Catholic Exchange: Why So Many Are Leaving the Church: The Faith and Reason Problem

Yet another study confirms the hemorrhaging taking place inside the Church in the West. People are leaving the Faith in droves. A good many are leaving for agnosticism, atheism, or the often used, nones category. Much of what drives these individuals to leave en masse is our failure to explain coherently and concisely the relationship between faith and reason in the face of widespread criticism in the culture.

The Western world is dominated by secular education where children are taught principles, ideas, and a worldview that is often hostile to the Catholic Faith. The West has been engaged in a battle between faith and reason for the last 500 years. First, far too many splitting from the Catholic Church abandoned reason altogether believing it to be a broken ability in Fallen men. Second, this led to the inevitable split on the side of reason as philosophy and science embarked on the path of proving that a rationalist-materialist worldview is the only one worth having. Saint John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI devoted great volumes of work to bridging the chasm created between faith and reason. The problem now: We are ignoring the Church’s resources at our own peril.

It is very difficult for a child to parse the nuances of their faith from what they are taught in the classroom, especially at times of tremendous peer pressure and intellectual confusion. Since public education is the primary source of education for those families who cannot afford Catholic education or who cannot, or choose not, to homeschool, there must be a way to reach children from an early age in order to teach them that faith and reason work harmoniously together. They are not in opposition, they are complementary. Each works for the other, but since faith is supernatural, it elevates and heightens reason to unachievable heights it could never reach without grace.

Parents, teens, college students, and all members of the laity really need to examine the relationship between faith and reason closely in order to understand the battles being waged in our culture. We are often marginalized and dismissed precisely because the culture does not understand the authentic natures of faith and reason, either individually or as they work together, and we do not provide clear responses.

Saint John Paul II sought to clarify and elucidate on the Church’s brilliant teaching on faith and reason in his incredible encyclical Fides et Ratio. It is truly a gift for our times. The understanding of faith was furthered in Pope Emeritus Benedict’s undertaking of his last encyclical, which was finished by Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei. We have resources. We have answers to the questions or attacks made against our Faith, we only have to use them and share them with our children. If we do not, then they will fall for the errors of our times and leave the Faith all together. Children are not coming back in later years as was the case in previous times. Secular college campuses seem to be a place where the faith of many goes to die. Much of this is because that faith was not nurtured or aided by the gift of reason, properly ordered.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Cardinal Virtues: The Queenship of Prudence

The moral life has been hampered greatly by the prevalence of both nominalism (a system based on opposition) and a system of morality based on obligation over charity. For the first 1500 years of the Church, the moral life was seen as the movement of grace within the individual who then strives to live the virtues both supernatural and human. The supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity drive the individual to conform their lives to the good who is God. The human virtues, or cardinal virtues, are those lived daily through habitual action and choices. Thus morality is seen as a movement towards love and the New Law of Christ rather than a system of external obligation. The Decalogue and other moral teachings are inherent parts of the Christian life, but they are lived more fruitfully through charity and a life of virtue, rather than as an external force dictating each of our actions. The first cardinal virtue we will examine is prudence.

The foundation and highest of the cardinal virtues is prudence.[1] Joseph Pieper begins his chapter on prudence in his book The Four Cardinal Virtues by pointing out the strangeness most people experience in learning that prudence must come before the other virtues.

No dictum in traditional Christian doctrine strikes such a note of strangeness to the ears of contemporaries, even contemporary Christians, as this one: that the virtue of prudence is the mold and “mother” of all the other cardinal virtues of justice, fortitude, and temperance. In other words, none but the prudent man can be just, brave, and temperate, and the good man is good in so far as he is prudent.[2]

Most people assume the cardinal virtues are separate and belong to no set order, which is why the idea of prudence being primary is so foreign to most people, including many moral theologians.

Prudence in its contemporary usage has become confused from its original meaning and understanding. In the contemporary psyche it is confused with a form of utilitarianism rather than as a grounding force to the other virtues. Pieper points out that most people think of prudence as that which “always carries the connotation of timorous, self-minded preservation, of a rather selfish concern about oneself.”[3] This idea of prudence forgets the human drive for goodness, truth, and nobility. One who is selfish is not concerned with virtue, rather they have turned inward away from truth. The prudent person desires to live according to truth.

Prudence is inextricably linked with choices. It is to choose the good in each moment of the day. One cannot be just, courageous, or temperate if their choices are not ordered to the good. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines prudence as: “…the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going”…Prudence is “right reason in action”, writes Saint Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle (CCC 1806).” This means “prudence is the “measure” of justice, of fortitude, of temperance.”[4] It is through prudence where emotions and passions are tempered by reason in order for good decisions to be made. A person who is not ruled by reason easily falls into error and sin. Prudence’s primary concern is truth and how best to achieve and conform to that truth. This conformity to the truth propels the man or woman into action.

All of the virtues have at their heart an action in response to truth. The intellect processes the information presented to examine whether or not it conforms to the ontological need for goodness and the will chooses an action in conformity to this truth.[5] The truth can be blocked by the individual’s will, but in the formation of prudence the individual comes to choose the good more and more frequently. The Catechism explains, “The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid (CCC 1806).” In a proper examination of prudence, it is clear why the other cardinal virtues rest on this virtue. A man cannot be just if he is not conformed to the truth, nor can a person be willing to die a martyr’s death through fortitude without the aspiration to live truth, or temper bodily desires if the need for balance is not rightly understood.

[1] Joseph Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Kindle Edition (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1965), 88.

[2] Ibid, 88.

[3] Ibid, 108.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Thomas Aquinas, On Human Nature, ed. Thomas S. Hibbs, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1999), 133-34.

Rage Porn

screaming-kid

My title selection may be a bit shocking, but it is not far from the truth.  No I am not talking about some form of violent pornography. I want to talk about our culture’s addiction to rage. Keep in mind that anything I write about is a reflection of my own struggles.  You can see the first two posts in a series I am working on about anger here and here.

Social media is a great tool. It allows us to connect with people all over the world and people we have not seen or spoken to in decades. This is really great for people like me who are Veterans and who know people literally all over the world. It’s nice to see how people have changed, raised families, and continue on their journey. This is all good stuff. What I am concerned with is the focus on presumed righteous anger within the Church, which is actually sinful anger.

I seldom use Twitter.  To be honest, it overwhelms me with information. I find it is a place where people can share their outrage in 140 characters. It’s a constant flow of bad news and information. Look at what the rad-trads did today and look at what the proggies are up to. Pope Francis is a heretic. Pope Francis is not a heretic. Change is coming to the Church. Obama is the anti-Christ. The world is ending, stock up on canned goods. The onslaught is unrelenting. To see the polarization that is occurring in our country and within the Church, take a moment to read a comments section on a news article or blog.  Then look away and stay away. It is startling.

We are turning the Interwebs into a place of “us vs them” and I can tell you historically that never ends well. We begin turning the people next to us in the pews or on the streets into enemies. There are genuine heretics (not our Pope) and people who are disobedient, but it really is up to a priest or bishop to correct them in private and in public, unless they are a friend who needs our guidance. Admonishment of sinners is not something that needs to be done whenever we see someone sinning in a manner different from our own. I like to share my love of the Sacrament of Penance as a way to help people find healing and strength against sin.  I get the struggle.  I have done it. I have a strong sense of justice and it is troubling to see people flout Church teaching and then proceed to the Eucharist line, but in reality, you and I are not the enforcers of canon law. We do, however, have an obligation to balance justice and charity. We do not overlook sin, but we discern where Christ wants to use us. There are moments we will be used for admonishment, but we should be clear beforehand.

There is little you or I can do about people who choose to be Catholics in name only, except pray for them and try to live by our example.  Let’s show people that things like NFP require sacrifice, but they are doable.  Let’s show love and respect for the gay community without accepting their behavior.  Let’s minister to the person embroiled in divorce and try to guide them through the love of Christ.  Let’s try not to make assumptions because of someone’s political leanings. Human beings are complex.  We are a sum total of a variety of talents, experiences, and above all we derive our dignity from being created in the image and likeness of God. I am not my politics, sexual orientation, or liturgical preference.  What a limiting world that would be!

My point is that social media can be a train-wreck if we make it one. I have shifted dramatically since joining Facebook in 2008.  My posts were almost entirely political.  I supported things that I never would support now, but I was sure through my presumption that I was right.  The Republican Party was the party of the Catholic Church.  I feel absolutely stupid for this now.  No political party is the party of God.  The immorality is on all sides and politics are inherently corrupted by human sin. The Republican Party will eventually fold on marriage.  It is inevitable. So then what? That is a very good question and it will put us in a difficult situation. But, I gave up politics for a while, so I will come up with in answer in a couple of years.

What should concern us, however, is when this toxicity spills over into the Church. Our primary mission to evangelize is greatly harmed by our inability to separate our ideology from Christ. Our political or even “theological” ideology is not a reflection of the authentic Jesus Christ who beckons us to communion with the Blessed Trinity. In fact, my constant focus on click-bait, rage porn drives a wedge between that communion and me.  It takes my focus off of Christ and drives me to dwell on things outside of my control, but in a controlling manner.  I am not arguing that we should not keep track of the world. We need to be aware of the landscape, but we should not constantly dwell on it. When we see bad news or conflict, the first thing that we should do is pray. Yes, while you are looking at your Twitter or Facebook feed, bow your head and pray.  Pray for them and for yourself.

When I see the anger of the Catholic blogosphere, the first thing I see is a lack of trust. I know this, because I have, and still see that in myself. Somehow the Church will perish in flames if I don’t tell Pope Francis how to get things done. If the progressive get their way then the Church will crumble because of changes in sexual morality.  Folks, the Church’s teaching on faith and morals will never change.  It is irreformable.  The Church will never change her teachings on divorce, homosexual acts, birth control, etc.  She can’t because Christ is the head, not men.  So stop worrying that she will.  She can find pastoral approaches to those who have been deeply hurt by the Sexual Revolution, but her mission is to heal and bring sinners to Christ.  To help them see why those sins tore them apart. So stop screaming in fear. Trust. Instead of writing hostile blogs and articles, how about we focus on fixing the brokenness? St. John Paul II left us a wealth of knowledge and tools to help us heal this pain and these sins.  Thanks be to God.  Let’s use Theology of the Body rather than ranting that the Church is going to change. The only one who will triumph in all of these things we worry about is Jesus Christ who reigns as our King, Priest, and Prophet.

And let’s stop being so hostile about the Liturgy.  Full disclosure I veil in the Novus Ordo. I have never been to an Extraordinary Form Mass, although I would love the experience it.  I want a reverent and beautiful Liturgy.  We are working our way back to that.  Christ did not say, in his Aramaic, that all Masses must be in Latin.  Yes, I am aware this argument is poor in the face of tradition.  How about this?  Latin is a discipline, not a doctrine. Yes, Latin has a long tradition and it is still the language of the Church.  I love Latin and chant.  They send my soul soaring to Heaven, but the yelling and screaming is doing absolutely no good.  The issue is not the use of the vernacular, the issue is a breakdown in understanding of the Liturgy and the Real Presence.  That is where our focus should be.  In fact the nastiness should be sending a lot of people to Confession, just like the sexual sins, because of sinful anger.

None of us wants to get pigeon-holed into the idea that we are better because we are not “them”.  Christ dealt directly with this problem.  Remember Luke 18:9-14? If we want to change the world, then we must start with the primary mission of our Baptism: Our individual sanctification.  If we work on our own personal holiness, then we can change the world around us.  Can you imagine how the Catholic landscape in social media would change if we were focused on helping others achieve holiness?  That is the goal: Sainthood.  We cannot help others to holiness, if we ourselves are strangled by our own denial of sin.  It is not that we aren’t supposed to help sinners, it just happens that we must work on our own personal holiness before Christ will use us.

I know this is hard.  Ask my husband about me! You and I have been given a desire to write and share our faith.  That is a stewardship that God has given us.  We should respect it and use it for good.  That does not mean that we cannot wade into political discussions, ethical debates, or the Liturgy.  What it does mean is that we need to go into those posts remembering that we are a part of the Mystical Body of Christ.  We are a communion, not a community. We are members (as in limbs) within that Body and that means what we do profoundly impacts the other members.  So do we want to lift up the Body or do we want to tear it down? Do we want to bring people to Christ or drive them away?

Just Say “No” to Discouragement

I have been fighting discouragement pretty hard this week. I was struck deeply by a quote by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, “If you are discouraged it is a sign of pride, because it shows you trust in your own powers.” Some of my frustration has been of my own making and some of it is with the state of the world. I have no control over the latter. All I can do is try to serve where I can and pray for the conversion of souls. God has called me to multiple roles of service; all center around the dignity and sanctity of the human person. I am a cradle Catholic, but I would say that I had a full conversion 5 years ago. That would make me a newer Catholic, even though I have read theology and philosophy since high school.

I was not prepared for how lonely of a road it can be at times, even within the Church.  My vigor and passion for Our Lord and His Church have at times been met with apathy and outright hostility.  I think that this is a struggle for a lot of people who come to full conversion.  I know many RCIA candidates who are on fire, but become disillusioned when they see that their rigor is not shared in their parish.  I should have known better.  The Saints have met much pushback.  I am not a Saint, yet, not even close.  That is the goal, but I have some very deeply rooted sins that Our Lord is ripping out of me.

I think my discouragement has been compounded by the chaos that has been in our parish for a year now.  A much beloved priest was moved out of our parish suddenly because of some shifts that were needed throughout our Diocese.  This was a major shock for many of us and it has been struggle.  Our replacement quickly became ill and had to retire, and then we spent months with a different priest each week.  In late summer we finally were assigned a “permanent”, which really means temporary, priest who is on loan from a Diocese in Nigeria by way of Tucson.  We all knew that he would leave this summer, and that is the case.  We are now praying and waiting to find out who the Diocese will assign us on a permanent basis.

While we come to Mass to give God “right praise” and receive the Holy Eucharist, in our brokenness we need a shepherd.  Our current priest is a holy and godly man, unfortunately people have not accepted him and there has been a lot of nastiness.  His hands are tied by his posting with us.  So all of this has compounded my own discouragement and many people have left our parish.  I myself have thought about it, but we will stick it out.

If there is one thing about ministry, it is difficult.  It is called service for a reason.  You get to see the best and the worst in people.  I head up what should not be, but is, the most controversial ministry in the Catholic Church in our country today: the Sanctity of Life Committee.  It seems a given that Catholics would understand that we are called to bring a Culture of Life to the world, but that is not the case.  We are a small Committee of 5 deeply dedicated women.  We do what we can and want to do more.  Our Committee’s job is not just to tackle abortion, which we do with passion and purpose by praying at Planned Parenthood and providing much needed items to moms in crisis pregnancy, we also must teach and share social teaching.  That includes the hot button issues of our day: marriage (to include divorce, “gay marriage”, and contraception), the death penalty (the Church’s position is much nuanced), war, etc.  We do what we can, but it is difficult to figure out how to combat both ignorance and disobedience.

About a year ago one of the women on our Committee had discovered what the real issue is in the Church.  She had found a book, which most of our Committee read, by Sherry Weddell (a fellow Lay Dominican) called Forming Intentional Disciples.  I had been beating my head against the wall in response to the apathy and hostility within the Church.  I did not get it.  This book answered my questions.  The majority of Catholics are ‘sacramentalized, but not evangelized’.  What does that mean?  It means that most Catholics, the vast majority, have not had a conversion to Christ.  They do not actually know Him and His call to follow Him as disciples.  Catholics go through the hoops and receive the Sacraments, but many do not even know what they are doing or just do it because that is how they were raised or what they married into.  No wonder our Protestant brothers and sisters do not understand us?!  And no wonder we have such a hard time engaging people.

This is not an easy issue to tackle and it is one we cannot really look at until we have stability in our parish.  It is something that our Diocese is trying to do on a macro level, but we need micro level changes.  I know one thing, we all need to support and encourage one another on the path.  Discouragement is the sin of pride.  We need to lift each other up.  We need to help each other in the battle, because we are waging a fierce spiritual battle both inside the Church and outside of it.  We need to find a charitable way to engage disobedience rather than sit idly by or get into fights.  We need to pray for the conversion of souls and fast.  I cannot stress this enough.  These are the weapons we use to fight discouragement and despair.  The forces of darkness are on the move and many souls are at stake.  I would suggest fasting throughout Holy Week next week.  Skip a meal, stay off the Internet, or offer some other sacrifice daily.  This is a great time to re-gain focus, if like me, you have wandered a bit this Lent. As we approach the Holy Day of Easter, remember that the battle is won in the end. Let’s pray that we all make it on the journey to holiness and see Our Lord waiting for us at the end.  God bless.