Showing posts with label pride. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pride. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

What About Us?

Pay attention to the bishop, if you would have God pay attention to you. I offer myself up for those who obey the bishop, priests and deacons. May it be my lot to be with them in God. Toil and train together, run and suffer together, rest and rise at the same time, as God’s stewards, assistants and servants. Please the leader under whom you serve, for from him you receive your pay. May none of you turn out a deserter. Let your baptism be ever your shield, your faith a helmet, your charity a spear, your patience a panoply. Let your works be deposits, so that you may receive the sum that is due to you. In humility be patient with one another, as God is with you. May I rejoice in you always.


—St. Ignatius of Antioch


One temptation Catholics face was described by the future Pope Benedict XVI as taking the prayer in the Communion Rite, “look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church,” and changing it, by practice, into look not on the sins of our Church, but on my faith. In other words, we subverted the recognition of our sins and the holiness of the Church by elevating our own perceived superiority to the flaws of the sinful members of the Church… in other words, if the Church does not work the way we think it should, we take it to mean the Church is in the wrong and that is the fault of somebody else. The Catholic who thinks that the Church would be fine if those in charge would do things their way have fallen into the trap. 


We have seen this in articles that portray legitimate incidents of confidentiality as “secret” or decisions to make no changes as “neglect of important issues.” Such people selectively cite Canon 212§3 to justify their actions. Yes, Canon 212§3 exists for us to respectfully express our concerns about the needs of the Church. No, it does not mean we can rudely dismiss the actions of those who are tasked with making decisions on how to handle things.


Of course, the individuals within the Church from the laity to the Pope can and do sin. They can make errors of judgment in the administration of the Church. We should be praying for them because of that fact. But we all too often focus on the actions on the part of them—the “Pope and/or bishops,” while ignoring our own role among the laity. Many seem willing to gleefully cite the sentence—falsely attributed to St. John Chrysostom or St. Athanasius—that “The road to hell is paved with the bones of priests and monks, and the skulls of bishops are the lampposts that light the path” when we dislike the things the Pope and bishops have done, while ignoring Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16, and John 14:15 that remind us that our failures of obedience are not a minor matter.


We are all called to follow the Christian life and the specific vocation that God may call us to. That calling may be something official within the Church, or it may be a private action. We do need to act in communion with the Pope and the bishops in doing so. If they should rule that a ministry must be done one way, or must not be done another way, then that should be a huge clue that we cannot impose that conflicting vision on the Church. But, if we take the “look not on the sins of our Church, but on my faith” approach, we will fall into error… perhaps even into heresy or schism if we become obstinate enough.


I recognize that readers might immediately think of the behavior of an individual among the clergy who does wrong and think, the author wants us to follow blindly! No. I do not call for that. I can legitimately express concern about the German bishops for example, because they appear to be in opposition to the Pope and bishops in communion with him. But I do think that when we get indignant over the legitimate exercise of authority in the Church and are tempted to say that the Church is the one in the wrong, we have the obligation to ask ourselves: What About us?




(†) It seems that the origin of the saying was John Wesley who apparently wrote that St. John Chrysostom should have said it: “A lifeless, unconverting minister is the murderer-general of his parish. . . I could not have blamed St. Chrysostom, if he had only said, ‘Hell is paved with the skulls of such Christian priests!’”

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Deafening Our Conscience Through Outrage

Everyone notices the wrongdoing done by other people. We see something that seems unjust and we are outraged. We demand instantaneous retraction and until that is done, the one we see as guilty loses all rights to being treated as a human person. If that person is a member of the clergy, he is treated as if he forfeits all rights to the respect and submission due his office.

Meanwhile, more often than not, people refuse to consider their own wrongdoing as anything worth considering. Refusing obedience to the Church because their teachings and actions do not mesh with one’s own beliefs is not recognized as disobedience. Instead it’s treated as “standing up against evil,” where everyone imagines they are a miniature St. Paul, withstanding an erring Peter to his face.

The problem is, we are not like St. Paul. We’re more like the Pharisee who treats the sinner—or the one we think is sinning—as beneath contempt while thinking we’re superior because we don’t sin... or, if we do, at least we don’t sin as badly as them.

That’s a dangerous attitude. It shows we’ve forgotten or ignored our own guilt. As long as we aren’t as bad (in our own eyes) as them, we’re the good ones, the wise ones. That’s a dangerous attitude because it shows we we have become deaf to our conscience. As Benedict XVI put it:

“The Pharisee is no longer aware that he too is guilty. He is perfectly at ease with his own conscience. But this silence of his conscience makes it impossible for God and men to penetrate his carapace—whereas the cry of conscience that torments the tax collector opens him to receive truth and love. Jesus can work effectively among sinners because they have not become inaccessible behind the screen of an erring conscience, which would put them out of reach of the changes that God awaits from them—and from us. Jesus cannot work effectively among the righteous because they sense no need for forgiveness and repentance; their conscience no longer accuses them but only justifies them.”

Values in a Time of Upheaval, p. 82

When we are deaf to conscience, we justify the evil we do, saying it’s not as bad as the evil they do, therefore it’s unimportant. We protest, asking “Why does the Church focus on us when those people are doing worse? What we forget is that the deadliest sin for an individual is the one that sends that individual to hell. 

So you don’t support abortion? Congratulations. You’ve none nothing more than demanded of you. But if you’re committing other sins while refusing to acknowledge and repent of them, you might be no better off in the eyes of God—even if the magnitude of your sins are objectively less.

Our Lord shocked the Pharisees when He said, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” [Matthew 21:31 (NABRE)]. If He wanted to shock us equally today, He might say, “the pro-abortion politicians and cowardly bishops” (to name two popular targets of revulsion). If they repent but we do not, then they are in the same situation as the tax collectors [§] while we are in the same situation as the Pharisees. This doesn’t mean, “treat sins as unimportant.” It means “don’t exalt yourself just because you haven’t done that.” 

Or, as St. John Chrysostom, (Homily III on 2 Timothy), discusses on our focus on the great sins of others:

“Let each therefore, with an upright conscience, entering into a review of what he has done, and bringing his whole life before him, consider, whether he is not deserving of chastisements and punishments without number? And when he is indignant that some one, who has been guilty of many bad actions, escapes with impunity; let him consider his own faults, and his indignation will cease. For those crimes appear great, because they are in great and notorious matters; but if he will enquire into his own, he will perhaps find them more numerous.”

So, when we see sin in the Church—especially when it seems to go unnoticed—it’s not wrong to want justice and reform. But it is wrong to play the Pharisee, using the sins of others to justify ourselves. We might be risking our souls by using another’s sins as an excuse to ignore our own wrongdoing.


[§] To put it in historical context: Tax collectors (publicani) of the Roman Empire were not the equivalent of the modern IRS. Their greed and corruption ruined and destabilized entire provinces. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Thoughts on Letting False Narrative Interpret Facts

Recent events in Church reporting shows that the narrative one subscribes to pushes the misinterpretation of what actually happens. For example, the so-called “Lettergate” involving the Vatican publishing house (LEV). In this case we had a letter from Pope emeritus Benedict XVI which called the reaction against Pope Francis a “foolish prejudice” and affirmed the continuity between the current Pope and his predecessors. This was fact that did not sit well with the anti-Francis Catholics. So they began to look for flaws. 

The flaw they found was the fact that the presentation only quoted excerpts from his letter. One section involving the criticism of one of the authors was omitted. Another section involving the fact that Benedict XVI declined to write an introduction because he wouldn’t have time to read the presented works and only would write an introduction on works he had read thouroughly. This was read aloud but the publicity photograph used by LEV covered one page except for the signature and blurred the final lines on the visible page, making these sections unseen.

In this day and age, where people are willing to make rash judgments, it was foolish of the presenters to do this. They probably should have made clear that they were reading excerpts from the letter and either showed the entire photograph or not at all. But false narrative moved quickly to come up with an wrong interpretation that fit their beliefs.

People who believe that the Vatican is being taken over by dissenters assume that this blurring and selective citation was made from a desire to hide the truth. They claimed that the hidden material “changed the meaning” of what was cited. Some claimed—without any evidence—that the letter was published without permission from Benedict XVI. Others went so far as to call it “elder abuse.” At any rate, the fact that he denounced their criticism of Pope Francis and the idea that Pope Francis’ teachings represented a break (the real news) was forgotten. 

Another example involved the case of Bishop Barrios of Chile. In response to a question, Pope Francis said he received accusations but no proof concerning Bishop Barrios’ involvement. Critics of the Pope promptly came up with.a letter he received in 2015. Because of the narrative they followed, this was interpreted as “proof” that the Pope lied. Except he didn’t. Accusations ≠ proof, and the Catholic Church has always required proof when it comes to accusing bishops. In the past it was clear that sometimes false accusations were made. For example, almost 25 years ago this happened with Cardinal Bernadin being falsely accused.

That’s not to say Bishop Barrios is innocent or guilty. I leave that to those tasked with investigating to decide. Rather I bring this up to point out that what we think happened might not turn out to be true. Sometimes the truth shows that people reacted wrongly.

In both examples, certain groups of people were invested in the narrative that Pope Francis was dishonest and promoting error. From that narrative, they interpreted the news stories in a way that would provide “proof” of their beliefs. The problem is, these stories were not proof. Rather the presupposed narrative was assumed to be true based on the assumption that the narrative was true—which is very much in dispute.

The fact is, a certain faction of Catholics are hostile to Pope Francis and have been since the day he became Pope. From day one they have assumed he was in error and interpreted everything he said or did under the assumption he was in error. Some of these were radical traditionalists who believe he runs roughshod over tradition and rubrics. Others are political conservatives who assume that his affirmation of Church teaching on social justice is a “proof” of being politically liberal. Each faction that dislikes him points to the other factions that dislike him as if their dislike was proof and there is “confusion” in the Church—never mind that these critics are the ones causing it in the first place.

Moreover, critics also use the “guilt by association” fallacy to point out unsavory groups that also use a false narrative to claim that the Church is “finally changing.” Because these groups:
  1. Support error and
  2. Claim the Pope vindicates their errors 
Once again critics of the Pope claim it “proves” the Pope supports error. Never mind everything he says affirming what the Church has already taught. The false narrative insists that all evidence “proves” their claim and any that doesn’t is ignored.

But we’re called to do the opposite. Whatever our preferences in politics, society, and customs, it must be formed by Church teaching and properly evaluating events. We can’t twist an event in the life of the Church into whatever we want it to be. We have to learn the facts about it and apply the Church teaching as interpreted by the magisterium to determine the truth and morality of the act. Our narrative must follow truth, not determine it. Otherwise we are like the blind leading the blind... and we know where that leads.

From the pontificates of Blessed Paul VI through Benedict XVI, we saw the false narrative about the “Spirit of Vatican II,” which claimed the Popes were “betraying” the Council. Less easy to see were the Catholics who misinterpreted the Catholic faith as being politically conservative. Now, things are reversed. We have a false narrative about Pope Francis accused of betraying Church teaching that are easy to see. Less easy to see are the Catholics who misinterpret the Catholic faith as being politically liberal.

In both cases, it’s the same error. But each faction switched sides. Tragically, neither faction asks, “have I gotten it wrong?” Rather than ask, they assume they are right. Assuming they are right, they wander. And wandering, they stray from the right path, the Church, by rejecting her when the Pope and bishops in communion with him teach how to best apply Church teaching.

If we would avoid this error, then let us trust God to keep His promise and protect His Church instead of deceiving ourselves into thinking that the Church can go wrong but we haven’t.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Self-Righteousness or Seeking Righteousness?


Some things the Church warns about gets shunted aside in different eras. If we think of them at all, we think of them as something other people do and never scrutinize our own actions. I think one of these issues is the issue of self-righteousness—the belief in one’s own actions and motives are morally superior to their opponents. Those who did not share that position were considered morally wrong, not merely mistaken. Unfortunately, many confuse their own self-righteousness with seeking righteousness, which means seeking out what is right and carrying it out. If we assume our own actions are righteous, while those who disagree with us choose evil; if we never ask whether we are doing wrong, while being certain no good Catholic can think differently than us—those are signs of being self-righteous.

Before I go on, I want to make something clear. I am not speaking in support of moral relativism. Some things simply are incompatible with being a Catholic Christian, and we may never dismiss them or treat them lightly. If a fellow Catholic is in error, he or she does need to be led to the truth. But not all differences are based on the willful disregard of Catholic teaching. Moreover, it is not just “other people” who can be in error. We can be blind to our own faults as well.

A Political Example

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

(Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth)

One of the sadder things I see on social media is the division that still exists among some Catholics over moral decisions made during the election. Since the 2016 elections were arguably the worst choices we’ve had in living memory, Catholics were faced with the unenviable decision of picking one of the unfit candidates from the major parties, or an unelectable candidate from a minor party. Catholics trying to act in good faith made their decision on how to prevent the most damage for the next four years. It’s the kind of thing where afterwards, you expected Catholics to say to each other, “That was a terrible election. I pray our options are better next time.”

But in many cases, that didn’t happen. Some Catholics focussed instead on others who made a different decision on how to best limit evil, assuming they were supporters of the worst evils that came from their choice. So, those who voted for our current president are accused of being responsible for every action he takes that runs counter to Church teaching, regardless of whether the Catholic voter supported it or not (the guilt by association fallacy). Meanwhile, those who voted against him are accused of favoring every evil his main opponent supported. So, every time President Trump does something, we get a flood of posts accusing those who disagreed with the poster of either supporting evils in his proposals as well as counter-posts accusing the first group of supporting evils that would have happened if he hadn’t been elected.

At the same time that this is going on, these factions are congratulating themselves for standing up for the Catholic faith because of the superficial links between their favored party and the Church teaching they happen to feel strongly about, ignoring the parts where their favored party runs against Catholic teaching. I’ve seen Catholics who voted, Democrat, Republican, and Third Party act this way, all castigating the others. In other words, these groups accuse each other of putting politics above the Catholic faith, never considering that both groups used the same arguments to reach different conclusions. 

Non-Political Examples

It’s not only in politics. We can see it in the “all we need to do to save the Church is…” attitudes. Some argue that we all need to return to ad orientem, reception of Communion on the tongue, etc., and if we don’t, we’re ignoring the problem, or even in cahoots with those who rebel. Others say the Church needs to change her attitude towards contraception, divorce/remarriage, woman priests, etc., to prevent the collapse of the Church, and those who disagree are against Christ. The problem is, these solutions are not based on the teaching of the Church, but on what we think the Church should be. Often we elevate a discipline to a doctrine. Often, we try to treat a doctrine like a discipline. But in both cases, we tend to attack the people who disagree with us as ignoring the problem or even being a part of it.

But like the political examples above, people are assuming that different views means being part of the problem, through not caring or about actively willing evil. I think the difference between this and the political examples is we are no longer arguing over the best way to apply Church teaching, but whether Church teaching is to be followed. In this case, we’re not only being self-righteous towards others, but towards the shepherds of the Church. Like so many other things, this isn’t done by a single faction. Whether it is a case of a rigorist Catholic saying the Church has no right to reach out in compassion to sinners, or a laxist Catholic saying the Church has no right to bar Catholics from the Eucharist, these are cases where the self-righteous Catholic is saying they are superior to those tasked with shepherding the Church. Whether it’s a case of accusing the Pope of heresy or of accusing a saint of heresy, this is (among other sins) self-righteousness.

The Risk To Ourselves

The problem is, when we fall into self-righteousness, we forget to consider three things:

  1. The fact that we might be wrong in assuming our opponent's error or bad will
  2. The fact that we might be wrong in the positions we hold.
  3. The fact that we are to show patience and charity to those actually in error.

Let’s face it. If we’re going to call a Catholic who viewed Trump as the least harmful choice, “Anti-abortion but not pro-life,” (or if we call the Catholic who could not vote for Trump in good conscience and voted for a Third Party, “pro-Hillary”), we’re being self-righteous. We overlook the fact the individual might have acted in good will. We overlook the possibility of making an error of our own. And, if the person actually did vote this way for reasons incompatible with Catholic teaching, we are not likely to win them back by behaving self-righteously. But bringing them back is part of the Great Commission.

Here’s a personal example on the third point: When I was in my early 20s, I began to consider the Catholic faith I was raised in seriously. But some of my positions were not compatible with the Catholic faith, and I was struggling with these issues, trying to understand how something I had always thought to be politically bad was morally good. If I had encountered the social media crowd of Catholics who insult and speak abusively towards those who thought differently, I would have probably equated the Catholic faith with their behavior and left it behind, thinking it wrong. I probably would have been morally culpable for the errors I clung to, thinking them right. But I think God would have had something to say, at the Final Judgment, to those who drove me away as well.

Pope Francis, in stressing mercy, remembers what many American Catholics seem to forget—we’re not goalies, trying to keep lesser Catholics out. Nor are we just throwing out the rules and saying, “Anything goes.” What we’re trying to do is reach out to those lost sheep and bringing them back into the fold. That means reconciling them with God. And how can we reconcile people who we drive away? How will we answer God when we, instead of rescuing the lost sheep, pitch it back in the brambles?

It Starts With Ourselves

As i said back in the beginning of the post, I’m not saying we should let people do whatever they want and not worry about it. IF they are in error, we need to guide them back. But if we’re self-righteous, how can we guide them? We need to be guided ourselves. This means we need to turn to God in prayer and study, seeking out how we are called to live, not confusing our preferences with what the Church actually teaches. We need to investigate the actual statements and motives of the person who disagrees with us—not presuming on either. We need to recognize that if we are actually not in error and another is, we are called to be Christlike in reaching out to them.

Escaping self-righteousness in favor of seeking righteousness is hard. For example, I’m constantly struggling with sarcasm when it comes to people I think are wrong and should know better. I struggle with it because I know there’s no spiritual growth, and a lot of spiritual harm there. But the temptation is always there to want to “put wrongdoers in their place” and seeking to do right in such cases is much harder.

But, if we fail to make the attempt, then we are like the Pharisees who opposed Our Lord and judged others, never showing mercy, and never considering our own need for it. Don’t think this is a Conservative problem or a Liberal problem. Don’t consider this a Traditionalist problem or a Modernist problem. This is a problem for any person who will neither consider the possibility of their own error, nor show mercy when they are right.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Let's Talk Elections—More Specifically Let's Talk About Our Behavior in Them

I’ve said elsewhere I don’t want my blog to be a vehicle for my political opinions. I especially don’t want my blog to misrepresent my political opinions as being Catholic moral theology. While we’re forbidden certain actions, we can reach different decisions about how to best be faithful to Church teachings. We must avoid rationalizing the forbidden choices through pick-and-choose quoting Church teaching in order to justify what we were planning to do anyway. We have to apply Church teaching to every aspect of our lives, promoting good and opposing evil to the best of our ability. That includes our political preferences. When one candidate openly supports an evil condemned by the Church, we’re not supposed to support that candidate without a reason that outweighs the harm done. 

I don’t think I am violating my blog editorial policy by saying this election is particularly bleak for Catholics and other Christians seeking the right thing. In ordinary times any one of these candidates would disqualify themselves as the greater evil. This time, we’re going decide between two dismal choices. Donald Trump fails because of his violations of social justice teaching. The Democrats (at this time I can’t figure out who’s going to get the nomination though, at the time of my writing this, Hillary Clinton seems favored to win) fail because of their open support of moral evils. Some people enthusiastically support one of these candidates. Many are reluctantly choosing one on the basis of reducing the harm done to the nation. A few are championing a Third Party in general, write-in, or not voting at all. (My post on all these concerns is HERE). The problem with that movement is, while these people are clear on who they oppose, they cannot agree on who to support.

When we analyze these choices, we need to remember that the right to life takes top priority. We can’t take a number of lesser concerns and claim that, put together, they outweigh the right to life. St. John Paul II called support for these other concerns “false and illusory” (Christifideles Laici #38) without support for the right to life. But, when no credible candidate supports the right to life, we can vote to shrink the damage done by voting for the candidate we think is less extreme in their support for evil. We don’t support that candidate’s evil, and we have an obligation to oppose it. We can’t just wash our hands of it on Wednesday, November 9th and say “Not my problem."

That’s standard teaching on Catholic ethics in voting. People faithfully obeying Church teaching can reach different decisions on what their conscience will allow. The question we have to answer is, What defense will we offer at the last judgment for our vote? In other words, we will have to answer to God for our actions so we need to take our decision seriously.

What leaves me with election burnout are those Catholics who have embraced one of the choices—usually for reasons I find unconvincing—and go out of their way to condemn people who reach a different decision as being bad Catholics. Each of these factions will contrast the evils of the other choices with Church teaching, but when they compare their own choices with Catholic teaching, I find that reasoning shallow and, as a result, the accusation of being a bad Catholic for disagreeing with them to be offensive.

We all have the obligation between now and November of being open to new discoveries of truth that might impact how we need to vote. Truth is a key word here. Many throw unproven allegations—often based on what they think the words mean—across social media. We have the obligation to investigate them—NOT assume they must be true because we dislike this candidate—in light of our obligation to promote good and oppose evil. We may discover one candidate grows progressively worse than we thought, or we may discover allegations against a candidate are false. In these cases, we have to reevaluate our decision to see if it is still in keeping with Church teaching.

Certainly we can still hold opinions on the best way to vote, and we can debate each other about these opinions. That’s a good way to learn more about the consequences of our opinion and whether we still want to hold them. But we can’t commit rash judgment in doing so. Trump supporters and third party supporters (the biggest civil war I see between Catholics on social media[†]) can’t accuse each other of being bad Catholics when their consciences forbid them to vote the other way.

Dialogue is certainly welcome to help people reach the right decisions. But in doing so, we should keep in mind something said by GK Chesterton. “It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.[*]” We must not condemn faithful Catholics who make a legitimate choice different from ours. Nor can we refuse considering if we somehow went wrong in our own reasoning.

If I was making a single point about what to watch out for, I’d say the danger is pride. Nobody wants to be in the wrong. Being a practicing Catholic means trying to live according God’s teaching and the teaching of His Church. So when someone says “I think that’s wrong,” anger is easy to come by. But even practicing Catholics are sinners. We don’t have the papal charism of infallibility. We can make mistakes. That’s why it’s important to constantly reevaluate our views and respond to differing views with patience and charity. If we don't, the results could be serious...



[†] Generally speaking, I haven’t found Catholics who support Hillary Clinton and few who support Bernie Sanders because they openly support things as “rights” which the Church calls intrinsically evil (always evil regardless of intention or circumstance). I have met some third party supporters who would support Clinton or Sanders over Trump if they didn’t have a 3rd party to consider, because they believe Trump is lying about opposing abortion and/or fear Trump would cause great harm in nuclear or conventional war. “Abortion vs. World War III” is the common rhetoric used here.

[*] Chesterton said this in the context of providing reasons for why one is Catholic, and not coming across like an uninformed bigot. I think his words can apply to other disputes as well.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Political Pharisee


One rather annoying thing I see on Social Media is the number of people who make political posts on Facebook praising how enlightened they are, while looking with contempt on those they disagree with. As always, this is not limited to any one party or political slant. It’s not surprising in an election year, but I do wonder why so many Catholics feel that the obligation to love one’s neighbor gets suspended from the beginning of the primary season in January through Election Day in November.

Political parties, politicians and voters are all sinners, and none of them can claim to be God’s party. But the problem I see is many people are comparing themselves or their political affiliations with those they disagree with—always in their favor—and viewing themselves as living righteously. If they stay in a party, they see the party as angelic. if they abandon that party, they see it as demonic and they portray themselves as martyrs for the truth…even though the only suffering they normally experience is from people rolling their eyes and questioning the prudence of that choice.

In other words, what we’re seeing is Catholics infected by pride. They label their opinions as the only possible Catholic option and name those who disagree as deceived fools or willing dupes. The problem is, other Catholics who reach a different opinion are looking at them in the same way. On account of political partisanship, we divide the Body of Christ.

I’m sure every person who is guilty will say, “Wait a minute! Look at what that party stands for! No good Catholic can vote that way!” Yes, that’s often true. From a Catholic perspective, the Democrats routinely fail at moral obligations, the Republicans routinely fail at social justice obligations and third parties tend to either have the same failings as the major parties they emulate or have ugly positions which are only unknown because the parties are so obscure. In other words, no Catholic can claim moral superiority on the grounds of their party affiliation (or lack thereof). Every political party and every politician falls short in the eyes of God and His Church.

So, does this mean we should throw up our hands and not vote at all? No. Voting is a duty we must take seriously. As Catholics, we promote good and oppose evil in whatever way is possible. That not only means voting in such a way where either we promote the greater good or (more often) try to block the greater, but it also means we challenge the parties between elections and hold the politicians accountable to do what is right. Archbishop Chaput considers the problem of belonging to a party which is pro-abortion, but I believe his point applies to every evil that a party embraces:

My friends often ask me if Catholics in genuinely good conscience can vote for “pro-choice” candidates. The answer is: I couldn’t. Supporting a “right” to choose abortion simply masks and evades what abortion really is: the deliberate killing of innocent life. I know of nothing that can morally offset that kind of evil.

But I do know sincere Catholics who reason differently, who are deeply troubled by war and other serious injustices in our country, and they act in good conscience. I respect them. I don’t agree with their calculus. What distinguishes such voters, though, is that they put real effort into struggling with the abortion issue. They don’t reflexively vote for the candidate of “their” party. They don’t accept abortion as a closed matter. They refuse to stop pushing to change the direction of their party on the abortion issue. They won’t be quiet. They keep fighting for a more humane party platform— one that would vow to protect the unborn child. Their decision to vote for a “pro-choice” candidate is genuinely painful and never easy for them.

One of the pillars of Catholic thought is this: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing it. We sin if we support candidates because they support a false “right” to abortion. We sin if we support “pro-choice” candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so— that is, a reason grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn.

And what would such a “proportionate” reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions— as we someday will.

Chaput, Charles J. (2008-08-12). Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (pp. 229-230). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

When the party goes wrong on abortion, then we challenge the party on abortion. Obviously the right to life is key and we can never sacrifice this for other concerns. St. John Paul II warned that without the right to life, concern for other issues are false and illusory (Christifideles Laici #38). That’s common sense. No human beings, no human rights. But since we’re supposed to be the light of the world and salt of the earth, we don’t stop once we satisfy one concern. When the party goes wrong on immigration, we challenge the party on immigration. Whatever party platform goes against Church teaching, we challenge the party. We keep working on reforming that party wherever it goes wrong.

We Catholics must stop playing the political Pharisee. We’re not superior to the good faith Catholic (that is, one who obeys the Church and does not support what the Church calls evil) who reaches a different conclusion than ours. Instead, each of us need to look at our political preferences in light of our religious belief and see if we have chosen pride (“I can’t be wrong”) over recognizing our flaws. Then, after making this scrutiny, we must work on bringing the party we choose into following what God commands.

After all, in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, the repentant Tax Collector was justified, not the proud Pharisee. If we’re not careful, we might find that the justified person winds up being the repentant one affiliated with the party we despise—not us.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Corruptio Optimi Pessima (Corruption of the Best is the Worst)

Temptation(The Temptation of Jesus—James Tissot)

Very few people set out with the intention of “Hey! I’m going to be an evil bastard!” But many people who start out with the intention of being good do wind up with the end result of having done evil.

Consider that statement. I bet a lot of us immediately thought of other people as falling under this category. I also bet that very few thought of ourselves. That means we’re either a bunch of saints (in which case, consider 1 Corinthians 10:12), or we’re blind to our failings. Personally I think the second option best describes our lives.

The fact is, the devil is out to ruin every one of us individually, and every one of us has our own strengths and weaknesses. The intention of the devil is to play on our weaknesses—our passions, our opinions, and so on. Unfortunately, we tend to be blind to this. We expect the devil to come with a direct attack against what we find important. A lot of our apocalyptic religious fiction tends to work that way. If you look at the Left Behind series or the Michael O’Brien novel Father Elijah, we see an antichrist who is a political liberal. He gives people what they want in terms of libertine debauchery and undermines the Church by turning people away from it. And this is happening today. We see this, and we make our decision to be faithful—praying to God that we be given the grace to stand in the face of persecution or seduction.

But what we don’t consider is that the devil wants our damnation as well. It doesn’t please him to destroy our body if our soul is brought to God. Some have apostatized in the past in the face of persecution, but others have stood firm with the grace of God supporting them. Some have been seduced into accepting libertine behavior, but others have not—through the grace of God. Are we to think that the devil will only succeed in trapping the political left and the weak minded, and as long as we’re politically “conservative” we’ll be safe?

I think we would be foolish to think so. The devil has other tactics besides the use of brute force. One of them is to deceive people into thinking that they are in the right while others who disagree are wrong—even if that disagreement comes from the magisterium of the Church. When one refuses to consider the possibility of being wrong, how can they repent and turn back to God? If one refuses to consider that the Church teaching is right when it goes against the individual’s own preferences,are no longer giving the religious assent that even the ordinary magisterium requires (See CCC #892).

But the whole point of metanoia is turning away from sin and towards God again. It requires being sorry for the wrong we have done. In metanoia we have the change of perspective in our lives. We realize that what we have been doing is not compatible with what God calls us to be and we want to change to be what God calls us to be. We can’t do it without His grace, but if we refuse to consider the possibility of our doing wrong, we won’t be open to seeking that grace. 

This is how people are corrupted. They deceive themselves into thinking they are good Catholics even when they are refusing to obey the successors to the Apostles—whom they deceive themselves into thinking are bad Catholics. This is not something limited to one theological outlook. The rebellion of the liberals in the 1960s forward is being taken up by conservative dissent today…the arguments used to defy the Church over Humanae Vitae in 1968 is being used to defy Pope Francis here and now. 

This is the corruption of the best intentions—to be faithful to God and the Church, and in corrupting such people, they become the worst. We need to pray that God open our eyes so we might see where we fall, so we might turn back to Him. Let us not be so sure that we are right that we ignore the flaws that might lead to our fall...


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)

Friday, November 7, 2014

TFTD: The "Followership" Problem in the Church

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

—William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

Many Catholic writers have decried the leadership problem in the Church. It is true that sometimes the Church has people in positions of authority who do not guide as well as they should, some even shirking their position. That is a serious matter. As St. Paul points out in 1 Cor 14:8, "And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” 

But I think there is another problem as well, and that is that some Catholics simply do not like the sound of the bugle they hear, and grumble against it.

It’s easy to point fingers at political factions in the Church. For years, conservative Catholics pointed fingers at the liberal dissent in the Church, blaming bishops for it. Now, we have some conservative dissent, and liberal Catholics are pointing their own fingers and trying to implicate bishops for it. Each side tries to cast themselves as the “good” Catholics and the other side as the dissenters.

The problem is, Catholicism is neither conservative nor liberal. There are some positions in Catholic teaching that may sound conservative or liberal, but the reasons the Church teaches is different from the political motivations for a position. So the American bishops are called “The Republican Party at Prayer,” and the Pope is called a “Marxist.” But the fact is, these are condemnations from people who assume that similarity means sympathy. These people either try to misrepresent the Church message as a political ideology to bolster their own credibility or to justify their own disobedience from that teaching.

As a result we are seeing Catholic media and blogs, which had defended the Church from being misrepresented, now suddenly believing the misrepresentation. They show signs of lacking conviction that the Church remains what she has always been, and are attracted to the passionate intensity of those who attack the Church from within.

We on Earth are the Church Militant. That means we have to be prepared for battle. Regardless of whoever may be shirking their duty, that doesn’t reduce our own need to be ready. Some of the officers (clergy and religious) may be shirking—but not all of them are. We need to be ready to defend the Church teaching in it’s fullness, and not accuse the faithful officers (including the Pope) of being shirkers because the orders given are not the ones we would prefer to have.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Christ is the Physician, We Are The Sick

30 The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

31 Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.

32 I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

I think one of the things Christians need to keep in mind is that, when Christ says He has not come to call the righteous but the sinners, we must recognize we are the sinners who need Him, and not the perfect who are already worthy as they are.  We may be tempted to think we are righteous, but we are not.

All of us are tainted by the effects of original sin, and by the sinful acts we do of our own choosing.  In some cases, it may be easy to see.  The tax collectors realizes he is a sinner and prays for forgiveness (see Luke 18:13).  In other cases it is not easy to see.  The self-righteous instead boasts before God (Luke 18:11-12).

The False Dichotomy

We unfortunately have the tendency to create a false either-or situation in our minds:

  1. If I am [a good person] I will not be [like this tax collector]. (If [A] then [B])
  2. I am not [like this tax collector] (not [B])
  3. Therefore I am [a good person] (Therefore [A])

The problem of course is that just because we may not be "like this tax collector" does not make us a good person.  In other words, if we use Hitler as the standard of evil, we all look good in comparison but if Hitler is not the standard of evil, but rather one example of evil, we may find that none of us can take a righteous attitude in what we do.

"Bad News Boys…"

There is an old joke which runs as follows:

A priest was hearing confessions for a mining camp.  The first miner walks in and the priest asks him to confess his sins.

The miner scratches his head and says "Well I don't know… I never killed anyone."

The exasperated priest tells him, "Get out of here and make an examination of conscience!"

The miner exits and sees the line of miners waiting for their turn.  "Go home boys!  He's only taking murderers today!"

Now of course, the priest was not only hearing the confession of murderers.  Rather he was telling the miner to consider what he had done or failed to do which needed reconciliation with God, and not judge himself in comparison to murderers.

Yet too often, we look at our relation with God with the consideration of what we haven't done compared to others… not in the sense that they have done more out of love for God in comparison to ourselves but rather that we haven't acted as bad as them, so we must be good.

We should remember Psalm 50:

7 “Listen, my people, I will speak; Israel, I will testify against you; God, your God, am I.

8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you, nor for your holocausts, set before me daily.

9 I need no bullock from your house, no goats from your fold.

10 For every animal of the forest is mine, beasts by the thousands on my mountains.

11 I know every bird of the heavens; the creatures of the field belong to me.

12 Were I hungry, I would not tell you, for mine is the world and all that fills it.

13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?

14 Offer praise as your sacrifice to God; fulfill your vows to the Most High.

15 Then call on me in time of distress; I will rescue you, and you shall honor me.”

16 But to the wicked God says: “Why do you recite my commandments and profess my covenant with your lips?

17 You hate discipline; you cast my words behind you!

18 When you see thieves, you befriend them; with adulterers you throw in your lot.

19 You give your mouth free rein for evil; you harness your tongue to deceit.

20 You sit maligning your own kin, slandering the child of your own mother.

21 When you do these things should I be silent? Or do you think that I am like you? I accuse you, I lay the charge before you.

The Other Side of the Coin

On the other side of this coin is the claim that because we aren't doing any worse than anyone else, we are fine as we are.  God has commanded in Exodus 23:2  Neither shall you allege the example of the many as an excuse for doing wrong (in other translations it can be rendered You shall not follow a multitude to do evil).  In the New Testament, Jesus says in Luke 17:

8 If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire.

9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna.

Going along to get along is not what we are to do.  Christ makes use of some graphic imagery to show the lengths we are to take to avoid sin.  If we would not cut off our foot or gouge out our eye, should we not take steps to avoid sin?  If "the crowd" embraces sin as good, ought we not to avoid "the crowd" when it seeks to lead us to do evil?

Neither can we appeal to the bad example of those who do not practice what they preach.  Jesus, in Matthew 23 says in verses 2-3, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.

Are there individual priests and even bishops who fail to behave as they ought?  Indeed there are, and they will answer for the things they will not repent of.  For Christ says in Luke 17: 1-2, "Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur.  It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin."

However, the personal sins of an individual priest or bishop do not justify our own sins.  Nor does it justify the disobedience of the Church in one area because a priest or bishop is disobedient in another.

Completing the Circle

Thus we can see that both the disdaining of others while ignoring our own sins, and the thinking we are no worse than others so our sins don't matter are attitudes which contradict the teachings of Christ.  He has come to call the sinners, not the righteous.  If we think we are good because we are "not like them" or if we think we are good because we "only do what everyone else is doing," we are behaving self-righteously, and refusing to let Jesus, the Divine Physician, heal our infirmities.

So let us cease to think of ourselves as some sort of "elect" who have it made, and instead recognize we are sinners who daily must rely on Christ to strengthen and sustain us.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Leerwort Letters (My own attempt at the Screwtape Letter Genre)

Doing versions of the Screwtape Letters is to take an awful risk as a writer.  CS Lewis did have a great insight into the human heart and how the devil hoped to deceive us away from God.  Most of us don't have either that insight or the talent to express that insight in writing, and the result is it reads like an argument made by a Christian with a few cosmetic changes to make it sound like the Screwtape Letters. 

I suspect my own attempt will come much closer to one of the failed attempts to mimic the genre, but I thought it is a topic I thought I should approach: The temptation of the faithful Christian into rebellion without even realizing it.

So, for better or for worse (most likely the latter) here is my own attempt at the genre.

My Dear Casketgnaw,

You seem to have put your foot in it when it came to assignments being passed out today. You managed to complain loudly that your because your patient was a conservative and a faithful Christian therefore you were being set up to fail. It’s bad enough that you embarrassed yourself with such a foolish statement. It’s worse because being my former student at the Tempter’s Academy, you managed to make it look like I’ve taught you nothing.

So it seems I will have to give you an overview of the fundamentals you somehow failed to learn while in Tempters School.

Just because a person is pious doesn’t mean they are untouchable. The only people we have been unable to touch were our Enemy and the creature He used to be His mother. Everyone else, we can crack if we just think about how to exploit their weaknesses. You think Conservative Christians are a tough nut to crack? Just look at the phrase “conservative Christian” and you will see a wedge you can use to separate the patient from the Enemy.  "Christian" is a belief which the Enemy wants to affect all other preferences the patient has.  We want the Patient to judge "Christianity" by "Conservative" just as we want our liberal patients to judge "Christianity" by "Liberalism."

So, my dear former pupil, it matters not whether the patient is Catholic or Buddhist, Conservative or Liberal. Our job is to turn their head to look at things in the way we want them to see and once we get them into the habit of putting their own wants first; to discourage them from thinking they could be wrong.

Like with every other patient we’ve had since Adam and Eve, we want them to think their wants are the only good there is, and where there is a difference, the Church must be wrong. We want them prideful. We want to lead them to think that they can’t be in error, so in any conflict, the one challenging them must be in error.

You’ll have some good resources to help with this of course. Your patient is a Catholic.  According to the case file of your patient, he is young and zealous for the faith and has come to understand that the Church he is in is indeed the Church the enemy has established. These things, if left unattended can indeed lead him into the Enemy’s camp so we can have no grasp on him once he changes from death to life.

However, because he is young and zealous, we can misdirect both to our own ends.  We have had some success in guiding some of our other patients within the Enemy's church to do some foolish things which will scandalize your own patient.  All they need to do is to look at the news accounts of a priest who abuses the Enemy’s Mass; the nun who is a lesbian feminist, the theologian who claims that it is being true to that hated Vatican Council II (We had to work hard to make it ineffectual) to do the opposite of what the Council says.

With these scandals, we then can lead them to think “I’m not that way!” Then we can guide them to the unspoken conclusion that “therefore what I think should be is the true teaching of the Church.”

Remember, the young are not like the old. With the old we encourage them “not to make waves,” or to see so many sides to the story that they lose sight of the Enemy’s side of the story. With the young we want to appeal to their sense of justice and lead them to a view which is very unjust indeed when looking at others.  When he prays, we want his prayers to become like the Pharisee in the Enemy's parable: "O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector."

So don’t waste your time appealing to his baser instincts… that’s not to say it won’t work.  (He does have a girlfriend after all… though she too is trying to be faithful to the enemy, and any unrepented mortal sin works for us).  It's just that you don’t need to make him a hedonist to bring him into our clutches. Rather, use them in a way compatible with his views: lead him to the view that so many people out there are hedonists and seem to suffer no consequences for doing so. Now, unless he has some compulsions to exploit, you won’t make him into a public sinner. But you can exploit his own desires and lead him to think “Something must be done!”

Once you have your patient realizing “something must be done” we can nudge him to notice that his church is not handling it in the way he would prefer, and whisper to him that it shows the church is not doing what the Enemy wants.

It is true that often our best strategies are to hide the fact that we exist. However in this kind of case, it often helps to make it known we do exist and make it seem we are to blame for the church action the patient does not like.

We can exploit this "arguing in a circle" to our benefit, getting our patient to think that what he thinks should be done is the Enemy's will is the first step.  Leading him to think that any difference between his view and the actions of the Church (and you should always suggest that it is the Enemy's Church and not some of the useful idiots within who does the wrong things he is offended by) indicates the Enemy's Church is controlled by our useful idiots and by us should be very successful.

This will have the added benefit that when the patient's political views or personal situation runs afoul of the Church (and at times they will… that's the beauty of Our Father Below's attack on that Adam and Eve… concupiscence makes them want to be selfish), they will judge the Enemy's Church as following our dictates, forgetting the Enemy's promise that we would never prevail against it (we will someday!) and never consider the possibility of their own situation being at odds with the Enemy.

Next time you’re down Below, go swing by and visit where Donatus is roasting away. He was a person who was vigorous in defense of the Church, yet we have him now. You want to know why?

We got him to think his view of what the Enemy's Church should be was The Enemy's view of what the Church should be, and he ended up condemning and defying the Enemy's Church for laxity and heresy. Isn’t that fun? He and his were so worked up about the Pope readmitting those patients back into the Church who they thought should be kept out, that he denied the authority of the Church when it went against them!

Don't get carried away however.  You don't need to make your patient a schismatic. So long as he thinks the difference between himself and the official teaching of the Enemy's Church to be our infiltration of the Enemy's Church, we can deafen him to the Enemy trying to steal him away from us.

But always remember the first fundamental step: Always lead the patient to think that what he wants is right, and when the Church challenges that, the Church must be wrong.  In doing so, you can deceive both the hedonist who hate's the enemy and the Enemy's servant alike.



Your Instructor, Leerwort