Tag Archives: conversion

Stand Firm

12 Aug

Image result for sacred heart of jesusHave you ever been the butt of family jokes because you attend Mass faithfully, make counter-cultural parenting decisions, or have “too many” kids?

If your faith has ever made you unpopular, you’re experiencing what Jesus describes in the Gospel this week. Sometimes our faith becomes a dividing line between us and family, and this can make us feel torn or even guilty for causing the disruption.

We need to remember that Jesus is calling us to authentic unity with our loved ones, and unity ultimately comes from Him. It may seem as if our getting serious about the faith has caused the problem, but really we are just the first to take a step toward authentic unity.

Like Christ Himself, we can help to bring our loved ones along through our silent, loving witness and by offering the pain of being misunderstood for their conversion.

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

My Brother Louie

17 Nov

As we meditate on the Gospels, it’s only natural that we would try to imagine what the various biblical figures looked like, beginning with Our Lord Himself. One character I find especially intriguing is Zacchaeus, whose encounter with our Lord is recorded in today’s Gospel.

Whenever I think of Zacchaeus, I picture Louie De Palma, Danny DeVito’s character in the popular 1980s television series Taxi. We know that Zacchaeus was not only short, but also dishonest, despised, and resourceful. He was hardly the sort of character we might choose to emulate, any more than we would aspire to be like Louie De Palma. Yet I’d suggest that Catholic laymen do well to meditate on the call and conversion of Zacchaeus.

Perhaps the call of the rich young man is better known, so we might compare the two accounts. The rich young man keeps the commandments but wants to know what else he must do to attain eternal life. Good question! Jesus’s response–sell everything, give to the poor, and follow Him–was more than the rich young man bargained for, at least for the moment. We understand in Our Lord’s response the call to evangelical perfection, particularly as lived by consecrated persons who embrace radical lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Jesus’ response to the rich young man is instructive to all of us as we strive to follow Him single-heartedly. But what about us “rich” middle-aged men, with wife, children, job, mortgage, credit-card bills, and student loans? Are we supposed to sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor, and only then follow Jesus? How does Jesus’ universal call to discipleship relate to Catholic men who are to remain “in the world,” but not of it?

Enter Zacchaeus. Continue reading

Spiritual Cataracts

23 Jun

three blind miceToday’s Gospel is the familiar passage from Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, in which He advises us to remove the large beams from our own eyes before trying to remove the tiny specks from our neighbor’s eye. This lesson has long been a source of fruitful meditation for me.

On one occasion well over a decade ago, after hearing this Gospel at Mass, I decided to illustrate the point of the lesson to my children. What I did was blindfold two of my daughters after dinner, and they took turns trying to lead the other around the basement. Quite predictably, there were many humorous collisions and wrong turns. It was truly a case of the blind leading the blind–or in the case of my fair-haired daughters, the blonde leading the blonde! But when one of them was able to remove her blindfold, she was easily able to lead her sister from point A to point B.

The children learned that while it’s a very good thing to help others in need, we have to allow the Lord to help us first. Continue reading

My Journey from Pro-Choice to Pro-Life

29 Aug

CuomoWhen I returned to the Church in 1984, it wasn’t as though a decade of unchecked sinful habits and behaviors fell by the wayside.

The mighty struggle to replace vice with virtue continues to this day. After all, “denying myself” and “turning the other cheek” don’t come naturally.

I also had to convert on intellectual matters. I was fresh out of law school and something of a constitutional law scholar, having sharpened my legal teeth on Roe v. Wade jurisprudence. That year, New York Governor Mario Cuomo, the poster child of “I’m personally opposed, but” politics, captured my imagination with a stirring keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.

So, when I first came back to the Church, I brought my pro-choice ideology with me.

Of course, I was “personally opposed”–so much so that, even then, I would have gladly adopted a child rather than see him or her aborted.

But I wasn’t where I needed to be in terms of fully accepting the Church’s coherent pro-life ethic. It took a year of prayer, study, and conversations with friends before I realized that I needed to repent and do penance for my dissident views.

Recent Popes have emphasized that the current age is characterized not by a “crisis of charity,” but even more by a “crisis of faith.” That’s why Pope Benedict called an entire “Year of Faith.” We never hear about sins against faith, but if indeed we’re living through such a crisis, it stands to reason that sins against faith happen–and happen frequently.

When it comes to sins against charity, we’re usually able to come up with an excuse (e.g., “I was just letting off steam,” “My boss is a jerk,” “He shouldn’t have criticized my work,” “I didn’t think she’d take it personally”). At the end of the day, though, I think we all admit to sinning fairly regularly against charity. We realize that we hurt somebody, and so we try to reconcile as best we can with God and neighbor. Surely there are plenty of sins against charity to go around these days, and we do well to use a “charity scorecard” when examining our consciences.

On the other hand, sins against faith are seemingly “victimless” sins. Not only that, it takes a rare humility today to admit that we’re wrong about anything. And when it comes to religious convictions–true, false, or just plain weird–our society takes a “to each his own” approach.

Thus, in many Catholic circles today, rejection of Church teaching brings into play many fancy concepts, such as diversity, tolerance, plurality, lived experience, and primacy of “conscience.” But no mention of sin.

In its treatment of the First Commandment, the Catechism of the Catholic Church devotes three paragraphs (No. 2087-89) to sins against faith. The catechism says the First Commandment “requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it.” I suspect all of us can do a better job of nourishing and protecting our faith.

The Catechism also identifies several sins against faith, including voluntary doubt, incredulity, heresy, apostasy, and schism. None of these sins is a four-letter word, but they may as well be, given the deliberate avoidance of these terms today.

Scripture frequently speaks of the necessity of faith for salvation. Indeed, without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

Faith entails the acceptance of all that Our Lord has revealed through his Church, based on His own authority as the Son of God. Mere agreement is not the same as faith, because then we’re putting Christ’s teachings through an approval process, rejecting anything that seems unacceptable to us.

But even acceptance of the person and teachings of Jesus Christ isn’t enough. We need to do what the Lord says (Luke 6:46). We must bear witness to our faith in our daily lives:

“So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33; see Catechism, no. 1816).

When we cultivate doubt or dissent, the result is spiritual blindness. Our choices are no longer guided by objective standards of moral conduct, and the Word of God ceases to be a light for our path.

We cannot be indifferent to the personal dimension of the “crisis of faith” in our midst, perhaps writing off those who seem to be set in their dissident ways. Yet, reaching out to those who struggle with sins against faith is a vitally important task–indeed, a spiritual work of mercy.

I’m very grateful that some people, whose charity was surpassed only by their patience, called me to conversion on the abortion issue.

A New Birth of Religious Freedom

4 Jul

As the Fortnight for Freedom comes to a close today, we do well to take to heart these words of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. of Philadelphia:

“Religious liberty is an empty shell if the spiritual core of a people is weak. Or to put it more bluntly, if people don’t believe in God, religious liberty isn’t a value. That’s the heart of the matter. It’s the reason Pope Benedict calls us to a Year of Faith this October.

“The worst enemies of religious freedom aren’t “out there” among the legion of critics who hate Christ or the Gospel or the Church, or all three. The worst enemies are in here, with us–all of us, clergy, religious, and lay–when we live our faith with tepidness, routine, and hypocrisy.

“Religious liberty isn’t a privilege granted by the state. It’s our birthright as children of God. And even the worst bigotry can’t kill it in the face of a believing people. But if we value it and want to keep it, then we need to become people worthy of it. Which means we need to change the way we live–radically change, both as individual Catholics and as the Church.”

Do You Believe in Miracles?

25 Aug

This weekend is the feast of St. Augustine, though this year it falls on Sunday and will be preempted by the Lord’s Day celebration. St. Augustine, after St. Paul, is probably the most celebrated “convert” in the history of the Church. Yet, we’re all converts, and we all have stories to tell. In that spirit, I’m reprinting here a “testimony” I gave several years ago.

Back in 1984, I was a young lawyer who years before had abandoned the faith of my youth. I had largely cleaned up my act since my wild undergraduate days, but that was more a matter of expedience, not moral conviction. I felt as though I should give my life to something or Someone, but I really didn’t know where to turn.

My sights weren’t set particularly high, so I resolved to help build the earthly city. After all, what else was there to life?

At that time, my mother asked me to start going back to Mass on Sunday so as to set a good example for my nephews and nieces. I was reluctant to do so, as I felt like a hypocrite since I no longer even considered myself a Catholic. I eventually relented, figuring that an hour a week wouldn’t kill me.

As it turned out, some of the Sunday homilies that I heard gradually drew me in, and I became increasingly receptive to what the Church had to say, especially in social justice matters. Soon, I no longer had to be asked to go to Mass, even though I was still on the fence.

Attending weekly Mass opened an unexpected door for me. One of the secretaries at my law office saw me one Sunday at Mass, so she invited me to a weekly young-adult Bible study. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I said I would go with her to check it out. Here’s what happened. Continue reading