Category Archives: Apologetics

advice for a new Catholic

adult-baptism-rcia

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-by Rachel Lu,

“It’s an especially happy Easter for the Lu family this year, since a near and dear relative of mine came into the Church at the Easter Vigil. Eleven years into my Catholic life, I am no longer the only Catholic in my natal family. God is good.

In light of that, I’ve been reflecting on the topic of conversion, and what I as his sponsor really ought to convey. Since everyone’s life is a bit different, it’s hard to know what will really help. Even so, generating advice for neophytes is a healthy exercise in self-evaluation. What have I learned in my time so far as a Catholic? I made a list of the most important things, and would encourage others to make theirs, if only to reflect on where we might improve.

The first and most important thing I would say is that the repeatable sacraments are the bread and butter of Catholic life. No matter what else happens you must keep going to Mass, and to Confession. If you’re in a rut and they don’t seem to be helping, carry on anyway. If you’re busy, make time for it. Every kind of moral and spiritual problem can be worked out over time with the help of God’s grace. But if you discontinue these practices, you are spiritually starving yourself.  (Ed. where is your faith?  Trust Him always!  He will provide.  Assume the position of anticipation, reception, patience and trust.  Trust.  He will gloriously provide in ways we could NOT imagine!  He ALWAYS does.  He always does.  His timing NOT ours!!!  His!!!  Trust not in your own devices or wisdom! (Ps 143:6)  Trust Him!!!  ALWAYS.  ALL WAYS.  Praise Him, Church!  Praise Him.)

Don’t worry too much if you initially feel like you’re “going through the motions” in your sacramental life. Seasoned Catholics sometimes feel this way too, but over time we come to understand that sacraments go on working in our lives in ways we can’t immediately appreciate. Partly, that’s because grace is mysterious.  AMEN!  AMEN!  (Thinking you know it all, or adhering obsessively to ONLY the humanly quantifiable, is a sure way to prevent/resist it!  HUMBLE YOURSELF BEFORE THE LORD!!!!  Ps 51:17  Do NOT DEMAND HIs Presence or action, but patiently await His gifts.  Kings grant their gifts in their own way, in their own time!  Not under duress, or from demands of subjects/sinners!  Allow for the possibility of His love, His grace.  It will come much more swiftly and dramatically to you.  I promise!!  Be careful what you pray for!!  That Holy Spirit is POWERFUL, POWERFUL!!!  And, subtle as the whisper or the breeze. (1Kgs 19:13)  Just ask St Paul.)  🙂  But also, the Church has a lot more wisdom than most people realize. AMEN!  AMEN!  

Sacraments were filling deep human needs long before psychologists made up fancy terms for them. Modern people are inclined to lose heart if it doesn’t feel like their worship is sufficiently “authentic.” They should stop worrying so much. AMEN!  AMEN!  THE CHURCH UNDERSTANDS better than you do what is happening in your soul when you follow her advice. Think of her as a spiritual life coach, whose self-improvement program has an excellent track record of helping people over the long run.  (Or, the Instrument, the Bride of Christ on Earth!!!  His Spouse, as I prefer, as is more traditional!!!)

Confession especially can be quite awkward in the beginning. It’s also often disappointing if you’re expecting cinematic moments of stunning sacerdotal insight. (cheap parlor trick grace?  this is your god?  I pity you, truly. 🙁 ) (This, of course, is what the movies lead us to expect.)

Realistically, we probably shouldn’t see the confessional as a regular vehicle for external spiritual direction. (It has a more utilitarian focus, namely, the forgiveness of your sins.  And, there’s a line waiting behind you!)  Some priests really do have a kind of charism for it, and there are innumerable stories of penitents receiving a much-needed word at precisely the right time, enabling them to turn their lives around. It’s certainly good to make oneself available to that kind of grace. But it isn’t simply available on demand, and most of the time you’ll hear something brief, like a Bible verse or a quick platitude (“keep trying!”), followed by a penance and absolution. Don’t be disappointed. The priest has a lot to do and he doesn’t even know who you are.

My early confessions felt like awkward bean counting. Over time though, the regimen of regular confession completely changed my interior life. Sometimes bad habits get nipped in the bud just because I feel shame at the thought I might need to confess them.

I’m painfully aware of which sins are “my regulars,” (You can root out your “regulars”, too, if you are truly serious about it, and we ALL SHOULD BE, we should.  That is NOT to say, we can make ourselves sinless in this life by our own power.  We must let Him be God.  Makes sense, because He is.  His will, His way, even, especially when we do not understand why, especially then, trust, trust, trust.  Because of our fallen nature, sinner that I am, I will sin, again.  But, the power of His grace is AWESOME!!!  DON’T try harder.  Cooperate with grace!!  THIS IS GOD, we’re talking about, here!! If drugs are your problem, or such, STOP taking drugs!!!  Throw away in the trash where neither you nor anyone else can retrieve, EVER!!!  If you ARE going to repeat this sin, again, make it as expensive, and difficult to do so, as humanly possible.  Give yourself a chance, in a temporal way, at least.  Be practical.  Be real.  Deal.  Either you will, or you won’t.  Either way you & God will know the truth.  He ALWAYS DOES!!!  My money’s on God.  Sorry self, not really.  No more self-deception.  No more equivocating.  No more bullshitting yourself & God.  None!!!  Then trust, trust, trust, pray, pray, pray, love, love, love Him, more.  Rinse, and repeat, until He gives you the strength to be sober, to live soberly, and DO HIS WILL!!!  Let Him come to you!!  How sweet, how refreshing, how placid, it is, when He does.  🙂  I promise.  I do.  Literally, as God is my witness!!  I have benefitted.  I have.  I swear.) and at the same time, it often happens during my examination of conscience that I become unexpectedly aware of some failing that I hadn’t even noticed.  (Don’t be neurotic.  Be honest.  Be open.  Love Him more.  It will be easy, because you know He does.)

The most important thing to understand, though, is that confession is not about wallowing in guilt. Quite the contrary, it provides a healthy outlet for channeling justified guilt towards genuine moral growth. Instead of wallowing in an aimless sense of shame and inadequacy, Catholics put themselves on a sacramental “diet” that gives structure to our efforts at moral improvement. As with other healthy life habits, the typical result is less debilitating guilt, not more.

Now that you are Catholic, draw strength from the realization that you are part of an enormous family. It includes the saints in Heaven. It includes the suffering souls in Purgatory. It includes all 1.2 billion of us here in the Church Militant today… and you’re stuck with us. The Church is like the Hotel California that way. (?, uh…ok, whatever.  You get those “moments”, “expressions”, when dealing with the Holy Spirit.  It’s weird.  It is.  Get used to it.  Just roll with it.  It’ll be all good.  🙂

You can be a good Catholic or a bad Catholic, but nobody gets evicted. What is done CANNOT be undone! The mark on your soul is INDELIBLE!!!  (Yay!!!) 🙂

In that spirit, try not to pay too much attention to Church politics. Catholic politics is, well, politics. Unless your profession requires it, you probably don’t need to obsess about it, and there are much more edifying ways to immerse yourself in the faith. But whatever you do, don’t trust journalists to educate you about Catholicism. Far too many Catholics take their cues from the ordinary media instead of their priests and bishops, the Catechism, the saints, reliable historians and theologians, and the wealth of faithfully Catholic media sources. AMEN!

Journalists, as a rule, are as ignorant as they are hostile when it comes to Catholicism. Living in an information age, we have lots of fantastic resources to help us increase our understanding. The New York Times and Huffington Post aren’t among them. Don’t trust anything they tell you about our faith (or any other).

Finally, cherish the realization that your Catholic faith anchors you in something far bigger than you, or the year 2016, or the United States of America, or even the whole world. This may sometimes cause you trouble. Christ has already warned us of that. But fear not! He has conquered the world.(Jn 16:33)”

“Inquire not simply where the Lord’s house is, for the sects of the profane also make an attempt to call their own dens the houses of the Lord; nor inquire merely where the church is, but where the Catholic Church is. For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Body, the Mother of all, which is the Spouse of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (Catecheses, xviii, 26). St Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386 AD)

Love & Great Welcome!!!,
Matthew

Psychiatry & Catholicism: Part 3, The Theological Virtue of Hope

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Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” -Dante Alighieri’s inscription on the entrance to Hell, and maybe, just maybe, if “Our Hope is in the Lord, who made Heaven & Earth!” (Ps 124:8), that is EXACTLY what Hell is?

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” -1 Cor 13:13

I read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” relating his experiences and personal, formative revelations while a prisoner of conscience in Auschwitz while I was in high school. Not because it was assigned, but because I just wanted to. The most astonishing revelation to the reader of this powerful work is Dr. Frankl watching who did and did not survive, among those not killed directly by the Nazis through their various and hideous means.

He concluded that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had it right: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how. ” (Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in 1963, p. 121) He saw that people who had hopes of being reunited with loved ones, or who had projects they felt a need to complete, had a great talent they still needed to express, or who had great faith, tended to have better chances than those who had lost all hope.

But “…meaning must be found and cannot be given.” (1, p. 112) Meaning is like laughter, he says: You cannot force someone to laugh, you must tell him a joke! The same applies to faith, hope, and love — they cannot be be brought forth by an act of will, our own or someone else’s.

So we attempt to fill our existential vacuums with “stuff” that, because it provides some satisfaction, we hope will provide ultimate satisfaction as well: We might try to fill our lives with pleasure, eating beyond all necessity, having promiscuous sex, living “the high life;” or we might seek power, especially the power represented by monetary success; or we might fill our lives with “busy-ness,” conformity, conventionality; or we might fill the vacuum with anger and hatred and spend our days attempting to destroy what we think is hurting us.

We might also fill our lives with certain neurotic “vicious cycles,” such as obsession with germs and cleanliness, or fear-driven obsession with a phobic object. Or, we self-medicate through alcohol, drugs, etc., just to numb the pain of our emptiness. Perhaps this is Hell as it truly is, without hope, forever, for eternity, outside the dimension of time? The defining quality of these vicious cycles is that, whatever we do, it is never enough. ONLY JESUS satisfies. ONLY JESUS. ONLY JESUS. Thank you, Lord! Thank YOU!!!

Martin Luther, while an Augustinian monk, began to lose hope in penance and good works as having any efficacy for the baptized, literally in God’s great mercy. Rather, he adopted the view, obsessively, that all of mankind were hopeless and wretched sinners before the sight of God, unworthy of salvation – literally, the “steaming pile of dung”, if you are familiar with that phrasing. Covered like snow by Christ’s redemption, hidden from God, having no worthwhile quality unto it’s own self. He carried everything to such an extreme that his superiors were worried about him. He wore out his confessor with marathon sessions of confessing, going over every thought in detail, then starting again from the beginning. His confessor, Father Staupitz, told him: “Look here, if you expect Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive- parricide, blasphemy, adultery -instead of all these peccadilloes.” Fr. Staupitz also, further insisted with Martin: “We are commanded to hope!”

Catholicism differs in this perspective holding fast to the ancient understanding that God’s creation is GOOD!!!! Wounded by Original Sin, but, still, inherently GOOD!!! And, God LOVES His Creation, because it is HIS, and He declared/declares it GOOD!! (Gen 1:31) In the present tense, because to the Catholic mind, ALL Creation continues to be held in existence by the mind of God. If God stopped thinking about Creation, it would disappear – poof!!! 🙂

We are commanded to hope by the first part of the Greatest Commandment, namely, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with ALL your heart! ALL your mind! ALL your soul!” You cannot, truly, love the Lord your God with everything you have, and then turn around and say, “There is NO hope!” No. Truly. Our hope is in the Lord, Who made Heaven & Earth!!! Amen. Amen. Counter-pointedly, if there is no God Who loves you, what exactly IS the point of ALL of this? There is none.

“The third, and most important, protective factor conferred by Christian faith is the indispensable theological virtue of hope, bestowed in Baptism and subsequently developed in the life of faith. Christianity offers hope in the midst of difficulties and pain. Through our faith, in hope, we can find redemptive value even in and through suffering. The psychiatrist Aaron Beck…did a long-term prospective study of eight hundred suicidal patients to determine which risk factors were most closely linked to suicide. He studied individuals who had been hospitalized after a suicide attempt or for suicidal thinking.

Beck managed to follow these patients for the next ten years to see who survived and who eventually completed suicide. In trying to find the key differences between the survivors and those who died by suicide, Beck examined the patients’ diagnoses, the number and type of mental and medical symptoms, the degree of physical pain a person was in, social and economic factors, and so on. The results surprised some behavioral scientists.

The one factor most predictive of suicide was not how sick the person was, or how many symptoms he exhibited, or how much pain he was in. The most dangerous factor was a person’s sense of hopelessness. The patients who believed their situation was utterly without hope were the most likely candidates for completing suicide. There is no prescription or medical procedure for instilling hope. This is the domain of the revelation of God’s loving goodness and baptismal efficacy. We can have a natural sort of hope when things clearly appear hopeful. But when our situation appears or feels hopeless, the only hope that can sustain us is supernatural — the theological virtue of hope, which can be infused only by God’s grace.“2

1. Frankl, V. E. (1975). The Unconscious God: Psychotherapy and Theology. New York: Simon and Schuster. (Originally published in 1948 as Der unbewusste Gott. Republished in 1997 as Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning.)

2. Kheriaty, Aaron; Cihak, Fr. John (2012-10-23). Catholic Guide to Depression (pp. 98-99). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love, hope, and prayers for you, and those you love. Pray for me, and mine, please. Let us ALL put ALL our hope and trust in the Lord, Who made Heaven & Earth!
Matthew

Sacramentals – the goodness of creation

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“Thou visitest the earth and waterest it,
thou greatly enrichest it;

the river of God is full of water;
thou providest their grain,
for so thou hast prepared it.

Thou waterest its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,

softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.

Thou crownest the year with thy bounty;
the tracks of thy chariot drip with fatness.

The pastures of the wilderness drip,
the hills gird themselves with joy,

the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.”

-Psalm 65:9-13

-from http://therecusanthousemate.blogspot.com/2011/09/whats-point-its-just-superstition-on.html

“As you may or may not know, I’m a keen baker. It’s not good for my waist line, but it means that people like me more than they normally would, so I think it’s a fair trade. Thanks to a former housemate, I’m also into raiding the ‘wild larder’, which is fully stocked at this time of year with apples, blackberries, plums, and elderberries. I’ve spent many a happy weekend picking the fruit one day, and making something with it the next. This in itself is something of a spiritual experience, and I’m planning a more reflective, contemplative post on this topic for another time.

This year, I decided to make my annual jam-making session into a truly spiritual effort. Having discovered the Rituale Romanum last year, the one-stop-shop for the rituals of the Latin rite, I thought it would be a good thing to get the plums blessed before preserving them. Take a look at Chapter XI “Blessings and other sacramentals” – there’s a blessing for pretty much anything! As an aside, you’ll see Chapter XIII is about Exorcism (is it a coincidence that this is chapter 13?) – click on any of those links and see what happens.

Anyway, our parish priest was happy to oblige. He has on a number of occasions lamented the downturn in demand from the laity for things like blessings and other acts of popular devotion, and was delighted with the blessing, adapted from the blessing for grapes. He even took the prayer home to bless his crop of damsons (which he’d somehow managed to keep secret from me!).

Now, having mentioned this to a couple of friends, both young converts and, just as important, recipients of gifts of jam in previous years, they were both puzzled, if not positively scandalised, by this act of blessing plums. One said that this was one of those things which still made her think that “Catholics are weird”, and that she was pretty convinced that only people could blessed, not things. Neither of them could see the point, and both indicated a suspicion of superstition in the whole thing.

Admittedly, when pressed for an explanation, I was at a loss. I don’t know much about the specific theology or spirituality behind blessing objects, whether sacred or secular, and so decided to investigate; What is a sacramental? How do they work? Is it not beneath God’s dignity to have plums blessed in His Name and with the sign of His Cross? I’ve turned to the Catechism and to the introduction to that chapter in the Rituale, and of course, to the Bible. Let’s take a look at what they have to say.

The Catechism makes a number of references to Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on divine worship. SC explains sacramentals very simply. They are “sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments…By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.” They do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the Sacraments do, but “by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to co-operate with it.” [CCC 1670] In fact, in the Church’s view, by drawing on the power of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, “There is hardly any proper use of material things which cannot thus be directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.” [SC 61].

So what are some examples of sacramentals, these sacred signs which dispose us to receive grace? First and foremost, blessings are sacramentals in themselves, and by them other sacramentals may be made. Take a look at any section of that chapter in the Rituale, and you’ll see plenty of examples, but the most familiar will be things like the blessing at the dismissal of Mass, icons and statues, Rosary beads, scapulars, Stations of the Cross, even the altar in church is counted as a sacramental. Through all these signs, and the prayer of the Church which goes hand-in-hand with them, we are called to fix our minds “on things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth.” [Col 3:2]

But, surely, these sacramentals, these pictures and objects and garments are earthly things? How can they help us towards our heavenly destination? St. Paul explains to St. Timothy that every creature of God is good, and “is sanctified [i.e. made holy] by the word of God and prayer.” [1 Tm 4:5]. Further, in his letter to the Romans, the Apostle tells the Church that “the entire creation…still retains the hope of being freed, like us, from its slavery to decadence, to enjoy the same freedom and glory of the children of God.” [Rm 8:19-21]

Why does the rest of creation need to be freed? As the Rituale explains, “The fall of man caused lower creatures to be separated from God, for they were bound to God through mankind.” Just as God made us and saw that we were good, and that goodness has been compromised by the Fall, so too for the rest of creation. When Our Lord sanctified human nature by taking it to Himself in His Incarnation, so too He made holy all those everyday things He came into contact with.

The Church has always understood this ‘making holy’ accomplished by Jesus. St. John records that He cured a blind man by making a paste out of His own spit and the mud on the ground, applying it to the man’s eyes, then sending him to wash it off in the pool of Siloam, which was full of ritual significance for the Jews [cf. Jn 9:1-8]. The Synoptics tell us that the woman with the hemorrhage was cured by touching His cloak [e.g. Mk 5:25-34]. The liturgy of the Church teaches us, in the Eucharistic preface of St. John the Baptist, that “[St. John] baptized Christ, the giver of baptism, in waters made holy by the one who was baptized.”

In fact, given that we’re talking about sacramentals, let’s look at an example of the ‘real thing’, a sacrament. Take the Eucharist. The new translation of Mass is much clearer than the old one, that when Jesus took the bread, “He blessed it, broke it, gave it to his disciples…” What is clear is that it is the bread which is blessed, not His Apostles.

Now, let’s be clear about this…all of this is entirely unnecessary on God’s part. He doesn’t need to make a paste to cure blindness, or have a cloak to cure bleeding, or even water to pour out His Holy Spirit or bread to share His divine life with us. Let us reflect on that fact, and then realize that He, who only does what is wisest and most loving, has chosen to work this way anyway! He has no problem using created things to help us – consider that He uses us, mere creatures, to carry on His saving work, which He certainly doesn’t need to do. He sees fit to pour out His Spirit on us through the waters of baptism, He feeds us with His body through the sign of bread.

Surely, no Catholic would say of the Sacraments, “Oh, that’s superstition!”. That the sacramentals are not an end in themselves, and are ordered for our good and sanctification just like the Sacraments, is made clear in every one of the blessings in the Rituale. For example, in the blessing for beer, the Church prays: “Grant that whoever drinks it with thanksgiving to your holy name may find it a help in body and in soul; through Christ our Lord.” Likewise, the Eucharistic bread is not transubstantiated for its own good (an absurd idea) but for the eternal good of mankind.

The Rituale is well aware of the problems faced by sacramentals, acknowledging that “some are apt to be disedified rather than edified when they are made aware that the Church has a mind to speak a blessing on a horse, silkworm, bonfire, beer, bridal chamber, medicine or lard.” Pride and sophistication are to blame for this antipathy, according to the introduction to the chapter. Recognising the important place that God has allocated to created things in His plan for our salvation, and genuinely desiring to make our whole lives holy, let’s be confident in asking our priests to bless our houses, cars, and yes, plums.”

Love & blessing,
Matthew

Catholics void of kindness

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I was telling Kelly, if I had not been born into being Catholic, had a mother who regularly reaffirmed, “If my children lose their faith, I have failed as a mother!”, had met so many wonderful consecrated and/or ordained Catholics, true servants of the Lord, I might definitely choose not to be Catholic.  I can see, clearly, too clearly, why many people do not choose the Catholic faith because of Catholics1.

I would, instead, be and always try to be, as I hope I am, committed to a constant ethic of kindness.  Love might be stretching it.  But, I do try on any initial encounter to offer kindness as a first impression.  Not naivete’, but mature, sincere, respectful kindness, no matter whom.

I don’t know what group that is, or if that even exists in reality/is realistic.  Not so much doctrinally orthodox, or much worried about that, and never subscribing that somehow orthodoxy may be a strength in lieu of kindness, but just…kindness.  As Dickens wrote, “The milk of human kindness”, offered by the Ghost of Christmas Present, an intoxicating beverage.

I try to make it exist in myself and offer it to others as immediately serenely and naturally as I can.  I also believe, sincerely, it is a mercy to fellow Catholics, especially, to clearly identify when they are not living up to their baptismal promises, I do.  (I, also, sincerely, sincerely, hope another would extend the exact and exacting same mercy to me.)  I feel at peace and confident in this, as I ONLY do it in the most dire of cases and as a last resort, fully aware as I can be of my own sinfulness.  I believe this is the only way to live.

I had hoped “Love ye one another!” would be the ultimate, and Jesus Christ is the most sane person I know, including myself.  Also, I recognize and believe the Catholic Church as the historical church founded by Jesus Christ, but I am also truthful enough to admit those facts, that reality is not enough to keep me Catholic.  I would seek something better.

I also tell Kelly if there actually were a better religion/community that existed, I would have left a long time ago.  Since, I don’t believe I really will find them, I will live and die in the faith 1600 years of my ancestors have lived and died in, and Mara, will live in, God willing.  I just don’t want to be the one in the chain who breaks it without REALLY GOOD reasons.

It is, I trust, the imitation of Bl Pier Giorgio, OP, I most admire in this case.  Performing acts of selfless charity secretly, which ultimately lead to his death.  THIS is a good life.

9432Donald DeMarco
-from an article by Dr. Donald DeMarco, PhD

…”Hell is other people,” Jean-Paul Sartre famously stated. His cynical image, however, is apt, but only for a gathering of unvirtuous people who, as is their wont, prey upon each other. A community of virtuous people, on the other hand, who love each other, is at least a foretaste of paradise. Sartre found life absurd because he did not find love at all. Where there is no virtue, love remains unexpressed. Hell is not only the place where there is no love, but also the place where there is no virtue.

…Love does not flow directly from one person into another; it requires virtue that serves as a mode of transmission. We express love to each other not directly, but through virtue. Virtue is our moral medium of exchange. Without it, we are spiritually bankrupt.

Only God can transmit His love directly. Nonetheless, He chose Mary, the Mother of God, to serve as the Mediatrix of all grace. Nathaniel Hawthorne, though not a Catholic, revealed a fine understanding of Mary’s role in this regard when he made the following statement: “I have always envied the Catholics their faith in that sweet, sacred, Virgin Mother who stands between them and the Deity, intercepting somewhat His awful splendor, but permitting His love to stream on the worshipper more intelligently to human comprehension through the medium of a woman’s tenderness.” Mary’s tenderness is her virtuous way of directing God’s love into our hearts.

Each of us comes into the world with a certain capital of love. It is ours to spend. And the remarkable thing about spending love (unlike spending money) is that the more we spend, the more our supply is increased. With love as our currency, we can go on a lifelong spending spree and never go broke. But we cannot spend a dollop of our love unless we channel it through some virtue. A simple act of kindness, for example, can brighten a person’s day. Kindness is love’s low voltage way of expressing itself to complete strangers without fear of embarrassment or threat of obligation. Kindness is a natural way of affirming the inherent goodness of others and of stirring up their own supply of love. Kindness begets kindness. It can even prepare the way to friendship where additional virtues such as fidelity, patience, and courage come into play. Kindness, which demands so little of us, can open the door to a flood of subsequent virtues.

In Psalm 118 we read: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His kindness endures forever.” Here, God is telling us not only that His virtue is constant and everlasting, but also that His virtue is more powerful than our sin. In addition, He is telling us that if we want to be more Godlike, we, too, must be virtuous. But as we become more Godlike, we do not become less human-like. In fact, because we are created by a God Who loves us, the more Godlike we become, the more human we become, which is to say, the more we become ourselves, the person God intended us to be.

As Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik states in his book, The Hidden Powers of Kindness, “Kind words have converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence, or learning.” “He who is kind is free, even if he is a slave,” wrote St. Augustine; “he who is evil is a slave, even if he is king.” The power of this seemingly modest virtue is inestimable. And it is good to know that such a power is always readily available to us.

Expressing love through kindness allows us to stop complaining and begin building a culture of joy.  We often complain about how much unkindness there is in the world. But this amount of unkindness, however much it may be, exists only because of the lack of kindness practiced by individuals who live in it. The supply of kindness is available; all that is needed is its expression. Expressing love through kindness allows us to stop complaining and begin building a culture of joy. Then we will understand and properly appreciate why virtue is our most important medium of exchange, giving practicality to love and bringing conviviality to life.

It is clear, then, that according to the Christian tradition, virtue is rooted in love. “Love is the form of all virtues,” states St. Thomas Aquinas. For St. Augustine, “Virtue is the order of love” (Virtus est ordo amoris). Nonetheless, virtue is not an exclusively religious notion.

…All humans, religious or otherwise, have an inherent capacity to love. This means that all human beings are capable of expressing their love through any number of virtues. And no one wants to argue that non-religious people are incapable of love. Christianity is not a substitute for humanism, but builds on it and perfects it. Therefore, Christians and non-Christians can work together virtuously, as long as their expressions of virtue are based on love. In this regard, we can take heart in St. Thomas More’s celebrated comment that, “The times are never so bad that a good man can’t live in them.”

There is a light that true virtue sheds that can be recognized and respected by all human beings, regardless of their religious affiliations. Even random acts of kindness can help to bring about a better world. In the words of the Immortal Bard:

How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world

(Merchant of Venice, Act. V, Sc.1, 90-91).”

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Love,
Matthew

Creation to Catholicism

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Q. Patrick, I loved From Creation to Catholicism. How did the idea for this project come about?

Patrick: I don’t remember who began the process, but I do know Trent and I “flow” well as guest and host, and he’s very sharp on a wide range of topics. We began strategizing a few months ago about producing some really great audio that didn’t involve one person basically giving a lecture. We settled on a simple Q&A format in which I play the gadfly and Trent plays resident guru. We scripted it only in the loosest sense of knowing where we wanted the conversation to end up. It’s very interesting that those conversations naturally fell into a three-act structure, as all good stories do.

Q. It seems that a significant number of resources that deal with atheism have been released over the last couple of years in the Catholic market. I know both of you have books and audio and visual products on the topic, and we’ve seen other high-profile releases by Jennifer Fulwiler, Fr. Robert Spitzer, Patrick Madrid, and a number of others. Given that, do you think we’re making any ground against the prevalence of atheistic thought in our society? What more can we do?

Trent: I think we are making significant gains in giving young people good answers to the questions atheists used to think were unanswerable. Indeed, on my radio show Why Are You an Atheist I’m surprised by the number of atheists who can’t articulate one single good argument for the existence of God they disagree with. They’ve simply ignored the evidence but are increasingly having to confront it when informed Christians arm themselves with the arguments people like myself and other apologists make.

Patrick: I’m not sure what measure we would use to chart “progress” in debating atheism and agnosticism. The numbers are harder to come by than, say, anecdotal evidence, which is much easier to find. I will say that open-minded atheists tend to appreciate our willingness to step into the ring with them, so to speak, as opposed to protest them or to “pray away” the problem. And there’s always more to do, because new arguments come along. Same with new advancements in science. No single approach will reach atheists, just as no one “way” of arriving at atheism will attract adherents. This is an effective imitation of the greatest evangelist of them all, St. Paul, who wrote, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).

Q. It seems like atheism has been on the rise for quite a while now. How do you account for this?

Patrick: Many factors overlap and amplify one another. One factor is the crisis of fatherhood. Former atheist psychologist Dr. Paul Vitz wrote an insightful book about this titled Faith of the Fatherless. The sexual revolution has provided a distorted lens through which to view women and the relationship between men and women with respect to sexual behavior and family. A kind of social chaos has appeared, which makes it harder to see God in the disorder. The Internet has also enabled whatever atheists are out there to find a forum to share their beliefs—or, rather, their lack of beliefs.

Q. I notice a number of projects you’ve done in the past have been aimed at atheists. Why is that? Do you hold a special place in your heart for this ever-growing segment of our society?

Patrick: I do, yes. The number of atheist organizations, books, and websites represents a challenge to Christians, but more so an opportunity to confront their questions, engage them with intelligence and wit and—this is key—heavy doses of charity. Atheists and agnostics are not necessarily expecting answers from us that are rooted in science, philosophy, and logic. One of the ironies in the debate is that atheism can often be a form of fundamentalist faith.

Q. God has made covenants throughout history with his people, Christ being the most recent as the New Covenant. Why do you think God interacted with his people using this covenantal model?

Trent: God understands that human beings seek kin or familial relationships. Orphans, as well as children who don’t know one of their parents or siblings, seek a relationship with the missing family member. God does not call us solely as individuals but invites to be a part of his divine family, to become his children by adoption (see Romans 8:15) so that we might be siblings of one another in Christ (see Romans 14:10).

Q. Scripture puts it best: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” Would that suggest that no matter what factual evidence you put before someone, no change will occur in that person before they have a conversion of heart?

Patrick: A very good question. Certainly, no argument, no matter how elegant and valid, will convert someone without the action of grace. This is a mysterious thing, the interplay of disposition, bias, temperament, sinfulness, openness, and so on. Some atheists have dramatic, seemingly unbidden conversions to Christ. Others remain unimpressed with our arguments. The best strategy is to overlay every word we speak with as much kindness as we can. We need to show that our faith makes a concrete difference to everything about us.

Trent: Ultimately it is the Holy Spirit who convinces people of their need for God’s grace. Stephen rebuked the Jewish leaders for being stiff-necked people who resisted the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51), so anyone, regardless of the evidence given to them, can still find a way, however implausible it might be, to resist it. That’s because they don’t want it to be true. Therefore, along with reasons we present for the Faith, we must always pray that those who disagree will have open hearts and be willing to reconsider their worldview at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Love,
Matthew

Messengers of Joy!!! Commanded to Rejoice!!!

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No matter what happens to us in this life, no matter how egregious, we are obligated, by virtue of our baptism, and soon regeneration therefrom, to be true messengers of joy!!!! We are commanded to rejoice!!! Lk 7:50

-by Beth Turner

“As Christians, we hear a lot about joy. We are, in fact, commanded to rejoice. That being the case, we cannot understand joy to be a mere feeling, because we cannot command our feelings. However, after we have grieved and known sorrow, we are commanded to return to the reality which overcomes our pain: the resurrection of Christ. He, too, grieved and knew sorrow when looking out upon the sin of the world. But he conquered these pains by rising from the dead, and gives us the gift of such rising again through repentance and baptism.

When we look around at the state of Christian disunity, we are rightly sorrowful. This sorrow is not opposed to joy, however, because it is the sorrow of the blessed. “Blessed are those who mourn” over Christian disunity. “Blessed are the pure in heart” who long for a perfect communion that they have glimpsed in friendship with other Christians, but not fully known. “Blessed are the peacemakers” who work for Christian unity in careful, painstaking dialogue and prayer. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake” because their Christian brothers and sisters slander them and the sacred things dear to them. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” because they long to see God worshipped truly.

We sin against joy when we become embittered. From our sorrow, instead of heeding the call to joy, we sometimes turn instead to cynicism, mockery, and despair. We may suppose that people will never change and that unity is not possible. Our bitterness comes out of hearts that have longed for unity but no longer believe it can or will happen. It proceeds from our hearts to our lips in the form of insults about other Christians, scornful jokes about other Christians, apathy in prayer for Christian unity. The command to joy asks us to turn from our place of sorrow not to cynicism, but to the Man of Sorrows (what a name!). Rejoice that God has allowed you to taste the longing of his very own heart. Believe that your pain is blessed when you long for Christian unity, and you will have joy. Pray that what you long for may be seen in your lifetime, or in the lives of your children, or your children’s children.

Another impediment to our joy is shame. From our sorrow, we may doubt whether joy is truly appropriate in light of the circumstances. We see that people of other faiths may not understand us, or think we are strange, or awkward, or weird. We are afraid to become the butt of a joke. We are afraid to take the social risk of speaking of our joy in Christ. However, it should be the case that these social risks are not so great with our Christian brothers and sisters, and we should make space for others to share their joys and sorrows with us. By proclaiming our Christian joy to one another, we are strengthened to proclaim it to an unbaptized world.

A final obstacle to joy is our anxiety. We worry that we cannot do enough, that we will not do enough, or that God will not be pleased with our efforts to share fellowship with other Christians. As with all anxieties, we must do our best to trust our loving Father’s desire to do good to us and His power to multiply of our efforts, just as he took the meager offerings of the disciples, the loaves and the fishes, and of all the saints to make His glories known throughout the world.

In addition to the joy that comes from the sorrow of the blessed, Christian fellowship itself can be a source of joy. It is joy that can be hard to enter when worship is different from one Christian community to another. It is a joy that can be hard to achieve because we have many questions, concerns, and fears about the beliefs and practices of other Christians. It is a joy that will only be full in heaven, because what little unity we have now is a hard work, a toiling, and a fragile peace. But Christian fellowship across traditions can, itself, be a joy to us. Jesus promises that our joy will be complete when we live in unity with one another.

Prayer
Dear Lord Jesus, may we rejoice that you have chosen us to sorrow over Christian disunity and toil for peace with our brothers and sisters. May we never give up hope for Christian unity, may we see it in our day, and may we pray always for the fulfillment of our longing and yours.”

Love & unity,
Matthew

Christian Unity

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“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10 (RSV).

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-by Tom Brown, Editor-in-Chief, Called to Communion

“The text for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity comes from St. Peter’s letter to the persecuted churches of Asia. 1 Peter 2:9-10. We “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” St. Peter tells his persecuted addressees, and us. In unity, they constituted one race, one priesthood, one nation. This makes sense, for they – for we – answer to but one Father, one High Priest, and one King. As with our forefathers, today God means for us to be united under Christ the King, so “that [we] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

But we Christians are suffering from ‘family problems.’ As a result, our message to the world, declaring the Lord’s wonderful deeds in bringing us to light, is garbled by our disunity. And we suffer from broken bonds and a lack of trust, just as happens in a broken family. A healthy response to this pain is to seek reconciliation. This takes more than saying ‘sorry’ and ignoring disagreements. Within the family, we need to discuss honestly our feelings, perspectives, and understandings.

Have you ever needed to say something very important to a family member, and planned to have the discussion during a holiday reunion, road trip, or other time together? This can be hard to make happen, especially in situations where there is bitterness between family members. Sometimes we only get to have this conversation in a very forced, artificial way; and it’s not productive. Sometimes we find that the opportunity never presents itself at all; depending on the importance of the topic, it can leave us with profound anxiety and frustration. We feel powerless to get into the open whatever issue is weighing on our heart.

Would that we felt such sorrow over the separation of God’s children! With Him, all things are possible. Thanks to prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit, He can provide an opportunity for that needed conversation between family members. His love can roll away the stone that keeps us entombed in isolation from loved ones.

Now, we cannot be like siblings who spend time together, but refuse to reconcile deep-seated causes of division. We cannot simply ignore our different ecclesiologies, theologies or philosophies. We must seize every precious opportunity for truth-seeking conversation with our separated brothers and sisters. We must implore the Holy Spirit to provide us with these opportunities, not just in terms of time and space, but in terms of open hearts earnestly seeking reconciliation.

These opportunities for reconciliation, and our need for them, become more plain through suffering. Praise God for allowing us to suffer, and for allowing the early Church to suffer greatly, so that unity could be so cherished for many centuries. I believe the Holy Spirit will answer our prayers in bringing about such occasions. He will answer prayers for the silencing of debate-filled noise that does not aim at the Truth or at reconciliation. Therefore, let us remember to pray during this week of prayer!

Prayer
“Lord Jesus, you have always loved us from the beginning, and you have shown the depth of your love in dying for us on the cross and thereby sharing our sufferings and wounds. At this moment, we lay all the obstacles that separate us from your love at the foot of your cross. Roll back the stones which imprison us. Awaken us to your resurrection morning. There may we meet the brothers and sisters from whom we are separated. Amen.”

This Lent let us fast from being disagreeable; put ourselves at the service of Christian love & unity.

Love,
Matthew

converts & persecution @home

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-by Dr. Carrie Gress, PhD

“Whether members of the JPII generation or millennials who have discovered the faith, young people are coming in to the Church. Their homecoming, however, is not always welcomed by their parents or grandparents.

For many parents of converts, particularly those who grew up in the ’60s and bristle at authority (unless it is their own), their offsprings’ return to the Church can feel like a slap in the face. There is a palpable sense of betrayal: “Didn’t we raise you better than that? You aren’t even pro-choice anymore? And what’s with all these children?”

For many converts, open persecution isn’t something from the outside world but happens at a place they think of as home. Threats of being dropped from the will, cutting off communication and angry standoffs are not uncommon. One set of parents announced to their 24-year-old son who had just joined the Church, “We like the old John better.” And when the topic of religious life or the priesthood arises, parents without faith can be the toughest nuts to crack. One young woman who felt called to life in the cloister could simply not overcome the pressure her parents put upon her as an only child. Another mother, whose son entered the seminary, would rant angrily at his male Catholic friends who were not becoming priests. “Why aren’t they taking you instead of him? He is my only son!” Such outbursts can certainly put a strain upon even the most pious as they try to live out the fifth commandment: honor your mother and father.

Such relationships put young Catholics in the awkward position of trying to not only endure their parents’ displeasure but to also actively help bring their parents back to the Church. As I discuss in my book Nudging Conversions, helping parents return to the faith can be a difficult enterprise because the natural parent-child dynamic is upset. No one wants to feel like her family has turned into Freaky Friday, where the child becomes the mature adult and the parent returns to (or never left) a stunted adolescence.

To face this parental problem, prayer is the place to start. The healthier your own faith, the easier it will be to endure the derision and/or to pass the faith along. Through prayer, the Holy Spirit will also give you insights into what to say to your parents and what to pray for, given their own particular situation. Each person is unique and will have an equally unique journey to discovering God. There are certainly times when relationships can be toxic and boundaries need to be set, and again, this is where the Spirit’s counsel is crucial.

Patience is the second critical tool. The good news is you don’t have to convince your parents of the truth of Catholicism in one sitting. It is a process, like peeling an onion (and yes, sometimes there are accompanying tears). It is easy to become frustrated or irritated with your elders when they act like juveniles: when they are self-absorbed, won’t listen to reason or just want to hang out with their friends or watch a game instead of going to church with you. In fact, it can be really irritating and makes one think, It’s tough to raise good parents these days. Nagging, pestering and fire-hosing (too much info at once) are just not approaches that will work. But steadily loving your parents exactly where they are — warts and all — while planting seeds when possible, goes a long way.

Many adults today have a lot of baggage given the current state of our culture. This can both be good and bad. On the one hand, when people have tried just about everything, sometimes the only thing they haven’t tried is returning to the faith of their childhood, or the Church they never considered before. The hard part, of course, is that with this baggage there can also be a lot of impediments to full communion, particularly in areas related to marriage and divorce. God, however, does not simply smooth over the difficulties but gets to the root of the problem. While it can be painful for everyone involved, there is nothing like the freedom that comes with living in God’s will, freed from the chains of sin.

Sometimes, the very thing needed to transform a parent or grandparent can come from the most unlikely places. I recently heard about a child making her First Communion who, during the rehearsal, innocently asked her grandfather if he would be receiving the Eucharist too. That question changed the elderly man’s life. Why am I not receiving? went through his head over and over again until he realized it was just the culture and his own neglect that had led him away from the Church. He came back to his faith with zeal.

Converting parents isn’t impossible. And no matter their protests, there is simply no better way to honor your mother and father.”

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Love, and totally blown away, completely humbled by the faith of those who convert to Catholicism and the price they readily, bravely pay,
Matthew

The Mystical Body of Christ – Why the Catholic Church?

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The “cause” for the canonization of Archbishop Sheen (1895-1979) was opened in 2002. The enthusiasm for the cause of a deceased holy person of heroic virtue is called its “cultus”, or cult, in the most positive sense of the word. The enthusiasm by those who hold a special devotion to the Virgin Mary is her “cult”. Get it?

I attended an informal informational meeting in Chicago a while ago on the status of the good archbishop’s cause. Very interesting, to say the least. His beloved memory now bears the title Venerable. The Vatican is very interested in his cause, as he would be the ONLY beati to have won an Emmy!!! Take THAT modern media!!! A SAINT amongst ye!!!

Only Catholics could create the current situation though, sadly. Catholics!!!!!!!! Grrrrrrr!!!!! 🙁 . The cause is currently in stasis. 🙁 Miracles are good to go, except the good archbishop was buried in New York, where he did much of his work and ministry. His home diocese, where any cause must begin, is in Peoria, IL.

Wait!!!! It gets better!!! Part of the official process of canonization is there must be a formal, very formal, examination of the remains of the candidate of heroic virtue in the home diocese, called the “elevation” of the remains, to a place of honor and respect, and the removal, get your Catholic dictionaries out!, of the “first class” relics, i.e. actual parts of the remains!

You guessed it!!!! There is a kerfuffle!!! It seems New York, typical, after many, many promises to release the remains and remove them to Peoria, has reneged. Internal Church politics stands in the way of sainthood!!! There is no current Church process around this!!!! So, we’re and the good archbishop’s cause is stuck!!! Do you see why the typical expression in the Vatican is “Come and see me on Wednesday, and I’ll get back to you in 300 years!!!!! Catholics!!!! My greatest frustrations in the life of faith are Catholics!!!!! I pray for that same Spirit who comforted the Lord with His Keystone Cops Apostles!!!! 🙁 Who knows WHAT generation of our children may yet enjoy this great celebration. 🙁

http://www.archbishopsheencause.org/

CaseyChalk
-by Casey Chalk, a “revert” to the Catholic Church, who was raised Catholic, left the Church with his parents for Evangelicalism & Presbyterianism, spent time in Thailand, and has now returned to the Church of his birth.

“A good friend and elder at my former Presbyterian (PCA) church once invited me over for beers and conversation several months after my decision to become a Catholic. In that exchange, he expressed what he termed as his predominant concern with my entrance into the Catholic Church: that the decision embraced a form of sacerdotalism, effectively putting certain individuals – be they priests, bishops, cardinals, or the pope – or even the institutional church, between the individual and God. This mediated reality, my friend believed, was in some sense an affront to Biblical Christianity, presumably because it obscured or obstructed the primary mediatory role of Jesus Christ, the God-man. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, one of the most iconic American Catholic figures of the 20th century, would respectfully disagree.

Fulton Sheen died on this day 36 years ago: December 9th, 1979, before I was even born. Yet his influence is felt far beyond the end of his earthly life and reaches far beyond the millions of American radio listeners and television viewers he reached. Even the Redemptorist parish I attend in Bangkok, Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, bears Sheen’s mark. The architectural design of the parish, built to model the traditional Thai Buddhist wat, was an idea suggested by Sheen himself during a visit to Thailand.

Sheen’s writings and teachings likewise continue to influence Christians and non-Christians the world over, largely because Sheen so accurately recognized philosophical and religious trends that increasingly were dominating our culture. Take for example the individualist tendencies of our current age, asserting that no institution or denomination is needed between man and God. Many people, even those with robust prayer lives or strong convictions in historical doctrines regarding Christ or Holy Scripture, hold such a “low church” position. Indeed, some form the limits of their Christian experience around the reading of the Bible or other spiritual literature, listening to podcasts or sermons in the privacy of their homes or cars, and maybe the occasional Bible study or prayer group.1 To this popular, commonly Protestant trend, Sheen’s The Mystical Body of Christ offers a surprisingly Scriptural critique. Indeed, Sheen’s presentation of the Church as Christ intended and directs it stands in contrast even to those Protestants – be they Reformed, Evangelical, or Mainline – who affirm some conception of the visible Church, since, Sheen argues, even these efforts lack a fully Biblical account of the Church as Christ’s very own mystical body.

Biblical Foundations for the Mystical Body of Christ

Sheen begins by citing Fr. Emil Mersch – who observed that the New Testament’s use of “kingdom,” “mystery,” and “life” all appeal to different aspects of the same reality: the mystical body of Christ2. Sheen argues that the Mystical Body is not an abstraction, but “something visible and invisible, something tangible and intangible, something human and something Divine; it refers to a reality which is the subject of attribution, of properties and rights, to an organism with a supernatural soul, to a prolonged Incarnation, to the extension of Bethlehem and Jerusalem to our own days, to the contemporary Christ: the Church.3 We share a bond with Jesus quite different than what we might share with any other religious teacher or philosopher: a life of which we are partakers, in His earthly life, His glorified life, and His mystical life.4 The third of these, the mystical life, He continues to live through us by means of His Holy Spirit, which was given quite publicly to the visible Church at Pentecost.5

In this reality, Christ is the Head, His people are His body: “Christ is our contemporary.”6 With exacting exegetical detail of the Biblical texts, Sheen demonstrates that one cannot separate Christ from His mystical body, and that the “spiritual, not religious” Christian ideal is untenable. Christ identified Himself too intimately with His followers to believe otherwise: Sheen notes that our Lord taught that He and His body would be one, referring to such Gospel passages as the vine and the branches (John 15:5), or “He that heareth you, heareth me” (Luke 10:16).7

Also central to this argument is Sheen’s analysis that St. Paul’s language of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians must be properly understood not as a post-facto Pauline analogy, but as a reality that preceded the Apostles in the very life of Christ.8 Indeed, it was Christ Himself who said he would assume another body in John 20:17.9 The Church would be this body, not physically or morally, but mystically and intimately united to the risen and ascended Christ. Sheen helpfully articulates:

‘He said that whatever happened to Him as Head would happen to His Body; if He was persecuted His Body would be persecuted; if He was hated His Body would be hated; if the world did not receive Him it would not receive His Body, for the servant is not above the master…. The relation would be so close between the members of that Body and Himself, that anyone [who performed a work of mercy for one His members] would be doing the service unto Him. It would seem that He had exhausted all analogies to mark the unity between Him and His new body; but the night before He died, He said that He and His flock were not to be one merely as shepherd and sheep, they were to be one as He and the Father are one.10’

The Mystical Body of Christ is His Church

Building upon this identification of Christ with His Church, St. Paul and St. John extend these analogies of mystical union to include a building (1 Corinthians 3) and marriage (Ephesians 5, 2 Corinthians 11, Revelation 19, 21).11 The Church effectively extends Christ “beyond the space of Palestine and the space of thirty-three years to prolong His influence unto all times and to all men.” “Without the Church,” Sheen asserts, “Christ would be incomplete,” for the Church continues the Incarnation.12 The “actions of the Mystical body are the actions of Christ.”13 Through Christ, the ultimate prophet, priest and king, the Church would extend “His posthumous Self, His prolonged Personality… Very simply they were to do the same three things as He had done in His earthly life: they were to teach, to govern, and to sanctify.”14 These include the Church’s mission to baptize, to perform the Eucharist, and to forgive sins (Matthew 28, Luke 22, 1 Corinthians 11, John 20).15 Sheen’s analysis strikes at the heart of much contemporary Christian spirituality and Protestant religiosity:

‘How far removed is this doctrine of the Church from the false conception of those who would accuse the Church of standing between Christ and us? How often we hear it said: “I do not want an organization between Christ and me,” or “True religion consists in union with Jesus of Nazareth without priest, or prelate, or sacrament.” Anyone who understands the Scriptures will see that the Church does not stand between Christ and me. The Church is Christ16’

The Church, if she is truly Christ’s mystical body, cannot then be some voluntary organization, as if the Apostles heard Christ’s message and on the “basis of their common faith” agreed to form a religious society. No, Sheen declares, the Church began “the very moment” the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.17 Anyone then who claims the visible, institutional Church and its sacramental system is an “obstacle” to a relationship with Christ has misunderstood “the meaning and beauty of the Incarnation of our Lord.”18 Through the Church, Bethlehem is revived in every baptism, “the Cenacle in every Mass, the instruction of the doctors of the Temple in every definition, the pardon of Peter in every absolution, and the Crucifixion in every persecution.”19 Rather than an obstacle to relationship with Christ, the Church is the very means by which that relationship is fostered.

The Catholic Church as Christ’s Mystical Body, Preserved by the Holy Spirit

Christ is of course the head of this mystical body – per St. Paul’s teaching in Colossians 1:18. Yet if Christ is the head, one might reasonably ask, which conflicting group or sect within Christianity is the “one Body of Christ”?20 According to Sheen, the “obvious way” for Christ to identify His post-ascension body would be “through a visible head or a primate.”21 This is appropriate, he contends, because the “democratic form of government” visible in many forms of Protestantism is problematically individualistic:

‘…each individual [is] his own supreme authority, allowing him either to interpret the Scriptures privately or else interpret his own religious experiences without any dictation from without. Religion on this theory is a purely individual affair: each one casts his own vote as to what he will believe, rejects all creeds, beliefs, and dogmas which run counter to his moods and prejudices, determines for himself the kind of a God he will adore, the kind of an altar before which he will kneel – in a word, he worships at the shrines his own hands have made.22’

Rather than this subjective, individualist model, Christ gave us what Sheen calls the “monarchical” model, citing Matthew 16, where He rejects both what “men say” about who He is, and even what the Apostles together say about who He is (the “aristocratic model”), but ultimately affirming St. Peter’s declaration that He is the son of the living God.23 Peter had divine assistance, the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16), and the commission to feed Christ’s lambs (John 21). This is not to say that St. Peter is “a Head apart from Christ.” Rather, he is “one authority with Him,” the “visible representation, the concrete symbol, the vicar of the Sender among the Sent.”24

Sheen further argues that it was the Holy Spirit who conceived the Church in the incarnation, guided St. Peter’s declaration of Christ’s divinity, and who remains its very soul, and speaks first not through inspired writings, but a “voice,” carried by the Apostles and their successors.25 This is to contrast the Catholic conception of Holy Tradition, Holy Scripture, and magisterial teaching, as cooperating spheres of authority, against the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. Indeed, it was the Holy Spirit, acting as the soul of the Church, who inspired the writings of Holy Scripture and guided their collection and inclusion into a canon. The Bible stands not on its own but “within the life of the Church.” It is the Church that “makes its meaning clear.”26 And if the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, “there can be no contradiction, no variety of opinions, no divided loyalties, no half-truths, no schisms, no heresy where God is.”27

Moreover, the Holy Spirit vivifies the Church to maintain its four marks so that neither sin nor scandal within the ranks can nullify her intrinsic holiness.28 Sheen observes, “the world has yet to point out a single age in which the Church has not produced her heroes whom she calls saints.”29 The last mark, the Church’s apostolic character, is best understood within the Catholic paradigm as requiring a discernible “origin or source.” Sheen elaborates: “it would be too late for her to begin sixteen hundred years after the life or our Lord; it would be too late for her to begin even twenty years after the life of Christ. She must be in intimate contact with Him from the beginning.” He cites several pieces of evidence of this from Scripture and history. These include the choosing of Matthias (a witness to the resurrection) to replace Judas in Acts 2 and the centrality of the appeal to Apostolic origin by the immediate successors of the Apostles: “Everywhere in the early Church the test was: ‘What is the source of your authority and truth?’ It if did not come from Christ and the apostles, it was false.”30 What a remarkable testament it is that the Catholic Church, longer than any nation, empire, or heretical movement has withstood the test of time: “Who today venerates Eutyches? Where are his disciples? Who today knows of Novatian?”31 Because it is the Holy Spirit alive within the Church, she cannot be killed.32

Further Implications of the Mystical Body of Christ

Having presented His biblical argument for the Mystical body of Christ — and that it be identified with the Catholic Church — Sheen devotes the remainder of his book to exploring many other realities that flow from this initial truth: the infallibility and unique authority of the Church, the role of the priesthood and individual Christians in this mystical body, the communion of the saints, the value of reparation, and the expansion of the body throughout the entire world. 33 Of particular interest to Protestants investigating Catholicism, Sheen devotes a chapter to the role of Mary, the mother of God, as mother also of His mystical body. The bishop explains that this is a natural logical progress: “if the fullness of Christ embraces not only His historical Life in Galilee but also His Mystical Life in the Church, then should not Mary be not only the Mother of the physical Christ, but also the Mother of the fullness of Christ or the Mother of the Church?”34 Also of potential interest to Protestants are chapters on how the sacrifice of the cross is translated to the sacrifice of the Mass, Sheen arguing that the sacrifice of the Cross is “complete and perfect in it itself,” yet “not complete as regards us; the merits of that great redemptive act have to flow unto us.”35 The Eucharist then serves to project Christ’s sacrifice into the present: “the Mass is the one thing in the world which makes it possible for us who live in the [present age] to share in the sacrifice of Calvary…. The Mass is Calvary realized, made present, contemporized, lifted out of the limit of space and time living in the members of the Mystical Body….36

The Mystical Body of Christ is a helpful – nay, essential – concept for how Christians should understand their role individually and corporately to Christ their Lord and Savior. This is the way Christ wanted it: for His Church to be the extension of His earthly ministry projected through time and space to our present era. To respond to the legitimate concern of my Presbyterian elder friend: Christianity at its core is sacerdotal — the Incarnation, the beginning of the Church on earth, exemplifies God’s extension of grace to Christians through matter. Christ then, fully God and fully man, is Himself a sacerdotal figure, mediating between man and God in His very flesh. It is entirely fitting then that Christ would appoint members of His own mystical body to do exactly what He had done: bear God’s authority and mediate between members of His body and the eternal God. In Sheen’s analysis, this does not detract from Christ’s mediatory role; it preserves and perfects it.37

Venerable Fulton Sheen, one of America’s great defenders and explicators of the Catholic faith, pray for us!

  1. Sheen’s own critique of Protestantism is quite prescient. In his 1935 introduction to the book, he notes that Protestant churches “no longer claim to be Divine or to be Deposits of Revelation.” He asserts that Protestantism has been reduced to “the individualistic type of religion in which each man’s subjective religious experience determines the God he will worship and the altar he will serve,” or a “purely social form of religion.” See Fulton J. Sheen, The Mystical Body of Christ (Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN, 2015), p. 2.
  2. The reader should take note that in addition to the extensive Biblical exegesis Sheen offers in the main body of his work, the footnotes of the text supply a wealth of additional Biblical references and analysis that should not be overlooked.
  3. Sheen, p. 5.
  4. Sheen, p. 7.
  5. Sheen, p. 15.
  6. Sheen, p. 18.
  7. Sheen, p. 20.
  8. Sheen, p. 56.
  9. Sheen, p. 37.
  10. Sheen, p. 27.
  11. Sheen, p. 29.
  12. Sheen, p. 41.
  13. Sheen, pp. 42-43.
  14. Sheen, p. 45.
  15. Sheen, p. 32.
  16. Sheen, p. 33.
  17. Sheen, p. 48.
  18. Sheen, p. 49.
  19. Sheen, p. 50.
  20. Sheen, p. 51.
  21. Sheen elsewhere explains that baptism is the mechanism for incorporation into the Mystical Body of Christ. See Sheen, p. 298.
  22. Sheen, p. 57.
  23. Sheen, p. 58.
  24. Sheen, p. 59.
  25. Sheen, pp. 61-63.
  26. Sheen, p. 66.
  27. Sheen, p. 304. Sheen extensively highlights the evidence for the historicity of the primacy of St. Peter and Rome in his footnotes for Chapter Three. See Sheen, pp. 305-308.
  28. Sheen, p. 75.
  29. Sheen, p. 79.
  30. Sheen, p. 81.
  31. Sheen devotes an entire chapter to explaining how scandals in the Church can be reconciled with her role as Christ’s mystical body. In rhetorical flourish typical of the bishop, Sheen exhorts the Church’s detractors to “reveal the worst, for it will only help to make clear her true nature.” See Sheen, p. 99.
  32. Sheen, p. 85.
  33. Sheen, pp. 86-88.
  34. Sheen, p. 91.
  35. Sheen, p. 96.
  36. Sheen argues that “the Infallibility of the Church is nothing more than the Infallibility of Christ,” and asks rhetorically whether the Holy Spirit died after Pentecost or the early councils of the Church. See Sheen, p. 117, 121. On the unique authority of the Church, Sheen observes, “a book could not preserve [Christ’s] authority, for the book needs interpretation, and who would interpret it?” See Sheen, p. 134.
  37. Sheen, p. 225.
  38. Sheen, p. 242.
  39. Sheen, p. 247, 249.
  40. It is in this book that one of Sheen’s most famous aphorisms can be found: They do “not really hate the Church; they hate only that which they mistakenly believe to be the Church.” See Sheen, p. 140.

Prayer for the Canonization of Venerable Fulton Sheen

Heavenly Father, source of all holiness, You raise up within the Church in every age men and women who serve with heroic love and dedication. You have blessed Your Church through the life and ministry of Your faithful servant, Archbishop Fulton J Sheen. He has written and spoken well of Your Divine Son, Jesus Christ, and was a true instrument of the Holy Spirit in touching the hearts of countless people.

If it be according to Your Will, for the honor and glory of the Most Holy Trinity and for the salvation of souls, we ask You to move the Church to proclaim him a saint. We ask this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Imprimatur:
+Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C., Bishop of Peoria

Love,
Matthew

What is Moral Therapeutic Deism?

OPs_overcoming_heresy
-The Dominican Order Overcoming Heresy, 1750 (oil on canvas), by Mattia Bortoloni, 1750, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Pau, France

R_Albert_Mohler
-by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

“When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these:
1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”
2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”
3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

(Sound familiar? Sounds nice, its just…its not Christianity! Certainly NOT Catholicism!))

That, in sum, is the creed to which much adolescent faith can be reduced. After conducting more than 3,000 interviews with American adolescents, the researchers reported that, when it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and “whatever.”

As a matter of fact, the researchers, whose report is summarized in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers by Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, found that American teenagers are incredibly inarticulate about their religious beliefs, and most are virtually unable to offer any serious theological understanding. As Smith reports, “To the extent that the teens we interviewed did manage to articulate what they understood and believed religiously, it became clear that most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe, or they do understand it and simply do not care to believe it. Either way, it is apparent that most religiously affiliated U.S. teens are not particularly interested in espousing and upholding the beliefs of their faith traditions, or that their communities of faith are failing in attempts to educate their youth, or both.”

As the researchers explained, “For most teens, nobody has to do anything in life, including anything to do with religion. ‘Whatever’ is just fine, if that’s what a person wants.”

The casual “whatever” that marks so much of the American moral and theological landscapes–adolescent and otherwise–is a substitute for serious and responsible thinking. More importantly, it is a verbal cover for an embrace of relativism. Accordingly, “most religious teenager’s opinions and views–one can hardly call them worldviews–are vague, limited, and often quite at variance with the actual teachings of their own religion.”

The kind of responses found among many teenagers indicates a vast emptiness at the heart of their understanding. When a teenager says, “I believe there is a God and stuff,” this hardly represents a profound theological commitment.

Amazingly, teenagers are not inarticulate in general. As the researchers found, “Many teenagers know abundant details about the lives of favorite musicians and television stars or about what it takes to get into a good college, but most are not very clear on who Moses and Jesus were.” The obvious conclusion: “This suggests that a strong, visible, salient, or intentional faith is not operating in the foreground of most teenager’s lives.”

One other aspect of this study deserves attention at this point. The researchers, who conducted thousands of hours of interviews with a carefully identified spectrum of teenagers, discovered that for many of these teens, the interview itself was the first time they had ever discussed a theological question with an adult. What does this say about our churches? What does this say about this generation of parents?

In the end, this study indicates that American teenagers are heavily influenced by the ideology of individualism that has so profoundly shaped the larger culture. This bleeds over into a reflexive non-judgmentalism and a reluctance to suggest that anyone might actually be wrong in matters of faith and belief. Yet, these teenagers are unable to live with a full-blown relativism.

The researchers note that many responses fall along very moralistic lines–but they reserve their most non-judgmental attitudes for matters of theological conviction and belief. Some go so far as to suggest that there are no “right” answers in matters of doctrine and theological conviction.

The “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” that these researchers identify as the most fundamental faith posture and belief system of American teenagers appears, in a larger sense, to reflect the culture as a whole. Clearly, this generalized conception of a belief system is what appears to characterize the beliefs of vast millions of Americans, both young and old.

This is an important missiological observation–a point of analysis that goes far beyond sociology. As Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton explained, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism “is about inculcating a moralistic approach to life. It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person. That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, responsible, at work on self-improvement, taking care of one’s health, and doing one’s best to be successful.” In a very real sense, that appears to be true of the faith commitment, insofar as this can be described as a faith commitment, held by a large percentage of Americans. These individuals, whatever their age, believe that religion should be centered in being “nice”–a posture that many believe is directly violated by assertions of strong theological conviction.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also “about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents.” As the researchers explained, “This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of sovereign divinity, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, et cetera. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.”

In addition, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism presents a unique understanding of God. As Smith explains, this amorphous faith “is about belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one’s affairs–especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance.”

Smith and his colleagues recognize that the deity behind Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is very much like the deistic God of the 18th-century philosophers. This is not the God who thunders from the mountain, nor a God who will serve as judge. This undemanding deity is more interested in solving our problems and in making people happy. “In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”

Obviously, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not an organized faith. This belief system has no denominational headquarters and no mailing address. Nevertheless, it has millions and millions of devotees across the United States and other advanced cultures, where subtle cultural shifts have produced a context in which belief in such an undemanding deity makes sense. Furthermore, this deity does not challenge the most basic self-centered assumptions of our postmodern age. Particularly when it comes to so-called “lifestyle” issues, this God is exceedingly tolerant and this religion is radically undemanding.

As sociologists, Smith and his team suggest that this Moralistic Therapeutic Deism may now constitute something like a dominant civil religion that constitutes the belief system for the culture at large. Thus, this basic conception may be analogous to what other researchers have identified as “lived religion” as experienced by the mainstream culture.

Moving to even deeper issues, these researches claim that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is “colonizing” Christianity itself, as this new civil religion seduces converts who never have to leave their congregations and Christian identification as they embrace this new faith and all of its undemanding dimensions.

Consider this remarkable assessment: “Other more accomplished scholars in these areas will have to examine and evaluate these possibilities in greater depth. But we can say here that we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually [only] tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but is rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

They argue that this distortion of Christianity has taken root not only in the minds of individuals, but also “within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions.”

How can you tell? “The language, and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, . . . and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward.”

Does this mean that America is becoming more secularized? Not necessarily. These researchers assert that Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.

This radical transformation of Christian theology and Christian belief replaces the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of the self. In this therapeutic age, human problems are reduced to pathologies in need of a treatment plan. Sin is simply excluded from the picture, and doctrines as central as the wrath and justice of God are discarded as out of step with the times and unhelpful to the project of self-actualization.

All this means is that teenagers have been listening carefully. They have been observing their parents in the larger culture with diligence and insight. They understand just how little their parents really believe and just how much many of their churches and Christian institutions have accommodated themselves to the dominant culture. They sense the degree to which theological conviction has been sacrificed on the altar of individualism and a relativistic understanding of truth. They have learned from their elders that self-improvement is the one great moral imperative to which all are accountable, and they have observed the fact that the highest aspiration of those who shape this culture is to find happiness, security, and meaning in life.

This research project demands the attention of every thinking Christian. Those who are prone to dismiss sociological analysis as irrelevant will miss the point. We must now look at the United States of America as missiologists once viewed nations that had never heard the gospel. Indeed, our missiological challenge may be even greater than the confrontation with paganism, for we face a succession of generations who have transformed Christianity into something that bears no resemblance to the faith revealed in the Bible. The faith “once delivered to the saints” is no longer even known, not only by American teenagers, but by most of their parents. Millions of Americans believe they are Christians, simply because they have some historic tie to a Christian denomination or identity.

We now face the challenge of evangelizing a nation that largely considers itself Christian, overwhelmingly believes in some deity, considers itself fervently religious, but has virtually no connection to historic Christianity. Christian Smith and his colleagues have performed an enormous service for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in identifying Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as the dominant religion of this American age. Our responsibility is to prepare the church to respond to this new religion, understanding that it represents the greatest competitor to biblical Christianity. More urgently, this study should warn us all that our failure to teach this generation of teenagers the realities and convictions of biblical Christianity will mean that their children will know even less and will be even more readily seduced by this new form of paganism. This study offers irrefutable evidence of the challenge we now face. As the motto reminds us, “Knowledge is power.”

Love, rejecting MTD,
Matthew