Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Before the Persecution Begins

Are you ready to suffer? In general terms, there are a lot of ways which each of us can suffer, and they are all for our good (even when we are suffering as a consequence of our own sins, it can help us to find penitence!). How about this: are you ready to suffer for your faith? In this quickly degenerating world that we live in, there are more and more things that are rising up against our wonderful faith. This Sunday (in the modern liturgical calendar) is Christ the King Sunday. It is a helpful reminder that Jesus really will win in the end, but it does not mean that we are not called to suffer for our faith.

The last couple weeks in daily Mass we have been reading in Maccabees in the Old Testament about the persecutions against the Jews before Christ, and how they held to their faith regardless of the tortures and trials that they were put through. Catholics in America today have not seen persecution the way that many of our forefathers experienced it. Yes, there are still those out there who are being martyred for their faith in other countries (do not get me wrong), but here in these USA we are quite separated from it.

How would we respond to a widespread persecution that threatens our lives? Would we go willingly the way that our ancestors in the books of Maccabees went? Some of them said directly "just send me into the next life now, because I am not going to give up my faith for anything". Most of us tend to think that we would be able to stand fast for our Lord, but I wonder if we really would. We have been spoon-fed for so long that we have little resistance to challenges. Furthermore, the democratic sense of "I have a say in my life" has so pervaded the culture of American Catholicism that it is hard to imagine most Catholics not asking "can we discuss this first" as they are being led to their execution (maybe we could have a synod and get advice on how to compromise our faith in a way that makes everyone happy?).

In the gospel reading from a few days ago, Jesus warned us that if our faith is not strong now, then it will be too late to strengthen it when the persecution begins. So then, what are you doing to strengthen your faith? If the routine for you is status quo, then only a radical revitalization of your faith will be of any help. If you think you already have a living faith, then it would be good to offer it up to God and ask Him, "show me where I have fallen short of what You want of me" (this protects against the prideful self-justification found in so many who are more devout in their faith these days).

When I visit people in the hospital who are going in for surgery, they often tell me that they have to "psych themselves" up for it. Preparing our hearts and minds is always an important thing when we are getting ready to undergo a difficult or painful experience. All the more so do we need to prepare ourselves for a potential future persecution. Rather than saying we need to "psych ourselves" up, it would be more accurate to say that we are going to "spirit ourselves" up. This would help to remind us that our spirit needs help, and that the Holy Spirit is the One that we are supposed to call on in these situations.

So, once again, are you ready? Will you stand fast in your faith when push comes to shove? The world already hates us, and it has been pointing that out in many and various ways for quite a while now. When it starts to act out that hatred in more violent ways and tells us that we need to deny our faith to save our lives, then each of us will need to make a decision. Will we save our skin, but give up our souls? Or will we entrust ourselves, body and soul, to our Lord Jesus Christ? The choice is yours, but decide now, before the persecution comes.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A Lovely Argument for Priestly Celibacy

I do not recall who the author was, but I recall reading a quote years ago by an atheist who said that it was hideous and immoral to try to make virginity a virtue. His motivation was as clear as can be: someone who attacks something that everyone (even if only "down deep" in their souls) has a profound respect for is doing so to salve his conscience and cover up something that he does not want others to know about. Even though our modern society does not clearly express a respect for self-control, we all know the value of it and are struck by it when we see it happening.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about "A Lousy Argument for Priestly Celibacy". Today I would like to talk about a "Lovely" argument instead. This is, of course, only one of many good and proper arguments for retaining the predominant custom of Priests in the Roman Catholic Church being celibate. In my title for this post I did not just seek to come up with another word that starts with the letter "L" because "Lousy" started with an "L". It was convenient, but the choice of the word "Lovely" is fully intentional. Celibacy, especially in the priesthood, is a "lovely" thing.

What I mean by this is that those men who willingly and joyfully choose to surrender having the love of a wife and children of their own, for the sake of the love of Christ's Church are exemplifying love in an amazing way. Each and every sacrifice that comes from a desire to serve the Lord is a "lovely" thing. It is always beautiful to see the women religious who have committed themselves to the service of Christ and His Church, but we all know that the average man's libido is much more powerful than a woman's. Hence, for a man to say "no" to something that the world says everyone has to have (in any way that they want regardless of what God says!) is a powerful testimony of one's devotion to God.

Although we should never say that a person who wants to get married is selfish for doing so, we would all admit that when someone is willing to surrender the great joy of marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of God it is a holy act. Now, I have met a few people who have chosen the celibate life (I will not be any more specific than that in referring to them in order to protect the guilty!), who clearly did so out of a motivation of avoiding the horrible situations that so many married people get themselves into. This is not a motivation of holiness, but rather a motivation of selfishness. That is the very opposite of the "lovely" symbol of holy virginity that is portrayed by those who acknowledge that marriage can be a joyful blessing, and they choose to surrender it in order to better serve God.

Many years ago I met someone who said she did not want to get married because she wanted instead to focus on helping the poor. This is the type of holy motivation I am speaking of. And when a man is moved in this way to pursue the priesthood, he is telling the world there are things more important than personal pleasure. In fact, it is precisely the testimony to the world that is so important in the custom of celibacy. While the world is fighting so hard to allow anyone to have sex with anyone (or anything) else, the declaration of "I am seeking a greater joy" is a testimony that flies in the face of modern immorality. That is truly lovely.

I heard a married priest a while ago say that his dual vocation worked well for him (but might not for other priests). He also pointed out how his marriage complemented his priesthood, and vice versa. This is true, and I fully agree that it is the case for me as well. I have seen many times how this uncommon mix of two vocations has value and importance. In a certain sense there is a valuable testimony of both married priests and celibate priests. Both can exemplify an aspect of personal holiness in a unique way, but celibacy (especially in this modern age) is a more powerful example.

To return to the quote referenced in the first paragraph, it is easy to attack virginity and celibacy when modernists are obsessed with sexual activity. Yet, every one of us knows that there is something beautiful about the self control of virginity, and the intentional choice of a life of celibacy. The entire concept of "consenting adults" (so abused by pagans today) shows us that a lack of consent changes everything. A willing choice in the realm of sexuality is essential--hence one's choice of celibacy is valued even when they do not want to admit it.

Thus, the celibate priest is showing the world the wonders of Christ's love in a way that the world can barely wrap its head around. My celibate brothers are saying "I love you" to God by seeking first His Kingdom. My celibate brothers are saying "I love you" to their parishes by committing their time and effort to them first. My celibate brothers are saying "I love you" to a dying world by choosing to give up an earthly pleasure so that they can help the lost to find eternal pleasure in Christ. And as I said above: that is truly "Lovely".