The Dulling of Faith

We just remembered the 70th anniversary of the Allied landing on Normandy in WWII.  Operation Overlord, or D-Day, was a massive operation that forever changed the face of our world.  Thousands of men stormed the beaches and for many of them, the flashes of German gunfire from concrete bunkers was the last thing they would ever see and the deafening sounds of mortar shells was the last thing they would ever hear.

But like many historical events, even the big ones like D-Day, time erodes our memories and emotions of these events.  As the people who experienced these events pass away and all we’re left with are pictures and videos, these world changing moments start to feel less real and meaningful to us.  Washington D.C. burning to the ground in 1812, thousands of men dying at Gettysburg, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and one day, 9/11, almost start to have as much impact as a work of fiction as time goes on.

D-DAY IMAGE ...
D-DAY IMAGE … (Photo credit: mrbill78636)

I think we often suffer from time diminishing our faith.  Many of us read the Bible and listen to the Gospels at least once a week during Sunday Mass.  We may pray routinely.  We know what Jesus taught and what He expects of us.  We know the high bar He sets for us to get into His kingdom of Heaven.  And I bet, if Jesus walked into your room and repeated what He said in the Gospels, He would have your complete attention.  You would run out and change anything and everything in your life that didn’t line up with His teaching.

And yet, we often ignore, trivialize, or give lip service to Jesus’ message because He said it nearly 2000 years ago and we didn’t witness it firsthand.  We are like St. Thomas who doubted Jesus’ resurrection when the other disciples told him about it because he didn’t personally see Him.  But Jesus’ teachings are no different today than when He walked this earth.  His teachings are no different through the Gospel than if He came walking through your door right now.  And yet we too allow the trivialities of our present situation to overshadow the greater truths Jesus taught us.

English: Transfiguration of Jesus

I think about my lack of appreciation of Jesus’ truth most when I pray the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the rosary, The Transfiguration.  I think about how awe inspiring it must have been for the apostles to witness Jesus transform into a figure of dazzling light and to hear God say, “LISTEN TO HIM.”  If we truly believe in the authenticity of the Catholic faith, then we know the Transfiguration was a real event.  God didn’t just tell the apostles to listen to Jesus.  He told all of us!  But ask yourself, do you live with an awareness of that reality?  Or do you often ignore or trivialize the truths of the Catholic faith because you didn’t personally witness Jesus saying them?  Why does a difference of time and place have such a dramatic effect on our willingness to follow Jesus’ teachings?

Before you beat yourself up, remember that even the apostles failed to truly believe in Jesus’ teachings when confronted with the realities around them.  Judas betrayed Jesus.  Peter, who witnessed the Transfiguration, denied Him.  And all of them, except for John, went into hiding during Jesus’ crucifixion.  They didn’t even have the excuse of being separated from Jesus by thousands of years like we do.  Their cowardice shows just how powerful our human weaknesses are and how they can dominate over our desire to live for God’s eternal kingdom.

And while we may fail to truly believe in Jesus’ message like the apostles did, God came into our lives in yet another form — as the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit gave the apostles that shot of courage and conviction to go out and live and preach the Jesus’ message.  While they may have been lukewarm in their faith while Jesus was alive, they were transformed into true believers on Pentecost.  Even in their fear, the Holy Spirit penetrated their souls and gave the apostles a needed spiritual “kick.”

The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost by Ant...
The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost by Anthony van Dyck, circa 1618. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of us are in need of a spiritual kick.  We may not live in fear of practicing our faith (although more and more Christians are being persecuted and martyred throughout the world).  But many of us do suffer from a sense of passivity in our faith because we haven’t heard Jesus’ teachings directly from His mouth.  But the Holy Spirit, the same one that roused the scared apostles into action, rouses us into action as well.  We only have to provide that small bit of kindling in our souls for the fire of the Holy Spirit to erupt into a bright flame of faith.  That kindling is something as small and as easy as focused prayer, rosary meditation, participating at Mass, and receiving the sacraments.  It doesn’t matter that Jesus walked this earth nearly 2000 years ago.  His message is still the same and the Holy Spirit burns just as bright!

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Is Pope Francis Really That Different?

I know I’m a little late to the party, but I want to comment on Pope Francis’ latest interview in American Magazine that raised a stir. It has more progressively minded Catholics giving the pope a big thumbs up while traditional Catholics are squirming in their seats. Some people think that Pope Francis is undoing decades of zealotry and adherence to dogma while others see him simply rephrasing long-held teachings of the faith. In a way, the pope’s comments are a spiritual Rorschach test. Otherwise known as an inkblot test, a subject sees pictures of generic shapes and says the first thing that comes to mind. It helps psychologists determine someone’s state of mind. Like the Rorschach test, Pope Francis’ comments almost reveal more about our perceptions of the Church than what the Church actually teaches.

the ninth blot of the Rorschach inkblot test
What Catholic Church do you see?

Pope Francis’ interview is about 12,000 words long (please read it). The mainstream media and blog outlets mostly fixated on a few statements about how the Church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” And that “the church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.” Just look at the headlines:

  • Huffington PostPope Francis: Gays, Abortion Too Much Of Catholic Church’s Obsession
  • New York Times — Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control
  • The Daily BeastThe Pope Confesses Church’s ‘Obsession’ With Gays, Abortion (I was amused by the use of the word “confesses”)

Taken on its own, it sounds like Pope Francis is casting off all those stuffy, cold-hearted rules that previous popes enforced to the letter. But when viewed in the context of the whole interview, you see that he’s saying that our faith and evangelization isn’t primarily about beating people over the head with rules and guidelines. The pope does not want people to blindly obey because people will never embrace the true Catholic Church that way. Instead, he wants people to know that God loves them and the Church dogma and doctrines exist to bring people closer to God’s grace. Essentially, the pope hopes that people will want to follow the Church’s guidelines out of love, not offer blind allegiance. CatholicVote.com has a good article that summarizes the pope’s interview if you want more analysis.

To their credit, many of the mainstream media articles do say that Pope Francis didn’t change Church teaching. This is the same message previous popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests have taught (or should have taught) for years. But when I read the comments in these online articles, I do get the sense that people are projecting their desires on what they would like the Church to be and not actually hearing what the pope says the Church actually is. They only see the aspects of the pope or the Catholic Church that fit their worldview and filter out anything that does not fit. For example, did you know that Pope Francis recently excommunicated a priest for promoting gay marriage and women’s ordination? You probably did not because that doesn’t fit the narrative of the compassionate pope the media portrays and is more in line with Pope Benedict‘s image as “God’s pit bull.”

Same Church, different world, different strategies, different media.

A writer for one of my favorite Catholic blogs, Creative Minority Report, demonstrated how easy it is to sway people’s perceptions of the pope depending on how his words are reported and filtered. I urge you to read this article that has quotes by the pope on the importance of women in the Church, how the Church should focus on helping the poor, how She embraces other faiths, and how humble he is. That describes Pope Francis to a tee right? But the M. Night Shyamalan twist at the end is that those quotes all come from Pope Benedict. Yeah, that supposedly detached, rule-oriented pope according to many media outlets. So this is a word of warning that you should perceive the pope or the Catholic faith with caution. Are your views based on your own conscience or on the narrative someone is trying to push?

What RosaryMeds Do I Need?

I think we all need a healthy dose of the Fifth Glorious Mystery — Mary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven. In the interview, Pope Francis said, “Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity.” We should pray for help and guidance from Mary, Queen of Heaven. Remember, media outlets and blogs are in the business of selling products and advertisements and making profits. Mary is in the business of saving souls and making sure that as many people as possible will one day live in the peace of happiness of Heaven. When it comes to matters of faith, perhaps we should put down the New York Times, turn off Fox News, and pick up a rosary if we want to know the true Catholic Church.

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The Pope Said What Now?

Update: This article is not about the pope’s recent statements in America magazine and commented on in the Huffington Post and New York Times.  It is about something he wrote in an Italian newspaper a few weeks ago.  But don’t worry, I’ll discuss the America magazine article in an upcoming post.

A few days ago, Pope Francis wrote a lengthy article responding to some questions proposed by Eugenio Scalfari, co-founder of the newspaper La Repubblica and an atheist. First of all, I find it amazing that the pope can even find the time to read an editorial in a local newspaper, let alone respond to it. I think it shows just how well Pope Francis understands modern tactics of evangelization. He knows that encyclicals are great for diving deep into questions of the Catholic Faith, but if you really want to connect with people you need to communicate in a more casual way using popular media. He might have done more good and educated more people about the Catholic faith in his letter to Mr. Scalfari than what he would have done in ten encyclicals.

The main purpose of Pope Francis’ letter was to address how the Church views atheists regarding their salvation and entrance into Heaven. The pope wrote:

First of all, you ask if the God of the Christians forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith. Given that – and this is fundamental – God’s mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience. In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or to be evil. The goodness or the wickedness of our behavior depends on this decision.

Now the popular media jumped all over this statement essentially declaring the pope said something like “all atheists go to Heaven” or that He reversed some doctrine; neither which is true. This isn’t the first time the media completely misreported the pope’s comments and certainly won’t be the last. The pope did not unveil a new doctrine, but only reiterated what the Church has taught for generations. The fact that this seems new to everyone, including many Catholics, shows just how little we understand about the Catholic faith.

The Church has always taught that there is no way any of us here on Earth know who will go to Heaven and who will end up in Hell. Yes, we have a lot of guidelines, teachings, and commandments passed on from God through the prophets, His son Jesus Christ, and Church tradition. But there is always that unknown factor that the pope mentions — God’s infinite mercy. We just cannot know who God forgives and why.

Remember, the Church teaches that non-Catholics can go to Heaven if they’ve never had an opportunity to know God’s Church but live according to the natural laws of morality. When we think about this scenario, we often think of some isolated tribe out on a tropical island somewhere who have never seen a bible. But what about the person who never went to Mass growing up? What about the person who is surrounded by people who actively hate the Church or just don’t place any value on organized religion? What about the person whose view of the Church comes solely from sources that misreport the Church’s teachings? What about the fallen away Catholic who just went to Sunday Mass out of obligation but never really participated? Aren’t these also people who never really “knew” God’s Church? The Catholic faith has always taught that these people, including atheists, are also able to find mercy and forgiveness just like the stereotypical “isolated native” that has never seen a church or opened a bible.

Whenever I think about our ultimate fate, I’m reminded of the Second Glorious Mystery — Jesus’ Ascension. When I pray and meditate on that rosary mystery, I remember that Jesus took His rightful place in Heaven at the right hand of God and acts as our final judge. We know that our actions, combined with God’s mercy, will decide whether we spend eternity in God’s kingdom or Hell. We should be thankful that God is infinitely merciful and that whether we end up in Heaven isn’t an in/out, true/false, on/off proposition. Because if it were, I dare say that most people would probably fall short of meeting the requirements to enter Heaven. We all have our failings, but it’s God’s mercy, both through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and at our final judgement, that allow us to live for eternity in His kingdom.

But why must we understand and live by the Catholic teachings when the pope said anyone, including atheists, can go to Heaven? Are devout Catholics just suckers wasting their time going to Mass and receiving the sacraments? Far from it. Remember, the pope said that God’s mercy is infinite, but not automatic. Ask yourself, do you want to rely solely on God’s mercy to enter into His kingdom? Or would you like to actually increase your odds, as it were, by following His Word? Let’s put it another way. Suppose there was a way to learn the winning numbers in the lottery ahead of time. But to learn those numbers, you have to put in years of hard work. Would you do it? After all, you could always avoid the work and just leave it up to chance. Maybe you will get lucky and guess the right numbers. The same goes for salvation, but the stakes are much higher since it’s dealing with our eternal souls. Are you going to leave such an important decision solely on God’s mercy or do you want to put forth the effort now to really earn your place in God’s kingdom?

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A World on Fire

There has been so much happening at the intersection of politics and religion lately (it’s a block down the road from the intersection of crazy and truth).  We have the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage, abortion standoffs, international issues in the Middle East, Obamacare’s HHS mandate, scandal after scandal, and immigration reform debates.  Political developments seem to come in so fast that if I took the time to write in depth about any one issue, a dozen more would come to the forefront before I could publish it.  So I will leave it to the political news sites to report on the details of these stories.  They have the resources and the audience to go into much more detail than I ever can.  I will stick with what I know — rosary prayer and meditation.

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Overwhelmed by all the bad news lately?

I think it is so easy to read the current headlines and get discouraged.  One would think that the world is on the brink of falling apart completely.  What is wrong or evil are considered virtues.  What was once thought of as good and decent are now seen as hateful and intolerant.  Common sense seems to be in rare supply.  Humanity appears to be in a tailspin from which there is no recovery.  But that type of thinking assumes that the current state of the world is somehow drastically different from the past.  It assumes that there was a time when all was good and peaceful in the world and that recent conflicts are the exception to history.  But can you think of a time in human history when everything was fine?  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the world has always been a violent, hostile, and illogical place, especially towards truth, values, and faith.

If you want to see how cruel this world can be to those of faith, you don’t need to look any further than the mysteries of the rosary.  First start with the easy ones — the Sorrowful Mysteries.  Each mystery shows how humanity treats the source of truth and love, Jesus Christ.  He’s betrayed in the First Sorrowful Mystery, scourged in the Second, crowned with thorns in the Third, carries a cross in the Fourth, and is crucified in the Fifth.  Not exactly a pleasant view of how humanity treats people of faith is it?  You can look at other mysteries too if you want to see how hard it has been to live morally.  When you pray the First Joyful Mystery, imagine how difficult it must have been for Mary, an unwed teenager, to learn that God called her to bear His Son.  Meditate on the Third Glorious Mystery and picture the apostles locked in a room out of fear of being found and killed by those who crucified Jesus.  History shows that following God’s plan often presents more challenges and defeats than victories.

End the end, we win!
How does it end? We win!

So what are we, as people of faith, to do?  Do we cast off our religious values and embrace the trends society embraces?  Do we hide our faith so that we don’t offend anyone?  Do we go on the offensive and use every dirty trick in the book to force a better world?  Again, we only need to look as far as the rosary.  When confronted with the difficult challenge of God choosing Mary to bear His son, she humbly puts her faith in His plan.  The apostles, when confronted by a hostile world, found strength in the Holy Spirit to proclaim God’s Word.  And Jesus, in the Sorrowful Mysteries, endured the torture and insults the world flung at Him.  Even at His lowest moment in His Passion, Jesus never stopped loving and forgiving.  Jesus practiced what He preached even in His most difficult moments.  And so God calls us to act like Mary and say yes to His plan even when in conflicts with the social norms of our society.  We must remember, like the apostles, the Holy Spirit empowers us to proclaim God’s Word.  And Jesus calls us to imitate Him and live according to His truth despite the suffering the world will heap upon us for doing so.

It isn’t all suffering and defeat.  To end on a positive note, remember that this world and our lives are only temporary.  The entirety of human history is but a blink of an eye compared to the enormity of the afterlife.  The problems and turmoil of today, while they may seem large to us now, are nothing compared to the joy and happiness of Heaven.  That isn’t to say that we can turn a blind eye to this world and its problems.  But we must keep everything in perspective.  We fight the good fight but our goal is Heaven, not this world.  Remember, the crucifixion isn’t the last rosary mystery.  We have the entire Glorious Mysteries after that where Jesus conquered death and prepared a place for us in His kingdom.  Our end is not tied to a Supreme Court ruling or the HHS mandate.  Our end is not summed up by bills, laws, and elections.  Our final end is praising God forever in Heaven.  Keep that in mind the next time you read the Drudge Report and feel like throwing your chair out the window in despair.

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