The”Fifth”and”Sixth”Marks of the Church

The Nicene Creed fittingly noted four marks of the True Church: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. These marks identify four essential qualities and characteristics the Church has and they distinguish the True Church from any false claimants. Now my name may be “Pope”  but I surely cannot add authoritatively to this venerable list. Nevertheless permit me a couple of “prayerful additions” to the four marks of the Church. These cannot join the official list but I humbly submit  these “marks” for your consideration to serve in a similar way to distinguish the True Church from false claimants and to give insight into the Church’s truest identity.

The 5th Mark of the Church: Hated. Jesus consistently taught us to expect the hatred of the world if we were true disciples.

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. (John 15:18-20).

Or Again: All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub,how much more the members of his household! (Matt 10:22-24)

 Or yet again, Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:26)

One of the more painful aspects of Church life, yet also one of the aspects of which I am most “proud” is that we are hated very specially by the world. It is true that some of the Evangelicals are ridiculed but few can deny that a very special and intense hatred for the Catholic Church and  is widely on display. It’s never OK in our society (nor should it be) to scorn Jews or Muslims and to mock or attack their faith traditions. Most of the other Christian denominations (except the Evangelicals) also escape much hatred. But the Catholic Church, ah the Catholic Church, now it seems open season on her. We are scorned, badly portrayed in movies, our history is misrepresented, our sins (and we do have them) are exaggerated, our teachings called bigoted, backward, unrealistic, and out of date. And no matter how ugly, bigoted and inaccurate the world’s hatred is, very few if any express any outrage at how were are treated and misrepresented. Try any of this on the Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, et al. and the outrage and claims of bigotry are echoed by the media (and well they should be). Meanwhile Dan Brown et al. get to go on and on about “evil” priests and bishops,  a crucifix can be submerged in urine or the Blessed Mother smeared with dung and this is praised as “art” and funded by government grants.

I am not complaining (though these things are wrong). I am actually quite hopeful that this means we are doing something right. We are a sign of contradiction to the world and we are hated for it. We speak the truth to a world gone mad and we hold on to that “old time religion.” That we are hated puts us in good company with Jesus and the prophets and martyrs who stood with him. If we are really doing what we should be doing, the Church ought to experience significant hatred from the world. So hatred by the world is an essential mark of the Church if you ask me. We do not look to be hated. Neither do we look for conflict. But in preaching Christ crucified, in preaching the whole counsel of God and not some watered down version of it we surely do find hatred and conflict comes to us. Some people and denominations try to fit in with the world. They accept its ways and comprise the clear teaching of Christ. But the True Church speaks the whole truth of God in love and does not cave to the world’s demands. The true Church, by Christ’s promise, is hated by the world and those allied and wedded to it. But no need to fear…the sixth “mark” is here!

The Sixth Mark of the Church – Perduring  – To perdure means to permanently endure. Here too Christ firmly established this principle and promise to the true Church:

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it(Matt 16:18).

There are no governments or nations that have lasted 2000 years. Very little else in this world can claim such antiquity and even if it does can it claim to have remained essentially unchanged in its dogma or teaching? The Catholic Church is one, even after 2000 years. An unbroken line of Popes back to Peter and an unbroken line of succession for all the Bishops back to the Apostles through the laying on of hands. Not bad. Now consider that this is a miracle! If the Church were depending on human beings to exist and stay unified how long do think she would have lasted? Probably about twenty minutes, max. Our history is not without some pretty questionable moments, in terms of the human elements of the Church. That the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church certainly suggests they would try again and again. But here we are, a miracle. Still standing after all these years. Christ is true to his promise to remain with us all days unto the consummation of the world. We, the human elements of the Church may not live teachings of Christ perfectly, but the Church has never failed to teach what Christ taught even (as now) when the world hated us for it. At times we are tepid and struggle to find our voice, but Christ still speaks and ministers even in our weakness. Yes the Catholic Church is a miracle, the Work of Jesus Christ. And thus the sixth Mark of the Church is that she perdures. By God’s grace we exhibit this sixth mark. Nations have come and gone, empires risen and fallen, eras opened and closed, but through it all we perdure.

So there it is, I believe in one, holy, catholic, apostolic, (and if you don’t mind me saying),  hated and perduring Church.

Here’s a very interesting hip hop song by the rapper Akalyte on these two additional “marks” of the Church.

Catholicism and Car Sales

OK Y’all, there’s been some heavy weather here on the blog of late and it’s time for a little humor. The following video is a little glimpse into the humorous culture of Catholicism.

I want to say that I sometimes feel like the Deacon salesman in this video as I try to get people back to sacraments and regular Church attendance! I also remember that, some years ago, in the Catholic Standard, our Archdiocesan Newspaper, a certain Deacon who was also a car dealer used to advertise each week. He loved to point out that he was a permanent Deacon at such-and-so a parish. There was more than a hint in his add that he had a special deal for practicing Catholics: An outrageously low price for a new or used car! Just bring a Church Bulletin and get the discount!  Hey,  why not. I think if I’d been in the market for a car I might of just paid him a visit!

Anyway, enjoy this rather humorous and well done video.

The Problem of Privatized Religion

Some years ago I preached a sermon that covered the Christian and Biblical teaching on Hell. I believe the Gospel that day was from Matthew 7:13ff  wherein Jesus warns that we should strive to enter through the narrow gate and declares that, “The road that leads to destruction is wide and many follow it. But the road that leads to salvation is narrow and the way is hard and how few there are who find it. I preached what I thought was a very balanced teaching on hell and also the reason it made sense as a doctrine. After the Mass a woman approached me and said, “I didn’t hear the Jesus I know in your words today.” “But mam,” I said,  “I was quoting Jesus!’  Unfazed she replied, “We know he never really said those words, the Church merely invented them to scare us.”

There is a tendency for many to “privatize” the faith today. The faith communally declared and held by the Church is considered adaptable by them. They chose rather to have a private faith, a personal doctrine. Pope’s bishops, catechisms and creeds are all rejected in favor of a private, personal and ultimately self-serving and egotistical private doctrine. Those who scoff at the need for a Pope become pope themselves. Not content with the faith revealed in the Scriptures and in Church teaching have chosen to refashion the faith in a way that pleases them. In effect they invent their own religion and their own “designer” god. The God of the Bible does not suit them, so they make up a new one. I think the Scriptures have a word for crafting your own God and worshiping it: “idolatry.”

Bishop Tobin of Providence Rhode Island has entered into a rather public discussion with Congressman Patrick Kennedy who claims that he is still a faithful Catholic despite a consistent record of voting to fund abortion. In his own words Kennedy says, The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic. Hmm…sounds like privatized religion to me. The communal consensus of Catholic faith going back 2000 years is not “essential” to his being a Catholic. Rather, he has a privatized faith. Bishop Tobin, his bishop,  has rejected any such notion and strongly teaches that one cannot merely redefine Catholicism according to their own whim. Here are excerpts from his statement released today:

….[W]hen someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life-and-death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church….The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” says this: “Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles, ‘He who hears you, hears me,’ the faithful receive with docility the teaching and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.” (#87)….If you don’t accept the teachings of the Church [Congressman] your communion with the Church is flawed, or in your own words, makes you “less of a Catholic.”….Being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.

Congressman, I’m not sure whether or not you fulfill the basic requirements of being a Catholic….Your letter also says that your faith “acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity.” Absolutely true. But in confronting your rejection of the Church’s teaching, we’re not dealing just with “an imperfect humanity” – as we do when we wrestle with sins such as anger, pride, greed, impurity or dishonesty. We all struggle with those things, and often fail. Your rejection of the Church’s teaching on abortion falls into a different category – it’s a deliberate and obstinate act of the will; a conscious decision that you’ve re-affirmed on many occasions. Sorry, you can’t chalk it up to an “imperfect humanity.” Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your communion with the Church.

Perhaps most key to our discussion here are these words of Bishop Tobin: being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. But many today do not want to be part of a community with clearly defined authority and and doctrine. They want instead a private religion that answers to no one. They want a religion they can define on their own and still claim to belong to the community, a community  they really want little to do with if it comes to soemthing they don’t like. Some go even further and insist on a designer God who has exactly their understanding, their priorities, their views. This god is made in their own image and is an idol. The “Jesus I know” over-rules the Jesus of Scripture. The reinvented god trumps the God revealed in the Scriptures.

Privatized religion and a designer God, these are surely signs that point to the arrogance and ego-centricity of our times. The challenge for all of us is to have the true faith, the faith of the Church, the faith and the God revealed in Scripture. Anything less is privatized religions, worse yet heresy’ a designer God, worse yet, idolatry.

Every day is a holiday

A uniquely Catholic greeting

One of the teachers at my school and I have an amusing manner of greeting one another. Rather than a simple “hello” or “good morning” we always recall the feast day the Church is celebrating. For example, this morning, we said, “Happy St. Wenceslaus Day.” Tomorrow, it will be “Happy Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael!” Even on days when, in the United States, no feast or solemnity is designated, we challenge each other by researching a feast day in another country. Some days, we come up with the most obscure of Catholic feasts but, in 2 years, we have never had to do a simple “Hello.” Last week, I discovered St. Finbar of Ireland – Who knew?

It is a Catholic thing

One of our non-Catholic colleagues asked about this tradition one day. She confessed that beyond Easter and Christmas, she did not realize there were other “holidays” celebrated by the Church. Once we broke out the Catholic calendar and showed her the various feasts, she commented, “It seems like the calendar we follow is based on the Church’s calendar.” How true that is!

Christmas is really “The Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord.”

Easter is really “The Solemnity of the Resurrection of Our Lord.”

Even Saint Patrick’s Day is listed in the Divine Office as, “The Commemoration of Patrick, Bishop.”

Governments and societies celebrate these events on days designated by the Church, not the other way around.

What is today’s date?

Brothers and sisters, go beyond the ordinary when starting your day. A great way to center yourself in Christ is to refer to the Catholic calendar. Trust me, there is something affirming about knowing that somewhere else in God’s creation, a fellow Christian is reflecting upon the exact same feast or solemnity as you. And, if you are unsure about who else in the world is sharing that prayer with you, rest assured, there are at least two people at a small Catholic high school joining you.

This is a great guide to the Catholic liturgical calendar:

The sign of the cross and other”public displays of affection”


The greatest commandment

Christ said that the greatest commandment is, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind.” (Matthew 22:36)  One of the ways we express our love for anyone or anything is with public displays of affection.

Examples of Catholic public displays of affection

As Catholics, our church’s tradition has been blessed with several ways for others to know we are disciples of Christ. The crucifix, the image of the suffering Christ, is decidedly Catholic.  Hanging it in our home or in our office is a public display of affection for God. Certainly our honoring of Mary, the Mother of God, in our prayer life, our jewelry and even for some of us, body art, is a visible sign of our discipleship in Christ. In ecumenical groups, others know that we are Catholic Christians because we visibly remind ourselves, and others, of our common baptism through the sign of the cross.

We have greetings that are in common – “The Lord be with you – And also with you.” We can go almost anywhere in the world and know that we are among fellow Catholics through our public displays of affection for God and his only son, Jesus Christ.

Don’t be afraid, be proud

I submit to you that Catholics have built into our religious culture a strong desire to let everyone know that we are disciples of Christ. But at times, we suppress that part of our religious culture. And this is a shame. It is the shared traditions that I described above that invite us to love one another.

How many of us say grace regularly at home yet, feel self-conscience about praying at a restaurant? And if we pray, do we omit a visible sign of the cross for fear of drawing attention to ourselves? If so, why?
We are taught by polite society that public displays of affection are at times inappropriate. But, I submit to you that a public display of affection for our God and for our fellow Christians is always appropriate!

How else will people know that we are disciples of Christ!  They will know us by our love and affection for God!

Priests on the Battlefield of the Lord

The good priest is like a soldier who is willing to live a sacrificial life for his people. He is called to live a life of discipline and follow orders from the Lord and his bishop. His sword is the Word of God and he fights on the Battlefield of the soul.  The Battle is the Lord’s and to Him belongs the victory. For the priest it is enough to know that he has, by God’s grace, moved the battle line forward even a few inches. Pray for priests and for vocations. Pray also for Catholic priests who are military Chaplains.

I put this video together by splicing scenes from Fishers of Men. The music is by Lyle Lovett, “I’m a Soldier in the Army of the Lord.” It is available at iTunes.

Catholic Preaching – What do you Think?

47b6cc20b3127cce9854864ffc0300000027100abuw7rs2zswjgWhen I talk with Catholics who have left the Church, the number one reason I get that they left was poor preaching.This is especially true of those who left for the Evangelical Churches. Catholic priests as a group have the reputation of being poor preachers. I think there are several reasons for this.

  1. The expected length of a Catholic sermon is 7-10 minutes. This is far too brief a time to really develop well a biblical or doctrinal theme. It results in a  slogan based and brief exhortation. In this matter the people of God have to work with us. Most Catholics are upset if the liturgy goes more than 50 minutes. We all need to agree to take more time to be with the Lord. Longer sermons are necessary to really develop and break open most passages. Most Protestant sermons are about a half and hour. True, I don’t want a preacher to go longer unless he really has something to say but it is also true that most priests have to wrap up when they’ve barely gotten started. It’s not a good context for preaching.
  2. This leads to the second point. I think many of us priests confuse exhortation for preaching. Most of the sermons I grew up with could be summarized in two sentences:  “1. Jesus is challenging us to do better today.” And 2. “Let us try to do better and now please stand for the creed.”  This is exhortation but true preaching takes the Word of God and does four things: Analyzes, organizes, illustrates, and applies it. It doesn’t just exhort us to do better it shows how, and sets for the why and wisdom of God’s Word. This as you might guess takes a little more than 7 minutes.
  3. Good preaching is edgy. It comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. But too many priests are afraid of offending or upsetting. Despite the fact that we serve a Lord who got killed  for what he said, too many of us are not willing to suffer even the raised eyebrows of our congregation. We have to be will to talk forthrightly about serious issues today, about sin, about injustice, about promiscuity and so forth. We have to speak the truth in love but the “Jesus loves you sermons”  are not enough. Jesus loved us enough to speak the truth to us even when we killed him for it.  We priests have to get a spine, and a heart and be willing to preach  even the difficult stuff. It has been my experience that Catholics respond well to tough sermons. They don’t want angry priests but they do want priests who are zealous for the truth.
  4. How about a little enthusiasm? If you really care about what you are saying shouldn’t it be reflected in your mannerisms and tone of voice? Too many priests have a kind of lecture like discursive approach instead of a fiery Charismatic approach. True enough there are different personalities but a fiery enthusiasm is hard to hide. But being on fire can’t be faked. It comes only from prayer and a deep love for God and His people.

Now I raise all this because this blog isn’t just supposed to be a cheer leading section. One of the purposes of this blog is to reach out to Catholics who have drifted or outright left. And I KNOW this is one of the big issues.

So alright readers I know you can add to the list  above. Perhaps your feed back will help some of us priests improve. So have at it. Be kind and constructive but speak the truth. We priests can use it. And pray, pray, pray. You get the priests and the sermons you pray for.  Also encourage Father when he does well and gently admonish him if he needs improvement.

Before you write take five minutes and listen to this sermon by Fr. Bill Casey, a great preacher, for his take on this! It’s powerful and talk about edgy! He tells us priests to stand up like men with a backbone. He also thinks that help is on the way. There is hope since the Holy Spirit has not given up on us!

By the way the goofy looking preacher with the big mouth in the picture at the top is yours truly. 🙂