One of the most commonly played sending forth hymns I hear at mass, at least in my home parish, is ‘Go Make a Difference’. It is a very catchy tune; one that brings about a third of the parishioners to some form of synchronized clapping. I wonder, though, has this particular hymn become something of a mindless habit rather than a call to action?
One of the most common hang-ups against the Catholic Church from an outside perspective is that it is “too ritualistic” or “too rehearsed”. Comments like these lead people to the idea that the Catholic way of worship is completely and utterly man-made. I used to be on the other side of the fence so I do have a bit of perspective to offer on this subject.
First off, it is the understanding of most evangelical Christians that the manner in which we worship should contain a certain degree of spontaneity. Is this spontaneity for its own sake? Not at all, in fact, spontaneity isn’t even the point of evangelical worship, although it is viewed as somewhat necessary. Whether you attend a “service”, a “mass” or the newly-termed “gathering,” the end by which you justify your means rests in the encounter. How might we encounter God? Much of the differences in worship that we find from denomination to denomination depends greatly on a particular group’s interpretation of Scripture. (p.s. Scriptural interpretation is not where we’re going, that’s another blog, or book, altogether…) Believe it or not, the Catholic liturgy is primarily concerned with an authentic encounter with God, as well.
For the better part of the last five years, I have been involved in parish youth ministry and catechetical formation in two parishes, as both a volunteer and as a paid staff member. Anyone who has taken up the mantle of working with teens and adolescents can attest to the fact that this ministry is not for the faint of heart. Many sleepless nights and hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament are how I have coped with the stress that comes with it all. Now, in order to be a catechist training, education, and experience are always a plus but the truth is… catechesis is for everyone! If you’ve labeled yourself as “Catholic” in the “about me” section of your Facebook profile, then you are called to be a catechist. Seriously.
Being “on the wrong side of history” is a phrase that finds its way into the media from time to time. When asked why someone would support controversial issues, such as same-sex marriage, abortion, and even the legalization of marijuana, this is a defense to which they often cling. Such a defense has even found its way into the pulpit, the sermon, the homily, and even the Christian blogosphere.
There seems to exist a new breed of Christian in western culture. A politically correct Christian of sorts, who will go so far as to redefine their understanding of the faith in order to avoid being “on the wrong side of history…” Don’t get me wrong, quite the case has been established to support this way of thinking. Extremist groups such as the KKK and more recently, Westboro Baptist Church have both come under the guise of “doing the work of God.” As we learned, both during and after the fact, all Christians supporting these causes were certainly, on the wrong side of history. Add to these two blemishes, the grossly ill-perceived crusades, the sex-abuse scandals, among other things and anyone would seemingly be justified in their opinions towards Christianity.
St. John Paul II’s “Love & Responsibility” is such a profound work; it laid the groundwork for what would become a series of talks we know as Theology of the Body. A basic principle that we can take away from his work is that love must be the foundation upon which relationships are built. Love, by its very nature is the gift of oneself for the good of another. Love is two people seeking out a virtuous life, together. St. JPII also makes it clear that love treats people as “ends” and not “means to an end”. The individualistic nature of western culture has shifted the focus from our fellowman towards what we can do to look out for our own best interests. Our goals and aspirations for this life have become increasingly self-centered with a lessening regard for the well-being of others. It would also appear that being immune to such ideology is easier said than done.
The type of friendship that many young people (and people of all ages) find themselves in is what Aristotle labels as the “friendship of utility”. It is a relationship, based largely upon the mutual benefit or “use” that one or both friends may derive from a relationship. Because relationships based on use exist, opportunism has managed to creep its way into many relationships, even into the bonds shared among people of the Christian faith. For example, a common form of opportunism can occur when friends are attempting to make plans with one another. When attempting to receive an affirmative response after the initial invitation, our hopes are usually not very high. Opportunism has wiped away the necessity to commit. Because let’s be honest… when something better comes along, we do not want to be tied down. Many of us, myself included, may have been guilty of this mindset at least once (if not more) in our relationships with others.
Opportunism in friendship, when it has become acceptable, can be an extremely difficult cycle to break. Especially, when such behavior is considered the norm it may seem irrational to protest against it. In a culture where we use our phones and tablets to disengage from intimate or difficult conversations, taking the time to challenge opportunism will seem like a futile undertaking at first. Seeking to develop love and responsibility towards one another in a friendship where neither currently exists doesn’t come with an instruction manual. However, if opportunism has infiltrated a relationship worth keeping, it will be worth the effort.
Men, Women and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul II’s ‘Love and Responsibility’ (Cincinnati, OH: Servant Books, 2007) by Dr. Edward Sri
Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla
Converts to the Catholic faith come in many different forms. I, in particular, would be considered a convert of the over-zealous variety. My conversion story (available in a bookstore near you, late 2015) (hopefully) is one of an evangelical protestant who initially set out to settle the debate and disprove Catholicism once and for all. God had a different outcome in mind… In any sense, I was the protestant that most cradle Catholics would never hope to encounter. I was hard-headed and faithful to the teachings of the evangelical tradition. Disdain for the Catholic faith was a part of my Christian upbringing.
Since joining the Church, I will often encounter various forms of my former self. I am not the most learned Convert but I am becoming somewhat of a burgeoning bibliophile in terms of Catholic literature. I hate to read… so this is a big deal. Periodically, I’ll find myself lodged in a debate over theology or social teaching and about half of the time I’ll come out victorious by social media debate standards. The other half results when I either get blindsided, consequently directing my independent reading in a new direction to safeguard against that in the future or I’ll be in a no-win situation. This is when the person I am debating has taken serious issue with the Catholic Church altogether. Part of the time this will result in a blatant refusal of truth on their behalf or my arguments could not stand up against their concerns. In the later of these situations, the best remedy is just to be there.
As a Catholic and an apologist-in-training I will never have all the answers and sometimes the answers will never be enough. There may come a time when you will find yourself with your back up against the wall and the only way forward is to make peace, accept it as a moment to grow in humility and offer up kindness. Whatever ends up happening, we must never stop praying for our brothers and sisters of different faiths (or no faith at all).
This rainy Friday morning I will be making the trek down to the ol’ Cathedral for confession. I’ve made it a point in my life to partake in this sacrament a bit more frequently. It’s gotten to a point that when I fall short (in what I have done or failed to do) I feel like I am living in a dirty home. Reconciliation is the remedy, it cleans out the home and keeps me from becoming buried alive (hoarders pun, sorry). So the question is… Why is a ‘clean home’ so important in terms of our soul?
1. A dirty home isn’t hospitable for guests.
I remember, growing up, the number one reason that I needed to clean my room or pick up my toys around the house was due to the imminent arrival of guests. People were about to join us, not just regular people but, family or close friends. When we let our souls become overrun with the junk that comes with our sinful nature, we are essentially removing the possibility of an edifying communal experience with others. Reconciliation fixes that.
2. A dirty home left unattended, will become uninhabitable.
This reminds me of passages from both the Second Letter to the Corinthians and the Letter to the Ephesians when Paul reminds us that we are not to fellowship with what is ungodly (pagan in Ephesians). Reconciliation not only reunites our souls into full communion with the Church it also reunites us into full communion with Christ in the Eucharist. Scripture makes it clear that partaking of the Eucharist is the source and summit of our salvation! It is by that very union that we have life! Like a dirty house that hasn’t been cleaned, we will eventually become uninhabitable for Christ. Reconciliation fixes that.
3. Putting off this necessary ‘cleaning’ will often result in MORE shame, MORE guilt, and MORE seclusion.
I can’t tell you how often my pride has kept me from seeking out reconciliation. Mind you, I was raised on “go directly to God” so brushing it under the rug was a skill of mine. Week after week many Catholics attend mass and do not join their family at the table of the Lord. In many cases, shame alone will keep them from even going forward for a blessing. Pretty soon parishioners are missing Mass and eventually leaving the Church altogether. Reconciliation fixes that.
So here I go, even in the flash flood, I will seek out God’s forgiveness. Talk about humbling, I currently have hundreds of reasons going through my mind as to why I should wait, put it off, or not go at all. None of those reasons are good enough. Even though my human nature would keep me occupied with other menial tasks, Christ is calling me. We are all broken. Reconciliation fixes that.
I love our Pope; I really just need to start with that. Pope Francis has a big heart for helping the poor, which also needs to be mentioned. Most of the world, regardless of gender, race, or creed feels that Pope Francis is indeed the shepherd meant for the Church at this crucial moment in history. Most of the staunch conservatives cling to the words of the Pope when he spouts off ‘pro-life’ messages while criticizing him as he calls for ‘redistribution of wealth’, and vice versa for liberals. Everyone takes what they like about the pontiff and leave what they don’t.
In any sense, I am fairly confident in my assessment to say that Pope Francis and the public’s view of him is an accurate depiction for the relationship between the Church and the political party system. When I hear or read the word “Republican”, slogans like “Southern by the grace of God”, images of guns and Bibles side by side, and contradictory ideology that is somehow “pro-life” and “pro-death penalty” simultaneously race through my mind. Many of these values are enough to make most decent Americans cringe. The Republican Party has even gone on to claim that they are the Christian Party. Consequently, most of your pro-life, bible-belt Christians blindly herd themselves into that party. On the other side of the coin we have the so-called liberals, commonly categorized as being “Democrat”. These “pro-choice”, “contraceptive-pushing”, “rainbow-wearing” tree huggers are typically the epitome of “conservative” ridicule. Yet, when it comes to helping the poor, promoting eco-friendly causes, etc. these “liberals” are leading the way.
To be honest, I think both political/ideological groups still thrive today because people want to be a part of something good. We want to believe that we are making a positive difference in our communities and improving the quality of life for future generations. The main word we need to focus on from here is: compromise.
As Christians, we tend to gravitate towards one political party or another wherein every decision we make will be criticized by other Christians. You see, joining a political party or subscribing to a certain political ideology is usually more of a moral compromise than it is a commitment to a set of values. The absolute truth of the matter is that a political party does not exist that fully aligns itself with Church teaching. This is primarily because the Church is not in authority over any political body. As Christians we should be slow to pride ourselves on our political affiliations while boldly living and proclaiming the truth of our faith. If we live out our faith in its entirety, we will soon find ourselves becoming less and less “Anti-Obama” or “Anti-Romney” simply because of their political connotation. When we participate in public exercises of social justice and democracy, let us look to the saints instead of the forefathers and let us cling to Church teaching over party values. When we head to the poles or participate in public debate, let us be ‘Catholic’ first and foremost, no matter the cost.
Just a few days ago, on Divine Mercy Sunday (04/27/14), as the world watched and millions gathered (or attempted to) into St. Peter’s, Pope Francis canonized two of his predecessors. During the ceremonies, Pope Francis even concelebrated mass with his immediate predecessor, Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI. I think it goes without saying that this was quite a historic day in all of Christianity.
While Pope Saint John Paul II may appear to be more ‘famous’ than Pope Saint John XXIII, it can assured that this is more or less a generational perception. You see, Pope Saint John Paul II reintroduced the world to what it truly means to be human in his teachings on ‘Theology of the Body’ which immediately followed his influential writings on ‘Love and Responsibility’. As a convert, I knew nothing of Catholicism under JP2, but he was a Church figure that I would quickly become acquainted with upon my journey into full communion. Add to his theological contributions, the heroic virtue in which he lived out his daily life, and we are certain that even in time on earth he was a saint among us. I mean, this is a guy who lost most of his immediate family, lived under the oppression of the Nazi regime, went to seminary ILLEGALLY (according to Nazi rule), AND was an avid outdoorsman… COME ON!
All the while, we forget poor ol’ Angelo, the man who would become Pope John XXIII and eventually a saint. Now the ‘we’ is obviously referring to the millennials and possibly some of their parents. Most, if not all, of the emerging young Church belong to the JP2/Benedict XVI generation. So maybe on this subject you should talk to your grandparents or any Catholic who was within the age of accountability during the early 60’s about Pope Saint John XXIII. St. J23 (as he will be referred to hereafter) was instrumental in the opening and presiding of the Vatican II Council. Let me preface this by saying that this particular council was HUGE for the Church and her approach to the liturgy and evangelization. Most notably, it allowed the liturgies you experience to happen in your own vernacular. Many more changes came down the line as a result of this historic council BUT St. J23 wasn’t able to see the end results of it. You see he was only our shepherd for four and a half years before succumbing to stomach cancer. In his short span of time as our Pope, much was accomplished in the name of spreading the gospel to all people. These among many reasons are why St. J23 was beloved by many for his contributions to the Catholic faith.
During his earlier years in ministry, St. J23 was busy helping the Jewish refugees during the harsh times of WWII while young Karol was secretly studying for the priesthood. It is not a far cry to say that these two saints are cut from the same cloth, their ministry, papacies, and eventual sainthoods will forever be united in a love for people and a love for the Church. As we move forward and celebrate their feast days, ask them for their intercessions, and remember the Holy examples they were during their earthly lives let us be united to the cause of Christ a bit more intimately and strive together to love God, love his Church, and to live holy lives.
Following Jesus and truly having faith in His Church is undoubtedly the hardest thing that anyone in this life could undertake. On this Good Friday, I often reflect on the role of the disciples during the arrest, trial, scourging, and eventual crucifixion. These men were in the inner circle, they fellowshipped with the Christ on a perpetual basis. Yet at the first sign of dissention, these great men of faith scattered. More importantly, Jesus knew they would do just that.
What more, does this day about our own faith? Us, Christians, we are the flock of the successors of the men who fled and even denied Christ in His final hours. In times of uncertainty we immediately turn our trust in on our own devices. So often, if God’s plan isn’t what we had pictured, we take up matters in our own hands. Each and every time we find that when we put our full reliance in ourselves that we are left unfulfilled and often in a worse position than when times were seemingly uncertain.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
Fortunately, we are not alone in this journey. We have the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, in communion with all the saints and this community will not fail us. Even Christ’s mother, our Blessed Mother, was left in the care of the His disciples, the foundation of our Church. It is only when we orient our trust inward that our situation begins to deteriorate. Christ promised us there would be suffering, because he suffered. Like the disciples, we become cynical when the suffering begins. It is only when we cling to the faith we have in the Catholic Church and embrace the grace in the sacraments that we will be able to face uncertainty without hesitation.
On this Good Friday, when we travel into the hours leading towards the cross, let us be reminded that we too are called to carry a cross. When trials befall us, let us consider that our only recourse is to believe. Let us keep the faith and if we don’t quit, we win.