Dialoguing Generations: Priests in Discussion

priestsFB: Hey Fr. Chris! Are you busy?

FC: No Fr. Brook, what’s up?

FB: I wanted to pick your brain about a conversation I just had with one of my parishioners. Do you know Sara Smith?

FC: Sure, I was recently talking to her.

FB: She mentioned that. She came up to me and withdrew from the RCIA team and said that you had encouraged her to do so.

FC: *sigh* I didn’t exactly say that.

FB: What happened? She basically told me that after talking to you she felt unqualified to teach at RCIA. It should be noted that she gave me permission to talk to you about this.

FC: Yeah, she called me and mentioned you’d be stopping by – I wasn’t sure about what though… She was planning on teaching that hell does not exist or that one day nobody will be in it to the RCIA candidates. I explained to her the teaching with regard to hell being inescapable, loosely connecting it to the parable of Lazarus and the Richman. She agreed with it as a conclusion. But I added that it was important to not teach arm-chair theology and that people who are teaching the faith should be educated on these matters.

FB: Please be careful to avoid administrating another parish that you are not in charge of. Sara is a valuable volunteer who has much to offer the candidates in the RCIA program.

FC: It was never my intention to provide dual-formation or to in anyway usurp your own leadership in the parish.

FB: Thanks for saying that Father. Would you mind convincing her to return to the RCIA process to be one of the catechists?

FC: I’d be uncomfortable with that Fr. Brook.

FB: Why?

FC: Well, I do take an issue with her teaching the class. For one, she herself no longer wants to, not because of what I said, but because what I said resonated with her. Second of all, for the reason I mentioned to her, which is that only experts on the faith ought to be teaching it: those who have a formal education in these matters.

FB: You young priests.

FC: What do you mean?

FB: You are all so obsessed with orthodoxy that you lose the real-focus of the faith: the heart.

FC: ouch

FB: Look, Fr. Chris, the damage you are doing to your parish and now my parish is discouraging the people from evangelizing others, and that has been the task given to us by your beloved Popes in the recent past.

FC: Fr. Brook, I feel some level of hostility. I understand that the paradigm I am operating from is different than yours. Would you mind giving me the chance to explain it?

FB: Fine. But all I see in it is the undermining of what a lot of good priests have spent a great amount of time building up as our culture in this diocese and throughout the rest of the western world.

FC: I think your desire and appreciation for the new evangelization is a wonderful thing, and I think it is something we are both passionate about. That is something to celebrate. However, I suppose what we are lacking is a fraternity of mind, rather than a fraternity of heart?

FB: I’m not sure. You younger priests seem to be so legalistic and obsessed with externals.

FC: I’m sure it might appear that way. But if I’m given the chance to explain the “why” behind what we are doing, perhaps we can develop some mutual understanding. Is that fair?

FB: Fine: why do you want to wear your cassocks, and black or purple vestments at funerals? You want to alienate everyone from the good news of the Resurrection?

FC: I hope that you don’t think that I consider the Resurrection bad news?

FB: Whether or not you do, that is what you communicate. You cling to all these traditions out of sentimentality, not deep faith.

FC: As I said, Fr. Brook, if you would give me the chance to explain my motives, I would appreciate that.

FB: You are locked up in an outdated Church. It is time to get with the times and unite yourselves to Vatican II and all its good changes.

FC: Fr. Brook, I think the conversation we are having right now will have to continue later.

FB: I thought you said you weren’t busy.

FC: I’m not. But right now, it seems that I’m only here to have my motives imputed by you. I’m not sure what good that will do both of us?

FB: I’m sorry Fr. Chris. I’m just frustrated.

FC: Me too.

FB: With what?

FC: I find that my generation and yours are always in a state of conflict. I don’t think that is an absolute statement about each priest in the two generations. But it is an over-all feeling. I wish we could be of one heart and one mind. When we are not, I feel as if we are divided against ourselves, and working against each other.

FB: That is exactly how I feel too.

FC: That is good to hear.

FB: Good to hear? You like me being frustrated?

FC: Not at all. Rather, I like knowing that I’m not in this struggle alone. Furthermore, the fact that you are frustrated tells me you actually care about me, the priesthood and the people we are to serve. If we were apathetic to our differences, you’d be a lone-ranger, neglecting your mission, as would I.

FB: Of course I care. What also frustrates me, Fr. Chris is it seems as if you young priests think you can’t learn from our own experience. I feel as if you are simply trying to wait until we all die so that you can take over.

FC: The thing I worry about is when you are gone, and we are left in the wreck of a vocation crisis. We need help Fr. Brook. I’m also worried about regaining people’s trust from the sexual-abuse Crisis that has been going on for generations prior to our generation became priests, and left unchecked. But I also realize that not everything that has come from your generation is a complete failure. I can’t even imagine how confusing going through the changes of Vatican II would have been on every possible level. Perhaps had I been in your shoes, I would have done the same thing. I’m not saying that “thing” would have been right, but perhaps I would have done it, being the weak-sinner that I am as well. I also think that every generation has its own unique set of being tested. And while ours at times judges yours quite harshly and with deeply rooted resentments, I’m sure that if we are not careful, we might make different mistakes of the same gravity?

FB: The sexual abuse has really been difficult for a lot of us priests. Some of these people were our friends, who betrayed not only the people of God, but our trust as well. It is one of the reasons I no longer wear my collar in public. I am ashamed of the priesthood at times, and I can’t bear to think of lifting it up to some sort of dignity amongst the people in the world considering the fall we just experienced.

FC: Thank you for sharing that Fr. Brook. That gives me a great deal of insight on an issue that has confounded me for some time. I wear my collar all the time, but my reasons are a bit different. Do you mind if I explain?

FB: Sure

FC: One of the Canon-Laws that we have is to wear what would identify us as a priest for the sake of making ourselves available as servants. I don’t really look at the dignity of the priesthood – which is Christ Himself – as something for public-adulation, but rather public-service. The white collar represents that, and in many ways has been a spiritual yoke for me, always reinforcing an interior motivation to be holy and an example to others, but also readily available to be present to the people.

FB: You mentioned Canon-Law. You realize that is merely ecclesiastical law, and not dogmatic, right?

FC: I realize that Canon-Law, has ecclesiastical laws that can be relaxed. But as I mentioned previously, there is a “spirit” to why the law is followed, and why it is there. I think there is also a spirit attached to being obedient to the universal law that has a mysterious benefit for the Church that sometimes goes beyond even our own comprehension of what makes a ministry fruitful. I think one of the fruits in our own spiritual life is that we give up our will and intellect to God through a concrete authority. That is a non-abstract authority, but a real one. And what liberation do we experience through such obedience!

FB: Your stress on obedience disturbs me. Obedience is often done by people who don’t want to know why the rule is there, but simply want to avoid difficult grey issues by making everything black and white. It makes religious people stupid and complicit.

FC: I think there will always be exceptions. Sometimes we shouldn’t obey an authority, especially when they are contradicting God’s divine law as maintained by the Church. However, I feel as if, Fr. Brook, that sometimes the exception-becomes the rule, meaning that people learn to purposefully excuse themselves from legitimate rules in order to live comfortably.  That is what I have experienced growing up.

FB: I’ve heard that rhetoric before. But God gave us a brain and he expects us to use it.

FC: Unfortunately, Fr. Brook, I’m not at that level of holiness where I have completely overcome the effects of concupiscence. Sin is still deeply rooted in my spirit – as scripture would call it: sins of the flesh. It affects my reasoning, and I have found that in the saints, they often prescribe humility as the solution. That humility to me has always meant that we do not cling to our own judgment, but rather defer to a more competent authority. But in that process we do need to discern the spirits.

FB: So I’m not humble?

FC: I didn’t say that. But I don’t think any of us really are. I was, nonetheless, merely speaking in principle, and in my own experience. Don’t you find, Fr. Brook that your passion can override your thinking-process sometimes?

FB: Well of course. I don’t mean to imply I’m not a sinner.

FC: Phew. I thought I might be alone in that category. Its  good to know I have some company.

FB: What I don’t understand Fr. Chris is all the focus on traditions that don’t seem to be part of our culture as a diocese. You know very well that habits for nuns and brothers, the usage of Latin with regard to the Ordinary parts of the mass, and the style of vestments you use are not common practices within your own community. Where is a spiritual obedience to the culture in that?

FC: I don’t think culture is ever meant to be stagnated or unchanging. I think culture is fluid, and I think it is important that we assess two things with regard to culture: what is unchanging and what is changing. As a priest, I had hoped that perhaps I could contribute to the culture, and not merely be put into the melting-pot. But I also want to maintain the immaterial, universal truths of the Church in the meantime. Those never change.  Furthermore, it seems evident to me that in the dioceses where they have resurrected these external practices, the vocations are increasing.  I remember once hearing a priest being invited to speak to a group of nuns on how to promote vocations.  This priest was the rector of a seminary in the United States who had a successful program, and it was filled to the brim with seminarians.  His first piece of advice to the nuns was to bring back the “habit.”  The superior of that religious order declared:  “We’d rather let the community die than bring back the habit.”  To which the priest responded:   “That is a viable option.”

FB: You cannot expect to just walk into a community and change everything without some fall-out.

FC: Change needs to be slow, sometimes. But when there is a crisis, I think it needs to be swift. I think it’s a complicated thing too, and sometimes situations are dealt with on a case-by-case scenario. Wouldn’t you agree?  And would you agree with a statistic that suggests 86 % of Catholics don’t practice their faith indicates that the culture in the diocese needs to be changed rather than kept the same?

FB: I agree. But I wonder why you think a vestment or some smoke will change the Church for the better. It is the heart that needs to change, not the externals.

FC: Could you imagine, Fr. Brook if Mary had said this to the Angel Gabriel. That we do not need a saviour in the flesh, that is visible, tangible, that is sensible, that is the image of the invisible God. Rather we merely need good-sentiments?

FB: But even Christ hated external-practices.

FC: Christ is an external. He couldn’t have hated himself. What he was doing, and correct me if I’m wrong, was teaching us how to allow there to be some consistency between our life in the Spirit and in the Body. As if, there could one day be a unity between the two of them, through grace.  In fact, He was put onto a hill for everyone to see.  He truly allowed His light to shine before others.

FB: You are saying that Christ cares about externals?

FC: Have you ever been hugged before Fr. Brook?

FB: Are you insulting me?!

FC: No! I’m not saying you need a hug…haha. I’m asking you if you appreciate hugs?

FB: One of the things I’ve learned in ministry is that touch is incredibly powerful. When going to the hospital, I like to hold the hand of an infirm person who is dying. I want to show them that they are not alone.

FC: Exactly. That is beautiful. And it is an example of exactly what I am talking about. External or sensible realities transmit love and grace. A person can have an encounter with Christ’s healing touch through their senses being activated through sensible worship. The ritual of the mass touches all five senses, and can transmit to that person what is actually taking place in heaven: Divine Love. It could go beyond even human love.

FB: But why are you and all the overly conservative seminarians spending so much time in adoration, when they could be serving Christ in the poor?

FC: How could we ever serve the poor if prayer were not a part of our life. Prayer is supposed to purify our hearts, so that our service to our neighbour can be truly authentic. But you raise an important point, something that I think we need to remember.

FB: What is that?

FC: We need to have a consistent spirituality between what takes place in the Church-building and what takes place outside of the Church-building.  Since we are the Church, regardless of where we are, we should make sure there is a consistency between both. The centre of our lives is the Eucharist, but part of the celebration of the Eucharist is bringing to Christ the sacrifice of our lives. That is: all the deeds, works of charity and mercy we have done throughout our day or week. If we neglect our brother or sister in a grave way, we, as St. Paul seems to imply: “Drink condemnation upon ourselves.”

FB: That is really good to hear you say. Although I do think that you also emphasize receiving communion in mortal sin is a bit out-dated and sometimes hyperbolic. People are not black and white, they are ambiguous.

FC: I definitely agree that people are ambiguous, but it is that ambiguity that is precisely the reason why such a person shouldn’t receive holy communion, especially when that ambiguity reaches a gravity that is significant. When a person is in mortal sin, it does not diminish the fact that other actions might be done in good will. For instance, a murderer might still care for his children. Nonetheless he is still guilty of murder. It is that ambiguity that is intolerable to God. A spiritual schizophrenia, where God is blessed and cursed by the same heart. Consider how Judas kissed Christ – a sign of love, an external sign of love, meanwhile in his heart there is betrayal.

FB: I do not believe that the majority of people commit mortal sins. I often tell them this in confession. Most people would agree that they don’t explicitly hate God in-the-act. Their mind is not on hurting God explicitly, but on something else.

FC: Mortal sin is as much of a possibility as is love.  It is a radical possibility.  One does not need to explicitly or consciously be hating God in an action in order for it to be mortal. In fact, it is part of our freedom to silence our conscience so that we don’t think about the logical consequences of an action we take. For instance, a murderer might not think of all the people he is harming when he kills another man, including the man he kills. But he allows only a convenient flow of information to inform his conscience so as to appease his own passions. This very act of willful ignorance or rationalization is a hatred for all those people, it is a type of choice-neglect, a willful disregard for the good of another.

FB: You seem to have a logical answer for everything.

FC: Thank you.

FB: It wasn’t meant has a compliment. I don’t mean to be rude Fr. Chris, but logic will only get you so far.

FC: And passion will only get us so far as well. I think neither the intellect nor the heart are entirely redeemed. But I have found reason helps me to encounter God in a way that also guides my passion through proper discipline. I think passion is like the flow of water, and reason and truth is like the banks of a river. Truth is definitive and limited, and the passion of the water is what gives it life and meaning. When you put the two together, you get something that moves in a particular direction. But if it’s just passion, I think what happens is you get nothing but a body of water that moves nowhere, a body of sentiments that changes nothing, and resists change at all costs: its comfortable and doesn’t involve risk. And when all you have is a trench, or the limits of a river but no water, you have what Christ called a white-washed tomb. Nothing but death.

FB: I can’t say I disagree with your point. I sometimes get the impression that with all the traditions you guys are bringing back, that all you are doing is digging a trench.

FC: God forbid it. Can I tell you about an experience I had in my first parish?

FB: Sure.

FC: Our youth went to Steubenville Ohio for a conference. Many of them had an experience of Christ, most especially during adoration. And for many of them, that experience changed their whole life. They encountered God as a healer and lover of their soul. When some of those youth came back, during periods of adoration, some of them experienced ecstasy and visions of God. It took about an hour to snap some of them out of it. When you talk about adoration as being archaic or unimportant, and I see how it has changed this person who has now developed into a full blown Catholic, evangelizing and actually doing some mission work. In this sense, I am judging this practice by its fruits.

FB: I see your point. I’m not against adoration. I’m just against having only-adoration.

FC: As I said before, I agree with that point.

FB: We’ve gone off topic. Let’s get back to the original reason I’m here. Sara.

FC: Okay. As I said to Sara, I have no problem with her helping with the RCIA, or even offering a testimony pertaining to her faith. But when it comes to catechesis, I don’t think it makes sense to have a uncatechised person catechize.

FB: That is a judgment that belongs to me, Fr. Chris.

FC: Are you aware of what she was planning on teaching to the RCIA class?

FB: I believe I had assigned to her the task of judgment, heaven and hell, and purgatory. She is always praying for the souls in purgatory, so she seemed like the perfect candidate.

FC: Are you aware that she was going to teach the same heresy Origen taught that was condemned by the Church? The notion that one day hell will release the souls of the damned?

FB: Hmm. I wasn’t. But in the broad scheme of things, does it really matter?

FC: You asked, so I’ll answer. Yes, it does matter. We should be aware of the inescapable consequences of sin that could devastate a soul for eternity or reward a soul for eternity. If you were selling someone a car and said: “This will not get you to your destination, but will leave you stranded in the desert where you will die” do you think the salesman is right in telling you this?  Of course.

FB: As a Church, we no longer emphasize this anymore. It causes a person to only promote a relationship with Christ that is purely fear based.

FC: I often hear that criticism, but I couldn’t disagree with it more. Fearing the loss of God is a sign of a love of God. We fear losing what we love, do we not?

FB: Should we fear that God would abandon us? That doesn’t seem healthy.

FC: That is an evil type of fear, the type of despair that makes us doubt God’s Love. Christ felt it in his bones but did not give into the passions of such abandonment.

FB: So what kind of fear is holy then? Fear of God really means a reverence for Him.

FC: Yes, and if we revere the goodness of God, if we have a deep love for who God is, we would want to avoid anything that might cause us to not be with Him for eternity. God never abandons us, but we abandon Him, and it is in that freedom that He permits that fear can reasonably exist. God does not kidnap anyone of us into heaven.

FB: That is a different way of putting it. But don’t you think we should be spending more time talking about how to fall in love with God rather than fearing walking away from Him?

FC: I think both need to be discussed: don’t you? Christ after all spoke more about hell than anyone else in the bible. I suppose that was because He loved us, and wanted to protect us from danger. Isn’t there love in that very action! We have a God who saves us.

FB: I understand that God saves us. But this preoccupation with sin is unhealthy.

FC: How can we ever fall in love with God if we don’t grasp the depravity of our sin? We would cheapen the gift of his mercy.

FB: What do you mean?

FC: God forgives our sins. But we would never appreciate that gift if we didn’t spend time realizing we don’t deserve forgiveness. Instead, we would fall into the trap of presumption.

FB: I’m dealing with a lot of people who are in despair. They grew up in a Church that made them think swallowing toothpaste before mass was a mortal sin.

FC: This is another example of making sure we focus on both sin and mercy. But there is Love in focusing on both. I’d add that it sounds like sin wasn’t really the focus, but rules without the spirit being united to it?

FB: I’m beginning to get the impression that you actually do care about the people and the spirit. But when I see the externals come back, my automatic reaction is to go back to that place where things were done for their own sake. Rules for rules, that is what I’m reacting to and trying to avoid.

FC: May I be completely direct with you Fr. Brook?

FB: I have been, so it would be unfair for me to not extend you the same favour.

FC: Thanks. I don’t mean this to sound rude: but what you just said to me outlines a complete ignorance of what my own generation of Catholics has experienced in our world. In your own words you are “reacting” to an external, but it might also be said you are reacting to a generation of Catholics that isn’t mine. Is it perhaps possible that you are projecting your negative experience of traditions without the ideology behind them upon my own generation?

FB: It was not my intention to misjudge your generation. But when I see the rise of externals, I always associate them with a legalistic attitude.

FC: And that is where I want to introduce you to another possible category: that there is a world where the spirit behind the external and the external itself can be united, and through that unity can transmit to others a grace. But when we have a visceral reaction to the external as a result of generational baggage, that grace is blocked and shut out.

FB: You are saying I have baggage?

FC: I think everyone does. I do. I know sometimes I struggle with resentments of the past generation of priests, and the trail of wreckage they have left behind them in the Church. But I’ve come to the conclusion that resentment is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and I’m doing everything I can to make sure I’m not reacting myself. I think that some in our generation have slipped into that trap. Especially those in the SSPX or those who condemn the Novus Ordo, the Ordinary Form of the mass. But I also don’t think that everyone involved in the Traditional Latin Mass have that same demeanor, and that community needs to be served just as much as everyone else. Sometimes they are treated like lepers by the Catholic Clergy. And when people are isolated and mal-treated it naturally creates a temptation to become resentful. It is funny how by resisting what is legitimately permitted in the Church ends up polarizing the situation even further. Extreme begets extreme.

FB: You mentioned a lot of things there. You also mentioned earlier that your experience of the Church wasn’t the same as I had mentioned. Could you tell me a little more about your experience of the Church?

FC: I’m blown away by you asking me that question. You are the first priest who has ever wanted to know where I was coming from! Usually we are just told the way it is by the Power-base.

FB: Power-base?

FC: Sorry that is a term I had learned from one of the priests who spoke to us at the CCCB organized event for newly ordained priests in the Ontario region. It means the Vatican II generation who for the most part are in “power” right now.

FB: It sounds a bit derogatory and inflammatory.

FC: Typically having power involves a knee-jerk reaction from people. I suspect that the title was given to remind people of the dynamic of power that exists. The newly ordained are not in charge, and you are. That will naturally create a power-dynamic amongst the clergy. Some may be intimidated, especially if there is an abuse of authority, or a paradigm difference.

FB: Sometimes I am in my mind still thinking of what we went through with the past generation of priests that I forget what type of power and authority we have.

FC: That seems normal. But I think that there are things that have changed in the culture. You asked me what my experience was like, I’d like to share with you a couple of things.

FB: sure.

FC: Growing up I rarely ever encountered friends in the Church who agreed with the Church’s teaching. Rather, we had everyone making up their own mind about what the truth was, without the guidance of the Church. People naturally looked at the authority of the Church as having no divine authority, especially considering all the sexual abuse scandals that seemed to dethrone us from having any moral authority. So as a result people have no sort of fraternal unity, because none of them are united by any truth, but everyone’s individual truth. That sounds abstract, but let me explain the impact it has on us, which is very real: we are lonely. And when we go to the Church, we look for refuge from the cultures radical-individualism. If the Church is truly united in the creed and all that is a consequence of it, we finally belong to something that fosters genuine unity, not just in the heart, but in the mind as well. Without a common-mission, we are always working against each other.

When we see priests in their collar what we see is a hero: a man who rises above the culture and is willing to be a sign for us of that unity and fraternity we deeply long for. When we see nuns in their habits, it is the same thing: instead of a bunch of individuals, we see a community that wants to express its solidarity like a light shining in the darkness.

That fraternity needs to be visible and tangible since the individuality in our culture is also visible and tangible. It means nothing if the spirit itself is not in it, of course, but again, its about both of them going together. Habits, cassocks, collars, vestments, and tradition all speak of something even more deep and profound: a fraternity with the past: with the history of the Church. Not only do we belong to a current trend in our contemporary culture, but we belong to something historical, something that is culturally grounded in the history of civilization as we know it today. And lastly, that not only do we belong to a cultural reality, to something deeply grounded in the identity of the past, but something created by our infallible and all-loving God: something Divine in its nature.

FB: Wow. So it isn’t just about some sort of sentimentality. Do you judge priests who don’t wear their collars?

FC: I try not to, but I struggle with it for a few reasons, as I mentioned before. One of the reactions I have inside of me is that when I see a priest not wearing their collar in public I immediately feel the disunity in the priesthood, and the lack of fraternity which runs even deeper.

FB: What runs even more deeply?

FC: Liturgical norms in each particular parish vary. The laity are greatly frustrated with that. I often hear men saying: “Every priest says, ‘this is the way to celebrate mass’ and yet every priest celebrates differently.” We both know that there are a variety of acceptable situations that are legitimate, and then there are acceptable situations that are not legitimate, and then there are unacceptable differences that are always illegitimate.

As the phrase goes: when you give an inch people will take a mile. People want to belong to something transcendent that is a basic design of any human being. But when each church does everything different, or each diocese, it merely buys into the culture of radical individualism. When we see that, we want to run far away, as it will merely offer us everything the world offers us already.  It is that tough balance that we need to somehow strike. And I think examining the radical-individualism of our culture today, whether people want it or not, we need more of a stress on what is universal.

People don’t go to Church today, in our diocese, and I think part of the reason is they don’t find anything much different from the culture there. I think people are looking for something unworldly, something transcendent of both history, and of the world.

FB: St. Paul teaches that the Church is dynamic, and that everyone is different for a reason, and through that difference we develop unity.

FC: Absolutely. That is why I think uniformity is not always a good thing. But growing up in the Church there wasn’t much of it. We are attempting to bring it back moderately.   I think using the professional standard applies here.

FB: Professional standard?

FC: In order to discern if we have our priorities straight sometimes it’s helpful to compare the expectations of what exists in the world and to the Church. For instance: the statement goes; “Come as you are.” And we assign this to God. I think it’s a fair statement…but the question I would ask is: “What do we have the potential to do when we come?” It seems unreasonable to give a future employer more respect than God in how we dress.

FB: I try not to judge people based upon the clothing they wear.

FC: Does that extend to priests who wear cassocks?

FB: Touché

FC: I think we can both agree that wearing clothing is important. It certainly is mentioned in scripture. My question here is what the motive behind the clothing we wear is, is it appropriate given the various circumstances we find ourselves in. If someone wears something simple and is not dressed up well, is it because they want to be in solidarity with the poor or is it resulting from a lack of reverence for Christ? If a person dresses in their best, is it to show off their bling or to give honour to Christ. We can both agree that the motives might be bad in both situations, and we can both agree that perhaps there are two different legitimate ways to dress for mass. But we must both agree that the motive is important, and that some clothes are never appropriate: like a bikini or a thong, or boxers or showing too much skin, or a shirt with graphic images that are inappropriate (everywhere).

FB: ha…the standards do seem to keep getting lower. I can agree with you on that. It is nice also to note that you promote a certain clothing to be in solidarity with the poor. Franciscan Habits have always reminded me of the importance of being in solidarity with the poor and not being obsessed with externals.

FC: It is interesting to note that St. Francis actually noted the incredibly evangelical dimension to externals that he would dress in something that was a sign of great poverty to convey a spirituality. But St. Francis also spoke very highly of the importance of gold chalices and beautiful vestments.

FB: Really? I thought he was all about poverty in the liturgy too?

FC: No. St. Francis of Assisi insisted that poverty be a way of life, but reserved the sacredness and riches of the Church to the Eucharist and its celebration. It is interesting to note that St. Jean Vianney was the same way. I recently went to a Social Justice meeting, and a woman was complaining about all the statues and art within the Church. She went on about how all the younger priests and some older priests don’t care about the poor at all. She then spoke about selling all the art and giving it to the poor, and bringing back clay vessels for mass. She missed the whole point. I stood up and said, “Everything in the Church belongs to the poor. What doesn’t is what exists in the rectory. We should be selling all the lavish things that we priests have in the rectory before we start taking away from the poor and the Lord in the liturgy.” If we as priests really want to be in solidarity with the poor we won’t use the liturgy to convey this, but we will live it out in our way of life.

FB: But we aren’t monks.

FC: Nor was St. Jean Vianney

FB: But he is an extreme example and part of the past.

FC: A saint, worthy of honour who sets us an example. Just because he is in the past doesn’t make him irrelevant, just as Christ’s past doesn’t make Him even more irrelevant.

FB: What I mean is that we have a tendency to go to extremes with the spiritual life.

FC: That is true. However, I think sometimes people say that as a way of escaping a legitimate spirituality. When I clean my bedroom (which is often messy) I think it looks clean. Someone else comes in and says, “Wow you are messy.” I think to myself: “I just cleaned it…” My point is this: when we live in a spiritual mess, we begin to look at mediocrity as excellence, and excellence as extreme. I think the saints often had to deal with the same criticisms we might give the saints of the past today.

FB: Why do you think we aim for spiritual mediocrity today?

FC: First, 86 % of Catholics in the diocese of London do not practice their faith. So the majority of the Catholics baptized and confirmed don’t live up to the bare minimum. Then when mass is celebrated I rarely see the ideals being lived out. The Church teaches that “Gregorian chant” is preferred. But most of the lay-faithful never hear it. According to Vatican II and since Vatican II the faithful were expected to know how to participate in the mass with Latin in the Ordinary parts of the mass. If you sing the Agnus Dei today, it’s a huge change. We don’t use incense, and if we do, we rarely use it at the most important part of the mass:  the consecration.  Altar servers often don’t get trained very well, in some places they don’t even wear Albs. And this is the standard we live by in the Church building. If the standards are set low, it sends the message that what is taking place is not of great importance.  Therefore it makes sense that about 70 % of Catholics do not believe in the true-presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Even our social-justice events rarely speak the name of Jesus and give him the glory in such activity.  We have pushed God aside as a politically incorrect name to avoid mentioning.  We are purposefully making Christ anonymous, and someone who loves Him wouldn’t do that…ever.incense-and-icon

FB: You’ve given me a lot of things to think about Fr. Chris. I don’t know what to make out of this last comment. It somewhat bothers me. But I’m going to think about it.

As for Sara, I think it’s clear that her teaching something erroneous was not a good idea. It seems to me that we have a lot more to talk about. I’d like to share with you more of my experiences of the past as well, so you might understand where we are coming from too.

FC: I think that would be a good idea. Of course, we should also get some of the Pre-Vatican II priests in here if we can as well to let them speak too. I realize that these categories can be demeaning, since not everyone fits neatly into each box we might label them with.

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Dialogue on Hell: Why the Damned Remain Damned Forever

S: Hey Fr. Chris!  Tonight I am teaching the RCIA class in my parish and I was hoping you could pray for me!

F:  Sure thing Sara.  What topic are you covering?

S:  Heaven and the modern view of Hell

F:  The modern view of Hell…what do you mean?  Has hell changed recently?

S:  Very funny Father.  Well, you know how St. John Paul II talked about how hell isn’t a place, but a state of relationship…

F:  Ah, yes.  Good.  I wasn’t sure if you were going to say that hell doesn’t exist anymore.

S:  Well, one day it will not, if what St. John Paul II said is true.  I loved his view of hell and heaven.  It veers away from this outdated fear-based way of evangelizing.  You know:  Love God because the consequences of not loving Him is that he will torture you for eternity.  Whoever believes in that cannot believe God is love at the same time, you know?!

F:  Where do I start, Sara?Adam-and-Eve

S:  Oh Father, I know you believe hell is forever, but really…who believes that anymore?

F: Well for starters: those who are in hell.

S:  Says who?  How do you know what they know?

F:  Have you read the parable in scripture on Lazarus and the Rich-man?

S: Oh I remember that one.  But again, its Old Testament stuff

F:  Sara…it’s a parable that Jesus gave…in the New Testament.

S:  I know, but Jesus was appealing to their fire-and-brimstone mindset.  It doesn’t apply anymore.

F:  Two things Sara:  1) Scripture always applies, its God’s word and a gift to us, and 2:  Jesus’ parable is meant to teach us something today.  Have we advanced, in your opinion, beyond the Master and Author of life?

S:  You are so funny Fr. Chris.  Of course we haven’t advanced beyond Christ.  But we are “developing” a much broader theology.

F:  Development of doctrine does not mean we contradict what was previously held, Sara, it means the truths of it are applied in a more complex manner, just as a tree becomes more complex as it grows larger.  It remains, nonetheless rooted in the ground from which it sprang.

S:  You are saying, then that if Hell is a place where we are forever, that it will never change?  Yet, we once believed it to be a place, and now it is no more.  Isn’t that a contradiction?

F:  I’m not sure which dogmatic claim suggests that Hell is a geographical place per se, but in either case, we might understand the imagery of hell to be analogical or allegorical, just as Christ’s own words are known to us as a parable.

S:  Exactly.  So none of it is literally true.

F:  What would be the point of a parable if there was no truth to it at all?  Does Lazarus exist, literally?  Probably not.  But does it matter?  Did you notice how Jesus doesn’t give the Rich-man a name?  Perhaps he did this because the Rich-man could be any of us?  Or perhaps because his name is not written in heaven?

S:  I understand what you are saying…I think.  You are suggesting that the parable that came from the mouth of Christ speaks a particular truth that is undeniable, and because it is Christ and His word, it cannot be denied, though it can develop.  Furthermore, that it cannot develop into something that contradicts it as it was originally.  For example, an Apple tree can evolve, but it will never become an orange tree?

F:  Couldn’t have put it better than that.  That is an excellent analogy.  Can I use it later?

S:  Of course Father:  thanks!

F:  I still think there is something unresolved in our discussion here Sara.

S:  What’s that?

F:  Well you seemed to express a common-opinion amongst our contemporary people, that it seems unjust for God to send a soul to hell for not loving him.  As if it were something unjust or even unloving.

S:  It does seem that way.   But being that Christ said it to be true, it must be good and loving and just.

F:  I appreciate your faith without understanding.  That is a virtue severely lacking in our society today.  Rarely do people assent to a claim without having to first understand it themselves.  Rarely do we defer to the wisdom of God.   Rather people exalt their own judgment above the infinite wisdom of God.

S:  Thanks Father.

F:  You are welcome.  But since you are going to be teaching on this, I’d like you to perhaps reflect on the reasons why Christ and His wife teach that hell is a radical possibility, as much as is love.

S:  That would be appreciated Father.

F:  You said it seemed as if God were unjust if he allowed a soul to perish in hell for all eternity.

S:  Yes.  It seems as if God would have to be pretty resentful for that to happen.  It’s as if He is full of revenge, saying, “You didn’t love me, so I won’t love you.”  And that doesn’t really fit into what Christianity teaches, especially about loving your enemy.

F:  I think that is a fair point.  I think it is important to examine your first premise.  I would agree with your conclusion, that God does not ever lose His love for anyone, including those who are His enemies, and I’d add, even for those people in Hell.

Your first premise seems to carry with it a few assumptions.  The first assumption is that God wants to torture someone, almost as if His feelings are hurt, and therefore tries to get-them-back.  Is that a fair way to characterize your point?

S:  Yes.  Otherwise, it would seem to make sense that God would allow such a soul in heaven, especially when they ask for forgiveness.  You notice the Rich-man wanted to get out of hell.  It doesn’t seem to be true – what C.S. Lewis said – that Hell is locked from the inside.  If it was, the Richman could have left as he seemed to want to.

F:  I appreciate you reflecting on the parable to illustrate your point.  The problem is you are dead wrong about your reading of the parable.

S:  Gee… thanks Father.

F:  You are welcome.

S:  You are so funny Father.

F:  What I mean Sara, is that while the man regretted his actions, he only regretted them because of the consequences.  Not once did he say to Abraham:  “Tell Lazarus I’m sorry for neglecting Him.”

S:  Interesting point.  I never thought about that.  So are you saying that regret and hatred for hell does exist in the damned?

F:  Absolutely.  It wouldn’t be torment if the soul regretted nothing and enjoyed hell, would it?

S:  That is a really good point…haha

F:  So as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, a soul in hell can repent of His sin, only insofar as he regrets the logical consequences of it.  But never does his heart change.  Not once does he begin to Love Lazarus.  And that is the infinite chasim Abraham speaks of.  The shear inability for a damned soul to actually regret their sins because of the malice and cruelty within them.  And if they never regret that cruelty and malice, they haven’t changed.  And if they haven’t changed, if they ask for forgiveness, are they really asking for forgiveness?

S:  I guess not.  It is like when I was a kid and my mom grounded me from going to the school dance.  I screamed:  “I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!”  And she responded:  “No you are not:  you are sorry you got caught.”

F:  What a wonderful example.  I might use that another time?

S:  Of course Father.  But don’t use my name…haha

F:  Fair enough!

S:  What if someone asks, Father:  “Why can’t a soul regret in hell what they can regret on earth?”

F:  That is a tremendous and devastatingly complicated question.

S:  Does that mean there is no answer, and it’s a “mystery.”

F:  Well, in some ways the tip of my nose is a mystery, as is everything in the universe.  However, I think I can try to answer it.  But don’t be expecting sound-bites.

S:  Sound-bites?  What do you mean Father?

F:  I mean that often times when people examine deep theological questions, they often want things to be very simply understood.  The problem is as complex beings, when trying to understand what is simple, we often make a mess out of it.

S:  So are you saying that it’s simple, but as a result hard to understand?

F:  Let me explain it to you, and I’ll let you be the judge of that question.

S:  I’m waiting.

F:  Okay…Well I’d like to first describe to you how the Angel’s make decisions, because there is a certain parallel between what happens to them and what happens to us after we die.

S:  Angels!  I love angels!  I used to watch “Touched by an Angel.”

F:  Oh dear Lord have mercy!  While I’m sure that TV show often had a good message, it rarely evoked the name of Jesus.  Furthermore they had a tendency to humanize angels, making them base like us, rather than as magnificent and terrible as they truly are in their nature.

S:  Don’t knock a good TV show Father.  And what do you mean by “terrible.”

F:  Well if you are expecting a warm and soft light to surround an angel with gentle music in the background, I think you are missing what we normally see in scripture when real-angels encountered people.  They were struck by terror and fear.  Some were punished and made mute.  Others were carrying swords set ablaze, another destroyed and killed all the first born in Egypt… Angels are powerful creatures, and we should have some reverence for them.

S:  But they aren’t terrible in the moral sense, right?

F:  Some of them are:  Lucifer for instance.

S:  Right.  He was an angel.  But now is a demon.

F:  When we say he is a demon, we don’t deny that he is still an angel.  It is just a term we use to describe a bad angel.  His nature is angelic, his moral character is demonic.  Make sense?

S:  Sort of.  You are saying that he still has the same nature as an angel, but is an evil one.

F:  Yup.

S:  So in what sense do you mean “terrible” when speaking of the good angels?

F:  Again, I mean it in the sense that angels are powerful.  They have a great deal of power over our lives, and we should recognize their power with a sense of healthy fear.  We don’t want to get in their way.

S:  How would we get in their way?

F:  It is a little off topic.  However, I’ll respond.   We can get in their way by getting in the way of God.  Angels serve us because God has asked them to.  Their ultimate service is towards God.

S:  What might a good angel do if we disobey God?

F:  In this life they will defend the glory of God, and perhaps try to humble us.  That of course is a good thing.  But after this life, it is the Angels, according to Christ that sift the wicked from the righteous.  Angels will deliver us to hell if we have failed to obey God.

S:  I never thought of an angel as doing something like that.

F:  Probably because you watch too much TV?  Our faith is very sentimental today, and it is that way because it is safer for the ego, but not for the soul.

S:  Oh man, you really hate that TV show, Touched by an Angel…eh?

F: I don’t hate it.  But I do think there is some good theology really missing in it.  It is a generational problem.

S:  So what is missing in it, other than the terrible nature of the good-angels?

F:  I mentioned that the show humanizes angels.  A great deal of movies do this.  Angels are very different from humanity.  Some movies attempt to portray angels as being capable of conversion either from goodness to evil or vice-versa.  But that is not how angels make decisions.

S:  They can’t repent, like we can’t repent in Hell?

F:  We are getting warmer to an answer here.  In a sense.  Angels cannot repent for their sins primarily because they are “pure-spirits.”  They are not fickle and as complex as we are as human beings.  When they make their first decision, all other decisions adhere to the vice or virtue of their first decision.

S:  That doesn’t make sense to me Father.  Not because I perceive a contradiction, but I just don’t understand it.  What do you mean by “pure-spirit?”

F:  Sorry…it is difficult.  Pure-Spirit means that they are Pure-intellect.  They have an intellect, but no “quantity” or physical dimension to them.

S:  How do they know anything if they don’t have a body?  We know through sense-experience, right?

F:  Yup.  We know through our senses, but we also create abstractions…something that beasts cannot do.  So we have a spirit too, but not to the degree of an angel.

Angels on the other hand are infused with knowledge by God.  Their knowledge comes directly from God.  Of course, they don’t know everything that God does, but whatever God entrusts to them for their purpose, mission and happiness.

S:  So if they know everything they need to, in order to be good, why would some of them choose to sin?

F:  Well, when you drive faster than the speed limit, do you know you are driving faster than you should?

S:  Yes.

F:  Exactly…so you know how to avoid doing something evil, but you do it anyways.  That makes your actions sinful.  Mind you, if you drove improperly and weren’t aware, you’d still be responsible since you had the capacity to know and responsibility but you choose not to.  That is where humans are a bit different.

S:  I’m following.

F:  Angels, when they sinned or were obedient to God, they adhered to that fundamental decision and will adhere to it for their entire existence, because of their nature as pure spirits.  They are absolute…they swallow their decision, whole, and adhere to it forever.

S:  That is difficult to comprehend, but I sort of understand your point.  You are saying that angels make a decision based upon information they see clearly and perfectly.  As a result of this they do not repent of their decisions, except in perhaps the way you mentioned before?

F:  Exactly.  Now with human beings it’s a bit different.  But to some degree we have established that because of the nature of an angel it is impossible to repent.  Can we both agree that this doesn’t remove free-will from the angels?

S:  I think so.  Angels have a free-will, but it can be enslaved to evil as a result of their own decision?

F:  Very good.

S:  So how are humans different, and yet the same?

F:  Well, in the current mode of our existence –

S:  Stop…speak English

F:  haha…sorry.  Well as human beings we live in time, moving from one moment to another, right?

S:  Yes.

F:  Angels exist in a different type of time than we do.  That I can’t explain with great clarity.  But it is different.  They do not exist in the same “Eternity” as God, since God alone exists in that sense.

S:  Interesting…go on.

F:  As human beings, within time we are fickle, changing our minds all the time, constantly given new information through sense experience, but also rationalizing our way out of truths for egocentric reasons.  Agreed?

S:  We have a hard time being honest with ourselves?

F:  Sure we do.  The truth can hurt, and it can challenge us.

S:  That is true….haha…see what I did there!?

F:  Not the wittiest remark I’ve heard before…but good.

S:  Father…

F:  Let’s move on.  What happens to us when we die?  Do you know?

S:  Our soul leaves our body?

F: Sort of.  I prefer to describe it in this way:  our soul is torn apart from our body.

S:  That sounds a lot worse.  Nothing romantic about that.

F:  Death, according to our nature, is certainly not romantic.  It is our destruction, it is an evil, and if you remember, it is the consequences of sin.

S:  That is true.  So the soul is ripped apart from the body.

F:  Yes.  And as a result our body turns back into dust, but our soul still exists.

S:  Why does our soul still exist?  Isn’t it dependent upon matter to exist?

F:  That is a discussion for another day…but there is an answer to that.

S:  Okay…

F:  So…the soul is separated from the body and as a result we for a time are nothing more than spirit.

S:  Oh so we are an angel!

F:  No…and please don’t ever suggest that to anyone.

S:  Why?

F:  Our spirit is unique and is constructed to only make sense with a body.  Angels are pure-spirits which means they exist naturally without a body.

S:  So are you saying that death is bad for the soul?

F:  Absolutely.  Death is a horrible tragedy that happens to us.  We may not experience physical pain, but spiritual frustration is certainly part of death.

S:  Oh, I get it!  This is why the Resurrection is so important.  That makes sense out of a lot!  So the resurrection is what fixes that problem!

F:  Precisely.  Now, without a body, it is impossible for us to have a conversion…would you agree with that?

S:  I guess so.  If our soul needs a body in order to discern and think and make choices – using the organ of the brain to accomplish all this – then I suppose without that, no one could make a decision.  But that proves nothing to me.  Because don’t we believe as Catholics in the Resurrection of the body?  Don’t we believe one day we will have a body?

F:  Yes, we do believe that we will have a glorified body!  Good for you, for remembering that.  Very important.  But one thing that is important to recognize is that body will no longer be the same as it is now.  It will be different.

S:  How do you know that?

F:  Jesus’ own resurrected body seemed to transcend space and time without contradicting either.  He was able to eat fish with the disciples, to be touched and sensed, and yet would disappear and appear simply by willing it.

S:  So in what sense is the “glorified body” different from our human body, and how will that affect our ability to repent?

F:  Let me first begin by asking you a question:  do you think it is sensible that in heaven we will never die?

S:  Yes.  If we died, it would seem to suggest that the Resurrection was only a temporary solution to an on-going problem.

F:  Masterfully stated!  Now, let’s follow the logical consequences of your statement.  If we will not die, that would mean that our bodies would be devoid of any form of corruption:  correct?

S:  They are incorruptible?  Yeah, that makes sense.

F:  So you agree that there would be a sort of permanence to our nature that was unchangeable?

S:  Yes.

F:  Great.  Now here is a side-stepping question:  do you believe that virtue and vice are bodily or spiritual realities?

S:  Spiritual

F:  Wrong.

S:  They are bodily?

F:  Incorrect again!

S:  Father, I can only laugh at you so much…

F:  Sorry.  It was a trick question.  The answer is both.  Basically what I’m saying is that because the body in the next life is incorruptible, the vice is permanently a mindset within us. Vice, as you know, makes us stupid, it darkens our mind and makes us unable to see what needs to take place in order for us to do better.  Virtue on the other hand is a type of enlightenment and disposition towards truth and justice.  And so our mind, heart and soul are perpetually opened to God’s divine light.

S:  So you are saying that because virtue and vice are bodily realities, and that the bodily reality is concrete and incorruptible, that it is impossible to change, since to change would imply a sort of corruptibility?

F:  Yes.  But I would add the nuance that with an open heart, soul and mind, our soul remains open to God’s light for eternity, open to a “type” of movement from God.

S:  I can understand why people don’t believe others go to hell for eternity.

F:  Sara, you didn’t believe people stayed in hell for eternity a little while ago.

S:  My point is, Father, that not many people have this type of education and have pondered the …

F:  Metaphysics, eschatology, ontology, and scriptures?

S:  exactly…whatever that is.

F:  Right.  So what we have today are a group of strongly opinionated arm-chair theologians who have nothing more than sentimentalities, emotive sensibilities and as a result come to sweeping conclusions without following the logical consequences of the bodily resurrection, the nature of virtue, the nature of the will, and the word of God.

S:  It just seems impractical for me to have to communicate all of this to the people in RCIA.

F:  It is very impractical to teach them a great deal of this content.  RCIA is not meant to be a theology class.  But those who are teaching it should not be arm-chair theologians…I don’t say that to hurt your feelings or to demean the efficacy of a good testimony that you could share with the people in RCIA, but I say it because you or others might lead others along the same path of a simple-faith that doesn’t understand the deep theological consequences that come from various beliefs commonly held.

S:  And I think it also goes back to what you were saying about being able to trust in God and His Church without necessarily having a fundamental understanding of all the teachings at the moment.

F:  Exactly.  Faith is so important, and a deep trust and abiding obedience in Him and His Church are rather essential.

S:  Is it fair to conclude that God does not want anyone in hell, but respects their freedom to choose it as such?

F:  Yes, and as C.S. Lewis stated:  the door is locked from the inside.  The souls are permanently darkened by vice, just as concrete has been hardened over time in an obscure and ugly fashion.  That makes this life very important, it truly is a time of mercy and repentance!  What a wonderful gift that we as human beings have received from God!!

S:  So it seems as if our world has come up with yet another heresy Father!

F:  Actually it’s not new.  This heresy existed in the early Church and was coined by Origen as apokatastasis. It is funny how every generation considers itself wiser than the one preceding it.  More often than not, we are actually forgetful and backwards rather than progressing and upright.

S:  Father, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about this.

F:  I don’t think we are done.  I’d like to examine why it is actually just for a soul to be condemned to hell.  There are more ways than one in looking at this issue.  But for the time being, take a break.  I also want to thank you for your honest dialogue and provoking questions.  But above all your faith.  It makes these discussions much easier.

S:  Toddles

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Healing Effeminacy: A Church Seeking Fatherly Authority informed by Love

Spiritual sicknesses are both a developmental and mysterious dimension of the human condition. We cannot reduce all spiritual ailments to socialized causes, but we certainly cannot discount them as a reality that does in fact have a particular role to play in our spiritual deformation. Each one of us is wounded by a world that is disordered. Sometimes this disorder arises in our own family, through our peers, through authority figures, and sometimes even from spiritual battles that are unknown to us.

Spiritual wounds are both passed on invisibly and also at times inflicted upon us at points of time throughout our own personal history. These deep wounds ultimately lead us to a fork in the road where we have to choose between the way of the cross (sainthood) or the way of escape (damnation). Our wounds, according to St. John Paul II, enable us to confront Samarathe spiritual sickness within our nature that would otherwise remain dormant. That is to say, suffering can bring to the surface our wounds that can either fester through sin or be healed through grace. In this life we are fickle, which means we sometimes go through moments of healing and at other times enter into a sort of festering, decaying spirit, where the wellspring of iniquity within our soul defiles us to the point, where we are blind to love and justice and yet don’t even realize our blindness.

It is far better to be blind and to know that we are blind than to think the whole world is dark and we are not the problem. This double-ignorance (we don’t know, we don’t know) can at times be innocent and therefore easily corrected, but at other times can be obstinately maintained as a result of pride. Man can be so convinced he knows the world, when in reality he unwittingly projects his ignorance unto the world.

The particular spiritual sickness I see today in the Church and culture centres upon a fear and intimidation towards authority, especially authority expedited by men. There are many weakened, broken men, who have experienced bullying in their childhood or an abusive or absent father. As a result of these negative experiences of men, often times these broken Male Gossipand easily offended men, project upon anyone who exercises authority or boldness, a bully-like characterization. This is not to say that women do not experience the same brokenness (in many ways, they experience it quite often) but I’d particularly like to focus on men who seem to be lost in a narcissistic, effeminate, fear of “strong, masculine, men.”  There is typically a knee-jerk reaction to anything stated on the issue, revealing unwittingly a wound within their own life.

The saying goes: “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.” Such is the attitude, however, when victims react to triggers that remotely remind them of wounds in their lives. We must therefore be patient in this regard with such broken individuals. However, redemption does not equate with escapism.  The real healing that needs to take place in such men’s and women’s lives is a process, not a defensive reaction. Real healing sometimes involves pouring alcohol on an open wound and even cutting the wound open in order to get to the root of the problem. Healing is not something that is done without sacrifice, and without some measure of pain.

This means that in order for a generation of “soft and fearful men” to overcome an antagonizing fear and disordered rejection of strength, good men need to demonstrate how authority and love can coexist in a genuine harmony. It is sad to think that power is often associated with abuse and bullying, especially when the culture reinforces such an over-simplistic reality and calls it “chauvinistic” without taking the time to realize that they are projecting experienced-chauvinism upon a true act of love.

One of the areas of reflection in the way of life at the seminary I attended was that seminarians who demonstrated an effeminate disposition would not really be fit for the priesthood. One possible reason for this is that the priesthood requires a firmness in love that is masculine: it requires a real-fatherhood, not a motherhood. I remember in my first year of priesthood being told to be more motherly as a priest, however, I immediately felt demeaned by this request, as if I was being asked to become something I am not:  a woman.  It was not demeaning because women are somehow defective.  It was demeaning because such a suggestion implied men as men were defective.  Just the fact that I need to nuance this proves what kind of culture we live in.Priest and Nun

You see, there is a genuine need for a greater masculine presence within the Church (as demonstrated by the demographics, which reveal that very few men attend mass, thinking it to be something for women only). However, when one is so wounded in their lives (and unable to realize it) they seek to eliminate masculinity, considering it to be evil and intrinsically married to abusiveness. This is an example of a festering wound within the Church, a wound which is not healed, but merely numbed through neglect and self-pity.

In example:  I encountered a nun who refused to refer to me as “Father” because it resembled for her patriarchy.  I asked her why she viewed “fatherhood” as something evil, and she quickly stated that I had mischaracterized her position.  I retorted, “You have mischaracterized my Fatherhood.”  It was sad that this woman would have such a terrible reaction to fatherhood, thinking it to be nothing more than a matter of domineering and demeaning power-mongering.  But it was she who projected this upon the priesthood, and not reality at work.

As Deacon Keating  suggested in my time at the seminary, “Do not worry about the women, they will always be at mass. Worry about the men. Go build relationships with them.” This deacon exuded a true fatherliness that I had rarely ever seen in most priests I had encountered. Likely because with a Church that is often mischaracterized by its own wounded individuals as “chauvinistic,” many priests are fearful to exert a fatherly, masculine authority.  In reality, this true masculine authority present in the home and in the Church, if carried through, will actually amount to nothing more than alcohol purifying the wound (at least at first). If endured, men will be men again, but if escaped, men will run away from their own vocation and uniqueness that compliments the role of women.  If healed, more vocations:  if not, more disorder.

The other extreme that must be avoided is what reactionaries often present. When there is a legitimate hunger for authentic human needs, and the “real-thing” isn’t presented, such hungering individuals will satisfy themselves with a counterfeit junk-food. We see this with women who are aroused and attracted to the false-male image presented in movies Father-Daughtersuch as “50 Shades of Grey.” Women who objectively are created to be loved by a man who is masculine, will seek what they wrongly perceive to be real manliness, a disordered, controlling, objectifying type of lust.

This spiritual sickness in our world is a reality.  The call to healing is to request: healthy-men to rise up in the family and in the priesthood to lead with a firmness that also attempts at every possible occasion to convey that such firmness is rooted in love and mercy.

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Finding Peace Amongst a Bickering, Murmuring Church

Grumbling is one of the funny words that shows itself in the book of Exodus, and later in the New Testament, in reference to the Israelites spoken of in the book of Exodus. What was the nature of their grumbling and bickering? We note that they grumbled against Moses, but by extension, they therefore grumbled against God. So the bickering and complaining, the resentments and brokenness of a prideful and sinful people had both a spiritual and a sociological dimension to it, within the community of the faithful and by extension with their relationship with God.Noisy world

Often we perceive this murmuring or grumbling to be a result of the very hard life and difficult tasks that came with traveling through the hot desert. Likewise, we are traveling through this life, a world moving towards its total fulfillment:  the promised Land of heaven.  It was difficult for the Israelites to let go of their slavery. To any reasonable person, one might mock the childishness of the Israelites for being so base, in complaining against God, after they had been given the better gift: freedom to worship God. That was the greatest gift and the purpose of all the works that God had shown to Egypt. Now having the freedom to celebrate their faith, to worship the True God in the desert, they began to resent the One they had come to worship.

What is revealed here is the mystery of iniquity that had grown within the hearts of the followers of the God of Abraham. The Israelites did not primarily wish to worship their Lord in the desert, but they wished to worship their disordered desires. No other explanation seems to be reasonable, especially considering that some Israelites wanted to return to Egypt, trading in their God for food that they considered to taste better. Was God so easily traded? Of course He was. Judas has traded the Son of God for 30 measly pieces of silver, unfaithful spouses have traded in their spouse for another or money. Universities, Hospitals, Schools, and churches have sold their Catholic Identity for grant money and political correctness, for social acceptability and pleasures. This shouldn’t shock anyone, as it’s in the nature of man to become so darkened in his heart and mind that he perceives that God is more of a burden to Worship and as a result we flee to find comfort, escapes, pleasures, in the delights of slavery (to sin).

The question we might pose to ourselves is: why are we so fickle in abandoning God for such trivial things such? We are all fickle in this regard. Even the “rich-man” who considers himself faithful in all the ways of the commandments cannot find the interior freedom to leave everything behind to follow Christ! The whole point of the law therefore is misplaced and it is all practiced in vain-glory! If to practice the law is meant to demonstrate a devotion and loving-obedience to God, than why can we, with one breath follow God’s law, and with another entirely abandon Him – as the Rich Man did?

DesertThese are the questions we ought to be asking ourselves as we enter into the spiritual discipline of Lent. We are not merely attempting to remove various sinful inclinations, a type of exercise in self-restraint. Rather we are to strike at the very root of all our sin, the very well-spring of iniquity that enables evil to perpetually arise. Sin will always return if we only cut away the evil fruits.

Man is fickle because of concupiscence. Man is weak because he is spiritually sick and disordered: all of us are disordered. We desire good and evil things over and above the infinite splendor and beauty of God Himself. That is our problem and that is what we are attempting to find healing for through grace.

I see grumbling in the life of the Church on so many levels and throughout her history. We see kingdoms divided against themselves, bickering theologians and opinionated others.  I’m guilty of it and not above it:  Mea Culpa.   It is all a distraction from the inner-peace and introspection that ought to drive our awareness away from others and more into the polluted spring of iniquity that rises within our own veins.

Children, if we are not spending more time in self-reflection than in reflection of the faults of others, we must be assured that our criticism of others amounts to nothing more than a log in our own eye and speck in another. Begin by assuming that we are the one with the Log in our eye!  It is amazing what we discover when we take this approach.  If you are bothered by a person’s temperament ask yourself:  “Where is that same temperament in me?  It must be in me, as I am a sinner too.”  Develop in this time of Lent the gift of spiritual apathy towards others (lest we are directly responsible for them). Rather fix first what is wrong from within ourselves (there is plenty of work for all of us in this regard). The fruit of this work will be more compassion towards those we find ourselves frustrated with. It will also enable us not to come to conclusions about one another based on small pieces of information.st-john-of-the-cross

More beautifully, self-examination will not only help us to beg the saviour to descend upon us with healing, but through this grace we will also discover that the Lord has deigned to reign within us, even as our nature is mired with dysfunction. Once we have such grace, we will become peacemakers rather than antagonistic reactionaries, demanding to be the first to receive validation. We will be proclaiming the name of Christ with apathy towards the dishonour and humiliation that come from being faithful to a world unenlightened by Him.  We will be on fire for Love of God.

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Euthanasia Decriminalized in Canada: Saints Rise Up

On Friday February 6th, I had the usual pleasure of a long day of ministry, where I have the chance to visit various parishioners who are unable to attend mass on a regular basis due to age or sickness. Here at our parish, Fr. Patrick, Fr. Pat, and myself visit these individuals on a regular basis, bringing the Sacrament of the Eucharist and offering any other sacramental support we can.

St. Miki and Companions

St. Miki and Companions

The memorial of the day was St. Miki and Companions. Several martyrs who had been crucified in Japan as a result for professing the name of Jesus. I remember as a seminarian preaching on this memorial as a deacon. After praying with St. Miki and companions I felt a connection with this Saint who encouraged his persecutors to be baptized as he was being crucified. He brought hope as he was crucified with many, but he did so with courage and great strength.

On this day I also learned that the Supreme Court of Canada had announced that the law on assisted suicide had been struck down unanimously. What this means as of yet remains unclear since the government may develop conditions around this, but it remains nonetheless an additional mortal wound on the integrity of our nation, Canada. As G.K. Chesterton reminds us, however, a nation is not only to be loved when it is doing well, but it is to be loved even more when it is mired in evil. His point of course is not to endorse the evil, but to bring about a greater sense of mercy and truth to such a nation that it might be healed.  But it is no wonder why we are here.  Most theologians these days consider mortification in the past to be a heavy and archaic practice.  Therefore the Church-herself has lost the practice of suffering in love and joy.  We should probably read this.

My initial reaction to the decriminalization of euthanasia was righteous-anger. Here I am visiting with the people many think have no value in their suffering.  I am utterly disgusted at this point.  Also, I pointed towards the failures of the church and her fickle inability to cast out ambiguity beginning with contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage and GSA’s in High-Schools, and now doctor-assisted suicide. Canada has in fact become baser than paganism who had doctors promising to never commit abortions or assist people to die before their time. Sadly this is the fault of a Church that has spoken but not lived and acted as if what it teaches is true. It is also a church that has spoken error in her members, or remained silent on such matters which frame a deep and genuine relationship with Christ.

Belgium-euthanasia-press-tvThe anger I felt was right, and I have no regret in how I felt. However, later that night I also began praying about it and reflected on God’s providence in all of this. Although God’s providence never promotes a spiritual laziness but rather a real sense of culpability within our own inaction and action as such, despite all of that God still has a plan, and can bring grace out of such a horrible situation. Where sin is, grace abounds. I consider the saints who stand in opposition to the values of the culture. We as a Church have seemingly fallen into the trap of caressing the ego and pride of each generation by affirming the values, even if they are half-decent, half-truths. Instead of focusing on the diseased foot, we have pointed towards the healthy foot. Limping along through life inundating it with “happy-talk” or what Jeremiah says is equivalent to saying, “peace, peace” while there is no actual peace (c.f. Jer 6) has permitted the diseased limb to spread to the heart finally bringing to life the fruit of death in a more vigorous manner than ever before. And while I use such stark words to describe what people consider to be compassionate, it is only because Satan deserves no compliments. That is, we must not become complicit in Satan’s amazing capacity to convince us that evil is good and good is evil.  People have convinced themselves that murder is love, and that suicide is an act of self-love. People are, in their moral-character evil. Like the prophet Eli who fell off his chair, having received the news that the pagans had taken away their ability to worship God well (consider how in my diocese only 86% practice their faith), so many are shocked and astounded that this has taken place. But Eli was a fool to be shocked. He had been warned, he had been told to discipline his sons who were leaders within the community. Excommunicating and forbidding politicians from receiving the Eucharist who support GSA’s in schools, same-sex marriage, the proliferation and promotion of contraception, abortion, prostitution, and doctor assisted suicide has not taken place. We are the sons of Eli, and Eli has broken his neck.

Yet as I mentioned earlier, all of this got me thinking about the saints. The saints were well known in cultures that also experienced the bleak reality of a fickle and inactive Church. St. Jean curearshcVianney for instance stood against a culture in the enlightenment period which treated reasoning-skills as somehow adding value to one’s own dignity in the world. This hasn’t really changed, it has merely gotten worse. We abort about 90 percent of children with down-syndrome. Nevertheless, St. Jean Vianney who struggled to learn Latin in school was not considered the most intelligent. Yet, he became one of the greatest priests because of his absolute pursuit of holiness and faithfulness to God. He also stood against the rebelling culture, going into the bars and commanding his parishioners to repent. And most importantly he suffered for his people with great love. He gave light penances to his confessing people, while suffering on their behalf great penances for the salvation of their own soul.

You see, in every dark period, most especially in the darkness and chill of what is foolishly called the “enlightenment” God gives way to many signs of contradiction in order to confront the evil within the world. And so as the world becomes more bleak, more darkened by faithlessness, I say to all you remaining steadfast: contradict evil, and shine even brighter.  The darker the world is, the more visible your light will shine.  We have built the Kingdom of Man and it stands in direct opposition to the Kingdom of God.  More and more the ambiguity, the failed attempt to reconcile the world to the Church has failed.  And now the Church is blessed with being set-apart once again, albeit in a small way…

When I say, “contradict” I do not mean “react.” Reacting is another thing as a culture of death we ought to be aware of. Reacting goes from one extreme to another, and is usually motivated out of a personal wound rather than peace and love for Christ. Contradict reactions by reproving both extremes. Contradict a culture of death by joyfully suffering all trials and boast of them in Christ!! This actually excites me, and turns the anger into a powerful zeal to prove the world wrong in its cowardice towards suffering. My suggestion is to quote St. John Paul II’s document on Redemptive suffering in our lives. But I will end instead with a quote from St. John of the Cross:

“…one’s journey must not merely exclude the hindrance of creatures but also embody a dispossession and annihilation in the spiritual part of one’s nature. Our Lord, for our instruction and guidance along this road, imparted the wonderful teaching – I think it is possible to affirm that the more necessary the doctrine the less it is practiced by spiritual persons – that I will quote fully and explain in its genuine and spiritual sense because of its importance and relevance to our subject. He states in the eight chapter of St. Mark…if anyone wishes to follow my way, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his soul will lose it, but whoever loses it for me will gain it…

Oh, who can make this counsel of our saviour on self-denial understandable, and practicable, and attractive, that spiritual persons might become aware of the difference between the method many of them think is good and the one that ought to be used in traveling this road! They are of the opinion that any kind of withdrawal from the world, or reformation of life, suffices. Some are content with a certain degree of virtue, perseverance in prayer, and mortification, but never achieve the nakedness, poverty, selfishness, or spiritual purity (which use all the same) about which the Lord counsels us here. For they still feed and clothe their natural selves with spiritual feelings and consolations instead of divesting and denying themselves of these for God’s sake. They think denial of self in worldly matters is sufficient without annihilation and purification in the spiritual domain. It happens that, when some of this solid, perfect food (the annihilation of all sweetness in God – the pure spiritual cross and nakedness of Christ’s poverty of spirit) is offered them in dryness, distaste, and trial, they run from it as from death and wander about in search only for sweetness and delightful communications from God. Such an attitude is not the hallmark of self-denial and nakedness of spirit but the indication of a spiritual sweet tooth. Through this kind of conduct, they become spiritually speaking, enemies of the cross of Christ [Phil 3:18].

A genuine spirit seeks rather the distasteful in God than the delectable, leans more towards suffering than towards consolation, more towards going without everything for God than towards possession, and towards dryness and affliction than towards sweet consolation. It knows that this is the significance of following Christ and denying self, that the other method is perhaps a seeking of self in God – something entirely contrary to love. Seeking oneself in God is the same as looking for the caresses and consolations of God. Seeking God in oneself entails not only the desire to do without these consolations for God’s sake, but also the inclination to choose for love of Christ all that is most distasteful whether in God or in the world; and this is what loving God means.”

-The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book Two, Chapter 7, 4-5

  St. John Paul II, St. Miki and Companions, and St. John of the Cross, pray for us to defy and contradict the culture of death in the sanctuary of the Church, and in your world. Sacred Heart of Jesus: have mercy on us! Let us seek suffering before affective consolation in all things, that we might be made pure in the fire of your love.

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Reforming a Sterile Catholic-Culture: Externals…oh my!

Sometimes things stay the same, while the façade changes. That is, sometimes the culture needs to change Brothers rather than everything else. I’m thinking of the Catholic-Culture especially that has really made the Church a disembodied, abstract vehicle for sentimentalities that most people find else where in the secular world, already. A culture that has produced the fruits of, in some dioceses, as much as 70-86 % of Baptized and Confirmed Catholics who don’t practice their faith, is certainly a culture in need of reform. It is the culture we should not be clinging onto, but rather the change of the Catholic-Culture.

In listening to a lot of the people who don’t attend mass, I’ve often appreciated their own insights into what they want in the Church:

1. I don’t like modern churches, bring back the beautiful traditional ones. (that is putting their own views politely). Sometimes they say, “Bring back the real-churches.”

2. Bring back communion rails (that is right! Someone who wasn’t practicing and hasn’t been catechized came to this conclusion on all his own).

3. Gregorian Chant is more beautiful than the 30-50 year old music we’ve been using…

4. Make sure the community is not talking all the time, especially the choirs.

5. Why does Father always tell a joke that isn’t connected in any way to the message of his homily. I want to be fed when and if I go.

6. Visible Clergy & Religious (i.e. collar & habit)

Above all the spiritual change that needs to take place is an authentic concern with honouring and praising God before pleasing men. If we stop trying to appease everyone, we will actually begin serving their good-nature rather than their concupiscence.

Priest and NunThese are just a few. But I find it interesting that these are especially the people who are not in any “camp” but they have a natural Catholic-sense. That is, they want a Catholic Culture, not something that is swept up in modern-trends of bland-simplicity. They want noble-simplicity, richness of faith, a place of beauty, and worship that strives for excellence instead of being on par with what people find else-where in the world. Sometimes I find the Church is doing the world, but worse than the world. If you live in the world, why go to Church when it can’t even get the world-trends right…We need to be set apart, and offer something else.

The good news from my vantage point is that the newer priests coming out of the wood work are not obsessed with externals, but want to utilize them to fulfill the Church’s task in being sacramental (visible, tangible, sensible). I know that this can be difficult for some people to agree with. But it will come to pass that we will return to these Churchpractices, and with the right spirit! So its just a matter of waiting. And as Blessed Mother Theresa says, if they are going to destroy what you build, build it anyways.

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How is God Known to Us: The New Evangelization

Introduction

The New Evangelization is an important task for the Church as we seek to communicate, fruitfully, the Gospel. That is a task that cannot be accomplished by human wisdom or human effort alone. Rather man must submit to God as both the means and the end of this mission. I would like to reflect therefore on the principle ways God seeks to communicate His Law and Himself to the human race, Gentile or Jew.  20120605-203703.jpg

Fear and Manipulation

George Orwell wrote in the book “1984” a solid representation of how language can be used to twist and conform minds to submission in a totalitarian regime. This totalitarian regime would remove particular words from the dictionary and common rhetoric of society, in order to limit the intellectual freedom of the people, their curiosity and therefore their ability to consciously discern or think anything contrary to “Big-Brother.” In our Church today we see a similar trend in the change-of-language.  It is the case that language can change, so long as the meaning is not left behind, and this often needs to happen.  However, sometimes when language is changed to be considered “less offensive” what actually is happening to the language is not necessarily becoming a better vehicle to communicate the truths of the gospel, but rather a means to obscure it and foster ambiguity.  Softening the language around issues of “heresy” and “same-sex disorders,” “conscience” and “contraception,” really comes down to avoiding difficult truths.  People consciously want to change the language, perhaps because on another level they want to actually change the teaching.  The moral law is no longer considered to be a dimension of the good-news, but is rather perceived as a source of despair.  Big Brother is the personal force, whereby this agenda comes to fruition, and the minds of the people are dulled and stupefied by a watering down and generalization of important logical categories.  In order to accomplish this, Big Brother, the totalitarian leader of his society, spied and constantly “over-saw” the people.   Some might suggest that this method of control was ordered to make people “fear” and therefore submit. In reality, while there is truth to this notion, I would add that it was also likely that Big-Brother was afraid of what he couldn’t control, and thus motivated out of his own anxiety began to manipulate, twist words, all as a power-struggle.Anti-Christ

According to Fr. Robert Barron, and many spiritual masters, at the root of all pride/sin is an inordinate fear towards God. We perceive on some level (consciously or unconsciously) that God doesn’t really love us, and we have to seek out our happiness according to our own judgment (the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil). If however we were to ascribe to God’s commandments with unfailing and loving trust we would receive the gift of what scripture calls, “the obedience of faith.” That is to say that obedience is predicated of faith, wherein through faith we are capable of a loving-obedience. One that without full understanding nonetheless abides in God no matter what He commands us. This offers us a decisive and contrary view to a totalitarian, manipulative dictator. God does not so much coerce us, except by the natural consequences of our own actions. That is to say that God allows for a natural and good fear to exist within us, but it isn’t one that is born out of His own fear (He fears nothing), but rather it is for our own good. A child fears falling off a cliff or being hit by a car while crossing the road. These fears are healthy and they demonstrate an appreciation for the gift of life itself. They are also not disproportionate, as one who fears things in an obsessive manner or in a defective manner might be said to suffer from a mental illness. God however also respects our freedom, and rather than manipulating us through the twisting of our language, He rather communicates to us in a concrete fashion. He literally puts it in stone, starting with Moses.
Discerning Infallibility from Error

And so the benevolence of God seeks to foremost communicate His law and ultimately Himself to us, and he does this through the created universe, with which we belong. Therefore “communication” is an essential dimension for us to reflect upon. God communicates to us, and this communication itself, as both a means and an end, are of incredible importance. For if we “play-with” or “fool-around” or “tweak” God’s method of communication with us, we objectively distort His “saving” message and pay the logical consequences. We must also keep in mind that amidst this call to communicate and preserve God’s communication of “Divine Teaching,” that there is a conscious and morally-evil person who seeks to do nothing but distort and confuse us. While this may describe members of the human family, who certainly have the wit and the capacity to be fully aware of their own manipulative techniques, we remember that the master of it all is ultimately “the” Deceiver: Lucifer.St. Michael

Therefore we have three voices in our lives that are fallible: ourselves, our world, and Demons. God who speaks to us through the Church’s Sacred Scripture and Apostolic Tradition is and ought to be understood, not through the lens of man, but through the authority of God. Therefore we must trust God to reveal to us Truth through the Church, and not in us “shaping” and opting for paradigm shifts within the Church herself, both in regards to the “means” and the “end” of the Gospel, since God determines both, through the docile-cooperation of His Church.

Creating and Twisting

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (who has requested to be referred to as Father Benedict, spoke of how the Divine Liturgy was not to be distorted by man’s own theological speculations and creativity. Let us leave this, for the moment as a mere principle without applying it to anything in particular. We often apply these principles without also considering many other numerous factors, and so I wish to drill into our minds the principles before apply them too broadly. We know that God does use the creativity of man while it also is a revelation of God, simultaneously. We see this in the various texts of scripture, each having their own genre and style of composition representing the personality of the writer and Divine teaching. God and man are united in a spiritual unity that enables God to infallibly speak through sacred scripture and dogmatic/definitive statements that come from the Church. Therefore, we are not to understand the term “creative” as a repressive application against man’s freedom to build the Kingdom of God. Rather we must examine what we do in fact mean by “creative.”

There are two senses that we can discuss when reflecting on how the Church can both become fruitful and become fruitless through the creative energies of man. For it was man who through malicious creativity built something as ugly and vile as a cross. Man also created a nuclear bomb, genocide, and many other horrible things that twist and disfigure the dignity of human life and place us at odds with a God of love. Even through innocent-human error we discover evils that result from our creative tendencies. When man advances in the sciences without also bridling his application of such knowledge to the discipline of wisdom (or genuine philosophy) we see this problem recapitulated.annunciation2

The second type of creativity is one that participates in fellowship with the Creator.  He does not want us to ever create apart from his own Wisdom and will. In J.R Tolkien’s books, evil cannot really or truly be a “creative-force” it can only pretend to do such things. One of the figures in his books, who represents Satan, manages to twist and distort the nature of the Elves in such a way that he creates what is perceived to be an entirely different race: the goblins. He does this through torture. This operates as a parable for the Church’s teaching on what “evil is” or rather, what it is not. Evil as St. Aquinas teaches is the “privation” of the good. To St. Augustine he more aptly describes it as the “twisting” of good. They are both correct, but are saying the same thing in a different manner. It all comes down to mimicking what George Orwell synthesizes in “1984” as a manipulation of truth and its distortion. Neither the devil or human beings have the capacity to create from nothing.  We are unable to create anything totally original.  That is a prerogative and power that ultimately belongs to God alone. Man can create from what already exists, but in reality he cannot conjure a new substance or a new being from nothing. In this regard, creatures (angels or humans) are limited. In the mind of a prideful and arrogant person, this limitation seems to be a source of agitation since his will is ordered towards becoming God. But since he is powerless to ever bring such a reality about, he instead does the “next-best-thing.” That is, he fosters the façade/illusion that he is creating something new. When people perceive and experience a reality that “seems” or “feels” new they are often intrigued because man’s nature is such that he is inclined towards all things that come from the Creator; anything new is a possible discovery of beauty.  But only God makes all things new.

Now with all this said, let us take a step back and ask ourselves: if the enemy wants to distort God’s message (of His law, and His very self) how is he going to go about doing this? What in particular is he going to attack? He will attack the very signs/symbols or sacraments of the Church.

Sacraments: God’s means of Communication

There are two specific categories that we can address when discussing sacraments. Sacraments first of all are a visible/tangible sign that communicates an invisible reality or grace. We might describe the invisible reality as the Logos (the Word) or God Himself. Sometimes we are speaking of God and other times we are speaking about earthly things or even the application of God to earthly things (such as the moral law).cropped-creation1.jpg

The first category of sacraments would be all of creation itself. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that all of creation together, and all things in particular, communicate to us God’s own self insofar as an effect tells us something about the cause. It certainly does not exhaust God’s essence (nothing finite can), but it does communicate to us, in a limited way God’s Identity. Although a painting tells us very little about the painter, we might notice that its beauty exists within the artist. Therefore, seeing the beauty and goodness of creation we discover that the Creator must have goodness and beauty within Himself. On the natural level we have two more categories: conventional signs and natural signs. Natural signs exist in the “nature of the thing itself.” That is to say that there are objective signs within nature that communicate to us various truths. Doctors use these signs to at times decipher the health of a body. Meteorologists use them to predict the weather. This ultimately leads us to a scientific distinction between an effect and its cause, or cause in relation to its effect (with regard to temporal matters). Conventional signs are fostered through the usage of reasoning as an attempt to communicate an invisible truth. For example, a man in one country might buy his wife flowers, while in another country he may buy her a bottle of vodka. Both may be attempting to communicate the same truth, but they do it through different signs. Another example is the difference between a bow and a handshake. Cultural ways of communicating truths are not of themselves bad “if” they are ordered to right-reasoning. Nonetheless, for the sake of discussion I would prefer, at this point, to reflect on how God is revealed through nature. According to Scripture and Church Tradition, God can be known through the beauty of the created world. However in the Creation narrative there is a pinnacle of creation which points beyond itself in a manner that surpasses all other things in the universe, and that is in Mankind itself. God describes the whole created universe as good, but describes Adam and Eve, woman and man, as “very good.” Therefore our first “go-to” source of reflection on how God communicates Himself to us is through the very creation of man and woman, husband and wife: natural marriage itself.

The second category of sacraments is the one we are all too familiar with (or are we?). The seven sacraments of the Church are instituted by God, and have developed through Tradition. We cannot be so obstinate, as to attempt to return to our roots while cutting off all growth that has arisen as the result of our growth. A common error in fundamentalism is that everything must be exactly as it was in the early Church. In one sense this is true, insofar as the content and substance of the faith must be exactly the same. However, the development and unfolding of these truths, their application and the ordering of them should not be dismissed. Sacraments such as Reconciliation has brought about a great deal of healing so many souls who have genuinely sought to be right with God. However this sacrament’s theology, while existing in substance in the Early Church was not necessarily ordered in the way we encounter it today.

Development and Organized Religion

That process of development never constitutes a change in the essence of the Church’s teaching but rather in its expression. But even these changing realities (accidental-change) are guided by God, not merely as a logical consequence of divinely revealed truths, but as a result of God’s own plan for our salvation.   That is to say that God has utilized and mapped out how He would save us throughout the centuries, not revealing to us “more” but giving us a fuller means to encounter what He has already revealed. Here is how the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) puts it:

With regard to this historical condition, it must first be observed that the meaning of the pronouncements of faith depends partly upon the expressive power of the language used at a certain point in time and in particular circumstances. Moreover, it sometimes happens that some dogmatic truth is first expressed incompletely (but not falsely), and at a later date, when considered in a broader context of faith or human knowledge, it receives a fuller and more perfect expression. In addition, when the Church makes new pronouncements she intends to confirm or clarify what is in some way contained in Sacred Scripture or in previous expressions of Tradition; but at the same time she usually has the intention of solving certain questions or removing certain errors.” (Mysterium Ecclesiae, 5)

vatican-bank.jpgOur God is not one of disorganization, He orders everything, and those who have a knee-jerk reaction to Organized Religion forget this. What they are reacting to is not really the fact that the Church is organized but that people forget it is most importantly an organized-organism. Sometimes through the inordinate preoccupation with order we lose our appreciation for the fact that we are more than simply an institution. Rather we have an interior depth that is moving towards a deeper and more profound, Divine Love, intertwined with our relationship to our brother and sister. The problem is not whether the Church is organized, it is why it is organized: for the health of the whole body. That is to say, the order is directly related to the good of each individual. But order alone should not be the only manner of understanding the body…rather a more phenomenological look into the very “will” of each person.

Salvation through the Church & the two types of Legalists

The sacraments themselves seek to sanctify man and help him persevere in grace. They are given to the Church to be the fullest means of salvation, and therefore without these helps, salvation is more difficult and even impossible if it is genuinely rejected. There is no hope for salvation for those who reject the Church knowing it to be true (as taught in the Vatican II documents). God who is a saving God seeks the whole world to be saved through the Church, and there is no one who should not be introduced and invited to partake in the sacramental life of the Church. Indifference is not an option for those who care about God’s will, rather than their own. While it is taught that salvation may be possible for those who are not a part of the visible Church, this should not ever lead to a pluralism and a reluctance towards the commission to baptize and evangelize. I often wonder about what a relationship with God must be like when an individual can rationalize his way out of a real call to evangelize on the possible technicality that a man “might” be saved if he has not been baptized or sacramentally united to the Church, visibly. Such is what I would prefer to refer to as liberal-legalism. It is a reaction to conservative-legalism.  Conservative-legalism holds to the structure God has instituted (or perceived it as such) and yet does not live it in spirit. Meanwhile the liberal-legalist seeks to reject the law while doing so in a legalistic way. I remember a community once being told to never have hands folded as one might see in altar servers in Europe. It was considered to be a legalistically pious act. The irony was in order to defy this “apparent” legalistic act, a legal prohibition was instituted for the said community. Blindness would have only perpetuated the silliness of such spiritual-legalism. And this is the point…legalism isn’t an external act to be condemned, it is a spiritual act to be condemned. It is an attitude, not a particular external behaviour.Pope Francis2

All in all, both seem to not consider honouring and glorifying God by simply doing as He commands. It makes as much sense as dual covenantal theology, which is outright insulting to the Jews. If the Jews love God, they would be the first to admit that they want to be faithful and know who He is completely. Yet by suggesting that God settles for them not knowing about the Trinity in this life is to suggest that God is apathetic to the fullest possible means of being known in this life. Anyone with a degree of common-sense in the relational-sense can see right through such arguments and attitudes. It is more likely that those who have been highly educated cannot see the forest from the trees and have become preoccupied with disjointed truths and developed false-absolutes. This is poor philosophy meeting a possibly poor relationship with God. A simple relationship with Jesus out of love, however, will dispose us towards seeing the big-picture and realize that Jesus, who is our best-friend and Lord must have His name shouted from the roof-tops!

Philosophical Exorcism: Nominalism

There are too many problems to list here with Nominalism, but for the sake of this reflection I will only focus on the issues that come about through communicating divine-truths. The latent, contemporary/modern-approach to the sacramentality of the Church has been inundated with Kantian Philosophy, otherwise known as nominalism. Nominalism or “deontology” ascribes to the notion that there really is no essence or nature to things, but there is a sort of over-all characteristic in a given reality. The consequences of such a philosophy are detrimental to morality and Catholic Identity. I would like to propose that we have a philosophical exorcism, rejecting the evils and errors that stem from nominalism. Nominalism denies that there can be a concrete and objective means to communicate truths through creation and the sacramental life of the Church itself. Nominalism ultimately fosters a disjunction between the Creator and the Created, almost as if creation itself does not have its being, and move in God, but rather is operated by God extrinsically. If this is the case, than creation is totally other than God, and nothing of it can really tell us anything about God, since it has no real connection to God. Nominalism also seems to suggest that there is no real objective definition to particular things as they are. That is to say, they have no essence or “definite-nature.” This enables us to define things in a sort of arbitrary way, and as a result, common-sense is altogether abandoned to rationalization and deconstructionism. While Kant was not altogether wrong on everything, nominalism is by far one of the greatest sources of wounds to the Church today, that while many may not explicitly even know what this philosophy is, and one may adopt it as a philosophy that shapes their own behaviour and attitude. Nominalism is a spiritual sickness that leads souls away from the Church, and therefore God.Thomas Aquinas

It is important for us to therefore consider what was earlier mentioned but postponed. Father Benedict teaches us that it is not within our own initiative that we ought to bring change to the sacramental life of the Church. This would also apply to changing the “definition” of things like natural-marriage or the definition of the created universe and all within it.  If you can do it with one aspect of the universe, you can do it with everything.  Just as if you can ignore one infallible teaching, every infallible teaching is up for debate.  A definition is something discovered not invented or cultivated out of a social construct. A definition is a definitive statement about what makes a thing what it is, as Aristotle would put it. And while there is a definitive essence to a thing, this does not diminish or petrify the reality it has, which some ultra-conservative Catholics have falsely assumed. The Church is an organism, which means it is both organized-and-alive at the same time. There is unchanging truth and a growing nature predicated of this Church, and this must be considered when approaching the Church and her sacramental life. It is the middle position between those who would do away with its sacramental nature through such careerisms as suggesting women should be permitted to become priests. Such an act would have to first deny the very sacramental nature of Orders in order to do so and reduce it to a function rather than a manifestation of Christ the groom.  That is to say that the spiritual marriage of Christ would no longer be transmitted to His bride, the Church.

Sacrament of Orders: Gentleman only, Ladies Forbidden

Let us focus on the sacrament of Orders, therefore for a moment. As said earlier, each sacrament seeks to communicate or transmit God’s law and God Himself to us. That is both the grace to know the Law and the presence of the one who fulfills it. Without God’s presence we cannot fulfill the law, and without our conscience informed it is incredibly difficult to consent to it freely. God Himself therefore is the grace to be found in each sacrament, and not in terms of quantity but perhaps quality and perhaps from a phenomenological perspective from the context of a relationship. Many people these days will argue that God can be found in nature, so why go to Church? But again, if God wants you to go to Church but you choose to seek Him in nature are you not slapping him in the face by rejecting his will. How can you seek God through disobedience? Such a soul says, “I want to know God, but I do not want to know Him on His terms, but rather my own.” This is a spiritual sickness which finds itself rooted in fear and sloth. It is something that all religious and non-religious people suffer from on all sorts of levels. For even a priest who celebrates mass regularly may complain that he is not collected and yet does nothing prior to mass to spiritually prepare himself.Roman Collar

The Sacrament of orders seeks to communicate the Person of Christ, and in the priesthood and episcopacy, Christ the Head. A priest is not merely a sacrament of the Person of Christ when he celebrates mass, but rather is a living sacrament of Christ while he sleeps and while he walks out in public. He is a sacrament of Christ to himself, as he lives in the privacy of his own home. And Christ has revealed himself not to be some sort of androgynous human being, but God himself has loved us in a manly way through Christ. Christ choose to be a man. Radical-Feminists may suggest that “he had to choose one sex, and he did so because he had to fit into the current temperament of the people for them to take him seriously.” But this is likely the most unwise statement one could ever conjure up. Christ was crucified precisely because no one took Him seriously or seriously-enough. If in the heart, all the disciples truly believed He was God and sent to save them, they would have all lined up at the foot of that cross or been crucified with Him on the same good-Friday. Many people had a hard time accepting what Christ taught. Furthermore, God does not bow to sexism or any sort of social injustice, he entirely wipes it out through his preaching and teaching and choices. This same Christ chose 12 disciples and excluded women from this particular sacrament.

The answer to the question “why” He did what He did can easily be understood as was previously stated: Christ is the Husband of the Church. Our sexual identity, as male or female is incredibly important, and it communicates an objective truth about God. We stated earlier that at the height of creation, God created man and women in His own Image, and for that reason, we are very good. To downplay human sexuality, would be to undermine God’s own decisive decision to make us the way we are for a particular reason. That reason being: communion. It was not good that Adam should be alone, so God created Eve. That is to say, that no one is made to be alone, but we are all created to love and be loved. This teaches us something profound about God as Trinity, that He is both Lover and Beloved. And Man and Woman imitate this love, while being of the same essence (bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh) to each other insofar as they are of equal value while not being the same.st-john-of-the-cross

Jesus who is the groom of His Church united the very sacrificial reality of His death to His identity as Husband. His sacrifice and his Marital relationship with the Church are intrinsically tied together that it would be altogether impossible for a woman to ever echo the words in a meaningful way: “This is my Body, given up for you.” For this very act of Christ offering His body to His bride is what tore the veil in the temple, revealing his presence to His unveiled bride. One cannot separate Christ’s manhood from the sacrifice, for it was motivated out of spousal love, communicated in a very concrete way through the masculine identity of Christ. To scoff and dismiss this marital union with the Church is to reduce Christ’s love for us as some sort of mere platonic idealistic love that never actually was incarnate in the flesh. And as the Catechism itself teaches, Christ’s flesh is the hinge of our salvation.

The Spirit of the Liturgy & Obedience to the Rubrics

The sacrament of the priesthood is necessarily tied into the Eucharist which the Church teaches is the source and summit of the Christian life. The Church does not say, “Catholic” it says, “Christian.” This has profound ecumenical consequences when considering the ultimate goal of unity with all Christians. That is to say that to be fully united with the Source and reach the summit of our shared faith, one must worship the Eucharist in reality. The end goal of ecumenism therefore is participation in the sacraments of initiation, ending in the Eucharist (for those at the age of reason).

Father Benedict has spent a great deal of time reflecting on the beauty and goodness of the liturgy, reminding the Church that we are not to play around with the rubrics. Anyone can find canonical or liturgical loopholes, just as much as anyone can play the legal system and get off on technicalities. The real question we must ask ourselves is: are we abiding by the Spirit? One does not get into heaven by “technically following the law.” We can obey the law and be entirely disobedient at the same time. For instance, if a man were to celebrate mass according to the rubrics he would be blameless in terms of the mass being licit and valid. However, he might not have prepared well for the celebration of mass, his homily was not the fruit of prayer, and in his heart was judgment. Despite the fact that such a man celebrated well, does not implythat God is pleased with such a sacrifice, or lack thereof. There are a whole slew of examples that could be given to things that are “technically permitted” but are pastorally stupid. But that is not the point of this reflection, the point rather is to focus on the simple fact that it ought to be always perceived that God is the instigator of our worship, the ordering agent of it, and the Spirit within it.  Anyone who has read the book of Leviticus has to agree to the fact that God cares about the details.  Those who did not follow the details of how to properly worship God were often punished severely.  It is not because God in the Old Testament was a Legalist and then loosened up when He was incarnate.  Rather, God wanted people to be obedient to Him, and He gave them a concrete (ritual) manner to know Him.Adoration

This realization will foster within each person docility rather than the ego-centrism of making either the priest or the people the centre of the liturgy. Rather the focal point will be the Paschal Mystery which is fully present in the Eucharist. Again, without the Spirit behind every act of our will (docility to the Church, the very sacrament of Christ’s Mystical Body), our worship is entirely in vain as we spiritually sum up to Peter who promised to never abandon Christ or Judas who displayed honour through a kiss while in the very act was betraying Him. God knows He is the best gift for anyone, and as a result of this self-knowledge, God wants to be at the centre of our lives for our own sake. Placing the Eucharist at the centre of our worship, since He is the true presence, is incredibly important.

All of that being said, the liturgy itself is full of signs and symbols that would require a reflection of its own. They direct and order our worship and inform us about who God is, and what Heaven is like. Messing with this order of the mass therefore has grave consequences for it will ‘twist’ men in their own formation. We must therefore take to heart the Church’s teaching with regard to all facets of the Sacred Liturgy: sacred music, the GIRM, and the directives of the diocese.

Licit, Valid, and Displeasing Worship

The liturgy itself can sadly be disjointed from our own lives, and this is a problem I have witnessed in the growing faithful. While in an older generation the Eucharist was down-played in His importance, in this generation He is placed back on His throne. Unfortunately a lack of integration between the sacrifices of one’s life being united to the sacrifice of the mass has been altogether forgotten and this makes our worship empty. Some Protestants have been noted saying, ‘If Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, I would stay there all day, before Him.” And while this certainly highlights the profound devotion that Protestants have to Christ, in principle it again asserts one’s own will over God’s.

The liturgy itself is filled with prayers that remind us that we bring to the altar a sacrifice, and this sacrifice entails what we have done prior to mass and after our commission to spread the Gospel. To serve Christ in the Eucharist and to neglect the poor or those in need of the Gospel is a double-life that many fail to see today, and it again makes our participation in the Eucharist incredibly facile. Obedience is everything, we must live out our given vocation, and we cannot neglect the very real responsibilities of our ministry to our family, neighbours or our parish because of a disordered affection for the Eucharist. We cannot in any way exaggerate how important the Eucharist is in our lives, and this importance is stressed even more fully when we live out our given calling both on the streets and in the Church building. Many will undoubtable resist this point and suggest that I am down-playing the importance of the Eucharist and in some way supporting secular humanism. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.Caf Catholics

The experience of uniting ourselves to our Lord through the Eucharist is most fruitfully experienced in our lives when we have given to God our fullest service. It is inappropriate to receive the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin, and some sins can be discovered in our own neglect towards the mission given to us by baptism. We often consider sin to be in regard to bad things we have done, and yet fail to remember that the Confiteor also mentions “what I have failed to do.” I am writing this in the hopes of bring about a more fruitful reception and worship of the Eucharist, rather than placing Him at odds with service of neighbour and the living out of our vocation. That is why that statement echoed from Protestants is so utterly problematic, because it places one’s own preference for how one chooses to worship God over and above God’s own will for us.

If we choose to mess with the liturgy (and we know we are if we are), we are choosing to transmit a twisted message to the faithful. We will be held culpable of leading others astray as a result. That is the bottom line.

All sacraments are considered, when celebrated, to be a liturgical action. All of them transmit grace (communicate Christ), which should not be understood as some quantifiable, white, bright energy that is invisible (if it is invisible why would it be white?). Rather grace needs to be understood in terms of our relationship with God, and we need to have one to understand this phenomenologically

Chill Out

We might end therefore on this cautionary note: that because the 7 Sacraments are the ordinary means to unite ourselves to Christ’s saving works, the Devil will constantly be seeking to bring disorder and to twist the very manner of How God has revealed and initiated His communicative-plan to us. As a result, people will begin to worship a twisted vision of Christ, a false-Christ, one who is not real or true, or filled with half-truths. But Satan will also attack us as male and female, and he will vigorously set against us those both within the Church and from without.  Such has been the case with many martyrs throughout the centuries, beginning with St. John the Baptist.

We all need to chill out and just let God’s creation speak for itself, and the Church’s sacraments speak for themselves. We do not have to do more work than discovering the beauty of these realities. We work too hard to create our own path of righteousness and then falsely place the “divinely inspired” label upon it (implying we are God) as if that would actually convince anyone that it was made by God.   When you are in control of your own salvation, you become a sourpuss to everyone.

Everyone is fallible except for the Pope and the Magisterium, in so far as they are infallible. We need to relax and just follow the Good Shepherd. He knows how things are supposed to go, and He wants us to stop pushing our agendas. He Loves us, we shouldn’t fear what our lives would be like if we were Obedient to Him absolutely.Sourpuss

Remind yourself of how God reproved King David for attempting to build a temple for the Lord. It is not our initiative or our agenda, it is all about God’s will. He is smarter than us…we should listen.

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