Catholic Exchange: Turning the Other Cheek in a Digital Age

The Internet and mainstream media have been set ablaze with the latest outrage that seems to be manufactured every five minutes. Each side rushes to judgment and paints the other group as the villain. Meanwhile supporters canonize the person or persons they agree with and the vitriol reaches an intensity that should startle every person of goodwill. Round-and-round it goes, this cycle of anger in our culture and even within the Church.

This piece is not specifically about the Covington Catholic controversy. Nor will I make any judgments about what transpired. The aim of this piece is to offer an alternative tactic that goes back to Our Lord Himself, but that is applicable in an age when any one of us could become the topic of a social media frenzy should a video be taken of us that could provide an ambiguous depiction of us that can easily be taken out of context or manipulated to appease the angry masses.

Our careers could be ruined, our families and friends threatened, and we could become the target of the social media mob if we are not careful. If you think I’m overreacting, keep in mind that I happen to pray regularly at the Planned Parenthood where a teenager was assaulted during a 40 Days for Life campaign that made national news. A town of 90,000 people. That video became viral in a matter of minutes and people were ready to draw and quarter those involved depending on what political side they happened to be on. This is what it is like to live an an age of never-ending digital consumption and intentionally manufactured outrage. Someone is always watching, even when we don’t think that is the case.

There are some situations during which we can’t avoid confrontation. However, while I was at the March for Life, I witnessed and exercised an approach that will help us to avoid becoming social media fodder in the future. It’s how Our Lord responded to similar situations that arose during His ministry and Passion. It is one we seldom want to use because we all desire tangible justice.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Secular West’s Impotence in the Face of Radical Islam

We are now aware that the martyrdom of a Catholic priest, Fr. Jacques Hamel, has taken place in France. It was only a matter of time before ISIS began its assault on Catholicism in Europe, and eventually, the United States. Other than in the Middle East and Asia, Christians have not been the primary target of ISIS and other radical Islamic groups. It has largely been secular institutions that have been attacked.  Catholicism in the West is now a target of ISIS. The difference between the attack on Catholicism and the attack on secularism is that Catholics can win this war.

The West is largely impotent in the face of radical Islam. We do not seem to fully grasp this truth. We look to our political leaders for decisive action, but all we seem to get is the occasional air strike and hollow words. We Christians watch as our brothers and sisters in Christ are slaughtered and sold into slavery in the Middle East and Asia. There is no talk of the plight of Christians in Syria, Iraq, and even Saudi Arabia by political leaders in the West. Why? Quite honestly because the West has chosen to abandon its Christian roots for nihilism. (Oh, no. There she goes writing about nihilism again.) Quite frankly, we will never understand what is going on in Europe, and soon-to-be the U.S., until we understand the impotent, deadly, and destructive nature of nihilism that is the predominant philosophical influence in the West at this point in history.

Why is the West’s nihilism impotent in the face of radical Islam? Nihilism is a creed in which belief is predicated upon nothingness. I do not mean that nihilists believe in nothing, although material atheism does tend to occupy the thoughts of some nihilist adherents. Nihilism is the belief in nothing objective or concrete. This is best understood through the creed of relativism: What’s true for me doesn’t have to be true for you. This results in philosophical and moral incoherence. There is a reason Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke so much of the dangers of modern philosophies and relativism. Is it possible for all of us to have our own set of beliefs and not impact others? Obviously not. If relativism is true, then it is morally permissible for a jihadi to walk into a Catholic Church and slit a priest’s throat. This is the serious problem we face with secularism and its nihilistic principles. The belief in nothing results in a free for all and objective truth is abandoned. When grave evil rears its ugly head in history, the nihilists either turn a blind eye or end up committing their own evils. The problem is that this incoherence is defended over and over again in our culture. Rugged individualism tears humanity apart because it contradicts our ontological being. I hope this is blunt enough because we have got to get this through our Catholic heads. This is what we are facing in secularism.

Nationalism and democracy cannot possibly confront the grave evil and violence of radical Islam. First, nations cannot seem to come together to confront this evil, which is spreading worldwide at an alarming rate. Since we all have our own set of beliefs we cannot come together to form a solution, whether it be military or diplomatic. Although, in my mind, the time of diplomacy has ended. Nihilism and relativism destroy unity. There is no cause or good to fight for in these philosophies. This is why the West shuffles its feet while thousands are slaughtered worldwide. Second, just battles are waged for a sense of belief in the good. World War II was waged on two unified fronts because the Allies understood the dignity of the human person and the need to defend good. In the West, there is no objective good, so we cannot come together and confront the bloodlust of ISIS.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Annunciation: Antithesis to Terrorism and Nihilism

It should be apparent to the world that Islamists like those in ISIS are at war with everyone who does not submit to their prescribed religious tenants. Terrorists are not nihilists. There was an article published about a year ago on how terrorists are nihilists. This is false. The only thing nihilists and terrorists have in common is the use of violence and power to achieve an end. Nihilists believe in nothing. They believe there is no objective truth and that the strong must prevail over the weak. Islamists believe that the world must be brought to Allah through violence and war and that Islam is predicated upon violent domination. There is a great chasm of difference between these two ideologies, but the author is correct in seeing commonalities in violence.

As Catholics we are doing battle with both nihilism and Islamism at the same time because they are both opposed to the Living God. While force is necessary in certain circumstances in response to great evils in the world, we must also remember the spiritual weapons at our disposal. We must remember to turn to Our Heavenly Mother and to show the world God’s love. We must pray, fast, and give alms to those in need.

Mary is the antithesis of both nihilism and Islamism. Both use force, coercion, and violence in order to achieve their goals. The Triune God does not force us to come to Him. This is clearly demonstrated through the power, beauty, and love of the Annunciation.

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:26-38

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Abandoning Ideology: The True Breadth and Depth of Catholicism

My reversion back to Catholicism took place back in 2009 after a few years of wandering, confusion, and self-worship. I was living in Washington, DC for an internship at The Heritage Foundation. I had decided to try my hand at conservative politics. I didn’t know it then, but God was beginning a radical change within me that would transform the way I see the world, including politics. I had left behind an unhealthy relationship (for both of us) in which I had cohabited with a man for a couple of years. I was broken and battling the Catholicism which had always been a part of my identity, even if I had wanted it on my own terms. Instead, God reached me in that brokenness through the beauty of the Liturgy and He showed me the vibrancy, beauty, paradox, and joy of Christianity.

While I was in DC, my roommate suggested that I try to go to Mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. It was just 10 minutes down on the red line from our Capitol Hill apartment. I was unsure. I had been attending various Protestant Bible studies and groups and my search was proving frustrating. The first Mass I attended at the Basilica, I did not even make it through and I left early. I thought I was done being a Catholic. At the time I didn’t want to fully admit to my need for the healing salve offered by Christ through His Church, but the Holy Spirit would not be deterred. Thanks be to God! For reasons I don’t remember, I ended up attending the Sacred Triduum at the Basilica that year and it forever changed my life.

My experience of Catholicism in my childhood and early Twenties can only be likened to what Bishop Barron has written about in many of his books: beige. The Liturgy, while the Blessed Sacrament was present, was not transcendent and transformative. I didn’t know about the presence of the angels and Communion of Saints in the Liturgy until I was in my mid-Twenties. That understanding also changed my view of the Mass forever. The year in which I attended the Sacred Triduum at the Basilica solidified this understanding as I could sense with the eyes of faith that the Mass was truly Heaven on earth. From the reverence of the priests, to the sacred music, to the lofty ceilings, mosaics, and stained glass, I knew with every fiber of my being that Jesus is Lord. Shortly afterwards I realized that politics was not for me and I left DC for good after 4.5 years of living there off-and-on.

Soon after I met my husband, I was finally Confirmed, and entered into the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. We were married in a very traditional parish and two weeks later moved to our current Diocese, one which is similar to the one in which I grew up. As time went on, I started to see how even though we are of a more traditional bent, the fights between espoused “conservatives” and “liberals” is destructive. Both sides have something wrong and both can be blinded by ideology. This became even clearer to me when I began my graduate theological studies and the first thing my professor told us is there is no “conservative” or “liberal” within the Church. Those are terms borrowed from political philosophy and they form divisions. True, there are nuances and differences in theological thought, but they are not understood through the lens of political ideology.

So why are these terms unhelpful and even divisive within the Church?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Things to Remember in Reading Commentary on Amoris Laetitia

Once again, as happens with every document Pope Francis writes and promulgates, there is a mad rush to make commentary on Amoris Laetitia. I won’t comment on my thoughts on prudence and taking time to prayerfully read a document first before unleashing fury all over the Internet. I myself have not had time to read the document, but I have read the last two, and the responses in social media have all been the same. Some people panic, others misread, misuse, and turn them into ideological weapons, some provide insightful thoughts, and many don’t even realize the Pope wrote a document in the first place.

AL is the wrap up document of the contentious Synod on the Family. As happens with Synods, the Pope writes an Apostolic Exhortation or other papal document as a type of summation and wrapping up of what was gleaned from a particular Synod. This is not encyclical, motu proprio, or bull. There are no juridicial changes, doctrinal changes, or amendments to Canon Law within its pages. So from that knowledge alone people should put their pitchforks down and take a step back on all “sides”.

There is an obsession with this Pope that I have not observed in my short 35 years on this earth. It betrays a complete lack of understanding by the media and a lot of Catholics as to the role of the Supreme Pontiff. Hanging on his every word seems to be creating a disordered obsession with him in which people are turning to sinful anger or sinful license. I will address this issue at a later date. My only point now is there is a major need for balance. Here are a few suggestions in reading commentary on AL.

  1. The Church has always been divided by factions, sin, division, heresies, and calls to conform to the world. The Mystical Body is given life by the Holy Spirit, but it is lived through sinful men and women, including those who have fallen into relativism (no this is not pointed towards Pope Francis, so don’t read into it in that manner).
  2. Most of the great theologians of the Church have in fact not been Popes. Think St. Paul, St. John, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Athanasius, etc. The last few decades the Church has had a springtime of Popes who excel in philosophy and theology. This isn’t the norm throughout the ages. The Church is filled with individuals with different gifts. That means not every bishop or cardinal is a great theologian. You cannot compare the intellects of Francis and Benedict XVI, for instance. They differ in approach, understanding, and gifts from God. Do not read Francis’ documents in the same manner as B16’s. Francis is not a systematic writer, like his two predecessors. Yes, this poses challenges during this age of social media.
  3. Ignore secular media coverage. The secular world reporting on Catholic affairs is like asking a person who only speaks English to translate Chinese without ever having studied the language.
  4. There are ideologically driven Catholic writers all over the place. Keep that in mind when reading commentary. There will be those who say divorced and re-married can all take Holy Communion now (this is false) or those who say this Pope is the worst in our history the world is coming to an end (also false). Be leery of those sowing seeds of division. Division is a sign of sin and ideology.  Caution is fine, division and sinful anger are not.
  5. Prayerfully read the document for yourself. If there is something that seems unclear or confusing, pull out your Catechism or read other Church documents, Familiaris Consortio for instance, to help clarify things for you. St. John Paul II really is a go to source for understanding marriage and family life in a theological and philosophical manner. Yes, his phenomenological approach can be difficult, but many orthodox sources have made Theology of the Body more accessible for the Church.
  6. Yes, modernism is a heresy within the Church today. It will take decades, if not centuries, to root it out. Study Gnosticism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, and Arianism if you want to better understand the longevity and virulence of certain heresies. It is clear that individuals within the hierarchy and the laity have fallen prey to the Siren calls of modernism and relativism. What I mean by modernism is the idea that the Church must conform to the world, mainly Western culture. The constant battle for the Church is to avoid turning a small truth into the whole truth. For instance, human sexuality and marriage are gifts and we are sinful human beings, but this is not the entirety of our faith. The Faith rests in the glorified Christ in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is the life of the Trinity that is our end, every other aspect of the Faith must be seen in light of the Triune communion.
  7. The Church survives and continues on while we sinful creatures do our best to destroy her with our sins, including institutional sin. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ and the mission of holiness. Do not allow commentary rob you of joy and peace.
  8. Take a break from social media if you feel sinful anger coming on. There is no sense falling into sin by reading comboxes and commentary that is not meant to lead others to truth and the Faith. What we think is righteous anger very often is, or becomes sinful the more we allow it to consume us. The Passions are difficult to control, so walk away.
  9. Yes, ambiguity in language is frustrating. There has been ambiguity in this papacy. It’s okay to acknowledge the frustration, but it’s not acceptable to turn to sinful anger. Pray for Pope Francis, the Church, and the world. Pray that the light of the Holy Spirit may bring souls into the Church and true conversions.
  10. Keep living the mission. Our mission, sealed in our baptism is to live the priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices of Christ in order to bring the world into conformation with the Blessed Trinity. That is theological speak for living holy lives, loving and serving one another, and fixing our eyes on Heaven. You and I have very little control over what happens in Rome or how things are received by the world in media. All we can do is live the mission God has given us. Each us has a unique mission for the Kingdom. For most of us it is to live our Faith within our sphere of influence, wherever that may be. For some it is a pulpit or social media platform that reaches millions, for most of us, it is simply to lead our children to God and our neighbors. Let’s all keep things in perspective and live our mission.
  11. Be prudent in discussing these matters with others. Don’t advise others in a manner that could lead them to sin or you to sin. Most of us are not experts and even with a graduate level education in progress in Theology, I realize daily just how little I know or understand about it all. Prudence is the least sought after virtue, and yet, the  most important. I struggle with it too. A LOT!
  12. Look for the good, beautiful, and true in the document and incorporate it into your life. Any ambiguity can be answered in light of Tradition, so breathe. Yes, it is disconcerting to see the Faith disfigured and distorted by those who turn AL into ideology, all we can do is share the truth, pray, and fast.

May Our Lord bless you and give you the peace that surpasses all understanding throughout this Easter season. Pax Christi.

What is Conscience?

In the United States it is a presidential election year, which means the word conscience will be thrown around in Catholic circles and in the culture. At times the use will be correct and other times it will be wrong as individuals fall victim to a desire for the subjective and an abandonment of objective truth. Conscience is an ontological reality for human beings, which means that conscience is part of our experience and nature. God has given us an intellect and a will. Our conscience gets information and processes it through the intellect and then decides on a course of action, which is the will. It’s important for us to understand precisely what conscience is and is not, our responsibilities in conscience, and our conscience as it relates to God and the Magisterium. I do not have time to give a thorough account, many books have been written on the subject and the Catechism of the Catholic Church covers the topic, but I want to briefly explain this much maligned word and aspect of our nature.

The West has fallen prey to a “dictatorship of relativism”, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI calls it. Conscience has become a catch-phrase and excuse for all sorts of behavior including intrinsic evil. It is up to the individual to set truth according to the clarion call of relativism. The problem, besides the obvious moral chaos that ensues, is that this subjectivism ignores the ontological reality of mankind. God made human beings for goodness and truth. Internally within the very depths of our being, we are ordered to love God, choose goodness, and live in truth. That truth is set by God as the Creator of the universe and of all human beings. He has placed that truth within us, even as we battle concupiscence.

In his book, Values in a Time of Upheaval, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI composed a series of essays on the state of the world. He devotes an entire section to the topic of conscience which has taken a prime of place in moral theology. He explains and clarifies what conscience means and what it does not because he sees a great danger of relativism even within the Church. He gives a stunning and beautiful portrayal of the two levels of conscience. He refers to them as: anamnesis and conscientia. Anamnesis is the ontological level of conscience, Benedict XVI writes:

Accordingly, the first level, which we might call the ontological level, of the phenomenon “conscience” means that a kind of primal remembrance of the good and the true (which are identical) is bestowed on us. There is an inherent existential tendency of man, who is created in the image of God, to tend toward that which is in keeping with God. Thanks to its origin, man’s being is constitutively in keeping with God, is not a knowledge of articulated concepts, a treasure store of retrievable contents. It is an inner space, a capacity for recognition, in such a way that the one addressed recognizes himself an echo of what is said to him. If he does not hide from his own self, he comes to the insight: this is the goal toward which my whole being tends, this is where I want to go.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Values in a Time of Upheaval, 92.

Since we were made by and for God, there dwells deep within us the desire to live our lives in conformity to the good which is God. We are able to recognize what is from God and our own eschatological goal of Heaven. This of course can become blinded by sin, confusion, error, and our own will, but this interior reality is always present and the consequences are grave when we ignore this part of ourselves.

Conscientia is the act in response to a judgment in relation to the desire for good within us. According to St. Thomas Aquinas this act occurs in three stages: recognition (recognoscere), bearing witness (testificari), and judgment (iudicare). It is possible for an individual to not recognize a moral decision and to block their own will to the truth. The risks of doing this are great, as is evidenced by a history full of debauchery, violence, blood, and war. At times it is ignorance or disorder that leads a person to error and this can be corrected through a proper formation of their conscience and a realigning to God. A mistake in judgment is much easier to resolve than a person who has deadened themselves to their own ontological orientation to goodness.

What is the Church’s role in conscience?

Since human beings already have the natural capacity to do good within themselves, Jesus Christ the Logos, came to further clarify the truth which can be disordered within us by sin. As material and spiritual beings, we needed God to reach down on our level to fully teach us and guide us to Him. The danger of error is an ever present reality for mankind. We easily deceive ourselves and it is through Christ and His Church that we are given the clarity we need, so that we can always be pointed towards our eschatological end and our ontological desire for goodness. The conscience itself must find truth and dwell in goodness in order to retain its dignity. The Church guides us in the proper formation of our conscience. Truth is freedom.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Confessions of a Post-Ideologue: Why I am Now Anti-Ideology

Gods-Politics

I grew up in a firmly Republican household. We were also a family of debaters. My parents were debate partners in college and despite the fact that most debate partners loathe each other, they got married. They then had two of their three daughters enjoy and excel at competitive debate, myself being one of them. I also coached high school debate for a while when I was in undergrad. The art of argumentation and conservative politics was normative growing up; however, I joined the Navy at 18 and became politically apathetic. Most active duty folks know that it is the Republicans who give them a bigger paycheck, so that is how most of us voted, not all. Political activism is pretty much forbidden while on active duty and it wasn’t an issue when I was serving, like it is now. We worked long hours and fought wars. That was our focus.

I did absorb some military ideology that took me years to shake out and discard. Much to my shame, I supported the use of torture. Since I had personally witnessed the aftermaths of terrorism I felt that it was perfectly acceptable to use whatever means necessary to save lives. In all honesty it was tinged with a bit of vengeance for the family members I had served in 9-11’s wake. I worked in a field that demanded total allegiance and in my youth and naivete, I gave over willingly. While my particular job was not unethical, I had friends who worked in questionable missions. It didn’t matter. It was for God and country, right?

I did my 6 years in the Navy and got out when my first contract ended. I was burned out and sick of the politics. Plus, the whole point of my military service was to go to college, so that is what I did. While in undergrad I discovered my love of politics and current affairs once again. A good friend of mine volunteered and worked in various capacities for Montana Republican candidates. I got involved. I started to remember that abortion is the supreme human rights issue of my generation and I believed the lie that Republicans would follow through on their promises. I finished undergrad and was given a prestigious internship at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. This was a dream internship that would launch my career in politics. I was the National Defense Intern because of my job in the Navy. I understood the military, budgets, and the need for a strong national defense. I was willing to do what had to be done. That was in 2009.

While I was in my internship, something began to change. I remember when the scales fell from my eyes. I was sitting in a roundtable discussion with the Policy Analyst I interned for, Mackenzie Eaglen, high ranking Marines from the Pentagon, and a couple of Congressional Aides. We were discussing linguistics and the need for linguists on the ground. I knew this topic well. I had been a military linguist. We were carrying on an interesting discussion when the Congressional Aide began asking questions solely from the view point of statistics. I could see very quickly, he was also a Veteran, that people on the ground were merely numbers to him and whoever he worked for. He had no concern for their welfare. He had lost sight of his own service. It did not matter if people died. I left sick to my stomach.

Things went downhill from there. As I sat in Senate and House hearings I could see that nobody actually cared about people. It was all an abstraction, while I still remembered the faces of my friends who had been blown apart in Iraq. The friends I had wheeled around or walked with who had endured IEDs and gunshot wounds. I remembered my Marine friends at National Naval Medical Center, now Walter Reed, who had given everything only to be shoved in a broken down barracks with apathetic doctors. And now I was sitting in Congressional buildings looking at the same apathy. An apathy that had trickled down into the ranks. I couldn’t do it. People I loved, family and friends of mine, were still on active duty.

I knew that I was pigeon-holed into defense policy by virtue of my intelligence background. I would have to start from scratch if I wanted to shift into religion or education policy. I realized very quick that I wasn’t cut out for politics. I don’t have the patience or stomach for it. I was also starting to question the talking points that I had ingested so willingly.

I can say that my Heritage internship was a great blessing and amazing experience. I was a bit old for it at 27, but I made the most of every opportunity and did find a niche for myself in attending the Tocqueville Forum at Georgetown University; the only vestige of orthodox Catholicism on that campus these days. I also came back to the Catholic Church during that internship after experiencing the Sacred Triduum at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on Catholic University of America’s campus. Thankfully the Basilica is right off the red line on the Metro, so I could easily attend Mass there on Sundays. Much to my own surprise, I left politics for good when I left DC after that internship.

In the last few years an even greater shift has taken place in me. Yes, I got married and began living my faith seriously, but I also became distanced enough from my military service and my time in politics to begin analyzing what I had accepted. I started to shift to a Catholic perspective and realized that much of what I believed was because of my anger following my 9-11 relief work experience. I had wanted justice and retribution for the people I had served, but it really was vengeance I wanted. I had accepted the vast expanses of government in the wake of 9-11 and now realize that who I worked for has taken those policies to frightening extremes. I also now see that the greatest threat to my family is the attack on religious liberty in this country.

In changing my opinion and heart on these matters, I began to dislike ideology. I started seeing how divisive it is within the Church at a time when we must come together to face the growing threat of persecution in this country and the very real persecution going on overseas. This has been reinforced by my graduate studies. Our faith is not contingent upon our political leanings or preferences. Our faith rests in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church that he established 2000 years ago. What I believe comes from Him, not me. What the Church teaches comes from Christ, not me. In the end the only choice I have is to follow Him or follow myself. When we choose ideology over the faith, we choose ourselves. We choose division. I know. I used to put my politics above my faith.

I still agree with many things that The Heritage Foundation works on. They are doing great work on religious freedom, education policy, and traditional marriage. Many of these shifts occurred after my internship. I just don’t agree with the rugged individualism that they espouse. I am also firmly opposed to socialism in all forms. What this means is that I hold a thoroughly Catholic belief on economic and social issues. I have an obligation to help the poor. I must fight for the end of abortion that has taken 1 billion lives on this planet. If I want to see change then I must raise my family and serve my community. The lowest level is the best solution and pure capitalism uses people just like socialism. I am also proud of my military service and the friends of mine who still serve. All four of us who served in my family got out before doing 20 years. We all got out for the same reason: We hated the politics within the ranks.

Politics are important for bringing about change, but politics are inherently flawed and fallen by nature of the people involved. Politics can never supersede theology. I say this time and time again and many days feel like I am whistling into the wind. Our theology is supreme. We must usher in change and the Gospels through our faith first. Our beliefs, political and otherwise, must be shaped and formed by our Catholic faith FIRST. That means saying no to torture, unjust wars, pure capitalism, rugged individualism, expansive government, socialism, redefinition of marriage, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, etc. You will notice that these issues cross party lines precisely because whatever political party we are a member of is doing one or more things immorally. Yes, abortion is the supreme issue of our day and we must vote accordingly, but we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that our political party is the one of the Catholic Church. Quite frankly, the GOP will drop social conservatives on marriage and then we really will not have anyone to vote for in the coming years. That is the issue that will lead to our open persecution, in fact, persecution of Christians is already happening in this country because of our views on marriage. Both parties are corrupt and we must choose the lesser of two evils, if there is one. More than anything, though, we must start living devoutly Catholic lives in our communities.

The reality is that persecution is here, as Christ promised. People will hate us, call us bigots, and push us out of public life because of our views on marriage.Read the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus constantly warns that we will be hated, reviled, and treated as the enemy. It is already happening. We need to be focused on holiness, not ideology. Our ideology isn’t going to help us wait out this storm. Our ideology is more likely to force us to abandon our Catholic faith. That is why I am anti-ideology. It lessens our Catholic faith. It takes away from the Gospel and it weakens our position. I went from anything goes Veteran (I am not anti-Veteran), to hardcore Republican, to Roman Catholic. The latter is the only thing that matters now. To change the world we must grow in holiness. We must give ourselves completely to Christ and His Church. Then we know that we are on the right path.

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.

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.