Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Wonderful Grace of Balance

I had the wonderful grace (ha-ha!) of being able to see a political commercial today. As most of you know, I do not watch tv (it has been almost 30 years), but I happened to be somewhere that a tv was playing and I thought it would interesting to pay attention for a moment -- I was wrong. The candidate is apparently running for the Democratic nomination for president. The commercial did not give his last name (I guess he believes that everyone knows who he is?), nor did he actually tell me anything about himself (I guess he believes that everyone already knows what his positions are?) other than his first name and his desire to be nominated.

What he did spend the entire 60 seconds talking about was how much he wants to impeach President Trump. From that one commercial I know nothing more than his opinion of our current President. Seriously, why would anyone think that such a presentation would be an encouragement for people to support him? I can tell you why. It is precisely because the thinking of most people in America today is unbalanced. I do not mean merely that their thinking is odd, but genuinely unbalanced.

Many people today have been taught "muddy" thinking (and others have been taught just to "feel" rather than actually think). Thus, if I were to say "this person is good because he hates that person", the majority of Americans would not recognize that that is a completely ridiculous argument. What moves people to action is more often something that irrationally sits on the extremes; in other words, "unbalanced" thinking.

Just listen to many of the points that are made in discussions today. You will find that vast numbers of people always run to an extreme to make their case. To say that something is good, people will say "this is the absolutest, most fantastic, most wonderful, amazing thing ever, in the history of the world." To say that something is bad, people will say "this is most horriblest, terriblest, awful and hideously bad thing in all of existence". No balance. It seems we no longer know how to examine things carefully and critically (in a proper manner).

It is an amazing grace (at least in this modern era) to be able to look at something and see both the good and the bad in it. I am not claiming that everything is a balance of good and bad (that is Chinese pagan philosophy), but rather that the things that we see as "bad" often are not as bad as we think. Additionally, those things that we see as "good" often have some "less than good" aspects.

This is to say, when I see a "good" thing, someone else may see it as "bad" because they are not looking at the same things that I am (and vice versa). People often end up at odds with each other merely because they are both holding to extremes, and because of muddy thinking they are unable to recognize the error of this behavior. Thus, both parties take a stand on a foolish position, when both are wrong. It does help only to exemplify balance, for people who are unbalanced do not recognize balance as anything other than "wrong" in their minds. We must go farther and make sure that we are teaching people how to think.

If we were to become more precise in our thinking as well as more careful in our reactions to things, we would be able to deal better with this world. When we are criticized for something, we will not have a knee-jerk reaction that makes us look like a lunatic. When we see something that we know is wrong, we will not react as though the world is falling apart (and even if it is, Jesus is still on His throne!). To be ready to speak to a fallen world with the grace and wisdom of Christ is an essential duty if we are wanting to teach the grace and wisdom of Christ. What else would we ever want to teach the world? A reactionary and muddy-thinking group of Catholics will not make anyone want to convert, and those who cannot think clearly are not able to think clearly about our precious Redeemer.

Monday, October 28, 2019


OK, to begin with, I know that this is going to sound strange. I have always wondered, however, what it would be like to have amnesia. No, I do not actually want to have something happen that causes me to forget who I am, but the experience has always fascinated me. I have read stories about people who had amnesia and it sounds so completely unsettling. We are accustomed to knowing our identity, and valuing it highly. It has been shown, in fact, that not knowing one's identity can be destructive. This is not only true for a person, it is also true for a Catholic parish.

St. Paul in this last Sunday's second reading in Mass exclaimed that he was confident he had "fought the fight, run the race, and held the faith". This is something we all want to be able to say some day. In order to reach that point, however, we need to know what to fight for, which race to run in, and what faith it is that we are holding. This is the reason why I have recently begun a homily series at St. George, my Ordinariate parish, on the subject of who we are. The Ordinariate has a very unique calling in the Catholic Church today, and if we take that lightly, we will be missing what it means to serve the Lord.

This year, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the publication of Anglicanorum Coetibus, the Apostolic Constitution by which the Ordinariates were established by Pope Benedict XVI. In addition, just a few weeks ago, Cardinal John Henry Newman was canonized -- he who is often considered as the forerunner for all of us former Anglicans who have returned to Mother Church. The time is perfect for us to examine who we are and what our calling is.

Although every Catholic parish has the same basic calling, not every Catholic parish has the same specific calling. Even within the same diocese individual parishes will have different duties before God (one may have a food pantry, while another has an outreach to unwed mothers). There are some specific details to the culture of the Ordinariates that need to be embraced if Ordinariate parishes are going to remain faithful to the duty placed upon them. Yes, each Ordinariate parish will (at least eventually) have a special calling in itself, but we can say that every Ordinariate parish has the responsibility to carry on the heritage of English Catholicism.

It has long been the case (over a thousand years) that England was referred to as "the dowry of the Blessed Virgin Mary". This is because England had a unique place in the Roman Catholic Church and was even allowed to retain special traditions that were clearly distinct from those outside of the British Isles. It was those very traditions that were "kidnapped" at the time of the English departure from Rome (in the 16th century under King Henry VIII). Now in the 21st century, many of those traditions have been restored and are preserved in the Ordinariates.

Pope Benedict XVI established the Ordinariates because, according to his own words, he wanted these very same English traditions to "be shared" with the rest of the Catholic Church. He said he wanted these practices to spread and enlighten the rest of Catholicism. They are not merely to be "kept" and continued, but to be an influence on the rest of the Church throughout the world.

St. George parish, as a part of the Ordinariate here in America is supposed to be different from other parishes; not just by being "weird", but because we are to hold to certain traditions for the good of the whole Church. We are a small community (very small in fact) but we can still fulfill our calling, because God enables us to fulfill it (as He does with every parish). So, as a community learns its place in the Kingdom of God, it also learns how to serve God (since the two go hand in hand). These, then, are fighting orders. Members (present and future) of St. George, prepare for the fight, and be ready to take up the call to battle; for we fight for King Jesus.

Friday, October 18, 2019

A Lousy Argument for Priestly Celibacy

There are many Catholics today who claim that no priest can take care of a family and a parish at the same time; they believe it is just too much for one person to balance. Not trying to draw attention to myself, but I think I can contribute at least a little bit to the discussion. For those of you who are unfamiliar with my situation I will give a brief summary. My wife and I have been married almost 30 years now, and we have five children (oldest is 23, youngest is 9). I was given special permission to be ordained as a priest by Pope Benedict XVI seven years ago. Prior to my reception in the Church, I served for sixteen years as a protestant minister, so my wife and children are all familiar with what it means for me to work in a ministerial setting.

Now, I must admit, right at the start that I am busier now than I ever was as a protestant pastor, but that only goes to support the point I am making. Therefore, I will say that it is possible for a married Catholic priest, not just to get by, but to maintain a good marriage, have all five of his children stay in the faith, and maintain a pretty good relationship with the members of my parishes (I serve three right now). This does not mean that we have never experienced any problems; both my family and my parishes have experienced their own share of challenges. It does mean, however, that it is not impossible for a married Catholic priest to attend to his duties with both his own family and his parishes.

Having said that I must say, it is very, very hard to do it right. In fact, if the option was open, and a  young man came to me trying to discern whether to get married before pursuing the priesthood, I would tell him, "No, choose the celibate life instead." Yes, that might shock some people, but it is true. The current custom of priestly celibacy is definitely best, and it does enable the man to attend to his priestly duties in a clearer fashion (as St. Paul says, cf. 1 Corinthians 7:32-34). If God genuinely calls a man to do both vocations of husband and priest (and it is my opinion that this happens less often than many people think), then He will grant him the gifts to do both. Not every man is called to celibacy, nor is every man called to marriage (cf. the important comment of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:7!).

It is difficult to be a good Catholic father to any household; if you add in a ministerial responsibility that can call you away at a moment's notice (24 hours a day), then it makes it even more difficult. As I said, "difficult", but not impossible. This is why I will say (and have said many times), I am not an advocate of eliminating the custom of priestly celibacy. Some men (and I really mean only "some") can maintain a good marriage and keep their children in the faith. Few priests (and I really mean only "few") can maintain a good marriage and keep their children in the faith. Open the doors up to large numbers of married priests in the Catholic Church (especially here in America), and you will be opening up the doors to a whole new set of problems that were never considered.

I will even mention (in just general terms) that my family has experienced a few "trials and tribulations" but we have come out faithful and strong in spite of them--due largely to the fact that we raised our children to work through their problems with the help of the rest of the family. In addition, my parishes have had some experiences that were difficult (which one has not?). Yet, none of these challenges had anything to do with the fact that I am married with children still in the home. In some ways my experience of working directly with my own family helped me to know better how to lead the parish through its challenges; but that is not necessary for every priest.

One thing that people do not think about is that in some ways the priest frequently treats his own family as he does other parish families --- he needs to minister to them according to what they need. Someone once asked the direct question, "how do you choose between family and parish when the two conflict?" Even though it may seem like that is a genuine conflict that celibate priests never experience, it is not true. There are times when I have had to leave a meeting with a parish family because I got called to something more serious (like giving last rites); they always understood. There are times when I have to leave when I am with my own family (like the time I had to leave my youngest boy's birthday party because of a ministerial responsibility--and he completely understood, and held no grudge over it).

If a married priest is really doing the (additional) hard work to maintain a good marriage and if his wife is supportive of him in the raising of their children, then their family bond will be such that the wife and children understand what it means to "share" him with an entire parish, and he will never have to neglect either. As I said above, however, it is not easy to accomplish this. If the desire is there to allow more married men to become priests, then the vetting process will need to become twice as stringent as it is now. This is precisely because the responsibility of a married priest is more challenging (but, once again, not impossible).

Catholics really need to stop using the "it's impossible" argument against extending the option of married priests. It is not accurate, and it is far too pragmatic (and pragmatism is rarely a good rule of thumb for determining what is best in the Church). Just because something is difficult does not make it wrong. It is difficult for me to celebrate 8 Masses in 72 hours, but I do it every Easter season -- because it is good and right. It is difficult for parents to raise their children properly in our modern pagan society; that does not make it wrong. There are plenty of reasons not to allow for more married Catholic priests, but "its impossible" is not one of them.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

They Already Know

I felt like I was speaking to a brick wall. I would make a point regarding the existence of God, and the person I was speaking to would respond as though he had not heard a word I said. It was quite remarkable to see his mental/emotional wall block every single thing I said. He did not actually respond with anything that could be called a refutation, but mostly just a deflection of the subject at hand. He had already told me that he did not believe that God existed, so I knew I had a battle. Scripture, however, tells us that his claim is not true.

We are told in today's first Mass reading that God has revealed Himself sufficiently to everyone, such that there is no excuse for denying His existence (cf. Romans 1:19). This revelation is given within the heart of every human. No, He has not revealed enough to everyone for them to know the specifics of Catholic dogma (that takes special revelation which comes only through the Church), but if they know that He exists, then they are obligated to learn more about Him. Thus, while I was speaking to the man mentioned above who was denying the reality of God, I knew that down deep he was only trying to cover up something that he did not want to admit: God is real, and we are all accountable to Him for everything that we do.

Knowing that people already know God exists changes our perspective on evangelism. We are not speaking to people who are completely ignorant, we are instead speaking to people who really do know the truth; we know that they know, and yet they do not want us to know that they know. It should be obvious that there is a radical ignorance of the details of the Catholic faith. Yes, many pagans recognize what a rosary is, but few know how to use it. Furthermore, numerous people have never even heard the word "Eucharist" or even know the basics of what a Mass looks like.

When you couple together the innate knowledge of the existence of God with the common ignorance of the things of God, we have a wonderful situation. This means, for those of us who want to live out our faith and seek to evangelize the lost, people are "ripe for the harvest". They know God exists, but likely do not have a burden of errant views of Catholic theology. We can tell them what "Eucharist" means without having to refute errors. Certainly, there will be those protestants who have been told all the lies about Catholics worshipping both the Blessed Virgin, and statues (etc.), but evangelizing them is quite different from the average pagan; and pagans are increasing in number at a remarkable rate these days.

The so-called "nones" who proudly claim that their religious identity is "nothing" are needing to be dealt with. You likely know a few of them (even if you are not aware of it). Their ideology is "forget about God, all I care about is my own feelings and opinions" (something of a solipsism in disguise). The want to claim that they "do not know" if God exists (and likely say they do not care), but Saint Paul tells us differently, and that matters for us. We can approach them with the awareness that they are merely trying to suppress the truth in their sin (cf. Romans 1:18). Essentially, we do not need to "prove" God to them, but rather make them see that their denial is contrary to reality.

Live out your faith in this faithless age. Exemplify what it means to believe in the Triune Creator of all things. Know that down deep they know that you are correct, and that they must repent if they are going to find any true peace. Above all, speak to them of the wonderful saving grace of Christ. Help them to know of His love and mercy so that they can feel confident in approaching Him. This is what it means to evangelize.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Wait a Minute

Wait a full minute before reading further...

Did you actually wait; even half a minute? or did you just go ahead and read this next line? If you did not wait, then you proved my point. We do not tend to be a patient people, do we? We have been trained to expect things to come quickly, and we do not like having to be patient. Patience is actually one of the fruits of the Spirit, but rarely do people really want to have it. It has been almost two weeks since I posted anything here. No, it was not intentionally to see if anyone could be patient, but I was reminded recently about how we all used to wait for new publications that might take a week or more to arrive in the "snail mail", and found the comparison fascinating.

How patient are you in waiting for God to answer your prayers? There are many places in Scripture which tell us of the blessings of waiting (e.g. Lamentations 3:25-26), but we still do not like to wait. Being forced to wait patiently causes us to feel like something is wrong (or worse, like we are being wronged). We want things to be fixed now, and do not think that we should have to wait for resolutions. Modern technology has enabled us to make many things in our lives happen faster, and now we expect everything to be faster.

One of the ways that we have the most trouble today in being patient is when someone does something wrong to us (or even when we merely perceive that a wrong has been done). If we lash out in anger, it is because we are not patient to allow the wrong and offer it to the Lord (which is actually a great grace, cf. 1 Cor 6:7b-8). We want justice immediately, and sometimes take things into our own hands to bring it about. Patient people are willing to bear wrongs because they know that without God's grace they would be doing the same things to others. Only foolish pride supports impatience.

Impatient people are grumpy and usually seek to make others miserable along with them. They get an idea in their minds about how something is supposed to be (either in their own lives, or in the lives of those around them), and if it is not changed at the speed that they demand, then they become angry and frequently seek ways to become a "martyr for their cause". This latter behavior is how they bring others down with them. By spreading their sinful attitude, they encourage others to have the same attitude of discontent.

Although I wish it were different, Catholics are not immune to this behavior. Sinful pride can make people do some horrible things, and I hear stories all the time from my parishioners about problems that could easily be avoided if people would just choose to be patient with each other. It is an amazing grace to say to another (even if only in the silence of our own hearts), "I will bear with what you are doing because I know that I too am sinful and hope that others will be patient with me when I fail them". What does it take to respond like this? The grace of God. Let us all seek it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Devilish Wisdom

I took a bite and immediately spit it out; the food had turned bad. Something was definitely past its expiration date. We can thank God for the sense of taste; not just for the enjoyment of good foods, but also for the recognition of things that are bad for us (though we rarely think of this special gift, we appreciate it when we need it!). I am told that there are no poison plants that taste pleasant, and most have a horrible taste. God has granted us the ability to recognize when something needs to be spit out. Yet, there are some people whose taste buds have been ruined for some reason, and they might not recognize something that tastes bad.

Just as physical taste can tell us that something is wrong, so also is there a spiritual action that does the same thing. In every person's spirit there is a conscience that tells them that they have done something wrong. Now it is possible for someone's conscience to become so calloused by sinful behavior that he does not feel any sensations of guilt. This is actually one of the deepest points of sinful degeneration (as St. Paul points out: cf. 1 Corinthians 8:10, 1 Timothy 1:19 & 4:2, and Titus 1:15); when a person's conscience is so damaged that he no longer senses the evil of his actions.

The Catholic Church today is filled with fights and divisions. The list of disagreements is more than I can put here. Many of these quarrels are likely not necessary, and can be resolved if we, as God's people, would take advantage of sacramental grace and reconsider how we disagree. Ignoring our conscience for the sake of winning and argument is never right. This means that we each need to do some self examination and determine whether our conscience is rightly formed, and whether we are following the path of holiness in our disagreements.

There are a number of ways that we can recognize damage to a person's conscience. The most obvious is when a person openly says that he has no remorse or guilt for his sinful behavior. Of course, there are those who will say that they do not have any feelings of remorse (when they actually do have them), and they do this because they are trying to cover up their pain. Those whose consciences are truly "seared" are not always this overt in their behavior though. Sometimes--in the name of righteousness--there are those whose consciences do not recognize one of the worst expressions of selfish pride: divisiveness.

In more than one place in Sacred Scripture we find the references to the sin of divisiveness (Leviticus 19:16, Romans 16:17, Galatians 5:20, Titus 3:10, etc.). In essence, any behavior that is done intentionally to cause antagonism between one brother and another is considered to be divisive. There are certainly those who behave divisively, but are doing so out of ignorance, or they somehow do not realize that they are being divisive. Although still genuinely divisive, they do not hold the same level of culpability as do those who cause division purposefully. To cause division is the same as destroying love and encouraging hate.

So we should then ask the straightforward question: what is it that causes quarrels and divisions? There are many types of circumstances where people become quarrelsome, but they can all be summarized as: one person thinks he is smarter than another. If you and I disagree about something and neither is willing to change his mind, then we both think we are smarter than the other. If neither party insisted on his or her way, then there would be no quarrel. The disagreement can be caused by a mere misunderstanding, or it can come from a prideful unwillingness to be humble. The first can easily be resolved by just discussing the matter (assuming both parties are willing to do so). The second, however, is a much deeper problem.

The Scriptures refer to the attitude of "I know more than you and I'm unwilling to change" as "devilish wisdom" (cf. James 3:15). In other words, it is a wrong manner of thinking that causes one to believe things that are errant, and stubbornly to insist on maintaining that belief. The Apostle James says that this worldly wisdom causes "bitter jealousy and selfish ambition" (3:14), and that leads to "wars" and "fightings" (4:1). Thus, this kind of quarrel is caused by someone falling into a prideful foolishness and refusing to repent. Once a person is overtaken by worldly wisdom, if his conscience is seared (as above) then it will be even harder for him to find penitence since he becomes "stuck" in his divisive behavior.

For those who are immature in their faith, it may be hard to discern the difference between stubborn divisiveness and faithful perseverance. The main point that will help us to see the difference is the manner of someone's disagreement. We need to look for who is expressing holiness and purity as Christ did when He was attacked. If someone angrily demands that he is right and runs around telling others about it to garner support, he has clearly fallen to divisiveness. If, on the other hand, someone remains humble, accepting the wrongful treatment with a cheerful expression of another opinion on the matter, that is the one who is remaining in the grace of Christ.

Of course, as mentioned above, not all who fall into divisive behavior have a completely "seared conscience". There are, by the grace of God, some who eventually see their behavior for what it is, and they repent of it. For which, we should give thanks to God. How do we help someone like this to find repentance? There is no one right method, for each person is different and will need a unique grace to help him. This means that if you know someone like this (and he is still talking to you) then you should do your best to seek out how to get through to him so that he can return to faithfulness.

Are you currently in a quarrel with someone? Have you made the presumption that you are in the right and the other is wrong? Have you even given a moment of consideration that your reasoning may be wrong ("devilish wisdom") and that you may need to change your position and admit error? That can be very hard to do, of course, but it always leads to greater holiness. As the people of God we should never presume upon our own brilliance, but always be willing to ask "is it me?" "did I make the mistake?" "how can I do better?" Imagine what differences of opinion would look like if every one of us asked these kinds of questions from the start!