Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Simplicity of the Gospel

I've started to read more of the Pope's apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and I got to paragraph 35: Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed. When we adopt a pastoral goal and a missionary style which would actually reach everyone without exception or exclusion, the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the mos forceful and convincing.

I've heard this concept before, in the book The Roman Option, which is about the journey that Anglicans/Episcopalians have been on in their desire for full communion, while still preserving positive elements of the Anglican traditions. When discussing some of the more difficult problems to solve, like whether or not priests from the Anglican tradition could still be married, the future Pope Benedict XVI said, "The essential thing is the common faith. Because of this common faith between us, there will be solutions to the concrete problems." Elsewhere, it speaks of both then-Cardinal Ratzinger and the future St. John Paul II speaking of 'the essentials' and to not be too hard on the Anglicans seeking full communion. St. John Paul II sent a note to the group of Anglicans and Catholics meeting about full communion; the note referred to Acts 15:28 (if I'm not mistaken) which says: For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things... In other words, don't make the yoke too heavy for them.

But how does all of this play out today? You have Catholics openly dissenting to support abortion, euthanasia, homosexual "marriage", contraception, women's ordination, and on and on. When can we as a united voice say, "You've given up your voice in the Catholic Church" ? It's like when the Vatican removes a university's right to call itself a Pontifical university because it teaches against the Church and won't reform itself. Do we say, "Well, at least we agree in the essentials?" Do we say, "Well, let's not get 'obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed'?

Or are we taking the pope out of context here? Just a paragraph or two before paragraph 35, he mentioned how the Church's message can be misreported and taken out of context, confusing people on the teachings of the Church. So perhaps he just means in a missionary atmosphere, like if we are explaining things to non-believers or people who left the Church.

Because you can simplify things like the pope asked. You can say: There is a God. He created the entire universe, visible and invisible. And there is nothing he wants more than to love you and spend the rest of eternity with you. All he asks is that you come to know and trust in Jesus Christ, God's only begotten son, and be baptized. In knowing and trusting in Jesus, your life will be transformed. Led by the Holy Spirit, your purpose in life will be to love God with all your mind, heart, body, and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself. In doing so, you glorify the Lord by your life, bringing his loving message to all that you meet throughout your day, and to your family. If you remain in the faith, keeping all of his commandments by loving God and loving neighbor, you have a reasonable hope that Jesus' saving grace will fill you and that you will one day inherit eternal life with him, where there will be no war, no strife, no sadness, no tears, and only joy - and immense joy and peace that cannot be imagined here on earth, although we are asked to be the light of the world and salt of the earth so as to lead all souls to Christ.

Simple, but profound, message. If someone asks, "Ok, that sounds great! What should I do in order to come to know and believe in Jesus Christ?" you show them. You love them. You invite them to prayers, to soup kitchens, to charitable events, to Knights of Columbus meetings. I know everyone says to invite them to Mass, but I disagree - the fact that they cannot receive communion hurts feelings and bruises pride. Instead, take them to Adoration. Take them to pray the rosary. Take them to Bible study. Invite them to help you minister to others. Give them a copy of the Catechism and a Catholic version of the Bible. Then pray for them for the rest of your life.

Can we do this to everyone we meet? No, although we should want to. We should try when we can. But we know people. My atheist friend who takes every opportunity he can to ridicule Christians on Facebook - he won't take any of these invites; I don't have to bother asking. "Cast not your pearls before swine." However, he'll be in my prayers. I heard a priest today say, "It's our job to invite, not to convert. That's GOD's battle to fight - we're just asked to invite, to offer, to pray."

It's only when someone is on fire for the faith that they can be transformed by that Holy fire. I don't think most of us convert or enter full communion because we're in love with rules. But we love and understand and protect those "rules" once we learn the 'why' behind them, which is only when we're willing to be transformed by them. So, the pope follows the same path the Jesuit missionaries always followed: love and serve God and neighbor; when people ask for a reason why you do this, tell them it's because you love Jesus. If they ask you who Jesus is, then you let them know. If they fall in love with Him, then they start to look into changing their lifestyle.

When I entered full communion, I rejected the Church's teachings on sexual issues. I didn't see the Church as having the power to tell me what I should be doing with my body. But then I eventually thought, "Well, this is the same line women use when they justify abortion - so, do THEY have that right of self-determination if you think YOU have that right?" And that was the chink in the armour that opened my mind enough to be at least curious about why the Church teaches what it does about sexuality and marriage. And now I fully embrace that teaching and see its wisdom. But I know where I was and how my mind was, and I remember being madly in love with the most beautiful woman in the world and if you told me then that I had to cut off all sexual relations with her in order to be a Catholic, I probably would still be an Episcopalian today. Because when you bring the Gospel to someone, you have to meet them where they are, not where you'd like them to be. So many Catholics online will be finger-wagging and nagging to all the converts and non-Catholics, pushing everyone away because they expect everyone to be at the same point in their faith journey. I, too, used to be like that. But perhaps the Lord is helping me 'mellow out', which - as the pope said - doesn't mean I send out a watered-down, modernist message, but still one that loses "none of its depth and truth".

KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid! It does wonders.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The SCOTUS Decision

It's very simple to see how we got here.

Marriage was already redefined when the Protestant "reformers" said it wasn't a Sacrament.

Then, Catholics and Protestants ignored Jesus' words that marriage was for life.

Then, Catholics and Protestants ignored Jesus' words that marriage after divorce was adultery.

Then, Catholics and Protestants ignored Jesus' words that sex outside of marriage was a sin (fornication).

Then, Catholics and Protestants ignored Jesus' words that sex should be life-giving.

Then, Catholics and Protestants ignored Jesus' words that sex is between a man and a woman.

When society doesn't see marriage as a Sacrament, when they don't see it as lifelong or life-giving, when they think they can just divorce and remarry, when they think they don't need to be married to have sex or raise a family - and even Christians approve and participate in these bad decisions - then of course it looks like we're being jerks by saying homosexuals can't get married. Through those eyes, marriage DOES seem like just a legal contract between two (or more) people in love and that protesters are just being unkind and discriminatory.

But that doesn't mean they are right and God is wrong. It does mean that we have failed to protect this Sacrament. Would we accept the Supreme Court changing the Sacrament of baptism, that it can be made with soda instead of water? Or that instead of using oil for the Anointing of the Sick, we can use Cheese-Whiz? Of course not. But because of our divisions, because of our unfaithfulness to Christ's explicit words, and because we gave to Caesar what was God's by allowing the State to interfere with marriage, we got the Supreme Court ruling that we deserved, the one that we earned.

If we don't like it, then it's time to be faithful for once and stand firm, in our personal lives, in our public lives, in how we raise our families, and in who we vote for. You know, try to be the 'salt of the earth' as Jesus said - otherwise, like Jesus promised, the only thing we'll be good for is to be thrown out to be tread upon.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Updated Reading List

Sunday: Praying the Bible: An Introduction to Lectio Divina
Monday: Be a Man! Becoming the Man God Created You To Be
Tuesday: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician's Nephew
Wednesday: The Real Luther: A Friar at Erfurt and Wittenberg
Thursday: Healing the Wounds of Divorce: A Spiritual Guide to Recovery
Friday: Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week - From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection
Saturday: The World's First Love: Mary, Mother of God

My "bathroom book": The Joy of the Gospel

Laudato Si'

Even before Laudato Si' was published, the conservative Catholic world was rejecting it, scrambling to find like-minded priests, deacons, and apologists who would inform us of just how much of Pope Francis' encyclical we could ignore before being considered disobedient Catholics. As it was released, conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh were foaming at the mouth, calling the encyclical Pope Francis' way of telling American Catholics to vote for the Democrat Party. Of course, Rush is an idiot, because the Democrat Party was busy cheering the environmental aspects of the encyclical, but ignoring its condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, consumerism, and gender reassignment.

Comboxes were ablaze with the Left and Right finger-wagging each other on what the other should believe, while at the same time declaring how much of it they will ignore. One conservative chastised the Pope and said he should do like the other popes and stay out of social issues. In response, I listed the dozen or so social encyclicals popes have written since the 1800s and asked him which one of those popes we should tell to butt out, too. Another conservative accused the Pope of being a heretic because parts of his encyclical sound like they defy subsidiarity (which they don't). He then basically sounded like he was going to retreat into a little, ultra-traditional enclave until the big, bad Francis gets called away to eternal rest.

In other words, many Catholics and non-Catholics (for the most part) threw up in their mouths a little. Which means that the Pope hit a home run. To me, one of the most appealing aspects of the Church is that it's hard-wired to ask you to improve yourself. People who refuse because they are too self-centered or they enjoy their sins will say the Church is "butting in" or that the Church is "full of rules", but to me it sounded like an invitation to be a better person. So, instead of finding a church that thinks like me, I found a Church that challenges me to think more like Christ and His Apostles. This encyclical then, for me, is another in a 2,000-year-old line of documents asking me to be the Christ in other people's lives so that they may want to meet the Savior that changed my life so much for the better.

I'm not doing that right now. I'm in a bit of a self-centered, self-pitying, self-loathing kind of period of my life. However, I hear the challenge - and I accept it. I've ordered a copy of the encyclical from Ignatius Press and I eagerly await its arrival. Sure, I can read it online for free, but I enjoy holding a book. Sorry. Just old-fashioned, I suppose. But I hope the Pope rattles my cage. I live a fairly humble lifestyle, but I could stand to change. Sure, I don't run the a/c night and day and I turn off all my appliances and lights when not in use, but I do spend a LOT of money on food - restaurants, junk food, fast food; certainly not to survive, but to make each meal an indulgent, gut-busting experience. Or how about the fact that not only do I not buy fair trade coffee (and thereby inadvertently support slavery, more or less), but I also drink gallons of it, which just perpetuates that unjust system because I'm buying 500 pounds of coffee every couple of months. My lack of support for local farms and organic produce just encourages the factory farm system America has that is destroying the food industry, as well as the environment. These are all realities, which is what the Pope is asking every human being to consider: In the living of my everyday life, do I ever pause and think about how my lifestyle affects the environment? My family? My neighbors? The poor? And does my lifestyle take away my focus from loving God with all my might, and loving my neighbor as myself?

That's all the Pope is asking. And instead of finding out ways that I can ignore his message, I choose to accept his challenge and think long and hard about my answers to those questions.

David Mills sees the same hyperventilating from the Right with this encyclical that we've seen from the Left: "Change a few words and you could be reading the liberal reactions to Bl. Paul VI and Humanae Vitae, or to St. John Paul II shutting the door on ordaining women to the priesthood, or to Benedict XVI allowing the use of the old Mass." Rightfully so, he suggests the best way for a Catholic to receive this encyclical, which is the way I choose to receive it: "A better response, a more faithful response, it seems to me, is to read the pope with deference and humility, as a son listening to his father. We call the pope the Holy Father for a reason."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What is Truth?

The world continues to reject natural law. Science. And yet, the world insists it is the Christian that rejects science. Catholics do not reject science, which is why we reject the lies of this age. The world demands we also reject the Scriptures, because "ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." The prince of lies has convinced us that Jesus Christ did not really forbid divorce and remarriage. The prince of lies has convinced us that fornication is ok, that abortion is ok, that adultery and debauchery are ok. Once saved, always saved, right?

Claiming to be enlightened by rejecting God and his Church, the prince of lies convinced us that we can dictate the truth. I think, therefore I am. A child isn't a human until he/she is two, but a chimp is human? Makes sense to the "enlightened". Two separate cells - both with half the chromosomes of every other cell - once joined, form a brand new cell - one that never existed before - now with its own DNA; and it begins to rapidly divide and divide and divide - if we found that on Mars, we'd celebrate new life, but when it's in a woman's womb, then it's just a choice and a blob of cells. The prince of lies has convinced us that we decide when life begins and ends. The prince of lies convinces us that we decide what a family looks like, what a marriage looks like. The prince of lies has convinced the most educated and scientific generation in world history that, although a person retains their chromosomes denoting that they are male or female, that if you "feel" like your chromosomes are wrong, then you get to change the way your body looks and acts in order to go with how you feel. And the prince of lies has encouraged our media to celebrate that, calling a he a she, or a she a he. And, if you get to decide what gender you are, why not be able to decide what race you are? Rachel Dolezal, white woman pretending she's black in order to self-hate against her race, insists that she's not white. African-American celebrity Whoopie Goldberg said, "If she wants to be black, she can be black." And the CBC asks, "Why can't Rachel Dolezal be as black as she wants to be?" The new word of the day is "transracial".

This is the absurdity that exists when you follow the enlightenment to its "logical" end - complete insanity. The world must be grounded in truth. Jesus Christ called himself "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Jesus is the model man. Mary is the model woman. The Holy Family (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph) are the model family. The relationship between Christ and his Church is the model marriage. Mary and the Saints are model Christians. This is the truth. We don't get to decide what the truth is - that's what modern man hasn't learned from his past. We don't call the shots. God does, and he gave us a Church that can pass on the truth and defend it throughout every generation, promising us that he would not leave us orphans, that the gates of hell would not prevail against us, and that he would be with us even until the end of the age. The prince of lies can keep trying to convince the masses that black is white and up is down, but those planted firmly in the truth - Jesus Christ and his Church - will see the lies for what they really are.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

What Happened to the Blog?

I reverted most of my postings to their 'draft' versions, which means I can see them, but you cannot. Why? Because a comment I made in a posting hurt someone I love. But it's a bit more than that. Let me backtrack for a moment...

Originally, this blog was only going to be for publishing online the term papers I submitted for school; hence the name "Thoughts From a Theology Student". I've always seen it as "investing the master's talents". Because of that, I started publishing more and more, until it's basically become exactly like my old blog! I got rid of my old blog because I didn't want to have it consume my time. But there was another concern...

Many a saint has written the value of keeping quiet. There are even some monks or nuns that take a vow of silence. Perhaps it's because of this passage from the Bible where Jesus warned: "I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Mat 12:36-37). Because of these things, for quite some time now (maybe over a year), I've wrestled with this blog: are my postings a way of "investing" my Lord's talents, or are they an occasion of pride? Are they idle words? I don't believe they contradict Church teaching, and I've always made sure to post as a way of explaining Church teaching instead of just typing my opinion about things. But still...have my words hurt someone's faith? Or someone's feelings? It is perhaps prideful when I post something that I believe I've written well, only to never have it read or hear back from people that I've sent it to - then I'm upset about it; that's probably pride. I've convinced myself that my words are worth reading - but then, who am I? I'm nobody.

I'll probably do the same to my diet blog, but not as severely, because I use that primarily to store recipes and healthful tidbits, so there's less to block on that one.

I need to take a firm assessment of what I'm doing in my life. Right now I have a massive plank in my eye (Mat 7:3) and I shouldn't be trying to teach anyone about how to be a good Catholic. I've written before how I want to become a better student so that one day I can be a good teacher, but I think I need to step even further back. Therefore, for quite some time I'll be leaving this blog dormant. I'll post term papers from time-to-time, but that's about it. I need to scale back and act like I've just become a Christian. I need to reignite that spark that drove me to seek Him out, especially in His fullness in the Catholic Church. I haven't been very good lately and I didn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings or share private information; that was never my intent. But this event has allowed me to finally do what I've been tempted to do for over a year now, and that's disappear into the background where I'm most comfortable.

Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening (1 Sam 3:10).