Showing posts with label judgment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label judgment. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

It’s Iimi! Bear One Another’s Burdens

Between answering barrages of attacks against her faith and being asked to carry heavy secrets she can’t reveal to her friends overwhelms Iimi, who thinks she shouldn’t complain because her friends “have it worse.” She learns that her struggles matter to her friends.

And Kismetta gains some insights into the Christian approach to dealing with resentments.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

A Reflection on Justice and Collective Guilt

So, we had a third attack on a statue of St. Junipero Serra. This time in my own diocese. As these attacks continue, I see an emerging tendency which might seem entirely just from a human perspective, though not from a Catholic perspective. That tendency is to go from an entirely just anger and disgust, to a rejection of the original just causes through a guilt by association fallacy.

I say this seems entirely just if taken solely from a human perspective because it is natural to think that if Group A suffers evil at the hands of Group B, we ought to cut ties with and oppose Group B. I say it is not just from a Catholic perspective because we believe that justice means giving to each their due, and punishing the whole for the sins of the fringe is not just.

Our Catholic bishops (contra the claims of some of my fellow Catholics) have given a balanced approach to this modern iconoclasm. They condemn the evil from the fringes, while acknowledging the justified grievances that the main groups have. Unfortunately, some Catholics—based on their personal views of Church and politics—either assume the guilt of all those protesting for racial justice or all in the Church for the acts or views that the Church actually condemned.

Context is always key. People from the past can be blind to bad practices of their times on one hand, doing evil but not intending it. But things can also be misrepresented by people from the present as well. We need to investigate, not assume. As an example, I’ve seen a quote going around the internet purported to be from St. Junipero Serra as “proof” that the saint was in favor of the mistreatment of native Americans. I have two problems with that quote. First, we have no source material for the statement as translated. That doesn’t mean the quote is a fabrication of course. He might have said it. It might be verifiable under a different translation. But without knowing where we might independently verify this quote outside of the say-so of those hostile to him, how can we investigate? Second, because we have no source: if he did say it, we have no way to determine the context. Was he saying it to support it, or saying it to condemn a vicious practice that people had grown blind to§?

So, whether one thinks he was following a practice in a time when discipline was more physical than verbal, whether he was in favor of mistreatment of natives alone (something I doubt), or whether he was opposing the practice, such a person needs evidence for their claims.

Of course, one outside of a group with grievances must not be too quick to dismiss the grievance. Otherwise we risk looking like we don’t care about the grievance. But we can’t just capitulate to an unjust demand either, whether out of fear or out of misplaced#empathy. 

Yes, the Church is filled with sinners. You the reader and I the writer are two of them. We might not be guilty of the worst sins committed by Catholics or in the name of the Church. But we can’t think of those evils within the Church as “somebody else’s problem.” At the same time, we can’t assume that the individual sinners in the Church are proof that those in charge are guilty of willfully supporting those evils. The sacrament of penance exists to bring us back into right relationship with God and each other, and people do repent. Imagine if we ignored the good St. Paul did on the grounds of the evils he did before his conversion.

But once we recognize that, we must do unto others (Matthew 7:12) despite how others outside the Church treat us. Do we think the Church is being unjustly accused and attacked as a whole for the sins of some? I believe so. But if we do recognize that this unjust, that is a warning sign that we must not do it to others.



(†) Remember, we praise Bartolomé de la Casas as a saint, not Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda.

(‡) The quote in question is: “That spiritual fathers should punish their sons, the Indians, with blows appears to be as old as the conquest of the Americas; so general in fact that the saints do not seem to be any exception to the rule.”

(§) Taken as translated, and having no knowledge of context, my instinct is to give it the second interpretation. But without context, neither I nor the Saint’s critics can know that to be a fact.

(#) “Misplaced” is the key word. For example, legitimate empathy calls us to consider the plight of a woman considering abortion. But it doesn’t allow us to support her abortion.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Pharisee and the... Bishop?

The Pharisee and the Publican. James Tissot (1894)

This will probably be a controversial article, but I think it needs to be said, lest we fall into the trap of focusing on the evil of others to the point of self-righteousness and judgmentalism. There is a lot of anger directed at the bishops—individually and in general—over the latest scandals. This is understandable. But it can also be dangerous if it tempts us to justify ignoring Our Lord’s teachings when an evil seems too much to bear.

I think we forget that the audience Jesus spoke to was an audience of victims. The Romans had conquered Judea, and were running it unjustly. Some of the Jews (like the tax collectors) collaborated with the Romans out of self-interest, enriching themselves at the expense of their own people. Hope was high for a messiah who would drive out the Romans and restore the Kingdom of Israel.

But that’s not the message Jesus preached. That’s not the reason Jesus came. He preached salvation from sin, and spoke of the need to forgive those who wronged us. He warned against attitudes of self-righteousness and judgmentalism, telling us not to assume our following the rules and not being as bad as others made us worthy of salvation.

Understanding this shows how scandalous Our Lord’s teaching was. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14), Jesus tells us that the Pharisee—who sincerely kept the teachings of the Law—was not justified in God’s sight while the tax collector—who was viewed as a notorious sinner—was justified. The difference was one of attitude. The Pharisee spent his prayer time praising himself and judging others. The tax collector pleaded with God for mercy.

I think of this, watching Catholics on social media expressing sneering contempt for the bishops. There is an ugly, self-righteous demand for them to abase themselves and grovel for our forgiveness. There is an ugly contempt that considers them to be human garbage. There is an ugly belief that we, the laity, are superior to them.

But, following the theme of Jesus’ parable, if a sinful bishop echoes the prayer of the tax collector, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” it is he who leave justified while we will not. Does that shock you? It should, just like the parable shocked the Jews. Like us with the bishops, the Jews had to struggle with the thought that Jesus was turning a blind eye to real wrongdoing. But He wasn’t. He was pointing out the need for repentance...from each one of us!

We should remember Our Lord’s warning to the Pharisees: (Matthew 21:31) “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” Our Lord picked out the two classes of people who were seen as the furthest from God. But repentant, they are closer to God than the proud. So we should beware: if we are proud and self-righteous, we might be horrified to hear: “the abusive priests and cowardly bishops are entering the kingdom of God before you.” 

No doubt people will angrily reply, “THEY AREN’T REPENTANT!” But this brings us to the (oft misquoted) “Judge not” of Matthew 7:1ff. No, Jesus wasn’t saying “don’t judge the morality of actions.” He was saying, “don’t judge the person’s soul or worthiness of salvation.” When we assume that the other is irredeemably evil unless they show repentance on our terms, we are violating Jesus’ teachings.

Nothing I have written above should be interpreted as ignoring or writing off real wrongdoing. Some have done things that require censure. But we must not forget that the Church has a mission to bring Christ’s salvation to all.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

Incredibly, I have seen some say “we cannot show mercy,” or “there has to a limit to forgiveness.” But that flies in the face of The Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Scripture warns us (Matthew 6:15): “But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

Now leaving aside the cases of actual victims and their families (counseling these people goes beyond my wisdom, training, and experience, so I do not presume to tell them what they should do), I would remind my fellow Catholics of Ephesians 4:26–27: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.” If we are letting our anger fester into revenge and wrath, we are creating an eight lane highway for the devil.

So yes, let us work for reform in the Church. But let us make sure that our work is free of sinful anger, and make sure the reform we work for is compatible with the Church Our Lord established and promised to protect.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Sinners and the Self Righteous

When Our Lord was teaching here on Earth, two of the things He made clear were:
  1. The salvation of sinners was not unobtainable as they feared
  2. The self-righteous were not as close to salvation as they presumed
When Jesus spoke and dined with sinners, they responded with joy but the self-righteous resented it. They did not recognize their own need for salvation, thinking their beliefs and behavior guaranteed them a place in God’s kingdom. Despite the warnings that all of us needed mercy and, therefore needed to repent, the self-righteous assumed they were good enough but Our Lord must not be from God because He showed mercy to the lowest of the low—the prostitutes and tax collectors.

Flashing forward to 2017, I am inclined to think that Our Lord is permitting His Vicar, the Pope, to experience (in a small way) what He experienced on Earth. The Pope is emulating his Master in offering mercy to the sinners and warning the self-righteous. He is telling both groups to turn back to the Lord. With those who are our lowest of the low: the divorced and remarried, those involved in abortion, those involved in homosexual acts, that mercy is possible to them if they seek it. He has urged the clergy to reach out with compassion to helping them (and the rest of us as well) to return to the faith—or at least start them on their way back to God. He held a Year of Mercy seeking to remove barriers that kept people from seeking forgiveness.

Tragically, the self-righteous treated these acts as laxity, not mercy. His call for bishops and confessors to assess the individual culpability instead of assuming that all the conditions required for mortal sin were present was treated as “opening up the Eucharist to public sinners,” unwittingly echoing the rebuke the Pharisees gave to the Apostles: Why Does Your Master Eat With Tax Collectors and Sinners (cf. Matthew 9:11). They see the Pope washing the feet of convicts, showing mercy to public sinners, and assume that this means sanction of their behavior instead of reaching out the way that Our Lord did.

Of course, we should note that the self-righteous do not exist only in one faction of the Church. The Social Justice Warrior who tolerates some evils while looking disdainfully at other Christians who oppose those evils are just as much a part of the self-righteous as the anti-Francis Catholics. They are simply self-righteous over different causes. The attack of “anti-abortion but not pro-life” is just as much a label of contempt as the Pharisee reserved for the tax collectors, and just as much contempt as the anti-Francis Catholics apply to the sincere divorced and remarried who are trying to find the way home but are finding it difficult to extract themselves from sin.

Any time we are willing to look at others and write them off, while thinking of ourselves as righteous in the eyes of God are greatly deceived. That’s true if one scours the minituæ of ancient Church documents to find ways to condemn others, and it’s true if one assumes that working for social justice makes them superior to their fellow Christians and other sinners. While some sins are greater evils than others, the deadliest sin for each individual is the one that sends them to hell. That may be divorce and remarriage. It may be abortion. It may be homosexual acts. But it may also be refusing to follow the Church teaching on other parts of social justice. Matthew 25:31-46 points out that many will be damned for what they refused to do to help others in need.

The point of this is we need to recognize that all of us are sinners and all of us are in need of mercy. This does not mean we ignore warning a brother or sister in danger of losing their way. But it does mean we must not view ourselves as “better” and others as “worse” in doing so. It especially does not mean that so long as we do not perceive ourselves as bad as others, we are guaranteed a spot in the Kingdom of Heaven. We must constantly turn back to The Lord and away from sin.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

You Are The Man! (2 Samuel 12:7)

Catholic factions on social media bears unfortunate witness to the fact that we’re little different than the ones we’re supposed to bear witness to: We’re good at spotting when those they disagree with act at odds with the Faith. We’re not so good at spotting when they fall short themselves. 

The result of this is we see conservative Catholics correctly point out how liberal Catholics fail to defend life and liberal Catholics correctly point out how conservative Catholics fail to support social justice—but neither group considers evangelizing their own faction where it goes wrong. The result of this is Catholic factions reducing our moral obligations to what they already agree with while downplaying or ignoring the real evil their faction commits. We’ve effectively become like the Pharisee in Our Lord’s parable (Luke 18:9-14)—we’re proud of what we do and look with contempt on those who don’t act as we do. But we don’t acknowledge our own sins.

That’s a serious matter.  If a Catholic views his faith in terms of his politics, he has replaced his faith with an idol. Our Lord is demoted from God and Savior to the archetype of the political platform he values. This is not a call for moral relativism. This is pointing out that no political faction is synonymous with our moral obligations. If a Catholic thinks he can downplay the issues his party is in the wrong over, he is not being a faithful Catholic, even if he is “right” on other issues.

To be a Catholic is to devote our entire life to God, rejecting whatever is contrary to Him. It is not a case of a bizarre moral calculus where we devalue issues we are less concerned over in favor of the positions we’d support regardless of what the Church teaches. If we allow ourselves to compromise our moral obligations when it harms our party or candidate, we’re no better than the Catholic we hold in contempt—for doing exactly the same thing! So let us avoid immediately thinking of how the other side does that as a defensive mechanism.

Our Lord warned us about hypocrisy in judgment (Matthew 7:1-5). While we must go out to the world and tell them of the right way to live (Matthew 28:20), we cannot excuse in ourselves what we condemn in others. Otherwise, at the Final Judgment we might find that—in waiting for “the other guy” to be judged—that Our Lord tells us the same thing the Prophet Nathan told King David: You are the man! (2 Samuel 12:7)

If He does, we will have no defense.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Avoiding the Jonah Type Catholicism

Jonahs Anger

Most people, when you mention Jonah, think of the story of Jonah and the whale. That is indeed part of the story. But I don’t think it is the most important part of the story. I think the crucial part begins when the people of Nineveh repent and God decides not to destroy the city. Angered, Jonah has this interchange with God:

But this greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said while I was still in my own country? This is why I fled at first toward Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, repenting of punishment. So now, Lord, please take my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the Lord asked, “Are you right to be angry?” 

Jonah then left the city for a place to the east of it, where he built himself a hut and waited under it in the shade, to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a gourd plant. And when it grew up over Jonah’s head, giving shade that relieved him of any discomfort, Jonah was greatly delighted with the plant. But the next morning at dawn God provided a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. And when the sun arose, God provided a scorching east wind; and the sun beat upon Jonah’s head till he became faint. Then he wished for death, saying, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 

But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry over the gourd plant?” Jonah answered, “I have a right to be angry—angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned over the gourd plant which cost you no effort and which you did not grow; it came up in one night and in one night it perished. 11 And should I not be concerned over the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot know their right hand from their left, not to mention all the animals?” (Jonah 4:1–11).

Jonah was angry because God chose not to punish Nineveh, and also because God allowed the gourd plant to wither. He believed God wronged him in both cases. He was angry because God was merciful, and he was angry because God allowed him to experience discomfort. But Jonah should have been more concerned with the 120,000 people of Nineveh than the gourd plant. He should have realized that God sent him to urge repentance, not to taunt them before their inevitable doom.

I think there’s a similar type of error that Catholics are tempted to direct against the Church. When we strive to live faithfully, and see others do wrong, we want to be vindicated. We want the Pope to issue excommunications around every sinner. But when the Church shows mercy and outreach to these sinners, we’re tempted to act betrayed—as if the failure to punish is an error.

But the use of punishment, like the use of mercy, is a tool with the end of bringing people back to God. If punishment would cause obstinacy, then it might not be the best tool to use at this time. Or, if mercy would lead people to laxity, then it might not be the best tool either. But God gave this decision making power to the Pope and bishops. They have the authority to determine the best means for each case. To be angry at them for choosing what we think is the “wrong choice,” is to miss the point about the reason God established a Church in the first place: To make known and bring God’s salvation to the world.

So, when the Pope says to investigate individual cases of the divorced/remarried instead of assuming the worst intentions, that is the Church applying mercy as the best tool for the circumstance. When a bishop rules that people who openly reject Church teaching are to be denied a Christian burial, he is using sternness as the best tool for the circumstances. These two views are not in conflict.

If we demand that the Church should be all mercy or all sternness, we’re no longer carrying out the mission of the Church. Instead, we’re demanding that the Church follow our preferences. That’s not seeking what is right. That is seeking self-satisfaction.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

On Judgment and Misplaced Blame

JeremiahJeremiah prophesying to Israel

I’ve been working my way through the Book of Jeremiah and reflecting on his prophecies. God called on him to carry the word to His people that they were doing evil in his sight and, if they would not repent, God would punish them for their sins. The reaction of the people was anger towards Jeremiah, treating his words as if he was supporting Israel’s enemies and wanting to kill him on account of his prophecies.

It reminds me of St. Augustine, commenting on Psalm 129:

[#4] Why have they fought against me? Because “they could not prevail upon me.” What is this? They could not build upon me. I consented not with them unto sin. For every wicked man persecuteth the good on this account, because the good man consenteth not with him to evil. Suppose he do some evil, and the Bishop censure him not, the Bishop is a good man: suppose the Bishop censure him, the Bishop is a bad man. Suppose he carry off anything, let the man robbed be silent, he is a good man: let him only speak and rebuke, even though he doth not reclaim his goods, he is everything bad. He is bad then who blameth the robber, and he is good who robbeth!… Heed not that such an one speaketh to thee: it is a wicked man through whom It speaketh to thee; but the word of God, that speaketh to thee, is not wicked. Accuse God: accuse Him, if thou canst!


 Augustine of Hippo, “Expositions on the Book of Psalms,” in Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 8, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 611.

Just as Jeremiah gave God’s message to the Israelites about the urgent need to repent and received hostility in response, the Church speaks against the evils of this age and warns us that certain behaviors rebel against God and brings punishment. Just like the hostility given Jeremiah, the Church receives the same reaction. Israel suffered punishment for her infidelity. Jeremiah was not speaking against Israel out of malice nor because he sided with her enemies, but because God tasked him with bringing a message of truth and consequences. We do not know what God might do in response to our own infidelities, but we can’t say God hasn’t warned us.

I find it curious that the typical response to warnings against moral failings is to blame the messenger as if the fact that certain acts are evil was the invention of the one warning us of evil. His foes accused Jeremiah of treason when he warned Israel. They attack the Church as being homophobic, anti-woman, or legalistic when she warns the world. I think this misdirected anger is a form of denial. If we treat the warning as a “political opinion,” we can go on living our favorite sins and pretending what we do is OK with God . . . and then have the nerve to act shocked when God’s retribution falls on us.

God sent His prophets. Our Lord sends His Church. The mission is not condemning, but saving (John 3:17). Unfortunately, people think this means Jesus just gives out salvation without repentance. They forget that Jesus began His ministry preaching, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15). Yes, God wants the salvation of all people. But He links salvation with repentance. If we will not repent, we will not be saved.

When we think about this, it’s clear that Israel blaming her prophets for the prophecy or Americans blaming the Church for her teachings miss the point in blaming them. They’re the messengers warning us that our behavior goes against the love of God. Our problem is with God. God wants a loving relationship with each one of us, but when our behavior goes against what God commands, we break that relationship—something that has serious consequences. In such a case, warning people that their behavior is separating us from God is not an act of hatred or treason. It is an act of love, warning us to step away from the danger.

The atheist, the non-Christian, and the non-Catholic might say “I don’t believe the Church teaches with any authority.” We must pray for those people and evangelize them that God give them the grace to believe. We must also pray for the grace so we don’t be a stumbling block for them, misleading them by our bad behavior. But for the Catholic to ignore the teaching of the Church is as foolish as the Israelite to ignore God’s prophets, and to be angry at the Church for warning us of our behavior is like Israel being angry at prophets for warning them of God’s coming wrath. It is foolishness where we will have nobody to blame but ourselves if we face God’s wrath instead of His mercy.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Reflections on Mercy and Justice

Last judgment(The Last Judgment—Fra Angelico)

Mercy has been the theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate, and it has been badly misunderstood. Many people see Mercy and Justice as polar opposites, thinking that an emphasis on mercy means a belief that God will not punish and that the Pope will change Church teaching and no longer call sin a sin. The people who hold this view fall into two camps—those who think this is a good thing and those who think it is a bad thing. Neither group asks whether they got it wrong in the first place.

We call God merciful because He constantly calls us back to Him, always willing to accept our repentance, even if we struggle with habitual sin. But he doesn’t violate our free will in doing so. That’s where justice comes in, giving a person his due. The person who spurns God’s mercy or acts presumptuously by assuming God will forgive whether we repent or not will eventually face judgment for refusing to heed God’s pleas and warnings.

As each of us is a sinner, each one of us needs God’s mercy. As God tells us that the merciless person will not be shown mercy (Matthew 18:33, James 2:13), we need to show mercy to each other when we are wronged. We can’t turn a person away who seeks our forgiveness. If we want God’s mercy to be limitless, we cannot put limits on our own. But there is another side to the coin. Mercy involves forgiving the repentant and providing a way for the sinner to turn back. But it does not mean excusing the sin as if it was not a sin.

To seek mercy is to humbly recognize one’s wrongdoing and intend to change to the best of their ability and assisted by grace. If we refuse to admit we do wrong, we’re not seeking mercy. We’re demanding that the Church condone our actions. It’s saying “I’ve done nothing wrong—you’re wrong for insisting on this teaching!” Since we Catholics believe the Church only teaches on right and wrong because of the mandate and responsibility Our Lord gave, to demand the Church change her teaching from “X is a sin” to “X is not a sin” is to reject God’s teaching (see Luke 10:16).

And that’s where God’s justice comes into play. He offers us every chance to change our ways, and every grace to do so. But if we refuse the opportunities and the graces, if we refuse to listen and choose to do what is evil in His sight, we will answer for it. We have an immortal soul. After we die, we will eternally go some place. If we have sought to be faithful to him, cooperating with His grace, and do not have unrepented mortal sins on our conscience, we will go to Heaven (whether directly or through purgatory first). If we put ourselves first and willingly live against His commands, we will go to Hell. That sounds blunt, but our Lord put it bluntly too:

25 You say, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair? Are not your ways unfair? 26 When the just turn away from justice to do evil and die, on account of the evil they did they must die. 27 But if the wicked turn from the wickedness they did and do what is right and just, they save their lives; 28 since they turned away from all the sins they committed, they shall live; they shall not die. 29 But the house of Israel says, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” Is it my way that is not fair, house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are not fair? (Ezekiel 18:25–29)

Our ways are not fair because we want Cheap Grace. We want the right to live as we please and then go to Heaven. But that is an impossibility. If we want to go to Heaven, we need to live as God calls us to live. God will give us the grace to do so, and provides us with the sacraments—including the Sacrament of Penance for when we fall short. But He won’t force us to change our ways. We have to respond to His call and His grace.

So that brings us to the tension between the Christian and the world. We’re called to evangelize the world (see 1 Corinthians 9:16), bringing people knowledge of God and His gift of salvation, and how to follow His ways (Matthew 28:20). But because that involves telling people they do wrong, people respond with hostility. We’re bigots and judgmental in their eyes because we tell them what they practice is evil and not good.

Yes, some Christians do behave wrongly. They seem to relish a kind of vengeance where wrongdoers suffer, and they seem to take satisfaction in the belief that their enemies are going to go to Hell. They get outraged at the thought that the sinners might get to Heaven before they do (Matthew 21:31). But these are Christians who fail to do what God tells them to do. They are an aberration. But warning sinners to change so they are not excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven is not that kind of behavior.

If we want mercy from God, we must show mercy (Matthew 7:2). That means forgiving those who wrong us, and it means keeping the door open for people to reach God. Of course, this is something greater than we are. God is the one who brings people to salvation. But we can’t view ourselves as bouncers at the door, deciding who’s good enough to get in. The criminal, the unscrupulous politician, or (perhaps hardest of all) the person we can’t stand are all called by God. We should desire their salvation. That means speaking the truth with love. We don’t compromise on doing what is right, but we also don’t get so caught up in our own views, that we keep people away who are earnestly seeking God and want to turn to Him with their whole heart.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Don't Be Jerks About "Don't Be Jerks" Posts

Pope Francis recently called for Christians who did wrong to people with same sex attraction to seek forgiveness. This was widely misrepresented and some Catholics wound up thinking the Pope was saying we should apologize for Church teaching. But a good number of Catholic bloggers rose to defend the Pope from these attacks, especially when they came from big names in Catholic blogging who had been defending the Church for years..

Unfortunately,there are some blog posts that seem to push an attitude of “we’re all guilty” of doing wrong to these people, and I think that will end up alienating faithful Catholics.

The problem is, the fact that some people do wrong does not mean all people do wrong and we need to avoid indicting every person who believes sin is sin. Many people were justly angered by Supreme Court justices striking down the defense of marriage laws and legalizing same sex “marriage.” They’re also justly angry when they suffer injustice.

See, anger in itself is not a sin. The 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia makes a good distinction:

Its ethical rating depends upon the quality of the vengeance and the quantity of the passion. When these are in conformity with the prescriptions of balanced reason, anger is not a sin. It is rather a praiseworthy thing and justifiable with a proper zeal. It becomes sinful when it is sought to wreak vengeance upon one who has not deserved it, or to a greater extent than it has been deserved, or in conflict with the dispositions of law, or from an improper motive.

The Catholic Encyclopedia: An International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline, and History of the Catholic Church (Kindle Locations 32267-32270). Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition.

We can, with prudence and balanced zeal, be angry at injustice and want it resolved—and we do not sin in such cases. We sin when our anger makes us want revenge on the innocent or by demanding more than justice allows. So, with that balance in mind, it is wrong to assume that all Christians angry at sin or for suffering injustice for their beliefs must be guilty and think they need to seek forgiveness.

As I see it, Pope Francis is talking about Christians who have treated people with same sex attraction as less than fully human, when our task is to show God’s love to our fellow sinners, even though their sins are different than ours. I believe he refers to those who think our faith justifies driving these people away and insulting them—those who go overboard in their rhetoric and those who think that we must ostracize them on account of their sins. The Pope’s message since 2013 was one of showing mercy, which is not the same as permissiveness. Each individual will have to look to their own conscience and see if they stand indicted by the Pope’s words. But neither you nor I can look at their conscience for them. We can only look at our own conscience and see whether we have failed to show love and mercy.

That means we need to stop using rhetoric that accuses and assumes that everyone must be guilty. Instead of saying "Don't be like that guy!” (which assumes bad will on the part of “that guy” and those who have similar concerns), let’s say, "Let us be merciful and charitable because that is God's will for us."

Another point we need to be aware of. Just because people take offense at us because we believe homosexual acts are wrong, does not mean we’re guilty of wronging them. Sure, if someone overlays the rainbow flag with Hitler, that’s seeking to offend. But if a Christian says, “I’m sorry, but these acts are sins,” and the person gets angry, the Christian has done no wrong. Yes, we must be careful to witness Our Lord in our words and actions. But just because someone gets angry when we will not call evil “good,” that doesn't mean we are to blame for that anger.

We should avoid both the idea that everybody is to blame and the idea that nobody is to blame. The Pope’s words call each of us to honestly examine our conscience, and see if we have done right or wrong. But let’s not use rhetoric that sounds like we think everybody has done wrong on this topic.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!" Thoughts on Ignoring God's Warning


Reading the Old Testament—the history and the prophets—we see a fascinating picture of God’s love and man’s failure to respond. God cares for his people enough to tell them of the need of repentance, and warns them of the consequences of living in rejection of this call. God sent prophets to Israel and Judea to plead with them to turn back, using strong language when needed, equating His people with playing the role of the prostitute because of their sins. Because they refused to listen and repent, the ultimate fate was one of exile. They were handed over to their enemies and forced from their homes. Because the land they were driven from was the land their ancestors were promised, it was a sign of just how far the people of Israel and Judea had alienated themselves from God.

But during that time when God sent His prophets to warn them of their sins, the response was always hostile. Prophets were mocked, jailed and killed. The prophecies against Israel and Judah were seen as treasonous—people viewed them as the individual wishing evil upon their own nation. They also presumed they would be safe from any promised punishments. After all, didn’t God establish His temple here? He was not going to permit it to be destroyed.

But the prophet Jeremiah warned them about that false mindset:

The word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand at the gate of the house of the Lord and proclaim this message there: Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord! Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Reform your ways and your deeds so that I may dwell with you in this place. Do not put your trust in these deceptive words: “The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord!” Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deeds; if each of you deals justly with your neighbor; if you no longer oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow; if you no longer shed innocent blood in this place or follow after other gods to your own harm, only then will I let you continue to dwell in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors long ago and forever. (Jeremiah 7:1-7)

I think that America today behaves like ancient Israel and Judea. We consider ourselves to be fine as we are, and refuse to consider that we need to change our ways. We invoke our own version of “The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!” by announcing that “God doesn’t care about those actions!” or “If God is Love, He won’t send me to hell.” The prophet warning of the need to change our sinful ways (the Church) is scorned and attacked—told to be silent. Peter Kreeft once described the American situation in a Socratic dialogue as follows:

Libby: I see. Professor, don’t you think your doomsday scenario runs afoul of facts? Look at America. This “Dracula”[*], as you call it, is one of the most religious countries in the world. Half the people go to church, and 95% believe in God. America’s got more religion than almost any other country.

‘Isa: Yes, and it’s also got more guns, more suicides, more abortions, more divorces, more drugs, more pornography, more fatherless children than almost any other country.

Libby: How can that be? Doesn’t that refute religion’s claims? Isn’t religion supposed to be the cure for all these social diseases?

‘Isa: Not if the religion is as relativistic as the society. Not if the doctor is as sick as the patient. A God made in the world’s image can’t save the world. You see, American religion wants to make you feel good and be comfortable, not to shock you or scandalize you.

[Peter Kreeft, A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 21–22.

The religion America prefers, aimed at making us feel good and comfortable, prevents us from thinking about whether we do things which are evil in the sight of God. We reduce the concept of “God is Love” (1 John 4:16) to sentimentality, and think warnings are contrary to love as opposed to being motivated by love. Because we do not think of where we stand before God, we do not repent. Because we do not repent, we remain in our sins. Because we remain in our sins, we risk damnation.

The Catholic Church is sent to the world to tell all people in all nations and times of the message of salvation and our need to turn back to God, repenting of the evil that we do. She tells us that God is the greatest possible good, and nothing that separates us from Him is worth the ultimate cost. She reminds us that we have the free will to accept God’s grace that we need to be saved and we have the free will to reject it. But if we use the free will to reject God, there are consequences. We cannot reasonably expect that we can reject God while believing we are owed the benefits that come from following Him. As St. Epiphanius wrote, “God gives not the kingdom of heaven but on condition that we labor; and all we can do bears no proportion to such a crown.”

But that is exactly what our society is demanding. They want the reward without the labor. They want salvation without repentance. In short, they want God to repent and change His ways—a blasphemous impossibility. The Church cannot promise such a false message, and the person who demands it is on a fool’s errand. But the political and cultural elites are indeed on this fool’s errand, demanding that the Church change her teaching as if she had invented the moral obligations she feels bound to teach.

America will continue to utter the modern equivalent of “The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!” America will continue to lull herself with a false sense of security, and if she does so, she will face destruction. I do not know if this will be a physical destruction like past nations have suffered as a warning, or whether it will be the ultimate damnation of hell. But turning back to God is the only thing that can save us.

Meanwhile, the Church will continue to teach and to administer the sacraments, even at the cost of the hatred of the world. We will be hated and persecuted as Our Lord has warned. But we will remain in carrying out our mission, even as we pick up the pieces of a society which destroys itself by refusing to hear the truth.

Die in bed

The nations cannot destroy the Church, but they can destroy themselves. God’s ultimate victory will happen whether we are cooperating or opposing Him. However, the Scriptures and history warn us that we would be far wiser to listen to God and obey Him, rather than oppose Him. The question is—will we listen? Or will we find ourselves paying the penalty for ignoring our plight while saying "The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!"


[*] Previously in the dialogue, ‘Isa refers to America as Dracula because America’s cultural imperialism is imposing moral relativism on the rest of the world.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Mercy and Misunderstanding

Prodigal Son(The Return of the Prodigal Son, James Tissot)

The Bull Misericordiae Vultus, announcing a jubilee beginning with Advent 2015, has been released to mixed response. The response tends to be based on how one understands concepts like mercy and justice. With the modern tendency towards turning these terms into buzzwords, people tend to interpret the reports as if they were political rhetoric, and either approve or disapprove based on what the buzzwords mean. But we need to realize that mercy and justice have much deeper meanings in the Church, and this bull needs to be read with the understanding that the Church has for these words.

Summary of the Bull

Pope Francis published the Bull Misericordiae Vultus (“Face of Mercy” if Google Translate got it right) announcing the jubilee year of mercy. The text and the concept is a beautiful one. It seeks to tear down the barriers which keep people from turning back to God—the kind of thing where people have encountered bad experiences in the Church which leave them fearful or resentful of turning to the Church. Some might feel they cannot be saved because of fear. Others may have encountered bad experiences with members of the Church which lead them to think the experience is the norm.

The Pope recognizes that there must be more to evangelization than admonition. There must be “respect and love” and “encouraging remedies" (MV #4). The bull is a message of urging encouragement, stressing God’s love for the sinner and calling the sinner to be reconciled and healed by God. He points out Jesus’ compassion for the people who seek Him and provided for their deepest needs. He stresses how Jesus’ parables show God as a Father who never rests until He finds the lost and brings them back. Such mercy is not only for the institutional Church to deal out in the Sacraments. We are all called to show mercy to others because mercy was first shown to us by God (MV #9).

The bull speaks about how we as human beings judge only superficially, not knowing the depths of the soul that the Father can see. We are to accept the good in each person and forgive. It calls on us to rediscover the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, reminding us of God judging us based on whether we have aided those in need, whether physical or spiritual. The Pope insists on confessors being “authentic signs of the Father’s mercy” (MV #17), behaving as the father in the parable of the prodigal son—running out to meet the son despite the fact that he has squandered his inheritance, and expressing the joy of his return.

Then, in what seems to be a part overlooked in this bull, the Pope reminds people that justice and mercy are not contradictory, but “two dimensions of a single reality” (MV #20). Justice gives the individual what is rightly due, and God is the Judge. Justice, avoiding legalism, is seen as “faithful abandonment of oneself to God’s will.” Our Lord sought to break down the legalistic view that divides people into the just and the sinners—seeking to reach out to all sinners, offering the salvation. We have to go beyond considering the border of goodness as “formal respect for the law.” Mercy is God reaching out to the sinner to give him a new opportunity (MV #21) to repent and believe.

Reflections on What It Calls Us to Be

The bull is very insightful and should be read as a reminder of what God is calling us to be. It certainly strikes me as a challenge for a Catholic blogger. We need to avoid being barriers to people seeking mercy, and that means we must be careful in not choosing rhetoric that leaves a person believing that God is unapproachable or that we do not want them to return to the Church. Even when our blog is based on defending the teachings of the Church unpopular in modern culture (sexual morality or social justice depending on the ideological outlook), we have to do so in a way that does not leave the reader who happens to be at odds with the Church either defiant or despairing.

It means we have to avoid putting people into “us” and “them” categories or “saints” and “sinners” categories where we put ourselves in the category of the “good" and others in the category of “you horrible people!” It means we have to be showing people how to return to Christ’s Church and live rightly, not writing angry articles about how the bishops need to throw out some person or another. That’s not to say we have to capitulate on dissent (see below), but it does mean we have to stop acting like the angry guard dog on a chain barking and growling at everything that is out of the ordinary, failing to distinguish between the hostile intruder and the person needing help.

What this Document is Not Saying

However, one thing we need to remember is that a call for mercy and not judgment on our part does not mean changing Church teaching from “X is a sin” to “X is not a sin.” God has called us to live in a certain way which reflects His goodness. Accepting mercy means thinking like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable, saying "O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). The person who seeks mercy knows they have done wrong and wants to return to a healthy relationship. The person who does not accept that they have done wrong may want to return to a healthy relationship, but he or she is refusing to seek mercy.

So, the Pope is calling on those of us in the Church who have sought and received mercy from God, to show mercy to those who are at odds with us or the Church (see Matthew 18 23-35). That doesn’t mean that we are to call evil good. It means we are to act like the father of the prodigal son and embrace the returning sinner. The Church cannot say that abortion, contraception, same-sex acts etc. are no longer sins, because God has made clear that loving Him means keeping the commandments (see John 14:15 and 1 John 5:1-6).

So the person who hopes or fears that this jubilee of mercy is going to be changing the teaching of the Church, that is simply false. This isn’t a matter of letting people do whatever the hell they want. This is a matter of shepherds going out to find the lost sheep, and rejoicing when it is found and returned. We can't be saying “Stay out until you can behave!” It is a case of saying “Please come back to God who loves you!” Some may refuse the offer of mercy, but we can’t stop seeking to lead them back. If they refuse and die in their refusal, that is for God to judge. But if we don’t seek them out and try to bring them back, we too will be judged (see Ezekiel 33:1-18).

So, this document is not saying “The Church must change her teaching” or “you must let people do what they want.” It is saying we can’t write people off as irredeemable. We have to keep trying to reach them, avoiding the judgment that says “I’ve done enough—to hell with you!” That strikes me as key here. mercy neither means “Stop saying that what I do is a sin!” nor “That’s the limit and I don’t have to reach out to you anymore!” Even the Church penalty of excommunication is not done so as to amputate a diseased limb, but as to show the person how serious the sin is in hopes of bringing them back. It’s a tool to be used like a scalpel—not a sledgehammer.


What seems most important to remember is the Pope is not calling for moral laxity. He’s calling for a change of heart, both in the sinner estranged from God and His Church, and in the person who has already been converted by His grace. To the person estranged, the Pope is calling for them to accept God’s mercy and return to Him and His Church. To those who have received God’s mercy, God is calling us to be merciful to those who wrong us and to not stand in the door to keep those we dislike away from reconciliation.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Snares of the Devil

Knowledge about God without an awareness of our misery produces vanity. Knowledge of our misery without an awareness of God produces despair. Knowledge of Jesus Christ provides the middle ground, because in him we find both God and our misery.



I’m of the view that the devil can use the same snare on any number of people—it is only a case of using different bait depending on the individual. At the same time, people tend to be pretty good at sneering at other people caught in the snares while ignoring that we seem to be somehow stuck after going for that bait tasty looking morsel just sitting there.

The trap is pride/vanity and the bait is the way we justify ourselves into thinking we have done nothing wrong—that the fault is exclusively on the other side of whatever either-or equation we have set up for ourselves. Either we haven’t sinned, or else it’s someone else’s fault that we have sinned. If anyone should indicate that we are doing wrong in a specific way (as opposed to a generic “yeah I’m a sinner, but oh well… so is everyone else), we get angry. Someone saying I am doing wrong and am at risk of losing my soul over it is seen as an unjust insult, while when I speak out on the flaw of another, I am merely admonishing the sinner—one of the spiritual works of mercy.

This seems to be reaching a peak of hostility, where the Church receives hatred from both sides and both sides can see the hypocrisy of the other side, but not their own. One Catholic sees the sins of his ideological foe, and correctly sees they are wrong, but is blind to his own flaws. His foe looks at him and sees the same. But neither says “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner."

I think this is the real point of Matthew 7:1-5...

 “Stop judging,* that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

This quote is taken grossly out of context to mean “Don’t you dare say what I do is wrong,” when it should be telling us to look at our own faults and failings and realize we are not sinless judges, but also sinners in need of repentance.

Thus, we can deny that what we do is a sin, we can claim that the teaching which labels what we do is sinful lacks authority, or we can focus on the wrongs of others being more serious and therefore people should not be focussing on us. By doing this, we refuse to repent and instead focus on “the other guy."

For example, people who rebel against the Catholic teaching on morality tend to say “God doesn’t care about X!” This X can be contraception, abortion, divorce/remarriage, premarital or adulterous sexual relationships (or many others, but these are the current “hot button” issues). This is denial.

Others ignore the Church teaching by trying to negate the authority of the teachings to bind.  “That’s not ex cathedra!” The Pope’s a Marxist!” “The Bishop’s a Right Winger!” “The Church fell into heresy after Vatican II!” “The Church is homophobic and anti-woman!" I could go on and on (and the excuses do go on and on), with people from both sides of our political spectrum rejecting that a Church teaching binds in a case where the individual dislikes what is said.

Still others point to the Church taking action against their disobedience, saying, “What they do is worse than what I do! Why do you only focus on me?” Such a view ignores the very real fact that the person using this tactic has done wrong and has no excuse for it. 

All of these cases prey on our vanity, We know God exists and commands us to do good and avoid evil. But (as Pascal pointed out in the opening quote) if we don’t know  (or of we ignore) our own misery (in the sense of wretchedness—needing deliverance from our sins) we produce vanity. It does no good to point out our own disadvantages or another’s advantages. Each one of us will be held accountable for how we tried to live in accord with God’s teaching. As Fulton J. Sheen wrote:

We are all on the roadway of life in this world but we travel in different vehicles. Some are in trucks, jeeps, and ambulances. Others are in twelve cylinder cars and others in broken down old wrecks, but each of us is doing the driving.The judgment is something like being stopped by a policeman. When we are stopped by God, He does not say to us, as the policeman does not say, “What kind of a car are you driving?” God is no respecter of persons. He asks,“ How well did you drive? Did you obey the laws?”

At death we leave our vehicles behind, our emotions, prejudices, feelings, our state in life, our opportunities, the accidents of talent, duty, intelligence, and position. It will make no difference to God if we were crippled, ignorant, or hated by the world; our judgment will be based not on our social position, but on the way we lived, on the choices we made, on the things we loved. Do not think when you go before the judgment seat of God that you will argue a case. You will plead no extenuating circumstances, you will not ask for a new trial or a new jury; you will be your own judge! You will be your own jury. As scripture says, We will be condemned out of our own mouths. God will merely seal our judgment. [Sheen, Fulton J. Your Life is Worth Living (Kindle Locations 4166-4174). St. Andrew's Press. Kindle Edition.]

Yes, we do have to speak out for the truth, and instruct the ignorant and even admonish the sinner. But if we refuse to keep in mind our own sinfulness in doing so, we’ve fallen into the devil’s trap, so concerned with what others do that we forget to look to the state of our own souls. If so, we may find Our Lord saying to us:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Missing the Point of Mercy

Inigo Judgmental

I came across a new aspect to the same old outrage against the Church. In response to a special outreach of mercy, the Archbishop of Turin announced that women who had procured abortion could be reconciled with God and the Church by having excommunications lifted in a much easier way than normal (ordinarily, this is a case reserved for the bishop or a priest he designates) by granting these facilities to all priests hearing confessions during the time that the Shroud of Turin is on display.

Excommunication is defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as:

1463 Certain particularly grave sins incur excommunication, the most severe ecclesiastical penalty, which impedes the reception of the sacraments and the exercise of certain ecclesiastical acts, and for which absolution consequently cannot be granted, according to canon law, except by the Pope, the bishop of the place or priests authorized by them. In danger of death any priest, even if deprived of faculties for hearing confessions, can absolve from every sin and excommunication.

It is a penalty for cases which are so serious, that the Church wants to bring to their senses the severity of the wrongdoing. The action of the archbishop prevents a backlog and encourages women who have had an abortion to get right with God by removing some of the steps that are ordinarily required.

However, this encouragement actually seems to outrage some Catholics as a sign of “being judgmental.” I’ve seen things on Facebook, for example, where people are trying to contrast Jesus and the Catholic Church, saying that Jesus is loving and doesn’t judge while the Church is acting like the pharisees. It’s rather wearying because it seems that these people have fundamentally missed the point of what mercy is and why the Church says some things are sins, and assigns certain penalties to them (like excommunication in some cases).

What they want is not easier ways to be reconciled with God—they want the Church to say that “X is no longer a sin.” It’s basically the personification of what H. Richard Niebuhr called, "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross."

Such people misunderstand what the Church is doing through her teaching and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Sin is not an arbitrary designation by the Church that “you can’t do that!” Calling something a sin is pointing out that it is an act that goes against what God calls us to be. God’s call in both the Old and New Testament is not “do what you want to do.” It is warning them to repent because that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Matthew 3:2). It is calling people to change their ways:

Say to them: Thus says the Lord of hosts, Return to me—oracle of the Lord of hosts—and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. Do not be like your ancestors to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: Thus says the Lord of hosts: Turn from your evil ways and from your wicked deeds. (Zechariah 1:3-4a)

So, when sin is committed, the person needs to repent… to turn back to God and away from what keeps them apart from Him. The term is metanoia (μετάνοια, change of mind or heart, repentance, regret). As St. John Paul II puts it:

2. When God seeks out the rebellious son who flees far from his sight, he does so with particular insistence and love. God traveled the tortuous roads of sinners through his Son, Jesus Christ, who, bursting onto history’s stage, is presented as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). Here are the first words he says in public: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt 4:17). An important term appears which Jesus will repeatedly explain in words and deeds: “Repent”, in Greek metanoeite, that is, make a metanoia, a radical change of mind and heart. It is necessary to turn away from evil and to enter the kingdom of justice, love and truth which is being established.

The trilogy of parables on divine mercy collected by Luke in chapter 15 of his Gospel is the most striking depiction of how God actively seeks out and lovingly awaits his sinful creature. Through his metanoia or conversion man returns, like the prodigal son, to embrace the Father who has never forgotten or abandoned him. [Audience of Pope John Paul II. August 30, 2000. John Paul II. (2014). Audiences of Pope John Paul II (English). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.]

So, yes—God is loving and merciful. But if a person refuses to turn back to God and reject the evil which separates him or her from God, they are in fact refusing God. If we will not make a radical repentance to God, turning away from evil, we will not be saved.

Once we can understand that sin is conflict with God, not an arbitrary rule by the Church, and once we understand that the proper response to sin is repentance and turning back to God, then the Catholic Church with her Sacrament of Reconciliation becomes a conduit of God’s mercy and not a “judgmental act.” We as Catholics profess the belief that the Church is established by Christ to carry on His mission here on Earth. That includes giving the answer to the question of what one must do to be saved (Matthew 19:17 and Acts 2:37-38). The Church is not opposing Christ when she teaches that certain behaviors which are popular today are actually sins. She is playing the role of the watchman in Ezekiel 3:17-21, where God warns:

17 Son of man, I have appointed you a sentinel for the house of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, you shall warn them for me. 18 If I say to the wicked, You shall surely die—and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade the wicked from their evil conduct in order to save their lives—then they shall die for their sin, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. 19 If, however, you warn the wicked and they still do not turn from their wickedness and evil conduct, they shall die for their sin, but you shall save your life. 


20 But if the just turn away from their right conduct and do evil when I place a stumbling block before them, then they shall die. Even if you warned them about their sin, they shall still die, and the just deeds that they performed will not be remembered on their behalf. I will, however, hold you responsible for their blood. 21 If, on the other hand, you warn the just to avoid sin, and they do not sin, they will surely live because of the warning, and you in turn shall save your own life. 

God desires the salvation of all. But some things do keep people away from God. The Church is called to teach the people to observe what He has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20 and John 20:21-23). The Church teaching is not “legalism” or “Pharisaism.” The Church is a guide leading one on the to God. Refusing to follow that guide and going off on a different path is not going to bring a person to God. It is going to lead to ruin that is neither the fault of God nor the Church.

It is important to remember that mercy is not a “feel free to sin without fear of judgment” card. Sin is real, and God will punish the sinners who refuse to repent at the final judgment. Mercy is in the fact that God will never turn away the repentant sinner. If we turn back to God, He will forgive us. There’s no limit to His love and His willingness to forgive—but if we refuse to be sorry and seek to make a change, then we are refusing that forgiveness.

The Church is not an obstacle to God, and is not in opposition to God’s mercy. Certainly, there can be members of the Church who look down on the sinners, and certainly the Pope wants to eliminate this mindset (see THIS for example). The Church needs to make sure there are no unnecessary demands that discourage the sinner from repenting and turning back to God. But the Church will never tell people that it is now OK to sin.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Love and Justice Both: Losing Sight of the Big Picture

In dealing with the concepts of the love of God and the justice of God, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. It’s easy to get so caught up in focussing on one thing that one forgets that there are obligations to the other side of thing which God calls us to do. We are called, for example, to love those who hate us and to admonish the sinners.

For example, one of the things I notice when it comes to people being offended by the Church is that they tend to be too close to the issue to consider it objectively. It’s natural to feel threatened when someone is personally affected by an issue. But the problem is, when a person takes it too personally, they may lack the objectivity to listen to what needs to be said. It’s important to note that this is not limited to one faction or another. It’s not something that only happens to other people. Each one of us can feel attacked by something we need to hear and respond by refusing to listen. It’s common to hear things like, “God doesn’t care about your rules,” or “you need to stop being legalistic."

This becomes a problem when it comes to denying Church teaching because, as Catholics, we believe that the Church teaching has authority because Christ Himself gave the Church authority to teach, and so the denial of the Church is a denial of Christ. For example, if Jesus did tell Peter in Matthew 16:19 and the rest of the apostles in Matthew 18:18 that what they bound on Earth is bound in Heaven, then God does care about the rules of the Church.

Of course, God also cares about how we apply His rules. While we cannot set His commandments aside, it is possible to forget about the side of compassion and mercy required in teaching His commandments. The possibility of being so focussed on punishing the guilty and worrying about somebody “getting away with” things is dangerous. The possibility of a past mistake or sin repented of is not seen as relevant. If Bishop X once held a problematic position, he cannot ever be trusted again and whoever considers the possibility is not to be trusted either.

So it seems there is a problem with people confusing both what truth requires and what compassion requires. It seems like certain people think that God being loving and merciful cannot condemn the actions being done. From that error, it becomes easy to make one of two opposite false conclusions. Either the person...

  1. wrongly assumes that compassion and love means the Church cannot say things we do are wrong.
  2. wrongly assumes that compassion and love means the Church is failing to teach right and wrong.

That’s the danger of becoming so rigid or so attached to one’s sins that one loses sight of the big picture—that God is both loving and just. Ignoring one of these in favor of the other is going to give a person a distorted view of God and what we are called by Him to be. Losing sight of God’s justice means expecting God to just turn a blind eye to our sins. Losing sight of God’s love means viewing the sinner as an enemy to oppose instead of a person in need of salvation that we have to reach out to.

Both views need to be opposed. The person who does not want to change his or her ways, and thinks of Church teaching as “manmade rules” are creating a false image of God and risking their souls over a lie.  The person who thinks of the sinner as “the enemy,” are claiming the role of judge that they are not allowed to have, risking becoming alienated from Christ and His Church. We need to realize that the role of the Church does not embrace either extreme. Rather, the Church loves the sinner, while rejecting the false ideas the sinner clings to. The role of God’s teaching is to lead us in living according to His will. Those who have not fallen into a particular sin are called to help their brethren who have and love them—even if the response we receive from them is hostile.

We are called to love and follow Our Lord Jesus Christ, and that means heeding the Church He established (Matthew 18:17). That also means serving in love in doing so. We can’t just point to the failures of the “other side.” We have to consider our own actions in relation to these two pitfalls.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Approaching the Sinner: Reaching Out in Love? Or in Judgment?

I can understand the reactions of the current rebellion in the Church—I don’t condone it, but I understand it. There is a dual reaction to anything that sounds funny. There is fear that those who are dissenters against Church teaching will get their way and change the teaching of the Church. There is also anger over the apparent inactivity of those responsible for leading the Church when it comes to these dissenters. When you think of it this way, it’s easy to start thinking of the Church in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys.” This is entirely natural.

However, even though it is natural, it is not what we are called to be as members of the Catholic Church. We’re called to take part in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-19):

18 Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.* And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

God does not rejoice in the death of the sinner (See Ezekiel 18:31-32 and Ezekiel 33:11), and wants their salvation. He also sends His Church to reach them. In different ages, the Church can use different means to reach them. While individually we may have a preference for a specific method, we need to recognize that ultimately the teaching authority of the Church sets the tone, and we need to avoid undermining their work.

What we always need to keep in mind is that our task is not to take part in the condemning of sinners to damnation, but to reach out to them in love, telling them of the need for salvation, but letting them know that they are loved. At times, we need to admonish and warn the sinner. But if we don’t show our love for the sinner, instead giving them a sense of “you sinners disgust me,” then we will not be effective in our ministry.

Pope Francis gets a lot of flack here. Some Catholics accuse him of being too soft, too lenient when it comes to dealing with the sinners. But I am reminded of a similar story about another man named Francis—St. Francis de Sales. Consider this from an 1887 book on saints speaking about St. Francis de Sales and his approach as bishop of Geneva.

At times the exceeding gentleness with which he received heretics and sinners almost scandalized his friends, and one of them said to him, “Francis of Sales will go to Paradise, of course; but I am not so sure of the Bishop of Geneva: I am almost afraid his gentleness will play him a shrewd turn.” “Ah,” said the saint, “I would rather account to God for too great gentleness than for too great severity. Is not God all love? God the Father is the Father of mercy; God the Son is a Lamb; God the Holy Ghost is a Dove, that is, gentleness itself. And are you wiser than God?”


[From: John Gilmary Shea, Pictorial Lives of the Saints (New York; Cincinnati; Chicago: Benziger Brothers, 1887), 67–68.] 

The concern for showing love for the sinner was not an example of “modernism,” or other errors. 

Unfortunately, some people fall into the other error. They believe that if we are called to love, we cannot say that what they do is wrong. That’s never been taught by the Church at all, and those who accuse (or praise) the Pope of saying so have missed the point. Our Lord Himself has spoken about the dangers of hell and the need to repent. In Matthew 7, (the chapter where He warns about judging—so often taken out of context), He warned:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. 14 How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.


21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.* Depart from me, you evildoers.’

But Jesus, even when warning of the reality of hell, never stopped loving the sinners. He loved the tax collector. He also loved the Pharisee.

So, this makes me think about how we are acting in the blogosphere and in the comboxes. What kind of witness are we leaving? Do we show that we love, and desire the salvation of, Obama or Pelosi? Or the person struggling with same sex attraction? Or the atheist? Or how about Fr. Hans Küng? Cardinal Kasper? Fr. Richard McBrien (who died recently) How that bishop or pastor you can’t stand? Do we pray for them? And by pray, I don’t mean “Oh Lord, please make Bishop So-and-so not be an idiot!” Do we show our love for these people in our prayers?

I don’t say this judgmentally. Lord knows I have been rude and sarcastic. I get pissed off with the Super Catholic who thinks they cannot err while the Pope can. So I certainly need to learn to practice what I am preaching here. Indeed, next week I might be back to being sarcastic and mocking of those I disagree with, and I certainly need your prayers.

I just ask that all of us who witness the Catholic faith, whether face to face, by blog, by Facebook or Twitter (or whatever else is popular out there)—let’s remember that how we act is a part of our witness as part of the Great Commission. And let’s pray for each other as well.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

TFTD: Thoughts on Judgment and Mercy

St. Augustine, in one of his sermons  about the woman who washed the feet of Jesus (Sermon 49, #6), wrote:

 The one has committed many sins, and so is made a debtor for many; the other through God’s guidance has committed but few. To Him to whom the one ascribes what He hath forgiven, does the other also ascribe what he hath not committed. Thou hast not been an adulterer in that past life of thine, which was full of ignorance, when as yet thou wast not enlightened, as yet discerned not good and evil, as yet believed not on Him, who was guiding thee though thou didst not know Him. Thus doth thy God speak to thee: “I was guiding thee for Myself, I was keeping thee for Myself. That thou mightest not commit adultery, no enticers were near thee; that no enticers were near thee, was My doing. Place and time were wanting; that they were wanting again, was My doing. Or enticers were nigh thee, and neither place nor time was wanting; that thou mightest not consent, it was I who alarmed thee. Acknowledge then His grace, to whom thou also owest it, that thou hast not committed the sin. The other owes me what was done, and thou hast seen forgiven him; and thou owest to me what thou hast not done.” For there is no sin which one man commits, which another man may not commit also, if He be wanting as a Director, by whom man was made.

(Augustine of Hippo, “Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament,” in Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. R. G. MacMullen, vol. 6, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 417–418.)

I think of this when I see some of the reactions to Pope Francis and Bishops reaching out to sinners showing up in the comments made on Facebook and in blog comboxes. There are some people who get offended when they speak of mercy, trying to reach out to the sinner and bring them back. The objections made by these people seem to run along the lines of offering any outreach to the sinner is offering sanction to the sins committed.

Now, of course we must not dismiss as “not evil” that which God as decreed as evil. When one calls evil good, they do great wrong (see Isaiah 5:20). But when they don’t promote accepting evil as OK, but instead express compassion for the sinner, then their actions are not sanctioning sin and it is wrong to make such an accusation.

We need to remember the stories of Zacchaeus, the woman taken in adultery, the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector. In these stories we see Jesus interacting with the sinner. Not to condemn, but to each out to to lead them to salvation.

We can never write off any individual as being irredeemable. God can soften the most hardened heart, and when we meet the heartened sinner, we cannot know that he or she has refused the gift of grace. He or she might never have felt the call yet. Those of us who are seeking to be faithful to Christ must realize that our fidelity is not do to our own cleverness, but to His grace.

See, behaving in this way towards sinners doesn’t mean we deny the reality of sin. It means we don’t give up on them because God has not given up on them. How are we to know that the notorious sinner will not be converted and saved?

So just something to think of.