On Being Catholic

Did you catch the piece in the Washington Post last Saturday called “On Faith”? It featured an interview with a woman writing a book on Catholics on the Supreme Court. If Judge Sotomayor is confirmed there will be six Catholic justices. The author, Barbara Perry, opines that the number of Catholics is related to liberal and conservative politics more than religion. When asked how she thinks Judge Sotomayor’s Catholicism will play into her decisions if confirmed, she describes Judge Sotomayor as someone who attends church for family and special occasions, guessing she will be more liberal—a social justice type of Catholic. Whereas justices like Scalia and Roberts are conservative on issues such as abortion and church and state matters.

This kind of conversation is so common in political discussions and in church conversation and it is really misguided. There is only one kind of Catholic; the person who is baptized saved by God’s grace and called to share in the very mission of Jesus Christ. Happily, once baptized a Catholic, or baptized in another Christian community and later received into the Church through Confirmation, one is forever a Catholic.

The only real Catholic is the one who daily strives to love God through prayer, love the people God sends into one’s life, and regularly receive the sacraments, beginning with Sunday Mass. The sacraments are not magic and though Baptism is forever, one must continually grow in faith and love, one’s faith needs to mature in much the same way we mature physically, psychologically and socially.

Unhappily, we know that there is a wide range of ways in which people stop growing in the faith. In the field of Evangelization we try to identify (one might say label) stages in the practice of the faith in hopes that we can call all Catholics to full and active participation in the faith.

We speak of unchurched Catholics who were Baptized and maybe received Eucharist and confirmation but were not raised in the faith and so have no real understanding of what it means to be Catholic. We also speak of inactive Catholics, those Catholics who identify themselves as Catholics but go to Mass no more than a few times a year outside of weddings or funerals. A third group is called alienated Catholics and they are Catholics who though they call themselves Catholic, they stay away from participation in the church because of a negative experience of some sort. In many case there is a desire for reconciliation and healing in order to feel welcomed or at home in the Church.

Like a family, all of these people are Catholics and considered part of the Catholic family. We who are fellow Catholics or work for the Church have a responsibility for seeking out, listening, inviting, and encouraging these sisters and brothers to deepen their faith and rediscover the gift of the Catholic tradition.

Labels like liberal, conservative, cultural, or radical Catholic tend to suggest that it’s possible for an individual Catholic to decide what it means to be Catholic. When I think of some of the American Catholic saints, life Mother Katherine Drexel or Elizabeth Seton I discover women who would defy all of our popular labels. They were passionate in their love of God, their love of the Church and their love for others, especially the poor and the marginalized. Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., once Master General of the Jesuits captures the passion that faith brings to life in this prayer.

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love

in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination,

will affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,

what you will do with your evenings,

how you will spend your weekends,

what you read, who you know,

what breaks your heart,

and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.”

Who is a Catholic? Enjoy this video displaying the rich Tapestry of the Catholic Church!

What is Natural Law?

Many of the modern moral debates stem not only from a rejection of Scriptural teaching but also from a rejection of the natural law. But many today are not even sure what is meant by the phrase “Natural Law.” I hope to give a brief, not too philosophical answer to this question.

We live in a world governed by many laws and principles. For example, there is the Law of Gravity, the speed of light, the fact that some elements are poisonous to our bodies and so forth. To attempt to deny these laws is not only absurd but usually brings grave consequences. Try denying that gravity exists and then try stepping  off a ten story building. The denial lacks substance and gravity takes a deadly toll. Try denying poison exists and then swallow drano, the deadly results belie your denials.

So, the natural order has things to teach us. Refusing this teaching usually ends badly. Our bodies too are part of the natural order. When it comes to sexuality, the fact that men and women were made for each other is quite obvious. Without getting too anatomical the very physical structure and design of men and women make it clear that they are meant for one another sexually. Such is not the case with homosexual activity. Again, this is a family blog and we can’t get too specific but anatomically things are just not meant to be in this manner. Break this natural law and the consequences of disease announce the wrong-doing. However, it also seems clear that heterosexual promiscuity is against the natural law. Why?  Sexually transmitted diseases that can be quite deadly run through the population if we allow widespread promiscuity.

Now the Natural Law also points to the need for lasting, stable marriage. How? It is clear enough that to engage in heterosexual activity tends to result in children. Children require 18-20 years to raise and need a stability to be raised well.

So, briefly, the Natural Law manifests order to which we must be submitted or risk the consequences. Notice here, I did not even quote the Bible. What makes the Natural Law is that it provides some basis to discuss things with non-believers or to address a secular world that demand secular answers. Even here the Natural Law is not a slam dunk since many have had their minds darkened even to what is right in front of them. We have these slippery minds that can slither out or any argument if we simply refuse to acknowledged the truth.

Although I said I had not quoted scripture, you know me too well by now and understand I can’t resist SOME reference there. The Natural Law is referred to by St. Paul in the First Chapter of the Letter to the Romans: For what can be known about God is evident to them [The Gentiles who have not Scripture], because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools

The Natural Law, it’s right in front of me, if I have eyes to see it.  Now please understand this is very short, many more things can and will be said about Natural Law, but this is a start.

The following video briefly defines Natural Law and why our culture tends to resist it.

Why Are You So Afraid?

In today’s Gospel there are 13 men in a boat: Jesus with his apostles. When the storm sets in, 12 are in a panic, but one is so calm that he sleeps peacefully in the back of the boat. Who is right here? Jesus is, of course. Storms come and go, but God is working his purposes out. Nothing is out of control. Even in the sad a tragic moments of our life God can and does bring forth good. He can make a way a way out of no way and write straight with crooked lines. All things work together for good to those who love and trust God and are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) For every door God closes he opens another.

After calming the storm Jesus asks a question that you and I must answer: “Why are you so terrified? Do you still lack faith?” You and I have to answer this question. Clearly our fear is rooted in our lack of trust, but why is it that we fail to trust? As I look back and even the most difficult moments of life I can see that God was up to something good, something better. Yet still fear and panic are only one setback away.

Consider Jesus sleeping through a storm, consider 12 other men in a panic. Who is right and who sees more truly the reality of that moment, the 1 or the 12? Why are you terrified?  What if the storm is supposed to be there. What if it’s actually doing something good? Why are you so terrified? Be still! ….and there was a great calm.

Update on the Church in Austria

Twice before on this blog (HERE and HERE) there have been references to troubles in Austria, specifically the Diocese of Linz. Here is something of an update on the situation and Roman attempts to address the problem in the latest issue of Gloria TV News

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone has warned Austrian bishops against loss of faith. The Cardinal preached in St. Peter’s Basilica on June 15, the first of two consecutive days of meetings between Pope Benedict XVI and some bishops of Austria on the situation in the Diocese of Linz. Bertone reminded that faith is a gift that is not acquired once for all. Its truth can be lost, adulterating it, polluting it, confusing it.” The Cardinal also admonished the bishops with reference to St. Paul to be focused on the judgment of God as pastoral work is conducted.

Here is the video:

Latest News – From the Self-Inflicted Wounds Department

I almost think I need to establish a new series on this blog: the “Self-inflicted Wounds Department.” This latest issue of Gloria TV news once again demonstrates how we as Catholics frequently do not see eye to eye on matters of great significance and thereby become an ineffective witness to the world. The lack of a united front, the lack of consensus on how to interact with a world increasingly at odds with us  has become a crucial issue that impacts our ability to be coherent to the world. It amounts to a self-inflicted wound.

For example on the issue of Abortion, the Catholic teaching is clear. But we seem to have little consensus on how to speak to  the world that prefers euphemisms such as “choice” and “reproductive freedom” and “privacy” to the simple and clear truth that abortion is the killing of children in the womb. Now take this item from the news today:

According to the editor-in-chief of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, US-President Barack Obama in his pre-presidential voting record may have “made decisions that certainly cannot be defined as pro-life,” but this does not make him “pro-abortion.” “He was, rather, pro-choice,” Gian Maria Vian claimed in an interview for the National Review Online. The interview came after a series of articles in L’Osservatore praising Obama and soft-pedalling the opposition of the US bishops. The articles have been heavily criticized by pro-life leaders.

Now mind you, this is not merely an average Catholic speaking, this is the Editor in Chief of the Vatican’s own newspaper, a paper that, theoretically speaks for the Vatican and represents its views. Now I don’t actually think this is the view of the Vatican but Mr. Vian cannot simply be ignored. Further he was commenting on a series of articles in L’Osservatore Romano which all raised problems for pro-life Catholics. If the Editor in Chief of the Vatican’s own newspaper seems ambiguous about our President’s stand on Abortion, and if it’s editor uses the euphemistic language of the pro-abortion movement, where do we stand? I cannot begin to understand his motivation since I do not understand European politics. But as a casual observer of European thinking (filtered through our own media) it seems that Europe is quite fond of President Obama. He has taken positions they strongly support on a whole range of other issues (war in Iraq etc.) and thus they are disposed to find ways of overlooking the fact that he is perhaps the most pro-abortion president we have ever had. He even refused to support the “born alive infant act” and limits on partial birth abortion. There are many reasons for Catholics, both Americans and Europeans,  to like and support President Obama, but Abortion is not one of them. And speaking in the language of our pro-abortion opponents and using their own euphemisms is a self-inflicted wound. We need to work more carefully to develop coherent and consistent ways of speaking and acting so that we communicate our teaching clearly.

A second issue on this same video involves a Madonna Concert in Poland on August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption. While this issue is far less serious than the one above, it also illustrates how Catholics are seen as quite divided by the world. Many Catholics there have protested the concert of Madonna, who has quite a record of anti-Catholic antics. But a Jesuit priest is quoted in the media as flippantly remarking that August 15 seems to be a fine day for a concert. Enter this too into the “Self-inflicted wounds Department of this blog.” (Sigh)

Here then is the latest news:

Feast of the Most Sacred Heart – Love Conquers All

Today is the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I am afraid that sometimes the devotion to the Sacred Heart comes off as syrupy and sentimental. I hope I do not offend but I must say that some of the images of the Sacred Heart present Jesus in an almost feminized manner. His long locks of flowing hair, red lips and an almost “come hither” look are bothersome to me. Such qualities look fine on a woman, but not a man. Again, I hope this does not offend. There are surely good depictions of the Sacred Heart out there, I just think some are in bad taste. But, beyond sentiment this a serious feast. God has a heart to save us and a love that is vigorous. Jesus love for us was a strong, manly and saving love. He never hesitated to speak the truth in love. He loved us enough to warn us of sin and call us to repent. He loved us enough to summon us to sacrifice and taught us that the greatest love was to lay down your life for others. In the end it was not nails that held him to the cross but love, love for the Father and love for us. The heart of Jesus contains not just a sentimental love, but a saving and summoning love. His heart is strong and spacious, vigorous and victorious. And his love alone is powerful enough to drive back sin and restore grace. For some reason I am mindful of the Words of Dr. Martin Luther King who sad: Darkness cannot conquer darkness, only light can do that and hatred cannot conquer hatred, only love can do that.

The video you are about to see is the furthest thing from sentimental. It is from the passion of the Christ and shows the moment of Christ’s death. Shortly thereafter a soldier thrust open Christ’s side and reveals the very Heart of God. The way the movie depicts it, Christ’s love, his Holy Spirit almost explodes from his side. And this love “confuses the proud in their inmost thoughts” and “lifts up the lowly.” The Temple leaders are in confusion, the Roman guards are in flight. But Mary, John and Mary are at peace beneath the Cross of Christ. His heart has been revealed. Christ’s vigorous love makes Satan howl in frustration and defeat. Happy Feast of the Sacred Heart. May you know the strong and powerful love of Christ.