St. Catherine of Siena and The Thirst for Holiness

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Today we celebrate the feast of St. Catherine of Siena who is one of the four female Doctors of the Church. One of the great literary works found in the Catholic tradition is The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena. The Dialogue is private revelation dictated by her to her secretaries while she was in a state of ecstasy and it was completed in 1370. It is a work rich in fruit and spiritual depth and includes four treatises on the topics of: Divine Providence, discretion, prayer, and obedience. There is too much wonderful material to cover in so short a piece, so I will focus on material found in the Treatise on Divine Providence, namely the call to personal holiness through prayer and suffering.

St. Catherine was born in 1347 and was the twenty-fifth child of Giacomo and Lapa Benincasa. She began receiving visions from Our Lord at the age of 6, when she saw Jesus seated in glory along with members of the Church Triumphant: Peter, Paul, and John. It was then that Catherine resolved to give her whole life to Christ. Her parents desired that she marry, but she remained resolute in her abandonment and surrender to God. Eventually her parents recognized the workings of God in her life and they relinquished her to God through prayer. Catherine decided to follow the great Dominican Founder, St. Dominic, and became a tertiary (now known as Lay) Dominican. She fully embraced a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience. She remained with her family as she served the poor and sick in her community. It was in her service to the sick and suffering servants that she recognized the love of the Crucified Christ.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Abandon Ideology for the Good News: The Test is Coming

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You will notice a trend on my blog that I am becoming increasingly anti-ideology. This is because I am observing a steep descent into ideology in our country and within the Church. Not the Church herself, but the people within it. This is largely destructive and causes division. Ideology is a type of heresy. It is to cling to a notion of something as ultimate truth, when ideology is typically our own blindness and proclivities. I had two experiences recently that continue to fortify my anti-ideological stance. First, I saw a National Review article recently that justified the killings of two civilians in a drone strike on the Afghan-Pakistani border in January. The moral gymnastics of the author made my stomach turn. The far Right has become a war-mongering machine and it is deeply disturbing. There are times when war is the final and just response, but not always. The killing of civilians is always deeply tragic and it is all the more tragic that no warning was given to these men or attempt at a rescue and the intelligence was bad. For both sides of the political spectrum in our country, “collateral damage” is a matter of statistics and numbers and matters little. This is a disturbing slide into a further dehumanization of others. I saw this from Congressional aides when I interned at The Heritage Foundation.

On the flip side we have the ideological Pacifists, notice I said ideological. The Church has a long history of rightly ordered Pacifism, just as she has a tradition of Just War. These two seeming opposites are united under a fully formed understanding of justice. The ideological Pacifists cannot comprehend that war is sometimes the only option. They also seek to vilify members of our military, of which I was one. They say heinous things about Veteran’s even to the point of denying the necessity of the Church’s presence in a war zone or within the military. They cannot separate the war from the soldiers and the individual consciences of each service member, which is precisely what our last couple of Popes have done. The Church has not agreed with the past two wars, but has left the choice to serve up to the soldier. While I am with the Church on war, I did serve under President Bush for the Global War on Terror. There were things that I supported at the time for which I have sought absolution through Confession, but the people who serve in our military are not psychopaths, sociopaths, or any other name that is given to them. They mean well and have a desire to protect our country. It is easy now to forget how tumultuous the time was following 9-11. I know, I worked as relief worker following the Pentagon attack. Fear and chaos does not always produce the best results. This mitigates circumstances a bit.

This is just two examples on opposing extremes that I have observed recently. This is also apparent in the “pelvic issues” as people try to do moral gymnastics around both Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Since ideology blinds us it hurts ourselves and the people around us. It inevitably puts us in a judgment seat, based not on our faith, but on our desire to conform others to our own beliefs. This is a great danger to the Church. As the secular culture encroaches more and more on our freedoms, it is essential that we make sure we are not a part of the problem. I am not trying to beat a dead horse. I am trying to warn people that we need to re-focus on what is important and that is bringing the world to Christ, not ourselves. I was an ideologue for a few years. I conformed my politics into my limited understanding of the Church. I could not see the whole. It created great tumult in my soul.

There will come a day very soon when we may be asked to give account for our faith and we will be mocked and derided for it. Our faith cannot depend on ideology, it must be centered on Jesus Christ. If our ideology wins out, then we cannot possibly survive the test that will come our way. The secular attacks on the Church will continue to grow and become more virulent. Now is the time to arm ourselves with holiness through prayer, Scripture, frequent reception of the Sacraments, and true study of the Faith. Those are what will help us should we have to undergo the test. While I have my own theories on how bad it will get, what is certain is that Catholics will become increasingly more marginalized. That will be difficult. It is not easy to say “no” to the prevailing culture. It is not easy to lose family and friends because we cannot agree to the sexual ethics of our culture. We cannot stay strong if our faith is an empty shell that is propped up by our own ideology.

I am not saying that we should not be involved in the public square, but we need to be prepared for our ability to participate to shrink greatly for a while. Honestly, we need to evangelize if we want to change the culture. This is the history of the Church. Our ability to operate in public waxes and wanes. There have been times of great persecution. There are times of great persecution upon the Church now. We are united to those Christians who are dying in the Middle East, Mexico, and in other places of the world. The Mystical Body is a communion that makes us a part of the same body as them. We suffer with them albeit not physically at present.

The most concerning aspect of ideology is that it cuts us off from one another. It causes alienation and anger. I lost my temper at a completely nasty comment made about service members and its implications. I later apologized, but ideology is hard to combat. It is irrational and it automatically invokes an irrational response in others. We have to learn to control our emotions because we will confront virulent strains of ideology in the coming years, much worse than the two examples that I listed above. The best way for us to control our emotions is to re-focus on Christ and to prepare ourselves for whatever may come. If we rest in Christ and His Church, rather than our own power, then we can calmly deal with the attacks that come. It won’t be easy, and like St. Peter and the other Apostles (except John), we may run for a bit, but if we continue to persevere and focus on Christ then we will make it to the end.

As Catholics we must ask ourselves what the purpose and goal of our lives is as revealed by Christ. Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? The answer should be to follow Christ even unto Calvary. This is the horrifying, yet freeing, truth of our faith. When we are baptized we agree to enter into the mysteries of His life, including His death. Most of us will not be asked to be martyred physically, but most of us will suffer some form of persecution, even if it is locally from family and friends. We all suffer within the Mystical Body when others around the world are persecuted. There is no isolation within the Church. No one suffers in isolation.

Ideology may be fascinating and create arguments, but it causes more division than peace and conversion. I have never been a Pacifist precisely because of the vilification of Veteran’s of which I am one. I am no longer a war-mongerer because I could see the horror of war up close through friends and family during my own service. I know from a few years of sexual relativism that the lies of the libertines do nothing but hurt and kill the soul. I know the joy and beauty of the Theology of the Body. The more I learn, the more I come to the center and desire to walk the tight-rope of the Church. She is the answer to the extremes of the world. She has the whole truth, not just the part we latch on to.

I am sure that this topic will come up again on my blog because it is so important for the coming times. There is such freedom in abandoning our preferred ideologies. We are less angry. We don’t make other people as angry. We grow deeper in our understanding of the Church and Christ and we are able to focus on the life of holiness. I encourage each of you and myself, to look into our beliefs and make sure they are properly ordered to the Church. Let’s make sure that we are not vilifying other groups of people. This even means our enemies. Yes, they do evil and we must confront evil, but if we dehumanize others we very quickly run the risk of becoming like our enemies. Ideology is the quickest way to dehumanize another group of people by making them the “other”. Even in times of battle we must live as Christians. We pray for our enemies, pray for peace, and most especially, pray for the conversion of the world.

Mass is Boring?!

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It is something that many Catholics hear often from others: “Mass is boring”. Their reasons for feeling this way are varied: the Homily, music, tradition, to the movements of the Mass themselves, bore them. If there is something we Catholics know how to argue about and disagree on it is the Mass. I have no desire to jump into the “Liturgy wars”. I have plenty of my own opinions that are my own and not universal and I am no fan of Marty Haugen or Dan Schutte music, but those fights accomplish little and continue to muddy the waters for those Catholics who really do not understand the Mass. In fact, I would argue that the number one problem for those Catholics who are bored at Mass is that they just don’t understand what exactly is going on during the Liturgy. In my mind, it is impossible to be bored at Mass if you truly grasp what is unfolding. So, I want to briefly explain the Mass from a theological understanding without getting too deep, so that I bore people who do not share my love of reading Church documents and the Summa.

When God created the Heaven’s and the earth, he made everything in a free act of love. This action, referred to in theological terms as exitus, is God sharing of Himself. In this sharing, God intended that His creatures would return to Him in love and worship through charity and faith. This is referred to as reditus. This essentially means that the created order is meant to return to God. Theological terms can be fun, right?! The first thing for us to keep in mind is that we were created to return to God in love and admiration. This is what we were made for. God wanted to share Himself with us and wants us to return to Him in that love. Pretty simple!

Now, how exactly does God want us to return to Him? Yes, there is a clear answer. He desires our worship through the only acceptable sacrifice, namely Christ’s Crucifixion and our obedience. On the night He was betrayed, Our Lord began a new Passover, so that His body (yes, His actual body) could be left with the Church that was to be founded by Him and led by Peter. Jesus was fulfilling His mission as High Priest in that He would become the new Paschal Lamb that had been sacrificed through the Levitical priesthood. He did this through the establishment of the Holy Eucharist and by His Paschal Mystery. He was the new sacrifice and he made a total act of obedience to the Father that we are to emulate. In fact, His sacrifice transcended the previous sacrifices of the Jews because Christ being both God and man he entered into the veil of the Holy of Holies. Meaning, he brought the sacrifice of Himself before the Father in Heaven for His people. Pretty amazing stuff! The Old Law had a prescribed liturgical form and sacrificial ritual that had been commanded by God, beginning with Abraham. Christ completed that ritual through His own Crucifixion and established the New Law, which is what most of us are familiar with in the Catholic Church.

How is this connected to the Mass? Well, the Mass as we know it today was formed over centuries of tradition. The Holy Eucharist has been celebrated from the very beginning of the Church, as is evidenced by the writings of the Early Church Fathers. The actual rites have undergone changes here and there, but the reality has been the same. The purpose of the Mass has always been the same. First, we are living what St. Thomas Aquinas called the virtue of religion. When we go to Mass we fulfill our purpose in life to give right worship to God. Remember how I explained reditus? The Mass is our return in love to the Most Holy Trinity. Second, we offer sacrifice. The Mass is often referred to as The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and that is because Christ commanded that we offer sacrifice to the Father through the Holy Eucharist. Third, we are entering into communion with the actually body of Christ through our reception of the Holy Eucharist. Let’s look at each of these points individually.

First, by virtue of our Baptism and entry into the visible structure of the Church (membership in the Church) we are called to worship and glorify God. The largest action of charity we make in our lives is to attend Mass. It is there that we return to the Father in thanksgiving for all He has given us and seek reparation for our sins (we do this in the Sacrament of Penance too). This is also why the Mass is not about us. That’s right, the Mass is not about me or you. It is not a time for the choir to perform a concert, for me gain recognition for my working in the parish, or for the priest to dazzle an “audience”. The Mass is entirely about the Mystical Body gathering together to praise God, offer sacrifice, and move deeper into communion with Him. This is even more crucial in understanding when we realize who precisely is presiding over the Mass and who is present with us during the Liturgy.

Second, the Mass is the sacrifice offered by Christ on Calvary. No, we do not re-crucify Christ. Rather, we offer the glorified Body of Christ present in the Heavenly sanctuary, which is made present on our altars. The priest offers the sacrifice in the two forms of bread and wine. That is because in the Old Law, sacrifice was bloodless flesh separate from the blood. In a sacrificial understanding they must be separate. This does not mean only receiving the precious Body is invalid. The flesh contains the blood and Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity in its entirety. It just must be separate during the sacrificial portion of the Mass. Now there are differing schools of thought on my next point, but I am Thomistic in my school of Theology. Thomists would say that it is Christ Himself presiding over the Mass and offering sacrifice to God. That’s right, Jesus Christ Himself offers our Mass. He offers Himself to the Father along with the Mystical Body of Christ, through the visible ordained priest. Mass isn’t so boring anymore, is it?! Not only that, by virtue of the reality of Heaven reaching our altars, the Church Triumphant, the souls and angels in Heaven are also present. There is an invisible company of witnesses present at every single Mass. It’s incredible!

Third, Christ left His body, under the guise of bread so that we may reach out and touch His body that was broken for us. We enter into an intimate union with Christ that unites us body and soul to Him every single time we receive Holy Communion. He is physically with us for the 15 minutes or so it takes for our body to digest the consecrated host. Christ loves us so much that He wants nothing more than to be united with every aspect of what makes us human. So when someone asks you if you have a personal relationship with Christ you can reply that you have the most intimate relationship with Him by virtue of the Holy Eucharist. This is one of the key issues that separates us from our Protestant brethren. Our churches house the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. The King of the Universe dwells in our Tabernacles and waits for each one of us. That is how He always wanted it to be and that is why He left us His body in the Holy Eucharist.

This, in a very short blog post, is what we participate in when we go to Mass. The Mass is not where we are entertained. The Mass is where we enter into the presence of Jesus Christ. It is where we offer our love and devotion to the God who made us and died for us. It is where Christ reaches down and physically touches us in our brokenness. It is where we can unite our own sufferings to His. The Mass is quite literally the most important thing that we do in our lives. The next time you are at Mass meditate on what is actually going on. Approach the Holy Eucharist as if you were bowing down before the King of Kings, because that is precisely what you are doing. It is quite impossible to be bored at Mass when you know what is taking place.

For further reading on this topic, I recommend Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper and Edward Sri’s A Biblical Walk Through the Mass.

Miscarriage and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary

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This week is Infertility Awareness Week. Infertility comes in many forms: those who cannot have children, those who suffer repeated miscarriage, and those who cannot have more children after they have one or two. There are many different types of infertility and it is something that I know well. It is the great Cross of my adult life. I have been given one beautiful and amazing daughter and I have had three miscarriages. Dealing with infertility or the death of a child in the womb, stillbirth, or after birth is deeply painful. It is only in light of the mystery of the Cross that our pain and anguish can make sense. After my last miscarriage, I began to meditate on The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary in relation to miscarriage.

The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane

One of the hardest parts of miscarriage is all of the waiting. When you initially suspect you are losing your child, you have to wait to confirm with the doctor. Then the ultrasound confirms that your baby has died. The waiting starts anew for the miscarriage to begin, or be over. After the miscarriage itself you wait for the agony of the grief to subside. You wait to feel joy, peace, or even whole again. So much waiting. It is difficult, but uniting this to Christ’s agony the night before he died can help bring you comfort. With my last miscarriage, I was exhausted and hurting from all of the waiting. I was waiting to bleed out my child. It was agonizing for me. Think of how Christ felt knowing that he was about to be tortured and crucified. Most importantly think about how much weight he felt taking on all of our sins.

Look at what Scripture says about the Agony in the Garden. Matthew 26:36-46 “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Look at how Our Lord felt. He was overwhelmed with sorrow. Isn’t that how it feels to lose a child? Don’t you too want someone to keep watch with you in that hour of loss? The pain is unbearable. Lift your pain and suffering to Christ. He knows how you feel. He wants to comfort and wait with you in that hour of need. He always wants to be there for you. It is hard, but try. Give the agony over to him. I know how hard it is to just give the grief over to Him. You may feel anger, betrayal, or incredible sadness. Or, like me, you may feel all of these emotions. Give it all up to Him. Every single emotion, thought, feeling, action. Ask Him to sit with you in your agony. Ask Him to welcome your child into His Kingdom.

The Second Sorrowful Mystery-The Scourging at the Pillar

Our Lord was brutally tortured before he was taken to be crucified. Anyone who has seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ has caught a glimpse of what Our Lord endured for us before his death. Miscarriage can be deeply painful physically, mentally, and spiritually. Depending on the severity the physical pain can be unbearable. As difficult as it is, offer up each cramp or wave of pain to Christ. He knows extreme physical and emotional pain. There will be moments when the grief alone will feel like torture. Give it over to Christ. Share with Him your burden. You do not suffer alone.

The Third Sorrowful Mystery-The Crowning of Thorns

In a great moment of humiliation and torment, Roman soldiers crowned Our Lord with a crown of large thorns. It is deeply difficult to be crowned in loss. We may intellectually know that suffering is a part of this journey, but none of us is prepared for the heavy burden of loss, especially losing a child or children. It is a crown no one wants to wear, but when we lose a child in miscarriage we are given our own crown of thorns. Unite that loss with Christ. When someone says something insensitive to you about your miscarriage, remember that Jesus was humiliated as He died for us. Ask him to help you endure the crown of loss and the lack of understanding that you may encounter. Unite yourself to the glorified Christ and ask him for the strength to endure this crown of thorns.

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery-The Carrying of the Cross

This is the longest portion of the journey. We must carry the Cross of miscarriage with us for the rest of our lives. “And bearing his own cross, he went forth to that place which is called Calvary, but in Hebrew Golgotha.” -John 19:17. Christ had to carry the Cross and we are assured that we must follow Him. We must bear the pain and anguish. It may lessen its sting over time, but it never truly goes away. We must remember anniversary dates, see other people having babies, or miss the children we never got to hold. Ask your children in Heaven to pray for you as you carry this Cross. Ask Christ to help you shoulder the burden. Remember how He loves you. In your moments of despair ask Him for help. He is always there, especially in the darkest moments. He is there helping us put one foot in front of the other. He whispers to us that we can go on and he helps us carry the Cross.

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery-The Crucifixion of Our Lord

The darkest moment in human history came before the brightest. Our Lord died on the Cross to bring about our salvation. Miscarriage comes with the death of a child. Or for many, multiple children are lost over time. We must learn to give those children back to God. They are His. It is deeply painful. It is hard to let go. We must unite our own loss and suffering with the power and pain of the Cross. The Lord who offered Himself up for us will take good care of our babies. They are, and always were, His. I have struggle greatly at times with this truth. In our moments of deep grief, pain, and agony, we must give it up to Christ who died on a Tree. We can also ask His Mother to pray and comfort us. She stood by and watched her Son die. She knows the terrible pain of losing a child. This is especially helpful during the miscarriage and also while dealing with the grief. This life is the Cross, but remember the battle is won. We are a Resurrection people. We hope in the life to come.

The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary are the perfect prayer for women and families dealing with miscarriage. Prayer may be difficult. The nice thing about rote prayer is that it can help get us through the really tough times. It guides us when we feel like we cannot go on. Ask Our Lord to comfort, heal, and strengthen you. Ask Our Heavenly Mother to guide you through the grief back to Her Son. As I carry this Cross, I will be praying for all of you.

Sharing in the Priesthood of Christ

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One of the ways to grown in faith and understanding of the mysteries of Jesus Christ is to meditate on the Divine Offices that he fulfills by his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. These offices are understood within the framework of the covenant God established through the People of God in the Old Testament. The offices of priest, prophet, and king were figures of Christ to come because they were forms of mediation God used through human beings in the Old Covenant. Some examples of these offices would be Melchizedek in his priestly offering of bread and wine, Isaiah as a prophet, and David as king. All of the offices reach their fulfillment and transcendence in the life of Jesus Christ in that he became the ultimate mediator while also dwelling as God with us. The theology behind these offices of Christ is complex, so I only want to focus on one major aspect of the Priesthood of Christ and our participation.

What exactly do we mean by priest in this context? In a most basic sense and one that would conform to a Levitical understanding, a priest offers sacrifice. This is clearly seen and understood by Catholics in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that is offered by the ordained priesthood with the participation of the laity. Jesus Christ himself was the ultimate sacrifice in offering up himself on the Cross for our sake. Christ’s sacrifice was two-fold. First, he paid the ultimate price for our sin through his acceptance and conquering of death by virtue of His own death. This is very important, but his deeper sacrifice was an offering of obedience to the Father’s will internally. In doing so he ushered in a new era of internal obedience to the Father that allowed the reception of the Holy Spirit among his people.

That means Christ’s ultimate sacrifice in obedience to the Father’s will is the very same sacrifice that you and I are called to by virtue of our Baptism. In our Baptism, we agree (or our parents agree) to enter into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we may be conformed (to be like) to the life of the Blessed Trinity. In entering into the mysteries of Christ, we agree to become living sacrifices to the Father. This is one of the ways that we baptized members of the Church participate in the common priesthood of Christ. This is not to be confused with the ordained priesthood of Christ which helps form the hierarchical, sacramental, and sacrificial structure of the Church in which the laity are members. We participate in the common priesthood because we offer sacrifices in love to others in our daily lives as Christians.

Christ’s entire life was a sacrifice to the will of the Father. You and I are called to do the same in our actions of self-emptying love that we perform daily. We are called to be a living-sacrifice within our own vocations whether it is serving our children, spouses, neighbors, or co-workers. In doing so we are sharing the common priesthood of Christ with the world. All of our actions and sacrifices point ultimately to the High Priest of Jesus Christ, not ourselves. Throughout Scripture, Christ constantly pointed to the Father and in our own lives, we must point to the Blessed Trinity as the loving God who guides us through grace and the communion of His Mystical Body.

In John 37-38 Jesus says: “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.” And so it is the very same call that you and I have by virtue of our Baptism. We are not only members of Christ’s Church, we also share in his mission and priesthood. Every time we choose to sacrifice in love, we are offering as Christ has called us to do through the mysteries of his life and glorious resurrection. We offer ourselves to our glorified Lord who is High Priest of Heaven and earth.

The purpose of our lives as Christians is holiness. It is for us to become saints. When someone asks us what the meaning of life is, we can reply with: “To be a saint”. It is as simple and as difficult as that. One of the ways we grow in holiness, besides frequent reception of the Sacraments and prayer, is to offer sacrifice in our lives to God and others. Our example is the love of the Blessed Trinity. It is within the Blessed Trinity that the Father gave over His Son in love, the Son obediently accepted death, and the Holy Spirit is poured out on the Church for the sanctification of the world. All of these actions are self-emptying and in obedience to love who is God. As we go about our days, let us keep the common priesthood and our High Priest in mind that we may live our lives in self-emptying, sacrificial love to the Trinity and our neighbor.

Catholics Must Say “No” to Ideology

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There is a disconcerting trend that I observe daily in social media. It is that many Catholics have mistaken their ideology for authentic Catholic faith. This is most typically combined with a misunderstanding of the ordering of politics in regard to the Faith. Many place their political leanings or personal preferences before the Church. This is greatly anti-Catholic, undermines our ability to communicate effectively, and hampers our ability to evangelize the world.

What is the Church? The Church is the visible sign to the world of the reality of the Blessed Trinity. It is Christ’s body made present through the ordained priesthood and sharing of the worshipping community most realized in the Eucharistic presence. In that sign to the world the internal reality of the life-giving Holy Spirit is at work. When we publicly rebuke Satan and enter into Baptism we are not joining an institution. We are joining a communion of believers who are “one body” due to the physical breaking of Christ’s body on our altars. We agree to enter into the mysteries of Christ’s life and death as we descend into or under the waters of Baptism. We are cleansed of our sins and we put on a new man, or as St. Cyril discusses in Lecture 20 of his catechetical series, we are clothed in a new garment.

What are the implications of our Baptism? First, the Catholic understanding of the Church is greatly anti-individualistic. What many Catholics in our country fail to grasp is that rugged individualism is diametrically opposed to Catholic identity. This is one of the many reasons so many Catholics do not understand Pope Francis. They are viewing the Church with an American lens, rather than through authentic Church teaching and history. We are members of a monarchy and a communion. It isn’t just a community, it is a communion that is connected and conformed to the Blessed Trinity through the glorified, crucified, and risen Christ. That means that nothing we do is done in isolation. It means that our very lives belong to Christ first and our neighbors second. The Church is the realization of Christ’s command to love God above all else and our neighbor’s as ourselves. We literally live that commandment in the life of the Church.

The Church’s understanding of communion, does not take away the unique dignity and gifts of the individual person, however, there is a proper ordering of such gifts. Any gifts or mission that God gives each of us stems from our life within the Church and they are meant to be used to further bring the world to Christ. We are representatives of the Church and Christ’s mission to the world. We never act in isolation or separate from our identity as a Catholic. We belong to the visible structure of the Church by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation. We all partake in Christ’s mission of bring the world in conformity to the Blessed Trinity.

This has far reaching implications for how we interact with the world. All that we do should point towards the eschatological end of all people, namely that we are made for Heaven. When we fall into the trap of ideology, we greatly hamper this call and misinterpret and misrepresent the Church. In fact, it can blur our thinking and proper understanding of good and evil. I saw an article this morning that was so grossly misleading about the situation with Bishop Finn that I saw nothing but ideology. Bishops make mistakes and sin. He made some really bad decisions. We must be able to reason through situations, rather than always assume they oppose our ideology. He did not resign because Pope Francis is on the hunt for “conservatives” (this is ideology in the Church, politics are not theology), rather this Bishop mishandled the sex abuse scandal in his diocese and had to resign.  This is reality. We pray for him and those who were harmed in the process. If we cannot see this situation for what it is, then we have fallen into the danger of ideology.

This is an issue throughout the Church and is not reserved to circles who put their “conservative” ideas before the faith. This has been a major issue on the more Left leaning side since they cannot abandon their desire for sexual freedom that is diametrically opposed to both revelation and tradition. People who support the grave evils of abortion, contraception, and attacks on marriage have placed their own preferences and ideology above Christ and the Church. That is why a satirical site can write an article that this ideology seeks to remove Christ from the Blessed Trinity. Satire is always close to the truth.

Heresy is a partial truth that is taken as the whole. This is the danger of ideology. When we connect ourselves to an idea and make it the yardstick for all of our beliefs we very quickly fall into heresy. The Church is the balance between competing extremes. She has always walked a tight-rope in a world that prefers extremes to truth and reality. If we want to walk this tight-rope then we must live our lives with a clear understanding of our Baptism and the communion we are members of.

First, in our lives we are being conformed to the Blessed Trinity.  That means our lives are united to the mysteries of Christ’s life and death; meaning the Cross. We are asked to sacrifice and give completely. That means abandoning ourselves to what Christ and the Church teach. It means that we are obedient even when we don’t want to be or a teaching is hard. The great internal mystery of the Cross is that Christ gave himself in total obedience to the Father. This is what we are called to. Our sacrifice is an internal act of obedience to the Holy Trinity through our external actions of charity and sacrifice.

Second, we must place the Church first. The Church is a 2000 year old body and her teachings are vast. We must, in humility, accept that we are not the Magisterium. The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the very soul and life of the Church. That means it is God who is acting in her teaching. We do not know better than God. It is crucial that we abandon our ideology if it contradicts the teachings of the Church. Humility is one of the ways we are conformed to the mysteries of Christ.

Third, we must not publicly declare that our ideology is representative of the Church’s teaching. We need to be absolutely sure that we know what we are talking about when we engage in discussions about the Church. Our political leanings, no matter which party, is not fully in line with Catholic social teaching. In fact, both parties in the U.S. contradict social teaching at some level. Of course, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, marriage, etc. supersede certain teachings by virtue of their gravity. The point is that no political party in the U.S. is Catholic and we should not delude ourselves.. In fact, while the American experiment has been a great one, there are many aspects that are in opposition to the Church. I already mentioned that individualism contradicts the idea of communion.

Fourth, we have an obligation to our neighbor. This is what Pope Francis is getting at. By virtue of the communion we are members, we have an obligation to care of the poor, persecuted, and suffering. It is not something that we leave to political powers. It is up to me and you to care for the “least of these”. That means we need to take a good hard look at ourselves and figure out how we should be serving our local community and family.

Fifth, the Church’s moral teaching is clear, concise, and available for all to read. Study it and know it. If you are struggling with a certain teaching then pray about it and seek guidance from an orthodox priest. We are not above the moral law and we must learn that love means obedience, even when it is hard. Christ submitted in obedience to death on a Cross in love of the Father. Do we really think that sexuality or our individualism is greater than that sacrifice?

Sixth, the Church is large and it is much larger than our ideology. Pope Francis’ decisions are complex, as are actions in dioceses, and Magisterial offices. When a Bishop or somebody else resigns it is not always because of whatever ideology you subscribe to. Pray and trust. We must all be mindful that we are not misleading other people by our words and actions.

We are Catholics and that means we are members of something greater than politics or ideology. Politics serve their purpose, but in subordination to our theology. We must live our lives cognizant that how we represent the Church can harm others and ourselves. If we are going to publicly share our faith (we are all called to share the Good News), let’s make sure we know what we are talking about. We have the greatest gift to offer the world: The Holy Eucharist. By virtue of our Baptism, we get to touch the broken and glorified body of Christ. We get to eat his body in order that we may be spiritually in communion with him and united in a physical reality in which God uses our senses to reach us. We must engage the world through the eucharistic communion that we are united in through the Mystical Body. THAT is our center. It is love Himself who is on our altars. We have the answer to the pain of the world. We have the answer to the meaning of life. It is time for Catholics to abandon ideology and return to the mission: Bringing the world to the glory and charity of the Blessed Trinity. We must say “no” to ideology.