Beware the Strangest Idol of All – A Reflection on How Even Works of Charity Cannot Eclipse Obedience to Christ

052515There is a passage in the gospels that breaks conventions and cuts to the core of what has come to be called the “Social Gospel.”  Before looking at the passage we need to define “Social Gospel.” The phrase “Social Gospel” emerged in the Protestant denominations but has also come to be used in Catholic circles as well. The Social Gospel is an intellectual movement that was most prominent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement applied Christian ethics to societal problems, especially injustice, inequality, alcoholism, crime, racial tension, poverty, child labor, labor unions, poor schools, and the danger of war.  Basically stated, if faith was to be real it must address these issues and be relevant to those who suffer these maladies.

So far, all true. But then comes this very troubling gospel passage. It breaks the conventional wisdom that the service of the poor is the first priority of the Church. It obnoxiously states that there is something more important than serving the poor. To be sure, serving the poor is essential, but this gospel says that something else is even more important. How can this be so? Who said such a thing? And that brings us to the text:

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”  (Matt 26:6-14)

The other gospels contain this account as well (Mark 1 and John 12). John attributes the objection only to Judas and reckons that it is on account of his greed. Mark and Matthew attribute the objection to all the disciples present. Even more interesting, all three gospels link this to Judas’ decision to hand Jesus over. It obviously shocked the disciples—especially Judas—to hear Jesus speak this way.

There is simply no other way to describe this gospel than “earthshaking.” The reader surely expects Jesus to agree that extravagance toward Him should be jettisoned in favor of serving the poor. Had He not said that judgment would be based on what we did for the “least of my brethren” (cf Matt 25:41ff)? Why does Jesus not rebuke the extravagance and demand the perfume be sold and the money given to the poor? It is a shocking gospel, an earthshaking declaration: “The poor you shall always have.”  But there it is, glaring at us like some sort of unexpected visitor.

What is the Lord saying? Many things to be sure, but let me suggest this essential teaching: Nothing, absolutely nothing, not even the service of the poor, takes precedence over the worship, honor, and obedience due to God. Nothing. If the service of the poor takes precedence over this, then it becomes an idol—an idol in sheep’s clothing—but an idol nonetheless.

A seminary professor of mine, now deceased, told me many years ago, “Beware the poverty of Judas.” What does this mean? Fundamentally it means that the care of the poor can sometimes be used in an attempt to water down Christian doctrine and the priority of worship. The Social Gospel, if we are not careful, can demand that we compromise Christian dogma and the priority of proclaiming the gospel.

Let me be clear, the Social Gospel is not wrong per se. But like anything else, it can be used by the world and the evil one to draw us into compromise and to the suppression of the truth. The reasons for this suppression are always presented as having a good effect, but in the end we are asked to suppress the truth in some way. Thus the Social Gospel is hijacked; it is used to compel us to suppress the truth of the gospel and to not mention Jesus.

Perhaps some examples will help. Let me state at the outset that I am supplying generic examples here. Although they are based on real-world examples, I am not mentioning names and places because it is not the purpose of this blog to engage in personal attacks of other people’s struggles to uphold the gospel. I cannot and will not supply specifics. This is about you and me, not merely other people. It is easy for us to condemn others for their faults and fail to look at ourselves. Hence I offer these examples in humility, realizing that I also struggle.

  1. A large diocese in the United States is offered the opportunity to serve drug addicts. The price of admission is that the diocese coordinate a “needle exchange program,” which helps addicts shoot up without contracting AIDS. The government funding is substantial and may enable treatment programs for poor addicts, which may lead to their sobriety. The only downside to such a program is that some other addicts may be enabled in their self-destructive behavior and encouraged by the clean needles to shoot up. Church teaching does not permit us to do wrong even if good may possibly come from it. Nevertheless, the diocese accepts the money, handing out clean needles to addicts, but using the money to serve others. The poor are being served! Shouldn’t we look the other way? Is serving the poor an absolute good or do we owe God obedience first? What do you think? Is Jesus more important than even poor drug addicts? Or is He less important? Remember, you have to choose! You can’t just say, “I think both are important.” The government is demanding that you choose. Will it be Jesus and what He teaches or will it be the poor at the price of compromising the gospel? What will it be?
  2. A bishop from a moderately large diocese is confronted with the fact that he has not rebuked the local senator for his votes to fund abortion for the poor using federal money. The bishop responds, “But he is with us on important social legislation and we cannot afford to alienate him.” The senator in  question does surely support substantial funding of programs that the Church supports, programs such as housing for the poor, aid to families with dependent children, drug treatment programs, affordable housing initiatives, etc. The senator is a great advocate for these issues that the Church supports. The only problem is that he thinks it’s OK to fund the killing of babies in their mother’s womb. The bishop reasons that it is not good to alienate this senator, who “is with us on so many issues.” He fails to rebuke the Catholic senator and urge him to repent. “The Church would lose too much; the price is too high. We would not be able to serve the poor as well without his support. The senator might not vote for the bills that fund programs we support. We need to compromise here; the poor are depending on us. Surely Jesus will understand.” And thus Church teaching yields to the need to serve the poor. Surely it is good to serve the poor. But at what price? What do you think? Is Jesus more important than even the poor?  Or is He less important? Remember, you have to choose! You can’t just say, “I think both are important.” The government is demanding that you choose. Will it be Jesus and what He teaches or will it be the poor at the price of compromising the gospel? What will it be?
  3. In several large cities, Catholic Charities runs adoption programs. Lately, city and state governments have begun to demand that Catholic Charities treat “gay” couples on the same basis as heterosexual couples. In order to receive government funds that help Catholic Charities carry on its work of service to poor children looking for a stable family, Catholic Charities will have to agree to set aside Church and Scriptural doctrine that homosexual unions are not only less-than-ideal for children, but sinful as well. If Catholic Charities wants to continue to serve these poor children at all, it must deny the teachings of Christ and His Church. Is this too high a price to pay in order to be able to serve the poor? What do you think? Remember, you have to choose! You can’t just say, “I think both are important.” The government is demanding that you choose. Will it be Jesus and what He teaches or will it be the poor at the price of compromising the gospel? What will it be?
  4. Many Catholic hospitals receive government funds to treat the poor. But lately the government is demanding, in certain jurisdictions, that Catholic hospitals dispense contraceptives, provide abortion referrals, and cooperate in euthanasia. Remember now, the poor are served with these monies. Should the hospital compromise and take the money? Should it say that these are OK, thus enabling it to continue serving the poor? What is more important, the poor or Jesus and what He teaches? What do you think? Is Jesus more important than even the poor who come to hospitals for service? Or is He less important? Remember, you have to choose! You can’t just say, “I think both are important.” The government is demanding that you choose. Will it be Jesus and what He teaches or will it be the poor at the price of compromising the gospel? What will it be?
  5. Catholic Charities is offered the possibility of getting a large amount of money to serve the homeless. But there is a requirement that Jesus never be mentioned. Catholic Charities must remove all crucifixes, Bibles, and any references to Catholic teaching. Now remember, the poor will be served with this money! It’s a lot of  money to walk away from! What do you think? Is Jesus more important than even the homeless? Or is He less important? Remember, you have to choose! You can’t just say, “I think both are important.” The government is demanding that you choose. Will it be Jesus and what He teaches or will it be the poor at the price of compromising the gospel? What will it be?

In the end, we are left with these questions:

  1. How far do we go in serving the poor?
  2. The service of the poor and addressing the issues they face are essential works of the Church, but do they trump worship and doctrine?
  3. Should Church teaching bend to the demands of the government in order to serve the poor?
  4. What does Jesus mean in the gospel above when He teaches that anointing Him is more important than serving the poor?
  5. What is the Church’s truest priority? Is it the truth of the gospel or is it serving the poor?
  6. What if these two things are in conflict? Which is chosen over the other?
  7. Given the gospel above, what would Jesus have us choose as our first priority?
  8. When large amounts of money are made available to the Church to serve the poor, but at the price of compromising or hiding the truth of gospel, what should the Church should do?
  9. Why?

The Social Gospel is essential. It cannot merely be set aside. But the Social Gospel cannot eclipse the Full Gospel. A part, even if essential, cannot demand full resources and full obedience—not at the expense of the whole or the more important!

Money and resources to serve the poor are essential, but they are still money and it remains stunningly true that we cannot serve both God and money. In the end, even serving the poor can become a kind of idol to which God has to yield. It is the strangest idol of all, for it comes in very soft sheep’s clothing, the finest wool!  But if God and His Revealed truth must yield to it, it is an idol—the strangest idol of all.

 While I do not agree with everything in this video from a few years back, it presents well the temptations that Catholic Charities faces:

What Does the Arrest of St. Paul at Philippi Teach a Sometimes-Timid Church?

“Saint Paul imprisoned at Philippi” oil on canvas by Leonaert Bramer Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

In daily Mass we are following the missionary journeys of St. Paul. Yesterday we heard of his going over to Macedonia and of the baptism of the first “European” converts: Lydia of Thyatira and her family.

Unfortunately, in today’s reading (Tuesday of the 6th Week of Easter) important lines are cut out that describe why Sts. Paul and Silas were in jail. The whole story serves as a metaphor for the radical nature of true Christianity and explains why it so perturbs many in this world. The Christian faith, its message, and the transformation it can effect can be very unsettling to a world that literally and figuratively “banks on” sin. Let’s consider this lesser-known story of Paul and see what it ought to mean for us if we take the Christian faith seriously and do not try to “tame” it. We pick up the story just after the baptism of Lydia, when Sts. Paul and Silas encounter a possessed slave girl, whom tradition sometimes calls “Pythonissa the Soothsayer.”

Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks (Acts 16:16-24).

Note the heart of the problem: St. Paul, in setting the slave girl free of her demon, has deprived her “owners” of the income they were deriving from her sad state. They were banking on her sad condition and profiting from her trouble. In the name and power of Jesus Christ, St. Paul sets her free. His action draws deep anger from the “owners.” He has rocked their world and touched their pocketbooks. They see the Christian message as revolutionary, disconcerting, threatening, and deeply unsettling.

It is a threat not only to profit but to power. In having Paul arrested, they stir up the hatred and fear of others as well, indicating that Paul is not merely preaching some “strange new religion” but is advocating customs forbidden to Romans. The word “customs” here in Greek is ἐθη (ethe) and refers to “religious rites or forms of worship.” Cicero, in De Legibus ii. 8,  wrote, “No person shall have any separate gods, or new ones; nor shall he privately worship any strange gods, unless they be publicly allowed.” While the Romans often overlooked the private worship of unapproved gods, they were strictly forbidden from publicly proclaiming new and unapproved deities, as this provided an occasion for dissension and controversy.

And, frankly, the charges against Paul and Silas were true enough. In the healing they brought about, they hindered profit. Further, they were openly proclaiming that Jesus was Lord. To our ears that is a religious proclamation, but to Roman ears it was a provocative and revolutionary statement. It was directly contrary to their proclamation that Caesar was Lord. Yes, Paul, Silas, Luke, and the others were shaking the ground in Philippi. While they were not advocating the overthrow of any government, they were announcing a power greater than Caesar, a higher King who demanded first loyalty: Jesus!

This is not the tame and domesticated proclamation of the faith that is so common today. This is not the faith that is trimmed to fit into worldly categories and to be tucked under political, philosophical, and moral preferences. This is the faith that shakes the world and brings a revolutionary challenge to the world’s priorities. Yes, Paul and Silas were a serious threat.

And what of us today? We have gone through a long period during which the faith could be lived quietly and generally fit quite well into the world in which we lived. Harmony and “getting along” were highly prized. Particularly here in America, Catholics wanted to reassure the general populace that our faith in no way hindered us from being full participants in the American scene and that we could fit right in and be just like everyone else. With the election of the first Catholic president back in 1960, we could say that we had finally made it and had been fully accepted. Finally we fit in.

Of course the culture was not in such disrepair in those days and there was a fairly wide moral consensus rooted in the Judeo-Christian vision. Now that we have finally “made it,” the fire of our distinctively Catholic culture seems to have faded away. At the same time, Western culture has also largely died. (Is it a coincidence?)

In recent years, so-called Catholic universities and other institutions have been caving in to pressure. They are affording marriage benefits to same-sex bedfellows and succumbing to the HHS mandates to provide contraceptives and abortifacients. This is sad, pathetic, wrong, and cowardly—hardly the revolutionary faith that got Paul arrested.

And now we are coming full circle. We must rediscover how revolutionary our Catholic faith truly is to this world gone mad. And as we proclaim healing and profess an allegiance to something other than this world, we will become increasingly repugnant to the world around us.

Let’s consider more thoroughly the two offenses for which Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned:

1. They ate into profits. Paul drove a terrible demon out of a slave girl, a demon that afflicted her but profited her “owners.” In this world today there is a lot of trafficking in sin and addiction. Terrible demons afflict many people in the areas of sexuality, drugs,  and alcohol. But there’s a lot of money to be made. Sex sells. Hollywood movie producers, pornographers, purveyors of contraceptives, pimps, escort services, abortionists, and even traffickers in the sex-slave industry feed at the trough. Drugs and alcohol are big money-makers as well. Huge numbers of products are sold using the demon of fear that says things like, “You’re not pretty enough,” “You’re not healthy enough,” “You’re getting old,” “You don’t drive the right car,” “You haven’t impressed your friends enough,” “You need to buy our product right away so you’re not so pathetic.” And thus the demon of fear and low self-esteem is exploited along with the demon of greed.

But what would happen if the Church were to start preaching unabridged Christianity effectively? You don’t need to be afraid of your health, your age, or what people think of you. You can find serenity in Christ so that you won’t need all that extra alcohol and those drugs. You can be set free from your enslavement to sex. You can take authority over your passions and discover the beauty of traditional marriage. What if we got back in the business of driving out demons?

Of course the answer is that we, like Paul, would be (and are) under attack. We are especially hated by the sex industry and the abortionists since those are hot-button issues these days. To them we are public enemy number one. We threaten the vision, the addiction, and the despair that fills their coffers. If we are too successful (and for now our successes are meager) their profits may go away. Yes, we must be dealt with.

But we will only be effective if we preach the unabridged faith, not the faith that is tailored and tucked under worldly priorities, not the faith that insists on being “realistic,” not the faith that makes endless apologies to the inevitable objections of the world no matter how much we water things down. The true faith is revolutionary in the freedom it offers from sin and demons.

Paul and Silas didn’t end up in prison by preaching a watered-down, tamed moral vision. They unabashedly drove out a demon that was afflicting a girl and in so doing they engaged in a revolutionary threat to a world that profits from sin.

2. They threatened power. Calling Jesus, “Lord,” was a revolutionary threat to incumbent power, which demands full loyalty. And thus today, many strive to make Catholics fit into neat little political categories. Both Republicans and Democrats want the Church to fit into their narrow little categories and to march in lockstep with their party platform. Even many Catholics want the Church to conform. Many Catholics in fact are more loyal to their party than to the Church and are more passionate about their political views than their faith. If there is a conflict between a Church teaching and the party line, guess which one usually gives way!

But in the end, the Church will not fit into some neat and tidy political category. The true faith is too revolutionary to fit into some worldly box.

And thus there is a lot of hatred and anger directed at the Church. Republicans say we’re too liberal; Democrats say we’re too conservative. More and more we are being kicked to the curb; our very right to religious liberty is being threatened. Religious exemptions to increasingly pernicious laws are slowly being removed and the number of lawsuits against Catholic institutions is increasing. And it will surely get worse as secular systems demand increasing loyalty. The Church must refuse that loyalty.

Jesus is Lord; the government is not. Jesus is not Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. He is God, and the faith He announces cannot be watered down or compromised to fit into a friendship with the world.

Tame, domesticated Christianity will not threaten or change this world. When Paul preached, the people rioted. Modern preaching too often incites only yawns and indifference.

What should we learn from St. Paul’s arrest at Philippi? That the true faith is revolutionary and hits the world right where it hurts: in the profit and power centers. As the world becomes increasingly secular, the revolutionary aspect of the faith will become more evident.

Are you ready?

Photo Credit: The Bible in Pictures

In this video Fr. Barron comments on the movie “The Matrix,” which depicts an interesting Christian motif. The Matrix is a machine from which people need liberation. The solution can only happen when someone from outside the Matrix (Neo) enters in and announces liberty, dies, rises, and defeats the Matrix.

An Image of Grace and the Church in a Paul Simon Song

Newborn babyI’ve got my Gospel Glasses on, and my Holy Hearing Aids, and I’m seeing and hearing God in strange places. There are several Paul Simon songs that register holy thoughts to me, even if he didn’t mean them that way. One them is this one (followed by commentary from me) :

When I was a little boy,
And the devil would call my name
I’d say “Now who do you think you’re fooling?”
I’m a consecrated boy
I’m a singer in a Sunday choir

Refrain: Oh, my mama loves, she loves me
She get down on her knees and hug me
Like she loves me like a rock
She rocks me like the rock of ages
And loves me
She loves me, loves me, loves me, loves me

When I was grown to be a man
And the devil would call my name
I’d say “Now who do you think you’re fooling?”
I’m a consummated man
I can snatch a little purity

And if I was president
and the congress call my name
I’d say “Who do you think you’re fooling?”
I’ve got the presidential seal
I’m up on the presidential podium

Commentary wearing my Gospel glasses and holy hearing aids:

When I was a little boy, and the devil would call my name. For we we live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, with fallen natures. And even the youngest find it the thrice fallen forces reach them. Scriptures are clear to say that the devil is prowling through the world like a roaring lion seeking souls to devour. We are to resist him, solid in our faith (cf 1 Peter 5:8) And thus the next line reads

I’d say “Now who do you think you’re fooling?” And thus there is a power within the soul to refuse Satan’s voice. Where does this power come from? It comes, first from our freedom, form our will. It also comes from the voice of our conscience, the voice of God that echoes in the depths of our soul saying, This is the way walk in it (Is 30:21). Yes, even the youngest children know basic right and wrong. It is not hard to appeal even to the youngest children to understand what they’ve done wrong. But because of the weakness of our human nature and our tendency toward selfishness and to justifying sin, we need additional help. And thus, the song goes on to say.

I’m a consecrated boy; I’m a singer in a Sunday choir – This describes a young man who has been consecrated in baptism and is walking within the life and Sacraments of the Church. The Sacrament of Baptism, and the life of the Church give additional insight to understand that the voice of the devil seeking to fool, to deceive us. But human soul and intellect illumined by the consecration of Baptism and strengthened by the fellowship of the Church, with other Sacraments of the Church, further strengthen us to be able to say to the devil:

“Who are you fooling? I have been consecrated, and I’m living my life in the light of God’s truth as expressed in the Church. I see your darkness for what it is, and I am not fooled.  It is error, it is deception, is darkness, it is not the light! I am no fool because, consecrated in baptism, the wisdom of God is reached me.”

Oh, my mama loves, she loves me. She get down on her knees and hug me, oh she loves me like a rock. She rocks me like the rock of ages,  And loves me. She loves me, loves me, loves me, loves me  – And this mama is Mother Church, who loves us as a mother. She is our mother because we have come forth from her womb, the baptismal font, having been conceived by the chaste union with her beloved Spouse, Jesus.

She is Mother Church, Christ’s bride, and Oh how She loves us. Down on her knees in prayer for us, she reaches out and embraces us. Yes, she loves us!

It will be noted, that the word “love” occurs seven times in this refrain from the song. She loves us sevenfold. Is it the seven sacraments? Is it the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit? Is it the seven corporal works of mercy? Is it the seven spiritual works of mercy? Yes! And more besides. It is love in all its perfection.

And in her sevenfold, prayerful love that embraces us, she loves us like a rock. This is the rock of Peter upon whom Christ, the Rock of ages builds his Church.

The song goes on to say in the second verse:

When I was grown to be a man – And thus, all of us are called the maturity of Christ where in Scripture says:

  • We [must] all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. So may we no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of erroneous doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Eph 4:13-14)
  • Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Cor 14:20)

Hence, our Mother Church raises us to be mature in the fullness of Christ’s truth.

And the devil would call my name – But still the devil calls, he does not give up, and thus we must remain ever vigilant so the text still says: “I say now, who do you think you’re fooling?”

I’m a consummated man. Yes, we are called to full maturity in Christ, as stated above.

I can snatch a little purity And yet again, the strength to resist the devil comes from the maturity and purity that come to us in our walk with Christ and by the ministry of his Bride and our Mother the Church. The purity, and maturity of our faith, help us to see even more deeply how the devil tries to fool us and we can reject him in strength, certainty, and clarity.

Note the text says a “little” purity, for purity is not granted us merely to fight the devil, but also for our own sake.

Oh, my mama loves, she loves me  Yes she does! The Church just keeps on loving us. Sadly, many walk away from the Church in young adulthood. But for those who come to maturity in Christ, a capacity to refuse the devil who’s ever stronger requires a even stronger capacity to say “Who do you think you’re fooling?” This comes through our maturity wrought in us by our Mother the Church who raises us up in the faith to be strong and mature, who teaches us the Word of God, bestows His sacraments, and gives us Holy Teaching. Thank you, Mother Church, for loving me like a rock!

The last first gets a little strange, and we must interpret it allegorically, not politically.

And thus the text says:

And if I was president  In other words, even if I should rise to the highest worldly power, even should I become a great leader…

And the congress call my name – While to modern American ears this refers to the people gathered in Washington in Congress,  for better or worse,  the word “congress,” of itself comes from two Latin roots:  con (with) + gradi (to go). Thus “congress”  means “to be together with,” or more literally,  “to go out with.”

The Scripture often warns of those who gather against us and that they are often gathered by Satan himself. Jesus warns of the “synagogue of Satan” (Rev 3:9; 2:9), and “synagogue” is just the Hebrew word which means gathering or “congress,”  The book of Psalms also warns of those who gather against us:

Rise up Lord against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice.Let the assembled peoples (Synagogus) gather around you, while you sit enthroned over them on high.Let the Lord judge these people. (Psalm 7:7-8)

Hence, in life, the devil often calls our name through pressure groups, and temptations to popularity, or those together against us tempting us to do wrong. And thus this song verse reminds, that even should I rise to the highest places, and many gather about me pressuring me to do wrong, or trying to intimidate me with fear, yet still will I say to the devil: “Who do you think you’re fooling?!”

I got the presidential seal – That is, I have the highest seal, the seal of the Holy Spirit!

I’m up on the presidential podium  That is, I have the office of prophet, the highest office, I am one who speaks for God by this office! And despite the hatred of the world that comes from proclaiming God’s Word, and the gathering of my enemies round about, yet still will I proclaim God’s word as God’s prophet!

Yes, and through whatever hatred comes from those who gather against me:  My mama loves me she loves me like a rock Yes, I have the love of my Mother the Church, and my Lord Jesus Christ,  Who is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer.

Well,  you say, this is all a bit much! And your interpretation is surely far from what the author probably ever intended. Fair enough, but with my gospel glasses I see Christ everywhere. With my holy hearing aids I hear Jesus all the time!

In the Midst of Much Blood God extended a Rose. A Meditation on Guadalupe and Mother Mary

121313-PopeReflecting on this evening of the great feast of our Lady of Guadalupe, I am mindful of the first reading we had today from the book of Revelation the 12th chapter.

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems. Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky
and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth.  She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne. The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed.” (Rev 12:1-10)

I. DRAMA – And in this great passage, there is a kind of a pulling back of the veil,  a disclosure of what is really going on: A great and cosmic battle is set up that reaches up and outward, across the generations, across the nations and empires of this world.  and also down into the close quarters of every human heart. It is the great battle between the darkness and light, between the great Red Dragon and the Lord of Glory.

And in the midst of this great battle,  there is a great sign in the heavens. There stands a woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars about her head. She brings forth a Son, destined to rule the nations with the rod of iron; destined to crush the Dragon, with the heel of his foot.

Many seek to localize the descriptions of the book of Revelation either in the First Century or the end of time. But they are fulfilled both then and now. For this great struggle was then, is now, and will continue until Christ shall come again in glory to definitively apply the victory he is already won.

This great cosmic battle and drama explains most of the struggles you see about you and within you. It explains the insanity of war, retribution, violence, unchastity, abortion, and every threatening evil afflicting our young people today. It explains our greed, and our unreasonable fears and suspicions, our cynicism and the fact that so often we are just plain mean.

But this drama in Revelation also shows the the woman clothed with the sun, Mary, and her child Jesus. And thus, this drama also explains our love, our thirst for justice, our appreciation of beauty and truth, our capacity to care, to forgive, to live chastely and uprightly.

There is a beautiful movie, released last year that describes this great drama and its title is The Blood and the Rose. I had wanted to show this movie to my parish, but the company charges too much for the license.  But the title describes beautifully how in the midst of a bloody and violent world, the Lord often extends a rose, His mother.

There she is at the beginning  at at the foot of the Cross, with all it blood. There she was at the turning back of Muslim invaders at Lepanto. There she is at Guadalupe in the face of bloodthirsty Aztec gods. There she is at Fatima between two horrible wars.

But in the midst of all the blood, all the drama the Lord extends a rose, his mother.  Her message is never complex, it is simply the Gospel: repent and believe the good news. Yes, do whatever my Son tells you. Repent, forsake your evil ways, come to a new mind, and begin to live in the kingdom that is now available to you. As a good mother she warns, and says pray, pray, pray. In the midst of the blood of conflict and the dramatic battle between light and darkness, a rose: mother Mary.

II. Dramatis personae. The second thing that occurs to me is the cast of characters and the simplicity of the setting of the great drama. To whom does God extend the rose of his love at the beginning, to whom does Mary trust her message?

The pattern began with the incarnation itself. For God sent Gabriel not to a powerful queen of this world, not to a woman of great access, power or money. Rather to a humble maiden in a town so small that there was no road that even went to it. Nazareth, a town of 300, accessible only via footpath, that is where Gabriel was sent,  to a woman few had ever heard of, to Mary of Nazareth. Some have described this is as a daring raid, conducted secretly behind enemy lines.

And down through the centuries, the pattern is continued. Mary herself most often goes to the humblest and most hidden and humble of people; Juan Diego,  a humble and simple working man. Bernadette Soubirous , a humble peasant girl,  the three children of Fatima. No scholars any of these, not great theologians, not bishops, not kings or queens,  princes or powerful businessman, but the poor, and often children. God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. ( 1 Cor 1:27-29)

We tend to think that solutions come through the great and powerful; through the “big cheeses” of this age.  But as is so often the case, the pride of this world will be conquered with humility, and heaven reaches out to the merest children. In the midst of the blood, and horrible roar of war, the rose is extended quietly; to the humble  its message goes forth.

III. Directions- finally an matter, to reflect on this Feast of Our Lady Guadalupe is the direction where it points. And frankly, it points South. The center of the Church has shifted south, and her complexion has become browner.

As the lights go in the West and developed world many other lights are coming on in Africa, Brazil, Korea, and elsewhere.  In Africa especially there has been a  7000% increase the number of Catholics in the past 50 years.

Guadalupe  somewhat signaled this all the way back in the 16th century. For at the very time when Martin Luther was leading a revolution in a revolt against the Church, at the very time when some two million Germans walked out of the church, nine  million Mexicans walked in, in Mexico. In the midst of the bloody Aztec meltdown, in the midst of the blood feuds of Europe,  Our Lady extended a rose in Mexico and the faith lit up in Mexico and Central and South America even as its death-throws began in Europe.

In Europe, in 1917, The Lord, through Our Lady extended a rose. She warned three young Children of a coming war that would be far worse than any every known before. She warned that if people did not repent and pay Russia would spread errors far and wide. But Europe, unlike 16th Century Mexico did not heed her offer and disaster ensued. A disaster that continues to unfold.

But as said, for now, the direction seems south and the Church grows more brown. Mary, whom many Mexicans call La Morena (the dark skinned Lady) extended her rose at Guadalupe.

Surely Africa, and Central and South America are not without their problems. Protestant errors have infected too many and in Africa especially there is a great martyrdom being endured by many Catholics there at the hands of Muslims. There are still problems with corruption in governments, and a lack of resources, but the blood of martyrs the seed for the Church, it is always been, it will continue to be so until Christ comes.

But yes, in the midst of all the blood, in the midst of many difficulties God extends a rose to the poor and humble, the Rose of his Mother Mary.

Happy Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe. For some of you who at times feel discouraged, remember, the beautiful image of the blood in the Rose. Stay calm and Viva Christo Rey!

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed.”

Here is an old song based on an even older text that points to Mary at Guadalupe whom many of the Mexicans call “La Morena” the dark skinned lady. The text translated says,

I am the little dark girl, I’m the dark girl.
It is said that darkness,
is caused by sin,
but sin was never found in me nor it will ever be.

I am the little dark girl, I’m the dark girl.
I am the thornless rose,
about whom Salomon rhapsodized:
I am black, and beautiful and for me they will sing.

I am the little dark girl, I’m the dark girl.
I am the flaming bush,
that burns but is not consumed,
nor am I touched by that fire that will touch the others.

A Meditation on Love and Lament for the Church

111813As a priest and pastor I work very closely with others, both clergy, religious and laity, who work for the Church and also volunteer. And of course all of us work for the Church, often for lower salaries than we could command elsewhere, because we love the Church and her people.

But along with that love comes, at times a disappointment, hurt or even disillusionment. Perhaps it is just the local problems of parish that are found in any gathering of human beings: gossip, hurtful actions, hypocrisy, power struggles, wrongful priorities, favoritism, injustice and so forth.

And while these things happen everywhere, many somehow hope there will be less of it in the Church. So who have come to work for the Church began by thinking, “What a wonderful thing, to work for a church (instead of in the cut-throat business world etc). Perhaps they envisioned a place where people prayed together and supported each other more, perhaps a place where there was less competition, and strife.

Alas, such hopes are usually set aside early for any who work for the Church. We are after all running a hospital of sorts. And just like hospitals tend to attract sick people, so the Church attracts sinners and those who struggle. Jesus was found in strange company, such that the Pharisees, were scandalized. He rebuked them saying People who are well do not need a doctor, sick people do. I have come to call sinners, not the righteous. (Mk 2:17)

And thus idealistic notions of working in and for the Church often give way quickly when the phone rings with an impatient parishioner on the line, or when two group leaders argue over who gets to use the hall, or when the pastor is irritable and disorganized, or when the maintenance engineer is is found to be drinking on the job, or certain members of the choir are making anything but harmony, or when some parishioners who are favorites get attention and access from the old guard leaders, and newcomers are resisted.

And then, of course there are the more serious and wider issues such as the betrayal of clergy sexual abuse; or the deep disappointments that sometimes come from a lack of courage and leadership from bishops and priests; the scandal of dissent in the highest levels such as universities, seminaries and so forth; the acceptance of money from questionable sources; questionable partnerships with anti-life and and anti-Catholic organizations; the breakdown of discipline; the strange severity over some infractions, and the almost total laxity toward other problems. The list could on.

In all these sorts of situations, be they mere irritation, disappointment or deep disillusionment, I keep a little prayer card near my desk, that I sometimes read for my own benefit, and sometimes to share with those who feel discouraged at what happens (or does not happen) in the Church. At critical moments, I slide the card out and read it to myself or to others, especially those who love the Church and work closely with her.

It is a beautiful mediation for it recalls how great love often generates the deepest disappointments. But in the end, love still abides.

I realize that many who read here have great love for mother Church, and also deep disappointments. And I apologize that I cannot post all your comments in this regard. But I do understand, great love can also provoke great shock and anger. But, at the end of the day, this is a blog that seeks to instill greater love for the Church and for faith, not to further inflame anger.

That said, we all know that people disappoint, and thus the Church, filled with people, disappoints too. I DO understand even if I cannot always grant the forum desired to vent those concerns.

Consider however the following words. They are perhaps overstated in places. But love has its excesses. Take these words as a kind of elixir that, even if excessive, will hopefully speak to the pain that love sometimes causes. But in the end, love is what remains. Here are the words I often share with those freshly hurt:

How baffling you are, Oh Church,
and yet how I love you!
How you have made me suffer,
and yet how much I owe you!
I would like to see you destroyed,
and yet I need your presence.
You have given me so much scandal
and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is.
I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity,
more compromised, more false,
and yet I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful.
How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face,
and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

No, I cannot free myself from you,
because I am you, though not completely.
And besides, where would I go?

Would I establish another?
I would not be able to establish it without the same faults,
for they are the same faults I carry in me.
And if I did establish another,
it would be my Church,
not the Church of Christ. – Carlo Carretto in “The God Who Comes”

Yes, where else would I go?

A Word of Encouragement in one of Jesus’ Stranger Sayings

110313It’s one of the stranger dialogs that occurs in the Gospel. We read it last week in daily Mass and it is difficult not to rejoice in the aplomb of Jesus has he says it.

Some Pharisees, likely disingenuous in their motives, approach Jesus  to warn him that he needs to leave immediately: Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you. Jesus, more likely speaking to them, rather than Herod, says the following:

Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose. (Lk 13:32)

Surely Jesus has more in mind here than the next three days on the calendar. He’s obviously speaking of the Paschal mystery, of his passion, death and Resurrection. He is saying in effect, to any who would threaten to kill him, that in so doing, they only serve to undermine their own wickedness and power, and to cause him to fulfill his own purposes.

For nailing him to a cross, he will be on that cross casting out demons and bringing healing. The next day he will descend to Sheol to awaken the dead, summon them to righteousness, and bring healing in life. And on the third day, he arises fully accomplishing his purpose and casting off death like a garment.

There is no way that Herod, or the Pharisees, or Satan himself can win, for in “winning,” they lose.

So also for all who would align themselves with the darkness rather than the Light. For no matter how deep the darkness, the dawn inevitably comes and scatters the darkness, the darkness cannot win. Scripture says The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (Jn 1:5)

And in this strange and provocative saying of Jesus, comes important perspective for all of us. The perspective is this, that evil, no matter how powerful it seems, cannot stand, it will ultimately self-destruct and be overcome by the Light. No matter how awful Good Friday seemed to those first disciples, Jesus, by his own description, was casting out demons and bring healing in that very act of suffering. And his apparent disappearance into death, and down into the place of the dead, was only for the purposes of turning out the Devil’s trophy room, and bringing life into the place of the dead, and healing to the deep wounds caused by sin.

And while Resurrection Sunday manifest an obvious triumph of Jesus, even Good Friday and Holy Saturday were already manifesting his great victory.

In this saying of Jesus, and in the facts of the Paschal Mystery two things are taught to us about evil: one, that we should never glamorize evil, and two, that we should not utterly fear it.

As for glamorizing evil, we love our movies and other things in culture which often glorify evil, whether it is series like “The Untouchables,” “The Godfather,” “Good Fellas,” or perhaps other movies that simply and in a general kind of away exult wrongdoing and equated it with power and glory.

But this is illusion, for evil has its day, but the Word of the Lord remains forever. One of the Psalms says,

I have seen the wicked triumphant, towering like a cedar of Lebanon. I passed by again; he was gone. I searched; he was nowhere to be found. (Psalm 37:35-36)

And therefore neither should we glamorize evil, nor should we inordinately fear its passing power. Yes, we should soberly confront it, and resist its evil demands, but we should not fear it.

No, evil cannot stand. To glorify evil or fear it inordinately, is to miss both Scripture’s lesson and history’s lesson. At the end of the day, evil does not last.

What does last, is God’s holy Word and his Church. Despite repeated attempts to persecute, diminish and destroy the Church she has outlived every one of her opponents. And her history extends back even more than 2000 years into the heritage of God’s people, the Jews. For his word to Abraham persists, and God rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and gave his Word on Mount Sinai. And despite every attempt to ridicule, reduce and redefine God’s Word, his promise to Abraham, his Word from Sinai or His Word from The Sermon the Mount, all these persist and ring through to this day.

This is what lasts, this is what persists, God’s Word, and the Church he founded. This is verifiable by the study of history. Empires have come and gone, wicked philosophies risen and diminished, scoffers and persecutors arrived and departed, all in the age of the Church. And here we are,  and they have gone. And those who claim power now, and laugh at us and say our day is done, when they are gone, we will still be here.

I have seen the wicked triumphant, towering like a cedar of Lebanon. I passed by again; he was gone. I searched; he was nowhere to be found. (Psalm 37:35-36)

Evil and error, pride and perversion, do not last. But God does, and so does his Word and the Church to which he has entrusted his Word.

And thus Jesus, when threatened by the Pharisees and indirectly by Herod,  simply says:

Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose. (Lk 13:32)

In other words, neither you nor Herod can thwart my plans. In killing me you merely assist me to accomplish my plan. In killing me I will break the the back of your power. And when you persecute my disciples, or shed the blood of my Church members, you are sowing seeds for the Church by the very blood of the martyrs you spill. Whatever victory you claim, it is hollow, for it is really my victory.

Yes, Go tell that fox, I accomplish my purpose. And by these words the Lord decodes history for us. I doesn’t matter how we might wish to obsess over this loss or that apparent defeat, it doesn’t matter how the world and devil might wish to gloat over an apparent victory, in the end, the Lord holds the cards, and the house, his House, always wins.

It is true, read history. Do not admire evil or fear its apparent ascendance. Jesus has won, and his victory is shown time and time again. Don’t let the Devil fake you out, do not be deceived evil cannot stand. The devil is a liar.

Indeed, in the name and power of Jesus, Go and tell that fox [the devil], ‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose. (Lk 13:32)

And The Word of the Lord Remains Forever; as seen in sign and stone

102913Today I was privileged celebrate in sign and stone what will always be so. Namely that the Word of the Lord forever stands!

In late September two unknown perpetrators toppled a monument of the Ten Commandments at approximately 3:30 in the morning. Their shadowy figures were captured on numerous security cameras near the Supreme Court here in Washington. The Headquarters of Faith and Action, a Christian outreach and ministry to the legislative and judicial branches, was the site of this monument. The headquarters sits in my neighborhood just across the street from the Supreme Court and the monument, though on private land, is seen by the Justices each day as they enter and exit the garage of the Court.

Reverend Rob Schenck, Director of Faith and Action, is well known to all of us in the neighborhood of the Hill and has a wonderful outreach and ministry to many members of Congress and to the many staff on the Hill. He confirms many in the faith and is a constant witness to Life and to the radical importance of God’s Law.

His brother is Fr. Paul Schenck, a married Catholic Priest with eight children and who entered the Church from the Anglican denomination and was ordained. He is the president of the National Pro-Life Action Center (NPLAC) on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Both brothers are exceptional in their love for God and great champions of life and reverence for God’s Law.

Thus, when this monument of the Commandments was toppled, it was not only and egregious offense against religious Faith, and a vandalism of private property, but it was also experienced very personally by those who know and love the work of the Rev. Rob Schenck and also his brother, Fr. Paul.

What a joy then today, and an honor to be asked to participate in the re-dedication of this beautiful and necessary monument of the Ten Commandments.

I was reminded today, that no matter how many may wish to overthrow, to topple the Law of the Lord and his Word, it cannot be silenced. As Jesus said, even if his disciples were to be silent, the very stones will cry out! (Luke 19:40). And, while vandals toppled these particular stones, they continued to cry out, along with the voices of disciples, and people of God will everywhere in protest. God’s Law, God’s word cannot be silenced.

St. Paul says, And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. (2 Tim 2:9)

There have more than a few times on this blog when detractors will sometimes ridicule me or the Faith announcing, in effect, “Your day is done, your “myths” are passing away. Soon enough your faith and your Church will disappear altogether. We moderns no longer need you. Yes,  you are done.”

Those who speak this way have not read history and understand nothing of the power of God. As Chesterton said, “The Church has buried every one of her undertakers.” Nations have come gone, empires have risen and fallen, philosophies have emerged and been discredited…. all in the age of the Church.

And as for the Word of God, Scripture says, Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away (Mark 13:31). Yes, the whole world may go to war against the Word, and the Law of God, but it shall remain, and the world will pass. No rebellion against God will ultimately stand.

Today I stood with many fine Americans, who I pray are still representative of the true soul of this Land. And whatever collective stage of rebellion this Nation may have reached, I pray God will spare us, even if for the sake of the fifty, or forty or thirty.

But wherever America shall ultimately go, The Word of the Lord shall remain forever and holy wisdom is vindicated by all her children (Lk 7:35).

As for my own role, today, it was to pray a prayer of blessing, as did several of the clergy. I could think of no better blessing than to invoke a Psalm in praise of the Law:

Your word, LORD, stands forever;
it is firm as the heavens.

Through all generations your truth endures;
fixed to stand firm like the earth.
By your judgments they stand firm to this day,
for all things are your servants.

Had your law not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts;
through them you give me life.

I am yours; save me,
for I cherish your precepts.
The wicked hope to destroy me,
but I seek to understand your testimonies.

I have seen the limits of all perfection,
but your commandment is without bounds.
How I love your law, Lord!
Yes! I study it all day long.
(Psalm 119:90-97 Lamedh)

Yes, how beautifully today’s re-dedication reminded me of the enduring power of God’s Word.

The word “monument” comes from the Latin: Moneo mens (meaning “I admonish the Mind”). And perhaps there are some today who do not appreciate being admonished. But the Word of the Lord remains forever. And of that Word we are told the final outcome:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

Through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-2,4-5)

Yes, be of good cheer brethren, for in Christ, the victory is already won and the Word of the Lord endures forever.

Measuring Divorce Rates is More Difficult. But whatever the measure, Practicing Catholics Fare Better.

Feature-102813It would seem that figuring the divorce rate would be a rather simple thing. But like most sociological phenomena, there are many complicating factors (especially today when even simple definitions are breaking down). But however you measure divorce, it would seem that practicing Catholics fare far finer than any other group, believer or non-believer.

I recently read a CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) study and would like to share a few thoughts from it. The fuller commentary by Mark Gray is over at the CARA blog here: Divorce Still Less Likely Among Catholics

First, the question arises as to how best to measure the divorce “rate.” There have been several methods used over the years, some of which have lost accuracy since fewer and fewer people are ever getting married in the first place. Hence, some problems have arisen in referencing traditional divorce measures:

Problem 1 – The “Crude rate” numbers have become skewed.  The “crude rate” is the total number of divorces in a year per 1,000 of the population. But the problem with this number is that the number and percentage of Americans who are married has dropped significantly in the past thirty years. In the 1970s nearly three-quarters of the adult population was married. In 2012, only 52% of U.S. adults were married. Quite a remarkable drop that we have commented on before on this blog.

And thus, the crude marriage rate in 2011 was 6.8 new marriages per 1,000 of the U.S. population. And the number of divorces that same year were 3.6 per 1,000 of the U.S. population (so the “divorce rate” using this statistic was that 53% marriages failed).

Note however, in the 1980s this measure peaked above 5 per 1,000. Now this makes it seem that the divorce rate has dropped (from 5 to 3.6). But that is illusive since the number of Americans getting married at all has dropped dramatically. Which such a dramatic social shift, the “crude divorce rate” provides only a snapshot in time, but is no longer very helpful in comparing to previous decades.

Problem 2 – The Divorce  rate or “percentage” compares two unrelated numbers. Thus to use the 2011 data from above, we see that the divorce rate was 53%. But that is a rather inaccurate way of putting it, since the number of marriages and divorces in any single year are for the most part unrelated. It is rare that people marry and divorce in the same year.

Thus, the divorces in any given year are accumulated from marriages that took place any and varied number of years ago in the past. Thus, one number (the divorces filed in 2011) is an accumulated number and the other number, (the number of marriages in 2011), is data for just one year.

To say that “half of all marriages in 2011 failed” does not actually address the reality of 2011, but a rather complex series of years in the past, that also includes some recent and dramatic sociological shifts that are difficult to factor in.

This does not mean that the 53% number has no meaning, only that its meaning is a little more  complicated that is usually reported.

Problem 3 – Simply Counting Divorces is ambiguous – This is for the reasons stated. Namely that so many never get married in the first place today or, get married quite a bit later in life. Without marriage you won’t ever end up in the divorce statistics. And so, simply counting how many have divorced is becoming a less meaningful number since it less often means that they have thereby been and successfully stayed married.

Thus, another common number, the number of Americans who have ever divorced, is becoming an increasingly meaningless number. It can provide a snap shot for the year, but what does in mean to say that XX% of Americans have been affected by divorce when the overall percentage of Americans ever getting married is plummeting? And even if some of those Americans are simply postponing marriage by some ten to twenty years, that still has a profound effect on how numbers can or should be interpreted.

For the record however, the percentages in 2010 of Americans who had ever been divorced are these[1]:

1. Americans in General: 26%
2. Protestants 31%
3. Other religious Affiliation 26%
4. No religious affiliation 24%
5. Catholics 20%

Thus, using this number Catholics are less likely divorce. But does this number possibly reflect other trends too, such that that Catholics are less likely to enter Holy Matrimony in the first place? It is difficult to say. We Do put more delaying tactics in place for couples that approach us for Matrimony, is that a factor? Does it have an effect on the number of Catholics not marrying or delaying marriage?

So what is the best metric to gauge the divorce rate?  Mark Gray at CARA offers that the most meaningful statistic measures the percentage of Americans who have ever married that experience a divorce. It is still just a snapshot, and does not fully exclude those who have divorced more than once,  but it does provide the most helpful view of something close to the “odds of divorce.”

If this be the case, here too, Catholics rank quite well. Here are the percentages of those who have ever been married who have experienced a divorce [2]:

1. Americans in general: 36%
2. No religious affiliation 42%
2. Protestants 39%
4. Other religious Affiliation 35%
5. Catholics 28%

So again, Catholics fare better in this second and probably most helpful divorce statistic.

There is one other statistic worth considering within the Catholic number, that further erodes the divorce rate for a Catholic. And that is that when a Catholic enters Matrimony with a Catholic, the divorce likelihood is far less than if a Catholic marries out side the faith.

102813-PopeNote the Chart from the CARA Study at left.

As will be noted, divorce is almost twice as likely when a Catholic marries a Protestant or non-believing person instead of a Catholic.

As a pastor, I notice a real difference, although my “data” is anecdotal, when the Catholic enters Matrimony with a Protestant who is devout. Frankly,  in most mixed marriages I celebrate, the Protestant is not devout or even practicing their faith to any real degree. However, in the cases where they are, I must say, the situation is often quite difficult the notions that love will simply conquer all is a conclusion that lacks sobriety for the most part.

As a general norm and experience, when a Catholic who is reasonably devout, marries a Protestant who is likewise devout, my experience tells me that there is trouble and pain ahead. I have less experience with Muslims, but the data is similar.

That said, I have also experienced that many mixed marriages (where intense devotion by the non-Catholic is not an overriding factor) are rich sources of converts. I have even seen happily, some Muslims come to the Catholic faith on account of their believing spouse.

So, bottom line, the Faith matters! Practicing Catholics, especially those who enter Matrimony with   a practicing Catholic, have significantly lower divorce rates. Of course it makes sense doesn’t it? The faith lived seeks God’s help, the power of the Sacraments, is rooted in God’s Word and teaching, insists on forgiveness as one of the highest virtues, and calls for regular self-examination in the Sacrament of Confession. Those who root their life in God are going to be more rooted themselves in the commitments they make.

The divorce rate, even among practicing Catholics is still to high. But, the solution of faith remains a strong remedy and a healing help.