Monday, November 28, 2011

How I Survived the First Sunday of Advent

As I walked into church Sunday morning I was well aware that I was taking a risk, but then again, I've always lived life on the edge. I had read all the warnings about the corrected translation for Mass, and the consequences of implementing it on the First Sunday of Advent and I was prepared. Upon waking, I made sure I said extra prayers in hopes that the heavenly hosts would protect me against what I now knew to be the beginning of the end of the one, true Church that I've always known and loved. I blessed myself twice from the font of holy water...just in case.

As I genuflected and proceeded to sit in my pew, I immediately noticed and acknowledged with a slight nod, an elderly lady that I often see at the eight o'clock Mass. I wasn't sure if this frail woman was aware of the possible catastrophe that was about to happen, so I sat a bit closer to her than I usually do. Not too close, but close enough for me to be able to reach out and catch her should she fall over when we responded, "and with your spirit". If she survived that response, I knew "cosubstantial" would probably be the fatal blow, and I began thinking that if I did catch her before she keeled over, it would probably be too late anyway. The damage would have already been done. But one must try n'est-ce-pas?

As the opening strains of "Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel" began, the alter servers led the way with Father Dennis bringing up the rear of the procession. Father Dennis is a good priest and very compassionate. Though I couldn't see clearly as I sat at a distance from the main aisle leading to the alter, I was sure Father was sweating bullets as he knew full well that what he was about to do would cause many in his flock to fall away from their faith, or at the very least, cause them to write to the National Catholic Reporter of the liturgical abuses that occurred on this First Sunday of Advent.

"The Lord be with you.....",  I watched the old lady next to me. Her lips parted as she was about to respond to the priest. My body poised and tense, ready to pounce to her aid, heard the old woman reply, "and with your spirit...". Nothing. She did not even flinch as she responded with the corrected translation, but I, in my total concern for her safety, had inadvertently responded with " and also with you..." falling back to the familiar. A quick look around me told me no one seemed to had noticed my faux pas. No matter, it was for a good cause.

As Mass progressed, I quickly surmised that this elderly lady was not paying attention to the Mass. The corrected translation flitted off her tongue as if she had been saying these words her whole life. I realized then and there that she probably had never really paid attention in Mass before, so she thought these new words that we were now forced to utter, had always been said: she just didn't remember the old ones. So sad....

I now began to look at others around me, the young and old alike, as they were holding up the pamphlets that were placed in the pews and contained the corrected translation for the people to follow during Mass, and realized that the damage was taking place. I didn't see any of the elderly reeling and swaying from the onslaught of "big" words, or children tugging at mama's dress while their little fingers pointed to a new word they were about to say, their faces pleading, "Whats this mama??" No, it was very subtle. I waited for the children to wail when we struck our breasts, "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault!!" What horror this did to the self-esteem of our children may never be known in full.  We were warned.

There! I heard Father Dennis falter while reading one of the new prayers of the corrected translation, instead of reciting the old and familiar prayers he had memorized during his time as a priest. There was no one to break his fall should he succumb to this pressure. The alter servers were the only ones close enough to help him, but they were much too young and weak to catch such a big man. I had to trust God in this as Father Dennis continued his prayers and then fed us with the Body of Christ.

The damage was now in full swing. The faithful had all become mind-numbed robots, responding in automatons, never seeming to realize what was happening. Didn't they know, as I had read somewhere, that this correct translation was "fraught with danger"? Weren't  they aware of the gravity of what was happening to their souls? Oh! the humanity!

Though I hadn't quite heard it, I knew there must have been a collective sigh emanating from everyone present as we were dismissed from the Mass. It was finally over. As the priest processed back out and the people followed, I knelt back down and prayed that God, through his mercy, had protected most of us this morning, and had kept the damage to a minimum. I wasn't damaged (I was prepared remember?) and I thanked him for that. I prayed for the strength and courage to return here next week for the second Advent Mass. I looked at all the empty pews and realized they would probably never be filled again.

I am man enough to admit, that in my concern for my fellow parishioners, I had missed several new responses, reverting to the old instead. But I was sure God would forgive me for I had placed my own life in the balance, while protecting theirs. There is no greater love...

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Myth Of Being Non-Judgmental

"Judge not lest ye be judged" has been erroneously used  by many to keep Christians from speaking out against the sinful actions of others and their lifestyles. In an effort to keep our voices quiet about the choices they have made, those who profess an atheistic or secular viewpoint have attempted to turn the tables on Christians by trying to expose Christians as hypocrites who are blind to the plank in their own eye while trying to remove the speck in the sinners eye.

The problem with judging others is not in the judgement itself but more in what it is we are judging. At first glance it may seem rather easy to say that Hitler, Stalin and Mao are now in hell for what they did in their lifetime on earth, yet we would be very wrong in saying so for the simple fact of not knowing what occurred between God and these men at the moment of death. If we turn to Him and ask for forgiveness at this late stage of our life, will He will forgive us or is there a limit to His forgiveness?

If each of these tyrants, at the moment of death, asked God to pardon them for their sins in their lives, what are we to conclude? Did God forgive them or not? Is he the God of forgiveness and mercy or is he not? Medical science is limited in it's knowledge of the human body and workings of the mind. Though medical science may declare a person dead, what do we really know as to when the actual 'death' of a person occurs in God's eyes?

Yes, there is a time when we can no longer ask for forgiveness, but the fact is, we don't really know with certainty when that time has come, so the chance to be forgiven may still be present to us, though from all outward appearances we are dead. The body may be "lifeless" according to medical experts, but is the soul actually separated from the body at that particular time also? We don't know for sure nor do we know if a person is condemned to hell. What is in the hearts and minds of men God alone knows and for that reason, God alone is the only one who may judge the state of our souls.

We however, can and do judge actions of others. We do it all time. Our whole justice system is based on a set of standards that all are held accountable under the law. It is not the person's soul that is judged in court, but his actions against the law of the land. A person is sent to prison or fined if he has broken the law. The court does not send a man to prison for being evil or obnoxious, but only if these traits cause him to break the law. In these cases, the law is the standard and a person is judged as to whether or not he is in good standing with these laws.

We as parents also judge our children. We judge their actions in accordance to what is acceptable behavior in our individual families. If our children lie, steal or hit their siblings then there will be dire consequences for those actions within my family. We have a family standard of behavior and all are expected to live by it. We do not judge our children souls, but their actions.

Today however, "judging" has been redefined by secular society to include all forms of judgements and it is from this viewpoint that Christians are being targeted as hypocrites. It has long been said that we are to love the sinner but hate the sin, yet today this distinction as been blurred and those of us that criticize sinful actions are said to be judging the person committing those sins. Nothing could be further from the truth. It may seem like a small point to make, however if Christians are cowed into believing that all judgements on our part are anti-biblical and outside of our purview of authority, then nothing stands in the way of evil to act whenever and where ever it wishes.Today, with this redefining of "judging", hating the sin equals hating the sinner.

Like our justice system, we as Catholics have a standard with which to live our lives. This standard is Christ and His Church, and if we profess ourselves to be true and faithful Catholics and to uphold what the Church teaches then we have a duty and responsibility to call out sinful actions when we see them committed by others especially by those of our own faith.

It is fairly obvious that many politicians that call themselves Catholic do not uphold the teachings of the Church by their actions. I have read several articles concerning Nancy Pelosi and her denigration of  Catholics who have this "conscience thing" when it comes to employers, even Christian employers, who refuse to provide contraception as part of their insurance coverage and have a conscientious objection to it's morality in accordance with Catholic teaching. Yet she considers herself a devout Catholic though she has routinely defied Church teachings when it comes to birth control and abortion. She may be Catholic, but her actions place her in poor standing AS a Catholic. She in her stance against the Church as a Catholic politician, who has influence over many people because of her position, can and should be brought to task for her defiance and refused communion at Mass.

We, as her brothers and sisters in the faith, have the right and duty to call her out on her stance against the Church as well as with all other politicians whose actions belie their Catholic membership. We have the responsibility to try and bring her back into the fold and show her the errors of her beliefs. We do have the right to judge her actions. We do have the responsibility to point out her offenses against the Church, but we do not have the right to judge her standing with God. That is the difference. I'll leave you with this verse from Matthew 18:15 and let it speak for itself concerning judging others. As you see, Christ Himself gives us the authority to judge a person's sinful action.

15.“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Being Smug In Our Faith

As humans, we've a tendency to make assumptions and judgements on the faith, strengths and weaknesses of others in relation to these same characteristics in ourselves. Think how often we've said to another, "If I can do it, you can." Or, "Well, the reason you still have this problem is that you've not prayed enough, or are asking God in the wrong way!" And again, "You need more faith." I've uttered these statements more than once in the past, but it wasn't until recently, in the last few years have I realized how unfair to others it was to say these things.  Not only is it unfair, but it borders on the arrogant, and setting ourselves up as the standard for others to set their goals.

We are all unique individuals. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and in those that we do share, we do not all have the same degree of strength and weakness, yet very often we assume we do. In other words, we may all have a weakness for chocolate, and it may be difficult to pass on eating it everyday, but for some, the difficulty is less than for another. Yet, when we say "If I can do it, you can." we are saying that they are not trying hard enough. That if I, as weak as I know I am, am able to do this, then there is no reason you can't. We are assuming that we are weaker than anyone else on earth, that passing on chocolate cannot be more difficult for anyone else than it was for us, so you have no excuse for your lack of will power.

I've had a certain difficulty in my life that I have not been able to overcome and I mentioned this to a person once and I was told to pray about it. I told them I did, very often, so they concluded with all certainty, that I was not praying hard enough and that I lacked faith. I wonder if they would have told St. Paul the same thing if he had told them of his 'thorn' that he had asked God to remove and God replied that His grace was sufficient? Did St. Paul not pray enough or have enough faith?

Apart from our strengths and weaknesses, we do not all have the same amount of faith, yet we seem annoyed when finding someone unable to accept things in faith as we do. We seem to forget that we were not born with the faith that we have today. Our faith is a God given gift, free for the taking and hopefully it grew in strength over the years, so why assume that others should have the same amount of faith as we do? Have we forgotten that there were certain times in our lives where we did not have all the faith we do today? Perhaps that is where they are today and instead of accusing them for their lack of faith, we should encourage them to ask God for an increase in faith.

Next time you are tempted to scold someone for their inability to do something that you can, perhaps you should just consider that you may have been the fortunate recipient of God's grace and be thankful for that, while praying for the other person. And the next time you are tempted to think your faith is stronger than another person's faith, perhaps it would be good for you to show the other person what strong faith can do, even if it is the size of a mustard seed. You know your faith is stronger than theirs, so show them. Tell that mountain to uproot itself and move over there. Go on. Do it. Show them.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Questioning Father Ryan at New Theological Movement Blog

Over at, Father Ryan writes this concerning God's love:

"We must understand: God DOES NOT love all people equally. The Most Blessed Virgin Mary has been loved more than any other human persons – hence, without any merit of her own, she was conceived immaculate. Likewise, we may consider St. Paul who, while yet a sinner, was given the grace not only of conversion, but also of the apostolate to the gentiles.
God loves some more than others, but he still loves all. Love does not have to be equal when it is gratuitous – for, most assuredly, none of us (not even our blessed Lady) deserver the love of God. To show us that he is merciful and compassionate, God gives some graces to all people (hence, all receive at least one talent). Yet, to prove to us that his love is gratuitous and not a legal requirement, God loves some more than others and gives special graces to some which he does not give to others (hence, some receive five, others two, talents)."

I do not claim to be a theologian and have not had any formal theological instructions, but considering Father Ryans statements above, I must disagree with him, based on reason and my own life experience. I believe the problem with his thinking about God's 'unequal' love for us is based on what he perceives as the more God loves us, the more graces He will give us. I do not think for one minute that the amount of grace one receives is determined by "how much" God loves each one of us. Let me give you an example.

I am a father of five children. I can tell you honestly that I have never loved one child above another. I may have LIKED one child more than the others, but liking and loving are two different things. How do I know I Iove my children equally? Because I would not give a second thought to giving up my life for any of my children. Even for the most annoying child. Do I give to all equally as far as responsiblities, duties, chores, favors or rewards go? No, I don't. The reason being is that I know my children. I know their characters and personalities and I know which of them can handle what ever it is I will dole out to them.

Some of my children can shine when it comes to being responsible, or given a particular chore to do, and I will allow them more liberties, while one or another must be treated differently for whatever reason, be it weakness or some other deficiency in character they may have. It has nothing to do with my love for them, but what their roles in the family are, their ages and their characters. In all of this, my love is equal, not more and not less for one over another. The love I give my children is free for me to give. They may accept it or reject it. Nevertheless, I give it to them equally because they are part of me as we are made in God's image. My equal love for them is not determined by their love for me. It never has been.

For Father Ryan to believe that God does not love us equally then one must consider this: If our souls have value and are loved by God, and for Jesus to say that there  is no greater love than this, to lay down ones life for another, then it stands to reason that Jesus DID die for ALL of us. Not just for a few. If there had been only one soul on earth at the time, He still would have taken up His cross would He not? How many fathers reading this would not give his life for his child even if he had NO other children? Jesus gave ALL His love for Mary, St. Paul and for us when He was nailed to the cross. Not one more than another. There is no greater love than this and since there is no greater love and He died for all of us, then that love is equal for all of us.

I have received graces from God in my life but perhaps not the same ones that another received or in the same amount, because my 'role' in life was different than the other. Perhaps I did not need as much, or by withholding certain graces from me, he sought for me to ask for those graces. Our reception of grace is also determined at times to our asking our Lord for them. Yes, grace is unmerited and can be withheld, but not for the reason that Father Ryan believes, that God loves some less than others.

Was Mary given more grace because she was loved more or because she had a role to play that was special in creation that no other could fill and she needed to be immaculate? Or St. Paul? God saw something in Saul's misguided passion to hold on to the Hebrew faith and persecute those he perceived as an enemy of his faith. God offered him the grace to turn that passion into something positive because perhaps God had a special role for St. Paul to play in the conversion of the gentiles that perhaps none of the other apostles could fill. If there was anyone that would be considered annoying at the very least, or unlikeable and less loved it would have been St. Paul, but he was still offered grace. He chose to accept it and cooperate with those graces. He prayed that God would take away his 'thorn' yet God responded he would not, that His grace was sufficient.

We are all loved equally by God, but we are not all equal recipients of His grace, for each of us have different roles to play in creation, we all have different needs and some of us just simply ask for them. Just as my children do in my family.

RCIA: A Travesty

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is a program that was instituted to help non-Catholics make the journey into the Catholic Church and/or to help those who were not Catholic but had an interest in what the Church taught. Some Catholics enter RCIA to refresh their own Catholic faith. Sounds good so far. Yet, it is no  secret that the RCIA program is in dire straits. Being the gateway for most converts to the Church, it is a well known that many parishes have "do it yourself" RCIA programs that have a lot to be desired. It's also no secret that the ignorance of many of today's Catholics is the result of poor catechesis of the last forty years. How has this challenge been met? It simply hasn't. The same old "Catholic Lite" is continued to be taught with no end in sight.

Though some parishes have a great program that teach solid Catholic doctrine, too many parish programs are filled with laymen who teach heresies or distort traditional doctrines, and these 'teachings' are passed on to unsuspecting candidates that do not know any better. In many parishes, pastors are not the ones conducting the classes and have picked certain people from the parish, with many being progressive Catholics, to take over the responsibility of teaching with little or no oversight and so abuses abound. If the Church is capable of standing up against abortion, restructuring the whole system of protecting children from abusive priests and putting on the brakes against same sex marriage, then what of the RCIA program? What will it take to build a solid RCIA program that is standard in all parishes and requires strict supervision over what is taught?

The troubles concerning RCIA hit home this week when a protestant friend of mine emailed me and told me of her experience. Due to scheduling problems because of university classes falling on nights that RCIA classes were conducted, she has inquired from a certain parish what was needed to enter the RCIA program and how to work around the scheduling conflicts. A protestant from birth, she began to study the Church in relation to her own faith and has come to see the Catholic Church as the one, true Church and has fallen in love with it. She now has an overwhelming desire to see this through and become a Catholic.

She has met with the Deacon and spoke to him at length, yet since that meeting, she has heard nothing more. She has sent multiple emails to the parish office asking about their program, but has yet to receive a reply. Not stopping there, she also called another parish in the area about their program and left a message. Nothing. There is one other parish that she considered calling but thought better of it. She knew from having gone to mass at this third parish that it would not be for her. She herself called it a "Catholic Lite" church, and this is from a protestant.

She searched deeper into the RCIA and found that doctrinal errors are being taught and everyone seems to know, yet nothing is done about it. She found the mentality of those that know of the abuses and errors, as unacceptable. In her email to me she writes a summary of what she's found of the prevailing thought in RCIA;

"So you want to enter the Church?  We are going to help you. You may get real fortunate and end up in a class that is faithful to the teachings of the Church, or you may end up being taught things that contradicts Church teachings.  If you end up in the latter, we are just going to assume that it won't matter. People are fallible, and you just have to overlook that they may teach you heresies. In this case, heresies are no big deal. Heresies or not-- you must attend these classes.  Cross your fingers and hopefully we'll see ya at graduation.  Have fun!" 

Further excerpts of her email to me, remember, she is a protestant... emphaisis mine.

I've spent my LIFETIME attending classes that teach heresies!!!!!!  It's called 'Sunday School' in a Protestant Church!  I've DONE my time. My whole reason for being attracted to the Church was that she is supposed to be consistent in her doctrine. It isn't as if you all are taking a guess here as to what the Church teaches. You've got the manual that is not up for personal interpretations! 

But the RCIA gets treated as if heresies and inconsistencies are 'no big deal.' For crying out loud-- THIS is the doorway you all have proclaimed is the gateway to the Church.  We protestants don't get in unless through this means-- and it gets treated by the Church with less consideration than a University in Peru??

Everybody gets all up in arms over a Catholic Hospital or place of business having to provide artificial birth control (and I am too, I promise you!)  but when it comes to people entering the Church, there is a yawn. "Yeah, man............we probably ought to do better when it comes to teaching the catechism, but it's not that important to us. As long as the people show up, we'll trust God to take care of it in the end. It doesn't matter-- there are way more important things to be worried about."

Yes. Abortion is important. It's about the sanctity of Life. Entering the Church is about the sanctity of Life, too. Condoms don't cause abortions, but they impede the potential to life. The requirement of a badly done RCIA class is like a big condom-- it impedes the potential to an individual's life within the Church.

But there is something dreadfully, sinfully wrong when a group of people shrug at something that is this important and say, "Yeah, there are some problems with the system, but that's how it is."

The 'that's how it is' mentality ain't gonna cut it. I've seen more stuff written on the need for Latin Masses than I have the practices of RCIA classes. I think it is commendable and understandable that the Church want prospective members to discern the body and be aware of what the Church teaches. I also find it deplorable that they have selected such a lousy and untrustworthy method of implementing it. It is possible that it would be faster for me to join an Episcopal Church and then take the' back door' into the Catholic Church than it would be for me to wait on an RCIA class that I could attend-- and THEN risk getting fed some real garbage. 

Her email was not pretty and yet, she spoke the truth. I cringed when I read it. It is not only the bishops that are responsible for this travesty, but priests and the Catholic layman alike for allowing this to go on without putting up a bigger stink about it. There are several things that the Church could do to try to alleviate the problems existing in the RCIA program. There are no quick fixes but here are some suggestions that may be viable enough to be worked on and developed:

1. Bishops, in a joint session and all in agreement,  need to issue a guideline as to what will be taught in RCIA. That guideline needs to be comprised of strong, authentic Catholic doctrine without any deviancy of what will be taught in ALL parish RCIA programs. Furthermore, 'touchy' issues such as women's ordination, the real presence in the Eucharist, marriage between a man and a woman, contraception and abortion, and acceptance of homosexuality must not be presented to those entering the RCIA as issues that are still open to debate. They are not. The Church has spoken on these issues and the debate is over.

2. Pastors and/or Deacons have to take on a greater role in teaching these classes, or at the very least, oversee what is taught. No longer are layman to be assigned in this role without strict supervision. We have seen the results of this lack of oversight in the last forty years. The diocese also needs to take a greater role in making sure what the parish teaches is in line with Church doctrine, and that is not always the case.

3. If the Church is to invite people to the RCIA, then it should be ready to give a quick reply to those inquiring about becoming Catholic. There is nothing that will put off a future member of the Church more than getting the impression no seems to care by not replying to their inquiries in a reasonable time.

4. Sponsors that are chosen to share their faith and help an RCIA candidate through their discernment, need to be chosen for their adherence to orthodoxy. That is not to say they have to be put through an inquisition, but rather, that the sponsor should be asked certain questions concerning doctrine and does not hold and teach deviations to doctrine because of ignorance or willful disobedience to the Church. Remember, sponsors are chosen by the candidates and are usually someone that the latter trusts as a Catholic friend. A sponsor may go to mass every Sunday and regularly receive the sacraments and to an observer, may seem very faithful, but that does not mean they do not hold errant doctrinal thoughts as though they are Church approved.

I will not say that all parish RCIA programs are failures for they are not, but a person such as my friend should not have to shop around to find a parish that teaches doctrinally sound classes. We should all  be on the same page. We've lost a whole generation of Catholics due to poor catachesis and the continual sweeping of the problems of the RCIA under the rug will produce another unless systematic changes are made to the program.

On a sadder note, because of all the obstacles placed in my friends path, she is now entertaining the idea that perhaps God doesn't want her to enter His Church. And it's all our fault.