Tag Archives: Year of Faith

Joy to the World

26 Nov

Pope Francis2This past Sunday, the Church celebrated the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, more commonly known as the feast of “Christ the King.”

This year’s celebration of Christ the King not only brought with it the end of our liturgical year, but also the end of the “Year of Faith,” which invited all of us to a renewed relationship with Christ and His Church. The Year of Faith coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and during the Year of Faith, Church leaders from around the world gathered to discuss in practical terms the “new evangelization.”

But that’s not nearly all. On the feast of Christ the King, Pope Francis issued a 223-page apostolic exhortation entitled Evangelii Gaudium (“Joy of the Gospel” or “EG”), on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world. Therein the Holy Father not only synthesizes the discussions regarding the new evangelization, but even more gives his own personal stamp to the Church’s mandate to evangelize in the here and now.

This document is fairly long, so I will try to break it down into smaller parts. Today, I’ll just look at the Introduction, in which the Pope sets the tone for the entire document. Four things struck me about the Introduction at first glance:

(1) He gets your attention. The Pope has a unique way of challenging all of us, and in particular by way of “afflicting the comfortable” (as opposed to “comforting the afflicted”). For example, take this passage from paragraph 2:

“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and an­guish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry, and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spir­it which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.”

He addresses evangelization not as a task or technique for those of us who already think they have their act together, but rather as the fruit of a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ.

(2) It’s all about joy. The words “joy” or “rejoice” appear at least 50 times just in the Introduction. I think the Holy Father is trying to make a point here! And the point is this, quoting Pope Paul VI:

“May the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anx­ious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ” (EG 10).

(3) The Pope is quotable! Here are just a few nuggets:

  • “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter” (EG 6).
  • “Sometimes we are tempted to find excus­es and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met” (EG 7).
  • “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!” (EG 10).
  • “Every form of authentic evangelization is always ‘new’” (EG 11).
  • “The believer is essentially “one who remembers’” (EG 13).
  • “It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction’” (EG 15).

(4) It’s modest, yet far-reaching. I say that the Pope’s approach is “modest” in the sense that he acutely recognizes that evangelization happens “on the ground,” and that each geographic region presents its own pastoral challenges for individual bishops. Even more than that, Pope Francis does “not believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world” and is conscious of the need to promote what he calls a “sound decentralization” of Church authority (EG 16).

Notwithstanding this noble recognition of the prerogatives of individual bishops, he does take it upon himself to give an extensive teaching on evangelization (did I mention that the document is 223 pages?). As we proceed in the document, we are going to unpack the Holy Father’s views on these subjects, identified in EG 17:

(a) the reform of the Church in her missionary outreach;

(b) the temptations faced by pastoral workers;

(c) the Church, understood as the entire People of God which evangelizes;

(d) the homily and its preparation;

(e) the inclusion of the poor in society;

(f) peace and dialogue within society;

(g) the spiritual motivations for mission.

I think as we read the document the Holy Father desires that these words of St. Paul remain ever present to us:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

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.

Digesting the Content

27 Jun

Catechesi TradendaeChurch documents can seem a bit daunting at first, especially to lay people who have not studied Catholic theology for any length of time. Yet the writings of the Popes and other Church authorities are far too important to be left merely to scholars or so-called “experts.”

I received a tip many years ago that I have found very helpful: Most Church documents, including Vatican II documents and papal encyclicals, are divided into numbered sections. Each section is bite-sized, usually 1-4 paragraphs in length. The tip is to read the document one numbered section at a time, and then try to summarize the content in one sentence. This may be a little challenging at first, but eventually you will get the hang of it and quickly zero in on the main point of the section.

One of Blessed John Paul II’s longest documents is Catechesi Tradendae, a 1979 apostolic exhortation on Catechesis in Our Time. Below you will find my summary of this document, with a few memory verses thrown in at no extra charge. Especially during this “Year of Faith,” you might want to try this method with one of the documents of Vatican II or an encyclical on a topic you find most interesting. Continue reading

The Truth Will Set Us Free

28 May

Murray on TIME coverAfter a brief hiatus, we now continue our series on the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) during this Year of Faith with the Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae). While the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy may be considered the most controversial document of Vatican II in terms of its implementation, Dignitatis Humanae is probably the most controversial in terms of what it actually teaches, and it is a “front-burner” issue for the Church today.

The reason Dignitatis Humanae is so controversial are that it (a) reflects new and diverse responses to changing social conditions (notably the contribution of American theologian John Courtney Murray, S.J.) and (b) strikes a very different tone from a series of papal documents from Gregory XVI to Pius XI on the social kingship of Christ and the desirability of a “confessional state” (i.e., what we would call a “Catholic country”).

Let me try to simplify the issue for us: “Religious liberty” looks one way when the Catholic faith is in power and most people are Catholic or at least Christian, and the issue is how to apply religious truth in a manner that is both robust and yet respectful of the rights of non-believers. It looks another way when, as is more typical in our experience, the Catholic faith is a minority position and the issue is to protect the fundamental rights of individuals and religious entities. As the first section Dignitatis Humanae teaches, “Religious freedom, . . . which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society.”

Further complicating the situation is American jurisprudence, which today, in my judgment, improperly treats the “Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment as meaning that there must be an impenetrable wall between Church and State—and really between religion and public life. This distorted emphasis on the Establishment Clause to the detriment of the “Free Exercise” clause has led secularists to narrow the scope of “religious liberty” to what happens in the church building as they bully believers and churches out of the public square.

Exhibit “A” is the HHS mandate.

Another complicating aspect of religious liberty is the widespread misunderstanding of conscience, especially in dissident Catholic circles. I’ve addressed that issue here. The Catechism (no. 1792) acknowledges that “a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience” is a “source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.” Even more to the point, Catechism, no. 2039 teaches that “personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church.”

We should not be forced to act against our conscience. By the same token, we are obliged to form our consciences well. Acting according to the dictates of conscience is about doing what is truly good, not whatever I feel like doing at the moment.

Let’s now briefly look at a “top ten” list of principles of religious liberty taken from the opening sections of Dignitatis Humanae. This is not an exhaustive list, but it contains principles that always apply even as cultural conditions change:

(1) We ordinarily cannot be forced to act contrary to our religious beliefs.

“All men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” (no. 2)

(2) Religious liberty is an innate right known to us through both faith and reason.

“The right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.” (no. 2)

(3) Governments have the duty to respect religious liberty.

“This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.” (no. 2)

(4) We must seek the truth.

“It is in accordance with their dignity as persons–that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility–that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth.” (no. 2)

(5) We must strive to live the truth.

“They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth.” (no. 2)

(6) God’s law is written on the human heart.

“The highest norm of human life is the divine law–eternal, objective and universal–whereby God orders, directs and governs the entire universe and all the ways of the human community by a plan conceived in wisdom and love. Man has been made by God to participate in this law, with the result that, under the gentle disposition of divine Providence, he can come to perceive ever more fully the truth that is unchanging. Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience, under use of all suitable means.” (no. 3)

(7) The truth must be sought freely.

“Truth, however, is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth.” (no. 3)

(8) We must adhere to the truth.

“As the truth is discovered, it is by a personal assent that men are to adhere to it.” (no. 3)

(9) Personal and societal harm comes from suppressing the free exercise of religion.

“On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious. The reason is that the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God. No merely human power can either command or prohibit acts of this kind. The social nature of man, however, itself requires that he should give external expression to his internal acts of religion: that he should share with others in matters religious; that he should profess his religion in community. Injury therefore is done to the human person and to the very order established by God for human life, if the free exercise of religion is denied in society, provided just public order is observed.” (no. 3)

(10) Religious freedom applies to religious communities and groups (i.e., the Church), and not just individual believers.

“The freedom or immunity from coercion in matters religious which is the endowment of persons as individuals is also to be recognized as their right when they act in community. Religious communities are a requirement of the social nature both of man and of religion itself.” (no. 4)