Catholic Exchange: We Rest in Hope, Come What May

In a Fallen world where suffering abounds: What is the Christian answer to suffering and uncertainty? What is it we have been given in the face of pain, sorrow, uncertainty, and agony in our lives and the world? The answer is the supernatural virtue of hope. The Christian life is one lived in hope, no matter what happens on a personal or global level. In his encyclical, Spe Salvi, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminds us of this gift:

Spe salvi facti sumus”—in hope we are saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Rom 8:24). According to the Christian faith, “redemption”—salvation—is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.

Spe Salvi 1

Not only are we given hope, but “trustworthy hope” because hope comes from God. It is true that the road to holiness and communion with the Most Holy Trinity is arduous. There will be periods of intense suffering from external and internal factors largely outside of our control, but in the midst of that suffering hope sustains us and propels us forward. If we keep our eyes fixed in hope on Christ and our eschatological end, then the pain is worth the effort necessary to attain our goal, which is God. We must live in hope and not despair no matter what happens around us or to us.

Where does our hope rest?

Our hope does not come from the material world or the powers of this world. Our hope rests in Christ. While the Paschal Mystery has renewed creation, and brought about the salvation of mankind, men and women must still battle sin and suffering in the pursuit of holiness in a Fallen world. Pope Benedict XVI states: “Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last forever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom.” Definitive hope rests with God, not in the temporal order. We live hope in the temporal order, but hope does not come from this world.

One of the major struggles in Western society is based on a secular humanism that promises to lift mankind out of suffering through the use of reason. Due to the sinful and free nature of man, we cannot rely on the hope promised by human beings alone. This is also the danger of those who look to the state for all of the answers to human misery. No system based on reason and sinful human beings can completely free humanity from suffering, sin, and death. Only Jesus Christ can fulfill those promises.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Holiness is How We Transform the Social Order

By now most of the world knows that this is an election year for the United States. It’s hard to miss the constant reporting at an international level. This piece isn’t about the election. It was inspired by the election, but it is meant to be about something deeper and more long-term than a single United States presidential election.

We all live in a home country with political, economic, social, and other systems at work. Some of them we have control over, others we are able to influence slightly, some we merely offer our duty, others we have very little control. It is our duty to participate as citizens. That participation is left to the faithful to execute through a properly formed conscience. A properly formed conscience is ordered to the moral law as it is understood by the Church in light of Sacred Tradition and Scripture. The Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching is a great place to begin to understanding this aspect of the Christian life. I highly encourage people to pick it up and have it alongside the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The call to transform the culture is much more basic and deeper than merely voting, running for office, starting a business, giving to charity etc. It begins at the level of each person. This is the essence–it is the very beginning–of Catholic Social Teaching. Each human being is made imago Dei. Every human being shares the same nature of body and soul and each person is ontologically ordered to goodness and truth. We are made to love and serve God. We constantly seek God whether we are consciously aware of it or not. When we encounter Christ, we enter into the life of faith. Our nature–through the use of faith and reason–helps us to bridge the divide between the material and the immaterial, the spiritual and matter. Through the Paschal Mystery and the direction of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, each one of us is set on the path to holiness beginning at Baptism. We are all called to holiness. Every single one of us is called to be a saint. Sainthood is not solely reserved for lofty souls.

The Church just celebrated the great Solemnity of All Saints. In that great feast, we are called to celebrate and enter into friendship with all of the holy men and women who have gone before us on the path of holiness. Each of them points us towards communion with the Most Holy Trinity. They help us to see in a Fallen world of violence, chaos, corruption, illness, and brokenness that we must conform our lives to God. They also show us that if we truly want to transform the world, then we must become holy. To change a political, social, or economic system, we must be working towards holiness in our own lives and within our families.

The call to holiness is repeated most recently in Vatican II, Christifideles Laici, and the teachings of Pope Francis. It is the mission of the laity to transform the culture. We cannot do so if we are not actively pursuing holiness. We are all on the journey and we will fail at times. All of us will stumble and fall daily, but the point is to persevere.  The radiance of the saints and their successes comes from their faithfulness to the mission. That mission is holiness.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

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 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.

Pope Francis and the Problem of the Eldest Son

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Last week as I watched Pope Francis address Congress and our nation a thought dawned on me. Since Pope Francis’ election I have watched as certain groups within the Church and outside of the Church get themselves tied up in knots because of what he says and how he says it. These people are varied in their reasons for displeasure with our Holy Father, and some love a Pontiff who does not exist and who is a product of their own imagination. The latter are those in the mainstream media who love that he blesses and kisses babies and the disabled, but ignore his strong pronouncements on the Church’s moral teaching on abortion and “gay marriage”. There is another group entrenched in the heresy of Americanism that lashes out for what the Pope says about capitalism, without really understanding what the Pope means. Specifically, that a capitalism that uses people as a means to an end is evil; not necessarily capitalism that is rightly ordered. And finally, we have a group within the Church that greatly endangers itself by its irrationality, fall into calumny, and hardening hearts. It is this last group that I want to address in this post.

It is true that at times Pope Francis is not clear in his comments and at times it can be hard to understand precisely what he means. There have been moments early on in his Pontificate when he made comments about those serving in the pro-life movement that hurt many people. I understand. And the manipulation of his words by people inside and outside of the Church has made our mission more difficult at times. The “who am I to judge?” quote, which is taken entirely out of context by so many, has been thrown in most of our faces when it comes to moral issues in the West. I get it, but I want to consider something in light of the Pope’s recent visit to the U.S.

Pope Francis does not need to really worry about those of us who grasp and try to live the Church’s moral teaching. We are sharing that truth in our families, communities, and in social media. By the light of faith and the gift of human reason, we are able to understand why the Church teaches as she does on issues that are counter-cultural. We understand why life is sacred and that every human life is endowed with dignity given by God from conception to natural death. In other words, we are not lost. We have the light of Christ leading us. Pope Francis knows that you and I will go to Scripture, the Catechism, and Church documents in order to understand and defend her truths.

Now, most of our culture is being led astray by Lucifer. They have believed his lies and now live in ignorance and with dying or dead souls. This is even more tragic when baptized Catholics persist in these lies, especially in a public manner. Pope Francis addressed some of these people in Congress and our nation throughout his various speeches. When someone has hardened their heart or grace has left them, as is the case with mortal sin (yes, that’s how serious it is), it is difficult to reach those people. In fact, stating moral law to those people who are either deceived or willfully dissenting can accomplish very little. Why?

The reason is that what these people need is grace. If their soul is dead, then they need grace to enter their lives again. If they have never experienced grace, then they need the supernatural gifts of faith and grace. This first begins in a movement from God, but then the person has to be willing to accept this gift. God does not force us to love or follow Him. He preserves our free will completely. It is true that some people return or enter the faith through learning the moral truths of the Catholic Faith. By and large, however, this is not the case. In order for conversion or reversion to occur, a person must have an encounter with the Living Christ whether it be a slower process like St. Peter or a knocked off the horse experience like St. Paul. No matter how it happens, that encounter must take place first.

With that in mind, what is Pope Francis trying to accomplish? Since he knows the orthodox are well taken care of, he is reaching out to those who have either fallen into error or who have always lived in error. It’s not that he is encouraging sin. Anyone who takes the time to follow the Holy Father’s message in its entirety knows this to be true. Rather, he is sharing the power of Christ with the world. When people see Francis’ life, they wonder where it comes from and that answer is Jesus Christ. Then people can begin to look for Jesus. In coming to know and love Jesus and through Baptism grace pours into the soul and makes it easier to come to the fullness of truth, including the moral law. In fact, it is impossible to come to the Church without faith and grace. What occurs in the supernatural life is not up to us. We are mere messengers. A fact that many seem to forget. Conversion takes time. Real conversion comes with falls along the way and many trips to the Confessional.

It is important for those of us who know the truth to avoid falling into bitterness as the eldest son did in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In fact, let’s take a quick look at that beautiful Parable:

Then he said, “A man had two sons and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

It is the last part of the this Parable that is most instructive for this particular discussion. The father says to the son: “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” This is really at the heart of Pope Francis’ Papacy. He knows that we are well taken care of. The last few popes have fought the Culture of Death. Whether it agrees or not, much of our culture is aware of what the Catholic Church teaches on these issues. If we solely focus on the “culture war” we run the risk of disengaging our audience because we resort to screeching at high volume to get our point across. Instead, we need to show people to Christ, so that they can come to the truth found in the moral teaching of the Church. We can’t put the cart before the horse. A person who has been steeped in relativism is not going to understand the Church’s teachings without the light of faith and grace.

Pope Francis is not an anti-pope or threatening the Church. He is welcoming the Prodigal. He is showing people to Christ, so that the Church makes sense. We forget that we have grace and faith while the majority of people in our culture do not. The Church is foreign and they look at us with blindness. They can’t see until they see Christ. It is not that Francis is leaving us behind or leaving the faith behind. He is being a Shepherd. He is welcoming the lost into the fold, and telling the Mystical Body to rejoice when people return or join us. Just because Francis doesn’t constantly mention our favorite pet issue, does not mean he is wrong. He is leading in a way we may not fully understand, but we can trust that he is doing his best to reach out to the world and bring people to Christ. That is his job on top of leading the Church. So, let us rejoice that wounded, suffering, and lost people are looking for Christ. Let’s go to the celebration instead of sulking or living in bitterness. Praise be to God for reaching the lost. God bless.