Tag Archives: faith

God Himself Is the Author of Marriage

18 May

Happy Ordinary Time! The color of this liturgical season is green because it is a time of growing in our faith. In keeping with this time of growth, the Marriage Minute for the next few months will examine what we as Catholics believe about marriage so that we can live out our vocation more fully.

CCC“God himself is the author of marriage” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1603).

No one knows a story like its author. In like manner, no one knows marriage like God, who created it. We look to God for the definition of marriage, and especially for direction in what our own marriage should look like.

  • How much do we allow God into our marriage?
  • What prevents us from allowing God to have a greater influence?
  • How can God be more central in our marriage?
  • How can we better understand God’s true vision for marriage?

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.

Everlasting Impact

16 Feb

family prayingHave you ever wondered about the impact your family can make on history? Our family’s potential for influencing the future is limitless. It is easy to get caught up in the monotony of everyday life, but the truth is that small, daily decisions can greatly affect the course of history.

In this week’s reading from Genesis, God takes Abram and challenges him to lift his gaze to the heavens and see the stars. God’s promise to Abram is that his children will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abram had the grace to look beyond the monotony of his current struggles, open himself to God’s way of doing things, and commit to trusting God with the future of his existence. That trust changed history.

Abram’s reward for his trust in God was not merely the accumulation of material wealth, but even more the legacy of generations of faith. We have that same potential to affect the world. In America, we think in terms of leaving an inheritance to our children. That is not a bad thing, but it is far greater to leave an inheritance of faith that can be passed along for generations.

Every time we bring our children to Mass, say night prayers with them, give them a blessing before they head off to school in the morning, or even explain to them about why we passionately dedicate our time and resources to serving those in need, we make a deposit in their bank of faith that they in turn will pass on to their own children someday.

Intentional decisions made today bear fruit tomorrow.

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.

Let It Be Done!

25 Mar

our lady of graceToday when we use the word “fiat,” we typically refer to an arbitrary, capricious, or self-assertive act of the will. In today’s solemnity of the Annunciation we encounter an entirely different sort of “fiat.” Mary’s “fiat” (Latin, meaning “let it be done,” from Lk. 1:38) was a completely self-giving act of the will. The Annunciation was the decisive moment when Mary freely entrusted her entire self to God and consented in faith to become the Mother of the Redeemer (Lk. 1:26-38). She then faithfully devoted the rest of her life as “the handmaid of the Lord”–to the Person and saving work of her Son.

She was in a real sense the first disciple of Jesus, pondering the Word of God in her Immaculate Heart (cf. Lk. 2:19, 51).

Our Lady’s faithfulness was not a one-time occurrence, but rather part of an ongoing pilgrimage that constantly called her to empty herself, to give of herself, in imitation of her divine Son. In the Presentation at the Temple (Lk. 2:22-38), she learned that her beloved Son would be opposed in fulfilling His mission, and that a sword would pierce through her own soul. From the beginning, there was no mistaking that her fidelity would involve suffering (cf. Heb. 5:8).

Mary continued unswervingly in her pilgrimage of faith as the years quietly passed by. At some point, she encountered the natural human suffering of having St. Joseph, her loving husband, pass from this life. She was there at the beginning of her Son’s public ministry. At the Marriage of Cana, where Christ worked His first “sign,” she became a “spokesperson” for her Son’s will: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2:6). Not only does she hear the Word of God and keep it, but she exhorts others to do the same.

Vatican II (1962-65) beautifully summarized the climax of our Blessed Mother’s mission:

“[T]he Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her” (Lumen Gentium, no. 58).

Mary’s motherhood did not end with bearing the Son of God. Rather, that’s only the beginning. Nor did it end with Jesus’ death on the Cross. At the foot of the Cross, Jesus entrusted Mary’s motherhood to St. John, the beloved disciple and, by extension, to the entire Church. She became the “New Eve,” the mother of all who are alive in Christ (cf. Jn. 19:26-27; Catechism, nos. 501, 511, and 969). Undoubtedly our Blessed Mother never tires of telling us to do whatever Jesus tells us. May we have “ears to hear” (Lk. 8:8) such wise motherly counsel!

Obedience, the Love Language of Jesus

19 May

discipleshipIn today’s Gospel, we hear these words of Jesus: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). Our Lord emphasizes in this passage the close connection between love and obedience.

I think there is some parallel here to faith and works. Faith without works is dead (James 3:17), while works without faith are futile. We need both. More specifically, an authentic, living faith should lead to actions that reflect our upward calling in Christ (cf. Philippians 3:14). If the faith isn’t affecting how we live, then it is for all intents and purposes lifeless.

Love without works is also dead. Ask any married person if he or she would feel loved if their spouse on occasion said “I love you” but never backed it up with meaningful action. Learning to love one’s spouse well  involves discerning what actions make each feel loved (i.e., their “love language”) and making a habit of those loving actions.

Our Lord wants those who love Him to follow Him every day. He wants us to be close to Him. We certainly do this by setting aside time for public and liturgical prayer. But following Him as His disciple goes beyond these moments of prayer to how we live 24/7. We can’t sit at Jesus’ feet during Mass or a Holy Hour and then disregard His Word to us the rest of the time!  He expects our obedience–our not only hearing His Word but also putting it into action out of love for Him.

Obeying the commandments without love is not possible and, even if it were, it wouldn’t be what saves us. At the other extreme, saying we love the Lord but not doing what He teaches us through His Church doesn’t work, either. As Jesus says, not everyone who calls out “I love you, Jesus” will be saved, “but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

It’s clear, then, that a significant way we manifest our love for God is by obeying Him. In this regard, the Blessed Virgin Mary is a model for us. Our Lord says that she is blessed not so much because she gave birth to Him, but because she heard the Word of God and kept it (Luke 8:21; 11:27-28). Not surprisingly, one of her simplest yet most profound messages for all of us is that we ‘do whatever Jesus tells us’ (cf. John 2:5).

Christ has told us and Mary has shown us that obedience is Jesus’s love language. If we truly love Jesus as Our Lord and Savior, we can’t help but strive to keep His commandments.

Be On Your Guard!

11 Nov

millstoneToday’s Gospel from Luke 17:1-6 brings together some important teachings of Jesus. First He says that while scandals will happen, woe to the person through whom they occur. Better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around one’s neck than to cause a little one to sin.

Then He tells His disciples that even if their brother sins against them seven times in a day, each time he returns to say he’s sorry they should forgive him.

Lastly, the Apostles ask the Lord to increase their faith. It’s just one of many instances in which Scripture confirms that faith comes in many shapes and sizes. It is not a one-size-fits-all or all-or-nothing proposition, but rather is something that can and should grow within us as we cooperate with God’s abundant graces.

And why would St. Luke this include this request to increase the Apostles’ faith right after the discussion on scandal and forgiveness?

Scandals will come, but Our Lord says be on guard. By “scandal” the Church means conduct that leads others to sin (see Catechism, nos. 2284-87). Some sins are quite complementary. For example, sins of immodest dress and behavior can lead others to lust and sexual sins. Misconduct among Church leaders, even without the rhetorical flourish and exaggeration that we come upon in the media, can cause us to sin against faith and charity, and possibly provide the impetus for people to leave the Church. I’ve seen it happen.

Just because scandalous activity occurs, however, doesn’t mean we have to let it lead us astray, as though the millstone were around us, too! Our Lord gives us two positive things we can do when confronted with scandal: forgive and pray for an increase of faith. The latter helps us to see things through God’s eyes, and the former enables us to be “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18-20).

The Creed, the Pill, and CUF

5 Nov

trufflehunterI recently read with much interest the first installment of Archbishop Naumann’s “call story” (Leaven, 11/1/13), which ends with our shepherd as a college student in the late 1960s, discerning the path he should take in life. Though we pretty much know how the story ends, it will be fascinating to read next week about how Our Lord led him from point A to point B.

The article made me recall my own experience of the 1960s, especially 1968, which sticks in my memory as a most significant year. I remember the year beginning with the Packers’ second straight Super Bowl victory and ending with Richard Nixon’s narrow victory over Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace (I was allowed to stay up late and watch the election coverage). I remember Bobby Kennedy being shot only a couple miles from my house and the rioting that accompanied the Democratic convention.

Mostly, though, I was a chubby third-grader at St. Elizabeth’s parish school, oblivious to most of what was going on in the world and in the Church. Whether I was playing kickball in the schoolyard or humming “Kumbaya” as I crafted nifty collages from magazine scraps, I was largely shielded from the cultural changes going on in our society, from the civil rights movement and Vietnam to Woodstock and women’s “liberation.”

These were mostly dark days for the Church. Today there’s the enthusiasm of the “new evangelization” and the great influx of converts. Back then, however, there were people jumping ship in unprecedented numbers. And not just priests and religious. All of us experienced the exodus of relatives and friends from the Church.

Yet, amidst the turmoil, three significant events occurred in 1968 that I think planted seeds of hope for future generations.

Rocking the Credo

The first event was the issuance of the Credo of the People of God by Pope Paul VI. The publication of new, official expressions of the Catholic faith is a rare occurrence. Further, Pope Paul’s Credo is much more detailed than the more familiar Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed.

Popes don’t issue documents such as this lightly or without a significant reason. In this case, Pope Paul VI saw the emerging crisis of faith in the West and tried to minimize its effects. In explaining why he was issuing his Credo, the Holy Father remarked that “many truths are being denied outright or made objects of controversy,” leading to “disturbance and doubt in many faithful souls.”

The Credo was issued at the conclusion of a “Year of Faith.” Hmmm.

I’ve heard references to the “missing generation” created by the millions of abortions in this country in recent decades. But the prior generation–those of us who were raised in the 1960s and 70s–is spiritually missing. A significant aspect of the new evangelization is to welcome this generation back into the Church. Pope Paul’s Credo, amplified 25 years later in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, reflects the Church’s renewed commitment in our day to proclaiming the person and teachings of Jesus Christ to our world.

Separate Lives

There’s the well-known Latin expression, “lex orandi, lex credendi,” which means that how we pray affects what we believe. I think we can further say, “lex credendi, lex vivendi,” because what we believe (or not believe) affects how we live.

And so, in addition to the millions of Catholics who have formally abandoned the faith over the past 40 years, there are countless others who in some fuzzy manner consider themselves Catholic, but who, as recent Popes have noted, are leading lives that are far removed from the Gospel.

We were rightly horrified by the revelation of sexual misconduct on the part of a handful of priests this past decade. But to be honest, the rest of us haven’t fared much better. In recent decades, Catholics have been fornicating, cohabitating, divorcing, contracepting, sterilizing, and aborting at a scandalously staggering rate. And the underlying loss of a sense of sin and grace–what we typically call “secularization”–has affected all aspects of human activity, from dwindling Sunday Mass attendance and Confession lines to a general decline in civility and solidarity among people. I’ve read dissident theologians who justify virtually any kind of behavior out of a mistaken understanding of conscience, and of course today pro-homosexual activists have experienced unprecedented success in their efforts to gain societal approval of unspeakably sinful behavior.

In the face of this enormous societal pressure, the Church–if she weren’t specially protected by the Holy Spirit–could easily cave in. Instead, she has steadfastly and compassionately proclaimed the timeless truths of our Christian faith and our human nature in response to the visceral demands of contemporary society.

Perhaps the most significant case in point of the Church’s fidelity is the issuance of Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI in 1968, in which the Holy Father reiterated the Church’s constant teaching on the immorality of artificial birth control.

The rebellion against Humanae Vitae affected every segment of the Catholic population in the United States. I remember as a teen and young adult how the Church’s teaching in this area was ridiculed and dismissed. The Church seemed so out-of-touch with our “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” culture.

But, to steal a line from a 1960s pop icon, “the times they are a changin’.” Young people are now taking to heart the Church’s teachings on human sexuality and the “theology of the body”–as is an older, broken generation that’s increasingly aware of having been betrayed by the so-called “sexual revolution.” More bishops and priests are breaking the “great silence” through sound preaching and teaching on contraception, aided by various organizations that promote marital chastity and natural family planning.

The Church is the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Amidst the confusion of the ’60s, Pope Paul VI courageously reminded us of God’s magnificent plan for human sexuality, a reminder that needs to be repeated–and lived.

The third seed of hope that I believe was planted in 1968 was the establishment by H. Lyman Stebbins of a lay organization called Catholics United for the Faith (“CUF”). Here were Catholic men and women acting upon the godly instinct–the fruit of a deep spiritual life–to come to the Church’s aid in her time of grave need. And, I might add, in doing so they were explicitly trying to manifest Vatican II’s rich teaching on the role of lay Catholics in the Church. For their trouble, they were often ostracized, vilified, and even treated as enemies of the Church. I was part of the second generation of CUF leadership in the 1990s and early 2000s. One board member reminded me that even then, in many dioceses, CUF had to “sit on the back of the bus.”

With the perspective of 40+ years, CUF’s positions have largely been vindicated. As Catholic Answers’ Karl Keating once wrote, on all the make-or-break issues in the Church, “CUF has been on the side of the angels (not to mention the side of the popes). It’s an enviable record of fidelity.” From the side of CUF have come wonderful apostolates, resources, and ministries, most notably FOCUS, the critically acclaimed Faith and Life catechism series, and Emmaus Road Publishing. By their fruit you will know them.

We Hold On

My family loves C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles. In the second story in this series, Prince Caspian, things are looking especially bleak for old Narnia, which is under attack. Many old Narnians have lost their faith in Aslan (the Christ figure in the story) and refuse to back the legitimate child-king, Caspian. Yet, there is one notable supporter of King Caspian among the talking beasts, Trufflehunter the badger, who says, on behalf of the badgers, that “we hold on.” While others have forgotten about Aslan and the need for a human of Caspian’s line to rule Narnia, the badgers couldn’t be moved. Trufflehunter says to Caspian, “as long as you will be true to old Narnia you shall be my king, whatever they say. Long life to your majesty.”

I was urged by some during my tenure with CUF to distance myself from CUF’s past, to make a fresh start. Appealing as that sounded at times, in the end it would have been a treacherous act of disloyalty. It would have done a grave injustice to the heroic CUF members who did their best to “hold on,” to follow Christ’s vicar on earth and pass the torch to the next generation.

“CUF” does not stand for Catholics United “against the Faithless” or “against the Fornicators.” Rather, it stands for Catholics united “for the Faith.”  And isn’t that what all Catholics in Northeast Kansas desire–to help all men and women achieve true, lasting unity by discovering or rediscovering the pearl of great price?

Emboldened with a new ardor, and armed with new methods and expressions, let us embrace the new evangelization as the great work of the Holy Spirit in our time!

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.

Avoiding Scandal

20 Aug

scandalOne of the principal ways we demonstrate our fidelity to Christ is how we talk about the priesthood and contemporary issues facing the Church. Is our speech edifying? Does it bring people closer to the Lord? Are we ambassadors of Christ’s mercy and peace? (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20).

Probably the harshest critics of the Church are former Catholics and those who still consider themselves Catholic but who oppose the Church on any number of issues. Surely it’s very easy to find fault in the Church sometimes. We may be rightly upset or disturbed. When we give verbal expression to these feelings, we may be just “letting off steam,” and everything we say may well be true. But having some of the truth and needing to let off steam do not excuse making statements that will harm the faith of other Catholics whose faith perhaps is weaker, provide an unnecessary stumbling block for nonbelievers, and needlessly and perhaps even unfairly harm the reputations of others (cf. Catechism, no. 2477).

In place of the above, Scripture is very clear. We are told to say “only the things men need to hear, things that will help them” (Eph. 4:29). As St. Paul says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).

Scandal involves inducing others to sin (cf. Catechism, nos. 2284-87). It’s nothing less than spiritual murder. Are our comments regarding the Church being expressed in ways that will actually turn people against the Church? And if giving scandal is like spiritual murder, then taking scandal is akin to spiritual suicide. We must protect our own hearts, that we do not allow our own negative feelings about the real evils we encounter to fester and ultimately to lead us out of the Church.

In the business world, there’s a maxim that may help us take the right approach in this matter. Successful managers are able to “catch their employees doing something right” and in the process provide positive reinforcement for good behavior. In the spiritual realm, we likewise do well to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). There are holy people in the Church. There are many great stories of contemporary Christian heroes, not to mention the lives of saints through the centuries. There is much good going on in the Church on many different fronts, globally, nationally, and right here in Kansas City. We need to acknowledge and publicize this truth.

This does not mean that we ignore the sins of Church members. The Church is at once holy yet always in need of renewal and reform, and charitably correcting a sinner is a spiritual work of mercy. Using an analogy, let us assume that a husband and wife are having marital problems, and the husband wants to do something about it. The first step would be for the husband to honestly acknowledge the nature and extent of the problem. He would try to work things out with his spouse, and no one would criticize him for seeking the help of others–marital counselors, spiritual advisors, friends and confidantes, and above all God Himself–to help remedy the problem.

However, if the husband were to begin to vilify his wife to his children, to neighbors, perhaps even to the press, we can say that regardless of the truth and frustration level behind his statements, he is only hurting the situation. Notice that St. Joseph, when confronted with the apparent infidelity of his wife, determined to “divorce her quietly,” without subjecting her to shame (Mt. 1:19).

As Catholics, we similarly have to distinguish between acknowledging the truth and taking restorative action from mere venting and causing greater division within the Church. Perhaps during this Year of Faith we will trust the Lord, confident that His mercy and justice will ultimately prevail.

“Good” Catholics Can Make a Difference

5 Aug

Card. Dolan“All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.”

This quote, attributed to the 18th-century British philosopher Edmund Burke, is often used as a rallying cry when it comes to attacks against the Catholic Church, especially in today’s challenging political context. Perhaps we can fine-tune the quote this way for our purposes: “All that is necessary for anti-Catholicism to succeed is that good Catholics do nothing.”

This quote appropriately exhorts all of us to fight against the vices of laziness and cowardice and do our part in standing up for the Church. However, there is another implied exhortation embedded in this quote: We can’t take for granted that any of us, let alone the majority of Catholics, are “good.” While we might disagree as to what precisely constitutes a “good” Catholic, we can say that ordinarily a “good” Catholic would not sit by idly while the Church is attacked. And even if he or she did so temporarily, that person should easily be stirred to action when confronted with the reality of anti-Catholicism. But, given the inroads anti-Catholicism has made in our culture with relatively little resistance, it’s fair to ask, are the “good” Catholics doing nothing, or are many Catholics not as “good” as we’re called to be? At the end of the day, what is a “good” Catholic?

A theology professor once asked his class, “What’s the biggest problem in the Church today, ignorance or apathy?” One student flippantly responded, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.”

The student’s answer, upon further examination, is very close to the mark. Ignorance refers to a defect in the virtue of faith, and apathy refers to a defect in the virtue of charity. With the virtue of hope, these three theological virtues are the necessary building blocks of a thriving Catholic life and culture. I suggest that we need to renew this foundation, in ourselves and collectively as the Church, as the necessary prerequisite for effectively addressing anti-Catholic forces in society.

We are in the midst of a “Year of Faith.” Back in 1968, Pope Paul VI issued his Credo of the People of God at the conclusion of the last “year of faith.” The Holy Father recognized the crisis of faith in the Church, and he issued his Credo to articulate orthodox Catholic teaching to counteract the rise of ignorance and confusion regarding our faith.

Decades later, while we see some promising signs of renewal, we have also witnessed the devastating effects of the “crisis of faith” that has ravaged two, going on three, generations of Catholics in our midst.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that “‘ignorance of God’ is the principle and explanation of all moral deviations” (no. 2087), and it further describes several sins against the faith, including heresy, which are routinely ignored today. We are all too familiar with widespread rejection of key Church teachings, from the papacy and Real Presence to the hot button morality issues that challenge men and women to turn away from deviant, immoral behaviors.

We can never lose sight of the fact that our faith is not merely a moral code or abstract body of teachings, but rather a dynamic relationship with the living God. Even so, our faith in the person of Jesus Christ necessarily implies a content of faith. For example, when Our Lord sent out His apostles to make disciples of all nations, He told them to teach all men and women “to observe all that He has commanded” (Mt. 28:20). Similarly, Our Lord also said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I tell you?” (Lk. 6:46). Our Lord denies knowing those who claim to be His followers yet do not accept and put into practice His teachings, communicated through His Church (see also Mt. 7:21-24; Lk. 10:16).

Organizations that are serious about their principles will not tolerate views within their own ranks that undermine their efforts. Imagine the NAACP allowing members to push for “separate but equal” facilities, or Planned Parenthood allowing its representatives to publicize the harmful effects of abortion on women and to admit that it’s a form of homicide. It’s not going to happen.

Yet, we have to admit that our Catholic faith has not been adequately taught and embraced in recent decades, such that outright dissent is simply considered an alternative opinion. The deposit of apostolic faith is one of the central bonds of unity that unites Catholics (cf. Catechism, no. 815), but today many people see the Church as a vague cultural reality, not demanding more than loyalty to Notre Dame football and wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day. That’s why staunch adversaries of the Church such as Nancy Pelosi or Kathleen Sebelius can get away with holding themselves out as Catholics in good standing. If we’re not serious about what we believe, how can we expect the “world”—which is the sworn enemy of the Gospel anyway—to treat our beliefs with respect?

In response, we must pray for the grace to live this passage from the Catechism: “The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it” (no. 1816).

Meanwhile, the virtue of hope is all about putting our trust in the Lord and His promises, especially when the going gets tough. In the midst of attacks from without and scandals from within, many Catholics might be tempted to despair. They may well conclude that the Church is going to hell in a hand basket, and they wring their hands of any responsibility for setting things aright. Or, in the midst of their despair, they may conclude that the project of Christianity is no match for the relentless secularism of our culture. The best that we can hope for is to get in a good kick to the shins here or a minor victory there, but the war is lost. Clearly such a mindset betrays a lack of trust in the living God.

As significant of a problem as despair is, the alternate failure of hope—presumption—can be just as deadly. Presumption denies the need to seek God’s grace—either because we think we can save ourselves or because God will give us His grace no matter how we conduct our lives. We commonly see this latter mindset in funerals today, which often seem to be “mini-canonizations.”

An objective observer could easily conclude that it really doesn’t matter how one lives, because everyone seems to end up in a “better place.” Many poorly formed Catholics embrace just such an implicit universalism. There are probably many reasons why people think that way, including the natural desire that our loved ones make it to heaven. Yet, when we give in to such presumption, then we are not really serious about the claims our faith makes on us. And if we’re not willing to go to the mat for our faith, if we’re not willing to admit the practical reality and consequences of mortal sin, then we’re not going to get worked up about HHS mandates. A mushy, uncommitted Catholicism is no match for the anti-Catholic forces that have been unleashed against the Church.

The Catechism identifies two of the principal sins against charity as being indifference and lukewarmness (no. 2094). These sins reveal a lack a passion and zeal in our commitment to God and neighbor. How we respond to attacks against the ones we love can vary greatly, but a failure to respond at all is unacceptable. When we encounter a bully we need to have sufficient self-esteem to defend ourselves the best we can. And what husband would not go ballistic if someone attempted to harm his wife or children? That’s why it’s so scandalous when some Church leaders have failed to show sufficient outrage when their spiritual children have been abused.

In today’s culture, many people want Christ without His Church. They want “spirituality” without the demands and perceived corruption of “organized religion.” (Some might respond that the Catholic Church is not all that organized!) Clearly the work of the new evangelization is to help men and women rediscover the intimate, saving connection between Christ the King and His Kingdom, the Church. We must rekindle love for the Church among her members—manifested not as a spineless tolerance, but as a Christ-centered desire for the good of all.

Christ Himself teaches us about this intimate connection. When Saul of Tarsus encountered Our Lord on the road to Damascus, He said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4). Christ had already ascended to the Father at that time. Saul had never even met Our Lord. Rather, he was persecuting His followers. Yet Our Lord took this very personally. Indeed, Christ from the earliest days identified Himself with His Church, His beloved bride. Attack the Church, and you attack Christ Himself.

Do we experience attacks against the Church as attacks against Our Lord? If more of us did, anti-Catholicism would meet the decisive, unified resistance that has been lacking in our time.

The Catechism says that in every age “saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history” (Catechism, no. 828). Everyday saints like you and me are called to be the difference-makers. For Catholicism to succeed, we need “good” Catholics to live with God’s grace the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, thus radiating the light of Christ in an otherwise dark, hostile world.

This article originally appeared, in modified form, in the April 2007 edition of Catalyst, the publication of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

The Gift of Faith

29 Apr

gift of faithAs I seem to be in dialogue so frequently with friends and relatives these days who have lost the faith (or never had it to begin with), I recently had the occasion to review my response to this question that I received via email a couple years ago: “Does everyone receive the gift of faith? Why or why not?”

During this “Year of Faith,” I think it’s especially important for to consider these most fundamental questions.

What follows is my response to the questioner. I welcome others’ comments and insights on this subject.

“If we mean by ‘faith’ an explicit belief in the person and teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, then clearly not everyone has received the gift of faith. That’s why the Church’s perennial mission is evangelization–to offer the gift of faith to all men and women. All of us play a role in that effort.

“And while we cannot judge the state of individual souls, it would also seem that there are those who have been invited, but have rejected the invitation (cf. Lk. 14:15-24).

“While I cannot pretend to know ‘God’s thoughts’ on this, as my thoughts are not His thoughts and my ways are not His ways (Is. 55:8-9), I would like to offer a couple observations that shed light on this crucial issue.

“First, faith is very much a personal gift. We all are called to answer for ourselves Our Lord’s question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ (Mt. 16:15). If someone were to offer us a $100 bill, no strings attached, we might wonder why others weren’t given a similar offer, but at the end of the day we still have to accept or reject the offer that was personally made to us.

“Second, God wills that all be saved and come to the knowledge of truth (1 Tim. 2:4). The ordinary way that this occurs is through the gift of faith received at Baptism. However, God does not place limits on Himself. He is all good and willed the existence of every man and woman who has ever lived. So, the Church holds out the possibility of salvation to all those who have not knowingly and willingly rejected Him. In that regard, perhaps the parable of the talents is useful. As Catholics we have been given 10 talents, so more is expected of us. However, those who were given only 5 or 2 or even just 1 talent will be judged worthy to enter our heavenly Father’s kingdom if he or she fruitfully uses whatever talents they were given.

“How God works with those who do not have explicit faith is a mystery that’s beyond us in this life, but surely we know that a person is better off with faith and with all the graces that derive from being a faithful disciple of Christ. Indeed, we were made for life with God as Christ’s brothers and sisters, so using our ‘10 talents’ well involves our inviting those around us to the wonderful life of grace that God has in store for us in this life and in the next.”