Sunday, January 29, 2017

Catholicism: The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End

 

Religious pluralism, that is the principle of allowing a peoples with different religious beliefs, without penalty or favoritism from its government, to coexist in a civil society, is a principle that honors each and everyone's will to their own religious beliefs.  However, theologically, there is no such thing as religious pluralism.

First, to believe that all religions are equal or that the true complete revelation of Jesus Christ exists in some totality of all Christianity is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.  First, the declaration put forth by the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith Dominus Iesus - On The Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church (DI) declares

Furthermore, “Jesus Christ, therefore, the Word made flesh, sent ‘as a man to men', ‘speaks the words of God' (Jn 3:34), and completes the work of salvation which his Father gave him to do (cf. Jn 5:36; 17:4). To see Jesus is to see his Father (cf. Jn 14:9). For this reason, Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making himself present and manifesting himself: through his words and deeds, his signs and wonders, but especially through his death and glorious resurrection from the dead and finally with the sending of the Spirit of truth, he completed and perfected revelation and confirmed it with divine testimony... The Christian dispensation, therefore, as the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away, and we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Tim 6:14 and Tit 2:13)”. (DI, 5)

This means that the revelation of Jesus Christ is complete and no new revelation is coming or should be expected.  Surely, the saints, the doctors of the Church and the Church itself through the Magisterium has and will continue to broaden our intellectual understanding of this complete revelation.  But "new revelation" is exactly what other non-Catholic, Christian and non-Christian religions is being proclaimed.

Second, any reduction of the Catholic faith then in of itself tries to supply an "additional revelation" which the Catholic church tells us is not compatible with the Catholic faith. Protestantism is a reduction of the Catholic faith. Dominus Iesus says that Protestantism and many other religions, which may contain universal truths, are considered paths to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church - the Catholic church.

Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church. The lack of unity among Christians is certainly a wound for the Church; not in the sense that she is deprived of her unity, but “in that it hinders the complete fulfillment of her universality in history. (DI, 17)

Third, to me it is logical that the Catholic Church is the true path to salvation.  For fifteen hundred years only the Catholic Church existed.  While the term "catholic" first appeared in the year 107 A.D. when St. Ignatius of Antioch used the term in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans that he wrote to Christians in Smyrna (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_to_the_Smyrnaeans), its use described the set of beliefs in place up until that time, as well as for all perpetuity.

Fourth, 

Just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ: “a single Catholic and apostolic Church." Furthermore, the promises of the Lord that he would not abandon his Church (cf. Mt 16:18; 28:20) and that he would guide her by his Spirit (cf. Jn 16:13) mean, according to Catholic faith, that the unicity and the unity of the Church — like everything that belongs to the Church's integrity — will never be lacking. (DI, 16)

To say then that the fullness of truth is a collection of all beliefs would mean that there are many "brides" of Christ -and that would make no sense whatsoever!  Also, to admit to the inclusion of non-Catholic Christianity in the full deposit of faith would mean that Christ abandoned his Church.

Fifth, the Catholic Church has something that no other Christian church has - the full legitimate set of Sacraments. The "sacraments are outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification." (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13295a.htm) I mean, bring on that grace!  Who couldn't use more of that supernatural help to get us past our failures and our sufferings?

Sixth, no book can interpret itself. If you have every written anything that someone else has read, you know this to be true. My first experience of this was when I was in college and had to write a short story for an English class. The name of the short story was The Potted Plant and it was a semi-biographical story of my immaturity and my alcoholic mother. The story was the first selected by the professor to be read aloud in class. I listened with astonishment to the many interpretations of my story which were far from my intention.

Only the author of a story can truly interpret it completely and accurately. The Holy Bible can only be properly interpreted by its Author. To claim that the Holy Bible is not so hard that it can be self-interpreted is over-generalizing and reducing the glory of God.  The Catholic Church has a single teaching source to guide us through the proper interpretation of the Holy Bible - "the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him teach the faithful the truth to believe, the charity to practice, the beatitude to hope for." (CCC, 2034)

In closing, "the Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity — rooted in the apostolic succession— between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church.  This is the single Church of Christ... which our Saviour, after his resurrection, entrusted to Peter's pastoral care (cf. Jn 21:17) (16)... Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him." (DI, 17)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

No One Should Die Alone



My Uncle Marcel was my mother's only sibling. He earned three degrees, was a member of the US Peace Corps in the early 1960s serving in the Philippines, was a tenured Associate Professor of Biology, and upon his retirement, was named professor Emeritus.

Uncle Marcel was one of those relatives who would pull you aside and ask you "what are you doing?"  As a late teenager I would look at him quizzically and ask what he meant.  He would repeat the question until I understood what he was really asking - what are you doing with your life?  His question was appropriate at the time, having dropped out of college to work at a local supermarket chain.  I can certainly credit him with helping me return to college and get myself on track for a career in computer science.

But later in life, my uncle was elusive.  He didn't attend any family events and did not stay in contact with his only sister after my grandparents passed away.  It was years before I heard from one of his best friends, a fellow colleague and professor, that he had fallen ill and wanted to see me.  His illness was brief and for a very short time, I visited him on several occasions.  But his elusiveness returned and it had been a few years between that time and the time I learned of him suffering a major heart attack just recently.

Along with my mother and my sister, we visited my uncle in the ICU.  We learned that he also suffered a massive stroke, most likely associated with his heart attack.  He was not doing well.  He seemed to slightly respond to our voices when we visited him but was generally unresponsive.  I was then contacted by an associate of his that was his Power of Attorney.  He was able to get arrange a discussion with the ICU doctor where we learned that he would not survive a day without his breathing tube.  My uncle had a do not resuscitate order, which we honored.  His breathing tube was removed and he passed away peacefully some ninety minutes later.

My uncle was a baptized and confirmed Catholic.  He stepped away from his faith calling himself an atheist shortly after receiving his PhD in Biology.  After we learned of his condition, we arranged for a priest to administer the Anointing of the Sick.  On the first night we saw him, we prayed a Divine Mercy Chaplet over him.  After they removed his breathing tube, I stayed with my uncle until he passed away.  No one should die alone.  I prayed a Rosary for him while I was with him before he passed.

Praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet at the hour of death can bring many special graces:

"My daughter, encourage souls to say the chaplet which I have given to you. It pleases Me to grant everything they ask of Me by saying the chaplet. ... Write that when they say this chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge but as the merciful Savior (Diary, 1541).
"At the hour of their death, I defend as My own glory every soul that will say this chaplet; or when others say it for a dying person, the indulgence is the same" (Diary, 811).
I pray that God's mercy was granted to my Uncle.

Eternal rest grant to him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him.  
May he rest in peace. 
Amen.




Please Call a Sin a Sin




In between my attempts to earn an undergraduate degree, I worked full-time for a New England supermarket chain.  There was a manager there who I admired for his hard-work and more importantly, his hard-hitting truth-telling.  I would fume over his words and comments about my work ethic and attitude.  But then, after getting over my self-centered and pouting self, I would understand what he was saying and began to think it made sense. I would hate him one moment and then love him the next.

My favorite teachers, colleagues, and relatives are those that humble me and make me think.  My Uncle Marcel was two of these: a relative and Associate Professor.  But that's another post for later.

I find myself starving for this hard-hitting and humbling experience at Mass. But I really struggle.  I hear the same spiritual cliches repackaged over and over again during most homilies.  It takes some serious concentration for me during Mass to find the nugget where God is speaking to me.  I am a sinner and often tune out or get distracted.  Perhaps this is the point where God is trying to reach me.

But there are very few hand-clapping, foot-stomping, standing ovations for most homilies I hear (of which by the way, these reactions if I had reason to do them would be irreverent at Mass - yet another post).  I get it: to call contraception, pre-marital sex, cohabitation, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage sins would collectively strike the hearts of nearly every Catholic in one or more ways.  It would hurt and anger all of us. I would guess that many would walk out of Mass right then and there; many others would never return. But it is the truth and we must hear it.  Instead, we hear safe and non-controversial messages, while in and of themselves are true, are not creating life-long Catholics that are confessing their sins nor adoring Our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration.

Matthew Kelly puts it very well when he talks about the Seven Levels Of Intimacy.  We are stuck in cliches and facts. We are fearful of expressing opinions, of being judged, and of not being accepted. We are afraid if people really knew us, they wouldn't love us.  We are also afraid of submitting ourselves to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and accepting its authority about how is the best way to live.

It's not easy for us though on many levels. We face progressive and modernist priest and deacons that won't call or acknowledge a sin as a sin; parishes with protestant-like hand gestures at the words "And with your spirit" or hand-holding during the Lord's Prayer; parishes with ecumenical work camps and ecumenical vacation bible schools; and parishes with youth ministry programs that still use barbecues, ice cream socials, and mountain hikes as a means of raising life-long Catholics.  None of these things work - the Pew Research Studies that show that adults who self-identify as Catholic is declining and those who identify as "nones" is increasing, Declining Mass attendance, use of the Sacraments, and empty pews prove it.

Let's stop staying safe with the small talk. Let's learn and be eager to be engaged with the hard-hitting, intellectual high ground. Let's ask more of ourselves, our family, and our parish.  And most of all, let's step up and call a sin a sin, seek God's forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, and accept the authority of the Catholic Church.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Youth Ministry Shouldn't Be What It Used To Be




I answered the call to youth ministry from the pastor of my parish back in 1990.  I tried to meet kids where they were at by organizing youth group meetings, planning fun events, holding retreats, and by just listening.  At the time, Holy Hour, Eucharistic Adoration, the Sacrament of Confession, and the Rosary were far from my planning worksheets. I was worried I would turn kids off and lose them if I threw that "holy" stuff at them. I didn't want them to get bored or tune out (in fact, these things were far from my own common practices - the real reason).  In essence, I was trying to carve out some social time with youth away from their stressful lives with some caring adults in a church hall.  Not a bad idea I suppose. 

Later on, years later, in fact twenty years later, when researching for an evangelization effort for my last parish, I came across some very interesting information.   The Dynamic Catholic Institute and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate released findings from their recent studies:[1] 
  • 6.4 percent of registered parishioners contribute 80 percent of the volunteer hours in a parish.
  • 6.8 percent of registered parishioners donate 80 percent of financial contributions.
  • There is an 84 percent overlap between the previous two points. 
  • A little more than three in ten adult Catholics (31.4 percent) are estimated to be attending Mass in any given week.
  • While a majority of adult Catholics, 57 percent, say their belief about the Eucharist is reflected best by the statement “Jesus Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist,” There are still 43 percent who said their belief is best reflected in the statement, “Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present.”
  • Sixty-two percent of Catholics agree “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement, “I can be a good Catholic without celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year” (33 percent agree “strongly”). Even 54 percent of weekly Mass attendees agree at least “somewhat” with this statement.
  • About a third of respondents (34 percent) agree “strongly” with the statement, “I can be a good Catholic without going to Mass every Sunday.” More than two-thirds (68 percent) agree with this statement at least “somewhat.
  • 80% of youth who are confirmed leave the church by the time they are 30. Yikes!
The adults among this data are the typical youth of my youth ministry days. At least for me, I concluded that what I was doing didn't work at some level. Isn't this what this means? I'm not saying that anything I did didn't work. I mean, I was following my youth ministry training as well as the advice of some of my favorite Catholic-industry youth ministry resources.  What could go wrong with that? Saving one sheep for the sake of the ninety-nine - that's how the parable goes, right? 

There are lots of contributing factors that have led to these statistics. But, how can we be happy with this current state and continue the path of icebreakers, barbecues, ice cream socials, and youth masses on mountain tops?  

I've concluded that youth ministry has to be more evangelization than social time. Evangelization is what leads to life-long Catholics, not game nights. Youth ministry evangelization efforts need to be split (that's 50-50 of our time, planning, and resources) between youth and their parents.  

But here's the thing: the primordial act of evangelization is answering a deep, deep call to holiness. Answering this call emerges from personal participation in prayer, the Eucharist, and Penance which are the “infallible and indispensable means for living the truth of love that God has inscribed in the theology of our bodies.”[2]  The call to holiness extends to all – parishioners, staff, and volunteers. We must commit ourselves to immerse ourselves into a deeper relationship with God, Jesus Christ, Mary the Mother of God, and the communion of saints through the Sacraments and prayer; it is only then that we can begin in total and complete earnest to gain Catholic families to join us.

Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and Catholic apologist (did you know this about him?) concluded  “there exist three basic types of people: Those who seek God and find him, those who are seeking God but have not yet found him, and those who neither seek nor find.”   Our social-infested means of catechizing to youth is producing adults that stop seeking and finding. Then later as adults, we can't come to terms about our sin.  We may be filled with guilt; we may be bitter of those who have done us wrong; we may be enjoying our current sins too much to give them up. The data proves it and we need to take responsibility. 

Let's remind ourselves that the Sacrament of Confirmation gives us "the special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross" (CCC 1303),   The long-last effects of youth ministry that we are seeking is rooted in the call to holiness.  This call to holiness includes the ability to come to terms with our sins and formulate the uniqueness of Catholicism within Christianity and the ability to defend the Catholic Church from the great heresies of our time. How do we best prepare youth for this sacrament?  Every event or retreat or meeting should do the following:
  • Teach them to pray: the Rosary, the Divine Office, the Animus Christi, the Divine Mercy Chaplet just to name some of my favorites and the most important few.
  • Study the lives of the saints:  subscribe to The Catholic Company's Your Morning Offering to get a brief biography of the saint of the day - amazing, amazing people!
  • Teach them to be silent and reflective: our Catholic faith is unique in its appeal to our intellect, instead of our emotions (the center of a Catholic Church is the altar; the center of a Protestant church is a stage). Eucharist Adoration is a wonderful means for teaching this.
  • Reinforce the use of the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation: remember the “infallible and indispensable means for living the truth"
How do we best evangelize to parents (and ourselves)? Either as a goal of a youth ministry program itself or a parish-wide effort:
  • Remind them how to pray
  • Help them pursue the adult study of Catholicism (Lighthouse Catholic Media's Formed.org, DynamicCatholic.com, ChurchMilitant.com serve as a few examples)
  • Remind them how to be silent and reflective
  • Reinforce the use of the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation
It can't be business as usual.  The data proves that we are not producing life-long Catholics.
So let us press on toward the future God has envisioned for us and for the Church. It is time for us to become a people of possibility again. Too much of what we do is governed by a very limited way of thinking. We gravitate toward what is manageable, rather than imagining what is possible. We have lost touch with best practices and settle for the way things have always been done. Now is the time for us to reimagine what incredible things are possible if we walk with God. Now is the time for Catholics to become a people of possibility. Imagine what sixty-seven million American Catholics are capable of. Imagine what more than a billion Catholics worldwide are capable of.
One thing is certain: Whatever we do or do not do will determine the future of humanity and the world. - Matthew Kelly, Rediscover Catholicism.


[1] Compiled from research conducted by Dynamic Catholic appearing in The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, 2012, by Matthew Kelly and the 2008 USCCB-sponsored study conducted by Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate “Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice among U.S. Catholics” (http://cara.georgetown.edu/sacramentsreport.pdf).

[2] Blessed Pope John Paul II, TOB 126:5.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

After Friday, It's No Longer Business As Usual




Not a word was said at Mass today about the SCOTUS decision to legalize same-sex marriage across the country on Friday, June 26, 2015.  It was business as usual.  Reacting to news on Friday has its challenges. But plenty of Catholic bishops reacted.  Did yours?  What does your diocesan's web site home page look like this morning?  Let's take a look at a few:

My own diocese - nothing.
Diocese of Manchester: catholicchurch.org
Archdiocese of Boston, in the ground-zero state; see red circle - sort of lame:

Archdiocese of Boston: BostonCatholic.org
USCCB's - same lame-ness, although two references:

USCCB: USCCB.org

Now, www.marriageuniqueforareason.org is an initiative of the USCCB: Nothing on the home page, but I did find this:

http://www.marriageuniqueforareason.org/2015/06/26/usccb-statement-on-marriage-ruling/
Now, here are some mainstream media (MSM) newspaper front pages on Saturday, June 27, 2015:




The differences are shocking are they not?  The Catholic Church is not keeping up.  Michael Voris from ChurchMilitant.com sumamrizes it well.

The Vortex - American Rome

We should test the fairness of the MSM coverage of this issue by publishing full-page ads of this image from /www.marriageuniqueforareason.org in the New York Times and Washington Post, to name a few.