Coping with Controversy with the Rosary

These are unsettling times for the Catholic Church in the wake of abuses and cover-ups at the highest levels of the Church.  It’s hard to learn about such corruption by people who are supposed to be spiritual leaders in a Church that espouses such high moral values.  It can also shake your faith in an institution that is supposed to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

The cardinals and priests are spiritual leaders, but they are also human.  They carry the same weaknesses as you and I.  Those weaknesses include lust for power and the tendency to sin.  Unfortunately, people move up through the ranks in the Church the same way they do in business or politics.  They know what to do and what to say to move up the “corporate” ladder.  It’s a ladder that is ascended via politics, not neccessarily holiness and virtue.  While we hope that those who lead the Church focus on practicing a high level of virtuous behavior, increased power and authority often has the opposite effect.  Fortunately, our Catholic faith is made up of more than the collective virtue of those who lead it.

I’m not going to tell you to ignore what’s going on at the higher levels of the Church.  Ignoring the issues is what got us into this mess in the first place.  We, as a community of believers, must confront and address these issues.  But at the same time, we must remember that the cardinals, bishops, and even the pope, aren’t the center of the Church.  The Church is not solely a human institution.  It’s a divine institution with the Holy Trinity at its core.

When we pray, we don’t pray to the pope, cardinals, bishops, and priests.    We pray to God!  It’s an infallible and all-loving God that is the center of our faith.  The clergy are servants of God to guide us.  Our perfect God works through His imperfect vessels.  And no amount of human corruption can weaken God.  No amount of corruption can weaken His love for us and our desire to live in His grace.

Humans sin and we have to be accountable for our actions.  What I will call the political side of the Church will go through hard times in the near future.  But if you keep the right perspective, you will understand that the Church is far more than the sum total of virtue and sins of the clergy.  She hasn’t survived and flourished over the centuries because of clerical virtue.  She’s flourished because it’s God’s Church which can’t be destroyed by the inherent weakness of Her followers.

I think about the current difficulties the Church faces when I pray the Third Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary — Jesus Crowned with Thorns.  I picture Jesus, battered and ridiculed.  I then think about our Church and how battered She is right now; ridiculed by the behavior of those who are supposed to honor Her.  Like the Romans paying fake homage to Jesus with a crown of thorns, we have clergy mocking Jesus by using His Church as a means to acquire riches and power and succumb to sinful weaknesses.

Christ Crowned with Thorns (Marten van Heemskerck)

But from the weakness, Jesus was ultimately triumphant.  There is an element of hope throughout the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.  We know that Jesus’ Passion ends in joy and triumph in His Resurrection.  And we should know that the Church will ultimately be triumphant because that is what scripture and our faith tell us.  As we confront these dark times ahead, remember that the true center of the Church is Jesus Christ.  Our faith is built on Him, not on the imperfect, fallible humans who run it.

The Pope’s June Intention: RESPECT

My wife and I spend a lot of time teaching our boys about respect; respecting adults as well as respecting each other. That usually means lessons about listening, responding, and following directions. When we don’t follow directions and do what is expected of us, we aren’t respecting others. We need to listen and acknowledge what people are saying and can’t ignore them. We need to understand that sometimes people have deadlines and multiple priorities and so we need to show respect by providing our full cooperation.

Pope Francis’ June intention is, “That social networks may work towards that inclusiveness which respects other for their differences.” The key word in the pope’s intention is respect. The easiest way to think about respect is to remember the Golden Rule — treat others as you want to be treated. Or, as Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Respect isn’t only about loving those we see and interact with. We also need to respect Jesus and His Church. We need to listen to Him, talk to Him, and follow His instructions. We can’t say we follow and respect Jesus if we do the opposite of how He asks us to live. By sinning, we are showing disrespect. We are like little kids ignoring our father’s directions.

Even if we’re not committing confessable sins, we still may be disrespecting Jesus by ignoring Him and not responding to His call. Are we talking to Him in prayer? Are we listening to Him? Is our relationship with Jesus something important to us and something we work on maintaining? Respect implies that we acknowledge the importance and authority someone has. How can we call ourselves one of Jesus’ disciples if we don’t routinely and honestly acknowledge His importance to us?

Social Media

In the modern world, much of our communication is online whether it be Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, email, or even just the comments section of web pages. Now ask yourself, what if Jesus was one of your “friends” or “followers” on your social networks and He read your posts? Would you be proud of them? Are you fostering a respectful environment? Note that respectful doesn’t mean always being agreeable or a pushover. It doesn’t mean compromising your values and the values of the Church. But it does mean recognizing that how you treat others is also how you treat Jesus. So if you’re not respecting others online, you’re not respecting our Lord.

The Rosary

There are many rosary mysteries to consider and meditate on when it comes to respect. For example, think about the Descent of the Holy on Pentecost (Third Glorious Mystery) and the role the Holy Spirit plays in our lives. Are you showing God the proper respect by listening to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to guide you in life? Or are you ignoring Him like a disrespectful child? The same can be said about our Mother Mary who reigns as Queen of Heaven which we pray in the Fifth Glorious Mystery. Are we listening to the guidance of our Heavenly Mother and respecting Her authority?

What about respect for Jesus in the Eucharist which we meditate on in the Fifth Luminous Mystery? Are we receiving Him in a worthy state or are we showing him disrespect by receiving Him in a state of mortal sin? And are we truly appreciating the gift which is the Eucharist and thanking God for how lucky we are to receive Him? While we may not have any mortal sins on our soul, receiving the Eucharist without much thought of its preciousness is another sign of disrespect.

Of course, we all falter and sin. We all disrespect Jesus at some point in our lives. But the good news is that Jesus is willing to forgive us and start anew through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Think of Jesus on the cross in the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery. He said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Our Lord was willing to forgive those who killed Him. He will surely forgive us for the times we haven’t respected Him.

In this month of June, let the idea of respect, particularly how you conduct yourself online, be at the forefront of your mind. Show Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and your Heavenly Mother Mary the proper respect they deserve by listening to their guidance and following Jesus’ teachings. You may not always succeed in living how Jesus directs you, but He will be proud of you when you put in the effort.

How The Rosary Protects Us From Satan

In an interview, Pope Francis reasserted the Catholic teaching that Satan is not some abstract concept of evil but is an actual being who is cunning and clever.  The Pope said:

“Satan is smart, he tells us that when we kick him out he will go, but then after a while, when you are distracted after a few years, he comes back, with seven companions worse than him.  He is very polite, knocks at the door, rings the bell, comes in politely, and in the end he comes in with his friends.  It’s important to be smart, to spot, and to have the ability to discern Satan’s lies.”

The heart of this RosaryMeds article is not what Pope Francis said in the interview, but the nature of the comments linked to the article.  You may want to pop some Xanax before reading them because they are pretty much an organized religion hatefest.  Ironically, all these comments about how silly Christians are for believing in evil confirms the Pope’s point — Satan is a master when it comes to deception.  The people who think they are above what they consider silly superstition play right into Satan’s master plan.

I think every ISP should also come with a prescription plan to help deal with the craziness

What I find interesting in the comments is this misconception that Pope Francis wants everyone to live in perpetual fear of Satan and that is why he constantly brings him up in interviews.  This seems part of the whole, the Catholic Church wants to control us so they can get more money and power conspiracy theory.  But there’s a large difference between acknowledging someone’s existence and living in fear of him.  The pope is trying to teach the former, not promote the latter.

I think of acknowledging Satan’s existence and not underestimating his abilities is quite sensible.  It’s like driving a car.  If you drive, you must acknowledge that there are bad/lazy/drunk drivers on the road.  Does this mean that you need to fear driving down the street to run errands?  No, we can’t suspend our lives because there is a possibility of getting hurt.  Inversely, we can’t be lazy while driving and disregard safety rules because we don’t believe we’ll get into a collision.  We have to acknowledge that there are dangers and take appropriate precautions but not let those dangers force us into a state of inaction or complacent.

The Catholic Church wants us to be public witnesses of Jesus’ love in this world.  We don’t do that be shutting ourselves in because we fear Satan.  If all the Catholics in the world withdrew from the world out of fear, then Satan gets what he desires — a world free of any awareness and opposition to his power.

The acknowledgment of evil and the consequences of trying to pretend that evil, temptation, and sin does not exist ties back to the Second Glorious Mystery of the Holy Rosary.  In Jesus’ Ascension, He returned to Heaven to sit at the right hand of God to judge the living and the dead.  We profess this every time we start praying the Rosary and at Mass.  And yet, there are so many people, both Catholics and non-Catholics, who do not believe in judgment because they don’t believe in sin, temptation, and Satan.  In other words, if you don’t believe you can do anything objectively wrong, why should you believe there will be an assessment of your behavior?

When you pray the Rosary, particularly the Second Glorious Mystery, remember that Mary wants us to acknowledge that there is evil, Satan is real, sin is possible, and judgment is inevitable.  But, one of the reasons why we pray the Rosary is to ask Mary and the saints for the strength to love Jesus by following His teachings despite Satan’s attempts to make us do otherwise.  The Rosary is our spiritual seatbelt that protects us from the evil in the world that is constantly trying to cause us to swerve and crash from the path God desires for us.

 

How to Recover After a Disappointing Lent

We’re now in the middle of the Easter Octave and Lent 2017 is in the history books.  Maybe you didn’t have the most spiritual Lent this year.  Maybe you didn’t give something up or cheated a bit.  Maybe you didn’t receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, didn’t fast, or didn’t commit yourself to prayer.  Some of you may not have acted any differently during Lent than any other time of the year.

In the wake of a disappointing Lenten season, it’s easy to throw your hands into the air and say, “well, better luck next year.  That’s when I’ll really take Lent seriously.”  With that attitude, you basically turn Lent into some sort of spiritual open enrollment period where, if you miss it, you have to wait an entire year before you can make changes to your spiritual behavior.  Granted, I haven’t read the entire Bible (yet) but I don’t think God specified a time window on when you can convert and invest in a deeper relationship with Him.

I also hope there isn’t a three month wait list to receive God’s grace.

What can you do now that Lent is over?  Easter is a celebration that lasts for 50 days.  What better way to celebrate than committing yourself to increased prayer, fasting, and receiving the sacraments.  Like Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast, we want to come dressed to this glorious Easter celebration “dressed” appropriately.  That means with a soul cleansed of sin and a humble spirit of conversion.  Sure, we may not have used all 40 days of Lent to adequately prepare, but getting prepared now and arriving a little late to the party is better than missing the party completely.  Better late than never, right?

On the flip side, maybe you had a great Lent which is turning into a great Easter.  And while we may ease up a bit on the fasting and sacrifice, we shouldn’t do a complete 180 and undo those gains by sinning, not praying, and ignoring our faith.  Hopefully, what you did during Lent will have a lasting impression.  For example, I gave up snacking for Lent.  But just because Lent is over, it doesn’t mean I’m going to become a glutton (although I may have gone overboard on the donuts last Sunday).  While I may not be as steadfast as I was during Lent, I think I will continue to abstain from snacking at least two days a week.

Remember, it will all still be there tomorrow. Stay strong and resist temptation.

After Jesus’ death, many people thought they could back to their “old” lives and basically wrote off Jesus as someone who had some interesting ideas but died tragically.  Saint Peter momentarily went back to fishing.  Jesus’ disciples started leaving Jerusalem to pick up where they left off.  We too may have that feeling that now that Easter Sunday has passed, it’s time we return to our “normal” lives.  But Jesus’ resurrection actually created a new normal and permanently altered human kind‘s relationship with God.  Similarly, each Lent and Easter, we should be creating a new normal for ourselves as well; always pushing ourselves to form a deeper relationship with God.  Let’s not make the same mistake Jesus’ disciples made treating Jesus as a passing fad.  Instead, prolong the spirit of the Resurrection and make your relationship with Him something you work on every day for the rest of your life.

Pope Francis Said What? — Contraception and Catholic Doctrine

Pope Francis. Credit: Alan Holdren/CNA.

As well intentioned Pope Francis seems to be, he sure can generate a lot of misunderstandings of Church doctrine. I think it’s important to call out these instances and try to clarify them. After all, I don’t want the secular media, who aren’t the most Catholic friendly, having the final word interpreting the pope’s words.

While the pope’s supposed twitter war with Donald Trump has garnered a lot of attention, he also made statements about the use of contraception to combat the Zika virus in South America.  This didn’t get the amount of attention it deserves as it will live well beyond a few tweets between a presidential candidate and the pope. I fear the media will quote this in the future whenever the Catholic Church and contraception are mentioned.  Here’s the specific part of the transcript I want to focus on (bold is mine):

Paloma García Ovejero, Cadena COPE (Spain): Holy Father, for several weeks there’s been a lot of concern in many Latin American countries but also in Europe regarding the Zika virus. The greatest risk would be for pregnant women. There is anguish. Some authorities have proposed abortion, or else to avoiding pregnancy. As regards avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of “the lesser of two evils?”

Pope Francis: Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. On the ‘lesser evil,’ avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment. Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape.

Here’s the problem. Did Pope Paul VI actually permit nuns in Africa to use contraception? Pope Francis’ argument hangs on the premise that a previous pope had a doctrinally sound reason for doing so. Surely, Pope Francis can refer to some papal document from Pope Paul VI supporting this position right? But it looks like the pope has been hoodwinked by a Catholic urban legend. I came across a great article by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf that examined the root of the “Pope Paul VI permitted nuns to use contraception” myth.

English: picture of pope paul VI Español: foto...
English: picture of pope paul VI Español: fotografia del papa pablo VI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I encourage you to read the entire article, the tl;dr version is that the scenario of nuns in Africa using contraception was written as a hypothetical example in a theological article about the principle of double effect that was published two years before Paul VI became pope. Like any urban legend, it starts based on some actual event and then little changes to the details are applied.  Like a game of telephone, eventually the story the persists is nothing like the original. There’s even a similar version of this story except it’s St. John Paul II instead of Paul VI and Bosnian nuns replace African nuns.

I understand why the New York Times or the Washington Post may mistakenly report this myth as fact. After all, they probably think Nancy Pelosi is an authority on Catholic doctrine. But I would hope that the pope would be better informed and not repeat an urban legend as truth. What’s worse is that while the words attributed to Paul VI or St. John Paul II are myths, the words of Pope Francis are not. He actually said them and believes that they are rooted in Catholic teachings. I fear that over time the Paul VI myth will be replaced with Pope Francis’ own words.  After all, who needs to keep a myth alive when you have the words straight from the pope’s mouth?

The pope’s off the cuff statements create a challenge for those who want to show the world the reality, truth, and beauty of the Catholic Church.  When the truth in areas like contraception are blurred, it waters down the appeal of authentic Catholicism.  Going back to the book, Rome Sweet Home, that I wrote about recently, part of the reason the Hahn’s left the protestant church was because they started to see inconsistencies and too much gray area in the doctrine.  They saw the Catholic Church as an unwavering rock of well reasoned, biblical doctrine that created an opportunity to truly live in the fullness of God’s grace.  Catholic doctrine may not be the easiest to understand and follow, but at least it’s true.  Speaking of rocks, the office of the pope should be acting as the doctrinal cornerstone as Jesus commanded Peter.  That is why Pope Francis’ interviews, where he creates a lot of confusion, bothers me so much.  When the pope gives off the cuff comments, I feel like he weakens the divinely appointed role and power of the papacy.

Retable de l’Agneau mystique

Whenever I think of Church doctrine, my thoughts go towards the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary — Mary’s Assumption into Heaven.  I think that one of the reasons God assumed Mary into Heaven is because her duties as our mother extended beyond her earthly life.  God chose her to be our mother for all ages to come.  And like a good mother, Mary desires us to know our faith and see its depth and beauty.  There is so much misinformation out there about the Catholic Church, both intentionally and unintentionally spread.  It’s our responsibility to learn all that we can so we aren’t led astray into a false or watered down sense of our rich faith.  Holy Mary, we pray to you for guidance to learn as much as we can about the Heavenly Kingdom you so greatly want us to enjoy.  Amen.

5 Ways to Keep the Cross in Christianity

I came across this article on Catholic Exchange about how there are many in the Church who want to free Christianity from the cross. And yet, this article makes a good point about how you can’t separate the cross from Christianity because you can’t separate Jesus from the cross. Or, as the article puts it, “There simply cannot be a joyful Easter without there first being a Good Friday.”

The article says that the Church faces a lot of enemies within:

Sadly, at the very highest levels of the Church, there are men who are opposed to the Gospel of Christ. They despise the cross and they want a Christianity free from it. They want a Catholicism sanitized of sacrifice, of repentance, of dying to self, of carrying one’s cross to follow Christ. They want an easy religion—a religion that accommodates us in our sin, that pats us on the back and assures us that everything will be ok, a faith that requires nothing of us.

To create this crossless religion, they believe they must change the Church and her immutable teachings. All their thought is bent upon it, and they are currently using every machination in their power to accomplish their aim. Perhaps their chief method is to question what is settled—to whisper like the serpent of old, “Did God really mean what he said?”

This article seems timely given that the Synod on the Family is taking place. I know that Pope Francis has asked everyone not to politicize the Synod. But I still can’t help but wonder who is more passionate at this point in history — those who want to remove the cross or those who seek to preserve it? I know that preserving the cross won’t make you the most popular. But neither are needles and scalpels and you don’t see doctors giving those up.

( )
“Let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”

The article ends with 4 ways we can keep the cross, and hence our salvation, alive and not be deceived by those who wish to remove it. Here is the summary:

  1. Learn and embrace the teachings and traditions of the Church
  2. Receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist
  3. Stay close to Mary in prayer
  4. Pray and sacrifice

When looking at this list, I can’t help but think about the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary — Mary’s Assumption into Heaven. As I wrote about in The Rosary for the Rest of Us, God set aside a special place for Mary, not just in her earthly lifetime but in ours as well. She has appeared throughout the ages giving us advice and tools with the promise of eternal joy to those who use them.  I think Mary’s guidance can be summed up in some simply, yet important, tasks which mirror what was offered in the Catholic Exchange article:

  1. Pray — How can you have a close relationship with Jesus if you don’t take the time to talk to him?
  2. Read the Bible and other Church teachings — How can you love and embrace your faith if you don’t take the time to learn it?
  3. Fast — How can you love God with your whole being if that being is constantly attached to earthly pleasures?
  4. Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation — How can you remain close to God with a barrier of sin between you two?
  5. Receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist — How can you love and embrace the Catholic Church without receiving her cornerstone sacrament?

English: The statue of the Assumption venerate...

When you pray the Fourth Glorious Mystery, remember to integrate these five tasks into your routine. Doing so will not only remind you about the importance of the cross but also embrace it. As Jesus commanded, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Jesus didn’t make the cross optional. It’s as fundamental to our spiritual life as air and water are to our physical one. Following these routines will remind you of the cross’ importance and not let you be deceived by those who wish to whitewash it out of Christianity.

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.

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 Exactly?

The mainstream media made a lot of hay over a non-event recently.  As many of you have heard or read, Pope Francis gave a very candid 80 minute interview when he was flying back from World Youth Day in Brazil.  The media ran with the pope’s statement about homosexuality.  He said:

When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … they’re our brothers.

And so World Youth Day, when literally millions of Catholics publicly celebrated their faith, was unfortunately overshadowed in the media by a few sentences in an interview.  The mainstream media basically buried an event where nearly three million Catholics attended Mass on the last day of the week-long celebration and young Catholics from around the globe excitedly displayed their faith.  The press thought that they heard a change in Catholic teaching regarding homesexuality when all the pope was doing was stating what the Church has taught for centuries — hate the sin, love the sinner, and it’s no one’s place to judge but God.  Maybe, if the press actually covered and fairly analyzed World Youth Day, they would have realized that what Pope Francis said in that interview was exactly the teachings millions celebrated that entire week.  I’m not going to go into more details over the way the mainstream media misreported on the pope’s comments.  If you want to read about that, you can see a good summary in the National Catholic Register.

3 million people celebrated Mass with the pope just in case you didn’t hear.

The media’s misunderstanding and misreporting on the Catholic Church shows just how important it is to continually learn about your faith.  So many people disagree or criticize the Catholic Church, not on what it teaches, but on what they think it teaches.  And many Catholics either fall away or become disengaged (that’s code for Christmas and Easter Catholic) from the Church on a false premise.  And who can blame them?  Late night TV hosts, comedians, politicians, and the media are the ones who paint the picture of the Catholic Church for most people.  Are they presenting the Church that was on full display on World Youth Day or the one out of a Dan Brown novel?  No wonder so many people fall away or attack the Church when they learn more about it from John Stewart or Jay Leno than the pope, their priest, or the parish community.  Our silence on the authentic teachings of the Church creates a vacuum that the modern media and entertainment companies more than happily fill with their agenda.

What RosaryMeds Do I Need?

English: Modern Baptism in a Catholic Church

Society suffers from a severe case of falseteachingitis.  The main symptom is hallucinations of a Catholic Church that doesn’t really exist.  It’s very dangerous because those hallucinations prevent people from receiving regular doses of God’s grace.  It’s a vicious downward spiral where confusion leads to hatred which in turn leads to more confusion and more hatred about the Church’s teachings.  The antidote is rosary meditation and prayer especially on the First Luminous Mystery — Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan.  We must remember that we promised (or someone promised for us) to faithfully follow the teachings of the Catholic Church.  That implies that we must learn those teachings.  And by learning, I don’t mean watching a special on the History Channel about someone who think he knows where the Ark of the Covenant resides.  I’m talking about actually sitting down and reading the Bible (or listening to it), participating in (not just attending) Mass every Sunday, receiving the sacraments, and reading the Catechism and other Church documents.  In short, we honor our baptismal vows by centering our lives around our faith instead of pushing it off to the side.  When we actively learn, pray, and participate in our faith as a community, we leave no gaps in understanding that others can fill with falsehoods.

Here are our baptismal vows.  They are similar to the Apostle’s Creed we recite at the beginning of every rosary or Nicene Creed we recite during Mass.  But often we may say the words on auto-pilot without really thinking about what they mean.  We shouldn’t make any promise lightly, especially one we make before God.  Read and meditate on this prayer.  Ask yourself how well you are living up to this promise.  And are you publicly living these vows so that others witness the true Catholic Church?

Do you renounce sin, so as to live in the freedom of the children of God?

I do.

Do you reject the lure of evil, so that sin my have no mastery over you?

I do.

Do you reject Satan, the author and prince of sin?

I do.

Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?

I do.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered death and was buried, rose again from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of the Father?

I do.

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

I do.

And may almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has given us new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and bestowed on us forgiveness of our sins, keep us by his grace, in Christ Jesus our Lord, for eternal life.

Amen.

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Pope Asks Catholics to be “Annoying”

I took a lot of acting classes and performed in many plays throughout high school and college. Looking back on my teenage and early adult years, acting was one of the greatest experiences of my life. One skill that was difficult to learn initially was leaving the familiar and comfortable to take chances discovering the character. In order to be successful on stage I had to embrace my character and all his quirks, mannerisms, and eccentricities and push aside any sense of self-consciousness or embarrassment.  My best performances resulted from breaking out of my comfort zone and doing things I would never regularly do but my character would.

Performance
Actors must give it everything they got for truly remarkable performances

Much like how I had to leave my comfort zone in acting, Pope Francis challenges all Catholics to leave their comfort zone in their spiritual life. The Catholic News Agency reported that in a homily, Pope Francis said:

“We can ask the Holy Spirit to give us all this apostolic fervor and to give us the grace to be annoying when things are too quiet in the Church,” he said at the chapel of the Saint Martha residence, where he lives.

The Pope preached on today’s first reading from Acts 22 and contrasted “backseat Christians” with those who have apostolic zeal.

“There are those who are well-mannered, who do everything well, but are unable to bring people to the Church through proclamation and apostolic zeal,” he stated.

The pontiff said apostolic zeal “implies an element of madness,” which he labeled as “healthy” and “spiritual.”

He added that it “can only be understood in an atmosphere of love” and that it is not an “enthusiasm for power and possession.”

The pope’s reference to “well-mannered” and “backseat” Christians echoed my thoughts about how we too often do the bare minimum our faith requires. And looking at the dramatic drop off in Mass attendance between Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday, many people aren’t even meeting the minimal requirements. I noted how great of a statement Catholics could make to the world if people driving by a church on Sunday saw it filled to the brim with faithful Christians. What if the billion+ Catholics in the world expressed a loving enthusiasm for our faith every day in everything we do?

And yet, many of us (myself included) fall back into our pattern of living as “well-mannered” Catholics. Sure, we may go to Mass on Sunday and pray regularly but it’s in a very detached way from our regular lives. We don’t want to stir up controversy by proclaiming our faith in public. Raise your hand if you read a really interesting online article expressing a Catholic viewpoint but didn’t post it on your Facebook profile out of fear of causing trouble. Do you remain silent in a conversation when someone starts spouting off falsehoods or exaggerations of Church doctrine because you want to avoid conflict? Come on, be honest. I know I do that all the time, even with my own RosaryMeds articles. I sometimes refrain from sharing my own RosaryMeds articles on my personal timeline because I don’t want the headaches of defending my faith.

We all need role models and examples who we can teach us how to break the mold of the “comfortable Catholic.” Who in my life is an example of “apostolic zeal?” My mother-in-law comes to mind. She does not have two lives — a public one and a spiritual one. They are the same for her. For example, when something bad or good happens in her life, her immediate instinct is to say a prayer. And she doesn’t wait to be alone and pray silently, but will ask others to pray with her when the situation calls for it. That’s the sort of apostolic zeal the pope wants in all of us — to have that immediate gut instinct to publicly live as people of faith. It doesn’t need to be loud or bossy. It just needs to be ever-present in everything you do.

What RosaryMeds Do I Need?

Christ teaching in the Temple

When I meditate on the Third Luminous Mystery of the holy rosary — Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion, I often ponder my own personal conversion. I think about ways I can live as a better Catholic and more faithfully follow Jesus’ teachings. But Pope Francis’ homily on living with “apostolic zeal” provides another way to view this mystery. In addition to your personal conversion, how about focusing on converting others? How can you help bring others closer to God’s loving grace? For those “backseat” Christians, maybe you can give them that little “push” whether it be inviting them to Mass (and not letting them hide in the back of the church), saying grace with them before meals, and just working in a little Catholic catechesis in conversations. It might be something as simple as, “I read this interesting article on RosaryMeds today that said…”

As for dealing with those openly hostile to the Catholic Faith, I understand that we all can’t be like St. Paul and stir up riots proclaiming God’s Word. But as I said before, pray for those who hate the Church. You will probably not be able to convert someone’s heart and mind through idle conversation regardless of how many facts or well-reasoned arguments you present. But the Holy Spirit can work miracles and touch people in ways words cannot. But you need to condition yourself to pray for people like this because praying for those who hate you doesn’t come naturally to many of us.

I will leave you with this to ponder.  If you think the Catholic Church and this world is perfect as-is, then there is no need for us behave differently.  But if you think this would could use a little improvement then it needs to start with each one of us making little changes in our lives.  Are you ready to break out of your spiritual comfort zone to make those changes a reality?

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