What does the World See in Us?

Saint-Peters-Basilica-interior

Summer is a good time to focus on other projects, so I have been writing articles, but not blogging much. Here is my first blog in a while:

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself what the world sees when they see a Christian or the Church? Based on the Internet alone, which is where so many people interact with one another, both believers and non-believers, what do you see? As a Catholic, I see fights about the Liturgy, Church teaching, sexuality, marriage, the Magisterium, and I could go on and on. Most of these fights are not grounded in authentic teaching and Tradition. Most of them, including in myself, come down to pride or a lack of obedience. Liturgical battles stem from our inability to separate ourselves from the Mass. We can’t even for one hour conceive of a place where we are not the focus. The Mass is about my self-expression, is the creed I hear. No. The Mass is the sacrifice that Christ gave us on the Cross, which is now given through His glorified Body. He gives us this sacrifice which is our oblation (only because He gives it to us) to offer to the Father until the end of time. It is also the spiritual food that is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ that he offers us through no merit of our own, but by virtue of the grace He gives us. Do you see my point? Everything is from Him. Everything.

We fight about Church teaching on the Interwebs because technology, while good, gives us a sense of power and that we have a right to share our brand of the Church with people. We are so convinced of our own brand and that it is the correct one that we are even willing to ignore Magisterial documents and teaching to our own detriment. But, the worst part is, that we drag others down with us because of our self-righteous belief that we have it right.

The first semester of grad school, my professor harped on precision of language. Why? Because those who are formally trained (I am not talking about arm-chair theologians with no training who are all over the Internet) have the ability to lead mass amounts of people astray if they do not write and speak in utter precision. Most members of the Laity do not have an advanced understanding of the Faith. That is fine. Not everyone is called to advanced study. God gives each of us different gifts, but for those of us who have this call we have a duty and an obligation to teach only as the Magisterium teaches and to defer to our Bishops and the hierarchy on all matters of faith and morals and those things that require religious assent. This gift is to be guarded and we are to be responsible stewards lest we lead others astray.

For those who are not formal theologians, humility. We must be willing to know our own limitations. I would never presume to argue with someone with a PhD. I would want to learn from them, but unless it is blatant heresy such as denying the divinity of Christ, theological arguments have so many nuances that I would easily get lost, even as a graduate student. So, if you are a catechist, don’t presume to know as much as you think you know. Even with semesters of formal schooling in Theology under my belt, the only thing I know for sure is just how little I actually know. So if you are going to spread it on the Internet, use Church documents and theologians as sources, not your own opinion and be honest about your own background and limitations.

We are leading people astray and it matters greatly. It is very easy for human beings to set themselves up into camps. Within the Mystical Body, this is destructive and flies in the face of the communion that we entered into at our Baptism. I am not in the Francis camp and you are in the Benedict camp. Pope Francis is our Pope. He is the visible sign of unity to the world and the head of the Church. It’s time to get over it and move on. If you think he is really that bad, read some Church history.

Christianity is in decline in the West at a startling rate. The culture is ready to push us to the fringes while screaming “bigots” at all of us. Now is the time to come together and focus on holiness and bringing the world to Christ. There are over 33,000 denominations of Christianity. What does that tell the world? It tells them that we are irrelevant and that we can pick and choose what to believe. It is time for Catholics to rise and be a point of stability and unity for the world even when the Church shrinks. People are watching our example. All of us have the yearning in our hearts to be loved and to find meaning. That meaning is in Christ and the Catholic Church. We cannot show that to people if all we do is fight and bicker.

The Church teaches as Christ has commanded her, so regardless of our personal ideology, it is what Christ says that matters. How can we lift up this broken, suffering, and fallen world if all we do is scream at one another? We don’t seem very hopeful if all we can do is rant and rave at, and about one another. So knock it off! There are souls at stake and as members of the laity, we have an obligation to bring the world to Christ. That is our mission. Read Chrisitifideles Laici if you don’t believe me. Our lives, whether it be at our work or in our families, is how we bring the world to Christ. In our holiness and sacrifices for others, we bring others to Christ. Not in screaming at people from our keyboard.

All of us have the same mission: holiness. How can we better grow in holiness? We must live lives of virtue, prayer, and frequent reception of the Sacraments. If we have questions about Church teaching then consult a priest or theologian. Read the Catechism, but don’t become a know-it-all in the process. Remember the Catechism is the extremely abbreviated form of the Church’s teaching. The biggest thing we all need to do is focus on humility. Remember who gave us grace and remember how little we know in the face of the Beatific Vision. Pax.

6 Realizations About the Catholic Church to Help You Mature in Faith

I want to share with you some insights that I have been given as I have grown in my faith and participation in the Mystical Body. Some of them have come with great pain, anger, and frustration that I still struggle with through the power of Confession and the Holy Eucharist. Some of these insights have been learned in my theological studies. The more I study of Church history, the more I realize that there really is nothing new under the sun. So I want to share these with you in the hope that it will help you rest more peacefully in the arms of Our Lord. In the end, we have little control over what happens within the Mystical Body. We can only influence our immediate circumstance. The more we understand that truth, the more we are able to to serve and be conformed to the Blessed Trinity in our own lives and share that life with others.

1. People within the Church, including clergy will hurt you, gossip, and stab you in the back. This can be a very hard reality to swallow. When we come to the Church we can expect a place of safety from the pain of the outside world. This just is not reality. It should be, but it is not. Members of the Church are sinful, including clergy. We are all in the process of being conformed to Christ. For others that is a quicker process, but for most of us, it takes a lifetime. We have favorite sins and vices, for many, especially women (sorry ladies!), that includes gossip. Women have a very bad tendency towards gossip. We are social creatures and when we are hurt, we like to talk about it. What we do not stop to consider is that gossip is sinful. It is sinful because it damages the reputation of another and is a gross violation of justice. It is especially damaging when it is aimed at a parish priest or someone we claim is a friend. Which brings me to another point, people we believe to be our friends will gossip when the right circumstances present themselves. It isn’t right, but in a sinful group of people, it happens. If we are prepared for these kinds of situations then we can give our pain to Christ. Christ knows humiliation, he knows gossip, he knows back-stabbing. These sins are never right, but we can be strengthened in our faith if we give it over to Christ and pray for those who would hurt us.

In order to change this sinful behavior, we must look to ourselves. Do we gossip or hurt others in our parish? If so, we need to make a conscious effort to stop. It takes discipline and habit. This is something that I have been working on within myself. I fail at times, but then I go back to Confession to seek forgiveness and the grace to not do it in the future. If we want to improve the life of the Church, then we must look at ourselves. I am sorry for those who have been victims of this sinful behavior. I know that it is deeply painful. I regret the times that I have participated in it. So, be prepared and overcome this inclination in yourself. Pray for the strength to forgive those who sin against you.

2. Priests and Bishops are not perfect. It can be very easy for members of the laity to idolize their priest or bishop. It can also be easy to be overly critical of our priest or bishop. We expect more from them and while that is somewhat understandable, it can become problematic. We should not hold our priest or bishop to any higher of a standard than ourselves. Why? Because we are all called to be saints, not just the clergy and religious. Priests and bishops are fallen sinful men, just like us. They fight the great fight against temptation and at times, they lose. They need our prayers because they wage a very serious battle against Satan. It gives Satan great pride when a priest falls. There may be times when our priest needs a friendly reminder of something that has happened. There may be a time a priest needs to be warned if they are preaching heresy and, in that case, it needs to be resolved by the bishop. There also are times when our priest or bishop preaches and teaches on a topic that we may not want to hear about, but that we need to hear. Before flying off the handle we should consider how God is working in our lives. We should ponder why our conscience has been pricked by his words. We need to hold a healthy view of the hierarchical and ministerial aspects of the Church.

3. Pope Francis is not perfect. Over the last century the Church has been blessed with many holy popes. Many have been canonized. There is no doubt in my mind that Pope Francis is a deeply holy man, but he isn’t perfect, not yet. He is clearly farther on the spiritual journey than most of us. His level of detachment from the material is of great inspiration and consternation for me. I struggle with that kind of simplicity, even though I know that is true freedom. He presents a challenge to me that I so desperately need. He is also very bright, but in a way that is very different from St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Both of those men were great thinkers, writers, and speakers. Those are great gifts and they are not gifts given to everyone. They serve a particular mission, while others are given gifts that serve different missions. Pope Francis is simpler and simplicity is not a bad thing. St. Peter was not a great theologian or philosopher, remember? Yes, his mistakes are broadcast for the world to see, which is no different from his predecessors. He says things that he probably should not or phrases things in ambiguous terms. Since he is not intending extraordinary magisterial teaching authority in his off-the-cuff remarks, people should rest easy and let it go. He will make mistakes, his are just more public. Plus, if we pay attention, we can see that he corrects those misconceptions through sound teaching later on. Perhaps, unlike us, he is more patient and finds the right time to offer correction. So pray for him and trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding the deposit of faith.

4. The Church is no worse off today than in previous ages. I see this argument expressed quite often. I usually shake my head and chuckle. This exposes a gross ignorance on the part of many of the faithful. The Church, arguably, is in a much better position today than she has been in the past. Are there great heresies of our time, even within her ranks? Absolutely. Are Christians being murdered for their faith? Yes, unfortunately. But on the positive side of things, there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world and a great many of them worship and live their faith in some level of freedom. That can change overnight to be sure. No matter the opinion, whether that the Church is better off today or things are just as bad as they have always been, the reality is that today’s Church is not worse off. It is not worse just because of the age we live in. We cannot fall into the error of historicism, that is we cannot assume our time period is special, because it isn’t.

5. Heretics and factions have always been in the Church. Many Catholics are watching the Snyod on the Family with fear and trembling. I am not. People are getting themselves worked up in outrage and tizzies because of the German Church. There is no doubt that something is rotten in Germany. It is clear that we need to pray very seriously for the German hierarchy. There is a real possibility of schism, which is always a great tragedy. The reality, however, is that this is nothing new. Arius attempted to tear the Church apart through his denial of the divinity of Christ and overemphasis on Platonism over Revelation. St. Nicholas hauled off and punched Arius at the Council of Nicea in 325. The truth prevailed and we were given the wonderful philosophical and theological term: homoouious (same substance as the Father) that we say every Sunday through the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

So let me ask you. Have you heard of Docetists, Manicheans, Monophysites, Apollinarians, Gnostics, Monothelites, Albigensians or Iconoclasts? Quite frankly, have you heard of the Protestant Reformation? I love my Protestant friends, but I still believe them to be in error, most especially on the nature of the Church and the Holy Eucharist. The Church has always been full of factions with competing agendas. Heresies have been a battle of the Church since her institution as Our Lord died on the Cross. The heresies of our day just happen to be regurgitated heresies of old with sinful human nature mixed in. The heresies of our day are related to human sexuality and the nature of the family. That is why St. John Paul II gave us Theology of the Body. He understood well the heresies leading people into error and sin. So, before we explode every time we hear in the news that someone in the hierarchy is making a proposal that is heretical or heterodoxical, remember that it is nothing new. Pray for them, that in the end they will submit to Holy Mother Church rather than start a heresy that bears their name. Take a deep breath. It’s always been this bad. The Church has always been full of stupid, sinful, greedy, proud, gluttonous, and confused people. Sin makes us woefully stupid.

6. There is always hope. Scripture teaches us a great deal about human beings. It shows us the stupidity of sin, but also the greatness of human beings who are created in the image and likeness of God. When I am tempted to get angry with a member of the Church’s hierarchy or my neighbor in the pew, I remember that many people who fail in the beginning rise to the occasion in the hour of need. St. Peter denied Our Lord three times. All of the Apostles, except for St. John, fled and left Our Lord in His darkest hour. But, that is not where the greatest story ever told ends. No. The Apostles come back together. Our Lord returns to them regardless of their weakness and fear. He returns and says: “Peace be with you”. He gives St. Peter the great commission ‘to feed His sheep’. These men who left Our Lord were given the task of building the infant Church. And so, if St. Peter can deny Our Lord and then follow Christ to an upside down crucifixion, what are our leaders capable of today? What are we capable of through the power of the Holy Spirit? Many may go the way of Judas and despair. We must pray for their souls. Watch and hope. We must pray that if we undergo the test, we succeed and persevere in the end. You will see a great many of our leaders who have let us down in the past now rise to the occasion. Pay attention to those rather than despairing in those who fall. Pray and remember there is always hope.

Happy Feast of Corpus Christi!

Confronting Dissent Within the Church

There is major division brewing within the Church. It has been there from quite some time, as religious and laity alike chose to dissent from Humanae Vitae putting them directly at odds with Christ and His Church. We have been reeling ever since. I do believe in time, as medicine and science catch up with what we already morally know, more and more people will see the error of their ways. As our culture implodes, I believe people will begin to see what the deconstruction of the family is doing to our country. I think that we will have to undergo some serious and difficult times first. I think that we will undergo some pretty serious persecution.  This is not alarmist.  I have spoken at length with priests, as well as other members of the laity, and we all can see it in the times we are living.

One of the hardest things for orthodox Catholics to confront is dissent, also known as cafeteria Catholicism. Dissent implies knowledge of Church teaching and the choice to ignore it. There are some who are ignorant of the Church’s moral teaching, but these days it would be hard to not have an inkling that the Church does not agree with the prevailing culture. We have an obligation to continue to study the Faith and to learn what we believe as a Church.  So how do we engage these people? I am still trying to figure this one out, as are many of my friends. A lot of priests and sisters are trying to figure it out as well. There are some stumbling blocks that we have to figure our way around.

First, no one likes to be reminded that they are a sinner. As a friend of mine reminded me today, “we are all broken”. We do not like other people to tell us that what we are doing is morally wrong, or evil. The hardest sin to overcome is pride. Ask my husband about me on this one.  The fact of the matter is that we all sin, we all commit evil. The problem arises when we refuse to accept something is evil and work to overcome it. Sin damages and it can cause widespread evil and pain. The beginning of conversion means recognizing our sinfulness and falling on Christ. The real issue of our day is that the majority of people think that they set truth. A real and full conversion to Christ means submitting to Him in all matters. This is deeply difficult, but the road to real freedom. This is a message that we are struggling to share as we confront relativism.

Moral relativism is widespread. It is in the Church and it is outside of the Church. Thanks to Descartes we all think that we know what truth is and is not. That means that we no longer trust the Church to teach us the Truth. Instead we accept a hodge-podge of sources including the media and secular culture. The Church cannot possibly know what is true in our day. She is antiquated and out of touch. This is one of the biggest hurdles we have to overcome. Many will not change their position and will continue to dissent. All we can do is try to proclaim the Gospel and live it in our daily lives. Many people turned their backs on Christ in His day, our day will be no different, as heart-breaking as it is.

Another major issue is emotionalism. I have tried, and failed, to engage with people who ignore Church teaching on various issues. What ensues is not pretty. I have been called every name imaginable. The discussion quickly turns irrational and launches into personal attacks. In the social media world it usually results in “unfriending” which has happened to me on a few occasions. I am okay with that, but it is distressing that people are so wrapped up in their belief that their only response is rage. There is no reasoning with these people. Instead I commend them to prayer and God’s mercy. I pray that I planted seeds, no matter how poorly I did it. My own sinful nature is carried into debates and I am sure that I don’t always explain things the best, even if I meant well.

We are at a point in our country where tempers are at dangerous levels. People seek to silence one another. This is also true inside of the Church. Heterodoxical people will seek to silence the orthodox. We are already seeing this play out in churches and schools in this country and across the West. We have to remember that Christ can soften hardened hearts. We must pray and do penance. We also cannot put our heads in the sand. We must stand up for the truth. We just have to find the patience, love, and charity that is born out of prayer and contemplation. We must receive the Sacraments often and spend time before the Blessed Sacrament.  We will all fall short and say the wrong thing at times. The Lord knows that I have, but we must keep trying. These people do not understand that our concern is out of love. None of us want to see a person put their soul at risk. It is even more difficult to watch people put themselves at risk as they approach the Blessed Sacrament each week with no thought. I know one thing that I will be doing is beginning more study on Theology of the Body. It changed my life and I know that it can change other hearts.

There is a great story about St. Dominic that another friend reminded me of this morning. St. Dominic was “a great lover of heretics”. His primary mission was fighting the Albigensian heresy, which is not too much different from the heresies of our own day. One day, St. Dominic met an innkeeper who was an Albigensian. It is said that St Dominic stayed up all night and did not retire until the innkeeper acknowledged the truth of the Catholic Faith. So that is what we must do. To take time with each person we meet. We cannot shy away from the truth, but we must share it out of love for souls. It is hard to engage in social media because it turns into a fight where other people get involved. This is a mistake that I have made. It quickly becomes a fight and people gang up on the one espousing the Truth. We have to find a way when in the heat of disagreement, to remember that these people are broken, that they are victims of the Evil One’s lies. So let’s keep about the task of saving souls, regardless of the personal cost to ourselves. If you have suggestions for engaging heterodoxy, please leave a comment. God bless.