact that both the Methodist and Wesleyan denominations are direct offshoots of the Church of England. In addition, American Episcopalianism is still in communion with the Church of England (at least for the time being). Taking just those three groups and their break-off groups (Evangelicals, Continuing Anglicans, etc.) the numbers who have been influenced by them in protestantism is enormous. Yes, many of those separated groups have lost even more of the English Catholicism than was originally lost under Thomas Cranmer, but Jesus told us that even little "mustard seeds" can grow into trees!

What does this mean for you? It does not mean that you necessarily need to practice "English Catholicism" to be a good Catholic. I am not saying that these English Catholic cultural traditions are necessarily better than other practices of the Catholic faith. This is not a pitch to try to get anyone to join the Ordinariate. What I am seeking to convey is that there is something distinct and unique about English Catholicism that is unlike any other approved practice of Catholicism. It has been used by God (while still present in non-Catholic circles) to draw non-Catholics into full communion with Rome, and that is not a small thing. Many today think of the Ordinariates as just an odd practice that a few traditional Catholics like; that is a gross misunderstanding of the providence of God, and how His grace has worked down through the centuries.

It is important to acknowledge that the Holy Ghost has done a wonderful work of bringing protestants back into communion through these English spiritual exercises. Just as the East retained the rudiments of the Catholic faith and thus when they return to communion are allowed to retain their distinct practice of Catholicism, so also do those who have been influenced by (and drawn in by) the unique manner of English Catholicism have a safe haven for their English Catholicism to be practiced. It is not a necessity for anyone to practice it (I know a number of converts from Anglicanism who are happy with the more well known practices of the Traditional Latin Mass or the Novus Ordo [when done well]); it is a necessity to acknowledge the great work done by God.

If you have never seen the Divine Worship Mass, then I encourage you to go visit an Ordinariate parish sometime. If for nothing else than to see what the Lord has done in spite of the great division of the protestant revolt. And above all, pray. Pray that the Lord will continue to use these remaining aspects of ancient English Catholicism to bring many more back to full communion. Whether those converts join an Ordinariate parish or a diocesan one does not really matter. What matters the most is that they are drawn in, find the grace of Christ and that God is glorified. Remember, one of Jesus' prayers before His death was that we would "all be one".

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Catholicism in Protestantism

The Eastern Schism with Rome, which was finalized largely in 1472, happened. It cannot be denied. After a long series of quarrels and bad feelings between eastern and western Catholics, the Bishops of (most of) the Eastern Churches (called Patriarchs) decided to break communion with the See of Rome. The result, which still remains today for most of those who left, is that the (so-called) "Eastern Orthodox" Churches are disconnected with the majority of their brethren in Christ. There are a number of eastern Churches who have returned to full communion with Rome, and they are properly called "Eastern Catholics".

The Protestant departure from the Catholic Church in the 16th century happened; no one can deny that either. Even though it mainly occurred in Europe, the results can be seen today throughout the world. Protestant congregations abound and thousands of protestant denominations have been formed. The Catholic Church has, for the last 500 years, sought to restore the descendants of those original Protestants back into communion with the Roman Catholic Church that Christ founded 2000 years ago. Some have returned, many have not. All of those who descended from this protesting revolt are western in form and manner, which is distinctly different from the "Eastern Orthodox" mentioned above.

It is easy to see what happened to the Eastern Orthodox who returned to full communion and became the Eastern Catholics. They retained the vast majority of the faith, and saw the need for full communion. They rejected the quarrel and realized that it is not right to be separated from the Vicar of Christ on Earth. Their liturgies and practises were retained during the time of their schism, and since these were distinctly Catholic (albeit of an Eastern flavor), the spirituality and grace present in them led them back to the fold. For which, we praise God in His mercy for granting this to them, and pray that He will do the same for those still caught in the schismatic "Orthodox" Churches.

In Protestantism, however, it is a bit less clear to see what happened. This is particularly so because the Protestants broke with Catholic practice to such a degree that they lost the essentials of what makes a Church to be a Church. This is why protestantism is not said to be a Church, but rather a collection of "ecclesial communities". They do not have the fullness of the sacraments (the way that the Eastern Orthodox still do), because they intentionally chose to reject a major portion of the historic Christian faith. In other words, some in the East broke and stayed as valid Churches; the protestants in the west broke and gave up being Churches.

Therefore, we can ask the question of what it is that brings Protestants back into the fold of Catholicism? They do not have valid sacraments (other than baptism and marriage--which is another story), and they have chopped out sections of the Bible; what, therefore, is it that remains to bring them back? Now, we must admit, God can work conversion any way that He wants to do so; He is not bound by our limitations, so I am not speaking at all about His Almighty Power. I am asking the question about protestantism itself: what raw materials are available in the practice of protestantism that God can use to convert the "lost sheep" back into the fullness of the Catholic faith?

One thing that many converts from protestantism will tell you is that they found things in the Bible that pointed them to the Catholic Church (after all, even though Protestants have less than the whole Bible, they still have some of it, and what they have has mostly been translated well enough to see the Catholic faith in it). Another thing that they have--although it is not a part of protestantism per se--is the simple facts of history. It is hard to deny that history supports the Catholic Church's claim to exclusive authority from Christ; once a Protestant sees history for what it is, it is hard to remain a Protestant.

There is something else, though, that has led many a Protestant back into the Catholic Church. It might not be what many would expect, because it is not often spoken of, but its branches extend far and wide, and it has a great impact on a large number of Protestants today. What I am speaking about it English Catholicism. No, "English Catholicism" is not referring to a distinct "branch" of the Catholic Church, nor is it talking about what is currently present in Catholic Churches in England (after the protestant departure, English Catholics mostly tried to be "more like Rome" in their practice of the faith--which was a great idea). It does not even refer specifically to the English language. It is referring, rather, to a set of Catholic cultural practises that found a unique manner in ancient England and remained for centuries after (even when some tried to destroy them!).

It is this fact of English Catholicism surviving the protestant split with Rome that I wish to consider in depth. Some may think it an accident, but God does not use accidents -- He is almighty and sovereign and does things intentionally. Others might say that what I am referring to is just a useless detail of history; that also is a mistake. Still others may not give it much thought. When we look at history and Catholic theology we find that even in the midst of the worst experiences (like the departure of the protestants in the 16th century) God is always working behind the scenes and doing things beyond what we can expect.

[Part 2 Coming Soon]

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Listening to Bad News

There is a man (let us call him "Archie") who struck his wife. He hit her so hard that it broke three of her ribs and put her in the hospital with multiple bruises and internal injuries. In addition, he broke one of his own fingers in the process. A police investigation was done, but it was closed based on "insufficient evidence" to charge him with abuse. Now, hearing that, what do you think of Archie? Do you think he is a kind man? Do you suspect he may have some trouble controlling his temper? Maybe he drinks excessively as well? You may even be thinking about the importance of getting his wife and children some protection. I would guess that your opinion of Archie would be very negative and you would not likely be willing to trust him to work as a catechist with little children at your parish; right?

Now, how about if I throw another piece into the puzzle? There is another factor that must be considered. What if I told you that Archie "struck" his wife when he tripped on a child's toy while coming down the stairs and his wife was coming up the same stairs toward him? Would that change your perspective? The "hit" was not intentional, and no, there was no animosity between the two at all. The police investigation happened as a matter of course, even though Archie's wife said clearly that it was an accident. Both Archie and his wife recovered just fine, and they even were able to have a laugh about it afterward.

Yet, what if all you heard was what I said in the first paragraph? That would definitely skew your view of Archie and make you have an opinion of him that was based on a radically misrepresented view of the "truth". Just because someone tells the truth, does not mean that it is the "whole truth" and "nothing but the truth". It is often the case that getting only a few details is more confusing than no details at all. The question, of course, is: "which" details are being given? We all know that it is possible to represent a story in such a way as to make it appear to be something completely different from reality. Since the intent is to deceive, the "truth" that is spoken is essentially a lie, and it causes others to have an opinion based on a lie (because it is a twisting of the actual story).

This is what is most often the basis of rumors. Someone hears a rumor about something, fails to investigate fully, and thus ends up with a final opinion about the situation that is not actually based on the full truth. If all you tell someone about Jesus is that He died on the cross and do not mention the Resurrection, then you have not given them the full truth. To compromise the truth by hiding certain aspects of it is not genuine honesty. To participate in such dishonesty is tantamount to being the instigator of the "lie" in the first place. Yet, many participate in the dishonesty, not out of a desire to deceive, but just because they have been drawn in to the cycle of sadness.

What do you do with rumors? How do you respond when someone gives a detail or two about something that could easily have multiple explanations? Are you one who tends to jump to conclusions about others, always presuming the worst? Or maybe you are like those who will not actually "believe" the lie, but will still entertain feelings of doubt and suspicion towards others? I have said it many times (and will continue to point it out) because it is so important for us to get this point. The technological advancements of the modern age that enable us to communicate quickly are both a blessing and a curse. They can be used to help us (like with the ability to call 911 from almost anywhere) or they can be used to hurt us (like with reports released before they have the whole story).

How many times have you seen someone recant a piece of gossip that he or she spread around (has it ever happened?)? How frequent are acknowledgements of error in the news media? The old term for someone who went around telling stories to others for the sake of getting attention was "talebearer"; someone who carried a story from place to place without genuine concern for the well being of others. This term was used long before modern news outlets, and it helps us to see the importance of truth; the whole truth. If you do not know the whole truth to some situation (and you rarely do) then you should be terribly careful in what you spread abroad. Whether it is about our president in these United States, some celebrity, or the guy down the street, talking about others behind their back is not spiritually healthy. It makes us become people who doubt others constantly, and then find it hard to maintain trust in the Lord Himself.

Guard your heart. Guard it against doubt and dissension. Yes, it is true that there is much to be concerned about in the Church these days; errors seem to abound and little seems to be done to stop it. Yet, how we react to these errors (and they are many) will make a difference. Do you presume the best about others, and give them the benefit of the doubt? It is pride that will make us become quick to believe the worst of other people, not humility. In the book of Philippians, St. Paul is speaking to a Church community that was struggling with internal strife. A division had occurred in the people's hearts to the point of where the parish had lost its true joy in Christ. As the Apostle was seeking to help them move past their quarrels he gives them this piece of advice:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. [emphasis mine]
Notice the last phrase? "Count others better than yourselves". That is the very thing that does not happen when we believe "stories" and make quick judgments on others. If those who enjoy gossip thought of others as better than themselves, then they would reject the gossip outright. If those who want to sow dissent and sadness among others thought of others as better than themselves then they would seek to find the most positive representation of something that they hear rather than the most negative. In a day and age when people seem to want to be offended, I encourage you not to let the "bad news" get you down. Do not spiral into the depressing mode of seeing everything in the worst light possible. It can tear you up inside, and--if left unchecked--it can destroy your soul.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Do We Love to Hate?

Who do you hate? Really, be honest. Is there someone that you feel hatred for? If not, then "Amen" and "Hallelujah", because hatred is quickly becoming something of a cultural expectation. No, I do not think anyone would actually say "you have to hate someone", but when you speak to people and read the news (even the fake news) it is obvious that many people in the world today take a certain enjoyment in hating. It goes right along with the desire to be "victimized" that is so prevalent today (but that is another topic entirely). 

You may not have seen it in the news, but apparently a mass-shooting was thwarted here in southern Missouri. A man walked into a Walmart with weapons in hand a few miles from where I live and was stopped before actually pulling the trigger. So far the reports do not state anything particular about motives (etc.) but with the general culture around here I am not fully surprised that he was stopped. Quite a few people around here "conceal and carry" because most have the attitude that we are all responsible to protect each other. Whatever was going on in this man's mind, I find it hard to believe that he was motivated by a deep love for mankind. Even if all he was intending was to "go out in a blaze of glory" that desire has at its root a selfish love that leads to hatred of others.

There is an explanation that goes with this spread of hatred, but most will not like it. Our modern hatreds stem from a desire to blame someone else for our problems. If I have a problem, and do not want to admit that it is my own fault, then I can salve my conscience by blaming someone else. Take for example all the hatred that exists in the political realm today. As each side blames the other for our societal problems, each side feels a sense of relief because they are making people focus on someone other than themselves. If we all keep saying "see how bad he is" it makes it easier to say "if you'll just listen to me then all our problems would be solved".

In other words, the more we indulge in hatred of others, the more we lift ourselves up as little saviors. "He's bad" must lead to "I'm good" and therefore we fill our pride with more reasons to ignore our own sinful behavior. So the Democrats hate the Republicans, and the Republicans hate the Democrats (while both of them have politics wrong!). Blacks hate whites, and whites hate blacks (though neither skin color matters). We seek to hate someone else because it makes us feel good about ourselves and helps us to distract from what really is at stake: our need for personal repentance.

One more proof of this is found in the enormous number of "hate crimes". This is not to say that more "hate crimes" are occurring (as though there is a crime which does not stem from some kind of hatred!), but that more crimes are being labeled as hate crimes. Why is this so? Precisely because we all know that hatred is not a good thing; so while our society wishes to indulge in hate, it has to make sure that the label of "hate" is pointed away from itself. The devil wants us to hate each other, but he also does not want us to realize we are hating each other, so he seeks ways to disguise the hatred. Yelling "he's bad" means that you are looking at "him" and not the one who is doing the yelling. So, naturally, the desire is going to be there to point to others being hateful (while yourself being the one who is hateful).

The common practice of hatred seems to be so deep-seated that we could go so far as to say that people today "love to hate". You can watch many people's disagreements and see that they actually find joy in their anger. Our lives must be quite empty if we can find joy in something so evil. As a young boy, I went through some pretty horrible experiences and they made me bitter inside. When I was a teen, there was a period of quite a few years when I became steeped in hate for those people who hurt me. Then I met someone who made me see the world in a different way, and my hate began to fade away. It took years for it all to go, but when it did I found that I "hated to hate". 

There is something liberating about loving others, but few people today find it. We have been taught relativism for so long that hatred seems like a virtue to many today. I recall once watching someone scream in fury that another person was acting hateful (all the while ignorant of her own hatred). It may seem simplistic, but let us each seek to love. Let us each seek to let go of our desire to hate others, and let us begin to "hate to hate". We cannot forget that those who live their lives in hatred will never enter into the presence of God, Who is love. As our society reaps more and more of the seeds of nihilism and tries to tear itself apart the only testimony that will make any difference is the love of Christ in us. Will you give that testimony?

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Faith in the Midst of Suffering

I read about a protestant musician recently who abandoned his faith and became an atheist. He claims that he went through a very difficult time in his life and that his faith was unable to help him through it. Therefore, he gave it all up and now believes in "science". I feel sorry for him, and am deeply saddened by whatever those trials and challenges were to his life; I am sure that they were painful. I am also saddened by the fact that it appears that he did not consider whether the problem may be more in his understanding of the faith than in the faith itself.

At the very root of the issue, the protestant understanding of the Christian faith is based on the same details as the Catholic understanding: the trinitarian view of God and divine redemption. Yet, when we dig a bit deeper, we will find that the protestant faith is actually a truncated view of the faith of the Christians of the first few centuries. I am not the first one to point this out; even as a protestant (years ago) I knew that there was a difference in protestantism and the early Church. Most protestants today would resolve the dilemma by saying that the early Church was wrong (when I stopped saying that, I became a Catholic).

This is the reason why I would say that the above mentioned musician is doubly wrong. Not only is he wrong in his understanding of the Christian worldview, he is wrong in his choice to embrace a pagan worldview. Yet, on the other hand we can say that he is correct, because protestantism does not truly have what is necessary to help us through all the trials of life. Yes, it does have some of the Catholic faith still present; just enough, as a matter of fact, to help most protestants to make it through. It does not, however, have the fullness of the faith, and that makes it more like a medical clinic than like an actual hospital.

I could go so far as to say that any protestant who rejects the Christian faith because of its inability to help in times of need is like someone who would take his bicycle back to the store because the engine would not start. You cannot complain that Christianity is unable to help because protestantism is unable to help. It is the Catholic understanding of suffering that makes such a difference. There was once a man who explained the Catholic view of suffering to an unbeliever who had never heard it before; the response was priceless: "Wow, I did not know that the Church had worked out the details of suffering so much--I guess it is because Catholics have suffered a lot for the last 2000 years!" Yup.

What is your view of suffering? There is a lot of suffering going on these days, and just because you are (probably) a Catholic does not guarantee that you have a Catholic understanding of suffering. The Church teaches (and has always taught) that our suffering can have a redemptive impact, not just for ourselves, but also for others. Just like Christ's death has an eternally redemptive impact, those united to Christ can accomplish a similar (albeit smaller) impact on others. This means that suffering is not just "bad stuff", and also that it is not always supposed to be avoided! The modern Catechism says that Christ, while on the cross, gave new meaning to suffering. He changed what it can do. I have never met a non-Catholic who had that exact understanding of suffering. I will bet that the musician mentioned above did not either.

So when we look out at the miserable state of things in the world (and in the Church as well) and wonder why this is happening, then the answer should be clear. God has chosen us to go through this suffering, not just because the world is a sinful place, but also because there can be great blessings that come from suffering. Do not just say "why me?" when you suffer, but recognize that you may be able to help others with your suffering. Consider also that suffering can be endured with great faith and hope in the gracious hand of God. When that happens, even greater blessings ensue.

What is your view of suffering? How do you perceive it? Is it something to be avoided at all costs? Or, rather, is it something that can be used for the glory of God and the good of mankind? How we approach suffering will determine the difference in how we approach all of life. We have to admit that we are going to suffer at some time in our lives--no one is fully exempt from that--and if we admit it, then we have to deal with it somehow. We can deal with it like a pagan (no hope, suffering is pointless, just try to find some happiness before you die); we can deal with it like most protestant theology says (some hope, and maybe God will help you); or we can deal with it like a Catholic: God ordained it because He knows it can be used for good--now trust Him.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Gender Relativism

I read in the news the other day that a man who "identifies as" (i.e. read: "pretends to be") a woman, has won a women's weight lifting competition in New Zealand. As a result, people all over the place are crying "foul" and saying that he (I will not call him a "she") should not be allowed to compete with women because it is unfair (can you say "duh?"). Supposedly, it is fine for people to choose their gender in every other area of society, but not in sports. I guess sports are just too sacred to allow gender relativism (!).

It is truly amazing that many of these same people want gender to be untouched in numerous other areas in life. They do not want gender to matter in marriage; they do not want it to matter in the home; they do not want it to matter in the workplace; and now it appears that many do not want it to matter in the military. Pick and choose where to apply your self-seeking ideas and eventually something is going to collide. God designed the universe to work in a certain way, and we can only try to ignore that for so long before something goes awry.

Well now, it is quite revealing that someone has finally said there is a limit to relativistic gender ideology. I wonder if someone is going to yell "foul" at those who do not want him to compete with the women? Can you hear them yelling: "He should be allowed to do whatever he wants since he decides for himself who he is and what he does!"? Relativism and other self-determined ideologies always destroy themselves. Sadly, it often takes a horrific disaster for many people to notice it, and some girly-guy winning a sports competition is probably not enough to make people reconsider.

I am not denying that there are many things that women can do just as well as men; there are some things that women do better than men. The problem is that we have been ignoring the fact that "doing just as well or better" is not the proper criteria to use in determining "who should be doing what". Just because you can do something does not mean that you should do it. Scientists can invent more efficient ways to kill people in a war; that does not mean that they should do so. Women might be just as good at a certain field of work as men are, but if that is the only question we use to determine right and wrong, then we will end up with the dilemma of gender-ideology that has hit us today. Neutrality in societal roles leads to neutrality in sexual roles (ad nauseam).

The proper question to ask is, therefore, what has God ordained for us? He has revealed it to us in many ways and times. I suggest that everyone go read the Catechism of Trent and see how it defines the roles in society for men and women--even the most conservative of Catholics today might be a bit surprised that this is still official Catholic dogma! I could expound it here, but I will let the Church speak for herself. When we remove the divine guidelines for society, then we can head off in many directions; the worst of which is relativism.

I know, of absolute certainty, that Jesus will win in the end, and that He will conquer all His enemies (cf. 1 Cor 15:24), including the gender neutral nightmare that we are experiencing today. I also suspect that before He fully destroys this satanic kind of thinking, that we will see more and more "train wrecks". The more we allow people to "choose their gender", the more we will see massive complications in society (even worse than which symbol to put on the bathroom door). Let us each brace ourselves for the repercussions, for we will likely experience the after shocks of most of them. Let us also stand fast in our faith. Let us teach our children what it means to be male and female according to God's standards, and let us never allow the world convince us to deny eternal truth.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Pray for Me

I speak with my brother priests as often as I can, and we all can tell you the same thing: we are under attack. Yes, "we the Church" are under attack; that is obvious. What I am referring to, however, is "we as priests". It is not just an attack on the sexual morals of priests (though, yes, that is more sensational so it hits the news quicker). I am talking about a spiritual attack that tears priests down in more ways than are obvious.

Priests are under attack in their theology--the devil wants them to compromise, even in small ways. Priests are under attack in their liturgics--the devil wants them to compromise, even in small ways. Priests are under attack in their own personal spirituality--the devil wants them to compromise, even in small ways. The trend should be obvious.

I myself have felt various "demonic" or "devilish" attacks at times. I can recall once during Mass stumbling over words at a point that was completely unexpected. It got me flustered, and then I was second guessing myself all the way through the rest of the Mass (pausing to make sure I said the prayer right; eyes jumping back and forth on the page). Suddenly I had the words of Jesus go through my mind, "get thee behind me Satan"; I recited them quickly in my heart, and the "disturbance" went away. No, I do not know if it was actually something caused by demonic influence, but I know that if that happened at every Mass I celebrated, it would truly wear down my soul.

I know many priests who tell me stories about crazy things happening to them and their parishes that have no other explanation other than a demonic attack. I will not get into all the details, but when a group of priests all say "that's not coincidence", it can give you chills. It should not surprise us, of course. The devil tries to keep men from the priesthood all the time, but these days it seems like he is putting in an extra effort. If he is unsuccessful in this (and with a recent increase in vocations, it appears that the tide is turning), then he will turn his sights to doing all he can to undermine the priests who are already serving.

There are many ways that the laity can help their priests (sending him a text telling him what a lousy job he did in Mass last Sunday is not one of them). Most especially, for my brother priests who are celibate, good fellowship is needed. Yes, priests have each other, but they cannot always get together conveniently. Invite him over to your house for dinner; send him a card saying you are praying for him; or even just try to speak to him about normal life issues after Mass some day. Things like these can make a great difference in his sense of connection to the parish.

The most significant thing, however, to help your priest should go without saying. All priests need to be prayed for. I have often asked for the prayers of my parishioners (especially when I do not see eye to eye with one of them). When we pray, humbly and whole-heartedly for someone, it leads us to loving that person. It is true for a priest with his people, and it is true for the people with their priest. When we genuinely experience love for another person, it makes us want to help that person and also to work to be at peace with him. Any amount prayer is helpful for a priest, but if you are not sure what to pray about, then pray for things that are not selfishly motivated. In other words pray generally for wisdom, faithfulness, and strong leadership (and not for him to "do it your way").

An apostolate that I came across recently that goes along this very direction is called the "Seven Sisters Apostolate". It has seven women who dedicate one hour a week to pray for their priest. Imagine what it would be like for that priest who knows that someone is praying for him every day. I have asked some of the ladies at my parish of St. George to begin this, and even though it is just in the beginning stages, I am already encouraged by it (I long for their prayers). This is what priests truly need: people who care enough to do something to help. To turn your back on someone who is struggling, only makes that person struggle more.

Whether you become part of this apostolate or not, I urge you to pray for your priest. Pray that he would be protected against all the temptations and trials that the devil wants to throw at him. Maybe you already know some of his weaknesses; then pray about them. Do not abandon him to his own means. As the priest cares for his people in the way God has called him to do so, so also should the people care for their priest in their unique way. Although it may sound a bit selfish for me to encourage this, only a self-righteous priest would not ask for prayers! The more that people help their priests with the power of holy prayer, the less likely those priests are to fall into any of the various scandals you have seen on the news.

St. Paul asked many times for the prayers of his people, knowing that prayer is that tool of the Lord that could help him to hold fast. The author of the book of Hebrews (whether it was St. Paul or not) said it this way:
Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things (Hebrews 13:17-18).
Pray for your priests.