Monday, May 30, 2016

But We're Too Smart to Believe

The mantra of the modern world.  Belief in the supernatural is for children and fools. It is for the hayseed, the uninformed, the superstitious, and feeble.  It is an opium for the masses, a crutch for the unimaginative and weak.. We're just far too intelligent and urbane to believe.  We know that such an attitude does exist strongly in some sectors of the country.  It is worn as a badge of honor, a trophy for coming of age as a species.  Yeah, I am not buying it.  I'm not buying it because at one time in my life I did.  In my early twenties I was an agnostic.  I could not buy the intellectual premise of atheism that all we see just spontaneously came into existence and so ordered itself to produce life as we know it.  I did not buy that whatever created was personal in nature or gave a rat's behind about how certain of that creation fared.  Hence, this post is not about ridiculing those who are in those situations now.  Rather, this is directed at the consequences of these beliefs and how people got there.

The concept of God is as old as humanity itself.  Every society from the ancients on showed some understanding that all they saw was not all there was.  They looked for ways to fill this understanding.   For many early societies, they looked at the natural order and saw the capricious nature sometimes of it, how the same weather that made agriculture possible also could bring death.  The supernatural they built came from such observations.  In these faiths, though, the gods were not interested in mankind's happiness, they were not disposed to humanity's good.  No, they were to be appeased with sacrifices and kept at bay.  In Judaeo-Christianity, you have one God who is disposed to his creation's good and keeps reaching out for his wayward creation like a husband for his wife.  Sacrifice wasn't to appease God, but to restore a relationship lost through infidelity.  All these religions had moral codes, expectations of behavior.

The arbiters of these moral codes, throughout history, were not so good at upholding the moral codes themselves.  Corruption, simony and graft always seemed to rear its ugly head.  For millennia, though, because of the intense fear most had of the natural world, very few strayed.  Then came the rise of science.  In this rise we changed a question that dominated humanity.  Before, it was 'why are things they way they are?' which changed to 'how are things the way they are?'   The corruption of the professional religious class became all the more an intolerable blight in this new light.

A shift from the supernatural to the natural occurred with an assumption that the two were mutually exclusive.  The natural order we could measure, weigh, observe, and experiment with. The natural order seemingly had no moral code to it.  The natural order could be manipulated.  This wasn't always a bad thing.  Cures were found for many ailments, the benefits of hygiene came into being once we understood how germs and viruses worked.  But where it was bad...because of advances in warfare, for example, the 20th century was the bloodiest in history.  Hundreds of millions died through warfare, revolutions, genocides, and abortion.

Humanity's modern vision rose out of these violent times numb.  Increasingly, man was the problem.  This started in the late 19th century and caught fire in the early 20th century with the eugenics movement.  Humanity would have to weeded like an overgrown garden.  As there was no creator anymore, there was no inherent dignity to respect anymore.  We were livestock that could build our own homes.  As western society grew further and further away from the supernatural, the natural order now was something to be manipulated so that the supernatural heaven could be replaced by a natural one.  What arose?  Well, one man's heaven is another man's hell. The focus on material wealth rose to absurd amounts, so absurd that only governments and revolutions against governments could restore balance.  We see the rise of socialism, communism, and other forms of totalitarianism; forms that renounced the supernatural.  So much of the global warming/ climate change philosophy arises from this philosophy that humanity is the enemy.  Of course, only government can save us.  In the order purged of the supernatural, government fills the void.

But governments can also be capricious gods. That yearning as old as humanity can not satiated by such entities.  Our answer is to numb the pain from this emptiness.  Is it any wonder that drug and alcohol abuse are as rampant as they are?  The desire to decriminalize drugs comes from the 'they are going to do it anyway' belief.  They are right. Life without the supernatural will demand something fill the void; whether that something is sex, drugs, gluttony, or wealth.  However it is never enough, is it?  Our being too smart to believe leads to frustration  and emptiness.  This is a dangerous place to be, because malignant earthly messiahs will rush into that void, promising all sorts of things if only we give them complete allegiance.  It takes very little to understand why the western societies are so very angry.  It takes very little to understand why so many (not all) atheists are angry people.

We created this monster.  Once we dismissed the supernatural, we were going to replace it with something else.  Why I moved from agnosticism to 'spiritual but not religious' for awhile, is that what I replaced the supernatural with didn't work at all.  It was an exercise in futility that was leading to be a person I didn't want to be.  The lure of no supernatural is that morality becomes a  matter of opinion or mob rules.  This is the opium of secularism.  Life without discipline.  The problem with this opium is that every decision has a consequence.  Choice doesn't happen in a vacuum.  Others are effected. Parties with different vested interest war until the society inevitably breaks down.  Selfishness is the ultimate drug.  Many can't break the habit.

I ended up moving from 'spiritual but not religious' to actively searching.  I was in St Augustine's "our hearts are restless until they rest in thee" mode. It made more logical sense to me that whatever created us would have an intent than not have an intent.  It made more sense that with intent came a positive interest in that creation.  This led me back to Christianity.  I looked elsewhere, trying to be my own locus of authority.  I failed.  God, as presented in Christianity, is so well disposed to humanity.  Our problems aren't things he shields us from but that he helps us through.  Because we are at the mercy of each others choices, bad things were going to happen.  I moved back to Catholicism (not willingly at first) because it best understood the human condition and best presented how God does love us.

So why do our churches empty out in the west where in Africa they are expanding?  Is it because the Africans are superstitious mental midgets who just don't get it their superstition?  No.  They didn't lose what we lost: an understanding of the supernatural.  They understand that the transcendent God makes Himself visible through Jesus.  Whereas ancient religions had the gods take on a human form (not become human mind you)  it wasn't to save us but to cause trouble for us.  God becomes flesh to save us.  However, we in the west have replaced the supernatural with a much more malleable natural God.  Our churches are social clubs and businesses.  They have morphed into country clubs and entertainment extravaganzas with dry ice and effects appropriate to rock concerts.  They are emptying out and well they should.

What we are seeing is unsettling to professional church types: where the supernatural and transcendent is focused upon, the numbers grow.  For example, among many young Catholics in this country, interest in Eucharistic Adoration and extraordinary form Masses is growing.  Congregations at these have a tendency to much younger than normal.   Professional church types will dismiss this as a fluke, as people not appreciating or understanding  the 'superior' product they offer.  Do those going to these things do so because they inherently love Mass in another language?  No, I don't think so.  I believe it is because those rituals have a greater emphasis on God as transcendent, something they often do not see in their local parish.  They have seen the moral ambiguity and the havoc it has wreaked.  They want something else.  It is not as if the Mass of Paul VI (Novus Ordo or ordinary rite) is absent of transcendence as written, but as practiced in many places.

At the end of the day, it isn't that the majority of the irreligious really believe that they are too smart to believe.  They are searching.  This is especially true of the millennial generation.  They may not be able to put words to what they are searching for.  Their conflict is going to be having to either give up a self-styled morality or a transcendent God.  If we do not show them the latter (and in many churches we do not) they we adhere to the former. Our job is to help them see the transcendent.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Poison of Being Nice

Nice.  I hate the word nice.  In fact, I really hate the word nice.  It means to be inoffensive.  Milquetoast. Essentially it is a blandness of personality.  People think it is a really a synonym of kind.  It is not.  Kind/kindness is an action where one is altruistic to another person regardless of that person's merit.  Kindness is a quality of love, as St Paul reminds us I Corinthians 13.  Nice is just there.  Being nice is a virtue in this society.  I hate it.

Why?  Because love is not nice.  It is not inoffensive.  Sometimes when you love someone you must risk giving offense in order to say what another person needs to hear.  Niceness is an excuse to hide behind; an act of selfish self preservation, whereas I will condone bad behavior if the person will like me.  Our Catholic Faith is not nice.  It offends the hell out of people...lots of people.  Pick a subject, really any subject, and someone will take offense.  It could be our teachings on marriage and family, sexual ethics, the nature of salvation, the sacraments, priesthood...the list is massive.  Nice wants things to be easy.  There is nothing easy about our catholic Faith.  No, our Catholic faith challenges us to excellence, to the development of virtue, to growth in self giving, and in the exercise of restraint.  God gives us His grace to accomplish these things, which should say something of what He desires for us.

The teachings of the Church have not changed on these issues, even though you would be hard pressed in most parishes to know that.  No, many have become the church of nice.  A milquetoast arena of  self help platitudes and bland enabling morality.  A place where we are absolutely terrified of saying anything of consequence lest people abandon the pews and take their money with them.  The church of nice is a business which sells happy thoughts and moral numbness.  It is the cotton candy of religion.  Given what we are seeing in statistics released by such groups and Pew and CARA,  the church of nice might be selling, but fewer and fewer people are buying.  The church of nice is absolutely filled with the worse kinds of poison.  It would be the height of delusion to believe that God would bless the church of nice.

Why?  Because Jesus wasn't nice!  He was kind. merciful, forgiving, loving...but NOT nice.  Jesus offended the hell out of people.  Many of the Scribes and Pharisees were repeatedly offended by Him, to the point where they wanted Him dead.  Nice guys don't merit such wrath.  Jesus was no hapless victim, He provoked and called to excellence. He offered His life on the Cross.  The Cross...a symbol of horror and violent execution.  He re-appropriates it to the new tree of life.  talk about offending the sensibilities of His world!  Jesus adhered to the truth and taught the truth regardless of the suffering it brought.  His love of us provoked beyond any fear of suffering.  His desire to see us in heaven meant telling us the truth, calling us to a new life, challenging us beyond our selfishness, and giving totally of Himself, even to the point of giving us His Flesh and Blood!

I left the church of nice as young man.  Why?  Because it offered nothing to help me combat the problems of life.  Jesus was reduced to hippie, powerless and emasculated, in the church of nice.  I needed a champion.  I want to be a champion.  Once I understood that Jesus is the Lion of Judah and not the puppy of Candyland, I desired Him.  I knew that if I were to do priesthood correctly, that my life would have to be modeled after His.  There could be no being nice.  The people He would place under my care needed the truth even if it offended them. That segued into an understanding that the Gospel was a medicinal salve that prevented disease and cured disease brought on by sin.  I couldn't apply this salve by being scared whether the patient would feel a sting.

All this said, even though we are not called to be nice, we are not called to be jerks either.  Truth is to be applied with charity, always with the good and salvation of the person in mind.  I'm not called to Nurse Ratchit, applying truth like a weapon of mass destruction to punish people.  When Pope Francis calls repeatedly for mercy, he is not saying to be nice.  There is nothing of mercy in being nice.  To worry about the negative reaction of somebody so much so that you let them die is as merciless as actively attacking them.

As a pastor, I want all of my parish in heaven.  Every. Single. One. Of. Them!  If I love them, I will tell the truth and help them reach that truth.  I will teach and preach about the controversial matters and exhort them the greatness to which they are called.  If I love them, I will call out bad behavior and call them to holiness.  I will afford them the means of reconciliation, sacramentally and otherwise.  To call out behavior without affording them the means  is being a horrible shepherd.

I know people fall.  I did.  I continue to do so.  I know I don't always appreciate the truth about my actions but thank God for my friends and Church who believe I am capable of better.  In this lies the most deadly poison of nice: The nice person doesn't give the chance for the possibility that person can be greater that what they are.  Christ looks at us and KNOWS the greatness of which we are capable with His help.  Nice doesn't cut it, love does!

So quit telling your children to be nice.  Tell them to be kind, respectful, patient, and so on.  I can tell you as a man, I find being told to be nice as an attempt as emasculation. We are to call to virtue!  Let us lay aside nice, and become the warriors of faith we are called to be.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Surest Road to Damnation

The teaching of Jesus Christ are extraordinarily clear.  When he teaches how to pray and gives us the Our Father, the following line appears "Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us."  This morning's Gospel ends with the line, "When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions.” (Mark 11:26)  Matthew 6:15. Matthew 18:35. " For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38).  Do you want to solidify your chances of going to hell?  Then carry grudges and withhold forgiveness!

Seem strong?  Absolutely! Notice in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) that it ends open; will the older son forgive his younger brother?  The older brother, not the younger brother, is now on the outside looking in.  It is by his own hand that he is there.  Multiple times we are told that to love God is to love our neighbor as well.  The two are intimately bound.  Love is a theological virtue in which we grow through the intentional cooperation with God's grace to love as God loves.  We are told that God is rich in mercy; that His divine wrath is reserved for those who refuse His mercy.  To forgive, especially those who do not merit it, is to act in cooperation with the love of God.

When we pray the Our Father, we pray that we be forgiven in the same measure with which we forgive.  For us to do this is to recognize that we do not deserve nor merit the forgiveness of God for our own ongoing sins; yet, He is disposed to forgive us over and over again because He loves us.  Recall in John 13:34, taken from the Farewell Discourse, Jesus commands us to love one another.  What does this mean? To have the same disposition to others as God has towards us.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that if we love only our friends, there is no merit in that.  No, it is in the love or our enemies and persecutors that we show ourselves the adopted sons and daughter of God. Where there is love, there is forgiveness.  Where there is no forgiveness, there is no love.  The one without mercy is like the child that rebels against his parents...I want all the benefits of being your child (food, shelter, love) without actually being your child (showing obedience, love, deference to the parent).  We can't want heaven while consigning others to hell.  To withhold forgiveness attempts such a despicable desire.  However, it will be our own hand that we consign ourselves to hell!

No true Catholic can engage in the revenge business; whether it be passive aggressive or aggressive.   Revenge is only capable of begetting revenge.  Jesus on the cross intercedes for his executioners, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." St Stephen asked God not to hold his death against those stoning him. This is the call to excellence to which we are called through baptism.

We must be cautious.  How do we withhold forgiveness and mercy?  There are the obvious examples when we withhold forgiveness against those who have directly harmed us.  There are the less obvious examples when we show disdain for those who, even though they have not directly harmed us, have made foolish and destructive decision and find themselves in need.  At no time are we to condone sin or these poor choices, but neither are we to go to the other side and let them swelter in their own foolishness and misery.  No Catholic can meld social Darwinism and the Catholic faith together.  Sins of omission will just as assuredly damn us as sins of commission.

I know I am in constant need of God's mercy and forgiveness.  That is why I try to be generous with mercy and forgiveness.  I do believe that the person who withholds forgiveness will more likely than not forego seeking forgiveness for their own sins.  I do believe that frequent confession so disposes us to being quick to forgive as well.  This isn't about falling into scrupulosity.  It is about growing in relationship with God; the more we model our lives on His , the more we orient our lives to heaven.  The more fruit of faith, hope, and love are present in our lives.  Whether it be Jesus cursing the fig tree for its lack of fruit (today's Gospel) or telling us that branches who produce no fruit will be cut from the vine, Jesus demands fruit...the fruit of love and mercy, and will excise those who do not bear said fruit.

I end with this to my brother priest:  When we limit to a very short time at the most inconvenient time access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, what are we saying to our flock about the importance of mercy and forgiveness?  We hide behind 'or by appointment' as a way of actually having little confession time and then blaming the people of God for their lack of presence in confession.  We can't have it both ways.  We cannot on the one hand demand they forgive and then make being forgiven a near impossibility.  I know we are busy, but priorities are to be modeled on the life of Christ.  Jesus came so that we might be reconciled to the Father through being forgiven in the name of Christ.  To us alone, by virtue of our faculties given by our bishops who also possess this duty, has been given the ability to be the Persona Christi in the role of forgiving sin.  The person who sees little need for mercy in their own life, will see little need to extend mercy to others.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Looking For God in All the Wrong Places

Last weekend, the deacon intimated in his homily that why would we look elsewhere for God when we can find him here in our Church?  It will be the jumping off point for my homily this weekend on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, but with nearly 700 miles of driving in the car since then, I have had a lot of time to think.  The deacon asked a fair question; it has stuck in my head as to why so many have looked for God elsewhere.  They have.  In fact, the overwhelming majority have.  This begs the questions, then, as to whether or not we DO find God in Church, and if we do, have we done such a poor job of making that obvious.

Can we find God in a way in Church that we cannot find anyplace else?  The majority of Catholics, let alone those in western societies would shout back a resounding no! The believe that God can be found in nature, in the quiet of  a morning walk, in the silence of a fishing boat or deer stand.  They believe God can be found in their hearts.  Are they wrong?  No.  Before anyone thinks I have slipped into pantheism, the created works of the Lord can indeed point towards their Creator.  But always in an incomplete way.  They can point to his power, his beauty, his peace; but always in incomplete ways.  I can look at a picture of an individual.  I can fall in love with that image.  However that is not the same as having a relationship with that individual.  The incompleteness can leave us restless.

So why do people seem content with such?  As one who thought I was content with that in my early 20's, I can tell you that for me it was peace without drama.  I love nature.  My vacations always seem to focus on the outdoors, especially hiking.  I find a solace and power of God in the quiet paths I have hiked; in the incredible vistas I have witnessed.  I have been enthralled by the intricacy and beauty of the created order in its natural element.  In that oft sought after stillness, I found a stillness in my soul; a stillness so often obscured by the drama and business of life.  As a young Catholic, my experience of the Catholic faith was rarely calming, rarely transcendent.  It was hubbub of confusion.

I apologize ahead, but in all honesty, I felt the Mass to be a poorly executed Broadway play that craved my approval and attention.  Homilies were oftentimes self help claptrap or  a bad standup act.  The few exceptions were the serious as a heart attack money homilies or the 'you're going to hell' homilies.  Very little pointed away from the congregation or priest.  Even though I doubt I would have been cognizant enough at the time to say this, I felt the Church was a fraternal organization with a lot of rules that they may or may not believe.  If those that should have committed didn't, why should I?  All of this seemed insufficient to deal with the problems life threw at me, so I left.  There were two larger than life Catholics that did command my attention and admiration, St John Paul II and Bl. Theresa of Calcutta.  However the former was treated as a nice man and the latter was a do-gooder.  I could do these things without Church.  However these two would play central into my return to the Church.

What I was looking for was transcendence.  I wanted something that was beyond myself.  I got glimpses of that in nature and in relationships I started to develop through dating women.  But even this I found unconvincing on its own.  For me, this led to anger and frustration.  The U2 song popular at the time,  "Where the Streets have no Name" resounded with me. Its lyrics were a pining for the transcendent.  That's where I was and not sure where to find it.  My heart was restless and frustrated and damned if I were going to try religion again.  I had done that and found it lacking.

I really do believe that is where the vast majority of our people are at.  We are exhausted.  We want to find a safe harbor.  It evades us.  When these people do wander into our churches , what do they see?  Do we point to the transcendent or to where we already are?  What I found, initially, when I came back after 5 years of wandering, was essentially what I left.  There were a lot of good people.  I still wasn't seeing the transcendent.  Then I met a man, Leo Baxter, who had a a profound love for God.  He wasn't in love with a concept, but with a person.  For Leo that was most completely seen in the Eucharist.  He was no simpleton.  His faith was so profound, that it pointed to the transcendent.  I wanted that badly.  I started to realize that even through all of the distractions of Mass, that the Invisible God made Himself visible.  There was no turning back then.  I understood this same God wanted me home.  I realized that at the door of the confessional stood the Father in the story of the Prodigal Son, far too overjoyed to see His wayward son come home to chastise him for his faithlessness.  I was home.

However, the things that drove me away were still there.  I had not yet fully committed to the idea of seminary again (yes, I lost my faith while in the seminary).  I initially ran...and ran hard.  I am not sure what happened or when it happened, but I was resolved that IF I were to say yes to God's call, I didn't want to create the same atmosphere that caused me to leave.  I wasn't going to give up marriage and family for the merely immanent.  For the transcendent, I would.

I am sure that if we want to get generations back, it is going to be by showing them something different.  Their restless hearts don't want to be entertained (even they might think as such), they want to be fulfilled!  What they see  and experience when they enter our doors has to point to that.  We indeed do have something that even the most fulfilling fishing trip. hunt, hike, or ball game can not provide.  We have the Invisible God made visible!  We have the Word made Flesh who dwelt among us!  No trite emotional ditty that sounds like everything else in their worlds conveys that!  No, this isn't about a feeling or is about awe.  This is about the Eucharist! 

It can't end there though.  Catholicism isn't a private religious experience.  It is one lived in an ecclesia, a gathering...a church.  Within that Church  is a direct destination which calls us beyond ourselves.  I said earlier that St John Paul II and Bl. Theresa of Calcutta played heavily into my return.  The more I looked beyond the media generated personas. I saw two people of incredible faith whose faith provoked them to courage and strength. I wanted that.  My sojourn in the wastelands always left me feeling little and powerless.  The more I developed that relationship with God, the more I was drawn into something greater than myself.  With that came freedom and courage.  I have finally found what I was looking for.

I am not saying that all out there are where I was; many are.  If we are going to draw them back or in, then it is going to be by showing the beauty of the truth...we can offer them what the world can't.  In Christ and His Church, they will find a home.  We can't lowball it.  We have to get this right.  Too many are looking for God in the wrong places, if for no other reason that we didn't show them God when they were in right place.  Yes, this God will challenge us to holiness, to conquer vice and adopt virtue.  Yes, this transcendent God will want us to look nothing like the world.  All the better.

We can complain that my parish doesn't do this or that.  However, I want you to wasn't a parish that showed me that faith was  a man who believed that did.  If enough of us do this, it will transform our parishes into places where those seeking God will find  a way so much more powerful than they can find outside of Church.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Apparitions, Locutions, and Seers Oh My!

On more than a few occasions in my 19 years as a priest, I have met an individual who has told me they have seen Jesus, Mary, some saint or so on.  I have also been pulled aside by good Catholics who have seen me talk to such people and speak in hushed tones  about said things and act as if somehow the person were in need of psychological help and heavy medication. I shrug my shoulders and say, "Such things are in the tradition and history of the Church."  This doesn't mean I accept or believe every person who says such, but that I will allow it it to be within the realm of possibility until proven that it isn't.    I'll not be one to tell God what He can or cannot do. 

Certainly, that appearances have happened, messages given (locution), and such have happened is definitely part of the rich tapestry that is the Catholic faith.  Think Lourdes, Fatima, LaSalette, Guadalupe, Knock and many other approved apparitions of Christ and the Blessed Mother.  We believe that Mary herself was visited by the Archangel Gabriel.  However not every apparition turned out to be legitimate, Bayside NY, comes to mind.  In most every case the seers were discounted, thought mad, accused of blasphemy and deceit. Some were even persecuted.  The Church does not discount such possibilities no more than it discounts out of hand demonic possession or the movement of the devil.  In either case, criteria are used to sift the chaff from the wheat; the truth from the lies. 

The Church does believe in the operation of the supernatural in human events.  However, such is tested.  Eliminations are made.  Psychological, physiological, environmental, and mental factors are eliminated.  Sometimes people do lie to get attention.  Sometimes there is something psychologically wrong.  Sometimes the unknown presence of environmental factors are found.  These must be eliminated as factors.

So what is the the next step once these have been eliminated and something is happening.  Next we must be sure of its origin,  We remember that the devil is the master of deceit and will appear as an angel of light in order to cause confusion and division.  We then look at the messages of these visits. Nothing of God will overturn revealed truth.  The Church, and by that I mean the official Magisterium  of the Church, goes through the messages and looks at their content and compares it to revealed truth.   Nothing Of God will go against it, nothing of the devil will stick fully with it.  That which is found wanting is condemned.  Usually the Church will wait until the event has ended.  It would be horrific if the Church were to declare something to be true only to have the messages take a very decided turn away from revealed truth.  This is why, in so many ways, the event at Medjugorje is still not fully approved; the locutions have not ceased.

There is also the matter of the fruits born of the event.  Does it lead to the greater adherence to the faith and develop our relationship with God?  All apparitions of God lead us closer to God and not closer to a personality.  With the rise of net, it is hard to personally sift what is what.  Some will spawn conspiracy theories as to why the church didn't approve of something.  Some will gain followers because of the bombast and apocalyptic feel.  Me?  Let's stick to what we know.  We know the approved.  We know that the devotional life is good.  If we are on something and the site sounds like a cult of personality, it probably is and we should flee.  Nothing of God will incite division within the Body of Christ.  Nothing!     

Saturday, May 21, 2016

What Defines You as a Man?

There are days when the battles get intense.  There are days when I get struck a harsh blow and get knocked to the ground. There are days when I want to exit the battlefield and just go with the current.  Thankfully, I cannot bring myself to that; the Scriptural exhortation about turning the other cheek rings in my ears.  You see, turning the other cheek isn't weakness.  You cannot run away and turn the other cheek at the same time.  You must stand your ground.  If that means picking up the sword an shield again, then that is what it means.  If it means getting thrust into the heat of the battle, then that is what it means,  What you do when you get knocked down as a man has much to do with what you allow to define you as a man.

God has one definition of you and the world has a another.  Both are based on what they desire you to be.  The world, nowadays, wants you to stay a boy.  It will encourage you to give into your passions, want ease and pleasure, to show little to no discipline or remorse.  Why?  Boys are easy to manipulate.  They are easy to bully.  God, on the other hand, expects something quite different and has created you to be not just a man, but a warrior.  The mettle of strength comes from the discipline of virtue.  Like a well tempered sword, the man as desired by God, is strong, lucid, and fearless before what would defeat him. He might get knocked down, but he is never defeated.  He might stumble through sin, but like a wise warrior, he recognizes it and addresses it through confession before it defeats him.

Where a boy cries over a pricked finger, the man of God bears his battle scars as badges of honor.  God does not want you to remain a boy, but grow into a strong man, a first class warrior who is worthy of being the protector and provider of those God places into his care.  A boy relies on his own strength; an act of hubris.  The man looks to his general, Christ, and models His life after His.

Make no mistake.  Jesus was no fair haired wimp, no hapless victim, no peace and love hippie.  He was bold and came into this world to take on a fearsome enemy, the devil himself.  He preached a Gospel and performed miracle after miracle...provoking the devil and his minions. earthly and otherwise.  Just when they thought they had him cornered at the Cross, just when they defeated Him at the crucifixion, he outflanked them and beat them by that cross and on the day of the Resurrection.  Jesus did not shrink away from a fight; he did not tell us to hold our ground and not hold His.  He didn't rely on the trinkets of pleasure, power, and wealth to conquer.  No, in fact, he told those who would follow him to cast such trinkets aside and engage in battle.  His hapless little group of disciples, infused with the Holy Spirit, boldly set out for all parts of the known world and made known the Gospel, even if it meant their deaths. 

Wouldn't it be great to have such fearlessness and boldness?!  Wouldn't it be great to be so full of holy boldness so as to be able to look at the forces of evil and say you have no power over me!?  This is the boldness that led St Maximilian Kolbe to stand up to the Nazis and to offer his life for another, even when the death to be suffered would be cruel.  It led St John Paul II to study for the priesthood when such was punishable by death.  It led St. Isaac Jocques to return to the Americas after having suffered at the hands of the Mohawk and Huron, and GO RIGHT BACK, even under threat of death and preach the Gospel to them anyway.  Over the centuries it has provoked courage and strength in many men to  forge into battle, knowing that even if they got struck down, they were still on the winning side.  Don't you want to be that stouthearted man?  I do!

Life is unfair.  People you rightfully should be able to count on can and will turn to be your persecutor and not you brother in arm. You will get knocked down time to time by those you trusted.  Trust no man, lay or cleric, over God.  If you have to stand your ground, then do it.  Christ wins...don't lose sight of that!  Fear keeps the warrior off the field.  So many young men won't even consider priesthood because of boyish fear.  So many men won't commit to marriage for the same boyish fear.  When we abandon the field, those who should have been able to count on us suffer the consequences as well.  That, my friend, is on us.

Want to be that man who stands his ground, who isn't ruled by fear?  Hone the virtues in your life.  See worldly pursuits as beneath your dignity as an adopted son of God!  This society and our families and churches need us be that warrior who stands his ground, who doesn't get bullied, and who doesn't lose sight of the victory.  Christ wins.  Know it!  Act on it!

Friday, May 20, 2016

An Open Letter to the High School Class of 2016

I have never done this before, but year after year as a pastor I have seen the youth of my parish enter into the bigger badder worlds of college, full time employment, or military.  I am a person who watches society very carefully; I have to, my parishioners live and interact with the society every day.  I know for you freshly minted high school graduates that world you enter resembles very little the world I graduated into back in 1983.  However, in most ways, the core challenges remain very much the same, even if the methods under which they come are different.

Essentially, many felt that when they were in High School that many external forces were trying to define you: school, family, religion, and the list goes on and on.  There can be a feeling that now I can define myself, I will have a freedom I didn't have before.  To some extent this true, but largely it isn't.  It is true to the extent that most of you will be living most of the time outside of the home.  You will have some greater freedom in movement; but that freedom comes at the cost of safety nets.  However, the desire to pressure you into being a person according to another person's definition doesn't go away, it only intensifies.  It stays there for the rest of your life.  How you negotiate it and how you choose to move will develop the kind of person you are.

I am a priest.  Of course I am going to make the plea that you allow the primary influence of who you become to be defined by our faith.  Why?  Because I really do believe that if our Catholic faith is lived correctly, we have the power to transform the world.  Hence, I ask you to guard yourself against the following and to adapt the following:

A) Don't play the victim.  The world will want you to believe you are a victim; helpless and put upon.  It wants this because then you can be manipulated.  It will incite anger and division.  It will stir up your emotions with a righteous indignation.  Don't buy it!  To be sure, there is much injustice in the world.  As long as you're a victim, you'll never be able to rise above it.  Change comes from getting involved and utilizing the gifts God has given you.  No institution has ever been reformed from the outside.  The only change that come from the outside is the destruction of an institution, which is exactly what those manipulating you will want. They will not fully tell you what they intend to put in its place.  Don't become their useful idiots.  Know that for all the harm and hurt that is a part of life, that the Gospel well lived, moves us beyond victim status to hero status.  Be a Mother Theresa and not a Robespierre.

B) Don't make pleasure your master.  Pleasure is an exacting master who is never satiated.  If we order our lives to pleasure, we will be perpetually unhappy.  You might well have heard that nothing in life worth having is easy.  That is completely true.  Excellence in anything requires sacrifice and discipline.  Pleasure is not evil by nature, but it can't be sought after so much so that it becomes an impediment to growth.  If life is about the next beer, the next high, the next sexual encounter then life loses any zest and is replaced by enslavement to the passions.  God did not create us to be slaves, no, He created us to be free; to be unencumbered by the iron weight sin piles on us.

C) Don't be entitled.  The world owes you nothing.  It does not owe you respect.  It does not owe you  anything and will take as much as it can and dispose of you like a fruit rind as soon as it gets what it wants.    There is really no such thing as free; there is making someone else pay for it, but there is no such thing as free.  Being entitled will lead you to no good place.  It will wreck your life and stymie it from ever growing to the excellence to which it is capable.  Entitlement wastes God's grace and gifts planted in you.  God's grace is free, but He will not force you to anything.  You will however reap the rewards or suffer the punishment of said choices.

D) Show restraint.  Not every word that passes through your brain needs to exit your mouth.  Our words and actions have consequences.  They do.  Be aware of that.  Being the bigger person is important.  Letting go of grudges is necessary for growth.  Be aware that I might want to follow my passion but there might well be no job market for it.  Be aware that debt has to be paid back. Save money.  Live simply.  God has given us free will, we are not driven by instinct merely.  This is especially true for our electronic footprint.  The post about you getting wasted might seem like fun at the time...potential employers will not share your judgement on this.  Sexting might seem dangerous and fun, but those pictures will be out in internet for the rest of your life.  Remember, you tell people so much of the time how to perceive you.  Don't be upset if you presented yourself as cheap and other people defined you by it. You are better than that and worth so much more than that.

E) Be humble. Know your strengths and develop them.  Know your failings and correct them.  Lying to ourselves about who we are is probably the stupidest and most harmful thing we can do.  Truth sets us free.  It gives us freedom of movement.  Humility is the base of true growth; growth in faith especially.  God gives us his help where we need to build and His forgiveness (if we ask for it) when we fail. Humility allows us to see we need Him and we need our relationships with family and Church.   Humility reminds us we are not alone.  Humility gets us through the strongest of storms.

I want to see each and every reader of this succeed in this life and in the life to come.  We all should. If we are true to wanting to go ad make our mark in this world, if we want to make a positive mark it will be by staying grounded in the above things.  May God bless you with an abundance of His grace as you make your next step in life.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Roman Catholic Man and the Virtue of Love

It is my belief that fewer words are so horribly misused in western culture than the word 'love.' Most see love as an emotion.  It burns hot one minute and freezes over the next.  We fall in and out of love.   This is nothing new. For the Greeks, they had three different words for love: eros, philos, and agape.  The three could not be interchanged.  Eros described the desire that someone had for something or someone.  Philos /philia described the fondness for something or someone.  Agape is a total self giving.  It could be said that eros seeks what you can do for me, philos seeks mutual accommodation, and agape focuses on what I can do for you.  Eros is not used in the Bible.  Philos is rarely used.  Agape, is almost exclusively used every time the word 'love' comes up in the Scriptures.

Agape is a virtue that requires the self gift of God first before we can respond. St John  says in his first epistle that, "We love, because He first loved us." (I John 4:19)  It is a virtue, which means that it is something that grows within us because of the discipline of intentional self-giving.  For the Roman Catholic man, this virtue is the prime motivator of all of the other virtues, both cardinal and theological.  We seek prudence because we love.  We seek to have self-control because we love.  We give to another what they need because we love.  We stand strong because we love.  We set our priorities towards the things of heaven because we love.  We act in deference and obedience to the will of God because we love.  The Roman Catholic Man who cultivates the virtue of love is the tower of strength that is needed so badly in the family and the parish!  The more he cultivates the divine gift of love, the stronger his relationship with God and the stronger his relationship with others.

When love is misdirected and ordered to the things of the world, it is the most destructive of forces.  St Paul tells us the love of money is the root of all evil ( I Timothy 6:10).  In fact, there is another word for this:lust. As the virtue of love is completely self giving, the deadly sin of lust is a perversion of love, a complete taking. Lust reduces a person as a means to an end.  Whether that end is sexual pleasure, wealth. power, possessions, fame, or influence , lust will drain all dignity from the other so as to satiate the self.

Love is the summation of the virtues.  The greatest summation of love for the Roman Catholic man is Jesus Christ on the cross.  The selflessness of the virtue of love is willing to suffer and sacrifice for what is loved.  To give an example, I remember years ago that my dad fed himself last at dinner.  We were poor.  I thought it was just what a man did as a matter of honor.  He never complained about it.  Out of respect we would save the biggest piece of chicken for him.  What he was doing , though, was making sure his wife and children got fed first.  It is a small gesture.  But the virtue of love leads us to gladly put the needs of others first, especially the needs of those placed in our care.  It is something that grows as it is practiced.

When we Roman Catholic men look at the world around us we can see the triumph of lust over love in this society.  Pleasure comes first.  Fun comes first.  Recreation or faith?  Recreation comes first.  We see the reign of entitlement in our culture.  Many want everything for free; life is about someone else satiating me!  There is no other course for this to go other than a complete breakdown of the culture.

We Roman Catholic men need to stand tall in witness to what the actual virtue of love can do and what it looks like.  Marriage will only last for as long as the complete self giving virtue of love is its anchor.  Many will say that the latest trend to same sex marriage has destroyed the institution of marriage.  That is like saying the bulldozer took down the skyscraper.  No the wrecking ball did. Decade after decade after decade.  That wrecking ball was the acceptance of divorce, artificial birth control, promiscuity, pornography, and abortion.  These things are inconsistent with self-giving love.  They are its natural enemy.  In fact, every major breakdown we have can be directly attributed to the lack of ability or desire to cultivate the virtue of love.

To the Roman Catholic man called to marriage: You cannot have a healthy marriage and family life without cultivating the virtue of love.  After God, your wife comes first!  She is not your servant, slave, or prostitute.  You are to love her with the same self-giving love with which Christ loved us on the Cross!  That love will matter as you teach your children , with your wife, what to love God and each other looks like.  I as a pastor and teacher can talk about love until I am blue in the face and it'll not matter one iota if you are not modeling it in the family.  I invite you go to I Corinthians 13 and read St Paul's description of the virtue of love; of its qualities and properties.  That, good sir, is the standard of excellence to which we are held and by which we will be judged by God! If this love is lived in the family, it will strengthen every entity to which that family belongs...especially your local parish.

To the Roman Catholic man called to be a priest: As the Persona Christi, we are to be the very image of the virtue of love.  Can we imitate St. Paul, who refers to himself being poured out like a libation for those he was called to bring the Gospel of Christ?  Can we look at our relationship with God and those placed under our care using the same standard of St. Paul's description of love in I Corinthians 13?  Are we patient and kind?  Do people see us as such or as temperamental?  Woe to us if our flocks grow scared of us for fear of wrath or neglect!  Do we gladly call when beckoned in an emergency?  Will we live simply so as to show a detachment from the world and an adherence to God?  Love never compromises truth.  Do we through our preaching and teaching extol our sheep to such excellent heights?

This kind of love is not easy.  However the more we practice it, the more natural it becomes.  The more it is practiced the more it can be the salt that is needed, the light that is needed. To be sure, we will fail both in time and eternally if we fail at love.  For nothing of lust can enter the Kingdom of Heaven; no selfishness, no narcissism, no self-aggrandizement. To be joined in eternal union with God, who is love, requires us to utilize the divine grace and gift of love so that our lives become an answer to God's love.  Make no mistake: You'll not be a true man, a true Roman Catholic, or a man of any virtue without love.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Gladys Kravitz Must Die!!!!!

I will admit, I am showing my age on this one.  Gladys Kravitz.  Wife of Abner Kravitz on the old sitcom Bewitched.  She always had her nose at the window, peeking through the curtains, spying on what they neighbors were doing. Her husband, was largely disinterested in her ravings as she screamed "Abner, Abner!!"  every time something funny or weird happened.  He was always sorry he listened.  Mrs. Kravitz evidently had many many children who shared her predilection for  gossip, because Lord knows they are forever screaming for our attention!!  Social media has given her a megaphone.  No tall tale seems to be too much.  It is telling that sites such as Snopes has become a full time thing to separate the truth from the lies. 

There are different types of Gladys Kravitzes our there.  There are the religious watchdogs who are just sure Pope Francis (or whoever is the Pope at the time) is saying exactly what the secular press says he is saying.  They show all the discernment of a hungry dog in a dumpster.  They are quick to post all kinds of things, make sweeping generalizations about things they don't like (yes, clown masses are of course what every single Novus Ordo Mass does), and are quicker than warp speed (right to ludicrous speed) to make condemnations.  Heaven forfend any of them actually look at original texts!  NO NO NO!!!  Abner, Abner!!! Pope Francis just said  women can dance the Watusi on the pulpit during Mass!!!  The AP says so!  *sigh*  At the least they are indulging in detraction, at worst they are indulging in calumny...both of which are sinful.

Then you have the political Gladys Kravitzes.  They posts all kinds of slanderous things about candidates they don't like from websites that make Pravda (back in the old USSR days) look like reputable reporting.  Of course just as questionable propaganda pieces in favor of their candidate are spoken of with the reverence of a canonization ceremony.  Outlandish doesn't even begin to describe the gossip; evidently slander is fair game in politics.  We wonder why we get the quality individuals we get?  By the way...I really hate politics.

Then you have the Gladys Kravitzes who wile away on the latest exploits of their favorite stars, athletes, singers, and such. Entire networks are dedicated to this (even you ESPN).  I really could go for the rest of my life without hearing the latest sexual exploits, boneheaded decisions, or catfights brewing.  It is none of my business.  Really it isn't.  Neither are the personal passive aggressive attacks that are a mainstay on sites like Facebook. 

The whole sordid process has fueled the abnormal as normal motif.  It is depressing.  It has no place in any person's life who calls themselves a Christian.  We are supposed to better than this because we are to love.  Exposing another person's faults, real or perceived, as entertainment ( a virtual Thunderdome) is sinful.  Period.  If someone has done wrong, pray for them!  Because a person is a public figure does not make it fair game in some blood sport where I prop myself up by making others look bad.   So please, for the love and survival of western civilization, please let us put the nonsense to rest and regulate the Mrs Kravitzes to the old sitcom world where she originally was. 

The Roman Catholic Man and the Virtue of Faith

Now we venture into the theological virtue of faith.  What is faith?  Is it the same as belief?  Not entirely, for St. James tells us in his epistle that the demons believe and shudder (James 2:19).  Belief is part of the equation, obedience to belief is the other part.  As faith is a theological virtue, it is not one we can cultivate by merely our own strength, but as a response to God's gift.  Jesus reminds us that no one comes to Him unless the father beckons.  This is why we believe that a man cannot call himself faithful yet act in disobedience to God.  The two are mutually exclusive.

Faith is ordered to obedience.  Faith seeks the will of God, craves it, and devours it once found. Faith manifest a trust in God's will and providence for us.  It is why the Church cannot see itself in opposition to the revealed truth of God.  It is why the Church does not change its teachings on faith and morals: faith demands obedience to no man over God, even if that 'no man' is myself. To be obedient to the will of God necessitates knowing the will of God.

Herein is the crisis we face in the developed world: We have switched allegiance from God to the world.  For many, even those in the pews and pulpits, faith has been transferred to the world.  We place more credence in money, power, and pleasure than we do in God.  We believe that the world can offer us comfort here and now.  We even reshape heaven into an eternal prolongation of such self-indulgence.  That we would submit our will to God and His Church is ridiculed; our will is God's will now.  He'll just have to understand.  Ego non serviam!  "I will not serve!"  These are the words poet John Milton places in the mouth of Satan as he rebels against God.  When true faith in God breaks down, we no longer respond to Him, but to the world.

Jesus assures us that He is oriented to our good; whether it be the image of the Good Shepherd or the Cross itself, Jesus gives us reason to have faith. But faith, again, is ordered to obedience.

Disobedience cannot co-exist with faith; one must choose one over the other.  This disobedience finds itself in acceptance of sin as the necessary norm: the acceptance of artificial birth control, cohabitation, every and all sexual deviancy, porn, the redefinition of marriage and family, eugenics, abortion, greed, apathy, and such are destroying the nation all under the false definition of tolerance.  We cannot say God bless America and then run Him out of every imaginable institution and avenue of our life.

The Roman Catholic man must cultivate this divine gift of the virtue of faith.  How does he do that?  First it is important to actively seek to know what we believe and why we believe it.  God doesn't want blind faith; the Catholic faith is a reasoned faith.  We believe what we believe for a reason.  That men see learning as beneath them gives the devil a superhighway in which to operate.  The devil LOVES ignorance, especially intentional ignorance!    Ignorance leaves open rampant disobedience.  We, as men, can memorize tons of useless information: sports stats, song lyrics, and such.  Our minds need better food than that!  With the offerings we have now available, there is no reason for ignorance to remain.  To cultivate the virtue of faith means we have to actively engage in getting to know the faith.

It does not remain there though.  No, the harder part is to realign one's life with that knowledge.  The Roman Catholic man knows true knowledge must be positively acted upon.  He knows that there is no room to compromise away truth.  He is steadfast in his obedience to the will of God.  He also knows that when he hasn't been, when his faith has waned, that it must be addressed through the seeking of forgiveness, especially through the sacrament of Reconciliation.  He sees willful disobedience as anathema to his relationship with God and with those around him.

To the Roman Catholic man called to marriage: you CANNOT execute your role as spiritual head of the home without cultivating the virtue of faith.  Your being spiritual role is not to be delegated to your wife (she has roles to do, she shouldn't have to do yours as well) and is not to be ignored without severe consequence.  As you and your wife are the primary teachers of your children in the ways of the faith, you can only give that which you have.  You owe it to those placed in your care to be a man of faith: both in knowledge and execution.  The faith of the dad is a major predictor of the faith of the children.  The faith of the father is also a major factor in the rise of priestly vocations. You are the model of faith.  Your faith either nourishes or poisons your family's faith.  So what are you doing to enrich your knowledge, belief, and execution of faith?  It's not an option if you are to be serious about your role.

To the Roman Catholic man called to priesthood: Father, you are the parish what a dad is to his family.  I remember in the seminary our professors begging us to not allow or education to end upon ordination.  Has yours?  I am sorry, but reading a periodical about what other people have to say about things rather than actually looking at and studying primary documents is intellectual sloth.  Do we offer adult education classes?  We all bemoan the lack of knowledge of the faith among our parishioners, what are we doing to change that?   Do you study the Scriptures?  Do you soak in the instruction available through the Divine Office?  Why is this important?  You tell your parishioners your faith every time you preach, every time you celebrate Mass.  Our faith or lack thereof can be contagious.  Our response in obedience to faith will either nourish or poison our flocks.

Faith is not easy.  It is a intentional discipline we which cultivate everyday.  As Roman Catholic men, we can ill afford infidelity.  If we are to be the salt in our society that we are called to be, faith is an absolute necessity.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Wading through the Cesspool: Caveat Lector

Earlier today, Vatican PR aide, Fr. Thomas Rosica  bemoaned the catholic Blogosphere as a place where hatred, venom, and vitriol could be witnessed from  the hand of writers and bloggers claiming to represent 'true' Catholicism.  " The character assassination on the Internet by those claiming to be Catholic and Christian has turned it into a graveyard of corpses strewn all around,” said Rosica, who assists the Vatican Press Office with English-speaking media, on May 11 as he delivered the keynote address at the Brooklyn Diocese’s observance of World Communications Day. “Often times the obsessed, scrupulous, self-appointed, nostalgia-hankering virtual guardians of faith or of liturgical practices are very disturbed, broken and angry individuals, who never found a platform or pulpit in real life and so resort to the Internet and become trolling pontiffs and holy executioners!” Rosica said"

Truth be told, he's right.  To be sure, though, it is not limited to those who consider themselves conservative or traditionalist; progressives and liberals can be every bit as venomous.  The Catholic blogosphere has many wonderful and uplifting sights.  It also includes sites that are little more than a catholic TMZ where salacious gossip, unfounded speculation, and character assassination are commonplace.  Furthermore there are some Catholic sites that make the 5th concentric circle of hell look like the the Von Trapp family.  Anger seethes from some of these sites like lava from a seemingly ever active volcano.  The latter sites and blogs are the hellish little hovels of ideologues who feel slighted that the Church has not swerved whatever direction they think it should.  Both extremes dwell here.

These sites and blogs exists because there are audiences for them.  Some of the writers are men and women of faith who seek to utilize the internet as a place for forthright evangelization.  Some are writers who are publicly sorting out their own faith struggles.  Some are writers who are pitching a fit in the public forum; an electronic temper tantrum for which they want an audience.  All will claim to be Catholic.  Caveat Lector/ let the reader beware!

How do we distinguish?  That's the hard part.  Most everyone who knowingly goes into a Catholic website or blog has some questions or love for the Church.   Many are confused.  Heaven knows that the secular media knowingly and  gleefully feeds that confusion.  What did Pope Francis say today?  What did bishop so and so do?  Did that parish in Middleofnowhere, Nolandia really do that during Mass?  Inquiring minds want to know! At times, the catholic blogosphere can look like a laundry line full of dirty laundry strung up down the medium of an interstate highway.

I offer a simple rule of thumb to distinguish good from bad:

A) What is the intent of the writer?  Is he or she trying to invoke an anger which corresponds with the writer's anger?  Is he or she making a call to arms on behavior that has to be corrected?  Is the writer trying to lead you closer to faith and virtue or is the writer merely stirring up an emotional reaction?  A bad writer will rely on the latter.  A man seeking to sow division will use righteous indignation as their calling card.   They will go nowhere with it, other than gathering a electronic lynch mob.  If this is what the blog or site does, it may call itself catholic but is not.

B) Does the writer need personal enemies aside of the devil?  Ideologues love personal enemies, in fact, will define themselves by their personal enemies.  We can and should expose what is wrong, however it is attitudes we expose that are part of the human condition.  Exposing a person's sins, be they real, is called detraction.  It is mortally sinful.  Exposing sins which are false is calumny.  It is also mortally sinful. If a person is in sin, then prayers of conversion are the Catholic answer, not a public pillory.  Because one is writing  a blog does not exempt them from the teachings from Christ Himself on fraternal correction (Matthew 18:15-18).  When reading this, recall Jesus' attitude towards tax collectors and public sinners.

C)  Does the writer provoke to a deeper holiness of the reader?    A call to arms or a spiritual reflection should make the reader want to grow closer in relationship to Christ and those around us.  If a writer promotes tribes, with his tribe being the superior't away from such a person.  What is written should promote virtue even when the topic is hard.

Gossip is gossip.  Attach whatever adjective you want to it.  It remains gossip.   What is written in any venue is not without moral value.  We need to judge wisely.

The Roman Catholic Man and the Virtue of Hope

For four posts, I have looked at the four cardinal virtues: prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude.  These virtues can be cultivated by anyone, believer or non believer.  As the virtues are habits, we do possess the ability to use self-discipline to foster these virtues. Now, I deal with the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love.  These three are gifts from God and must have God to be properly exercised. Surely everyone can use these words, but what we Roman Catholics mean by this is substantially different than what the world means, both in practice and ends.  The practice of the cardinal virtues make you a good man, the practice of the theological virtues make you a holy man.  Here is this disquieting fact: being good is not enough, we are called, Roman Catholic men to be holy.

The theological virtue of hope is ordered to heaven.  It is the desire and expectation of heaven mixed with an understanding of the difficulty that is present in this task.  Hope is a response provoked by God, ordered to God, and a grace given to make the necessary changes to stay ordered to God.  Hope will play a part in the setting of priorities in this life.  While we cannot earn heaven, we can given a constant response to God as to what we truly hope for.  There are only two trajectories here: heaven or hell.  Our call as Roman catholic men is either to sainthood or eternal damnation.  Where our hope is will determine our trajectory.

Let us not mix up the concepts of hope and presumption.  Hope wants heaven and realizes that it doesn't come easy.  Presumption, too, wants heaven and assumes it is easy.  Presumption hides behind a false concept of the mercy of God' a mercy devoid of justice.  Presumption is driven by a sense of entitlement.  Presumption looks for the low bar, while hope recognizes the high standard that is set.  The heresy of universalism (everyone goes to heaven) is born of this diabolical presumption.

Jesus tells us that where our treasure is, there our heart will be.  The treasure is where our hope is and the heart will orient itself towards it.  Here where it is going to get rough.  Where is our treasure?  Is it in the things of this world or in the things of God?  We will know by our priorities in life.  What do we believe will save us, how do we want to be saved, and what are being saved from?

Let's take the last question first.  What are being saved from?  Do we wish to be saved from fiscal or spiritual poverty?     Do we desire to be saved from a bad reputation, powerlessness, pain, or embarrassment?  Whose the enemy?  If we see earthly deficiencies to be the enemy, our hope will be to conquer them.  Our time, energy, and resources will be dedicated to eradicating these.  I am not saying that these problems are not real.  The man of hope sees these same deficiencies but knows that the bigger problem is what separates us from God.  The Roman Ctholic man is supposed to live in this world but of this world.  He does not measure life by power, pleasure, wealth, and reputation.  No, the Roman Catholic man, knowing that the greater things require sacrifice and even suffering, will surrender these things if they get in the way of heaven.

How do we get saved?  If a man is worldly he will pursue worldly pursuits over God.  The worldly man will try to compromise.  If I sit in a pew for an hour a week that should be enough.  If I send my kids to a Catholic school or to a CCD class, that should be enough.  A failure of hope will lead a man to throw God the scraps of his time, energy and resources,  What God ask for is the first fruits of our time, energy, and resources.  The man without hope will see that last sentence and be revolted by it.  If a man believes he is going to be saved by his own efforts, he will point his life in that direction.  If a man believes that God saves him, he will point his life in that direction.   For the man called to the monastery, this becomes man all encompassing thing.  For the rest of us, is it a constant adjustment of priorities to reflect where our hope is.

Who saves us?  For the worldly man, worldly things save him.  Dedication to career, manipulating how others see him, athletic ability, academic ability, honing a skill all become paths to salvation in this world.  They come first.  They come before faith.  They come before family.  They are ultimately born of selfish desire.  For the godly man, he might well too have a career, play sports, study, hone a skill and such...but never at the cost of his relationship with God or his family.  Earthly hope will have us abandon these relationships, divine hope will make them priorities.

So the hard questions: When you have a choice between faith or sports, what comes first?  What do you teach your kids comes first?  We act as if letting down faith is desirable to letting down a ball team.  If you job is stressing your relationships with family, which one comes first?  The man who hopes in worldly things tries to fill an insatiable hole.  It is never enough.  The worldly man, depressed about that emptiness will try to numb it away.  He will turn even further away from God and to numbing agents: narcotics, alcohol, porn, gluttony, and infidelity.  The man of God needs nor desires such things as he realizes this hole can only be filled with God.  Hence, his choices and priorities will follow. 

This isn't easy.  Hope is a virtue, which means we must use discipline to cultivate it.  That means being conscious about out choices and priorities. The Roman Catholic man is constantly asking what his decisions say about his priorities and what his priorities say abut his eternal trajectory.  The Roman Catholic man is willing and ready to make the hard choices.  He does not care about the ridicule that might result.  Utilizing the virtue of fortitude, he bucks up and gets busy of the truly worthy.

To the Roman Catholic man called to marriage, as you are the spiritual head of the home, you are the one who sets priorities.  Yes, that is done with your spouse, but you model the behavior.  You have the responsibility of steering the ship of your family towards God and teaching your children, especially your sons, how to do this.  You make the hard decisions, the unpopular decisions by worldly standards, and teach them to do the same.  You teach them what comes first.  Without cultivating the virtue of hope, you will sail into danger.  In a simple example: sports before faith or faith before sports?  Ball game or Mass?  Ball game of CCD?  Ball game or retreat?  It will say a lot about where one's hope is.  Sports, by the way, are one of can easily put in other worldly pursuits in the blank.  I use sports, because it is the excuse I hear most often. Are you sinking into addictions to chemicals or porn?  These are inconsistent with hope. The Roman Catholic man is not concerned with popularity, but with truth.

To the Roman Catholic man called to priesthood: We should never see that we have chose the 'profession' of being a priest as the gateway to heaven.  Our vocation is a calling and not a career. The hopeful priest speaks boldly knowing that he must as he is to the parish what a dad is to the family. If a priest presumes heaven he will poison his flock with the same error.  When we do not cultivate the virtue of hope, it will devastate our ministry.  Too often we get caught in a numbers game, assessing success with how full things are.  We can get depressed when we see our flocks make us a last priority.  If we do not cultivate hope, we will be destroyed by lack of participation which will manifest itself in either a going through the motions (oftentimes doing as little as possible) or in unleashing a fury upon the flock.  How will we know if we are cultivating hope?  We don't give up.  We are not scared of the turth. We keep up the pace and are joyful for whatever comes.  We turn to prayer as our strength and not to numbing agents like alcohol or porn to fill the void hopelessness leaves. WE DON'T GIVE UP.

The Roman Catholic man  who exercises the virtue of hope is the brave man.  He will do what is necessary to step towards heaven.  He will set priorities straight.  The hopeful Roman Catholic man is the bulwark against any and all storms that come.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Roman Catholic Man and the Virtue of Fortitude

John Locke wrote. "Fortitude is the guard and support of the other virtues."  Fortitude is the bravery to engage in the good.  One can hold the virtues of prudence, temperance, and justice to be true, but if the Roman Catholic man lacks fortitude, he will not execute anything of these in his life.  We are told that the Sacred Scriptures tell us "Do not be afraid" 365 times.  God places a premium on bravery.  These admonitions do not come in safe times in the Scriptures.  They come as the protagonist is coming up against the foe.  Without the stouthearted man rising up, the devil and his minions are given free movement among our flocks.

I would posit that it is a lack of fortitude that has become ingrained in the men of this society.  We have been constrained by the ever present political correctness.  Every historical misstep has been used to define man.  Our penance for these missteps is to remain dormant and quiet.  We have been told to be apologetic about our masculinity and allow more tolerant minds to rule us as we consign ourselves to games to prove any masculinity we might have.  Even there, on the field of sport, the last bastion, are we told to play nice and everyone gets a trophy for merely showing up and inhaling and exhaling.

It would seem that the virtual world is where we are left to retreat into cocoons where we can say and do anything we want. Why is it that many young men dwell in virtual worlds of porn and video games? They are safe there, they can be everything they think they can't in the real world: desirable, brave, the hero, and so on. What a dark and horrible prison to be in!

Brothers, we MUST not allow these constraints to tame the lion within.  This does not mean we go back to the days of misogyny, there is nothing noble or brave about being a true sexist jerk.  That said, stepping up and being a Roman catholic man is not being a sexist jerk; it is being the man we are created to be.

Where is fortitude needed?  Let's start in the home.  Are you the sentinel at the door?  Do you place yourself between those placed in your care and those who would prey on them?  Do you speak up when the world tries to redefine us out of existence? Do we guard against deceit?  We must. For society will take every bit of ground it can and pervert it.  Want proof?  We are arguing, seriously arguing, over who uses what bathroom.  We have stood by while subjective truth swallowed objective truth whole to the point where genetics and biology be damned, if I want to say I identify as woman then I should be able to use the same bathroom as those who are actually female!  We stand by emasculated?!  Oh hell no!  In our constant acquiescence, we ceded ground over and over again until nothing is left to take.  Bathrooms has come to this!

How did we get here?  We lacked fortitude...we didn't stand for the truth over and over again.  We hid behind a false identity and surrendered our Catholics principles one by one. We abandoned the sacraments and thought somehow that would work well for us.  We made faith a last priority and blamed God for the failures in our lives. No more!  This doesn't mean we break into persecution either.  There is nothing brave about being a bully.  Fortitude is an adherence to the truth, whether that truth be popular or not.

To the Roman Catholic man who is called to marriage:  you are the spiritual head of the home.  You either teach your children to stand tall in faith or to shrink away from faith.  You either teach them to stand tall or compromise away anything of worth.  Your sons, in particular, look to you to see what being  a man looks like.  We must show them what it means to be a  man of God.  We need more warriors and less weasels.  Are you aware of who is getting access to your children and spouse and the influence they bring?  The brave man is wary of such things.  You, Roman Catholic man, are the sentinel who stands guard over his home and defends against anything that would attack your wife and children. God will judge your execution of this task.    

To the Roman Catholic man who is called to priesthood: you are supposed to be the Person of Christ, the supreme example of fortitude, in your parish or assignment.  Are your words a call to arms or a call to compromise with an an insatiable enemy?  Do you have any clue what is being taught in your parish?  Do you step into the breach when needed, or flee from needed confrontation so as to not make waves?  Do you tackle the issues of the day that assault your flock or are you worried about comfort and ease?   What do the men and boys of your parish see when they see you:  a warrior or a weakling?  I know that sounds harsh, but let's be honest.  If we do not model the warrior, how will be able to muster our men to fortitude and inspire vocations to the priesthood?  Again, God will judge us on how we executed this task.

I have a fire about this obviously. My personality type would rather go down swinging than fade away.  We can possess the other virtues, but if we lack fortitude, those virtues lay dormant.  There is far too much ground to retake for us to ensconce ourselves in selfish and virtual worlds.  Our families and parishes need us to man up, step up, and get about the business of the Kingdom of God.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Pastor's Lament

I have tried for some time to figure out how to tactfully write this column.  I do not wish to come across as whiny nor as have given up the fight for neither are true.  The conventional wisdom is to soft peddle these concerns so as to not drive away anyone who is barely hanging on.  The soft peddling is not working.  Perhaps a little tough love is needed.  I am aiming at that: tough love.  Tough in that sometimes it is necessary to face unpleasant truths.  Love in that the goal is to jostle enough awareness to change to a trajectory that leads to heaven.

This column is not aimed at my parish per se in that most every pastor will have similar laments and concerns.  These are the things that grieve me most as a pastor in the 16 years I have been a pastor.  It should be encouraging that these are the things that grieve me for it shows where I hope to take any parish. To my own parish, there will be nothing new here in that we have working on this for several years now.  These are reflected in the pastoral plan we have put together and will present next week.  These, however, are the battles we face.

So in no particular order:

1. We know we are not a priority  To the overwhelming number of people we are not a priority. We're just not.  We're not in their lives nor their children's lives. I am not sure there was ever a golden age on this one.  However, we know that for many that the parish is not a priority.  It is a convenience.  The sin of anything in the eye of the parishioners we try to do starts with the sin of being inconvenient. Everything must be convenient. Mass times...youth name it, we have to somehow wedge ourselves into the minuscule time allotments that are the scraps of the weekly time allotment in people's lives.  We are not what schedules are arranged around.  We get the scraps.

This makes planning anything nightmarish.  We know that we are seen as less important than sports (any level), a whole host of leisure activities, and life in general.  Youth ministers walk a mine field knowing that the windows they have to get youth's attention are growing smaller and smaller by the day.  We know that non-faith formation events will take precedence over everything religious, even Mass itself.  To try and draw, we feel this need to compete with these things by being fun, loud, and low impact.  It is like lasing a stick of dynamite. We are told we must cede ground to schools (even catholic schools), coaches, instructors, and bosses. As we aren't the parents, many times we are left to the nose bleed sections of our young flock's life.  If we care, and I do, it hurts.

When we complain, we are shrugged off with a legion of excuses: if only you all would _________.  So , we have to pray that some will see us a priority. Thankfully a minority does. 

2. We are barely catholic.  To be Catholic means to be in a relationship with God AND His Body, the Church. Many, however have bought a very worldly view of this.  God is wherever I want him: in nature, on a fishing boat, in a whole host of places outside of the churches.  He is the non-judgemental rubber stamp who is pleased with me despite my minimal to non-existent effort. The majority stay away Sunday after Sunday.  they teach their children to do the same.

Many times it is because they find a Church that is as cold as ice and lacks transcendence so much that it seems little more than a poorly executed glee club.  It is hard to convince people to seek God with us when it is hardly discernible  whether we in the church building are actively seeking the transcendent God. This is much more than ritual, a Latin Mass can be just as dead as any other.

The devotional life is barely discernible. The Church building sits empty most of the time.  Prayer seems to be waning.

3. Christian witness is hard to provoke.   Our faith is evangelical by nature.  It is meant to be proclaimed and powerfully lived.  It is a not a private function of the person.  We have allowed the world to tell us to be quiet about faith lest we be considered intolerant.  We have allowed ourselves to be bullied by the intolerant tolerant.  Timidity has swallowed up our witness.  We see so many parishes fold, close, and such because of demographic shifts.  It wasn't as if other people didn't move in, but since they weren't Catholics, we stuck to our country club until membership dried up.  We are content with not doing the things to not only insure our own survival, but  avoid retaking lost ground and getting about the business of the kingdom.

Too many times we regulate our witness to being do-gooders.  Don't get me wrong, the corporal works of mercy are necessary as a strong witness.  However, they can not be done in isolation of the spiritual works of mercy.  There is nothing merciful about writing off others, even this society itself, as going to hell in a hand basket.  Mercy should open our hands and mouths.  Such silence is NOT a virtue.

4. We know we have created this monster.  This is the poison pill that keeps many a cleric quiet and trapped in learned helplessness.  We pastors know that we cannot blame the laity for this one.  No, what we are seeing is decade upon decade of watered down catechesis, watered down liturgy, catering to entertainment demands, and generally being milquetoast when we needed to stand.  We failed to feed the flock so it went to the wolves who promised to feed them, even if in feeding them they were fattening them up for the slaughter.

We made opaque the transcendent God by abandoning the heavenly for the earthly.  We replaced beauty with banality.  We so watered down morality that we left the people believing everyone goes to heaven.   While there never has been a golden age in the Church, we know that in the present age, points 1-3 are monsters of our own making.

5. We know turning this around is  a near impossible task. Here I can say that in the parish I am in, I see signs of life blossoming, but it was no small task.  Many of my brothers, though, look at the task as insurmountable.  Given the sizes of the parishes in most areas and the sheer costs of running the parishes, we can be terrified that any effort to right the ship will be met with even emptier pews and shrinking coffers to pay the bills.  Sometimes we can define success in terms of how little the loss was under our time.  Very few even considering expansion an option, save where there are population shifts.

The truth is that it is and will be  a battle with each square inch won back at tremendous effort.  The best we can hope for is a baby step at a time.   Notice, I said 'near impossible' and not merely 'impossible'.  Don't forget that grace utilized will conquer sin.  We are not alone in this battle: Christ leads us.

This leaves us in parish ministry (whether cleric or lay) with a choice to make: do we simply wait out our time or do we regain our footing and start addressing these issues?  It is not enough to state what is wrong and then shrug our shoulders and walk away.  We are responsible before God for the care we gave His flock.  Tough love is going to be required.  It is going to be required within our families and parishes.  Making faith really a priority is going to necessitate our helping them.  We won't help them by pandering to the lowest common denominator.  We will help them by teaching the Gospel in its fullness.  We cannot expect parents to stand their ground if we will not stand ours. We cannot expect them to witness if we will not.  We cannot ask them to make hard choices if we won't.

We are not without hope.  We might well have abandoned God, but He has not abandoned us.  It is not going to be easy.  Not for any of us.  My final lament as a pastor is that we need more to gain hope and faith.  I know that all I can do is propose these things, I cannot impose them.  I simply do not possess the ability to make people respond I as would have them do.  Free will is like that, it is left to the choice of the individual.  That I cannot change.  I can offer, teach, and try to do what is wanted of me by God.  I cannot make those who do not wish to see to see.  All I can do is try to shed a light of truth.  That is all.

Final thought: notice what doesn't grieve Not because we have it, but because I run a parish and not a business.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Is the Culture war lost?

There is a lot of angst out there about what is going on in society.  This is not without just cause. The battlefronts are multiple. Let's be honest, it is getting brutal out there.  Actually, it has gotten to the point of being ridiculous.  Why all the angst from some quarters about the culture wars being lost and is there merit to this?

Let's start at the core of the problem: the human person.  Within the human person is a constant battle between selflessness and selfishness.  We are born selfish.  An infant does not know or care that its screaming at 2AM has any negative effect on mom and dad.  It knows that it is hungry, scared, or has a full diaper as is incapable of fixing said problem.  They know if the cry, someone will hopefully come to the rescue.  As that child grows and its abilities grow with it, then the expectation grows of that child growing away from selfishness and growing towards selflessness.  In fact, classically, a child's growth towards selflessness and altruism have been marks of maturity.  A failure  to grow towards selflessness and altruism was seen as a sign of a psychological disorder that led to sociopathic  behavior.  A society of coddling, manufactured self esteem, enabling, and participation trophies has not served the last two generations well. 

It is well known that selfless behavior and altruistic behavior lead to personal contentment and union in whatever entities the person belonged.  However, where selfishness rules, there can be no other option than strife and division.  When a society becomes narcissistic, then discord will become the norm.  Selfishness is only capable of breeding personal discontent and creating an insatiable entitlement.

The more narcissistic a person becomes, the more objective truth becomes the enemy.  Objective truth are those things that are true of their own merit; they do not need my personal approval to be true.  Subjective truth are things true because I say so; they are matters of personal preference and opinion.  What we are seeing is the society falling into the tyranny of subjective truth.  Our society is not the first to fall into this trap, nor will it be the last.  Historically, the descent into such a tyranny does not end well.

The tyranny of subjective truth has indeed reached the point of craziness.  Statements do not even have to have any basis in reality.  We can now declare gender regardless of any physical, genetic, biological, or scientific criteria.  We can change our race by mere proclamation. There are multiple such fiats on every imaginable topic.   In this tyranny, other simply must accept whatever fiat is made and surrender their own dispositions to mine.  If you do not accept my fiat, you are a danger to me and must be eliminated.  The more tyrannical the narcissists becomes, the more voices contrary to their own must be silenced.  To be sure, we are seeing this played out on multiple fronts.

From this, suppression of free speech arises.  Your freedom must be curtailed if you do not cater to the demands of the narcissist. From this arrives the loathsome development of safe zones where no voice is heard other than my own (that is lasing the stick a dynamite for a narcissist). The debate of ideas devolves into a chorus of personal attacks where the word intolerance rains down like confetti.  If we stay on this road, there will be no other option than totalitarianism.   

With all this said, is all lost? No.  First, these things are not endemic to our society.  Others societies have gone through this.  Some were able to rise above it, some were destroyed by it.  Which happens to us is dependent on the ability of selfless to rise to the occasion and stand their ground.  Second, it is not as if objective truth has not been the victim of attempted assassination before. That is the beauty of objective truth, it always survives like a pheonix.  This isn't to say the war isn't going to be bloody.

For those who are followers of Christ: Jesus tells us multiple times to not be afraid.  Current persecutors who believe they will finally crush Christianity and Catholicism will end up on the same ash heap of history as every supposed victor.  Our lot is to stand our ground, to stick to the truth in boldness and charity.  No battle is won until one sides cedes the ground.  Honestly, we have ceded much ground.  That needs to stop.  This does mean we employ the same tactics as used against us?  No, quite the opposite.  We do not surrender the commandment to love in how we respond on the battlefield.  No victory will come if we respond in kind.  It never has.  The reason Christianity wins out is because we take a different road.

So chin up, fix your gaze, and know we might get bloodied, but we can not be defeated.   While we might well loose some battles, the war is never lost.