Is the Christian called to Inspiration or Relevance? We look to St. Theresa of Kolkata to understand today’s Gospel, Luke chapter 14.
I had abdominal surgery two weeks ago, so I got sent home with some narcotics. I wasn’t in much physical pain, but I noticed there was a lot of psychological relief in taking the narcotics. I was anxious for an upcoming meeting, so I found myself taking hydrocodone for the calming effects more than for the physical recovery. Any reader who had been in medicine for even a short time should be able to see the alarms of pre-addiction in the previous three sentences. Happily, I caught this too and never finished my prescription. (And the meeting went very well, too. Of course, this had nothing to do with the narcotics.)
But, it’s not a guarantee that I would have caught the pre-addiction. And even if I did catch it, who is to say I would have wanted to? Narcotics provide an excellent pseudo-peace, and a priest could have easily convinced a surgeon he needed a refill. As a friend of mine says, “You’re a master of your own deceit.” But if I enjoyed the peace of the hydrocodone, I noticed a great irritability as I came off even one pill. It hit me that drugs build a Tower of Babel: An attempt to bring the peace of heaven to earth, replete with a crash (even after one pill.) This really is the nature of all sin: Temporary peace with minimal concern for a future of unintended negative consequences.
This is where vulnerability comes in. Because each of us is a master of our own deceit, there is no way to live the Christian life alone (except hermits who, in the early Church, had to prove themselves through at least a decade of communal monastic life.) When I entered seminary, I thought “The orthodox—we got the sacraments but the progressives whine about community a lot.” But as I’ve gotten older, I have seen that we can’t really walk with Jesus unless we have both. Live both.
Are we Catholics vulnerable with each other? Forgive a few sweeping generalizations before we get to the good news of the Gospel. Of course there are a lot of exceptions to this, but in my experience “the Greatest Generation” of Americans was too busy saving Europe amidst WWII and raising their baby-boomer kids to even have the time to be vulnerable. The baby boomers faked (and still do fake) the notion that everything is just great in their spiritual lives. But their children have taken a very different approach:
Even outside the Catholic circles, the youth of today are known as a “confessional generation.” Notice that the youth of today put even their suicide threats on Facebook. Their parents find out on Facebook that their son or daughter is suicidal…not in person. It is no wonder that they long for love, for community, for boundaries more than Disneyland Dads can provide. I am convinced that young Christians today—Catholics and Protestants alike—use the term “vulnerable” more than any other time in Christian history. In fact, sometimes that term is annoyingly overused.
But I’ll take it, and here’s why: An open wound is easier for Jesus to heal through His priests if the mystical body gets there first. It takes both Christ the head and Christ the mystical body (small communities) to be able to bring the broken-hearted children of this virtual-generation to the sacrament of confession. A few close friends are needed for support, encouragement and accountability after the initial conversion.
Let me give a prime example. After a late night in adoration, I went to IHOP with a good friend around 2am. He “came out of the closet” to me. I suppose it wasn’t so much a “coming out” because:
1) I already had a hunch.
2) That night he explained that he had fought to live chastely for years.
Thus, it was more of an admission of a lifetime of same-sex attraction than a double-lifestyle. But I wanted to hear his conversion story. Since this was IHOP and not a sacrament, he gave me permission to share with you. 1
He continued to explain that his initial conversion to trust in Jesus came from evangelical television! His reentrance to the sacraments happened through the Catholic charismatic renewal. Finally, the real solidification of living a chaste life as a man struggling with same-sex attraction happened with a very deep entrance into the Mass, the Rosary and Adoration where he found freedom. I had hoped this was the end of his conversion story, but he admitted to me that he still had falls, albeit infrequent.
On top of the Rosary, Mass and many hours of adoration, he needed something more to follow Christ with his heavy cross: Vulnerability with a few friends. Now, let me pause and say that me pointing this out is not placing the Mystical Body of Christ (community) over the Eucharistic Body of Christ (the sacraments.) It means he needed community to live the sacraments worthily, and that the mystical body flows from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass without negating it. My friend told me how he entered the Catholic group Courage. There, he found strength in friends who had also struggled with Same-Sex attraction but strove for chaste lifestyles.
But his greatest success against violent temptations came from his chosen transparency with a few straight men. These friends of his knew how to keep him in brotherly love and sacramental accountability; these were men who could challenge him without condemning him.
The picture I chose for this blog post is above. I shot it just after a storm at Grand Isle, Louisiana a month ago. A storm can be like a surgery: Violent but cleansing. My friend’s descriptions of beating some of his temptations are just this: rough, not-sure-where-God-is, but cleansing if he can just hang on to the other side of the storm. Obviously, the rainbow is the sign of God’s covenant of love after the storm of sexual purification (literally in Genesis 6-9). My friend’s story is evidence that we Catholics need to reclaim the rainbow as a symbol of extreme sexual purification for Covenantal Love. Love has nothing to do with a “pride” rainbow, for pride is the vice that constitutes the number one prevention of Divine-Covenantal love in the gay community, or any community for that matter. True purification and loss of addiction always comes with a fear of reality, and it is reality that is in some sense the beginning of intimacy with God (hence, what is so bad about drugs.) God is not chemicals but three real persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who wants us in heaven, “where God Himself wanted to be their Eternal Reward.”—St. Therese. This recipe requires vulnerability, community and conversion among penitents. The other ingredient is compassionate priests in the confessional.
As I get back on Facebook after being gone 7 years, I am surprised at how many of my priest and lay-missionary friends have 2 or 3 or 4 thousand friends. The point of this post is to say how much better it is to have a very small Christian community of three or four people with whom you can be vulnerable and transparent than 4,000 Facebook friends. The three friends can help you follow Jesus because they can engender an intimacy and accountability that Facebook can not. Maybe even married couples need another couple with whom they can walk the path of genuine, vulnerable accountability.
I think Mary Magdalene may represent the youth of today, as they come in fear before the severe Mercy of the great lover-surgeon Jesus. But in coming to Jesus, they should see that Mary Magdalene was finally naked not in body, but in soul. Jesus ejects seven demons out of her, and maybe His infinite purity transformers her lifetime experience of inadequacy before men. For the first time ever, her vulnerability had paid off.
But it took the courage of St. Mary Magdalene admitting: “Not everything is okay in my life.” And then and only then, the cut of Divine Surgery…is more gentle than we thought. So also with the sacrament of confession for most people returning after a decade.
A friend once wrote me something she gave me permission to share:
“Oh I am. It’s a barrier in my relationship with Jesus…a deep wound many ‘prodigals’ have…seeing ourselves as lovable. I cannot grasp, intellectually/emotionally that I am lovable…I don’t believe it. I suspect an ulterior motive…or that I must earn this. Freely given? Seen as precious or unique…there is a blockage there. I can give this, but am embarrassed when someone returns it. I think that Jesus saw this in Mary Magdalene…that she loved Him, and expected nothing. She was utterly grateful that He even allowed her to thank Him for His proclamation of forgiveness and mercy of sinners like herself…so I can’t imagine what it was like for her to receive His addressing of her wounds, in particular. No wonder she never left Him…at the Cross, in the Garden.”
There is a strange rumor among a few Catholics today that the penitent (the one going to confession to the priest) can release the priest verbally to share his story or struggles with, say, his parents in order to help him. This is simply not true. This is because in the rare case that the priest even remembers the confession (another reason it is the right of every penitent and priest to insist upon anonymous confession behind the screen) the priest is still under pain of excommunication to link sin and penitent by any verbal or non-verbal actions outside the confessional to others. Why can’t the penitent release the priest to talk? Because the information does not belong to the priest or penitent. The information belongs to Jesus Christ Himself who died to establish the sacrament that carries an inviolable seal that can never be broken. (A spiritual directee, however, may bring up issues or sins that overlap between spiritual direction and confession. The priest needs to be careful, however, to access only spiritual direction, not confession, even if he remembers some overlap.) In the case of my IHOP buddy, it should be obvious to the reader that he is neither penitent nor spiritual directee. He’s just a really good friend who has struggled his whole life with same-sex attraction and gave me permission to share his story anonymously. ↩
NB I was asked why I took down my last post. The reason I removed it is because I believe my impact on that topic will be greater at a more strategic time. I’m under no prohibitions to blog. After all this, I still have no fear to proclaim the truth…but I sense in prayer that my soapbox must wait in order to affect more people after my medical leave is finished (even if my only remaining podium be the internet.)
Like my first great Jesuit spiritual director (Fr. Ralph Drendel SJ) my second great Jesuit has gone to his eternal reward. Late Thursday night Fr. Raymond Gawronski SJ, went before the face of the Triune God. May you rest in peace, Ray, and may perpetual light shine upon your soul.
I hope you enjoy this short writing below as much as I do, written in 2009 by Fr. Ray SJ:
Recently, I received a copy of a history of the sixteen Polish parishes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is a tremendously moving story of how the poorest of the immigrants from Europe built the most spectacular churches, at incredible cost. The Basilica of St. Josaphat, most imposing of the structures, at one time boasted the second largest dome in the United States after the United States Capitol. The people who built it were the most despised of the European immigrants, huddled in crowded conditions: and yet, the parishioners of that parish took out second mortgages on their homes, and contributed up to a year’s factory wages in order to build the church to the glory of God.
It is said that when the Germans came to Milwaukee they built factories, while when the Polish came to Milwaukee, they built churches. The church was at the very center of the life of the Polish community. And soon there were schools – grammar and high schools – and benevolent institutions, orphanages and cultural organizations. An opera company.
This is only in Milwaukee. There are a dozen cities – mostly the Lake Cities, Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo – where more or less the same phenomenon occurred. And then a hundred other small towns and villages where coal miners, farmers, and other working folk gave their best to the Church which had been their spiritual home for a millennium.
In the late nineteenth century, there erupted a great crisis in the American Catholic Church. It centered around the issue of who would control the churches. Called the “Trustee Controversy”, the issue was aggravated by the practice of the American hierarchy of removing Polish pastors from their immigrant flocks and imposing non-Poles as the leaders of those flocks. The Poles were seen as fractious and quarrelsome – a recent history of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, commissioned by Archbishop Weakland, described the Poles as “intractable.” The Poles, for their part, felt that since by the 1920’s they constituted 20% of the American Catholic Church, they should have at least some representation in the hierarchy. That representation was very late in coming, too late for the members of the Polish National Church who went into schism by the turn of the century.
The large majority of Poles remained faithful to their ancestral Church. But they did keep a distance from other groups. For one thing, unlike the other major groups – the Irish, the Germans – the Poles in large part envisioned a return to Europe after earning money here. I have heard a scholar say that 70% of all Poles who came to America returned. And then, once settled, they had to deal with the prejudice of those groups, and their own historical experience. Though painful to admit, the Germans under Bismarck were engaged on a policy of cultural extermination of Polish Catholics which, later, became the actual genocide of the Nazis. Anti-Polish prejudice is very deep among the Germans, and this friction continued at some level in America. The Irish who dominated the hierarchy tended to view the Poles as throw-backs to what they themselves had been when they arrived here as “peasants” – and as a group that would have to Americanize, on the Irish model, of course.
By the 1960’s, many Americans had moved to the suburbs. The Polish community, which had finally “come into its own” around the time of World War II, was less prone to move than other communities. They had settled into their neighborhoods around their churches, and by the late 1950’s, they were prospering…
The second catastrophe was the Second Vatican Council. Polish Catholicism was unique: Poland was a medium sized European nation which was Catholic to the core. It blended a Slavic sensibility with a millennium long insertion in the life of Roman Catholic culture, largely influenced by French Catholicism. The devotional life of the Poles was perhaps richer than most, and they boasted a very rich heritage of popular hymns and devotions. It was precisely this that the Vatican Council undercut. So at the very time that their homes were being destroyed, millions of Polish Americans – millions – found themselves quickly dispossessed of their churches as well. Often the location of the churches was ravaged by the construction of freeways which destroyed the neighborhoods, as with St. Stanislaus in Milwaukee and several of the larger churches of Chicago. The neighborhoods themselves had become unsafe, and people were loathe to return to them from the safety of the suburbs.
These developments aggravated what would in any event have been happening through assimilation. However, the Poles were in a disadvantaged position. Other Slavic groups – most notably the Ukrainians, but also the Ruthenians and others – had their own churches with their own hierarchies, whether Eastern Catholic or Orthodox – which remained bastions of their noble traditions and national identities. The Poles were now lumped together with all other Roman Catholics, but they had a very different approach to religion – as to life – than the western neighbors, some of whom had been their cultural enemies for centuries. That is, the values, way of being a human, were radically different for a Polish Catholic than for a German Protestant or even a German Catholic, and though the Irish Catholics had also become a peasant nation living under Protestant oppression, their Catholicism was so heavily Jansenist and bereft of the emotionally charged devotion of the Poles as to seem a different religion.
And so Polish Americans lost – and were stripped of – the heritage that several generations had spent everything they had to recreate in the new world. In its place, they were given nothing but the often tawdry benefits of American pop culture. In the Church, they simply lost any contribution they had to make, as they lost their own identity, and drifted into being simply proletarians.
The Church for her part had been committed to the “Americanization” of all the immigrants. But with the end of this vision, and the rise of multi-culturalism, the Church began a new approach. Suddenly, there were offices of Black and Hispanic Catholics, complete with Black History Month and other such culturally creative activities. Among the older Catholics, it is only the Irish group who have emerged as cultural winners: as time went by, the Irish assimilated less and less. John became Sean/Shawn, James became Shane, William – the ubiquitous Bill – has been becoming Liam.
This effects people in church, because the very hymns we sing come from the traditions that are favorably viewed. But for the Poles, it is as if they had come from nowhere, contributed nothing, were nothing. Their descendants, with changed names, no history, no culture, are truly the poorest of the poor, culturally, no matter how much money they can make. They have been stripped of everything they have by way of human culture.
And it is the Catholic Church, their church, which has failed them utterly. They were the poorest of the European groups, and most in need of support: the American Catholic Church took what they had built – their churches – and left them with nothing. When the wave of Pollack jokes took over the airwaves not only in the United States, but with the spread of American culture, globally, not a single voice was heard from any of the “justice and peace” offices that grow like mushrooms on the modern Catholic landscape.
Enter the Anglicans. Here is a group that have been the enemy of the Roman Catholic Church for five centuries. Most notably, in Ireland, they were intent on crushing the Irish nation and their Catholic Faith. In America, this church was always seen as the church of the rich and powerful. In Britain, it was the repository of the pride of the world’s premier Protestant nation. The “Protestant Episcopal” church was a creation which combined the rejection of obedience to Peter – and identification with Catholic nations, which were seen as inferior – with a stylish adoption of “Romish” traditions and customs. In some deep sense, no doubt, the ancient Catholic spirit of England did find a place in this church. There is no doubt too that there is a treasure of religious culture which has been preserved in this tradition, and which will enrich the Catholic Communion.
But it is a shame – a profound shame – that the Mother Church, in the United States, has let languish and die the religious heritage of a people who were faithful to her from their baptism. A people who followed her teachings on the practice of usury and remained poor when other nations abandoned the Catholic vision and became rich; a Catholic nation that suffered the loss of everything and was itself enslaved but that learned to fight for its own freedom and the freedom of others, unlike the English nation which, to its great shame, went about the world enslaving peoples and destroying their cultures; a Catholic people who, poorest of the poor, tried to give the greatest glory to God in the monuments they built and who were never accepted, who were despised, and in the end, destroyed and discarded as a Catholic presence in the New World, while offices of justice and peace flourished by parroting the slogans and agendas of the rich and powerful elites.
In our desperate Church situation – spiritually speaking – with our unspeakably banal liturgical life, the death of religious orders and indeed spirituality itself, I welcome our Anglican brethren who will bring us something of culture and dignity. But I welcome them to a Church which, to its shame, welcomes the rich and powerful – and politically astute – while despising the simple children of the Roman tradition. Perhaps ’twas e’er thus….
—Fr. Ray SJ, Fall 2009
Today’s feast honors St. Felix of Valois, a 13th century saint who gave himself to be the ransom (replacement) of Christians taken hostage by Muslims. At Mass tonight, I preached my sermon on St. Felix and the theology of both Christianity and Islam.
I’m about to go offer Mass for the 150+ victims of the Paris terror attack that has been claimed by ISIS. The last time France has seen this much violence (besides abortion) was the French Revolution. How unbelievably insensitive, then, of President Obama to quote the three key words of the French Revolution as the common source of resistance against terrorism:
“We are reminded in this time of tragedy that the bonds of liberté, egalité, fraternité are not just the values French people share, but we share.”—President Obama, 13 November 2015
So, if it’s true that the last time France saw this many murders was the French Revolution, then why has Obama quoted the three suspiciously-delightful red herrings of 18th century terrorism, namely, liberté, egalité, and fraternité? Any cursory look at history reveals that the French Revolution’s main goal was to kill as many practicing Christians as possible (one of the goals of ISIS, of course.)
It is all opening my eyes to see that the Apostle John was right: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”—1 John 5:12. In other words, there are only two sides to this spiritual war, and it is not European versus Arab or Republican versus Democrat. It is life versus death. Christians stand for life. The French Revolution and Islam both stand for death. Obama has made his colors known, yet again, in standing for the French Revolution and repeatedly overlooking (read: hiding) the goals of Islam.
The problem is that Christianity got lukewarm. Islam did not.
Around 1900, people laughed at a French-English layman named Hilaire Belloc for predicting that Islam would try to take over Europe again. Here is his prophetic insight from nearly 100 years ago:
“The story must not be neglected by any modern, who may think in error that the East has finally fallen before the West, that Islam is now enslaved—to our political and economic power at any rate if not to our philosophy. It is not so. Islam essentially survives, and Islam would not have survived had the Crusade made good its hold upon the essential point of Damascus. Islam survives. Its religion is intact; therefore its material strength may return. Our religion is in peril, and who can be confident in the continued skill, let alone the continued obedience, of those who make and work our machines? … There is with us a complete chaos in religious doctrine…. We worship ourselves, we worship the nation…Islam has not suffered this spiritual decline; and in the contrast between religious certitudes still strong throughout the Mohammedan world lies our peril.”—Hilaire Belloc
This actually isn’t a debate coming out of Rome these days (thankfully) but I write about it because most of you have heard this question from some family member or a person on a plane at one point. Should we sell Vatican Art for the Poor? Of course, my answer is “No,” but I want to give you some new answers for your friends.
1) The first great commandment comes before the second great commandment. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”—Matthew 22:37-39. For the Christian and Jew, any debate must be framed within the universal call of worshipping God before helping people. Both are good, but Jesus Himself gives the priority in Matthew 22 above.
2) The Vatican doesn’t have as much money as you think. Yes, the Vatican bank is in charge of $6 billion, but they don’t own it. The Vatican’s annual operating budget is $300 million. For a billion Catholics, that comes to 30 cents per Catholic. In fact, the endowment of the Vatican is only $1 billion, where the endowment for Harvard University is $30 billion. Considering there are only 30,000 students at Harvard, this means that there is an endowment for $1 million per current student. No one is clamoring for their Cambridge campus to be sold! Again, remember that the Vatican is operating a billion person organization on $300 million a year.
3) The poor deserve more than food. A priest in Rome made my favorite point: The poor of Italy have soul-needs just as much as they have bodily-needs, and the Vatican has the rare gift of free art for the everyone to see with no admission price. If we get rid of Vatican Art, where will the poor go to worship? To see beauty? To be inspired to seek God in their poverty? Or do we just want to throw food at them and sterilize them? Everyone has a need to live the transcendentals of the human soul (unity, beauty, goodness and truth.) The poor need a place of free art, not just food. Although the Vatican museum and the Sistine chapel cost to enter, Saint Peter’s square and Saint Peter’s basilica have an entrance that are gratis.
4) Judas and the body of Jesus. Martha’s sister Mary actually spends an entire year of income to anoint Jesus’ body before He died! Judas rebukes her in honor of the poor. Jesus then rebukes Judas: “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” 1 Remember that the center of St. Peter’s Basilica is the Eucharist, the resurrected and living body of Jesus Christ, God among us. If billions of faithful, poor Catholics over 2000 years have wanted to give their blood, sweat and tears to honor the very body and blood of Jesus of Nazareth, who are we to overturn such a gift? Only a modern day Judas would insist. Indeed, since Jesus is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, then He deserves all the gold and honoring that humanity can muster. St. Francis of Assisi said “Poverty stops at the altar.” In other words, he believed priests should be personally poor, but that the accoutrements of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass should spare nothing.
5. The conformity of the soul to the building of worship. The nine-minute video below was made by a young evangelical Protestant pastor. In it, he explains that a Protestant Church conforms the place of worship to the extreme comfort demanded by the post-modern Christian. But the Catholic Church conforms the soul to God. His analysis is humorous and astoundingly accurate, except for his one historical error of saying that the Orthodox Church is older than the Catholic Church 2 In any case, the video below is worth it!
This event happens one chapter before the Last Supper in John’s Gospel: Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pinta of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages. ” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”—John 12:1-6. ↩
Primacy of place was given to the Church in Rome no later than 110AD by St. Ignatius of Antioch, the personal disciple of St. John the Beloved (who wrote five books of the Bible.) St. Ignatius writes in 110 AD: Ignatius . . . to the church also which holds the presidency, in the location of the country of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and, because you hold the presidency in love, named after Christ and named after the Father. (Letter to the Romans 1:1 [A.D. 110]) and You [the church at Rome] have envied no one, but others you have taught. I desire only that what you have enjoined in your instructions may remain in force. (Letter to the Romans 3:1 [A.D. 110).↩
In this short video, Stephen Colbert (comedian-turned-theologian) says “Faith ultimately can’t be argued; faith has to be felt.” Let’s cut through his poor philosophy and consider reality:
1) Feelings are often no different from biochemical pleasures. God uses feelings in all stages of prayer, but it is not central to the substance of the soul where the Blessed Trinity resides. If faith must be “felt” as Colbert said, then where does that leave Mother Teresa who couldn’t feel anything for 60 years of prayer? But false-positives abound, too: If I drink an enormous Chemex hipster coffee and feel like a saint who could take on the world, did I just “feel” an increase in my faith? Of course not. That is because there is some correlation between good spiritual “feelings” and the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norephinephrine. That’s why we called coffee in seminary “liquid consolation.” But we were joking. Sadly, Colbert was not. Back to neurotransmitters: These reuptake mechanisms are also found in more intense pleasures (like cocaine.) So, “feeling your faith” doesn’t increase faith anymore than cocaine. Even atheistic scientists will agree with me here: Spiritual “feelings” are frequently nothing more than the release of biochemicals in the brain. I make no moral judgment against either feelings or pleasure here. God created both and can affect both in prayer, but it’s not the central tenet of faith.
2) One’s opinion of truth is only as good as the evidence that one has to support it. Few doubt this truth in science, but if religion refers to truth, then this is true in religion also. Regarding feelings and logic together, Colbert does admit that “they do not defy each other but complement each other. ” He then says, “Logic itself will not lead me to God.” This is partly true,1 but there’s a glaring omission in the above video: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical binary event (true or not true) upon which hinges our entire creed. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”—1 Cor 15:17. Colbert inadvertently disparages the starting point of Christianity, namely, that the Resurrection and Divinity of Jesus Christ can be given some real evidence. Or rather, we can not prove that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, but we can disprove the contrary with pretty air-tight historical arguments found in books like Kreeft/Tacelli’s Handbook of Catholic Apologetics.
For all the Social Justice Catholics that promote Colbert, we have to admit it’s ironic that Colbert puts the emphasis on feelings—something the poor don’t have the luxury of always enjoying in their daily walk with Christ. The Christians being crucified by ISIS may not “feel” their faith, but they have a hope in the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ based in a historical event. But I guess feelings are good for a multi-millionaire hanging with the Jesuits of Manhattan.
Yes, for Colbert, “faith ultimately can’t be argued; faith has to be felt.” In this philosophy, random biochemicals in the brain must take precedent over truth. Besides this conclusion being false for both Jesus on the cross (not good feelings but lots of truth) and St. Thomas Aquinas (who says very little of feelings and lots of truth) there’s actually another odd problem with Colbert Catholicism: It’s the most boring version of Catholicism we have heard since the 1970s. Almost all of my Gen-X friends raised by progressive-Catholic baby-boomers have left the Catholic Church. Inclusive-Catholicism turned out to be exclusive-Catholicism, precisely because it was founded on the feelings of a few ex-hippies instead of the Truth.
Most normal people long for one of two ways of life:
Feelings=Pleasure=Religion of hedonism (max out on pleasure.)
Logic=Truth=Religion of Catholicism (max out on truth and love, but it hurts just a little on the way to heaven.)
At the end of the day, here are our best two options: An-unbridled-pleasure-fiend or a total saint. I don’t believe in a middle-ground—practical or theological—where you get neither.
This isn’t to say that Catholicism is cold-cut syllogisms without any affections of love of Jesus Christ. Nor does it mean that all pleasure is bad. God made feelings and God made pleasure. But at the end of the day, we have to decide if we’re going to live for feelings or the truth. 2
So, what is faith, then? “Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.”—Heb 11:1. Evidence means just that—evidence, as I wrote above in regards to the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ. But if Colbert wants this at a more personal level, the word “faith” in Greek (πιστις) is actually also the same as trust. It means a trust-of-life, not just a single statement of salvation. It means daily decisions, not just a single act of consent of the intellect (Protestantism) or emotions (Colberism.) You see, if faith is trust, then this includes loving and hard decisions in the body all day long, including chastity, for “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”—2 Cor 5:10.
Jesus rarely said “Believe in me.” He frequently said “Follow me.”
Mother Teresa’s faith went deeper than both emotions and logic. For 60 years she did not “feel her faith.” Yet she got up at 3am or 4am to pray for two hours before her Eucharistic Lord and served Jesus in the poorest of the poor in the streets of Kolkata for decade after decade. Mother Teresa was living trust in the body when the feelings weren’t there. These were decisions she lived out in her body, and yet her emotions were so dark that she had to make constant acts of faith in God via her will—acts that were above and beyond the dark night of the soul that lasted a grueling 60 years. This is a tough marriage to a Divine Spouse! She often complained lovingly of her silent lover…
In fact, at the risk of scandalizing my readers, I’ll point out what she once wrote to a friend: “Pray for me, pray that I may have the courage to keep on smiling at Jesus—I understand a little the tortures of hell—without God.” I used the word “scandalized” because you should be surprised that Mother Teresa felt herself (not made herself, but felt herself) to be “without God.” And yet, she made constant acts of faith—essentially hope against hope—of having no feelings of God, yet seeking Him anyway.
Since her death, many people who felt on the verge of suicide have since found strength in the ways of Mother Teresa. People who had struggled their whole life with very personal sins and thought God abandoned them found hope in Mother Teresa. Why? Because, they reason, if God loved Mother Teresa even when she couldn’t feel Him, then His love must still be there. If God could love Mother Teresa as she was, maybe He loves me in my serious sin. They are right. And it is still His kindness that leads us to repentance.
In fact, in that same letter, Mother Teresa explained her suffering for the life of the world: “I have no words to express what I want to say, and yet last First Friday—knowingly and willingly I offered to the Sacred Heart—to pass even eternity in this terrible suffering, if this would give Him now a little more pleasure—or the love of a single soul.”
St. Thomas Aquinas found this debate so important that it’s his very first response in his 3000 page “summary” of the Catholic Faith: “It was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man’s whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation.”—ST I.1.1 respondeo ↩
Colbert, if you ever read this, I’ll happily discuss this on or off the air in your studio. Our mutual friend, Fr. Z (not the blogger), can hook us up. ↩
I have no intention of making this blog page a news source (much less a newsletter of personal prayer intentions) but I thought that today, All Souls, would be an important day to highlight the civil war in Syria. Today, I write a very short post to simply beg for your prayers on the behalf of 250,000 who have died.
St. Thomas Aquinas said that the greatest work we can do on earth is to pray for the dead, as I blogged about here. It is good to visit the cemeteries and to pray for the repose of the souls of our loved ones, but our family is bigger than that; we can let the internet create a one-world order of evil or we can let the internet unite a one-world family by baptism and charity.
Right now, your family in Syria needs your prayers. The land of the Apostle Paul has recently seen 8 million ejected from their homes amidst torture and unspeakable pain. A quarter million people have been killed, including the recent crucifixion and beheading of 11 Christian missionaries. Obviously the latter is surely in heaven, but satan is hard at work:
ISIS is predicted in the next couple days to attack a town of Christians called Sadad, about the last city in the entire world that speaks Jesus Christ’s own language of Aramaic. Imagine a group of Catholics who pray the Our Father in the same language that Jesus did. They are about to be killed and they depend on your prayers. Let us pray for their protection, but if God allows them to join the army of white-clad martyrs, may they die “as sorrowful—yet always rejoicing, as poor—yet making many rich, as having nothing—yet possessing everything.”—2 Cor 6:10
Surprisingly, the best description on the Vatican’s recent “Synod on the Family” comes from New York Times Op-Ed Columnist, Ross Douthat. Here it is:
The Vatican always seems to have the secrets and intrigues of a Renaissance court — which, in a way, is what it still remains. The ostentatious humility of Pope Francis, his scoldings of high-ranking prelates, have changed this not at all; if anything, the pontiff’s ambitions have encouraged plotters and counterplotters to work with greater vigor.
And right now the chief plotter is the pope himself.
Francis’s purpose is simple: He favors the proposal, put forward by the church’s liberal cardinals, that would allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion without having their first marriage declared null.
Thanks to the pope’s tacit support, this proposal became a central controversy in last year’s synod on the family and the larger follow-up, ongoing in Rome right now..
But if his purpose is clear, his path is decidedly murky. Procedurally, the pope’s powers are near-absolute: If Francis decided tomorrow to endorse communion for the remarried, there is no Catholic Supreme Court that could strike his ruling down.
At the same time, though, the pope is supposed to have no power to change Catholic doctrine. This rule has no official enforcement mechanism (the Holy Spirit is supposed to be the crucial check and balance), but custom, modesty, fear of God and fear of schism all restrain popes who might find a doctrinal rewrite tempting.
And a change of doctrine is what conservative Catholics, quite reasonably, believe that the communion proposal favored by Francis essentially implies.
There’s probably a fascinating secular political science tome to be written on how the combination of absolute and absolutely-limited power shapes the papal office. In such a book, Francis’s recent maneuvers would deserve a chapter, because he’s clearly looking for a mechanism that would let him exercise his powers without undercutting his authority.
The key to this search has been the synods, which have no official doctrinal role but which can project an image of ecclesiastical consensus. So a strong synodal statement endorsing communion for the remarried as a merely “pastoral” change, not a doctrinal alteration, would make Francis’s task far easier.
Unfortunately such a statement has proven difficult to extract — because the ranks of Catholic bishops include so many Benedict XVI and John Paul II-appointed conservatives, and also because the “pastoral” argument is basically just rubbish. The church’s teaching that marriage is indissoluble has already been pushed close to the breaking point by this pope’s new expedited annulment process; going all the way to communion without annulment would just break it.
So to overcome resistance from bishops who grasp this obvious point, first last year’s synod and now this one have been, to borrow from the Vatican journalist Edward Pentin’s recent investigative book, “rigged” by the papal-appointed organizers in favor of the pope’s preferred outcome.
The documents guiding the synod have been written with that goal in mind. The pope has made appointments to the synod’s ranks with that goal in mind, not hesitating to add even aged cardinals tainted by the sex abuse scandal if they are allied to the cause of change. The Vatican press office has filtered the synod’s closed-door (per the pope’s directive) debates to the media with that goal in mind. The churchmen charged with writing the final synod report have been selected with that goal in mind. And Francis himself, in his daily homilies, has consistently criticized Catholicism’s “doctors of the law,” its modern legalists and Pharisees — a not-even-thinly-veiled signal of his views.
(Though of course, in the New Testament the Pharisees allowed divorce; it was Jesus who rejected it.)
And yet his plan is not necessarily succeeding. There reportedly still isn’t anything like a majority for the proposal within the synod, which is probably why the organizers hedged their bets for a while about whether there would even be a final document. And the conservatives — African, Polish, American, Australian — have been less surprised than last fall, and quicker to draw public lines and try to box the pontiff in with private appeals.
The entire situation abounds with ironies. Aging progressives are seizing a moment they thought had slipped away, trying to outmaneuver younger conservatives who recently thought they owned the Catholic future. The African bishops are defending the faith of the European past against Germans and Italians weary of their own patrimony. A Jesuit pope is effectively at war with his own Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the erstwhile Inquisition — a situation that would make 16th century heads spin.
For a Catholic journalist, for any journalist, it’s a fascinating story, and speaking strictly as a journalist, I have no idea how it will end.
Speaking as a Catholic, I expect the plot to ultimately fail; where the pope and the historic faith seem to be in tension, my bet is on the faith.
But for an institution that measures its life span in millennia, “ultimately” can take a long time to arrive.—Ross Douthat, 17 October 2015, New York Times op-ed
NB Fr. Nix writing now. Certain professors from my alma of Boston College and other Universities wish to silence Ross Douthat in their letter to the editor of the NYT. Notice that they sound like Glavlit, the group that was in charge of censoring all publications and broadcasting for state secrets in the former USSR. Of course the ultra-elite friends of Pope Francis want to keep Ross Douthat’s secular prophesies at bay, considering how they want to slowly snow the whole Catholic world. Best not to alarm the stupid sheep until liberal totalitarianism has fully taken hold of Our Catholic Faith.
If you want to see something new and serious from me, see here. But, on my Evernote, I recently looked at this satire that my teammate and I had made a decade ago for an upcoming conference while working for FOCUS (also in Virginia, where I am now—but back in 2004.) Forgive a few inside jokes, but here’s our FOCUS conference breakout-session title suggestions, mostly still valid suggestions for the next one:
- Protestants: Friend or Foe?
- Rainforest Decline: Ecoterrorism and the Catholic.
- How I made it to Life on the Rock.
- Dare We Hope that All Be Saved?
- Why Lord of the Rings was, like, totally Catholic.
- Fashion Tips for the New Evangelization
- FACT: What it originally stood for.
- Christendom vs. Steubenville: When will the war begin?
- MTV and the Jesuits: “Keepin’ It Real” on the way to hell.
- Breakout sessions: Why they’re much cooler than workshops.
- Do we have to be circumsized to be saved? Rethinking Acts 15.
- Mel Gibson vs. Justin Kraft: Who will win?
- File 852UY: Superstar FOCUS team infiltrates the KGB with spiritual multipication.
- A Heureumenic Analysis of Rahnerian Eschatological Solipsism
- So you want to be a eunuch? Rethinking Matthew 19.
- Predestination: Why you’re in Bible Study and your friends aren’t.
- Fun with Puns with Dr. Hahn: It’s Scott to be Good!
- Laser beams and the Vatican
- Fundraising in Hawaii: “It was so much fun!”
- Xtreme fasting: So extreme you don’t need the “E”
- The “I-know-Tony-Ariniello-Show!”…overbooked and canceled.
- Ways to Pretend You Belong in a Dorm.
- RPGs and How to Avoid Them—By Off. Kuetemeyer
- Why I deserve a Motorcycle—By Jim Jansen
- Bishop Morlino vs. Bishop Chaput: Who will get the guys?
- Lethal Weapon 5: How Mel Gibson told Jim Caviezel he won’t be in this one.
- Dumb things that Eck and Horn did on a mountain this summer: a documentary.
- The life of Shane Ortega, as mimed by Jim Caviezel.
- Self-flagellation: Then and Now
- Hippolytus: From Anti-Pope to Saint in 12 easy steps
- Deep Blue: The Staring Contest Between Staples and Martino
- “We Built This City on Rock and Roll: My life before Benedictine,” by Dr. Ted Sri