Posts Tagged ‘Discipleship’

What We Need Most on Our Moral Bucket List

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Several friends contacted me to call to my attention an article in the Times Magazine by the well-known pundit, David Brooks, entitled “The Moral Bucket List”.  It’s an adaptation and summary of a new book by Mr. Brooks called The Road to Character.

In it, Mr. Brooks describes his dissatisfaction with his own character, and his desire to be more like a person who “radiates an inner light”, who is “deeply good”.  He clearly has thought a great deal about this, and has done considerable introspection. He came to the conclusion that to become more like those admirable people, he would have to “work harder to save his own soul”.  He had to grow in virtue by working on some specific “moral and spiritual accomplishments”.  In short, he came up with a prescription for several character-building projects that would become “a moral bucket list”:

  • The Humility Shift — There is no doubt that we live in a narcissistic and meritocratic culture that focuses only on the “Big Me”.   To develop that antidote of humility, we have to be honest about our true weaknesses, and then identify the “core sin” that has created them (e.g., selfishness, cowardice, hard-heartedness).
  • Self-Defeat — The way to build true character is not through competition with others, but by confronting our own weaknesses, and turning them into our strengths.
  • The Dependency Leap — Our culture encourages us to be self-absorbed atomistic individuals, but the foundation of good character actually is cultivating deep, committed relationships that recognize how dependent we all are on each other.
  • Energizing Love — We can overcome our self-centeredness by experiencing love for another.
  • The Call Within the Call — Instead of concentrating on status, money, and security, we need to find some way to convert our career into a calling to work for an ideal.

These suggestions are actually quite good.  But they left me cold, because I realized that they were missing something essential.

They were missing God.

When I was reading Mr. Brooks’ article, I couldn’t help but recall a key passage from St. Augustine’s Confessions.  For years, Augustine had sought truth and virtue through a variety of means — secular learning and success, sensuality, and esoteric religious cults.  He filled his bucket list with many “adventures”, but he was still deeply unsatisfied.

In the end, he came to realize that what he was seeking was within him all along, but was not just himself — it was the presence of God who loved him passionately and totally.  And when he embraced that truth, he finally found the peace and joy he longed for.  This realization led him to pen these immortal and moving words:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!

You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.

In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you.

Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.

You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.

You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.

I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.

You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

I deeply sympathize with Mr. Brooks’ search for goodness and meaning in his life, but I think he’s not reaching for the ultimate answer to his yearning.  Like him, I have spent my life in that quest. I have filled my bucket with many experiences and accomplishments, and all too often I have relied on them to give my life meaning.  But every time I have grasped at those distractions, I have been left empty and dissatisfied.

What I have come to realize, is the same thing that Augustine finally understood.  All the other things that I have searched for, all the things that I thought would give me meaning, didn’t provide a true solution.  The secret to finding real happiness and real character, and to saving my soul, was there all along, in the love of God that dwells within me and that draws me into communion with Him.

There are lots of things that I need to put on my “moral bucket list”, and Mr. Brooks’ suggestions are a pretty good start.  But I can’t be satisfied with that — the thing I need most on my “moral bucket list” is nothing less than God himself.

God Doesn’t Accept Me

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

One of the things we hear over and over again is how the Church needs to be more welcoming of those who are in irregular situations — immigrants, single parent and blended families, divorced people, and homosexual people. That is absolutely correct. The Gospel is for everyone, the call to unity with Jesus is universal, and the Church is the ark of salvation for all humanity.

The problem comes when the call to be welcoming becomes a demand for acceptance.

Here’s the problem. God doesn’t accept me,  at least not as I am — a sinner. He wants me to change.  He wants me to reject my sins, to turn to him in repentance, and to live my life differently, according to his will and not by my disordered appetites.

The Christian life is not about acceptance, it’s all about conversion.  This is a fundamental truth of our faith. The very first call of Jesus himself was to repentance (Mk 1:15). His way was prepared by the great John the Baptist, whose entire mission was a call to repentence. He was preceded by the prophets, whose message was always to turn away from sin and return to God in contrition.

We are reminded of this when we ask for forgiveness at Mass, when we say the Our Father (“forgive us our trespasses…”) and the Hail Mary (“pray for us sinners…”).  We get the most vivid reminder on Ash Wednesday, when we are told to “repent and believe in the Gospel”.  Perhaps we have lost sight of this.  Perhaps we’ve been too busy singing bland empty stuff like “All Are Welcome” that we’ve forgotten the essential message of great hymns like the Attende Domine.

This was called to my mind by a propaganda video I recently saw, put out by a supposedly Catholic parish, trumpeting their ministry to homosexual persons.  It was very glossy, super professional, and totally misguided and dangerous.  The video was all about acceptance, and nothing about conversion.  In fact, sin and repentance were never even mentioned, and the Church’s teaching on sexual morality was openly rejected in word and practice.  The entire video was, in essence, a permission slip for people to continue in their sins.

If we welcome people without calling them to conversion, then we are misleading them and doing them no favors.  We are putting their souls, and our own, at risk.  God does not want me to be comfortable in my sins.  He wants me to reject my sins, seek forgiveness, and never look back.  Of course, we have to be gentle and kind, merciful and compassionate, and above all, patient.  Sin is an addiction for most of us — it certainly is for me — and it takes time for us to go through detox and rehab.  But God’s grace will help us go through this process, and to live clean and sober.  In fact, it’s impossible for us to experience real conversion through our own strength.  We can only do this through the grace of God, experienced through the ministry of other recovering sinners and dispensed through the Sacraments.

The Christian life is not easy.  It is difficult to lead a life of holiness and be saints.  But we’ll never get close to that goal if we’re looking for mere acceptance.  We have to acknowledge and renounce our sins, and turn to God for healing.

Please, God, don’t accept me.  Change me.

Engagement and Resistance

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Reflecting on my pessimistic take on the Supreme Court’s decision to make a final ruling on the marriage redefinition cases, I had an interesting email exchange with my friend and colleague Alexis Carra. She wrote to me:

Inevitably, the government/legislature/court will no longer recognize true religious liberty, amongst other things. This is an unfortunate consequence of a metaphysical and anthropological revolution/decline that has swept society; a phenomenon in which people no longer have a proper understand of human nature, reality, and our relationship to God.

1) So in this “post-human” age, how do we go about testifying and defending the Truth in the public sphere, especially when our court system will inevitably be against us? Is it time to change methods? If so, what should our new method(s) be?

(2) Similarly, in this “post-human” age, how do we go about testifying and defending the Truth in the private sphere? How should we engage our children, our friends, and our communities, especially when they are often hostile towards our message?

I replied, in part:

I wish I had answers to your questions. I have believed for many years that the time is rapidly approaching when Catholics may no longer be able to give their consent to the Constitutional morass that our judicial oligarchy has now imposed on us. This is a regime where truth and morality are denied and are instead branded as invidious bigotry, while laws that violate fundamental human rights are foisted upon us and we are compelled to cooperate with them. The Supreme Court’s decision on the marriage case may put us in a position where we can no longer recognize the legitimacy of the current regime.

Alexis’ response gets right to the heart of the matter, and adds some important distinctions:

It’s going to be even harder to live as authentic Catholics within the American system or as you say, “the current regime.” We will be forced to cooperate with evil under duress or become martyrs.

However, I actually do have some hope. I think the distinction must be made between “engaging with the public system” and “utilizing the public system.” I think — for most cases – we will be unable to utilize the system in order to uphold our religious liberties, etc. Yet this does not mean that we completely retreat from the system. Instead, we must continue to engage with the system; we must become the gadfly to the system (thinking of Socrates here). And this is a very important role that cannot be underestimated.

I still think there is something to be said for public engagement. I think the gay marriage debate has been largely a disastrous failure, but the same cannot be said for abortion. I think progress has made been made particularly because many young people rightly perceive abortion as the murdering of innocent life.

Overall, I think we are called to live as counter-cultural witnesses in an active sense; most of us are not called to completely separate ourselves from society.

I think that she is precisely correct. I too am pessimistic but not hopeless. There are many who advocate for disengagement from society, similar to the Amish. I refuse to do so. Engagement is clearly the proper course, but as a form of resistance to the dictatorship of relativism — where we continually proclaim the truth with love, and steadfastly refuse to conform to the lies. My model for this is Vaclav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless.

Nothing can erase the human desire for, and recognition of, the truth. Even under all the lies, the vast majority of people will try to live in truth. We are always called by our faith to be witnesses to the truth, even when that truth may be a “sign of contradiction”.

You Can Come In Off the Ledge Now

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

In recent days, I’ve been approached by several friends who are very upset and even frightened about the state of the Church, and where things are going.  I’m a worrier by nature, so I can sympathize with them, but I can’t help but think that things are getting a little over-blown.  The Church is always in trouble, but I’m not seeing any icebergs in the immediate future.

Let me offer a few suggestions to my friends who are feeling such deep anxiety.

The first is to relax.  The best way to do that is to ignore everything being said by the mainstream media and the secular pundits (including most of the Catholic pundits). The news reports are obsessed with their favorite issues, and don’t understand anything that they’re talking about. As far as the pundits go, they’re all projecting their own agendas (and fears) onto the Holy Father and Church. Don’t read any of them. Just think of Mark 8:33.

I’m sorry to say that, in my opinion, much of what passes for the Catholic blogosphere is only a little bit better, and some of it is much worse. If certain Catholic blogs and websites are causing you agita, then ignore them.  They have no more authority than anyone else with a keyboard and an internet connection (such as yours truly). Or, if you can’t resist yourself, ignore the comboxes. Many of the comboxes are toxic, and bad for our souls. (In this regard, I’m reminded of a famous warning). In any event, all the suspicion and arguing that’s going on in the Catholic blogosphere encourages a spirit of division into the Church. That’s neither useful, not good for the state of our souls.

The second is to relax.  Another good way to do that is to ignore Vatican politics. I have no idea why some bishops are promoted, and others are cast aside, which cardinal is in favor and which is in Siberia, and which party or conspiracy is ahead and which is losing. And you know what? Nobody else does, either. Fretting about all that stuff does nobody any good.  Think about — or even better, pray about — Psalm 131.

The third is to relax.  One of the best ways to do that is to pray more.  We should pray constantly for each other, and particularly for our Holy Father and our bishops.  Most people have no idea how hard the life of a bishop is.  I can’t even imagine how hard the Pope’s life is.  They really need our prayers.  Our pastors, parish priests and deacons, too, are hard pressed to give wounded people the pastoral assistance they need.  They could use some more prayers too.  Prayer helps them, but it also transforms us.  And I don’t know about you, but I could sure use some major transforming.

If those suggestions aren’t sufficient for you, can I make a few more? Are you worried about how the faith is being transmitted to the youth? I don’t blame you — and I bet your parish could use your help as a catechist. Are you concerned about the state of marriage, and what’s going to be done about the separated and divorced?  You should be, we all are too — so how about volunteering for some kind of marriage ministry?  Unsure about how the Church will give pastoral care to homosexual persons?  So are we all — could you maybe give some support to the Courage apostolate, which reaches out to homosexual persons and helps them live chaste lives?

There’s no doubt that we live in “interesting times”, as the old expression goes.  When things are unsettled, it’s always good to relax, and return to Christianity 101, to make sure that we’re solid on the basics — prayer, solid belief, sacraments, charity.  If our foundation is strong, then the whole structure will withstand whatever storms may assail it.

In these times, I think it’s also particularly important to pray to the Holy Spirit, who has been guiding the Church through thick and thin, and to Mother Mary who has been tirelessly protecting her Church.

Encounter and Evangelization

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

In this time of rapidly shifting cultural values — usually not for the better — the Church and Catholics are struggling to find the right way to proclaim the Gospel and live according to our faith.  The public witness of the Church and Catholics is becoming increasingly difficult, as our government and secularized culture becomes more hostile to us.  Each new day seems to bring a new challenge, and everyday Catholics are confused, uncertain, and frequently upset.

I think that in times like these, it’s crucial to make sure that we remind ourselves of the fundamentals.

The entire purpose of the Church is not to decide who can attend what dinner, or who can be part of a parade. The mission of the Church is to bring people into a loving encounter with Jesus Christ. That means we have to bring people to the real Jesus, and the model for this is the story with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11).

That meeting involved two things — compassion and conversion. Both are essential, and can never be separated. The woman was treated with compassion and mercy by Jesus, and thus was open to his call to conversion. If we fail to present both aspects of the encounter, we are lying to people and presenting a false Jesus — he’s not just about mercy, and he’s not only about conversion (and he’s never about condemnation). The real Jesus simultaneously says “I love you even when you’ve sinned”, and “come, follow me”.

I think our Holy Father and our own Archbishop have realized that there are significant impediments in our culture to hearing the Gospel message, and thus people are unwilling to come to meet Jesus.  In the minds of all too many people, we are not seen as merciful and compassionate, but judgmental and condemnatory.  In response, our leaders have decided that we have to emphasize the message of mercy, so that people will be more open to hearing the message of conversion. In his closing remarks to the young men and women who attended World Youth Day in Rio, Pope Francis said this:

Every one of you, each in his or her own way, was a means enabling thousands of young people to “prepare the way” to meet Jesus. And this is the most beautiful service we can give as missionary disciples. To prepare the way so that all people may know, meet and love the Lord.

This is the task of the New Evangelization, and of the Church.  We have to make sure that when people encounter us, they’re encountering Christ, and feel both his compassion and his call to conversion.  When they see his face in our face, we will be fulfilling our mission.

I, Too, Am a Nazarene

Thursday, July 24th, 2014


The image at the top of this post is the Arabic letter “n”.  It has become known worldwide in the last week.  The violent fanatics who have formed what they call the “Islamic State” in northern Iraq and eastern Syria left this mark on the doorways of Christians who were living in areas they under their control to show where the “Nazarenes” — the Christians — were living.  This was significant because the Islamic State leaders had decreed that all Christians had to convert to Islam, pay a ruinous tax and live as serfs, or be killed.

This is the latest terrible development in the destruction of historic Christian communities in the Middle East, particularly in areas of Syria and Iraq that have been ruined by warfare.   The Iraqi city of Mosul, which stands on the site of ancient Nineveh, has been a focus of the oppression.  Christians have been killed, churches have been burned, and the Archbishop and thousands of his flock have been forced to flee as refugees.

Around the world this week, Christians have been expressing their solidarity with our oppressed brethren in the Middle East, by posting the “n” symbol, and by spreading the Twitter hashtag #WeAreN.

The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.  I am awed by the witness and courage of my brothers and sisters in Christ.  There is little that I can do to help them or to relieve their suffering.  But I pray for them, and I humbly stand with them.

I, too, am a Nazarene.


What Shall We Do to Build a Culture of Life?

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

(I was invited this weekend to speak at all the Masses at St. Augustine’s Church in Ossining, one of our beautiful parishes, for Respect Life Month.  Here is the text of my talk.)

When St. John the Baptist moved among the people, he preached to them about the approach of the Messiah.  The people kept asking him the same question — “what shall we do?”  And now, all of us who are concerned about respect for life ask that same question.  “What shall we do?”

In 1985, in his encyclical letter, The Gospel of Life, Blessed Pope John Paul II addressed the threats that are so serious and widespread that they have created a virtual “culture of death”. We see this in violent crime, war, terrorism, torture, human trafficking, the drug trade, the arms trade, and abject poverty.  But at this time, abortion and euthanasia must be the focus of our attention here in the United States. They involve unjust attacks on people when they are most vulnerable and defenseless, and they are tolerated and even approved by our society as “rights”.

But it’s important to remember that we don’t just say “no” to things, we say “yes” to becoming a people of life and for life, and to building a new culture of life.

To make this more concrete, I would like to offer a number of practical ideas.

Our first task is speaking the truth about the sacredness of every human life – about how God loves every single human person, and that every human life has dignity from the moment of conception.  This is not just a principle of our faith — we rely on the basic scientific fact, available to everyone who has seen a sonogram or a video of “life in the womb”.  Human life – the life of each one of us, the life of Jesus himself in his human nature – began at conception, and carries on until our natural death, and then on into eternal life.  Every one of us, regardless of our age, disability or diminished “quality of life”, is always and forever a human person and must be treated with reverence.  Our first task is to speak this truth about the gift of human life – always with love.

The second task is prayer.  We must pray constantly, with determination, patience and trust.  We thank God for the gift of life, and we ask Him to protect all vulnerable lives.  We do this as individuals, and we also pray as a community.  For example, praying the Rosary as a group, participating in the National Night of Prayer Vigil every December, or holding a Holy Hour on the Feast of the Incarnation of Christ (the Annunciation), or inviting people to spiritually adopt unborn children and pray for them during their nine months in the womb (kids especially love this).  We also celebrate life when we have special Masses and blessings of engaged couples, expectant parents, or new families, or communal anointing of the elderly and ill.  Life is a great gift!  And we should celebrate that in our prayer.

The third task is to serve those in need, especially the most vulnerable.  For example, we help the elderly by visiting and offering companionship, or we offer expectant mothers alternatives to abortion.  There are many wonderful groups that do that, like Good Counsel Homes and the Sisters of Life.  We can help them by taking up collections (for example, a “baby bottle” campaign to collect small change), or by running baby showers for the new moms, or by volunteering to help with simple tasks, like driving the moms to doctors’ appointments.  Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been emphasizing our duty as Christians to reach out personally  to the needy and those who seem lost in our society and without hope, and this is a beautiful way to promote and defend human life.

A particularly important way we serve others is through public policy advocacy. Last Spring, the New York State Legislature came very close to passing a bill that would have expanded abortion in our state.  We already have 110,000 abortions a year.  We don’t need any more abortion, we need more life!  But this bill would have allowed even more abortion by allowing non-doctors to do abortions, and removing the few remaining regulations on late-term abortions.  This bill was defeated because citizens raised their voices in opposition, by letter, call, email, participation in public witness and prayer rallies in Albany and locally.  The bill was defeated, but it will come back, and we have to be ready.

I’d like to take a moment to say a special word about how we can serve women and men who have experienced an abortion.  The Gospel of Life is a message of hope and mercy and healing.  Those who have experienced an abortion should never give in to discouragement and despair.  Our loving God is always ready to give forgiveness and peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  The Sisters of Life run regular retreats for those who have experienced abortion, and other groups like Lumina provide support for the healing process.  Pope Francis has spoken movingly about the power of God’s mercy, and how we all can invite others to experience that mercy themselves.  There is always hope and healing available.

The most important way we build the culture of life is within our own families, where we welcome and nurture new life, and where we support, comfort, and defend our elderly and disabled loved ones.  Our families should be a school of life!  So, married couples should never stop working on our marriages.  Parents can never stop working on your relationship with your children, teach them how to live virtuous, chaste lives and about the value of every life.  In the end, strong families and marriages are the foundation of the culture of life.

Each and every one of us has a role to play in this mission given to us in the Gospel of Life.  So many people are doing so much already, and God bless you for that and thank you.  But every one of us can do something.  Please speak to members of your local pro-life committee, or check out the website of the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese.

At the end of every Mass, we often hear the words, “Go, and announce the Gospel of the Lord”, or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”.  These words don’t just mean that Mass is over – they also mean that we are being sent on a mission.  We are called — each one of us — to go back out into our regular lives and proclaim the Gospel of Life.

By bearing witness to the dignity of every human person.  By helping parents recognize that even though a pregnancy may be difficult or inconvenient, a child is always a blessing.  By ensuring that every young woman understands that there are alternatives to abortion, and that she will be given the help and support she needs.  By making certain that all of our elderly are protected against abandonment, and are always be loved and cared for.

And ultimately, our mission is to love, defend and serve all our brothers and sisters, from conception until natural death.  By our words and our deeds we can build a new culture of life in our land.  We ask the question, “What shall we do?”  And when, one day, we are asked by Our Lord, “What did you do?”, we will be able to answer, we were a people of life and for life, and Our Lord will be pleased with that answer, He will thank us, He will be proud of us, and He will receive us into eternal life with Him.

Sown and Reaped

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s tragic Roe v. Wade decision.  It is a time to reflect on St. Paul’s statement that “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal 6:7).

If we go back to Pope Paul VI’s great encyclical, Humanae Vitae, he predicted certain consequences if contraception were to become accepted in society:  a decline in marital fidelity and general moral standards, loss of respect for women and an increase in the objectification of women, and the dangers inherent in the possession of such a weapon in the hand of unscrupulous governments.

Everything he foresaw about contraception has come true about abortion, and even more — millions of deaths, the corruption of the medical profession, the distortion and politicization of law, and the suffering of millions of women and men who have participated in abortion and carry the grief and guilt with them still.

“Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap”.

And yet, there have been many good seeds sown over the past four decades.  We saw them today, on the streets of New York City.

Cardinal Dolan, assisted by two dozen of his brother priests, offered a beautiful Mass at 7 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a large crowd of early risers.  The Mass was followed by a Rosary procession and prayerful witness at an abortion clinic on Second Avenue and Forty-Second Street.

It was an amazing public witness.  Just think of it.  Three hundred or more people, processing along the streets of Manhattan at rush hour, praying the Rosary.   A man carrying a huge rough wooden cross.  Sisters of Life, Friars and Sisters of the Renewal, Missionaries of Charity, diocesan and religious priests.  Regular men and women.  All giving witness to the power of prayer and the dignity of life, on the cold and windy streets of the big city.

My favorite part came while we were crossing the streets.  Manhattan drivers — especially the cabbies — are not known for patience, and we only had one police officer to help us.  So we were treated to the amazing sight of rush hour traffic being stopped on Lexington Avenue and Forty-Second Street by a Sister of Life, a Franciscan friar, and a couple of intrepid laymen.  Surprisingly little honking, though — they must have realized that this was not your usual traffic snarl.

As we walked, people stopped and stared, and some even joined in prayer.  A few asked what was going on and, when it was explained, they paused to add their prayers to ours.

The larger meaning of the event, in a sense, was to reinforce St. Paul’s statement — “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap”.

Our nation has sown forty years of contraception, abortion, suffering, grief, and death.  And we have reaped the dire consequences.  But a handful of faithful witnesses continues to sow other seeds — love, compassion, service, courage, and witness.

Those seeds will also be reaped, and they bear fruit, a fruit that brings life and hope and forgiveness.

Advice from General Grant

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

There’s no way to sugar-coat it.  The results of the election were very bad for those of us who are committed to pro-life, marriage and religious liberty:

  • The re-election of the President, who made his 100% anti-life agenda a centerpiece of his campaign, and who will now have no incentive to back away from his HSS mandate that violates our religious liberty.
  • Defeats for authentic marriage in four separate state ballot initiatives — with marriage being redefined in Maryland, Maine and Washington, and the defense of marriage defeated in Minnesota.
  • The defeat of two ballot initiatives in Florida — one to deny public funding for abortion and one to repeal a nineteenth century anti-Catholic provision (a so-called Blaine Amendment) in their state constitution.
  • There were, on the other hand, some signs of encouragement:

  • The people defeated (narrowly) an initiative in Massachusetts that would have legalized physician assisted suicide.
  • There remains a pro-life majority in the House of Representatives.
  • But on the whole, it was a bad evening for the causes that we hold most dear.

    Many people are reacting to this event with dismay and discouragement.  Blame is being freely thrown around, and people are even talking about giving up and abandoning the “social issues” in the public square.

    At times like these, I’m reminded of Gen. Ulysses Grant, after the Battle of Spotsylvania in May 1864.  He had recently taken over command of the Union armies, and they had just endured two grueling, bloody battles in northern Virginia.  The battles did not produce the decisive victory that Grant was hoping for, and there was sure to be political pressure on him as a result.  Union casualties were high, and everyone expected him to retreat and regroup.

    Instead, Grant gave the order to advance, and penned his famous line, “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer”.

    The battle of the Culture of Life against the Culture of Death is a long, twilight struggle that will go on for our entire lives.  It is fundamentally a spiritual battle (see Eph 6:12).  It is a contest for the hearts and souls of individuals, and thus our culture, and our laws.  It is not decided by one election, or one defeat, or even one victory.  There is no room for defeatism or despair.  We need to fight with confidence in the Holy Spirit, and determination to carry on, no matter what.

    Will you join me in taking General Grant’s advice?  Because I certainly propose to continue the fight.

    A Question of Identity

    Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

    A recent news item has led me to reflect on a question that I think is crucial for all Catholics, indeed all Christians, at this time — the question of who we are.

    The “news” story (actually a commentary in the form of a news article) appeared in the Washington Post.  It describes the decision of the Arlington Diocese to require all their catechists to make a profession of faith, and the decision by a handful of catechists to resign rather than comply.

    The Profession of Faith is the same one prescribed by the Holy See for teachers in seminaries, pastors, and the heads of religious institutions, and is quite unremarkable.  It essentially asks if a person accepts the Apostles’ Creed and authoritative Church teaching –in other words, if a  person accepts what the Church has proposed for belief.

    To a person of common sense, the request by the Arlington Diocese is unexceptional:  if you are teaching the Catholic faith to children, we would like to make sure that you actually believe and accept the Catholic faith.  It’s like when a person assumes a public office — they have to swear to uphold the constitution and laws, and faithfully execute their office.  Or, think of it as a consumer protection pledge, like a “God Housekeeping Stamp of Approval”.

    To the author of the WaPo piece, and to the dissenting catechists, it is a shocking thing.  Pretty much anyone who has read religion articles in the press could write the story, since it hits all the media tropes — mean and authoritarian hidebound male bishops, courageous free-thinking women following their conscience, references to partisan politics and the health care law, and the Nazi’s even make a cameo appearance.   Naturally, it’s not as if the former catechists are Monophysites or anything too theological for the ordinary reporter to explain.   Their dissent  stems from all the usual trendy pelvic and gender issues, which the press loves to report about.  It’s pretty shoddy journalism.

    This story is striking to me because it involves deeper questions, which are not just being asked by the Arlington Diocese to their catechists, but which are in fact being asked of all of us:  What do I believe?  What does it mean for me to be a Catholic?

    For many people, both now and throughout history, being a Catholic has little to do with actual beliefs.  It is instead a cultural identity, or an ethnic characteristic, or a social custom.

    But that surely is not enough.  To be a Catholic means to hold certain beliefs in common with our brethren throughout the world, and throughout time.  It means to affirm the same faith that was preserved for us by the great saints, many of whom sacrificed their lives so that I might know that faith. It means to hand on to others, what was handed on to us.

    But on an even deeper level, it means to come to know the truth about somebody, about a person who loves me more than life itself, and who has given all of himself so that I may know and love him.  You can’t really love someone unless you know them, deeply and intimately.

    I know nothing of God — Father, Son, or Spirit — except what has been taught to me by the Church, and given to me by Her by Word, Sacrament, and Work.  I could never love God — the real God, not the flawed one I would rather create in my own image — if I had not received the truth about Him from the Church.

    That is why professions of faith are so significant to us as Catholics, and why we should be proud to affirm the truths of our faith, as taught to us by our Church, and to proclaim those truths to our world.