Aversion to Reverence: Entitlement and Narcissism

                In the office of readings, July 2nd, 2015 we read 2 Samuel 6:1-23. This has always been a fascinating passage of scripture. We begin this reading with the movement of the Ark of the Covenant known to be the most holy possession of Israel. The Ark itself was venerated primarily because of what it contained: the presence of God. Leaving aside the very direct application this might have to our Blessed Mother, we realize that to the Jews, the Ark was to be treated with great reverence.

Why does God expect reverence from us?

Sometimes people will suggest that God is so humble that He would never demand reverence from us. This is true, only insofar as God would never demand reverence from us out of some ego-centric motive. However, God will demand reverence from us if it is for our own good. The opposite of reverence is familiarity, whereby we seek intimacy’s counterfeit. Familiarity is reducing a mystery into an object to which we claim to know everything about. Consider couples who begin with romance and end in familiarity; they begin with respect, but end with possessiveness and entitlement. This is an example of people who have lost a sense of the genuine mystery in the one to whom they are married to, and how much more true is it when applied to our relationship with God.

Pope Francis elevates the Eucharist as he celebrates Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi outside the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome June 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (June 19, 2014) See POPE-PROCESSION and POPE-CORPUSCHRISTI June 19, 2014

Pope Francis elevates the Eucharist as he celebrates Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi outside the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome June 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (June 19, 2014) See POPE-PROCESSION and POPE-CORPUSCHRISTI June 19, 2014

God expects reverence out of Justice. Keep in mind that God wants us to be righteous people, because that is good for the soul. Avoiding the poison of injustice helps us find inner-peace and peace with our neighbour. Therefore God wants us to be people of Justice. It is truly right and just, therefore, everywhere to give God thanks and praise. That is to say: in order for us to be “good” as far as justice goes, we need to be able to give credit where it is due, thanksgiving where it is due: and this begins with God. If it doesn’t begin with God who is responsible for everything, then our whole lives lack the proper orientation. How could we give more credit and thanksgiving to someone who is less responsible for all that is good? Would not our neglect of God become a twisted form of injustice?

Furthermore, we must understand why reverence is important from a Trinitarian perspective. The Father loves His Son, and out of that love expects us to Love him also. He does not appreciate when we defy or neglect His Son, to whom he Loves infinitely. Therefore out of love for His Son, he demands our reverence. Likewise, the Son is utterly in love with His Father, that he demands we respect Him. It is no wonder that the Father told us to Listen to Christ, and Christ told us everything He had heard from His Father. They are a united front, and expect us to respect them both. It is not as if they are seeking their own glory, but rather are seeking to glorify each other. Therefore, in this sense, out of Love for each other, the Trinity demands our respect.

Therefore, God seeks our reverence out of Love for each person within the Trinity and for our own good; thus the law of Christ (To love God and neighbour) is perfectly recapitulated in His demand for our reverence.

Spiritual Death: Entitlement to Grace

                Being aware of our own motives may help us to critically examine why we may or may not be overly critical of various forms of reverence. It may simply be that we have just grown accustom to the status quo in this regard. But if we are in Love with Christ, the status quo will never suffice. Perhaps change in the way others pray is perceived as a distraction: but sometimes distractions are good when they awake us out of a spiritual sleep and spiritual deafness to God’s presence. Perhaps they seem to draw attention to ourselves, and thus people automatically consider this a vain and unproductive activity. Aha, if this is the case, you must read the office of readings we encountered today. How easy it is to fall into the same trap that Michal fell into!

Before we examine Saul’s daughter’s reaction to King David dancing in the street before the presence of God, let us begin by examining what led up to such exaltation of the Presence of God. We note that Uzzah witnessed the Ark of the Covenant tipping, and so he stretched out His hands to steady it. On the surface, this might seem to be a fairly reasonable thing to do. However, God was utterly furious at Uzzah’s action that he was struck dead. Why?

Uzzah was not a Levite, and therefore not a priest. He took it upon himself to fulfill a role that God had not ordained him to accomplish. This means that Uzzah, who was not worthy of the task (election), was not permitted to take on the role of one of the priests. The priests had been consecrated to this particular task, and the whole established order that God had created around the Ark was meant to establish within the social-mindset of the Israelites a deep and profound reverence: the Ark was not something to be “familiar” with, but rather required a Divine-calling to handle.  The Ark therefore became a tangible means to understand our relationship with God in a properly ordered fashion.  The organization of the various roles/vocations of the Israelites became a means to teach people how to approach God, and in what spirit.

Applying this logic to the Church we realize that the way the Church organizes the liturgy has a profound impact on how we approach God.  This is something few seem to grasp in our day and age, which explains why the liturgy is often reduced to a symbol in the minds of many.  If we treat the Eucharist as if He is a symbol, people will naturally begin to believe it.  The way we pray, shapes what we believe in.  Furthermore, after Vatican II it became clear that priests reacted to clericalism by reinforcing clericalism, albeit unintentionally.  Instead of approaching their office without a spirituality of entitlement they shared that spiritual sickness of entitlement with the laity.  All of a sudden people began to feel as if they had a “right” to approach the sanctuary and preform duties that were strictly assigned to the priest.   Therefore, instead of defacing entitlement we hid it by encouraging it in everyone.  No longer was grace (gift) even in our minds:  entitlement was.  And as Pope Francis suggests, we priests clerlicalized the laity, passing on our own sickness, rather than building up the laity in their own vocation.Uzzah

Uzzah’s extended hand did not convey a reverence for the Ark, but was actually the exact opposite: he felt entitled to approach the presence of God, something that was clearly spelled out to be forbidden. God was therefore not punishing Uzzah’s intention of saving the Ark but rather his spirit of entitlement. Consider this passage in this way: when we approach God with presumption and entitlement we are spiritually dead. We cannot receive “grace” authentically if we perceive “grace” as something we are entitled to. It will never take root in us.  If this is our attitude we have reversed the entire order of justice, suggesting that God owes us reverence, and that it is truly right and just for us to be able to be in the presence of God. How spiritually twisted and vile for any human being to consider “grace” a right in the spiritual-sense. For grace is a gift, that we receive with gratitude, not possessiveness. Truly Uzzah was spiritually dead when he reached out to the Presence of God in the Ark.

King David was shaken by this experience and as a result welled up with reverence for the Presence that he could not fathom it being brought to Him in a deserving manner. In other words, David understood the pride of Uzzah and therefore sought to ground Himself in a spirit of gratitude that God had chosen Him and the Israelites to enjoy such a procession of God’s presence.

Michal and Reverence-haters

                Michal is a fantastic analogy for the spirituality of many who are off-put by reverence today. As David welcomes the Ark of the Covenant into the City, he dances and seemingly makes a fool of himself. However, David is over-the-top excited that God has chosen to be present to Him, and he can only appreciate this because all entitlement within Him is entirely vanquished. His gratitude is grounded in the very fact that he is dust, but with God’s abiding presence (grace) he is elevated from dust to life. What an incredible and exciting realization to have that a self-affirming culture cannot ever comprehend. When we affirm ourselves in the right-spirit it involves giving no credit to ourselves, but rather to the one who made us. We do not make our own heartbeat, nor do we design ourselves: that is all God’s doing. Therefore, when we affirm ourselves in an inordinate way it means we confuse our behaviour with our being: we think we are responsible for creating ourselves. This narcissism will naturally lead to one conclusion: entitlement and despair.

Michal who has lost her inheritance after David replaces her Father Saul is filled with jealousy and therefore allows her bitterness to guide her interpretation of David’s leadership. She is disposed against Him, and will therefore always resent his actions and find fault with them, even when there is no fault.  In this case, she accuses King David of the same thing so many nay-sayers today accuse those who demonstrate reverence: “How the King of Israel has honoured himself today.” In other words, Michal is convinced that David has honoured himself or is showing reverence to God as a façade of actually receiving honour from others for himself. While it is more than possible that false piety can be twisted in such a sense, we must keep in mind that the external action of King David was actually in synch with a proper spiritual attitude. As a result Michal is judgmental and incorrect in her judgment. David responds that he would love to be dishonoured before the presence of God if only it builds up people’s view of God’s presence. What a profoundly humbling statement for David to say: something that is stated from a man who genuinely loves God.David dancing

Michal is later said to have lived without being able to conceive until the day she died. Perhaps, interpreting this in a spiritual light, we might be able to say that because her heart was hardened against authentic reverence (borne of her hatred for King David and therefore his example), she was not able to contribute new life to the Assembly of God. Without the spiritual fruit of reverence, it is impossible to add new life to the Church, in the spiritual sense. Our love for God will naturally draw other people into a relationship with God. A love for our neighbour is secondary to a love for God, and rightfully so, lest our neighbour becomes deserving of more honour then God.
Liturgy, Ritual, and Worship that is Pleasing

God gives us ritual as a means to express our love for God with our entire-being. We are body and soul: therefore our worship ought to be comprised of both body-and-soul. With a purely abstract love of God, we develop spiritual disorder within ourselves, and naturally with our neighbour. Do we give God worship in our mind, but not in our body, yet we show honour and respect in both ways to our neighbour? Why would we dare to give God less than what we would give one of His creatures? Ritual and Liturgy are the very means to bestow upon God this reverence.  Two friends of mine gave a perfect example of why this makes sense.  For the sake of propriety I will give them other names.  Matt went to mass with his girl-friend Kelly.  He went to mass because he really liked Kelly, but the faith was still growing within him.  One day Kelly noticed that Matt’s but was leaning on the pew during consecration (and he had no back-problems).  She told him:  get your butt off of that pew.  His response was swift:  “I’m pretty sure God doesn’t care.”  She gave him a head-flip, and then flipped back, and said, “If you cannot honour God, who can you honour?”

I love this true-story because it demonstrates a common attitude amongst people today, which is that God doesn’t care about our reverence.  God doesn’t care about a “show” of piety, but He does want us to place Him in the highest throne in our own soul.  Not because he needs such adulation, but rather, in order for us to be good, we need to place Him there out of justice.  Furthermore, our love for our neighbour cannot ever be authentic, if we do not put God in the highest place first.  Otherwise, we honour who we prefer, rather than who deserves it, and we cannot be grounded in justice if we are grounded in our preference over truth.

Sometimes we are like Uzzah who consider ourselves entitled to approach God with a spirit of familiarity.  One might think acting with familiarity presents ourselves as “down-to-earth” but in reality we are only perceived as down to earth by the people because the people perceive what is base to be down-to-earth. Likewise, we become base and spiritually dead when we buy into such a counterfeit.

A photo illustration shows a priest cleaning the Communion vessels inside the chapel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' building in Washington Oct. 24. At the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion will no longer be permitted to assist in the purification of the sacred vessels at Masses in the United States. (CNS photo illustration/Bob Roller) (Oct. 24, 2006) See SKYLSTAD-VESSELS Oct. 24, 2006.

A photo illustration shows a priest cleaning the Communion vessels inside the chapel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ building in Washington Oct. 24. At the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion will no longer be permitted to assist in the purification of the sacred vessels at Masses in the United States. (CNS photo illustration/Bob Roller) (Oct. 24, 2006) See SKYLSTAD-VESSELS Oct. 24, 2006.

One of the practices in our diocese, for instance, is that only the ordained ministers (and those who have received the ministry of Acolyte from the Bishop) are permitted to purify the vessels used after consecration. This often is perceived as “off-putting” because people feel as if they are entitled to touch the sacred vessels whenever it pleases them. People are found to be put-off when one suggests that they are unworthy of such a task. This is the wrong attitude, and it springs from a spirituality of narcissistic entitlement.

An ordained minister who rightly understands his vocation understands this to be something given to Him as a gift and a responsibility. He should never perceive such tasks as being something He is entitled to, but rather elected to accomplish. But when a priest perceives all of ministry under the lens of entitlement he might project that into the role of the laity, and therefore relax such rules, making everyone seemingly “entitled.” The unfortunate thing about such an attitude is it ultimately never uproots the spiritual disease, it simply enables it amongst everyone.incense-and-icon

God elects certain people for such tasks as a means to bring about humility: and so when these tasks are blurred between the laity and the clergy what happens is we remove ourselves from a very tangible method of making the Church filled with gratitude and reverence. We do not see the wisdom in the social-dynamic of allowing for such order to be supported, because we only perceive things through the lens of our fallen-nature.  We also lack the prophetic vision we are to have, in how God’s little laws and rubrics are actually impactful in an authentic spirituality.  We are constantly attempting to be progressive in sin, and totally unaware of this as the objective method and goal of our aims.

A priest has been made worthy, not by His own merit, but by the election and will of God. And with that gift, He is called to holiness as everyone else is: but in his particular task. If we were to internalize the Little-Flower a bit more realistically, we would come to the conclusion that such a task as handling the divine mysteries is incredibly debasing to our own ego.

The solution is in realizing that we demonstrate reverence not because we are worthy of God or showing our own holiness to others, but rather, we are debasing our pride that God may be the Rose that is noticeable amongst us, the little white-flowers that merely draw your attention to the real-deal: God.

Regardless of our vocation in life: life isn’t about any of us: it is about the glory of God. The quicker we learn this, the more abandoned we become from our own glory: the more we will experience God’s glory and all the joy that comes from such exciting love.

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Silence and Confrontation: Dealing with Difficult People

Every situation is different and requires its own discernment. Therefore it is impossible to provide a universal response to every personal conflict that may arise. My intention is to offer some principles that might help in various situations. However, underneath each reaction and interaction or lack thereof that we may or may not have with others must be done in the right spirit. This means we must realize that all interactions involve spiritual discernment. Words or silence both have power. I would like to spend some time sharing with you some attitudes and responses we might have with difficult and challenging people. Everyone has their own charism in dealing with issues in their own way, and their own personality. However, there are times when we need to have boundaries.

I would like to first address the diabolical or evil presence of an individual. All of us can be mouth-pieces for Satan. And if we are really honest with ourselves, we will note occasions in our lives when our words were destructive in the life of others. Be assured this doesn’t make you so far gone that you needn’t consider yourself a Christian. Remember: St. Peter was told by Jesus: “Get behind me Satan.” Eve was the first mouth-piece of Satan when she tempted Adam. All of us have some part to play in passing on gossip, lies, personal opinions and impulsive statements that are naïve, that can cause misdirection and disorder in the lives of others.curearshc However, there are some people who are so crafty and under the influence of the Evil One (perhaps without knowing it) to such a degree that they should be avoided. These people might be possessed (it is the demon speaking), or they could simply be wicked.

Pope Francis recently drew a distinction between the “corrupt” and the sinner. The sinner is all of us, including the corrupt man. However, the corrupt man is a type of sinner that might not be in all of us.  He is one who knows he is a sinner, yet refuses to admit of it to himself and to others. It may seem that I have contradicted myself here. If a person knows he is a sinner, how can he refuse to admit that? Doesn’t he admit it on some level? Yes. However, there is a whole other level of self-deception, self-justification and self-righteousness that abodes in him.

He is convinced in and through his passion and lack of spiritual integrity that he is righteous when he is not.  Such a man is vicious, and thinks himself (on the surface) to be virtuous.   Again, I think if we are honest with ourselves, this exists to some degree in all of us, but in the wicked/corrupt, it is to such a degree that the person is poison and cancer to be around.  In fact our presence actually enables the person to perpetuate evil. These are the people we should not eat-with.  Such people whose presence brings about a sort of “inner-twisting” whereby we recognize that entering into dialogue with such a person becomes a battle-ground that we cannot win. No matter what you say, no matter how genuine you say it, your words will be used against you. Pharisees did this to the Master, and he was so wise that many times He could answer their questions with such great wisdom that it would confound the people. However, not all of us have such power and wisdom. Many of us, including me especially, can experience a temptation to respond to every objection or every argument or every accusation.  Meanwhile, this is merely the person bating you.  Christ also did respond silent, and at other times he answered questions they didn’t ask, in order to frame the discussion on His own terms.

The antagonistic person might purposefully mischaracterize your point simply to antagonize a response out of you.  This is typically called “trolling” but it can be done with a vicious spirit.  In many of these cases, what God asks of us is silence. I remember years ago I was having a difficult relationship with someone. It came to me, through a great deal of prayer, that I was not meant to dialogue with that individual. Through direction and the guidance of many others, I was told: “This isn’t your responsibility.” Of course, pride and a false type of charity always brought about the temptation to avoid fostering a legitimate boundary for my own sanity. Such great anxiety (the type that causes you to not sleep) would take hold of my heart that I felt the need to “control” or seek “reconciliation” with this individual at any cost. Isn’t that what Christians are called to do? Not always.

Anti-ChristWhen I was young, I had an exaggerated notion of God’s mercy. It is a weird thing to say, because we know that there are no limits to God’s mercy. But there are limits to its definition. Some acts are merciful, others are not. If a person is abusive, subjecting yourself to that abuse isn’t merciful towards that person at all…it is enabling. Sometimes mercy, and love, are not perceived as either mercy or love. Again, when I was young, I didn’t understand this. I remember Christmas Eve, praying for the Devil, that I hoped he would have a good Christmas. It was an absurd prayer, of course, as a child, I didn’t understand the nature of angelology and why what I prayed for was impossible. It was at best a sentimental and hyperbolic notion of mercy. But it was offered to no avail. Sometimes people are so wrapped up in the devil, in deception that we simply need to respond to their own vileness and viciousness with silence.

Exorcists are reminded of this when exorcising a person who is possessed. They are reminded that entering into a dialogue with the devil himself is a fruitless endeavour. Satan is far more intelligent than us, and therefore, whatever he does, be assured its aim is deceptive and a means to ensnare us. One priest testifies that during an exorcism that he performed, the possessed individual began cracking jokes to such a degree that it had the priest and the people rolling on the floor in laughter. But it was all a deception, slowing down the process of exorcism. No curiosity, no saviour-complex , should ever avail us to converse with those who are ensnared, except when they are not under such an influence. But sometimes a person is not possessed, sometimes the person themselves is wicked enough that they need not be possessed to conduct their evil deeds. And like the devil, they may be able to outsmart you and to manipulate the discussion in such a way that brings about confusion and disorder into your life that God does not want for you, that you cannot handle, nor are expected to handle.

Let me give you an example. Last week I was at Shoppers Drug Mart picking up a prescription. As I waited in line having purchased some other medication, a man was ahead of me. He stated: “Bless me Father!” Immediately I felt ill talking to this man.  I didn’t feel bothered, but I could feel the disorder within him, in my own soul. He was not there to respect the office or the Church or to discuss anything with an open heart or mind. He continued: “The only regret I have about being Catholic is that I wasn’t sexually abused. That way I could have become rich by suing the Church.”

I was taken off guard, and immediately felt confused by his statement. I needed time to process it, but I couldn’t understand his point. How demeaning to those who had been sexually abused, who probably wished every day that they hadn’t been abused! Was he attacking the victims, suggesting that they were lucky to be abused because they received money? It seemed horribly absurd. Was he in some twisted way trying to get me to suggest that the victims were just “money-grabbers?” Immediately, in my spirit, I felt this intense regret for the abuse of children within the Church. Rather than directly responding to his statement I simply confessed: “It is quite horrible what has happened to those children, isn’t it?”

My question framed the discussion in the way it should have been framed. Interestingly enough he changed the subject. He then confessed he was an atheist who followed Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. At this point, I wanted to see if he was interested in an intellectual discussion. I asked him: “Have you heard of Peter Kreeft. He is a professor of Philosophy and has some intelligent things to say on the matter.” “Pffft” he responded, “Philosophy is stupid. Do you even know what it means?” I responded, “Yes. It means Love of Wisdom. And if you don’t love it, you don’t have it.”

I purposefully made a point with a small bit of humour, to assess whether or not he would be willing to discuss anything on an intellectual level or just to be down-to-earth for a moment.  I prodded, to assess the situation to confirm my intuition.  However, he didn’t seem interested and just changed the subject.  Was his goal to frustrate me?  Probably.  But he wasn’t in my head, he hadn’t gotten under my skin. The conversation went in many different directions after this. Later, while he walked away, he turned around and said, “And remember: whatever.” His statement reminded me of Zen Buddhism which upholds that the notion that there is some cosmological purpose to our existence is inherently absurd. This was how I interpreted his action.

But I didn’t react, other than to say to him: “Enjoy your movie.” In this interaction, I knew that nothing I said held any weight or value. He was talking to me in order to vex his own venom, and yet I took control of the conversation by framing his statements in the proper light. As a result, he did not stir or get the reaction from me he wanted. Perhaps he wanted me to be offended. But I wasn’t. I just stood there, not really sure what to say, and spoke when I felt called and remained silent when I couldn’t figure out where the conversation was going.

I also didn’t give him any excuse to dismiss me as a Christian by reacting tit for tat. In this way, I believe I upheld the teaching about “turning the cheek.” This of course has been grossly misunderstood. When we turn the cheek it doesn’t actually mean we turn the other cheek to be abused. Rather, we are actually taking control of a situation, while maintaining our own integrity. This is because in Jesus’ time no one would ever be considered honourable if they struck you with their left hand (that is the hand that was used to clean themselves). Therefore to turn your cheek, you would be saying, “You must dishonour yourself if you wish to hit me again.” It was a way of saying, “I’m not going to respond to your hatred with hatred, but I’m also not going to allow you to do this again to me.”

Victims of abuse who fall for a false notion of mercy and Christian charity often think that what the Church is requiring of them is to remain in an abusive situation. But understanding scripture properly, we know that this just is not the case. God does not want us to condone behaviour by enabling it, nor does he want us to become what we hate, fighting fire with fire. The path to love our enemies is therefore incredibly narrow. On the one hand we cannot be enabling, but on the other hand we cannot hate the person. There is a place in between, but it is difficult to find.

Sometimes people need to walk away from situations, from towns who do not believe, just as Jesus did. We need not curse the town in the process, but we should walk away. Our happiness is not contingent on concessions and reconciliation with every sinner. Our peace comes from being reconciled to God, which involves an openness (but not success) in finding peace in our neighbour. Some people will never admit of their own fault in this life; for them it seems too hard to bear to look inward. All in all, I have encountered numerous times, that not every situation requires a response. Sometimes we are simply there to be slaughtered like a silent lamb, and this speaks more eloquently than anything else we can say.

Having wickedness disturb your peace will only validate his antagonism. Being unmoved and at peace will only inflict war within the antagonist. And this is good, and for this reason Christ came to bring the sword, rather than false-peace.10 commandments Christ brings division, as he sheds light upon the issues we sweep under the rug.  We the people hate the truth at times…its hard to look at.  But when we are seeking the truth with integrity, God can work with that, and help to win our hearts over. But it is His work.

Not all cases are diabolical. Sometimes people are wounded and they are impulsive and immature with their emotions. Their emotions frame their perception of truth to such a degree that they act without any impulse control. They use manipulative techniques without even realizing it in themselves. I have encountered some people who will go from “one-extreme to another.” They do this in order to manipulate your emotions to feel bad for them, and to make you perceive yourself as the bad-guy.

No one wants to be considered bad, but if our goal is to be perceived well by others, we are vain.  Often such a way of framing a situation easily controls your behaviour that we acquiesce to their bullying, because their perception seems to matter to us over and above what the truth actually says. I have been bold in this regard with some individuals, especially those who go from one extreme to another. I remember one time offering a critique (although I offered a lot of praise as well). This individual however only heard the criticism. As a result he/she decided to say, “Fine I won’t do anything anymore.” I responded, “Hey that is manipulative.”

The shock on the person’s face was telling. He/she realized when I said that, I wasn’t attacking him/her, I was actually encouraging the person. It put them in a dizzy. Why? Well, I explained, “I love what you do, and I think it would be great if you continue. I am only asking you to change this one little-thing.” In other words, I did not back down from my request, but I also put the situation, immediately, into its proper context. I added, “Going from one extreme to another is merely a technique to get a person to feel sorry for you and to back down. I’m not backing down, but I’m also not attacking you personally. I love you, and am asking you to do this because it’s what should be done. Can I explain why it is important?” It is funny how calling people out can be so profoundly loving, and actually building the person up, in such a situation. The person is called out on their emotional, disproportionate reaction, while maintaining at the same time an authentic love for the person. It was a grace to be able to do this, and the person left realizing that I had set up a boundary where immaturity was not welcome, but love was.  All of a sudden love was real, and concrete, not sentimental and ambiguous.

People want real love, and it comes from people who are not obsessed with the perception of others; in this way love is proven authentic, and weighty. When we search for love through manipulation we are always left empty. The one thing I’ve learned through all of this is that loving your enemy (or difficult people), is both a gift and a challenge. It is a gift because it gives us the chance to build up within ourselves the virtue of confidence in the truth, while also loving the person we speak to. People, therefore, who are difficult are saving us, they are God’s gift to us.  If we don’t attempt to enter through the narrow gate, we either vilify the person to the point where we excuse ourselves into silence, or we enable the person by justifying their behaviour through our presence or keeping the dialogue/diatribe in motion.  Both are wrong, and both are right responses, depending on the situation, the motive and the way we go about communicating what is important. In the person whom you should not speak to, you learn how to conquer the temptation of a saviour complex or the false notion of mercy (enabling). With the emotionally unstable or immature person, you learn how to communicate love, while not simply avoiding conflict out of sloth or cowardice.

All situations can bring about a death-to-self. NEROBut I will end with a caution. There are people in our lives that we need to shut out. While the nature of man is good, we must keep in mind that the nature of the devil is also good. The devil was created by God, and will always have the nature to “worship God.” But the moral-character (which differs from our nature/ontology) of some people is vile and evil. Alternatively, we must be very careful not to vilify someone simply because they disagree with us, and therefore to pigeon-hole them into this category. We become one of those crazy Catholics who think that everyone and everything is the devil. In reality, we become the number-one reason why no one goes to Church or is attracted to Christianity.

We must therefore have more than a gut-reaction, but be wise and live a prayerful life under the guidance of good direction from people who have an objective and wise view. If we are tempted to dismiss a person for the wrong reasons, to excuse ourselves and to rationalize/justify this action by convincing ourselves that they are more evil and twisted then they really are, then we are not approaching this with the right spirit. Above all, there must be an awareness of our motives, and why we “want” to either avoid or seek conflict.

Sometimes we are living a life motivated by fear and therefore pride, yet we have the habit of justifying our motives in the service of God or neighbour, that we fail to realize the motives are actually quite the opposite.  Some occasions call for directness, other situations require boundaries that avoid enabling certain behaviour. There are some people we need to simply ignore or walk away from (which can be a loving thing for that person), unless they experience a transformation so significant that the reality of manipulation and twistedness is gone. At the end of the day, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ through baptism. We are not meant to be at war with each other, but we are. And we must battle and navigate through temptation carefully and with wisdom. Therefore, be neither only silent nor only confrontational: but wise. Christ did both. Know your limits, and know the person you are talking to.


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Spiritual Narcissism & The Glory of God’s Name

In the apologetics class that I teach, we have been working our way through the book of Genesis. One of the themes that arises in the beginning of the book is “making a name for ourselves” versus seeking to glorify the name of God. This has been a theme constantly on my mind for a number of years. I first began to reflect on boasting of the name of God when I was watching the Chronicles of Narnia. One of the interesting themes we find within this story line is Aslan who is an obvious “Christ-figure” as intended by the Author, C. S. Lewis.Nun Cross

Within the series we discover that every time the soldiers, who defend Narnia, go to battle, they make the mistake of defending “Narnia” while leaving the name of Aslan out of their cheer. Unwittingly, each time they do this, they lose the battle. It isn’t until they experience a conversion that admits the battle is truly being fought for Aslan, and then Narnia, that they actually defeat their enemies. It was subtle in the movie, but this very reference has its roots all over scripture.

Gideon, is a man who struggles to trust God.  His reasoning and fickle spirit seems to cast doubt on God’s promise and power.  As a result, Gideon asks God for sign after sign.  God obliges out of patience.  God reduces the Army of Israel to such a pitiful number of soldiers, and scripture explains that this is done so that Israel would not boast of itself. Rather, Israel cannot boast of their own strength or ingenuity, but can only boast of God who makes the most foolish (in the eyes of the world) become the most powerful. This small army accomplishes its task, despite what human-wisdom would have otherwise suggested.  God takes what is weak in the world and uses them to overthrow the powerful and arrogant. That is God’s style, for He does not wish that we ever trust in ourselves.

God is Confident

Why would God want the focus to always be upon Him? Is He ego-centric? No. God is teaching us that apart from Him nothing we do will bear good-fruit. God recognizes that He alone is the path to our own happiness. God does not “need” us to boast of Himself. It is not as if God has poor self-esteem.  He does not need us to make Him feel better about Himself. God is infinitely confident without one speck of arrogance.  It just so happens that God is perfect, and He knows it.  Yet He doesn’t boast of this out of arrogance, but rather reveals this to us so that we will look to Him for help.  That is to say, God’s perfection is given to us out of service and love.  God wants us to worship Him, to boast of Him, and to place Him on the highest pedestal because that is precisely what is good for us. God realizes He is the best thing (community of Persons) to offer us, and that there is nothing else that He can give us that is greater than Himself. That is to say that the greatest gift mankind could ever receive is the gift of God Himself.

Our worship and boasting of God is good for us because we are people who know who to thank. Without a sense of gratitude for all that God has done for us, without boasting of Him every day, we turn into self-centred, ungrateful, narcissistic brats. Think about it. If it is righteous to thank your parents for the gifts they give you, is it not all the more righteous to thank God for the whole universe? What about His death upon the cross, or the suffering moments in our life that have taught us how to love, and enables our love to be genuine? In all things we can find a reason for gratitude. Therefore we say at every mass, “It is truly right and Just” to give God praise. This makes us people of justice and righteousness to give God His due. God does not need our praise; He does not lose any perfection or confidence within Himself if we walk away. Rather, we lose the ability to be righteous and just, by walking away from worship.  Without worshipping God, we fail to be good, morally.  We might be good always in who He has created us to be, but our spirit is self-centred, nonetheless.

If we get excited about boasting of God, it means we have truly interiorized His Name, and it’s holiness.  God has done so many marvelous things for us, we wouldn’t dare put His name under a bushel Basket.  We are enthralled with love for Him, we don’t care if it seems offensive to mention.  He is our friend, the Lover of our Soul, Infinite beauty itself.  Everything takes  a back-seat to His name, and a silent, anonymous Christianity dies.

Think back to Cain. When he built his own city he named it after his own son. Meanwhile the righteous line, stemming from Adam, did everything for the glory of God’s name. What a contrast! On the one hand, Cain places his emphasis on his own progeny, stressing the importance of what man can accomplish. Meanwhile, the righteous recognize that without God, nothing they accomplish is of any value. Cain has a plan to make glory for himself, which will all one day, destroy itself in the great flood. Cain places himself and human-ingenuity at the centre of everything, and inadvertently puts mankind into an ongoing conflict that will end by the mercy of God

Peace and War Noisy world

The whole question to why there is war in our world, in our country, in our families is at stake here.  And without spiritual peace, no structure or government power will ever foster genuine peace.  This is where it is important to reflect on the science of spiritual-peace. You see, every person searches for happiness, and sometimes we are looking for it in the wrong places. We get confused, deceived, and think the world and all it has to offer will finally cause our soul to be at rest in peace. The world offers us Power, Pleasure, Honour, and Wealth, and yet none of these things finally resolve man’s anthropological need for happiness. They may only give us momentary feelings of happiness, but if they become idols, rather than tools, they will lead to addictions that enslave man and cause turmoil between his brother and sister.

The reason for the inevitable absence of peace in man who seeks happiness through human effort instead of faith, is because human effort only bears the fruit of finite goods, and man hungers, objectively, for what is infinite. No person wants their happiness to end (an incorruptible happiness is what we long for) and yet all sinners place their hope in things that die (power, pleasure, honour and wealth). And while these four things are finite, as a result they cause us to fight with each other, because by definition, what is finite is limited. If our apparent or perceived happiness is found in a limited resource, that means we have to fight and trample upon each other to find the so-called happiness we seek, because there is not enough to go around.

There is only one thing that can make mankind finally at peace with one another, and satisfied: God. God is infinite, and He shows no partiality. That is to say that if all our subjective (of the will) and active choices direct ourselves towards hunger in God for total fulfillment then we cease to be in competition with one another because there is enough of God to go around. God becomes the source that truly satisfies us. Our worship therefore is a heart aligned to God that can bear the fruit of genuine peace in the lives of all of humanity. God wants us to worship Him, because it creates and fosters a heart and mind that is truly oriented towards authentic world peace.

Such peace will never come through an effort towards structures and governments alone. Such is to build another tower of Babel that only seeks to make a name for itself. In fact, scripture claims that was the goal of the people building the tower of Babel. They sought to make a name for themselves. How many self-righteous people draw attention to their supposidly selfless deeds of aiding the poor today?  How many activists puff themselves up for their saviour-like work?  Whatever is popular or contrary and good for the world becomes a means to caress our ego, and again seek Honour.  True peace will never be accomplished in this way.  When they had constructed the Tower, God came down (which means they failed), and they were scattered, unable to communicate to each other. The universal language of justice and love had been lost, and men’s hearts were divided in such a way that everyone became, again, at odds with each other.

Narcissism can also enter the Religious

But religiosity is not sufficient for our salvation. We cannot simply have external practices of piety, but rather unite that external devotion to the Spirit of Truth. Without the Spirit, our external actions become scandalous, as we bless out loud, while cursing in our own heart. Don’t be fooled by the lawless, the solution is not to remove the external practices, but rather live up to what they are meant to communicate in Spirit. A hug, for example, communicates love. So make sure, when you hug someone, it is because you love them as a brother or sister.  Those who put on a “good-show” will snap, connive, and pour out their venom through gossip.  They have no real peace in their heart, but only place all their repressed efforts on showing themselves as the grand-man of humility.  But when put to the test, they scatter like the hired hands who tend the sheep for their own personal profit.

The Pharisees therefore who sought to be “recognized” in public are not wrong because their worship was public. Rather they were wrong because their motives were twisted into “making a name for themselves.” Somehow the devil is able to offer us a counterfeit in every dimension of the Christian life. A Pharisee who had his heart rightly aligned would not seek to be recognized, but rather seek to recognize God. Likewise, the spirit of the world can infiltrate the spirit of the Christian so as to make repugnant what is meant to be a beautiful sign of God’s glory.  Why have so many priests stopped wearing their collar?  Why are so many people threatened by external acts of piety and reverence?  Because it has now been associated with emptiness and self-worship.  That is not what these external practices are meant to convey, and thus the solution isn’t to remove them as we see in the great “abstract-movement” of the post-conciliar Church.  Rather, we are called to reignite the flame of the unity of body and soul, of external actions and spirit.  Let us not fall into the trap of lawelessness or legalism.

Here are some questions that might awaken self-awareness and the capacity to interiorize this call, therefore to boast of God.

Do you lose your temper or self-control when the going-gets-tough?

This is a sign that the venom within your own soul has not been entirely drained by the mercy and patience and light of God.  When it comes out, it means you have more areas for healing in your life.  It is better to be honest about the venom than repress it, for when we repress it, we are merely putting on a show.

Do I experience jealousy at another’s accomplishments or recognition?

If so, does this not mean that you are seeking your own recognition? Envy is a sign that we are seeking finite goods, rather than God.

Solution: recognize that God is so utterly in Love with you. No matter what your failures or successes are, no matter what gifts you have or don’t have, that Love is a rock that will never change. Realize that this alone is what you need to be satisfied.

Do you experience wrath towards others?

Sometimes we begin to hate others because we view them as threats to our happiness or the happiness of others. But no principality or power, or prince or king can take away the Love that God has for us. Do not allow another person’s behaviour to cause you to lose your peace, for everything you need for true fulfillment has already been promised to you in Baptism.

Do you attach your worth to gifts/talents you may or may not have?

It is a common trap to think that what we can “do” is what makes us valuable. This is a lie. It is not what you can do that makes you good, it is who you are that makes you good. No matter what you do, God will always love you.   Be at peace, knowing that you have this unconditional love; because no matter what you do to yourself or to others, you will always be God’s creation, and not your own creator.

Do you withhold forgiveness?

Sometimes we can be hurt, and forgiveness will be a process. Hating what a person has done is – if morally wrong – always acceptable, and should be the case. But hating the person takes that righteous anger too far. Every person was made for love, and you will never find true happiness until you accept this. Forgiveness is a way to honour God’s creation, rather than man’s behaviour. Do not look at your life experiences as removing any hope of true happiness. Recognize them, instead, as a means to become a truly good and loving person, and therefore one who will inherit the Kingdom of God.

Do you have low-self-esteem?

It is a common struggle for many today. Self-love is a good thing, when we realize that we are not giving credit to ourselves, but rather to the one who made us. We do not make ourselves, and therefore, self-love is not a self-compliment, it is a compliment to God. If you are looking for anything else, you will always find yourself caressing your own ego, and thereby setting yourself up to be self-centred. This will lead you to hate yourself more and more. But if you are other-focused, you will forget about yourself, and begin to love others and God. When you fulfill this task, you are truly loving yourself, because you are being exactly who you were meant to be.

Don’t have many friends?

Many go through dry periods in their life, and many more experience isolation. Blessed Mother Theresa described loneliness as one of the greatest forms of poverty in our world. First, recognize that to have friends, you have to be a friend to others. Also, realize that you have Christ as your friend, and He is patient, always willing to forgive when we aren’t the best of friends. Pray for good friendships, that you might encounter people who accept you as God intended you to be accepted.

But if you look at friendship as the source of your happiness, you will find everyone will let you down. No matter how loyal or patient others are, they will die, betray, or not totally fulfill what your heart is ultimately longing for. Only friendship with God will do that. Start building that relationship, and make sure it isn’t a fantasy or wishful thinking, or abstract. Make your relationship with Christ real and tangible. Seek Him in everything you do.

Eating or Lusting too much?

Often we turn to momentary experiences of pleasure to escape the very real hunger within us. Realize that what you are objectively hungering for is Divine Love, and feeling that ache within is not a reason to despair, but a part of you crying out to God like a prayer to be filled by Him alone. Imagine how satisfied you will be when that hunger is satisfied.

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Pets, Heaven, and Marriage

Usually when you want to stir the pot as a priest you begin by discussing issues such as contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage, or any sexual and moral issue. That is what I thought, until May 22nd, 2015 when I made mention of what I had learned about the difference between pets and human souls in my Thomistic Philosophy Class during Seminary formation. It might interest you to know that Thomistic Philosophy (the study of St. Thomas Aquinas’ thought) is the only philosophy mandated by Rome to be taught to those preparing for the priesthood. According to Vatican I, Thomistic Philosophy is considered the perennial philosophy of the Church. This of course does not mean that this particular brand of philosophy is dogmatized, but rather it is your typical “go-to” place when we want to discuss the systematic nature of theology in the Church.dogcreation

What I’ve noticed in our culture today is an inordinate love of pets. People gravely wounded by loneliness have turned to pets to fill the gap. But we must return to the book of Genesis to examine why this is disordered. We remember that Adam had been given all the animals on the earth as a gift, and he had the freedom to name each one. Yet, despite naming all of them, he discovered that they didn’t really fulfill him. Therefore, despite being in a good relationship with all of nature, man was still found to be alone and in isolation. Man lacked communion with another, and animals simply didn’t fill that deep gap within his own being. God had created man and woman with a degree of incompleteness. Therefore God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” So God created for Adam, woman. St. John Paul II explains that “Adam” prior to Eve represented all of humanity, and the creation of woman in Eve represents the creation of both sexes. Woman being presented as being created last also means that she is God’s master-piece.

When Adam awoke from his sleep (a sort of ‘going-out-of-being’) he found Eve and discovered her to finally fill (to some degree) that gap within his own heart and soul. “Bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” At last, amongst all the earth, man had found his true companion. That hunger, that desire for communion, for affection and love, was now properly ordered in human-relationships.

When Adam, then followed the command of God to “Be fruitful and multiply,” they did not bear dogs and cats as children, but rather Cain and Abel. God’s command to have children was related to the conjugal act of erotic love between man and woman. Therefore the need for communion not only extended to the spouse, but also to the creation of a community with children. It is therefore in the nature of man and woman to desire a communion of love that bears the fruit of new life.

What happens when we don’t fill our natural needs? We sometimes go about trying to fill them in an unnatural or inordinate or unreasonable manner. The sad thing about this is, this hunger is the most fundamental gift that each of us have within ourselves, and it does not merely point towards children and a spouse, but it ultimately points towards God. Married couples discover quickly that after the Honeymoon, life is not entirely fulfilled. In other words, marriage acts as a foretaste of what a relationship with God is all about. A foretaste does not entirely satisfy our longing, but gives us a preview that inflames or awakens our hunger even more.

Noisy worldThe danger is, if our hunger is inflamed but we do not know where to order it, we will go about turning a foretaste into a gluttonous feast. Theologically speaking, we will turn an icon into an idol. Husbands and wives who possess each other without respecting each other’s freedom is precisely an example of this. It leads to a self-centred vacuum where each person becomes a black hole that seeks to suck the life and goodness out of others, and it is an infinite thing. Because man seeks God, who is infinite, as man unreasonably seeks his happiness in what is finite, it becomes addictive and never-ending. Nothing ever truly satisfies, and because man stops looking up towards heaven, he continues to search the earth to fulfill his need for infinity with what is finite. He will discover, hopefully that this is a pointless endeavour.

As a celibate male, I realize this in a more phenomenological way than merely theological and dialectical. The desire for communion is not “finally” answered through a sacred relationship with a wife. Rather, my heart is zealously pointed towards a complete and uncompromising thirst for God alone. I do not want the sign, I want the Trinity to burn within my Soul, the true spouse of my soul. It is not that I dismiss woman, but I see her as a gift who points me towards something that I hunger for even more deeply: the one to whom she was created in the Image and Likeness of: God.

This is, finally, why there is no marriage (human-marriage) in heaven, as Jesus explains. For each soul is married to God, who is capable of giving each of us the fullness of His attention. Some married couples have a difficult time with this, because they claim that their human spouse will be the most important relationship they have in heaven. But I have to remind them, their spouse on earth, while a gift from God, is merely a foretaste of the husband you will have for your own soul in heaven. Who would dare to replace God as husband?  Can they outdo Him in love?  We the Church, His Bride, are engaged at Baptism to God in heaven, and we hope our death is our wedding day and consummation with Him.

What happens, though when we fall into darkness about God and the hunger within ourselves? That hunger is so profound it motivates all of our actions. And this must be the reason why topics pertaining to sex often bring out all the world’s venom. Reconsider St. John the Baptist who had his head chopped off because of the Gospel he preached. Consider St. Thomas More! Don’t we get it? If our happiness and desire for total fulfillment is challenged, the spirit of murder rises up within ourselves to meet what is preventing us from filling that vacuum within ourselves.

Another way of putting it is, when we seek finite realities as our fulfillment:  both humans and creatures and things, to fill our wounded, hungering heart as the ultimate fulfillment we seek, we become competitive with each other. With finite-resources being limited, it is impossible for us not to become competitive. If God, however is our resource/source of happiness, then there is no need for competition, because there is enough of Him to go around to everyone. God therefore finally resolves the reason for all conflict, when He is placed as our ultimate goal and the food that we truly hunger for: for man does not hunger for bread alone.Nun Cross

What I have witnessed in people who call pets their children is a desire to create a fantasy that numbs the very real pain of loneliness that comes natural to them. Those who love their pets inordinately will actually say, (and I have witnessed it first hand) that if their pets are not in heaven, they do not want to go there. They have traded in God for a pet.  But what they loved in their Pet is already in God, infinitely, and thus fail to realize that the pet is an even smaller foretaste, but still nonetheless a foretaste of God’s good nature.

Whether or not pets are in heaven, along with their tapeworms, it should be a trivial question if our hunger is rightly ordered. Do not get me wrong: I love animals. I am a dog-person. I will get down on my knees and play with a dog, howl with the dog, and let the dog lick my face for hours. In fact, I even had a mystical experience with a dog – as weird as that sounds. I remember a time when I was very broken as a teen during a retreat. I left the prayer group in sobbing tears, and sat outside. Randomly a dog came up to me, and sat beside me. God gave me the supernatural grace to realize that it was not the dog who was loving me, but God was loving me, symbolically through the dog. It was a type of knowledge you receive by grace, not by mere reasoning.  If this is the type of relationship we have with nature, then it is healthy.  But if it is perverted by the idea that the actual pet is our happiness and necessary for our happiness, then we might consider going to adoration more.

Today we confuse the affection that exists in animals for love, they lift dogs and cats, therefore to the dignity of the human person. Please:  don’t buy into the notion that the Church hasn’t dogmatically claimed whether or not animals have the same type of soul as humans. The practice of the Church to baptize only human beings speaks for itself, and not once has any theological statement claimed that Christ died for the sins of Pepper, my deceased childhood dog. People want to believe their pets love them, because they are too burdened by the fact that their non-existent spouse doesn’t love them, because he or she doesn’t exist. The illusion of love in a pet makes the pain go away. But it’s an illusion. And one that I have witnessed will be defended at the cost of ostracizing a priest on Facebook.  Feeling that hunger is really what makes us good Christians if we allow it to become zeal for God.

What needs to happen, and this is coming from a man burning with desire for communion, is to learn to live in the pain of pleading“waiting” for that infinite love of God to be received. If our call is the single life, we should look at this as a gift that sets us on fire like a rocket towards heaven. Order your desire for love, your feelings of loneliness towards your ultimate end: God. Do not look at marriage as your ultimate fulfillment, but a means to arrive at your ultimate destination: marriage with God.

Love your pets, but love them not as a human being: love them as a very small picture of what God is like infinitely. Love humans even more, but again, don’t love them as you would Love God. Don’t make pets or humans into an idol: make God your object of worship.

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Listen to Fr. Chris: For FREE !

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Theology of the Body

Theology of the Body:  Spirituality [Part 1]

Theology of the Body:  Introduction [Part 2]

Theology of the Body:  Redemption through Marriage [Part 3]

Theology of the Body:  Abortion [Part 4]

Theology of the Body:  Contraception [Part 5]

Theology of the Body:  Chastity [Part 6]

Interview:  The Road to Joy:  Homosexuality and the Catholic Church

Theology of the Body:  Same-Sex Attraction [Part 7}


Persecution:  Solemnity of the Exaltation of the Cross

Virtue and Vice:  26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Loving God through the Poor:  30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

All-Souls Day:  Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

Dedication of St. John Lateran

Christ the King of the Universe

Undoing the Original Sin

The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ

Facing Exile:  2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exorcism and Christ’s Authority:  4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Suicide and Redemptive Suffering:  5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Evil and Redemptive Suffering:  6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Converting a Worldly Church:  1st Sunday in Lent

The Woman at the Well:  3rd Sunday of Lent

The Priesthood:  Holy Thursday

Infant Baptism:  6th Sunday of Easter

The Head and the Body and Zeal:  Ascension Sunday


Faith & Reason:  The Fundamentals – Part I

Faith & Reason:  The Fundamentals – Part II

How to Argue & Christian Anthropology – Part I

How to Argue & Christian Anthropology – Part I

God’s Existence & Moral Principles – Part I

God’s Existence & Moral Principles – Part II

Abortion – Why not? – Part I

Abortion – Why not? – Part II

Graphic Images & Abortion [Dan Zeleny]

Heaven, Hell and Purgatory – Part I

Heaven, Hell and Purgatory – Part II

Heaven, Hell and Purgatory – Part III

Protestantism & Catholicism – Part I

Protestantism & Catholicism – Part II

Human Sexuality:  Male and Female – Part I

Human Sexuality:  Male and Female – Part II

Human Sexuality:  Male and Female – Part III

Homosexuality – Part I

Homosexuality – Part II

Homosexuality – Part III [Testimony on Coming to Catholicism]

Evangelizing a Jehovah Witness [Christine Yeoumans] – Part I

Evangelizing a Jehovah Witness [Christine Yeoumans] – Part II

Contraception – Part I

Contraception – Part II

Saints, Devotion, and Virtue – Part I

Saints, Devotion, and Virtue – Part II

Faith, Hope, and Love:  Relativism, Marxism, and Lust

Euthanasia – Part I

Euthanasia – Part II

Euthanasia – Part III

Angels, Demons and Exorcism – Part I

Angels, Demons and Exorcism – Part II

Ministerial Priesthood – Part I

Ministerial Priesthood & Why the Church doesn’t Ordain Women – Part II

Evangelization and the Eucharist

Pope Benedict XVI and the Liturgy – Part I

Pope Benedict XVI and the Liturgy – Part II

The Natural Law and Spirituality

Testing your Philosophical and Theological Knowledge

Bible Study:

Genesis 1-3 – Part I

Genesis 1-3 – Part II

Genesis 4-9 – Part I

Genesis 4-9 – Part II

Genesis 10-13 – Part I

Genesis 10-13 – Part II

Genesis 14-19 – Part I

Genesis 14-19 – Part II

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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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