Archive for the ‘Christian Living’ Category


Where”s the Blood?

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” This ancient Christian maxim hits home in a particular way today as we celebrate the feast of Sts. Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf, and companions, commonly known as the “North American Martyrs.” I remember what an awesome and humbling experience it was to stand in the very spot in Auriesville, New York, where Rene Goupil, the first of the group to be martyred, shed his blood for Christ.

Yet the northeastern United States and Canada, where the North American Martyrs labored so courageously for Christ in the 17th century, are hardly hotbeds of Christian faith today. What do we make of this? [more] (more…)

Top Ten Lessons from 1 Corinthians 5

Friday, October 8th, 2010

I’m currently enrolled in a Bible study on 1 Corinthians in my parish. This week we were studying chapters 5-7. I’d have to say that of the 16 chapters of this epistle, I probably was least familiar with chapter 5. I’m not sure why, but I’ve rarely had the occasion to look that chapter up.

In studying that chapter this week, I was amazed by the applicability of this short chapter to many controversial issues facing individual Catholics and the Church as a whole today. And so, without scholarly exegesis or extensive commentary, I want to offer a top ten list of practical insights I derived from a careful read of 1 Corinthians 5. [more]

(1) Calling sin a sin

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father”s wife” (verse 1).

St. Paul does not dance around the issues. He goes straight to the point of identifying incest as immoral behavior, no matter who (Christian or pagan) commits it (see Leviticus 18; Catechism, no. 2356). He takes his responsibility for the Church in Corinth very seriously, as we’ll see in the succeeding verses.

(2) The error of misplaced “tolerance”
“And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you” (verse 2).

In the world and even in the Church today many extreme forms of immoral behavior are tolerated, if not protected. The one universally recognized “sin” is “intolerance,” meaning that the one thing that isn’t permitted is to condemn someone else’s action as morally wrong (unless the other person’s action was an act of intolerance!). I’m certainly not espousing a harsh, judgmental  condemnation of persons. However, if I understand St. Paul correctly, I think we tend to be arrogant (and cowardly) in our acceptance of conduct that is unacceptable. We should instead mourn, because those who commit serious sins are on the road to perdition. This should inspire in us to authentic, compassionate outreach, not a weak indifference. We must be evangelizers, not enablers.

We’ll touch upon the second half of this verse shortly.

(3) Recourse to the Church
“For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing” (verses 3-4)

St. Paul seems to be following the protocol for fraternal correction in Matthew 18:15-17. Apparently after private attempts to reconcile the sinner (perhaps by Chloe’s people, see 1 Corinthians 1:11), the matter was referred “to the church” (Mt. 18:17), represented by the Apostle Paul. Further, we see the authority St. Paul, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, is able to wield over the local Church, for the good of all. Compare that to the opposition and resentment we find toward the Holy Father and the “Vatican,” whose intervention is often not welcome (because of the aforementioned arrogance). For a recent case study, recall the reaction of some religious orders when they learned of the apostolic visitation of their communities.

(4) Excommunication sometimes is necessary

“When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh . . .” (verses 4-5).

Earlier, in verse 2, St. Paul bluntly said that this notorious sinner must be removed from the community. This seems to fall in line with what we read in Matthew 18 concerning sinners who won’t accept correction from the Church: “If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Mt. 18:17). In other words, practically speaking, that person is no longer a Catholic and cannot avail himself of the sacraments. Because of that, he is subject to the work of Satan without the protection of the Church. This is part of the binding and loosing authority of the Church (Mt. 18:18), and we see it at work when a person is “excommunicated” or denied the sacraments.

This is for the “destruction of the flesh.” While there may be some sort of physical or temporal punishment (as would be the case today when someone is convicted of sex crimes), St. Paul here is talking about “flesh” in a deeper sense. He is referring to our sinful nature, which must be cleansed so as to enter the presence of God. This experience of purgation, of isolation from the Church–like a child being sent from the family table to his or her bedroom–is not permanent, as we see in the conclusion of this verse . . . 

(5) Excommunication is a remedial, not vindictive, measure

“ . . . that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (verse 5).

Excommunication and any other sort of Church penalty is meant to rehabilitate the sinner, not to condemn him. It is tough love, though. Such a penalty not only challenges the sinner to reconcile with God and the Church, it also challenges the Church community to a higher form of charity. Is our charity wimpy and afraid to make waves, or does it courageously seek the eternal good of the other person. In that regard, it”s good to recall that authentic Christian charity is tough as nails–the nails of the Cross.

This charity also shows itself in our joyful willingness to embrace and forgive those who do seek to reconcile, reflecting divine mercy and not giving in to the fallen human tendency to hold on to grudges. 

One wonders what good it does the individual souls of Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and other Catholics who, despite their public opposition to the Church, are permitted to receive the sacraments without their having a change of heart (i.e., conversion). What good has that done for the Church in the United States? I think sometimes we”re too worried about political ramifications or about offending someone (I”m guilty as charged), and not enough about our holy faith and the salvation of souls.   

(6)  The communitarian effect of sin

“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened” (verses 6-7).

Just as through the Church, and especially through the Communion of Saints, we benefit from the prayers and good works of others done in the name of Christ, so too there is no such thing as a “private” sin. All sin is a cancer that can poison the entire body. This reality is only amplified as the sin becomes greater, more public, and more widely accepted. Isn”t that exactly how a cancer grows? Each one of us is called to be a positive “leaven” in the world, though which the Kingdom of God grows, and not a corruptive leaven of sin and division. The same holds true for the community of believers, as the Church herself is composed of sinners like us, and is always in need of renewal.

(7) Worthy reception of Communion

“For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (verses 7-8).

St. Paul”s discussion here has strong Passover overtones (see Ex. 12:14-20). Now the Passover sacrifices have been superseded by the suffering, death, and Resurrection of Christ, the new and eternal Passover, or “paschal” lamb, whom we receive in Holy Communion. As St. Paul will further develop later in chapters 10 and 11 of the letter, our participation in the Eucharist requires faith and the proper dispositions. Just as the man St. Paul describes as living in an incestuous relationship should not receive Communion until reconciled with the Church, so too we must be reconciled with God and the Church prior to coming forward for Communion (regardless of whether someone is “denying” the sacrament to us). Here’2012-04-24 18:34:02′s what the Catechism says:

“We must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: ”Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor. 11:27-29). Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion” (no. 1385).

(8) In the world, not of it

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber — not even to eat with such a one” (verses 9-11).

St. Paul is holding believers to a different standard. Why? Jesus identified with sinful human nature so that we can identify with Him, and so be saved. So He goes out looking for all of us, wherever we might be. We read in the Gospel about how He would associate with tax collectors and sinners. St. Paul certainly is not at odds with this evangelistic, missionary spirit, which he embodied in a singular way in his own ministry, as he became all things to all men in the hope of saving at least some of them (1 Cor. 9:22).

What St. Paul is talking about in this instance is associating with “Christians” or “Catholics” whose public witness runs counter to the faith we profess. When we are too lax to draw appropriate lines, the witness of the Church to the world is compromised by the bad “leaven.”  And as we continually compromise to accommodate sinful behavior within the Church, there is also a subtle but unmistakable corrosive effect on the entire community.

So the call is to be in the world, but not of it. The world wants us to be of the world but not in it (“keep your private beliefs to yourself, please”). Let”s be leaven, and not the rest of the dough. Let”s be thermostats for Christ, and not thermometers. 

(9)  Church must be vigilant concerning her members

“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside” (verses 12-13).

We are called to judge actions. As a father, I have to judge actions all the time. Some of my children”s conduct is unacceptable, and it needs to be addressed. When I correct my children, I”m not being “judgmental” or condemning my kids as persons. Rather, I”m fulfilling my role as a father.

We live in a relativistic age, when we”re supposed to live and let live, at all costs. I can”t “impose my beliefs” on others and, by the way, all moral norms (except for the modern imperative “thou shall tolerate everything”) are treated merely as personal beliefs and not as objective norms of conduct.

We find some solace in our unwillingness to call out sin in the important quote of Our Lord to “judge not, lest you be judged” (Mt. 7:1). Unfortunately, this call not to “judge” others is largely misinterpreted today so as to exclude any sort of fraternal correction. That is not the mind of Christ, and it is not the mind of St. Paul and the Church. We love (and don”t judge) the sinner, but sometimes we must judge actions.

(10) No compromising with sin

“Drive out the wicked person from among you” (verse 13).

This chapter has now come full circle. Of course the Church must be “pastoral” in her approach. But there’s no missing St. Paul’s message. He loves Christ. He loves the Church. He loves the sinner. He doesn’t give any quarter to human respect or diplomatic “niceness.”  I think that’s a perennially valid lesson for the Church at every level, from the Vatican and USCCB to individual dioceses, parishes, and families.

Blessed Are the Meek

Friday, October 1st, 2010

At first glance, meekness may be the most unattractive Christian virtue. Today, many people think of “meekness as weakness,” the antithesis of the “holy” self-assertion that enables us to get our own way. We picture a meek person as a wimp or doormat, not as a virile, Christian man.

Yet, those of us who are serious about following the Lord and growing in Christian virtue know that the Bible presents a different image of meekness. Our faith extols meekness not only as a desirable virtue, but also as a beatitude and fruit of the Holy Spirit. Moses, who boldly delivered an entire nation from bondage, is described in Scripture as “the meekest of men” (Num. 12:3).

Surely Jesus Himself embodied all the virtues, but when it comes to meekness, there can be no doubt. He says, “Learn from me; for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt. 11:29). Not only is Our Lord meek, but He also expects us to imitate His meekness. This message is for everybody, but in a special way it goes out to today’s men, for whom meekness sadly is a rare commodity. [more] (more…)

Sloth Management

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

In yesterday’s post I discussed how the vice of sloth is by no means limited to the “couch potato,” but is a widespread problem in our busy, workaholic world. Now I would like to offer a three-point plan for conquering the vice of sloth and replacing it with virtues that will move us in the right direction. [more]

(1) Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.

I recently had the occasion to reread Pope John Paul II’s magnificent 1998 apostolic letter Dies Domini, on keeping the Lord’s Day holy. It’s hard to single out “favorites” from among John Paul’s voluminous writings, but surely this meditation on the Lord’s Day will benefit Christians “with ears to hear” for many generations to come. 

I heartily recommend this apostolic letter as spiritual reading. Perhaps we can even give up an hour or so of sports (gasp) this Sunday to soak in some of the Holy Father’s insights as to what Sunday is all about in the first place.

One passage of Dies Domini really struck me: “[The Sabbath is] rooted in the depths of God’s plan. This is why, unlike many other precepts, it is not set within the context of strictly cultic stipulations but within the Decalogue, the ‘ten words’ which represents the very pillars of the moral life inscribed on the human heart” (no. 13).

Sunday Mass is not simply another requirement imposed on us by a Church that’s obsessed with “rules.” Rather, the obligation to remember to keep the day holy is prefigured and rooted in the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy, which in turn is rooted in the very act of creation. And by creation I mean both God’s creation of the world, from which He took His rest on the seventh day, and God’s creation of us. This call to worship, to rest from servile labor, to take stock of all that God has given us, is inscribed in who we are, and we are acting against our own good when we fail to remember to keep Sunday holy. As Our Lord noted, the Sabbath is made for man, and not the other way around.

On top of all that, we are commanded to “remember” to keep the day holy, which implies that we might tend to “forget.”

When it comes to tithing our money, assuming that we even make an effort to support the Church financially, we look for the minimum we can get by with. Nobody ever says, “Is it okay to give more than 10 percent?” let alone tries to imitate the widow in the Gospel (Lk. 21:1-4). Instead, we tend to give a mere pittance of what we’re able to give–certainly not enough to affect our overall spending habits. God asks for our first fruits and we give Him our spare change.

In a similar sense, God asks us to tithe our time, to give Him one day per week. Yet, we’ve reduced the Lord’s Day to Sunday Mass, and even then we squawk if it lasts more than 45 minutes. We can’t get out of Church fast enough once we’ve “done our time.”

But as long as we view the Sunday obligation minimally and as a burden, we’re missing the point. While Sunday Mass is the source and summit of our Christian life for the week, the entire Lord’s Day should be set aside for God and family–in other words, for leisure and for freedom from servile labor. Surely there must be some flexibility in application, especially given our diverse, secular culture, but I daresay just as we can probably do a better job of tithing our money, we can do a better job of remembering to observe the Lord’s Day.

(2) Take stock of our schedule.

Time is one of our most valued commodities, and we should spend it in a way that reflects our values and priorities. Getting the Lord’s Day right is the first and most important step, but we still have six other days to order correctly. Faith, family, work, and other pursuits are like ingredients that need to be added at the right time and in the right measure to make a tasty dish. If we don’t take the time to read and follow the recipe, the ingredients won’t come together in the way we’d like.

That’s why it’s so important for individuals, couples, families, and communities to take the time to identify their priorities and commitments and schedule their days and weeks accordingly. For those of us who tend to be lazy “under-achievers,” a schedule will keep us on task to make sure we meet our obligations. For those of us who tend toward workaholism and to be driven by the tyranny of the urgent, a schedule will make sure that we make time for prayer, reading to the kids, or other priorities that might get shoved aside if we’re not vigilant.

(3) Cultivate virtue.

If we’re not actively engaged in cultivating virtue, then our lives will start looking like my lawn. There are some patches of grass, but each day there are also more weeds. Overcoming vice and developing virtue go together, just as it’s not enough to pull weeds without also planting and fertilizing the new grass.

When it comes to sloth, the corresponding virtues are justice, charity, and magnanimity. Sloth is about fulfilling our obligations to God and neighbor, which brings into play the various manifestations of justice. However, the motivation for fulfilling these obligations should be supernatural charity, which moves us out of our small, self-serving world so that we might live for others.

When the spiritual laxity of sloth overtakes us, we are like a football team that has lost its momentum. We are set back on our spiritual heels and feel ill-prepared to do what is necessary to turn the tide. From this perspective, we can see how the “end game” of sloth is despair, as eventually the negative momentum snowballs, and we lose the will to compete. Magnanimity, however, literally means being “great-souled”; it is the virtue that gives us the confidence that we can do all things in Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13), that we can truly run so as to win (1 Cor. 9:24).

Each time we act against our disinclination to pray, as well as work into our day habits of prayer (e.g., saying a Hail Mary when we’re stopped in traffic) and sacrifice, we are replacing sloth with virtues that will help us become saints. And it all starts with getting up off the couch and onto our knees.

The foregoing originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of This Rock magazine, published by Catholic Answers.

The Sin of Sloth: What the Couch Potato and the Workaholic Have in Common

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

When many of us think of sloth, we probably conjure up images of an ugly South American animal that eats shoots and actually hangs around. Or maybe we think of unshaven Joe Six-pack lying on the sofa all weekend, not lifting a finger except to open another cold one.

The latter is a fairly apt image of the vice of sloth or its synonyms such as boredom, acedia, and laziness. Boredom refers to a certain emptiness of soul or lack of passion; acedia refers to the sadness that comes from our unwillingness to tackle the difficulties involved in attaining something good; laziness more generally refers to the torpor and idleness of one who is not inclined to exert himself.

Sloth encompasses all these ideas and more. In his Pocket Catholic Dictionary, the late Jesuit Fr. John Hardon defined sloth as “sluggishness of soul or boredom because of the exertion necessary for the performance of a good work. The good work may be a corporal task, such as walking; or a mental exercise, such as writing; or a spiritual duty, such as prayer.”

One might have the impression that sloth is not a typically American sin. The virtues of diligence and industriousness are deeply ingrained in our nation’s Protestant work ethic. Our youth learn early on that the way to get ahead—at least for those who don’t win the lottery—is by working hard. The early bird catches the worm. Early to bed, early to rise. In a competitive, dog-eat-dog business world, everyone is looking for an “edge,” and that typically comes from outworking the competition.

And even apart from an employment context, when we want to communicate that our lives have been normal and healthy, we report that we’ve been “keeping busy.” [more]

Surely the Church has always championed the intrinsic goodness of human work, through which we become “co-creators” with God and exercise legitimate stewardship over creation. In his 1981 encyclical letter on human work (Laborem Exercens), Pope John Paul II writes: “Work is a good thing for man—a good thing for his humanity—because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being’” (no. 9).

Mightier than the Minotaur

Yet sloth is a sin against God, and not against the time clock or productivity. The fact is that it’s possible to work too much, in a way that’s not in keeping with our dignity and ultimate good. The essence of sloth is a failure to fulfill one’s basic duties. Surely one such duty is the human vocation to work. Yet another such duty is the enjoyment of leisure, to take time for worship. The gentleman lying on the sofa may be a more popular image of sloth, but the workaholic, who’s on the job 24-7 and in the process neglects God and family, is the more typical manifestation of sloth in our culture.

Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it this way:
“In the United States the difficulties are not a Minotaur or dragon—not imprisonment, hard labor, death, government harassment, and censorship—but cupidity, boredom, sloppiness, indifference. Not the acts of a mighty, all-pervading, repressive government, but the failure of a listless public to make use of the freedom that is its birthright” (quoted in William J. Bennett, “Redeeming Our Time,” Imprimis, November 1995).
Work and leisure are both products of human freedom, and both are intimately tied to our ultimate good. Most of us understand and periodically struggle with the natural aversion to work, but why do we find it so difficult to enjoy leisure? Why do we consign ourselves to a joyless workaholism instead of striking a healthy balance in our lives? There are many reasons for this strange phenomenon, but I’d like to point out a few contributing factors that reflect the spiritual malaise of our time.

First, Pope John Paul II, in his 1995 encyclical on the Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), identified “the heart of the tragedy being experienced by modern man: the eclipse of the sense of God and of man” (no. 21). He noted that “when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life” (no. 21). The Holy Father was speaking to us: We in the west have largely lost the sense of God, leading to a loss of our own sense of purpose or mission. This has inexorably led to the societal emptiness and lack of passion that Solzhenitsyn saw so clearly decades ago. A striking correlation exists between the rise of secular atheism and boredom, as the reduction of human existence to the merely material divests it of its intended richness and meaning. This can only lead to the worldly sadness that leads to despair and ultimately death (cf. 2 Cor. 7:10).

Amusing Ourselves to Death

The most typical way of dealing with this tragedy is by not dealing with it, so as a society we tend to flock to entertainments. Certainly, these things are not bad in themselves, but excessive recourse to them reveals a flight from the depths of the human condition to the comfort of shallow pastimes. These pursuits are rightly called diversions, because they divert us from facing a life from which the living God has been excluded. For some, these diversions may be sports, television, or the Internet, among other possibilities. For others, work becomes a diversion, an escape. When it does, it ceases to be a manifestation of virtue and instead feeds the vice of sloth.

In addition, modern man tends to define himself by what he does and what he has. Yet, leisure isn’t about producing and owning, but about being—in other words, resting in God’s presence. We often fail to recognize the immense God-given dignity and value we have simply by being who we are, which is prior to anything we might accomplish in life. In Augustinian terms, without allowing for leisure, our hearts are forever restless, and our sense of worth gets tied to what we’re able to produce. This utilitarian mindset not only drives us to overwork, but it also negatively affects how we value others. That’s one reason why our society has such a difficult time valuing the elderly and the infirm in our midst.

Further, as the pursuit of success, acclaim, or riches becomes the source of our personal worth, these human goods in essence take the place of God in our lives. Few of us probably set out to become idolaters, but that’s what we’ve become if our choices and work habits are ordered toward serving mammon, not God (Mt. 6:24; CCC 2113).

This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of This Rock magazine, published by Catholic Answers. Tomorrow I will post “part two,” of this article, in which I offer a three-part plan for battling and overcoming the sin of sloth.

Social Justice 24-7

Monday, September 20th, 2010

As practicing Catholics we understand the centrality of the Mass as the source and summit of the Christian life. We know the strength that comes from the Eucharist, so we eagerly receive Our Lord every Sunday and perhaps even daily. We also know we are called to “live the Mass,” that our participation in the sacrifice of the Mass should affect everything we do.

In fact, we receive the “bread from heaven” precisely to lead lives worthy of our calling as children of God and heirs of heaven. Mass simply can’t be compartmentalized or separated from the rest of our lives.

Similarly, the Church has repeatedly emphasized in recent years that ecumenism, or the pursuit of Christian unity, is not simply a compartment or appendix of the Christian life–some sort of “extra”–but rather an integral part of her identity and mission.

I think this principle also holds true with social justice issues. It’s great when Catholics dedicate some time to help the poor or visit the sick or minister to the imprisoned. But that’s not enough. Our compassion cannot be compartmentalized either, but rather must inform the way we live even when we’re not at the soup kitchen, the hospital, or the jail.

Fr. Groeschel is right on the mark when he says that something is amiss if our Eucharistic adoration doesn’t commit us to the poor. Just as we must not be “cafeteria Catholics” in picking and choosing which Church teachings we’re going to intellectually accept, we also must not be cafeteria Catholics in picking and choosing which teachings we’re going to allow to transform us.

Underdog”s Church

Monday, September 20th, 2010

I was different from many of my law school classmates in the early 1980s. I had no desire to become rich, nor was I interested in the power and prestige that accompanies a successful law practice. Rather, in my own naïve way, I wanted to help people. Issues such as poverty, injustice, racism, and nuclear arms were what motivated me. I even volunteered one summer with the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s office.

In retrospect, I truly believe that the Lord blessed my sincere desire to defend the “underdog” and used this as the means to draw me back to Himself and His Church.

After graduating from law school, I was still searching for a way to channel my desire to help other people. I was becoming increasingly disillusioned with secular approaches to societal ills, but I was still ambivalent, at best, about the Church.

Then one Sunday I went to Mass and heard a sermon on the Church’s social teaching [more]by a deacon who also happened to be a lawyer. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Church had something to say about these issues. Even more, I then realized that the Church not only took my questions seriously, but also offered satisfying answers–answers rooted in the Truth.

For myself and many others who were raised after Vatican II, the burning issue was not liturgical abuse or some intramural Church dispute. My questions were much more basic: Where is God in my life? What does He have to say, if anything, to the contemporary world? When I was engaged on that level by the deacon, I profoundly realized that I was yearning for the Peace of Jerusalem, not the peace of this world, and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to transform every aspect of our world. Although my understanding has deepened over the years, the fundamental lessons I learned then have remained with me.

I learned was that I was approaching issues from the wrong direction. I tended to think abstractly (e.g., poverty or criminal justice) or collectively (e.g., poor people or criminal defendants). I needed to learn that just as Christ dealt with me as an irreplaceable person, I needed to approach social issues with the mindset that each member of the human family is an irreplaceable person with God-given dignity. There’s something to be said for the slogan “Think Globally, Act Locally”–if it’s understood in the sense that authentic human development must be interpersonal. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was one of the greatest social reformers of our time, but her brand of reform was accomplished one person, one precious soul, at a time.

Yet, I discovered I had to back the bus up even further. I cannot provide enduring assistance to others if I’m not continually being renewed in Christ myself (cf. Rom. 12:2). Life in Christ changes everything. I realized that I needed–with God’s grace–to eradicate sin from my life and strive, however imperfectly, for holiness. To love another person with Christ-like love, I had to become more like Christ.

That, in a nutshell, is the lesson of the saints.

Over the text couple days I will continue these reflections on the social teachings of the Church.

Call to Disarm

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Today there will be a groundbreaking ceremony for a nuclear weapons plant in the Kansas City area. Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph issued the following statement in response to this development:

“On September 8, 2010 ground will be broken to begin construction of a new facility for the production of non-nuclear parts for nuclear weapons in South Kansas City. In the Catholic Church September 8th is the feast of the Birth of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The confluence of the groundbreaking with the feast of Mary’s nativity provides the opportunity to pause at the irony of the situation: Mary, mother of the Prince of Peace, and the construction of a facility whose main purpose is the construction of weapons for warfare. [more]

“The Catholic tradition has always affirmed the right of a state to defend itself from unjust aggression. Implicit in that right is the need to equip a trained military force. We do not deny this obligation and necessity on the part of any state.

“However, the accumulation of weapons of mass destruction–which this nuclear plant proposes to construct–constitutes a grave moral danger. Nuclear weapons are by their very nature weapons of mass destruction: their force and impact cannot be contained, and their use affects combatants and non-combatants alike. . . . Since the use of such weapons is morally questionable, it follows that the production of such weapons is also morally questionable. . . .”

Bishop Finn also pointed out the inherent difficulties in justifying the production of nuclear weapons based on their deterrent effect:

“Others would argue that to possess such weapons would be a deterrent to other nations who also possess such weapons. The Church responds to such an objection: ”The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace among nations. This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. The arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. Spending enormous sums to produce ever new types of weapons impedes efforts to aid needy populations; it thwarts the development of peoples. Over-armament multiplies reasons for conflict and increases the danger of escalation” (Catechism, no. 2315).”

The constant message of the Church is one of prudent disarmament and peace. This message was well communicated by Bishop Finn.

To view Bishop Finn”s entire statement, click here.

Like Noah”s Righteous Sons

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

The relation of Christ and the Church is often expressed in nuptial terms: Christ is the Bridegroom; the Church is His Bride. By extension, the bishop (who acts in the person of Christ) and his flock have a spousal, familial relationship. The bishop’s ring symbolizes his “marriage” to the local Church. Moreover, the bishop typically wears a pectoral cross, not a crucifix. There is no corpus on his cross because the bishop himself is to be the corpus, laying down his life for his bride in imitation of our Savior (John 15:13; Eph. 5:25).  

Spousal, covenantal relationships do not involve a quid pro quo. My fidelity to my marriage covenant is not dependant on my wife’s fidelity. I don’t assess my wife’s performance each day in order to decide whether she deserves my love. Rather, my commitment–and hers–must be total and unconditional.

This principle also applies to our relationship with bishops. [more]And it should be noted that bishops’ obligations are weightier than our own. Yet the bishop may never say, “These people are a pain in the neck and oppose me at every turn; I will not love and serve them.” He will be judged ultimately on his fidelity to Christ played out through the exercise of his episcopal ministry, not on the fidelity of his flock.

Similarly, we have a duty of docile reverence toward our bishops as our spiritual fathers. This duty flows from the fourth commandment.

Of course, sometimes we may be compelled to speak up, but with patience, fortitude, and charity we must always preserve unity in our pursuit of Christ’s truth.

Taking needed corrective action with respect to one of our shepherds is not a cause for rejoicing or something to be publicly proclaimed so that we can take “credit” for being some sort of orthodox gunslinger. Rather, like Noah’s righteous sons who covered their father’s nakedness notwithstanding his drunkenness, we should take appropriate action while remaining very conscious of the harm caused by publicly airing our grievances against our spiritual fathers.

If my own father were to do something evil, it would be wrong for me to ignore it or to cover it up for him so that he can get away with it again. But it would also be wrong, and indeed a violation of the fourth commandment, to treat him as anything less than my father and perhaps even to lead the charge in publicly disgracing him.

The foregoing is an excerpt from my article entitled “How to Talk to (and about) a Bishop,” which appeared in the January 2007 issue of This Rock magazine.

Seizing the Moment

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

In our daily spiritual lives, moments of decision typically revolve around temptations. We’re trying to follow Christ and abide by His teachings and commands. Then we’re confronted with a situation in which we’re being lured–subtly or overtly, whatever best suits Satan’s purposes at the time–into doing what we know we shouldn’t do.

In these instances, the good choice often involves avoiding a negative, to not do the wrong thing. Yet, battling temptations rather than fleeing them suggests that part of us has already given in a little bit. I know that sometimes even after choosing not to sin I feel somewhat sullied and compromised, because my good choice wasn’t as prompt and pure as it should have been.

I guess we can keep butting heads with temptations, flirting with how much we can get away with before we’re actually sinning, but I’d like to suggest a way out of that mindset. [more]

Instead of having the day’s moral decisions dominated by choices to avoid temptations to sin, as though we’re constantly navigating through a spiritual minefield, why not capitalize on moments of opportunity to grow in the love of God and neighbor? After all, the best defense is a good offense. The first moment of decision in a given day, and one in which quiet heroes are made, occurs the instant we awake. It’s the decision literally to get out of bed. At that moment, we’re comfortable, we might still be tired or not feel so great, and it would be easy to justify hitting the snooze button so we can sleep some more.

Certainly we’re not talking here about a temptation to sin, and sometimes, because of illness or other factors, it’s a very good decision to get a little more sleep.

However, our first waking moment gives us a chance unlike any others to put God first in word and action, to seize a moment of opportunity, to score a touchdown for Our Lord on the opening kickoff. Then we have a certain spiritual momentum, and our day becomes characterized more by the good we are choosing rather than the evil we are avoiding.

I know what a blessing it has been to get up early with my kids to go to a morning Mass even before the first cup of coffee or breakfast (which we then enjoy and appreciate even more after Mass). But whether it’s an act of the will to get up and pray, read Scripture, visit our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, or even go for a jog or walk, if it’s a decision for the Lord, it’s a great way to put Him first and proactively enter into the day.

Sometimes when I pass on my “heroic moment” so as to get a little more sleep, the day still goes okay. Other times, though, I feel as though I’m a half step behind all day, reacting to things rather than really living fully. However, I honestly can’t recall ever having regretted getting up early for the Lord or having a day really “go south” when I put Him first.

As Scripture says, we are to love the Lord with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and that we should instill this wisdom into our children as soon as they rise in the morning (Deut. 6:4-7).

Are the first words out of our mouth at the beginning of the day “All for you, Jesus” or “Just five more minutes”?