The Saints and the Cross Episode 11: St. Padre Pio

Today’s episode is on St. Padre Pio and persevering through this period of exile. He is a saint who achieved high levels of sanctity and was given great blessings and gifts from God, including the stigmata. He suffered tremendously, often at the hands of others because of these extraordinary gifts. During this time as we struggle with being exiled from the Real Presence in Holy Communion and public celebration of the Mass, he is an example to us of how to persevere and endure suffering.

Many feel abandoned by the Church, but the reality is, the hierarchy has failed the flock since the inception of the Church. The battle for the renewal of the priesthood will come and is being fought by some at present, but in this present exile, we need to focus on conversion of heart, deeper prayer, and making reparations–including for the hierarchy–so that Christ can unleash great graces into the world for the salvation of souls. Lord willing, we will come out of this period strengthened in faith, hope, and charity so that we can live the mission He has given to each one of us in order to draw all peoples into conformation with the Most Holy Trinity.

Keep Getting Back Up

I realized that my writing may make people think I have it more together than I actually do. The thing about writers is, we see great truths–especially in the grips of suffering–and want to share those insights with others. That doesn’t mean we’ve actually mastered what we write about. I am no exception.

I have officially reached the status of overwhelmed after everything we have been through in the last year, seven years, really. And when I get overwhelmed, I crash and burn hardcore. It is because I know what the end is supposed to look like that I will tend to leap out prematurely and forget that this life is about small steps forward, not giant lunges over valleys. I also have breaking points when the weight of my Cross gets to be too much and I find myself crying face down in the dirt.

Thank God for Confession! The enemy wants to convince us that we are unforgivable, that we will never succeed, that holiness is impossible, and that God cannot possibly love us if He allows this much suffering. Oh, I hear the enemy ringing in my ears. He is rather relentless. He’s the one who tells me to avoid Mass or Confession or do it later. And I said “no” to him today by going to Mass even though I failed so utterly yesterday that I wanted to throw in the towel. And I walked up to my priest after Mass and asked if he could hear my Confession today; not tomorrow or the next day when it is offered in two parishes locally. Today.

God doesn’t expect us not to fail. We are weak, broken, sinful, and wage intense battles. The point is to get back up. GET BACK UP! When we fall , we must ask Him to help us once again trudge up this monstrous mountain towards holiness. Mercy does not overlook sin. God’s justice helps us seek forgiveness and His mercy binds the wounds we receive when we sin.

So when you read my writing, I am not writing as someone who has succeeded on the path. By God’s grace, one day I will hear “Well done thy good and faithful servant.” I write to help others on the path with me. The very same people who are overburdened and hurting. Those people who are weak and struggle with habitual sins. The people who battle anger, like me. The people who want to be a saint, but keep falling. Christ helps us back up. When we fail, don’t allow the enemy to keep you down in the dust. Ask Christ to forgive your failings and give you the strength to get back up once again. St. Teresa of Calcutta reminds us that ‘we are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful.’ So if like me, you’ve found yourself once again lying face down in the dirt, then get back up, get thee to Confession, and begin again.

Catholic Exchange: Avoiding the Temptation to Over-Sentimentalize the Faith

There is a growing tendency in certain church circles—both Protestant and Catholic—to over-emphasize sentimentality. Sentimentality allows us to focus predominantly on our feelings. This can also come from a false sense of piety and an over-emphasis on personal devotions, which inevitably leave us spiritually dry. Our faith is true regardless of how we feel in a given situation. If we reduce everything to our feelings, we very often become indifferent to actual truth and wholly dependent on how we feel in a given situation. In this case, we worship ourselves and not the Living God.

Being Catholic is demanding. It requires our whole selves, not a small section of ourselves that we carve out for Christ. In relying on sentimentality, we become overly concerned with how we feel in our prayer lives, at Mass, or in working with other people. We also discard the true depth of our Catholic Tradition for clichés and dumb-downed slogans. There can be an abandonment of doctrine–such as Purgatory–in place of the heresy of moral therapeutic deism. We only have to be a “good” person. This means feeling “good” about ourselves. This idea is not grounded in anything outside of ourselves and it is a brainchild of relativism. We are called to be holy. We are called to be saints, not merely a subjective form of “good” which is defined by the feelings, thoughts, and ideas of each person.

As Catholics, we believe in concrete and objective truths that are grounded in the very person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man. We profess these truths each Sunday and at every Solemnity when we recite the Nicene Creed. Jesus calls each one of us to follow Him to the very end. That end is the Cross. The Resurrection does not happen before the Cross. Why should we think that our lives will be any different from Our Savior’s? Christ shows us the way by His example, and His example, is the laying down of His life for us all. He gives everything back to the Father. We are called to do the same. Any cursory reading of Scripture will quickly dispel a sentimental understanding of the Christian life.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Leaving Bland Catholicism Behind

Anyone who has spent serious time in their parish in ministry, catechesis, other activities knows the state of catechesis within the Church. It is abysmal. The same is true for anyone who is brave, or crazy enough, to read comboxes on orthodox articles and blogs. This state of affairs is sad and frustrating at the same time. The currents of relativism and subjectivism have overtaken most of us. We all battle it, whether we realize it or not. These predominant philosophies of Western culture, connected with nihilism, are responsible for great confusion, ignorance, heresy, and disobedience so prevalent within the Mystical Body and without. We can largely thank the Enlightenment for not being so enlightening in many areas.

Yes, the issue produces anger and frustration for those who desire to share the authentic Christian life. Some of that anger is properly channeled towards the good and at other times it erupts into sinful tirades towards one another, especially in social media. I have participated in both types of anger, which is why I crawl back to the Confessional bi-weekly. In reality the worst part about the situation is that the Church herself has hidden her Light from her members. Through the darkness of certain corners of the hierarchical priesthood all the way down to the laity, relativism has distorted, twisted, and made the Faith largely meaningless for so many souls.

Conscience, which is relativism’s rallying cry, is the argument given by leaders and laity alike. This betrays a complete lack of understanding as to what conscience is on an ontological level and subjective level. It also demonstrates far too many people’s attachment to the world over Christ. I wrote an article for Catholic Exchange a little while ago on topic of conscience. We are still doing what we have done since the Fall, making ourselves into gods. This, of course, is untenable. We are creatures, not the Absolute. When we make ourselves gods we destroy ourselves, the people around us, and cut ourselves off from the Author of our very lives.

I sat at a Confirmation Mass for the high school students in my area last night. A good many of the kids very seldom, if ever, come to Mass. They are strangers to most of the parish community. They never came to Religious Education class, not that these are required if parents are properly forming their children in the Faith. Weekly Mass attendance is a basic tenant of the Catholic Faith, however. And, yet, they were presented for this Sacrament. The exact same thing happens with Baptism and Holy Communion. The Sacraments have been turned into a conveyor belt type system, with no real attachment to the vows made. At least in the Latin Church, will is a part of receiving Confirmation. If we do not open our wills to God’s grace, He will not force it into us. We are like a faucet, we have to open it so that God’s grace can pour into our souls. How many people know this? How about those in mortal sin who are dead to grace, but approach Sacraments anyway, every Sacrament except Confession?

As I sat there contemplating and watching these kids and families, I was saddened. Many actually strutted up to Monsignor for reception of the Sacrament. This is our stance now before God. We no longer understand the awesome power of Heaven and earth meeting in the Mass. Rather, we strut and swagger our way before God. How many of us, including myself, do this daily? How many of us live the danger of presumption that everyone goes to Heaven? That is not what the Church teaches. We must die in a state of grace.

The saddest part of it all, and I know because I have been there, is that far too many Catholics know little if anything about the depth, beauty, transcendence, glory, peace, power, and call of the Faith. We have domesticated our faith. We sit in bland buildings, singing bland songs, speaking platitudes that hardly resemble the real Lord Jesus Christ. The majority of Catholics, up to 70% of Catholics deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Words actually spoken by Our Lord in John 6 are completely ignored because heresy and materialism have become a norm in this area. The majority of Catholics have no idea what actually goes on during Mass. Heaven and earth meet. We participate in the Heavenly Liturgy through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

I was discussing this topic with some friends of mine recently. One of them looked at me and said: “Most of us don’t know any better.” I was talking about the transcendent, Heaven on earth experience of Mass. He had never experienced the lifting of the veil to see the glory of the Liturgy with the eyes of Faith. He had never heard the soul lifting, heart-breaking, beauty of chant or truly sacred music. I realized in that moment, even with my moments of wandering from the path, I had been given the gift of seeing the Liturgy as it is meant to be seen. From wandering the great cathedrals of Europe, to my first Sacred Triduum in England, to the Sacred Triduum that brought me completely back to the Church for good at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, I had experienced transcendent Catholicism as so many through the ages had done. My childhood of bland had been peeled away and there before me was real beauty. A beauty that draws you in and takes you into ever deeper waters of the Faith. It was the Liturgy that taught me how to accept the rest of Church teaching. It was Christ’s Real Presence who helped me abandon my own desire to be god, a desire which I still struggle with daily, as a we all do.

So it saddens me to see the bland continue, the ignorance continue, and the apathy of many involved. It’s the same thing I grew up with in the 80s and 90s. In fact, we wage nasty fights with one another as we try to cling to what is comfortable, what we know. How dare we upset the apple cart? Why would we use those things from ages prior to ours, we are superior? Are we? Really? In this age of subjectivism it never occurs to people that there is actually an objective type of beauty, which the Church has preserved since her beginning. It’s harder to find these days, but it it’s there if you look. We are content to stay the same. Something very foreign to the Christian journey to holiness, which is one of development and peeling away.

All of this will still take decades to sort out. It is working itself out as new priests are ordained in my generation and the generation behind me. They see the bland and distortions just as I do. We crave more than just status quo and comfort. We desire the dangerous beauty of our Faith and the heart-ache of Home. We desire the authentic and true Faith as it has been lived and proclaimed before us. In the case of Confirmation, parents must learn that they teach the Faith to their children by their example, words, and formal teaching. If we do not teach the Faith and live the Faith our children will leave the Church in adulthood. Based on statistics over the last few decades, the number of kids Confirmed last night who will leave the Faith is stifling. We must pray for Christ to send shepherds to tend to His flock. Shepherds who can reawaken the beauty, depth, mystery, and gift of Catholicism. We too must have the courage to cast out into the deep in our own lives and to live the Faith and witness to our children and those around us.

Catholic Exchange: Ecclesia de Eucharistia, St. John Paul II on the Eucharist

Today is the feast of St. John Paul II. On this day, it is fitting to look at his writing on the Holy Eucharist since it was the center of his life and it is the center of the Church. His devotion to the Eucharist was evident to those who were at Mass with him or who saw him during Eucharistic Adoration. Jason Everet quoted an observer in his book St. John Paul the Great: His Five Loves, “He lingered lovingly over every syllable that recalled the Last Supper as if the words were new to him.” He would follow the words of Consecration with profound genuflection. Everet goes on to explain that John Paul became a priest precisely because of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, “For me, the Mass constitutes the center of my life and my every day…nothing means more to me or gives me greater joy than to celebrate Mass each day and to serve God’s people in the Church.” It should come as no surprise given his great love for the Holy Eucharist, that he devoted an encyclical to the topic.

On April 17, 2003, which was Holy Thursday, then Pope John Paul II promulgated his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia: On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church. It is a rich, profound, and beautiful reflection on the theological connection between the Eucharist and the Church. It is an encyclical worth reading and praying with over and over again. It begins:

The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church. In a variety of ways she joyfully experiences the constant fulfillment of the promise: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20), but in the Holy Eucharist, through the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord, she rejoices in this presence with unique intensity.

Ecclesia de Eucharistia 1

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Theological Errors in Elizabeth Scalia’s Mo Rocca Article at Aleteia

Earlier today I read Elizabeth Scalia’s latest article over at Aleteia that discusses Mo Rocca’s presence as a reader at the papal Mass in New York City last week. As I read the article I realized rather quickly that I disagree with Scalia’s assessment because it is theologically wrong in its understanding of what mortal sin and obstinacy do in the soul and in relation to the Church community. Mo Rocca has publicly announced that he is homosexual and lives that lifestyle. At this point, he is still publicly living that lifestyle in disobedience to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Let me first begin by highlighting what I agree with Scalia on in her recent article. It is true that everyone is welcome at Mass. Whether a person is in a state of grace or is not, all are encouraged to celebrate the Liturgy. Not all people are invited to receive Holy Eucharist, which she rightly mentions. In fact, it is said that Mo Rocca refrained from reception of Holy Communion at the Mass for which he was a lector. That is a wonderful witness to our obligation and love for Christ in the Eucharist. I applaud his honesty and respect for the Blessed Sacrament. But how do his lifestyle choices impact his relationship with the Mystical Body and therefore how he is to live within the worshiping community? This is the heart of the issue and where Scalia’s article misses the theological implications of our choices.

St. Thomas Aquinas was very practical about the notion of grace in the soul, either we are in a state of grace, or we are not. If we are in a state of mortal sin, the soul is dead. There is no grace in the soul. We are cut off from Christ and have turned from Him. Not only is there no grace it also means that we have cut ourselves off from the Mystical Body, the Church.  In order to return to full communion with the Mystical Body, we must make a public act of repentance to the hierarchical Church through the Confessional. Yes, Confession is a public act in the eyes of the Church because it is an individual coming before the hierarchical Church seeking reparation and the healing of division that their sins have caused. This can be seen in CCC 1462. While Confession is the direct confessing of sins to Christ through a priest it is also to repair the damage our mortal sins have caused to the Mystical Body. Christ restores grace in the individual through the Sacrament and heals their division from Himself and the Church. Everything we do within the Mystical Body has a public component to it, even if only at a mystical level. What are the implications of this in light of Scalia’s article?

First, I want to clarify that theologically there is no such thing as “public dissent”. That is a term our culture uses to try to soften such terms as heterodoxy or heresy. From a theological point of view I cannot be in public dissent and still be a member of the Church on my own terms. When we ignore Church teaching in a willful manner and in a particularly public manner, we severely damage our relationship with the Mystical Body, in the case of grave sin, we cut ourselves off from the Body and Christ. Our sins have far reaching consequences that are outside of our own sphere. They radiate throughout the Mystical Body in a profound way.

Second, when we have cut ourselves off from the Mystical Body through grave sin, we no longer have a right to the fruits of that union. We no longer have a right to receive Holy Eucharist because we have in some way denied our Baptismal promises. This also means that we do not have a right to serve *publicly* in the Liturgy or as a head of formal ministry in the Church. If we have chosen not to live the life of a Catholic of our own free will, then we do not have a right to lead in any capacity within the Mystical Body. We gave up that right when we chose our sin over Christ. That is, rather than go to Confession and seek to amend our lives, we persist in that sin willfully.

It is important for us to remember in a culture such as ours, that we are not entitled to anything. What has been given to us through the Holy Eucharist and the Church is a gift from God. That gift comes with a price. It comes with the call to remain in a state of grace. In those moments that we fall into sin, we must get back up and crawl back to the Confessional. This is a life-long battle that all of us will wage until the end. The difference comes down to obstinacy and weakness. One has no desire to live the Truth while the other falls in a moment of weakness, seeks forgiveness in Confession, and returns to full communion with the Church. They desire to overcome that sin and remain within the Mystical Body. The latter has ceased the battle and chosen to remain in their sin. Until the moment of repentance comes, then they should not serve publicly in the Church. Why should someone who willfully chooses to live outside of the faith serve it in a public capacity? The answer is quite simply that they shouldn’t. This smacks of an entitlement mentality that flies in the face of the free gift given to us by Christ.

Does this bar them from other charitable works? Absolutely not. As long as the individual is not spreading error and is just serving others, then charity is to be commended. We have an obligation to love and serve our neighbor. The issue really comes down to the fact that the Liturgy is a public assent to the truths of the faith. It is an expression of the Mystical Body that is reserved for those in full communion with Rome, at least in a public capacity. If we have cut ourselves off from grace, then we must return to the hierarchical Church, typically a priest, to return to that public community.

I understand that Scalia wants to highlight that all are welcome to come to Mass. That is absolutely true, but she falls short when she does not understand the distinction between the public nature of the Church and the individual. It does happen that people in the parish community have reconciled themselves with God and the Church without the knowledge of others. We don’t know the movements of another person’s heart. The problem with celebrities or politicians is that they publicly espouse a life that is counter to the Mystical Body. So they have to cease and desist in their public refusals to submit to Holy Mother Church. The same should be true at the parish level for those who publicly flaunt Church teaching. As brothers and sisters in Christ we need to be charitable and understand that people do have conversions all of the time.

While I applaud Scalia’s desire to portray the Catholic Church as the welcoming community that it truly is for the world, I found the theology of the piece to be lacking. In our desire to share the Gospel we cannot oversimplify our position to a point where it no longer looks like what the Church teaches. I am afraid that she has taken a position that is not theologically sound and that demonstrates confusion as to the nature of the Mystical Body. It is illogical for a person who willfully refuses to live the Christian life to serve in a public position within the worshiping community.

***

Redemptionis Sacramentum

[44.] Apart from the duly instituted ministries of acolyte and lector,[111] the most important of these ministries are those of acolyte[112] and lector[113] by temporary deputation. In addition to these are the other functions that are described in the Roman Missal,[114] as well as the functions of preparing the hosts, washing the liturgical linens, and the like. All, “whether ordained ministers or lay faithful, in exercising their own office or ministry should do exclusively and fully that which pertains to them”.[115] In the liturgical celebration itself as well as in its preparation, they should do what is necessary so that the Church’s Liturgy will be carried out worthily and appropriately.
[45.] To be avoided is the danger of obscuring the complementary relationship between the action of clerics and that of laypersons, in such a way that the ministry of laypersons undergoes what might be called a certain “clericalization”, while the sacred ministers inappropriately assume those things that are proper to the life and activity of the lay faithful.[116]
[46.] The lay Christian faithful called to give assistance at liturgical celebrations should be well instructed and must be those whose Christian life, morals and fidelity to the Church’s Magisterium recommend them. It is fitting that such a one should have received a liturgical formation in accordance with his or her age, condition, state of life, and religious culture.[117] No one should be selected whose designation could cause consternation for the faithful.[118]