We Need to Stop Gossiping About Our Priests

I have been in active ministry for over ten years. I’ve had occasional breaks as my vocation has required, but I’ve worked with a variety of people and priests over those years. In all of my time serving in the parish and local community I have observed–as Pope Francis has said many times–that gossip is a cancer within the Mystical Body that we must cut out. All of us who are not yet saints engage in gossip. Unfortunately it comes easily to us in our Fallen state. It is something that is found where multiple people are gathered and it is highly destructive in an upending of Christ’s promise to be present where two or three are gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20). I cannot say that I have overcome this sin, but I hope to by God’s grace.

Gossip is a form a character assassination. It greatly wounds those who are its victims as well as those who are perpetrators. Rather than see people as made imago Dei, we see them through our own broken, wounded, judgmental, and pride filled eyes. We see them through our own perceptions, desires, sin, and anger. We also often engage in Schadenfreude, which is often a form of envy or essentially ‘joy at another person’s sorrow’ (St. Thomas Aquinas). Rather than cheer on the successes of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we often relish their failures. It gives us an opportunity to come together in an inversion of true community to enjoy the pain of our neighbor.

More than anything gossip is tied to the very heavy sin of pride. Gossip typically erupts in the face of disagreements with other people. We do not like what someone has done to us, so we seek vengeance. More-often-than-not, we feel that we have lost some kind of power or authority and respond in anger and vengeance. How dare so-and-so treat me this way! How dare they question me! If we pay attention to what is going on inside of us then we will quickly see the root cause of our response.

Gossip is a powerful form of vengeance. It can tear ministries apart, churches become places of deep seated sinful anger, and it can create outright wars between priests and the laity. I’ve actually seen this happen, so I am not engaging in hyperbole. Entire books could be written on the topic of gossip. This particular blog post will focus on the destructive nature of gossiping about our parish priest(s).

In our sinful state, there is always a level of tension within the Mystical Body. Our competing agendas, opinions, ideas, and wants tend to meet resistance from people with counter points of view. There are obvious issues in which heresy and heterodoxy must be rooted out and those who do not submit to Holy Mother Church in the obedience required of us need to be encouraged to pray for conversion of heart and humility; as well as make use of the Sacrament of Penance in order to worthily receive the Holy Eucharist. Setting these situations aside, tension often exists within ministries and parish communities themselves and in their relationship with the parish priest.

We live in an age when people believe they are little gods ruling the universe. This nihilistic and relativistic thinking is also prevalent within the Church. Most people do not even realize how greatly they are influenced by these philosophies that pervade our culture. The focus here is not in converting those who have fallen for the heresies of our day, rather, it is on how we treat our priests within our parish while coming to understand our place within the Mystical Body. We must consciously overcome the sinful drive within us to rule over others.

When we are baptized every single one of us enters into the common priesthood. We share in the divine offices of Christ which are priest, prophet, and king. The common priesthood–the laity and all baptized–differs greatly from the ministerial priesthood (Holy Orders). This difference is not only in degree. Lumen Gentium 10 states:

Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men,(100) made the new people “a kingdom and priests to God the Father”.(101) The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.(102) Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God,(103) should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.(104) Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ and give an answer to those who seek an account of that hope of eternal life which is in them.(105)

Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.(2*) The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist.(3*) They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.

The word “essence” is a metaphysical/ontological term. It means that at the deepest levels of reality and being the ministerial priesthood differs from the common priesthood. This passage of Lumen Gentium explains the Church’s understanding that there is a rather large difference in character or type between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood. It’s important to understand this distinction because it matters when it comes to authority (auctoritas).

Lumen Gentium goes on in Chapter IV to discuss the role of the laity in the Church. Our role differs quite a bit from the ministerial priesthood. Both Lumen Gentium and Christifideles Laici affirm that the role of the laity is primarily secular. Our job is not primarily to run the Church–that is the role of the ministerial/hierarchical priesthood–instead we are meant to take the Good News out into the world and bring the world to Christ in our families, careers, civic engagements, and community interaction. The ministerial priesthood runs the Church, shepherds the people of God, brings the Sacraments to the worshiping community, and safeguards Church teaching through magisterial authority. We bring people to the Church.

This means that when we run ministries within our parish, we do not hold ultimate authority over anything that happens at the parish level. Most priests allow volunteers and parish staff to use prudential judgment while monitoring what takes place within their assigned church. They do not hinder freedom and creativity, but monitor and decide how best to approach certain tasks or activities. Vatican II has brought about  more cooperative work between the priesthood and the laity. This is a good within itself. The unfortunate reality is that this relationship and understanding of authority can easily become disordered because of sin. This is where gossip becomes a problem.

Most gossip about parish priests comes from a place of pride or a lack of humility. That’s where gossip tends to be rooted regardless of situation. Leaving aside the heretical priest who needs to be dealt with through the proper hierarchical channels without gossip, the issue is often one of power. A member of the laity mistakenly believes they have ultimate say over their ministry. First, notice my use of “their”. In reality we do not own our ministries. We are merely stewards serving Christ in the Church under the ministerial priesthood. Second, humility is a requirement of ministry, just as it is of the ministerial priesthood. This is a battle for all of us. If our priest tells us that he is going to do things a certain way and that he is not going to choose our particular option, then we need to accept that we may not know everything and trust that he is attempting to do what is right and good, even if it is not in line with our opinion. We must all learn to swallow our pride. I don’t agree with every choice my parish priest makes, but I respect his choice and authority to do so. Charity also demands that we give them the benefit of the doubt.

Priests are far from perfect, just like the rest of us. Most are not saints yet, but we need to look at them with charity and some level of trust. So they don’t do it the way it has always been done or the way we want it done, in the end we need to learn charitable obedience and let it go. Have we ever considered that a previous priest may have actually been doing something wrong and it needed correction? I don’t know about you, but I have not studied in depth the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) to the point that I know every required step for every Mass of every liturgical season and any given day. I still mix up technical terms for aspects of the Mass. The Mass is a primary discipline of study for priests and liturgists. I am neither.

For instance, the Liturgy is not meant to draw our human activities to the fore. It is the time of giving right praise and worship to God. We are not the center of that worship. We participate and offer it up to God. The ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood converge in that we offer up praise and worship to God through the ministerial priesthood. Whatever else is going on in parish life has its rightful place outside of the Liturgy. This can be confusing because unfortunately “the spirit of Vatican II” misplaced this proper ordering and now many people do not fully understand what is allowed to take place at Mass and what is not. This is through no fault of their own.

Gossiping or complaining publicly about the priest sows seeds of division. This is especially true in parishes where there is high priest turnover. Gossip inevitably leads to character assassination, sinful anger, and is harmful to the entire parish community. It also makes an already difficult task even more difficult for our priests. I’ve seen it get so bad that a priest almost left the priesthood. Deo gratias he did not! I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to stand before Our Lord and explain how I helped someone leave their priestly vocation through my gossip and backstabbing.

Scripture makes it very clear, especially St. Paul, that we are not meant to align ourselves with a particular leader or priest because it leads to division. We are all one under Christ. Lovingly welcoming and getting to know a new priest is not a betrayal against the previous parish priest. If they are holy men, then they are not in competition with one another. They are living holy obedience to the Bishop in conformation to their sharing in his fullness of Holy Orders.

As with all people, we need to give people a chance and get to know them. In my experience most priests will explain their choices in a charitable manner while also expecting their wishes to be respected. All we have to do is ask, not demand. If we encounter a priest who has mistaken spiritual fatherhood for a dictatorship, then all we can really do is pray for them and treat them with charity and bear this burden patiently. This does happen, but it is a misunderstanding of Our Lord’s call for priests which is most beautifully demonstrated at the Last Supper. Men in both the vocation of the ministerial priesthood and men in the vocation of marriage are called to love and lay down their lives as Christ does.

It is also unjust to make assumptions about each priest. Presumption is often incorrect and sinful. Even though they all share in the same Sacrament and authority through Holy Orders, they are still individual men with unique personalities, backgrounds, gifts, interests, and even theological schooling. Some are more influenced by certain popes, saints, or thinkers, which can actually be a key to understanding them. If they are from a religious order then the Rule of that particular order is going to provide insight as to how they view their vocation and live that vocation in parish life.

In order to overcome the tendency to gossip about the parish priest it is important to consider their role and responsibilities. You and I who are in the laity will have to give account for the people God entrusted to us at our individual judgment upon death. This is typically our spouse and our children first. Priests will give account for every person they’ve been called to shepherd and explain how they shepherded them. They have a tremendous amount of responsibility on their shoulders. It is a tall order and most of them take it pretty seriously, especially the priests of the St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI decades. The “spirit of Vatican II” is dying off and the priests of today tend to be serious about holiness.

Priests have a lot that is required of them and they are extremely busy. We need to look to them with patience and charity. You and I are not the center of the universe. Our email or phone call is not the focus of their day, and depending on their personality, they may prefer to talk to you in person. The written word is very easily distorted and misunderstood. This is something I am keenly aware of as a writer. There’s nothing wrong with a priest wanting to discuss things in person. In fact, in a digital age, it’s a blessing! Figure out how each individual priest likes to communicate and adjust accordingly instead of complaining about them publicly at meetings or church gatherings.

Since our priests are not perfect–just like we are not even close to perfect–we need to bear their weaknesses and shortcomings with patience. The same is true in our families and other relationships. If there is one thing God teaches us as we progress in holiness, it is that we possess a great many weaknesses and character defects in need of fixing. A lot! It is easy to think that we are superior to someone else because we do not struggle with a particular sin or weakness, but God will quickly show us the darkness in our own hearts.  Remember that they too are on the path to sainthood and they need us to patiently bear their flaws just as they bear ours.

Another way to help in overcoming the tendency to gossip is to remember that we do not need to provide our priest or fellow parishioners with every opinion we possess. I come from a very opinionated family. This can be a real struggle, but my opinions do not necessarily comport with the truth. They may be my own personal desires or understanding, but not be true, correct, or the only way. If there is one thing being a graduate student in theology has taught me it is how little I know. We women especially seem to feel the need to tell the men in our lives any opinion that comes to mind. This is the same with priests. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said something to one of my priests and later regretted it. I didn’t need to say it. It was wholly unnecessary, unhelpful, or even critical. I’m also rather blunt (I’m slowly getting better about this!) and I won’t mean to say things a certain way and it will be taken completely out of context. If we keep in mind that our opinions probably don’t matter in the long run then we can prudently consider when to express our opinion and when not to.

The most significant way to avoid turning to gossip about our priests is in learning holy obedience. We are called to obedience to God and Holy Mother Church. This means that we must learn to submit in obedience. We are not God or gods. This also means that if we are friends with a particular priest we need to know exactly when they are responding to something in the role of the priesthood and when they are acting as a friend. This distinction is vital to avoid conflict and it requires the willingness to humbly submit to authority outside of ourselves. Remember, even if your priest is also your friend, he differs greatly from you in his vocation. His primary role is priest first and friend second. Obedience, charity, and humility are necessary for maintaining these relationships and for growing in holiness. It also requires a clear understanding of the distinction in order to avoid misplaced anger. Far too many people get upset with their priest because he is also their friend and they confuse the two roles. This can become problematic for people who work in parish offices. In cases when authority is exercised we also have to see past the man and see the priestly office he holds and submit. We don’t have to agree, but we do have to submit and accept his authority.

I’d like to specifically offer some thoughts to my fellow sisters in Christ on how we treat our priests. St. John Paul II brilliantly outlines the role of women in Mulieris Dignitatem. He explains that each woman is called to spiritual motherhood, regardless of if she is a biological mother or not. This is a unique aspect of our nature. We are meant to pray for, encourage, befriend, and help our priests through spiritual motherhood. We are not, however, called to mother them. Every single one of them has a mother on some level, so they don’t need a bunch of women trying to mother them.  It’s important that we understand how to live spiritual motherhood in relation to them without overstepping lines. When they do not respond to our mothering, temptation can arise to begin gossiping about them. Ladies, we are terrible at gossip. It’s tied to our more overt social nature. We have to pray to overcome this weakness.

I’ve contemplated the topic of gossip for years now. I went through a very difficult period when I was gossiped about and stabbed in the back by people I trusted within the Church. If you’ve been the victim of gossip then you know how quickly things turn into falsehoods and outright lies. It’s painful and God used that pain to reveal to me just how destructive gossip is for the Mystical Body. I have sat in on far too many meetings or been to parish events where pockets of people are complaining and gossiping about the priest. He may even be in the same room. Anymore, I try to find ways to encourage people to avoid this sinful practice, help them to consider something they may not know about him, or I refuse to engage in it. We cannot come together in charity to love and serve God if we are busy killing (Pope Francis) the reputation of another, especially the priest appointed over us. Without our priests there would be no Sacraments and no Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The next time you feel tempted to gossip about your priest consider two things. First, what has it been like in your life to be the victim of gossip? Two, would you say the things you are saying about your priest to Christ? A blessed Advent to you all!

 

 

Catholic Exchange: Truly Living as the Mystical Body

Many of us live in cultures in which seeking help from others is frowned upon and viewed as weakness. We are told we should be able to go it alone and we define strength as one’s ability to do everything themselves. It should become readily apparent that this type of thinking is diametrically opposed to Catholic thought. First, we are created to be completely dependent on God. Second, He gave us the Church, His Mystical Body, as a guide on the journey. Third, within the Mystical Body are our fellow sojourners on the path to holiness. We are meant to walk together. We are united by the power of the Holy Spirit to our Head, Jesus Christ. This unity means that when one member of the Body suffers, we all suffer at an ontological level.

As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

To echo St. Paul, we are not meant to go it alone nor are we meant to appeal to some disordered understanding of individualism as we go through the battles, trials, and sufferings of this life. We are meant to come together and to walk the path to Calvary together.

The reasons many of us do not seek help during trials may vary. I think many of us are infected with the idea that we are supposed to be able to do it ourselves, as our culture tells us. I also think it comes down to pride. We use the excuse that we are a burden to others, but really it boils down to our own pride. We don’t want to have to ask other people to help us. We want to be able to do it ourselves. In reality, many aspects of our lives require help from our fellow members of the Mystical Body. This is especially true in periods of immense suffering and trial. Here are some things we need to think about in realizing our need to turn to the Mystical Body for help.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: A Brief Introduction to the Catholic Position on Evolution

There is a great misperception in the culture that Catholicism is anti-science. Many college students confront this error when they encounter reductionism, rationalism, and materialism through their professors. These students do not know how to respond–and far too often–dismiss Catholicism outright because they don’t realize answers to their questions exist within the Church’s 2000-year history. One of greatest causes of confusion is the topic of evolution.

The reason for this confusion is two-fold. First, many Catholics do not realize the Church’s position on evolution and may not even look for answers before accepting the materialist position. Second, the abandonment of philosophy as the joining discipline between science and theology has destroyed much of the dialogue that has taken place between these two fields over the centuries. An example is the bridge created throughSt. Thomas Aquinas’ first-cause argument. The first-cause argument grounds scientific inquiry in the first-cause, who is God. Without this argument, science quickly devolves into materialism, and ceases to look out beyond itself.

The divorce from philosophy creates an environment where both theology and the natural sciences overstep their bounds. This is most evidenced by the rationalist-materialist declaration that there is no God, while the biblical literalist tells us the world is only 6000 years old, even though God-given reason tells us otherwise, on both accounts. Answers to the complexities of life are reduced to either a material level or turned into a faith-based system devoid of reason. The Catholic approach is not an either/or, it is a both/and system. We say yes to scientific discovery, yes to Aquinas and Aristotle, and yes to the Book of Genesis. That’s far more yeses than we are given from either the scientism camp or the creationism camp. I only have the space to provide a brief overview of the Church’s view of evolution, but I will return to the philosophy problem at a later date.

Today I will briefly outline the Church’s historical position on evolution through a series of documents and talks given by Popes in the last 66 years. First, it is important to understand that the Church makes no official pronouncements on matters of science. That is not within her authority. She promulgates teachings of faith as given to us through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. She cannot overstep her boundaries and make judgments on matters of science. The only time she formally responds to scientific matters is when theological or spiritual issues are involved. Popes and theologians discuss scientific discoveries, but the Church has no official position on any scientific theory. Which leads us to the Church’s first discussion of evolution.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

No, an Essay on the Internet is Not Enough

I have mentioned this before, but I am going to discuss this topic again. A person cannot know everything about a topic or an author based on 1500 words. We live in an age of immediate gratification. Far too many of us want short answers to complex questions and we make the mistake in thinking that an essay on the Internet is going to give us the total picture or explain complex realities to us. If we want to truly understand a topic then we have to do the work and study it on our own.

Writers who write for national/international blogs or news magazines have a word limit. Depending on the site, the editor imposes a word count that is considered ideal for their readership. Catholic Exchange, where I have been a weekly contributor for nearly 18 months, tends to shoot for 1500 words; however, the editor is lenient with me and has allowed me to hit close to 2000 depending on the topic. The Federalist on the other hand is definitely more interested in keeping to a strict 1500 word count and their editors shorten pieces to fit their readership. That’s the job of an editor.

This word count limitation makes sense. We are writing essays, not books. Most people get bored or tired reading long articles on the Internet and are less likely to finish reading one in its entirety if it drones on. The Internet by its very nature is a place of short, pithy, and introductory explications. It is the medium of books to go into further detail on a particular topic.

This is important to keep in mind when reading any author’s essay on the Internet. I commonly receive complaints that I missed this topic or that, or that I didn’t give a thorough explanation on an issue. How could I? My job as a writer on the Internet is to provide an introduction or a short explanation of complex topics. I also have to keep to one topic at a time. I obviously missed all of the other topics outside of my scope.

I published a piece on Fides et Ratio, a 130 page encyclical. I am not positive, but it may be Pope Saint John Paul II’s longest encyclical. The aim for my essay was to help Catholics see that resources, vast resources, exist inside of the Church to help us confront the claims of agnostics, atheists, and other interlocutors in the culture. I was not giving a thorough reading of the encyclical. To do that I would have to write a book and, quite frankly, I introduced the encyclical because I want people to go out and read it. It is hyperlinked in the article I wrote and above.

The Internet is a great tool for gathering information. I use it regularly as a writer and a graduate student, but in order to delve deep into a topic I have to read books, many books, on different topics. There are no quick, short, easy answers to complex questions. My essay on FR wasn’t even meant to be taken as a response to atheism and agnosticism. You have to read FR or the Catechism to begin to understand the Church’s teaching on faith and reason. I cannot possibly provide the necessary arguments to scientific or philosophical questions in 1500 words which would prove satisfactory to our critics. Instead we must study our resources, learn the arguments, and use them in proper mediums.

Not to mention that, in my experience, those interlocutors who communicate in comboxes are more interested in ad hominems and assumptions than serious intellectual inquiry and honest intellectual discussion. My atheist friends are much easier to engage in discourse in person without the temptation to incivility that is prevalent on the Internet today. That is why I dealt with the one troll in the article by suggesting they study the Catholic understanding first and then come back for discussion. I was encouraging honest intellectual inquiry, something that is vastly ignored in the new and arrogant atheism. I read atheist philosophers to understand their position. Atheists need to read actual Catholic sources first before they can engage in intelligible discussion. You can’t debate a position you have not studied.

This is the problem, though. People think that it is possible to get the entire answer in 1500 words or less. The Internet runs the risk of making us intellectually lazy. We want immediate answers and gratification, rather than doing the work that is needed. Nobody is expected to embark on the path of a theologian or philosopher if it is of no interest to them, but it is possible to study the basics in order to develop enough of a grasp to respond when questions arise. St. Paul tells us we must be able to give account for our joy. We cannot do that if we are ignorant of what our Faith teaches us.

My husband and I had heated discussion about this last night. He was complaining about the lack of fire in Homilies and how theologically minded priests tend to bore the parishioners. I guess because I study theology, I greatly enjoy the deeper Homily. My husband wants to hear more about living the mission and the fear of Hell. Fair enough. There is a dearth of Homilies on the Last Things and many have devolved into the current heresy of moral therapeutic deism. I agree with him, but I disagree with him that this would be enough to help people respond when they go off to a secular university.

A relationship with God, I prefer communion to relationship because of its ontological implications, is crucial and foundational for the Christian. If we do not love God, then we cannot grow in holiness and work towards our eschatological end which is to be united in communion with the Beatific Vision. This is all well and good, but our relationship with God cannot be our justification in the face of rationalism, reductionism, materialism, nihilisim, relativism, scientism, and utilitarianism, all of which are prevalent systems in our culture. The answer “I have a relationship with Jesus Christ” is not going to satisfy the scientific atheist, not mention that it oversimplifies greatly what it means to be a Catholic. Instead we must appeal to the reasoned arguments of our tradition, most widely laid out by St. Thomas Aquinas and other saints, or the recent work of Pope Saint John Paul II or Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, as well as the whole host of orthodox theologians at our disposal through a plethora of books.

Yes, there has been a major break down in catechetical development over the last 50 years, chances are, even longer. My experience of CCD classes in the 80’s and 90’s can be summed up in one word: felt. God gave me a dad who is a philosophy major with a profound love of Aristotle and Aquinas, which inflamed a love of learning within me at a young age. For that I am eternally grateful.

We must acknowledge that the Church suffers from self-inflicted wounds. This is an area in need of serious attention, but we also must come to accept that it is our responsibility to learn the faith. It is not our priest’s or the religious education coordinator’s, it is ours. All of the documents we need are on the Vatican website, in the Catechism, or in Scripture. Not to mention that thousands upon thousands of books have been written over the last 2000 years to guide us on the journey to holiness. We must take responsibility for our faith and not pass the buck elsewhere.

As parents, it is our duty to pass down the Faith. We will all stand before God some day and have to give account for what we did with the children He gave to us and whether or not we taught them the Faith while they were young. If we don’t know the answer to a question, then we find it. Children learn to pray, give, attend Mass, and live lives of holiness from their parents first and everyone else second. The catechist at our parishes cannot possibly teach our children holiness in one-hour a week, nor should we want them to. If our children are not living the faith or interested, then we must look to ourselves. Now, when they are adults they make their own choices. As long as we do the best we can, the rest is left up to prayer and fasting.

Reading blogs, essays, and articles on the Internet is a worthwhile pursuit. We learn news and new information from a wide variety of sources. We connect with the rest of the world in an instant. While it is a good, we cannot fall for the trap of thinking we can know everything we need to know about a topic or an author in 1500 words, or worse, when we only skim an article and then comment on it or email the author. We all skim at one time or another.

The Internet is a great place to begin, but we must be willing to enter into deeper study through books and documents that go into greater depth. You cannot understand FR in its depth and beauty from my 1500 word essay. You have to read it for yourself. You won’t be sorry and even if some of it is confusing, you can at least begin to understand the basic arguments. While Pope Saint John Paul II was a brilliant philosopher and complex thinker, many of his Church documents are widely accessible in understanding. May God bless you on the journey of growing in deeper communion with the Most Holy Trinity through the use of both faith and reason.

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.

Why Many Catholics Ignore Church Teaching on “Gay Marriage”

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Today I am going to write about what I see as the most controversial subject of our time: “gay marriage”. I also believe that this agenda will lead, and has led, to persecution of Catholics and other orthodox Christian churches. It will get very rough in the years to come. This particular series is meant for those who profess to be Catholic. First, I want to start with some observations about people within the Catholic Church and then broaden to wider implications. I will probably write a series, with this one focusing primarily on what the Church teaches about sexual sin.

The Catholic Church is losing the “gay marriage” debate within its own pews at this point in history. That will change as my generation rises up, but for now, many Catholics do not submit to Christ and His Church on this teaching. Quite frankly, this should not come as a surprise to anyone. Large groups of Catholics ignore Church teaching on sexual matters. So let’s clear up some confusion first. A grave sin is a grave sin. Redundant? Yes. Here is what I mean: To knowingly (knowing Church teaching) and willfully use artificial contraception, get a tubal ligation or other types of sterilization, have an affair, engage in premarital sex, divorce and re-marriage (without an annulment), use (look at, watch , read) pornography, masturbation, use IVF, get an abortion, or engage in homosexual acts are all grave sins. There is no difference. Homosexual acts are not somehow more grave than heterosexual ones. For some reason I think that there are people who think that this is the case. Perhaps this is part of the reason individuals who struggle with same sex attraction are so hurt by the Church. Somehow their sins are worse than those of a heterosexual couple. This is categorically false.

Now that I have listed some sexual sins, let’s look at heterosexual couples. A large contingent of people who profess to be Catholic in the pews are engaged in the use of contraception, sterilization, pornography, cohabitation, etc. (I highly recommend investing in a Catechism of the Catholic Church. Every Catholic home should have one!!!! ) They either blatantly ignore Church teaching, putting their souls in great danger, or some may not know Church teaching. Ignorance of teaching does not meet the criteria for mortal sin. However, once you are aware that these are grave sins you are required to go to Confession and stop the sin. If you refuse to stop, I encourage you out of love of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, and you as a member of His Mystical Body, to refrain from the Eucharist until you have been converted to the truth. Pray for conversion. Taking the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin greatly endangers your soul. I say this as someone who has done it in the past. That is about as theological as I want to get in this post.

So why is the Church currently losing this battle in the pews? First, because many people who say they are Catholic are ignoring Church teaching. If they ignore Church teaching on these matters, why not support “gay marriage”? After all, they love each other. Second, there is a deep misunderstanding of what love truly means. In our society it seems that feeling, sentimentality, and attraction are the biggest components. Do homosexuals love one another? Yes, I am sure they do on some level. However, a proper understanding of love is as St. Thomas Aquinas tells us: “to will the good of the other, as other”. Third, I think that many Catholics think that celibacy is too hard for homosexuals. It’s too harsh to expect them to refrain from sexual activity, is one of the complaints made.

The Church’s, God’s, teaching on human sexuality is not meant to be a list of rules from some angry old man in the sky. Rather, since God is pure Love, he knows what is best for us. He knows how we will thrive and attain holiness. Our Lord knows what will kill a soul and He wants to do everything in His power to prevent this from happening. That is why the Church, His Bride, is our guide on this side of Heaven. Most of us would rather listen to the culture, but the culture is leading us to death. Christ leads us to life, and with that comes major sacrifice. It also requires that our lives be blatantly counter-cultural and it also means persecution. Christ was killed on a Cross, what makes us think that we are any different as His followers?

Within a Christian context love means that we desire what is best for someone even if they do not know what is best or choose what is bad for them. Part of the reason Christians are opposed to sexual sin is because they, when grave, kill a person’s soul. If I love someone do I want them to do something that would kill their soul? Not only that, Christ called us “to love our neighbors as ourselves”. That is a tall order and means that we must lovingly bring people to the Truth. So when someone tells me that they blatantly use contraception, cheat on their spouse, or engage in homosexual activity should I just say that is not my concern? As a member of the Mystical Body of Christ does this fit my Baptismal call? No. So the next time someone calls you out on a grave sin, remember it is out of great love and concern for your very soul.

Regardless of what our culture tells us, love requires great sacrifice. If you want to know what real love looks like, take a look at the Cross. Love is total self-emptying. It is the giving of everything we have, and then giving more. Do we all fall short? You bet! That is why we are sojourners. We are on a journey to holiness. It takes a lifetime, and for many Purgatory too. But, the Cross is the ultimate example of how we are to live our lives. That includes fighting against a culture that worships at the the altar of the false god of sex. Sex in and of itself is not love. It is a total self-giving. It is the uniting of one man and one women who have taken been joined in a covenant before God. Two become one flesh.

There are many Catholics who say that it is too hard for homosexuals to be celibate, or chaste. As a Catholic, this is a rather silly assertion. There are hundreds of thousands of priests, nuns, sisters, and brothers who live celibate lives throughout the world. Celibacy has always been seen as a loving sacrifice to Christ, which is why virginity is celebrated in the Church. But, if you don’t believe me, look at the stories of individuals who struggle with same sex attraction who live celibate lives as Catholics. Here is one example.

We must remember that as Catholics we are not called to be a “good person” we are called to be holy; to be saints. They are not the same thing. Hopefully, now you more fully understand God’s desire and love for you. If you are struggling with Church teaching then you need to discuss it with your parish priest. If, Heaven forbid, your priest does not fully submit to Church teaching, then find one who does. A lot of people have been hurt and led astray from “the spirit of Vatican II”. Humanae Vitae and other similar documents require our submission. They teach timeless truths. I pray for your conversion, healing, and strength in the years to come. The next part of this series will discuss how the “gay marriage” agenda is the greatest threat to our religious liberty that we face today. I will then write a post on parenting in an over sexualized culture that wants to convert us to its beliefs, and quite frankly, wants our children.