Monday, September 11, 2017

Our Street Gang Mentality

Kids in the hood know not to look just anyone in the eye on the streets.  It could get you killed.  That is the world we live in today.  Attack anyone who may confront you whether intentional or not.  People seek out anything they can find offensive in some way to justify attacking the source regardless of original intent.  The offense need not be personal.  It could have affected ancestors living in different times under different circumstances.  What seems odd is the fact that it may take years or centuries before some group decides they are being offended. 

Athletic teams with ethnic mascots have come under fire.  The University of Illinois was pressured to eliminate their long revered American Indiana mascot.  The Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins have also been criticized for their names and logos.   Team nicknames are chosen to instill pride rather than ridicule even if logo caricatures may seem exaggerated or stereotypical.  I am not saying some might find them offensive, but are people so insecure that they must make it an issue?  How long before an animal rights group decides the Detroit is insulting Lions and Tigers?

Now we find ourselves removing confederate memorials.  Okay, but the Civil War has been over for quite some time.  Why now?  Removing memorials does not change history or remove hatred.  If we refuse to remember anyone who once held an unpopular belief, few memorials will remain.  Perhaps they should have never been erected in the first place, but they are now a part of history.

As I write this, Hurricane Irma is devastating much of the southeast with damaging winds and flooding.  During such disasters, much is made of people of all races banding together in a show of brotherhood.  In times of crisis, we tend to forget all that divides us.  Could it be that all of our gang-like confrontations come about because we have life too easy?  We wonder sometimes why God allows such tragedies to occur.  Do we need natural disasters to keep us aware of our frail humanity and our dependence on one another regardless of our ethnic circumstances?  Is it possible that as life becomes more laid-back, that tensions among us arise?  What in our nature impels us to seek an enemy whether real or imagined?  We have all heard the old saying, an idle mind is the devils workshop.  How true it seems to be. 

On Sunday, September 17, we hear this reading from Sirach:

Sir 27:30—28:7

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD's vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor's injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath,
who will forgive his sins?
Remember your last days, set enmity aside;
remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor;
remember the Most High's covenant, and overlook faults.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Wanting what I need

My first encounter with a gentleman in RCIA class today was interesting.  I told him at the beginning that despite his lack of understanding the Catholic Church, that I would learn as much from him as he would learn from me.  I wanted to encourage him to challenge me, ask me questions, and not to be afraid of insulting me.  I told him that I would not know the answer to every question he asked, but I would find the answer, and thereby have a learning experience myself. 

He expressed the notion that belonging to a specific church was not a necessity for him.  He was there primarily because his wife, a fallen away Catholic, was coming back to the faith and wanted their marriage blessed.  It seemed as though he wanted to be married in a church, not necessarily THE Church. 

We talked some about the apostolic roots of the Catholic Church, but to him, all Christian churches were pretty much the same.  It was just a matter of which style of worship suited the individual person.   In an attempt to get our point across, I showed a DVD called, “Why do I need the Church?” from the Symbolon series, by Doctor Edward Sri.  The segment focuses on why the Church is of Divine origin, necessary to safeguard the message of Jesus Christ while provide a source of grace through the sacraments.

In the discussion that followed, the man said all he heard repeatedly was, “you need, you need, you need.”  He said the Church should be something you WANT, not just something you NEED.   I replied by saying, "I want a cheeseburger.  I don’t necessarily need a cheeseburger, but I do need nourishment.  I can want something not realizing that it may be something I also need."  If we are continually motivated by wants, we may not be aware of our needs.  I don’t know whether he really accepted my explanation, but I hope it made him think.

After the session was over, I continued to ponder our conversation.  If we continuously get what we want, we can lose sight of what we need.  If I get a cheeseburger whenever I want a cheeseburger, and a pizza whenever I want a pizza, I don’t ever think of what I actually need to sustain my life.  The only way to consciously be aware of the necessity of nourishment is when we are hungry.  Isn’t this precisely why we as Catholics are encouraged to fast and abstain at times from what we want?  This hunger makes us aware of our fragility and dependence, and to be honest, I had not thought much about fasting lately. 

I don’t know whether our discussion got through to the gentleman in our RCIA session, but it brought some clarity to my understanding why we need to occasionally deny our wants.  If we never find ourselves wanting, we will lose awareness of our needs.  When we unwittingly ignore our needs, whether they be physical or spiritual, death will eventually follow.  If we are aware of our needs, the wanting will follow.  

Saturday, July 15, 2017

I Surrender

If the Catholic Church is the true Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself, why is our faith such a hard sell when it comes to converting our separated brethren?  This fact has always frustrated me, but actually, I can understand. 

Last Sunday, I stumbled upon two videos.  The first was a Facebook posting by a Protestant friend showing a man being baptized in a local non-denominational church.   The baptismal pool was beautifully constructed, large enough to accommodate at least a half dozen people.  In the pool were the candidate, two witnesses, and the preacher who was shouting praises to Our Lord.  All were nicely dressed, shirts and ties.  After proclaiming the Trinitarian formula, the gentleman was submerged while supported by the two witnesses behind him.  Watching this man in tears coming to Christ was extremely moving, an emotional experience for all present.

Later that evening, I happened to see an old youtube video of singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson telling how he came to write one of his most famous songs called Why Me Lord.  He spoke of a profound religious experience he had at evangelist Jimmy Snow’s church where he uncharacteristically answered an altar call and turned his life over to Christ.  His testimony and the beautiful song born of the experience was very touching.

We often hear these emotional stories where individuals publicly come forward to answer Christ’s calling, something that may seem foreign to us Catholics in our liturgical worship.  It should be no surprise that those so moved by these impassioned encounters would be inclined to this type of relationship with the Lord.  Lacking understanding of our liturgy, the Mass might seem unemotional and incomprehensible to them.  Whereas Kris Kristofferson’s conversion came unexpectedly on the spur of the moment, Catholic conversion typically takes place after much introspect and study.  

Even though we Catholics share a much more intimate encounter with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, our emotional reaction may pale when compared to the tearful joy one feels in witnessing a spontaneous acceptance of Christ.   As human beings, we have a tendency toward seeking comfort even if it means compromising on truth.  To go beyond simply have that friend in Jesus, a person must have the curiosity and desire to delve deeper into that relationship, even if it means sacrificing that comfortable feeling of presumed salvation. 

Catholic apologist Tim Staples made that leap.  He answered an altar call as a young man and felt all of those intense emotional feelings in accepting Jesus as his savior.  Yet, through the prodding of his Catholic friend, he came to realize that accepting Jesus is more than a one-time act of the will.  Following Jesus fully means listening to the Church He established.  I can understand why many of our non-Catholic Christian friends seem to have a closer relationship with Jesus than we do.  Emotion and comfort are strong motivators.  At some point, we all need to reach beyond our comfort zones.  Accepting Jesus as our personal Savior is easy.  Completely surrendering to His will is the hard part. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

95 Theses + 500 Years = Countless Denominations

On October 31, 1517, a Catholic priest named Martin Luther allegedly nailed his 95 theses on the door of All Saints church in Wittenburg, Germany, thus beginning what is known as the Protestant Reformation.  With the 500th anniversary approaching, many of our Protestant brothers and sisters will be marking this event in a celebratory manner.  As Catholics, we need to prepare ourselves to understand Luther’s revolt and what happened in the aftermath.

This past weekend, our little town enjoyed our annual Mint Festival, culminating in a Sunday afternoon parade.  One of the parade floats was sponsored by the local Lutheran church.  Upon it was a mockup of the church doors in Wittenburg  commemorating Luther’s protest.  On each side of the float were four placards.  They read as follows:

95 Theses Equals 3 Facts
   Faith Alone – Not By Works
   Grace Alone – God’s Grace
   Scripture Alone – Only the Bible

The parade passed in front of our Catholic Church and I could not help but think that some sort of response was needed.  As Catholics, we have a responsibility to share our faith charitably and to educate our own.  Here was a Lutheran church boldly displaying as fact, at least two statements that are inherently problematic.  Our challenge is to present Catholic truth in a non-confrontational manner, out of love for our fellow Christians.  (1 Pet 3:15)

I am not going to address the second statement about Grace Alone because without added context, I do not see any disagreement.  All goodness comes through God’s Grace.  Let me begin with the third Protestant belief displayed on the float. 

Sola Scriptura, the belief that the Bible alone is the sole rule of faith, is what remained after Luther rejected the Oral Tradition and Teaching Authority of the Catholic Church.  Most Protestants believe the Bible is all they need to live a Christian life because all truth is contained within.  To some extent, that is true.  The problem comes when that belief leads to the rejection of any inerrant magisterial authority external to the Scriptures alone, especially since the establishment of that authority by Jesus Christ is prescribed in those very Scriptures.

Perhaps the most ironic problem with Sola Scriptura is that we would not have a Bible without the teaching authority of the Church.  Bishops of the Catholic Church had to decide which of the many disputed early Christian writings were indeed God-breathed, and therefore could be read at Mass.  Prior to the Council of Carthage in 397 AD, the Epistles of James, Jude, Barnabas, Clement, Second Peter, Second and Third John, Hebrews, and many others were disputed.  Some early Christians accepted them as Scripture, and some did not. 

Without a Divinely-instituted inerrant Authority to determine the canon of Scripture, we could not know with certainty that the Bible contains only the inerrant Word of God.  The Bible is simply a collection of early Christian writings that Bishops of the Catholic Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, determined to be inspired by God, and therefore, became the New Testament.  To accept the Bible as the sole rule of faith while rejecting the infallible teaching authority of the Church that determined its table of contents is untenable.  Now some Protestants may claim the Church had the authority in early Christian history but eventually went off the rails. This too is impossible if one believes what Scripture says.  Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide His Church, and said the gates of Hades would never prevail over it. (John 14:26, Mark 13:11, 1 Tim 3:15, Matt 16:18)

Once the Divinely established authoritative Church is denied, understanding of Scripture is left to personal interpretation.  Theological disagreements abound, and become fissures in Christianity.  The resulting divisions are thousands upon thousands of Protestant Christian denominations, many with differing beliefs and no ultimate authority to unify. 

Let us move on to the first proclamation on the Lutheran parade float.  Scriptural quotations referring to the necessity of faith apart from works are addressing a particular controversy for early converts to Christianity.  Did the Gentiles need to follow the works of the Mosaic Law, and specifically, must the males be circumcised?  When Paul declares that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law in Romans 3:28, he is saying that Old Testament Mosaic laws can not bring salvation, whereas under the New Covenant, salvation comes from faith working through love. (Gal 5:6)

The Bible contains many references to the importance of what we ourselves must do to be saved.  When the rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to be saved, Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. (Matt 19:16-17)  The importance of doing corporal works of mercy is explicitly evident.  Those who do not will go off to eternal punishment. (Matt 25:31-46)  The most explicit refutation of the faith alone argument is in James 2:24 where he says, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”  Here, James is referring to corporal works. (James 2:14-26) To be clear, Catholics do not believe we have to work our way to heaven.  Our faith is manifested in good works as we follow in the footsteps of Christ.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Baha'I One, Get One Free

Yes, I spend too much time on Facebook.  Maybe I should be ashamed, but I have good intentions.  To be in a position to evangelize, one must be in touch with others.  When I do Facebook likes or shares, most are pertinent to sharing my Catholic faith.  My Facebook friends would have little doubt as to which church I attend.  Obviously, promoting the Catholic position publicly will be to the consternation of many others in the secular world.    So, how should I respond when a friend posts something anti-Catholic likely intended for me?  Should I respond at all?

Many people on Facebook are compelled to respond angrily to anyone who expresses a view counter to their own.  Internet interactions can degenerate quickly into vicious exchanges, especially when the combatants do not know one another.  In Catholic apologetics, an angry retort is never appropriate. 

Responding to every little Catholic dig on the Internet would be impossible and counterproductive.  Some people are simply trying to elicit a responder to become a target for their abuse.  They have zero interest in engaging in an intelligent conversation.  No reasonable apologist wants to play that game. 

Knowing when a seemingly anti-Catholic post requires a direct response requires some discretion on the part of the apologist.  If the posting contains a false claim by someone who is seriously misinformed but reasonable, then a charitable correction is appropriate and necessary.  Some anti-Catholic claims are so ridiculous that only an idiot would believe them, and trying to have an intelligent discussion with an idiot is futile. 

Still others need to be answered, but knowing how to do so in a positive productive manner is not always clear.  One can either reply to the post directly, or address the topic in a separate post that avoids confrontation with the original poster.

Two consecutive postings recently appeared on my Facebook feed.  Both came from individuals I have known for over fifty years.  One is a former Catholic who now actively professes the Baha’I faith.  The other is a rather liberal friend whose religious persuasion, if any, is unknown to me.  I know both to be loving, gentle souls, intelligent, generous, and very likeable. 

The latter shared an Internet meme that portrayed supermarket clerks of various religions refusing to sell certain items due to the their beliefs.  The Catholic clerk refused to sell condoms.  The Muslim clerk would not sell ham.  The JW would not sell a birthday card.   You get the idea.  Finally, an American clerk who believes in equality offers to sell anything because “he’s not a small-minded bigoted a**hole who hides his bigotry behind religion.”  So, now I know what my friend thinks of me as a Catholic.  The premise is absurd, and I tend to ignore these things on the Internet. 

A Catholic should never put himself in a position where cooperation in evil is necessary, but we must also distinguish between material and formal cooperation.  Even within those classifications, there are varying degrees of culpability.  One must never violate one’s own conscience.  Being a good Catholic means forming the conscience properly and acting accordingly.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a good place to start.  Certain jobs can be unacceptable for a Catholic to perform and must be avoided.  Working as a cashier in a supermarket is not likely one of them.  When one does find himself in a position where refusing service is necessary, it is done out of love and concern for the other person’s soul, quite the opposite of bigotry.

Understanding my other friend who left the Catholic Church to become a Baha’I is difficult.  We are not close in belief or proximity.  He lives several thousand miles from me.  Baha’is believe that Jesus was just a good moral teacher, not God made man.  Of course, that belief is untenable.  As C.S. Lewis noted, Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.  There are no other possibilities. 

My friend lists his mission statement in life to know God, to be fully alive, to take joy in his work, and to encourage others to do the same.   These are noble undertakings and I highly respect him for that, but knowing God is foremost in making the other goals attainable.  A Catholic understands the best way to know God is through His revelation, especially by His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ who established a Church, the Catholic Church, to shepherd us under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  If a person does not know who Jesus truly is, how can he truly know God?  Instead, my former Catholic friend relies on the writings of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’I faith, and other new age philosophers. 

I have chosen not to directly respond in most of these situations.  Rather, I will often express my catholicity in a joyous respectful manner when posting on social media, making clear the importance of the Catholic Faith in my life.  Our second reading on this Sixth Sunday of Easter begins with the verse every good apologist knows, 1 Peter 3:15.  “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.  Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.”  Should the opportunity arise to have a dialog with these individuals, I will be ready.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Lord, Make Me Uncomfortable

I often lament the fact that attendance at our parish is sparse.  If the Catholic Church is the true Church established by Jesus Christ, and the only place in town where He is truly available, why aren’t we packed to the rafters, not only on Sunday, but every day of the week?  Surely we must blame ourselves for not sharing our faith properly with our separated brothers and sisters.  But even those who know the truth tend to stay where they are comfortable.  

Many religious people have the idea that the Catholic Church is just one choice of many.  Therefore, it really does not matter to which Christian denomination one belongs.  This is especially true of Evangelical Protestants who can choose their religious community to suit their taste, often a preferred preacher or music they like.  They seek comfort over truth.  Being comfortable or satisfied where we are in our spiritual life is not a good thing.  We need to be curious and inquisitive, always striving to dig deeper in our relationship with Our Lord.

A recent article by Ken Litchfield caught my eye on the website.  He makes a point that I have tried to respectfully make to my Protestant friends who believe in a Bible-only tradition that denies the authority of the Catholic Church.  I point to the fact that without an infallible Catholic Church, the Protestant could not trust the canon of Scripture.  The Church determined what writings were inspired by God and could be included in the table of contents.  Ken Litchfield makes the scriptural connection to the Catholic Church even more blunt when he says, “The Bible is the collection of books that the Catholic Church decided could be read at Mass.”  Think about that, my Protestant friends.  Your faith is based on a book the Catholic Church compiled for reading at Mass.  You don’t have a Mass and deny its relevance using the same book. 

If you are content where you are in your faith experience, you have a problem.  A comfortable status quo does not foster spiritual growth.  We must all continue to seek a deeper understanding of God’s plan for us.  Nowhere is His plan more accessible than the Holy Catholic Church.  As John Henry Newman stated, “To be deep into history is to cease to be a Protestant. “