Did Pope Francis Really Say it is Bad to be “Very Catholic?”

I almost feel like I need to start a What Pope Francis Means is… section on RosaryMeds.  It’s not that I think what Pope Francis says is wrong.  In fact, both Pope Benedict and Saint John Paul II also said many things that, without looking through a well formed theological lens, one could interpret as going against Catholic doctrine.  But because of Pope Francis’ off the cuff style, he opens more doors than his predecessors for incorrect justifications of uncatholic behavior for those who wish to take it.

In today’s article, let’s look at this report from the National Catholic Reporter about Pope Francis’ remarks during his weekly Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square:

“We all know in our communities, in our parishes, in our neighborhoods how much hurt they do the church, and give scandal, those persons that call themselves ‘Very Catholic,'” the pontiff said Sunday.

Francis was speaking Sunday in an off-the-cuff moment during his weekly Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square, which focused on one of Jesus’ teachings about the role of the proscribed laws of the faith of his time.

“The literal observance of the precepts is something sterile if it does not change the heart and is not translated into concrete attitudes,” he said, giving examples: “Opening yourself to the encounter with God and God’s word in prayer, searching for justice and peace, giving help to the poor, the weak and the oppressed.”

“The exterior attitudes are the consequence of what we have determined in the heart,” said the pope. “Not the opposite! With outside attitudes, if the heart does not change we are not true Christians.”

What Pope Francis Did NOT Say

Some people could take Pope Francis’ words to mean that it is okay to not embrace all the teachings of the Catholic Church.  After all, you don’t want to be that goody-goody who is “very Catholic” or “too Catholic” as I’ve heard some refer to those who try to follow the precepts of the Church.  Without proper reflection, the pope’s comments could be taken as an endorsement of “cafeteria Catholicism” where you can pick what part of the doctrine you want to follow.  As long as you have a good heart or a just cause it’s alright to skip Mass on Sunday, support pro-choice causes, and not really buy into the “we are sinners in need of forgiveness” idea.  After all, the pope says that being very Catholic can be a bad thing right?

300px-Nancy_Pelosi_0009_3
Sorry Nancy, the pope isn’t saying those who are pro-life are bad Catholics

Of course Pope Francis is not saying that you can embrace uncatholic behaviors and still be a Catholic in God’s grace.  Nor is he telling practicing Catholics to butt out of the lives of those who have fallen away from the Church.  Unfortunately, for those looking for excuses for their behavior and shortcomings, you can easily pick and choose the pope’s words to support your actions.

What is Pope Francis Saying?

In my view, Pope Francis’ comments come down to a single word: PRIDE.  It’s not that trying to be a very good Catholic is a bad thing, but you start getting into sinful territory when you start to believe that  you’ve achieved some state of heavenly perfection in this lifetime because you follow all the rules.  You give scandal when you try to lord that false perception of perfection over others.  The very act of believing you are a better person than others because you follow the rules prevents you from being a fully realized Catholic because you fail to acknowledge your sinful act of pride.

My search for “pride” didn’t turn up any family friendly pictures. Here’s a cat instead.

There is an old saying that I’m going to paraphrase — being wise means understanding that there is a lot you do not know.  I think that’s important to meditate on when thinking about how good of a Catholic you are.  Someone who is truly very Catholic understands that they have a lot of sins and shortcomings that they need to work on.  No one can achieve perfect Catholicism in this world (Mary and Jesus excluded of course).  That is a state reserved for the souls in Heaven.  Even the saints acknowledged that they were poor sinners who had to battle various imperfections throughout their lives.  Even those who were the most holy among us like Saint Pope John Paul II went to confession weekly because he had the humility to know he could still be a better Catholic.

The Rosary Connection

The rosary relates to Pope Francis’ comments in two ways.  First, we pray it so that we can more humbly approach our faith.  When I meditate on the various mysteries and think about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, I understand the long road I have before me in areas of my life where I need to improve.  I don’t think anyone who earnestly prays the rosary can believe they are very Catholic when compared to the lives of Mary and Jesus or even the martyrs, apostles, and saints.  If I ever do start to feel prideful and that there isn’t any more I  can do to be a great Catholic, meditating on the rosary brings me back to reality.

The rosary also helps me become very Catholic, but very Catholic in the right way.  As Pope Francis said, we should focus on changing our hearts, not just our exterior attitudes.  Think about the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary.  Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven and calls us to a life of conversion.  This conversion is a conversion of heart, not actions.  Because when we do have a true conversion of heart and orient ourselves towards God, the actions will naturally follow.

Think of it like this, you aren’t very Catholic because you go to Mass on Sunday.  You are very Catholic because you love God with all your heart and want to embrace Him by listening to His Word and celebrating the Eucharist at Mass.  True conversion and becoming very Catholic starts from within with regular prayer and reflecting on what areas of your life need improvement.  The rosary is a great tool that leads you to true Catholicism, not a false, prideful one.

Most people won’t have a “Road to Damascus” moment like St. Paul. Conversion is a lifelong process.

Need more help getting the most out of the rosary?  Download my free ebook chock full of rosary intentions to meditate on.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

What the Rosary Gives You The World Cannot Take Away

Now back to your regularly scheduled program.  My last few posts where political in nature and that is an area I try not to spend too much time writing about.  There are much better sources for political news and commentary.  And honestly, writing about current events through a Catholic lens is flat out depressing because it seems like everything our world holds dear is an attack on Catholic values.  So let’s get back to something more hopeful — spiritual fitness through rosary prayer!

I saved this article and filed it under “I should write a RosaryMeds article on this some day.”  The article is almost a year old, but it’s still very relevant.  This short video talks about the health benefits of meditation, something I’ve written about before.  I very much consider praying, particularly praying the rosary, a form of meditation.  In fact, I think you aren’t getting the most out of the rosary unless you are treating it as a form of meditation.  Otherwise, you may fall into auto pilot mode or what the Bible calls meaningless repetition (Matthew 6:7).  It looks like medicine and psychology are verifying what people who practice their faith have known for a long time — your body benefits from meditation.  I’m going to go one step further and say that your body and soul needs prayer!

I’ve attended happiness seminars that echo the same sentiment as this video.  Your situation partly determines your health and overall happiness.  But a lot of your well being comes down to you making the choice to strive to be happy and healthy regardless of the situation.  I know many people who say they would only be happy if [insert some event or condition].  In other words, they’re saying “I’ll be happy when my world is perfect.”  The problem with that type of thought is that you are moving happiness from something you control to circumstances you cannot control.  And unfortunately, our world has a lousy track record of producing an environment that fosters happiness.

Part of the reason why our world can’t make people truly happy is because our societies throughout history have focused more on trying to acquire happiness through physical means.  This may mean the acquisition of basic comforts to personal wealth and luxuries.  Many centuries ago it was just about staying alive where a good day was a day without a viking invasion.  Now it’s about having a home theater, a fast smartphone, and a reliable car.  Regardless of the time period, so much of that is determined by factors outside your control — where you’re born, what opportunities you’ve had, your genetic makeup, etc.  But not only that, but the happiness that is dictated by your circumstances is always fleeting because the world can (and probably will) change on you.

And that’s where we get back to rosary prayer and meditation.  The rosary isn’t about getting something temporary or something that can be taken away arbitrarily.  It is more about training your mind, body, and soul to realize everything you already have that God has given you.  God has freely given you many gifts through his grace but you have to slow down to take stock in what you have.  God has given you strength just as he gave Mary strength to be the Mother of God as seen in the First and Second Joyful Mysteries.  God provides you guidance as seen in the Third and Fourth Glorious Mysteries.  God has given you a sense of purpose and a mission as seen in the Second Glorious Mystery.  Pick any rosary mystery and you will see that God has already given you a tool for true and eternal happiness.

Saint Padre Pio stated:
Saint Padre Pio stated: “Through the study of books one seeks God; by meditation one finds him”. The Rosary: A Path Into Prayer by Liz Kelly 2004 ISBN 082942024X pages 79 and 86 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stop looking for happiness in all the wrong places.  Stop waiting for your world to be perfect (or at least comfortable) to start working on being happy.  True happiness starts and ends with you forming a relationship with Jesus.  And rosary prayer is one of the best ways to foster and grow that relationship.

Need some help?  Try praying the rosary with the help of the free RosaryMeds ebook, The 44th Rose.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Fear Not! RosaryMeds is Alive and Well

Last week I posted an article that looked like a takedown notice from the Department of Justice. It appears many of you thought the notice was real. Part of my intent of writing that article was to grab your attention and maybe even have the post go viral (which unfortunately didn’t happen). I wrote that article in response to some concerning news articles I read. Instead of jumping straight into commentary and risk just going into a snarky rant, I decided to write the fake takedown notice to set the stage (pretty clever huh?).

First, I have some thoughts about the responses I received regarding my fake takedown notice. The fact that so many people thought that it was real struck me as very concerning. I find it alarming that many people believe that the government is taking legal action against people simply stating their religious beliefs. I would like to think that in saner times people would have immediately noticed the ridiculousness of such a post. That tells me that for many, the loss of religious freedom isn’t something that may happen one day but is already here.

Also alarming then is that we are just allowing the loss of our religious liberty without putting up much of a fight. If my article was real as many people thought it was, then besides of few “that sucks” or “really??!!!” comments, people just moved on with their lives. After all, who do you complain to? Is it really worth anyone’s time and energy to make a lot of hay over some obscure blog site being targeted by the US government?  Do you really want to stick your neck out and potentially being singled out for government harassment? Not that I want marches on Washington D.C. over RosaryMeds, but I wonder how many little nibbles the government can take into our religious liberties before we find that it’s gone entirely.

Yeah, that will show 'em we're serious.
Yeah, that will show ’em we’re serious.

Now let’s back up to what originally prompted me to write the satirical takedown notice.  After the Supreme Court made its gay marriage decision back in June, I immediately saw numerous commentaries suggesting reforms on religious institutions that object to gay marriage.  These commentators want to see the removal of tax exempt status for religious institutions and banning government aid to private colleges that object to gay marriage.  This is on top of the fines the government is already imposing on businesses (bakers primarily) who have a religious objection to participating in a gay marriage.

One of the main selling points of gay marriage was that it wouldn’t affect religious institutions or people who have a religious objection to it.  I heard over and over how the Catholic Church would never be forced to perform gay weddings.  And while that may technically be true, it seems like what was being muttered secretly by gay marriage advocates was “the Catholic Church will never be forced to perform gay weddings because the government is going to shut them down.

This should all seem like a rerun (or a reboot) of ObamaCare.  When it passed there were plenty of assurances that Catholic hospitals would never have to perform abortions or employers would have to provide abortive contraception coverage.  And yet millions of our tax dollars go to Planned Parenthood and the HHS Contraception Mandate has gone to the courts multiple times (thankfully the courts repeatedly rule in favor of religious liberty).  It’s still very unclear whether ObamaCare does fund abortion considering that the Executive branch has a habit of unilaterally changing the law when convenient.  It seems like assurances that religious beliefs will be respected are just platitudes and don’t carry much weight once the law is passed.

“The government is taking away our freedoms. Change the channel!”

Whether it’s gay marriage or health care, the trend is clear — we are entering a period of increased hostility to organized religion, especially Catholicism.  I believe that many in power would love nothing more than to see Christian organizations vanish and to scare Christian people from publicly voicing their faith.  The political class loves the idea that something is right or wrong based on whether they can convince enough people to vote and pass a law or mandate.  They hate the idea that there are universal truths that exist outside their power to change when it’s politically advantageous.  And that is why they will use any cause, whether it be health care, gay marriage, immigration, gun control, assisted suicide, etc. to rally people against religious truths.  Because if religion can be relegated to a church for one hour on a Sunday, politicians can pass all sorts of crazy laws without being bothered with people bringing up the moral implications.

This isn’t about Catholics wanting to codify our beliefs into law.  It’s not specifically about gay marriage or health care.  This is all about Catholics (and religions in general) fighting to preserve our God given right to our religious beliefs without being persecuted by the government by having our livelihood threatened.  The last time I checked, there was no Constitutional amendment repealing the First Amendment which reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Easter is the Beginning, Not the End

Easter Sunday has come and gone which means life can get back to normal right? No more Lenten sacrifices so the donuts, chocolate, and beers can come out of the hiding spots. No more meatless Fridays. No more long Gospel readings. No more stations of the cross, rosaries, and being hounded to go to Confession.  Time to shelve that piety until Advent yes?

Don’t start making plans for that vice-filled weekend quite yet.  Lent was a time of preparation. But preparation for what? What happened on Easter Sunday that required 40 days of training? Surely Lent wasn’t about fine tuning your egg finding abilities or expanding your sugar tolerance. In terms of process, the Easter Mass wasn’t any different than other Sunday Masses.  There really wasn’t anything different on Easter Sunday than any other Sunday. What was all the preparation for?

Technically, Easter isn’t a day but a whole season.  It lasts 50 days starting with Easter Sunday and ending at Pentecost.  Did we spend 40 days of Lent preparing for 50 days of Easter?  Do we just have to practice our faith extra hard for three months and then we don’t have to think about it until Christmas?  Of course not.  In fact, there is no end date or time limit to what we profess during Easter.

When we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter, we acknowledge the truth of his ministry. Jesus said that he would die and rise again and we celebrate the reality of that claim on Easter. But it’s not just about celebrating that single promise, but all of his promises. Easter is a celebration of the entire Gospel where we rejoice in all the promises and teachings Jesus gave us.  If Jesus was right about the outlandish claim of raising from the dead then he was right about everything else he preached. And we celebrate and give honor to Jesus’ resurrection by promising to go out and live according to his teachings.  Jesus asked us to go out and love our neighbors and our enemies.  He asked us to show compassion to the suffering and less fortunate.  He asked us to forgive those who wronged us.  He asked us to turn away from sin.  He promised eternal joy in Heaven.  He fulfilled that promise on Easter by rising from the dead and opening those gates for all of us.

Jesus Resurrection 1778
Jesus Resurrection 1778 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s spring so I’m going to use a baseball analogy.  Think of Lent as the pre-season.  We exercise and got into spiritual shape through fasting and prayer.  It was a time where we worked extra hard to shed those bad habits that crept in over the past year.  But if Lent is pre-season, Easter Sunday is opening day.  Yes, it’s a grand event filled with joy, hope, and optimism.  But it’s one day of many. And it is one Easter season of many.  Following Jesus’ teachings doesn’t end on Easter Sunday any more than the baseball season ends after the first game.  Instead, it is a time of hope and renewal as we look towards living out the Gospel in its entirety for the rest of our lives.

Easter Sunday has come and gone.  The candy will disappear over the next few days.  The pastel decorations and colorful eggs will be takn down.  But the celebration continues and requires your active participation.  Continue praying the rosary.  Continue attending Mass.  Continue fasting (maybe after indulging a little on the things you gave up during Lent).  When you meditate on the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary, picture Jesus opening the gates of Heaven in his resurrection.  He showed us that there is so much more to our lives than just what we experience on earth.  We are eternal beings with souls destined for Heaven if we choose.  Our praying, fasting, penance, and charity doesn’t end on Easter.  It ends when the Lord welcomes us into his kingdom that he made available to us through his resurrection.  Keep your rosaries close and God even closer!

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Morality Clauses and the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary

In my last post I talked about how Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco was battling opponents over his additions to the high school teachers’ hand book about leading a Catholic example while on the job.  He wrote a fantastic clarification about why he added the new clauses and what he hopes to accomplish.  You can read the full letter at Catholic Minority Report.  I know that for many of you who don’t live in the archdiocese of San Francisco, or even the USA, the details of this battle may not hold much interest.  But like many things in life, this controversy does tie back to the rosary (and hence the RosaryMeds website) and provides some thoughts for meditation.  Let’s take a look at the Joyful Mysteries.

First Joyful Mystery

I said in my previous post that teaching at a Catholic school is as much of a vocation as it is a career.  I do think God calls people to use their talents specifically at a Catholic school instead of a secular or public school.  The First Joyful Mystery is all about vocations and reflecting on how God calls us to follow the path He sets before us.  We may have our doubts about God’s plan, similar to Mary questioning the angel Gabriel about how she could become the mother of God since she was an unwed virgin.  But like Mary, when we put our faith in God’s plan for us, no matter how outrageous it may seem, He will bestow upon us the graces to triumph.  We pray that we all reflect on our vocation and do what God asks of us even if we have our doubts.

Second Joyful Mystery

To me, the Visitation is primarily about ministry.  I’ve said in many past articles how Mary had every right to feel like she was a queen to be pampered and honored because she was to become the Mother of God.  But instead she headed off to the countryside proclaiming how she is the handmaiden of the Lord.  Her initial instinct was to go out proclaiming the glory of God when bestowed with God’s grace.  Similarly, Catholic schools are a ministry as well.  They are a place where young minds come to learn, not just reading, science, and mathematics, but also about what it means to be Catholic.  We pray that we remember to show what the Catholic faith professes through our words and actions in a direct, unambiguous way.

Third Joyful Mystery

The birth of Jesus revolves around the theme of humility.  God humbled himself by not only taking shape in the imperfect human form, but also as a lowly peasant.  And yet, through this unexpected person came God’s perfect revelation as taught by Jesus.  I think the archbishop is asking teachers and also the entire Catholic community in the archdiocese to show a lot of humility for the Church’s teachings as revealed by Jesus Christ and handed down over the years by the Magisterium.  It is difficult to accept and promote teachings that you may personally disagree with or are contrary to societal norms.  I’m not just talking about high school teachers either.  We all probably have a hard time accepting some of the Church’s teachings.  When we pray this mystery of the rosary, we should ask God for the humility to accept His perfect teachings although we may have an imperfect understanding of them.

Fourth Joyful Mystery

Jesus’ presentation in the temple focuses on adherence and obedience to the law.  Mary and Joseph waited the prescribed forty days before taking Jesus to the temple.  They also offered a sacrifice of turtledoves as was the custom.  Later, Jesus insists that John baptizes him although Jesus needed no purification.  When I think about many of the objections over the additions to the faculty handbook, I see an absence of the respect of an ancient institution.  The Church hasn’t been secretive about her teachings over the last few millennia nor has it dramatically changed them.  And yet so many people complain about the archbishop’s request to honor the sacred traditions of the Catholic Church in a Catholic school.

When we pray this mystery, we should remember that the Church is an institution that teaches what it teaches for a reason.  Church Scholars have pondered and written brilliant defenses for the Church’s teachings and its rituals over the years.  These “rules” and doctrine of the Church are not arbitrary but are insights into the natural law imprinted on our hearts.  By following those rituals and taking them seriously we follow in Jesus’ footsteps when he, who is the Law, also respected the Law.

Fifth Joyful Mystery

When I think about Mary and Joseph finding Jesus in the temple I recall Jesus’ words about needing to be in his father’s house.  What is amazing to me was Mary’s reaction of not understanding what Jesus meant.  What!??  An angel came to Mary and told her she would be the Virgin Mother of God!  Angels proclaimed his birth.  Wise men followed a star and paid homage to him.  What part of Jesus being special does Mary not yet understand?

This painting is on display at the Kunsthistor...
This painting is on display at the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History) in Vienna, Austria (site). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I think about those protesting the archbishop’s words I also wonder what part of teaching Catholicism at a Catholic school are they not understanding?  Through all the prayers, Masses, retreats, and religion classes, how are the archbishop’s words, which are essentially the Apostles’ Creed, something new and shocking?

Like the other mysteries, I pray this one for an understanding and acceptance of the Church’s teachings.  I also pray that I see those teachings even in the most unlikely of places.  The scholars were amazed by the knowledge of Jesus Christ as a young boy.  It goes to show that God tries to teach us in many different ways.  We should look for God’s Truth not just in the readings on Sunday, but everywhere around us.  Even a letter of clarification from the archbishop may hold wisdom and offer new insights.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

I stand with Archbishop Cordileone

Huzzah to San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone!  For those of you who don’t live in the California Bay Area, the Archbishop has come under attack for clarifying specific teachings of the Catholic faith that high school faculty in the archdiocese must not publicly confuse or contradict.  You can read the full text of what will be included in the teachers’ handbook.  However, you might as well recite the Apostle’s Creed and the Ten Commandments because that’s basically what the archbishop is asking teachers to uphold in Catholic high schools.

This additional wording to the faculty handbook has caused quite a stir.  Archbishop Cordileone was already under attack from various groups because of his vocal stance on traditional marriage in the very liberal Bay Area.  Now many are upset because of his request that high school teachers not confuse or dilute the teachings of the Catholic Church in Catholic schools.  He’s not asking teachers to be saints or even practicing Catholics, but merely keep in mind who their employer is and what is expected of them in the workplace.  But in today’s world, asking Catholic schools to espouse Catholic teachings is considered controversial.

Crackers!

Let’s back up and look at other work environments.  Suppose I worked at a factory that made crackers.  I would have to follow the guidelines outlined by my employer and not do things that harm my company or consumers.  I couldn’t modify the cracker recipe to my liking.  I couldn’t tamper with the machinery.  I couldn’t sabotage or undermine the company because I personally don’t like the crackers being made or I prefer a different company’s crackers.   I would be fired for such things.  Most of us would be fired if our employers caught us saying anything nasty about them on social networks.

Now look at Catholic schools.  What is their product?  I would say it’s a Catholic education.  So employees (the teachers) have a duty to produce the best possible product for their employer.  Teaching personal opinions that are contrary to the Church’s teachings or watering them down sabotages that product and undermines the employer.  In other professions, such behavior would land you a pink slip.

I can sympathize on how difficult it must feel to work for an employer you may personally disagree with.  Or it may be tough to accept rules that have always been in place but never really clarified or enforced.  But no lay person has ever been forced to work at a Catholic school.  Working at a Catholic school truly is a vocation because teachers generally make less money and benefits than their public school counterparts.  And some people, who may be great teachers, just won’t flourish and be happy working under a Catholic employer.  Like with any form of employment, you have to ask yourself if it’s truly an environment you want to work in or if there is something else that would be a better fit.

My Story

I completely understand what Archbishop Cordileone wants to avoid.  I went to a Catholic high school with a very confusing Catholic identity.  It was a great school and didn’t do anything in open defiance to Catholic teaching.  But the focus on a truly Catholic education was missing. We had a one priest and one nun so there wasn’t an overt Catholic presence on campus. Furthermore, many masses on holy days of obligation were optional and held in the morning before classes started. Good luck getting a teenager to school on time, let alone an hour early. The masses that were held with the full student body were more like mandatory choir concerts as no one would be actively participating except those singing. High school students are just at that age where expressing faith isn’t very cool and doing so makes you about as popular as the student who sits in the front row of the class, raises his hand for all the questions, and gets A’s on all the tests.

I really wish there was a strong statement like the one delivered by the archbishop when I was in high school. I think a lot of students would have benefited from going to a Catholic school rather than a secular school (in practice) that had mandatory religion classes. Since espousing the Catholic faith wasn’t a priority at my high school I learned that it wasn’t something I should make as a priority in my life.  I basically bought into the idea that faith was something practiced in a church on Sundays and shouldn’t be made public out of the fear of offending someone. It took me a long time to realize the joy and freedom that comes with actively participating and celebrating the faith because of my experience attending a high school with a muddled Catholic identity.

I was in high school before the internet took off and no one had ever said the words social network.  Now we live in a world where there is a constant drumbeat of ideas that run counter to the Catholic Church’s.  I applaud Archbishop Cordileone for not allowing the Church’s core teachings to be drowned out by popular culture.  If the world is screaming and attacking the Church, the Church has every right, even duty, to shout back.

Do you stand with Archbishop Cordileone?  Take 30 seconds to sign this petition.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Get Up and Make the Most of Lent

My wife turned to me the other day and said, “I really don’t feel like it’s Lent right now.” I replied that I felt the same way. As parents, every day of our lives feels a bit “Lentish.” We continuously sacrifice our time, money, sleep, and freedom to raise our boys the best we can. For 365 days a year parents have to sacrifice those little luxuries that others just put off for 40 days.

But before I give myself a Purple Heart for the sacrifices I’ve made in the parenting line of duty, I have to recall the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary — Jesus Carrying the Cross. I don’t think anyone would disagree that Jesus endured and sacrificed a lot during His ministry and particularly during His Passion. No one would have been too critical of Jesus if He never got up from one of His falls under the weight of the cross. After all, He was in a human body that could only take so much punishment. And yet, He dug down deep, got up, and kept moving knowing that His earthly life was only going to get worse.  Why?  Because His love of God and doing His Father’s will outweighed all the pain and suffering.

Icon of Jesus being led to Golgotha, 16th cent...
Icon of Jesus being led to Golgotha, 16th century, Theophanes the Cretan (Stavronikita Monastery, Mount Athos). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We should follow Jesus’ example in His Passion and dig down deep and find that extra spiritual energy during Lent. It’s not like we have a sacrificial quota and those who make sacrifices all year are exempt or can take it easy during Lent. It’s actually just the opposite. God calls the spiritually fit and conditioned to push themselves even further.  Jesus was the most spiritually fit person to walk the earth and He pushed Himself through the Passion and ultimately Crucifixion.  God asked that of His son so surely we can do whatever small things God asks of us this Lent.

Even if you pray, fast, and live a Catholic life all year around, Lent is the time to go that extra mile.  Like Jesus getting up after a fall and carrying His cross, we can all do a little more to better connect with a God who loves us and we should love in return. It doesn’t matter whether practicing your faith begins and ends one hour every Sunday or if you are Pope Francis, there is always a little something more you can do during Lent that you don’t do other times of the year.

To help, I found this article on Catholic Exchange about making the most of Lent. It’s still early in the Lenten season so if you’re off to a slow start (I’ve accidentally forgot that I gave up snacking twice already), give this a read and hopefully it will jumpstart your Lent.

For the impatient, here’s the article’s outline:

  1. Prayer
  2. Reconciliation and Peace
  3. Penance
  4. The Bible,The Word of God
  5. Almsgiving
  6. The Three T’s
  7. Joy
  8. Daily Mass and Communion
  9. Conquer Your Own Devil
  10. Mary and Lent

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Catechism: Teaching What Is Right, Not What Is Easy

I came across this article over at the National Catholic Register about how “real men pray.”  It’s a commentary on Cardinal Burke’s comments that men have lost their sense of purpose within the Catholic Church.  He points to the confusing and often conflicting messages presented by popular culture and the Church and how the Church is often silent addressing what it means to be a moral man.

I keyed in on this part of Cardinal Burke’s comments (I encourage you to read the full article at the National Catholic Register):

The crisis between man and woman has been made much worse by a complete collapse of catechesis in the Church. Young men grew up without proper instruction with regard to their faith and to the knowledge of their vocation. Young men were not being taught that they are made in the image of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These young men were not taught to know all those virtues that are necessary in order to be a man and to fulfill the particular gifts of being male.

Prayer isn’t just for little, old ladies

I found Cardinal Burke’s comments timely because I made my new year’s resolution to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church (which is going well; I’m on verse 167 of 2865).  I want to be better catechized particularly in this world of “soft Catholicism.”  I liken myself to a patient wanting the doctor to give me the hard truth about my condition and the prescription for leading a spiritually healthy life.  And I’m not looking for what is easy, but what is best for my mind, body, and soul.

Going back to Cardinal Burke’s comment, why do we have such a collapse of catechesis in the Church?  I find it interesting that when we learn math, we learn about rules and formulas.  When we learn science, we learn about rules and formulas.  Economics — rules and formulas.  Engineering — yep, rules and formulas.  Languages, again with the rules and formulas.  But for some reason, many people shy away from educating about the rules and dogmas of the Catholic faith out of a fear that it might upset someone or it may not be politically correct.

This fear of Church dogma wasn’t always the case.  My mom told me that growing up the Baltimore Catechism was basically her text book for religious education.  But over the years we’ve infantilized religious education to simple platitudes like “God loves you” and “Jesus wants us to be nice to each other.”  Yes, it’s good to learn about a loving and merciful God.  But that’s the starting point.  We can’t stop there.  If we want deepen our faith and our relationship with God we need to deepen our understanding of what our faith is.  Furthermore, we can’t ignore or disregard the truth we learn because we don’t like it or it’s hard to follow.  That’s like saying you don’t believe in gravity or 1+1=3.

One of the goals of RosaryMeds is to motivate you to really take the next steps, whatever that may be, to increase your understanding and love of your faith in Jesus’ church.  When you pray the rosary, ask God to show you what those next steps are.  Maybe it’s to pray more earnestly.  Maybe its to read the Bible or the Catechism.  Maybe it’s to read more RosaryMeds articles (hint, hint).  Whatever form it may take, try hard to move your understanding of the Catholic Faith forward.  We have an infinitely complex God so trust me, there is always something new to learn.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

The Catechism — The Catholic Church’s Silmarillion

Welcome to 2015!  I’m really excited about my new year’s resolution.  I know, I know.  I previously wrote about how new year’s resolutions are bad because labelling them as a resolution almost guarantees that you won’t actually follow through.  But this year, with the help of a little technology, I think I will be able to meet my goal — reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

CCCCBut why?  Isn’t it a bit dry and the spiritual equivalent of reading up on tax law?  Or, isn’t the Catechism more like a reference book that you search through when you have a specific question and not something you read end to end?  To answer that, we’ll need to learn a little literary history.

Let’s go to 19th century France.  The man is Victor Hugo and the book is Les Misérables.  This is a looooong book clocking in at nearly 1,500 pages for a standard sized paperback version.  The reason why it’s so long is because Hugo went to great lengths to provide a historical context for the events in the book.  He dedicates chapters describing the battle of Waterloo, the Parisian sewer system, life in a nunnery, Parisian street slang, 19th century manufacturing processes, etc.  These aren’t little Wikipedia like descriptions either but are the size and scope of small books onto themselves.  These tangents paint a richer world for the events of the book to take place in.  The characters in Les Misérables don’t exist in a vacuum, but live in a bigger world that we can relate to or at least understand because Hugo provides seemingly endless background information.

Fast forward to the 20th century and look at J.R.R. Tolkien.  You know his seminal works — The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  What you may not know is that there is a lot of auxiliary writings which describe Middle Earth, the land where the events of those books take place.  Tolkien wrote extensively about the culture of hobbits, dwarfs, elves, etc.  He wrote a book called The Silmarillion which describes the universe of Eä which contains Middle Earth as well as other lands.  Like Victor Hugo, Tolkien wrote the background of the places and characters in his books to provide a much richer reading experience because the events happen within a known context.  The Lord of the Rings isn’t a small book or movie because Middle Earth is not a small place.  Elves, dwarves, hobbits, humans, and orcs all act the way they do in the books and movies because Tolkien gave them a detailed history.  Without that history and culture being spelled out, I bet The Lord of the Rings would not have been the complex, layered, and rich book/movie it turned out to be.

By now it should become increasingly obvious why I want to read the CCC.  I want to become more knowledgeable about the Catholic faith so that I can have a richer experience living that faith.  When I pray the rosary or listen to a homily I want to have what I learned reading the CCC in the back of my mind to make new mental and spiritual connections.  I hope that  reading the CCC will generate a whole new level of intentions and meditations when I pray the rosary.  I hope that the increased understanding of the Catholic faith will seep into my writings in my future books (fingers crossed) and on RosaryMeds.

Think of it like this.  Your average Catholic who hasn’t read the CCC is like someone who has only seen the Les Misérables musical or The Lord of the Rings movies.  They have a good understanding of the material and appreciate it but they don’t know the whole picture as envisioned by Hugo and Tolkien respectively.  But the person who has read more church documents like the CCC is like the person who has read Les Misérables or The Silmarillion and understands the greater context and all the little details that are left out of the more popular works.

New year’s resolutions fail because many people only define a goal, not a process for achieving that goal.  I’m a software engineer and I’m all about defining processes for achieving goals.  So here’s how I will achieve my goal of reading the Catechism.  Last year I finally bit the bullet and bought my first smartphone.  It has opened up a whole new world of productivity, especially during my commute.  I spend roughly six hours a week on the road.  Thanks to an app called @Voice Aloud Reader I can turn any text into an audio book.  Combined with my Catholic prayer app, Laudate, I can listen to the entire Catechism on my commutes.  I know I won’t have Doctor of the Church level retention of the information, but I will pick up the major themes and a general understanding.

Here’s wishing you all the best of luck in this new year!

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Synod on the Family — A Messy Process

As many of you know, I’m a software engineer.  My career revolves around analyzing the business needs of my employer and designing and implementing a software solution.  Although my job title has the word engineer in it and my degree is in a science, the software development world can be an undisciplined, unscientific mess.  Someone who doesn’t understand software development might be a little uneasy with the number of bugs that are introduced in the process, the amount of code that gets thrown out or rewritten, and how different a final product will look from the initial concept or prototype.  Personally, every good idea I have usually stems from five bad ones — some being immediately dismissed while others I worked on a bit before realizing they weren’t a good fit for what I was trying to accomplish.

I see a lot of parallels between my experience in writing software and the recent Synod on the Family.  A lot of commentary and fuss has been made over the midterm report.  It shows a process where it may appear bishops are make statements and decisions contrary to Church doctrine in topics like divorce and homosexuality.  We have to remember that this report isn’t the finished product nor a definitive statement upholding or changing Church doctrine.

The synod is like a piece of code in progress.  Sometimes I just have to write a few lines of code to steer my thinking in the right direction.  Similarly, I think the bishops have to bring up topics and lines of thought, not with the intent of those thoughts becoming the final word.  Rather, it steers the dialog in different directions to find the right path — the truth of Jesus Christ.

While I’m a little uneasy about the statements being reported, I’m also glad that they are at least being mentioned.  It wouldn’t be much of a synod if the bishops sat down and just regurgitated Church teaching, patted each other on the back for their rote knowledge, and went home.  Again, in the software world I would be highly skeptical of a code’s quality that was completed quickly with no revisions.  How do we know that the developer took into account all the scenarios and details?  Why didn’t he integrate any feedback from his colleagues?  Similarly, the mentioning of ideas that run counter to the Church’s teachings shouldn’t be seen as a challenge to the doctrine but as part of the exploration of these broad and complex topics.  I want my bishops to leave no stone unturned in their search for truth.

Father Robert Barron, who is often very level-headed about topics like this says it best in his recent article:

One of the great mysteries enshrined in the ecclesiology of the Catholic Church is that Christ speaks through the rather messy and unpredictable process of ecclesiastical argument. The Holy Spirit guides the process of course, but he doesn’t undermine or circumvent it. It is precisely in the long, laborious sifting of ideas across time and through disciplined conversation that the truth that God wants to communicate gradually emerges.

The interim report on the Synod represents a very early stage of the sausage-making process and, unsurprisingly, it isn’t pretty. Two more weeks of discussion will follow; then a full year during which the findings of the Synod will be further refined, argued about, and clarified; then the Ordinary Synod on the Family will take place (the one going on now is the Extraordinary Synod), and many more arguments and counter-arguments will be made; finally, some months, perhaps even a year or so, after that, the Pope will write a post-Synodal exhortation summing up the entire process and offering a definitive take on the matter. At that point, I would suggest, something resembling edible sausage will be available for our consumption; until then, we should all be patient and refrain from bloviating.

Now, I would also be naive to think that there aren’t some bishops guided more by politics than the Holy Spirit in this process.  I think that’s part of the reason why this interim report was released to the public — so that some bishops could score some political points with the Church’s critics.  It’s their way of getting some political cover by implying, “You see!  I did try to represent your viewpoints but the magisterium didn’t listen.”  Unfortunately, I think some bishops are aiming more to increase the Church’s likability by bending her teachings to the whims of society and not through explaining her truths.

I don’t think there will be a radical rewriting of Church doctrine when this is all over and many of the bishops know that.  So those who may have ulterior motives other than fostering dialog may want their viewpoints made public so that they can become a talking point or be used in a counter argument in future debates.  Unfortunately, our society (the media in particular) has an uncanny way of turning “this was mentioned in the synod” into “this is what the Catholic Church believes.”  And over time, the context certain statements were made in will be completely lost and all you’re left with is a soundbite from Nancy Pelosi quoting the interim synod report and misrepresenting Church doctrine.

Nancy Pelosi, Representative from California.
The media’s “goto” person for Catholic teaching.

Like St. Simeon in the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary, we must show patience for this process.  St. Simeon had faith that he would one day see God’s Chosen One.  We too must have faith that the truth of Jesus Christ will not only reveal itself, but will burn more brightly when held up against weaker ideas.  We pray for patience with the Church, both personally and for a patience from the greater society to not misrepresent the Church’s teachings.  We also need to pray for the bishops and all those taking part in the synod that they let the Holy Spirit guide their thoughts and actions.  And we must pray especially for those bishops who may treat their vocation as a political office rather than spiritual shepherds.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,