Tag Archives: hope

“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.

Are We There Yet?

30 May

summer vacationI doubt that there are any of us with children old enough to speak who haven’t heard (probably more than once) from the deep recesses of the car or minivan, “Are we there yet?”

Rather than get annoyed by this persistent question, I usually seize the opportunity to tease my little passengers. I explain to them in convoluted ways that we’re never going to be “there.” We’re always going to be “here.” Once we arrive at our destination, it will cease to be “there,” but will suddenly turn into “here.”

Of course, I’m trying to teach my little ones about the proper use of adverbs. But I’m not just playing fun word games with them. I’m getting them to consider a basic fact of human existence: In this life there’s always going to be a crucial distinction between “here” and “there,” between where we are and where we’re going.

As Christians, even though we appreciate the significance of our earthy lives, we realize that we’re still “here,” but we want to get “there”–to the glories of heaven with our Triune God and the throngs of angels and saints. We all resonate with these words from the sacred liturgy: “When will I come to the end of my pilgrimage and enter the presence of God?” (Antiphon 1, Monday Morning Prayer, Week II).

In other words, when are we going to get there? Continue reading

I Wanna Know What Hope Is

14 Mar

faith hope loveThere was a popular song by the rock band Foreigner some years ago entitled, “I Wanna Know What Love Is.” I think the song title is reflective of the thirst we all have to know and experience true love, which can be so elusive in light of all the counterfeits that surround us.

While there are no hit songs about it, I think we also want to know what hope is. So many people go through the day without realizing that there is hope for them. Others have given way to despair or presumption (cf. Catechism, nos. 2091-92).

For those of us who want to know what hope is, we have the following passage from St. Paul (Phil. 3:12-14) as part of the second reading at Mass this Sunday. For my money, it is the most profound reflection on Christian hope found in all of Scripture:

It is not that I have already taken hold of it
or have already attained perfect maturity,
but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it,
since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, I for my part
do not consider myself to have taken possession.
Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind
but straining forward to what lies ahead,
I continue my pursuit toward the goal,
the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.

St. Thomas teaches us that hope is oriented toward a future, difficult good. Let’s briefly look at that from the perspective of natural hope. Hope deals with the future, as it wouldn’t make sense to hope for something that has already happened. Hope deals with the difficult, or at least uncertain. I don’t hope that tomorrow is Friday, because there’s no reasonable chance (barring the Second Coming!) of tomorrow not being Friday. And hope pertains to the good, as we only hope for things that at least seem good to us.

Let’s take it up a notch, and see how this applies to the theological virtue of hope, which helps those of us who have not yet reached “the prize of God’s upward calling” (Phil. 3:14; cf. Catechism, nos. 1817-21). Our hope is ordered to the future. We have been reborn in Christ, but we still haven’t reached our eternal destination. Our hope pertains to the difficult, or uncertain (in fact, the humanly impossible–see Mt. 19:25-26). Now this one can be tricky, as we joyfully affirm that God is true to His promises. We can count on His gracious assistance. The difficulty or uncertainty comes into play because of human freedom. Even though God offers us heaven, we remain free to reject Him through unrepented mortal sin. We all must persevere through some spiritual battles before happily coming to the end of our earthly pilgrimage.

And finally our hope is ordered to our ultimate good, which eye has not seen and ear has not heard (1 Cor. 2:9).

So in these remaining days of Lent, as we embrace our new Holy Father Francis, let’s strain forward to what lies ahead, as we redouble our commitment to our beloved Savior.

Out of Africa

8 Feb

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita (1868-1947), an African saint who was canonized in 2000 by Blessed John Paul II. I really didn’t know that much about her, other than the fact that she was from the Sudan, had been kidnapped in youth, and eventually became a religious in Italy.

Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised that Pope Benedict XVI talked about St. Josephine at length in his 2007 encyclical on Christian hope, Spe Salvi. Here is what the Holy Father had to say about her:

“To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II.

“She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life.

“Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying ‘masters’ who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of ‘master’—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name ‘paron’ for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a ‘paron’ above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that He had created her—that He actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme ‘Paron,’ before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved, and she was awaited. Continue reading

Christian, I Presume?

16 Jun

When I attended UMKC Law School back in the early 1980s, I had a classmate named Barry (not his real name). At the time, I was not practicing the faith and by no means was a paragon of virtuous living. Despite my own low standards, I thought Barry’s carousing lifestyle crossed the bounds of propriety. He even confided to me that while he was home one weekend he made his girlfriend procure an abortion, because he was not willing to take responsibility for his actions.

One day, months later, Barry out of the blue told me, “It’s time for a revival.” It was only then that I learned that he was a part-time preacher who from time to time would go barnstorming through Missouri and Arkansas, inviting people to become “saved.”

I was shocked. I admitted that I had no room to talk, since in my estimation I was no longer a Catholic or even a Christian. Even so, the disparity between Barry’s faith and his ongoing debauchery confused and scandalized me. He eventually explained that I had to learn to separate faith from daily life. I told him–with less refinement and charity than I’d use today–what I thought of a religion I could test drive but not take home. My burning intuition was that a religion that did not affect who I was and how I lived was not worth my time. Continue reading