The Dangers of Isolationism and the Need for Holy Guides

In the past few weeks I have come into contact–both in person and in social media–with people who have felt the need to lecture me on their individual learning in areas of the Catholic faith. I stepped in at a Catholic bookstore when a man was telling a woman in full communion with Rome that she should go to SSPX Masses. I tried to explain to him that we shouldn’t be encouraging people to wade into complicated areas with a group that has not been fully rectified with the Church. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made progress in that area, but not nearly as much as this gentleman believed.

He then went into a tirade about how he had read all sorts of things and knew more than I did, even after I tried to tell him that I am in fact a theologian who has studied the documents of Vatican II quite a bit, because he had launched into an attack on those documents. The discussion was futile. It was like talking to a brick wall. He knew better than I did and that was that.

I’m sure he does know more on some things than I do. Everyone does. However, he demonstrated a weakness to me that is very common in the line of thinking of that particular crowd. This is true in both social media and in person. I can attest that the hostility many of us face from these folks online is just as prevalent in person, which I must admit, took me aback quite a bit. The weakness is a form of turning in on oneself.

Fr. Chad Ripperger, an exorcist and FSSP priest has warned this particular group of people, who are of a more traditional strain–as in only the Latin Mass, all else is invalid, Vatican II is wrong, etc.–that a martyr complex or persecution complex is destructive. This is precisely what tends to present in these circles. The rest of us–apparently myself included–are the enemy who is keeping everyone from the fullness of Catholicism. I personally veil in the Novus Ordo and I prefer a balance of English and Latin in the Mass e.g. Sanctus, Mysterium, and Agnus Dei. I’m not a fan of the banality of Marty Haugen, Dan Schutte, and David Haas. Those are merely my preferences, however. In the end these decisions are up to the individual priest and the bishop. We can’t allow our disagreement with certain choices to trap us in anger. I’ve done this before and it causes nothing but harm.

The danger I see is that far too often these folks read or study in isolation. I rarely see appeals to Sacred Scripture or Magisterial teaching, ether that or they cherry-pick documents. Whenever someone tries to explain the development of doctrine, as articulated by Blessed John Henry Newman, it is discarded. I’m not entirely sure these folks realize that Christology, for instance, took centuries to develop and is still developing in certain areas. The psychological dimensions of Jesus Christ are being examined by many theologians at present, as an example.

These people often focus on their own abilities to understand things. It’s a focus on “I” read this or “I” know this. It is often predicated upon a private revelation they studied, which is a good as far as it goes, but private insights and revelations are not Magisterial teaching and are not binding on the faithful. If I have a private experience of God, you are not bound to follow what He has revealed to me. You aren’t even bound to believe that it happened to me.

If the Church approves a private revelation, then we can at least trust that it does not contradict the Church’s teachings on faith and morals and it is a safe message to incorporate into our spiritual lives. We must always keep in mind, however, that our faith is not entirely encompassed in the message of Fatima, or the still not fully approved apparitions at Mejugorje, or any other private revelation given as a great grace to the saints. Our faith is understood through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium. The three legged stool if you will. Once we unhinge ourselves from one of these legs, the stool will topple over.

There is nothing wrong with being an autodidact. Every faithful Catholic should have a regular habit of studying great spiritual works. Most importantly, all Catholics should be spending regular time praying and reading Sacred Scripture. Issues arise when we do so in isolation without ever seeking guidance from others, especially orthodox learned priests, theologians, teachers, spiritual friends, or catechists. We are made for communion with one another. This means that we should take our studies and what we learn to other people. This offers us the opportunity to humbly accept correction–I am corrected on a regular basis, as it should be–and to make sure that we are not in fact erroneously understanding something.

Spiritual teachers are an indispensable aspect of the spiritual life. It’s for this reason that priests receive formation from other priests, theologians, and philosophers. It is why theologians are required to undergo years of study under learned and trusted teachers. We need to balance our self-study with discussions and learning with other people. This includes those who may not be book-ish, but whose simple faith is a guiding example to us. I learn a lot from my husband who never cracks open a work of theology.

If we have fallen into protectionism, isolationism, anger, or vengeance then we are desperately in need of guidance. There are some people who have become so blinded by their anger at the Church that they relish the day they think when it will come burning down. Not only is this anti-scriptural, it’s to fall into the trap of sinful anger and wrath. These are traits that are quite common in certain circles. If we find ourselves pulling away from the Magisterium, for instance, then we have put ourselves in danger. We are then heading towards the same mistakes of the Reformation. We place ourselves above Our Lord in thinking that we know better than He did when He gave the keys to St. Peter.  We somehow know better than 2000 years of Church Tradition and Sacred Scripture.

If we believe that we can ignore an Ecumenical Council, then we once again are in danger. This is one of the reasons I urge people to read and study Church history. Far too many people think only with our current age in mind without being able to put it into the much needed wider context of the whole history of the Church. Periods after Ecumenical Councils are notoriously rocky. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI even said it takes 100 years for a Council to be fully implemented correctly. This period in history is not somehow significantly worse than others. The heresies may be slightly different or old heresies have found prominence again. There is not a golden age of Catholicism where everyone was leading holy lives and our leaders were all pristine saints. The Early Church faced division and violent martyrdom. There’s a reason the saints are held up as pillars of light to emulate in our dark world.

This practical understanding does not in any way excuse the sins of the hierarchy and the faithful. It is in fact possible to understand on a practical level the weaknesses of human beings and to be righteously angry in the face of great evil. The former is simply to understand how Fallen men and women work through their salvation with Christ in fear and trembling, often in a very broken, weak, and sinful way. The path to holiness is to battle the sin that lies in our own hearts and to be purified. That cleansing process takes a life-time, and even then, we may still need much time in Purgatory. That doesn’t mean there aren’t serious consequences when we choose grave evil.  It doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be very real consequences for when members of the hierarchy cause great scandal or that measures shouldn’t be put in place to prevent such scandals. There absolutely need to be! It’s important to remember that Christ Himself spoke frequently of the realities of Hell.

I simply mean that at a practical level, we do have to keep in mind that the path to holiness is a constant battle with sin, temptation, weakness, character defects, other people, the world, and the Enemy. I’m not a saint, yet. Are you? It’s not an easy path and anyone who says it is hasn’t fully understood that the Cross and the Resurrection are a package deal. Often those of us who focus on other people’s sins–we all do it–do so in order to avoid looking at ourselves. If we spend most of our time looking outward, then we are avoiding the very real work required interiorly and it is work. This is also something that needs to be done with knowledgeable, holy, and orthodox guides.

If we truly want to change the world and the Church, that is not going to be accomplished by ranting at other people both in person and in social media. In fact, that type of aggressiveness does more to harm our mission than to help it. If we truly want to transform the world and bring people to Christ then we must be actively pursuing holiness. That means a willingness to conquer the darkness in our own hearts and wage the intense battle that is required of us to do so. We have to stop focusing so much on the evils out there to the point that they rob us of peace. We can’t fight the battles out there if we haven’t fought the battles within our own hearts. Do we see the plank in our own eye? In the end we will persevere because it is Christ who fights with us and for us. With Him all things are possible. Even the most hardened of hearts can become radiant and holy. We must remember that this cannot be accomplished in isolation. We rely on Christ and His Mystical Body to succeed. We cannot walk the path in isolation.

 

 

Catholic Exchange: Don’t Let the Scandals of the Hierarchy Lead You to Despair

The Church in the United States is once more stunned to learn of scandal within our leadership as news of accusations of sexual abuse by Cardinal McCarrick continue to be reported. The news coming out of Chile has been bad enough, but now a high ranking member of the hierarchy is accused of multiple instances of sexual abuse. Those of us in the Church continue to feel anger, sadness, confusion, and, quite frankly, disgust, about a problem that just will not seem to go away.

People outside of the Church now have even more ammunition to lob our way, which makes it harder for us to evangelize in an ever more hostile culture like our own. Many are asking: When will this evil finally be purged from the Church? The truth is that evil will only be fully purged from the Church when Christ returns.

The dangers of despair

I read various threads in social media about this latest scandal and one of the greatest concerns I had was about those people who are struggling with despair and a loss of faith. Some people are even contemplating leaving the Church for some other denomination or leaving Christianity for good. This is one of the great evils of public scandal within the hierarchy of the Church. It harms the faithful directly and can lead people to the sin of despair. Sin always has communal dimensions, but when it is tied directly to our leadership its reach is far and wide.

When I was stationed in England, at the height of the American Church’s abuse scandal, I worked with a gentleman who had left the Church because of the scandal. He was angry, repulsed, hostile, and had become anti-Catholic. Underneath, I could see great pain and disappointment. He couldn’t stomach that some priests had abused children and this caused him to leave the Faith. There was little I could do to help change his mind. The damage was done.

The McCarrick situation seems to follow the more common issue of a man in power abusing other adults, but the media has made sure the majority of people think that the vast majority of victims were children, even though they were not. This in no way minimizes the seriousness of the situation or the crimes. Abuses of power and coercion for sexual gain, or any other type of gain, is gravely sinful and evil, even more so when children are involved. It is merely to clarify the situation because precision does matter. It also allows us to explain this terrible situation to our interlocutors.

 

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.

Trust, History, and the Synod on the Family

The Synod on the Family is is in full swing, so I thought I would again share this article that I wrote at Catholic Exchange about Church history and trust. I assure you this is not the worst period in the Church’s history. It is not exhaustive because no article ever is, but it gives a good outline of how the Church operates and what she has overcome. In everything we trust in the Holy Spirit. Here it is:

Next month the second part of the Synod on the Family will commence in Rome. Articles, theories, and concerns have been flying around social media for over a year now. Discussion on the Synod is a good thing and should be encouraged. What I have seen in many circles however, is a sense of foreboding that betrays a fear of a change in doctrine that runs completely counter to what we understand the Catholic Church to be. That foreboding is met with glee in many circles who are touting the Church will get with the times and completely revamp 2000 years of moral law in order to please the Zeitgeist of our own age. Both are wrong and neither understands how the Church operates.

First, let’s remember that the Church is not a human institution at her ontological level. Yes, on the outside she looks like an institutional structure, complete with a hierarchy, and extensive array of offices with the Pope at the head. The ultimate reality, however, is that she is the Mystical Body of Christ. Her head is Christ and the Pope is subordinate to Him. Christ Himself promised that the power of Hell would not prevail against her:

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. l will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:15-19

This passage from the Gospel of Matthew is often used to explain the Papacy and our understanding of Apostolic Succession. What it also tells us is that what has been revealed to Saint Peter, the Apostles, and the Church is not from earthly realities, but from the Blessed Trinity. The Church’s understanding is that the Holy Spirit will preserve the Deposit of Faith, that which is teaching on faith and morals, from error even in the presence of sinful men and sinful women. This has repeatedly played out throughout the Church’s history.

What exactly is the hierarchy doing through the Synod on the Family? She is doing what she always does, she is engaging in open dialogue in order to better understand the heresies of the day and to better express the truth in the face of those falsehood so that the Church may evangelize the world. What many people forget is that the Church has always encouraged open and honest dialogue. Just because dialogue occurs, does not mean that the Church is accepting everything that is said in councils or synods. In fact, a great many heresies have been proposed at such gatherings throughout the Church’s history. Let’s consider a few examples.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

I Gave Up Facebook Again

Photo by Brandon Russell
Photo by Brandon Russell

I gave up Facebook, again. Anyone who has read my blog over the last couple of years knows that I have one of those personalities that struggles with temperance when it comes to Facebook. I like to read the news, watch the Church, and engage in discussions with people. What I have discovered over the course of the last few years is that most FB conversations are not discussion, they turn into fights that typically end with ad hominem attacks. For whatever strange reason, I get sucked in.

Facebook is not a bad thing. In fact, it can be used for great good. It has allowed people to stay connected well past the relationships of previous ages. We can stay informed in real-time and share a bit of ourselves on our tiny slice of the Internet. For someone who tends towards introvert in social settings, it is an opportunity to express myself without all of the awkwardness of idle small talk. It is also a great place to share writing projects, get feedback, and have people share your work. I am very thankful to the people who have shared my writing over the years. I want to be honest, though, in the hope that my weakness will help others. I have allowed my iPhone and Facebook to take over my life.

I have forgotten how to sit in stillness. I cannot even seem to sit for five minutes in the car without my phone when my husband runs in the store. At night, my husband sits and watches TV, I am on my phone or laptop, and our daughter is either vying for our attention or on her tablet that we got her for school use. I have become one of those mindless drones. I have forgotten how to live in the present.

I am ashamed admit this out loud. The only other people who are aware of it are my regular Confessor and my family. I am sure people have guessed who are friends with me on FB. They see my frequent posts and know that I have been sucked in. That I have chosen to use the distraction of Facebook to try to quiet the restlessness in my own heart. It became my go-to “distractor” (as my husband calls it) after my miscarriages and when the post-partum depression/anxiety was so bad. It became a way for me to engage in adult conversation when my husband was traveling for work. It started off as simply a way to connect, but then I allowed it to consume me.

I have seen people argue that we should not leave Facebook because we have an obligation to evangelize. I disagree. Perhaps God is calling me to evangelize in a different medium than social media? If I cannot use it in a temperate manner and I allow it to take time away from my family and my life, then it is no longer a good in my life.

I convinced myself that I needed it to be a writer. If I was going to get my work out there and find writing gigs then I need a social media presence. That is a lie. I am already a regular contributor for one of the largest Catholic websites available and the other sites that interest me are only looking for submissions, not my blog presence. I do not need Facebook to be a Catholic writer. I am already a Catholic writer.

How many of us struggle with our isolation or loneliness through an overabundance of social media? I suspect it in a few of my former Facebook friends who like me struggle with living in that moment. Mine stems from periods of existential dread and a battle with sloth. I realized the answer to my struggles in two very different experiences.

Yesterday was the Feast of the Holy Archangels. It is a huge feast day in our home because our daughter is named after St. Michael. I went out of my way to make it a special celebration. We made cookies, cards to deliver to Catholic friends, and I made a nice traditional dinner. I was living the rhythms of the Church and sharing it with my daughter. I felt the most profound joy and peace. It reminded me of what kind of life I want to live and how I want to lead my daughter.

Today is the exact opposite. I woke up tired from my hormone issues and didn’t want to accomplish much. I spent the morning on my laptop while my daughter played and watched PBS. We did about an hour of school with her practicing her writing. I am a bit of a zombie today. I then got into an argument with someone on Facebook in which we were probably both a little right and then I got irritated with my daughter. After that moment I could see clearly, once again, what I was doing. I was wasting my time arguing with someone whom I do not even know in person. Yes, a fellow brother in Christ, but he was not the flesh and blood daughter standing in front of me.

Our culture tells us social media is wonderful and that it is okay to be on it all of the time. To be clear, I am not condemning social media. I am cautioning against its overuse, especially in the face of loneliness. It quickly becomes the way we see the world. We are constantly looking at our phones or computers instead of the people around us. There are plenty of people who use social media in a healthy manner, at this point I am just not one of those people. So this is me being honest. I am addicted to Facebook and I just gave it up again. This time I pray for the long run. I have gone months and months without it, but then I get back into it for whatever reason. This time I want to focus on the gifts of my husband and daughter and see where God leads me. I want to quiet that restlessness through the stillness of God. Giving up Facebook means that I can devote time to my family, studies, and write the books I want to write. So I am walking away from it. God bless.

Catholic Exchange: Trust, History, and the Synod on the Family

Next month the second part of the Synod on the Family will commence in Rome. Articles, theories, and concerns have been flying around social media for over a year now. Discussion on the Synod is a good thing and should be encouraged. What I have seen in many circles however, is a sense of foreboding that betrays a fear of a change in doctrine that runs completely counter to what we understand the Catholic Church to be. That foreboding is met with glee in many circles who are touting the Church will get with the times and completely revamp 2000 years of moral law in order to please the Zeitgeist of our own age. Both are wrong and neither understands how the Church operates.

First, let’s remember that the Church is not a human institution at her ontological level. Yes, on the outside she looks like an institutional structure, complete with a hierarchy, and extensive array of offices with the Pope at the head. The ultimate reality, however, is that she is the Mystical Body of Christ. Her head is Christ and the Pope is subordinate to Him. Christ Himself promised that the power of Hell would not prevail against her:

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. l will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:15-19

This passage from the Gospel of Matthew is often used to explain the Papacy and our understanding of Apostolic Succession. What it also tells us is that what has been revealed to Saint Peter, the Apostles, and the Church is not from earthly realities, but from the Blessed Trinity. The Church’s understanding is that the Holy Spirit will preserve the Deposit of Faith, that which is teaching on faith and morals, from error even in the presence of sinful men and sinful women. This has repeatedly played out throughout the Church’s history.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…