Catechism Teacher v. The Parent: Dawn of Conversion

In case you don’t quite know me yet, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Robert and I am a catechist. Over the past few years I have facilitated small groups, hosted lock-ins, gone on retreats, taken 15+ hour bus rides across the country, given talks and workshops, spent countless hours in the confessional and even longer on my knees in prayer… all in the name of handing on the faith to a bunch of teenagers and young adults. Parish ministry is messy and I am here to tell you that without the Sacraments, it will undoubtedly steal your soul. Working in ministry day in and day out is taxing and has a tendency to keep you up at night from time to time.

Today, I am going to focus on another tendency that can creep up, especially in youth and young adult ministry, if you allow it. When trying your best to lay the groundwork for some sort of Holy Spirit encounter to take place, nothing kills your enthusiasm faster than a teen that couldn’t care less… It is important to keep in mind that conversion is 100% the work of the Holy Spirit and that we, as ministers of the faith, cannot force an experience of faith, but with the right amount of prayer and elbow grease, can facilitate these opportunities.

However, when a regular attendee suddenly loses interest or begins to exhibit a gradual decline in enthusiasm, a certain amount of due diligence is necessary so that any potential threat to their formation might be eradicated. In my own experience, sudden or gradual turns for the worst are usually the result of traumatic events in the life of a young person or the more common lack of reinforcement. There is one thing, of which, we can be certain: young hearts are hungry for the truth. If the ecclesial community fails to offer any real substance, we’ll lose them to something else that can satisfy or at least appear to satisfy.

Authentic Christian living isn’t something that can be faked for any lengthy period of time. When the rubber meets the road and hardship sets in, only those who are grounded in their faith can withstand such a test. Young people notice that. They notice when the adults in their life are the real deal or when they are just going through the motions. At this point it is important to establish that it is not the pastor, nor the youth minister, nor the catechism teacher who is solely responsible for the formation of a young person’s faith. Throughout their childhood, adolescent, and teenage years it is the parents who must act as the primary teachers of the faith.

This type of assertion might cause some to fret but I say to you FRET NOT! A theology degree isn’t required for such a responsibility. Your child isn’t necessarily concerned with the immensity of the truth bombs you are willing to drop so that they might grow up into a mature and faithful Catholic. The secret is not in what you say but more often in what context you begin to say it. ‘Do as I say and not as I do’ is popular and can get the job done in most parenting situations, but when it comes to matters of the faith; it is what you do that makes the difference.

The cold hard truth is that your parish’s religious education program can, in some situations, be a mere exercise in cruel and unusual punishment to a young person who goes home to a faithless environment. Of course, there are some obvious exceptions to that statement and in many scenarios a child can defy the odds and become the next great witness of the faith in their generation. In any case, we cannot ignore the importance of a solid observance of faith in the home.

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self–denial, sound judgment, and self–mastery—the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.” Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. – CCC 2223 abbrv.

The tendency of which I write about today is the level of animosity that can develop between the parent and the parish religious educator. From the perspective of the parish employee, the amount of frustration that accrues from nominally involved parents is a call for conflict. Sternly written letters, texts, blunt phone calls, and the occasional heated face-to-face meetings are all part of the job. On the other side of the coin, parents might feel as though the parish expects too much of them or that what is asked of these young people simply isn’t necessary.

This is a struggle that, unless communication improves ten-fold, a wedge will be driven between the parish church and the domestic church; the church of the home. The reality that both parties need to come to understand is that while, at times, a certain element of frustration breaks out over the young person’s formation; the parents and the parish are not enemies, but partners against a greater evil. When both parties come together and acknowledge the gravity of the task at hand, the differences and disagreements suddenly become menial and irrelevant as they relate to the state of the young person’s eternal soul. All involved would also do well to realize it takes both a domestic and a parish church to raise up faithful Catholics.

Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God. The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents. – CCC 2226

Be who God meant you to be.

Abortion. Redefinition of Marriage. Terrorism. The Dallas Cowboys. There are many terrible things in the world we live in today and quite often we feel powerless as to how we should stop these forces of evil. Just about any day of the week you might turn on the news to see the newest ‘human right’ being fought for on social media; other times there might be masses of belligerent protestors trying to get their point across. Whatever the case, as a Catholic you might feel a bit useless. Think about it. The Church is supposedly the greatest force of good on the planet but between the Lenten fish fries and the parish donut socials we find ourselves preoccupied with certain things that come across as less… significant. We might feel called to sign every petition, march in every protest, and a many number of other things but we often neglect THE most effective way to change the world.

Vocation. At this point in time, perhaps you have heard or read tons of ‘life calling’ posts and to be honest you aren’t interested in reading anything else about your vocation. Keep reading…

Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.   – St. Catherine of Sienna

I think St. Catherine was on to something. Too often we find ourselves going after our own plans, our own goals, completely ignorant to what God might be calling us towards. The truth of the matter is: we are called to happiness. Our willingness to entrust our happiness to the plan of God usually depends on how we view the big man in the sky altogether. For example, if you view God as a big man in the sky, He might seem as a distant, uninvolved figure that typically leaves us to our own affairs so long as we shoot up a ‘thanks’ from time to time. It can be very hard to ‘feel’ God, especially in our lowest points of life. It is our faith that tells us He is present and that He hears us.

When we look at the injustices of the world, we can quickly become overwhelmed. The question of suffering haunts the faithful more than you would think. Most of us get by through a careful avoidance of thinking about the current state of our culture in any capacity. I think what happens when we look at the world, I mean really look; it forces us to come to terms with our views of Jesus, His redemptive mission, and our own roles in that mission. Faith is generally easy if you don’t think about it. In fact, faith doesn’t become difficult until you look suffering in the eye.

Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: “Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.” To live, grow, and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be “working through charity,” abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church. – CCC 162

In order to say, without being dishonest, that have truly have faith in God, we are called to have faith in His plan for our lives; our vocation. Our vocation is the call of God on our lives; our primary ministry. Throughout our lives, we might find hints as to what our vocation might actually be; the nudge to go into the seminary or to get married or even an urge to find out more about a certain religious order. For some of us, God’s plan might clash with our plans. We develop, over the course of our lives, based on our interests and experiences, a sense of what we would like to do; a goal that we aspire towards.

If our ultimate call, the call of God, is what will lead us to our ultimate happiness, one might wonder why it is, sometimes, at odds with our own plans. Our goals and aspirations are generally good but they are limited and flawed. We are imperfect beings, stained by sin and formed by past experiences (good or bad) and for such reasons our plans for our own lives, the ones we formulate from our own desires, simply fall short. God created us and knows far better than we do what it takes for us to achieve our ultimate happiness. God knows our purpose for existing; He knows our vocation.

People protest and sign petitions, enlist in the military and go into some form of public service for a common reason: they want to change the world and make it into a better place for everyone. Even the ‘no justice, no peace’ marches; they are honest cries for consolation and reparation for past injustices. The thing is that we are flawed, and apart from God, our attempts to make the world a better place are also flawed. The logic here is that, without God’s perfect wisdom and understanding, our noble attempts to achieve anything will fall undeniably short. Our greatest achievements, in any form, never resolve therefore the process of development is never complete. We find ourselves restless.

If you are called to the priesthood, the religious life, or the diaconate then, by all means, explore that call. Forget your plans, forget your worries; I can assure you that in no other place will you find the happiness that you so desperately desire. Maybe you’re called towards marriage or even to be perpetually single. Embrace your call, embrace God’s plan for chastity and charity in your own life. The most effective way to stand for traditional marriage and to fight against abortion is to get married, love your husband or wife, and commit to being open to children and to raise them in the light of the Catholic faith. Whatever God’s plan for you entails, be open to it and live it out heroically with complete abandon; shun the fleeting pleasures of this world. Think about your own plans for your life and know with certainty that you were made for more. Your vocation is, undoubtedly, the most prolific endeavor that could be pursued this side of eternity.

You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works. My very self you know. My bones are not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. – Psalm 139:13-16

Can the Church Change the World?

I have a tendency towards pessimism. If any bad thing can happen, it probably will. It’s a terrible personality trait of mine that I have tackled for years through prayer and believing in God’s plan for my life and the life of others. Trusting in God can certainly be difficult at times and I feel as though I am not alone in this.

While reflecting on the Gospel reading in John I am reminded of myself, particularly, when Thomas initially doubts that Jesus had appeared to the others and doesn’t believe until he comes to see the Christ with his own eyes. We are all doubting Thomas at one point or another. Whether it is a rough patch in our finances, in our family life, our job, or even in the current state of the society in which we live, there are moments when we simply doubt that God is near to us. In these moments we tend to challenge God; in some round-about way asking Him to prove his presence to us.

Granted this is not a theistic doubt, I am not saying that the lot of us tend to doubt if there even is a God, but that in the low points of life our faith is tested. I’ve written about trusting God before and how that trust is absolutely crucial for an authentic relationship with God. What I aim to focus on at this point is the work that has been cut out for us as Christians.

If you’re a cradle Catholic and you’re reading this you probably remember going to catechism class growing up. It might have been a priest, a religious sister (or mother or brother), a paid teacher, or even a volunteer who taught most of your catechism classes. If you grew up in a typical, practicing Catholic family, catechism class was likely an extension of going to mass and praying together with your immediate family. This experience, unfortunately, is not typical for many Catholics, especially in the United States. Many cradle Catholics have rarely, if ever, experienced mass with their parents and have grown up in environments where faith was never given a place of priority. In these situations, catechism class takes the place of parents and other influential people in the lives of young people and becomes the ‘only line of defense’ against the relativism that dominates popular thought.

My father once said “Children are always learning and if parents aren’t teaching them how to live then someone else is…”

The influence of family life has (whether we like it or not) shaped us in significant ways and will, inevitably, shape our children. This begs the question as to who has influenced this generation and how this generation is influencing the next. Actor, Robert Downey Jr., recently said in an award show that we should, ‘because we can’, shape our generation. There are certainly those among us who rise to the top and set the trends of our society. The question that remains is who influenced them? What do they believe?

Believe it or not, there was once a time in America when faith played a greater role in public opinion. There was even a time when most families still shared a meal or two around the same table each day and began the tradition with a moment of prayer and thanksgiving. Times have undoubtedly changed and this is where the Church must choose: fight or flight. Up to this point, I have not told you anything remotely groundbreaking, but hopefully, I have gotten you to think for a moment about your own family and your own faith. Do you feel like you can go out and make a difference? Do you feel like even if you openly practiced what you believe that anyone would notice? There are moments when we feel as though we can do nothing and that society is doomed to implode on itself. We wait for others to make a difference claiming we need proof before we, ourselves, choose to act. We become like doubting Thomas.

If I could implore you, now more than ever: act. Live out your faith and be an authentic witness to the one who has saved you from your own mess. If you have been away from the Church for a while, come back. If you have doubts, ask questions! If you feel far from God, pray! It is not a group of people who are familiar with Catholic doctrine that will change the world; it is only by those who have been transformed by the truth it contains. The vineyard needs laborers, the Church needs intentional disciples, and the world needs the Catholic Church. It all begins with the Church and the ministry of the Church begins when we answer the call to action. It’s our turn.

Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society. – St. Francis of Assisi

The Need for a New Evangelization

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! – Isaiah 5:20

Last night I completed my reading of JP2’s ‘Veritatis Splendor (the Splendor of Truth)’ and in the last portion our beloved Pope Saint spends a great deal of time introducing to the world the concept of a new evangelization. Bear in mind, this encyclical was written in the 1990’s; right around twenty years ago to be exact. It is blatantly obvious that John Paul II was extremely intuitive and was on point with his assessment of the ‘signs of the times.’ In his wisdom, he knew that there existed (and still exists) a desperate need for the Church to defend her timeless truths with unrelenting pastoral care. We live in an age where everyone gets offended over everything and anyone who claims to know the truth about anything will quickly be labeled as a bigot or a racist, etc. We live in a totalitarian age governed by relativism. Relativism simply states that what might be true for you isn’t necessarily true for me and therefore we can no longer proclaim anything to be objectively true or morally absolute.

Relativism brings to mind the instance in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit so that they might be ‘like God’. Genesis so appropriately captures in that one sentence the essence of all sin. When we remove God as Lord of our lives and replace Him with ourselves we, effectively, remove all that is objectively true and good only to replace it with an entire universe that revolves around our own views. Sin is not only a turning away from God but an elevation of our own, imperfect preferences.

The Church, in all of her wisdom, seeks to promote the dignity of the human person in every situation; after all, made in God’s image is something worth preserving. Church teaching on the issues of abortion, gay marriage, contraception, and the like are often misconstrued as being invasive, dated, unfair, and intolerant. Think about this for a second, especially if you disagree with the Church’s position on any of these ‘hot button’ issues: If evil is opposed to good buy its very definition, how would the enemy of your soul have you to view the very teaching that aims to redeem your soul?

Exactly.

It is for such reasons that a new evangelization is so vitally important. The truth isn’t something that changes in order to ‘get with the times’ and the Church affirms that moral absolutes do exist and are worth preserving. However, we live in a culture that exists as if God doesn’t. As Catholics we are called to be faithful to the truth even until the point of death. (cf. Revelation 2:10) Martyrdom is, indeed, its own reward. The thought of martyrdom, however, seems radical and might even repel some to the idea of diving deeper into their faith. I can assure you that living out our Catholic identity in a radical way is the only way that the tide could ever be turned. The enemy seeks only to steal, kill, and destroy, and is going about these objectives with great determination and creativity.

The Church is called not to an equal, but a greater response. And no, such cultural issues cannot be rectified with making church ‘cool’, rather people need to see that the Church teaches something real, tangible, and life-changing. So I encourage you: live passionately Catholic. Invite people to mass, study your faith so that you might give a defense (if necessary), pray without ceasing, and make your faith the focal point from which your life takes its order and not just a compartmentalized part of who you are. (cf. 1 Peter 3:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:17) The future of the Church is in the hands of those who truly witness, by word and deed, the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. It matters nothing if you’re a ‘good Catholic’ who does only what is required of you and nothing more.

“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses…” – Blessed Pope Paul VI

The Gravity of Sin

Is all sin created equal? Yes and no. You may have heard at one point or another in your life that all sin is equally grave; meaning, it all bears the same weight with regard to your salvation. While sin, in every case, opposes God, much of its effect on whether or not you’re eternally damned depends on well… you.

If I were to tell a lie, instantaneously, in order to avoid someone’s anger in a passing situation you would likely struggle to equate a ‘reactionary sin’ such as what I’ve mentioned with a premeditated murder. There are many in the fundamentalist school of thought who would assert that ‘sin is sin’ and that ‘all sin is the same in God’s eyes’. On the contrary, Sacred Scripture supports the idea that not all sin is of grave concern or ‘deadly.’ (cf. 1 John 5:16-17) The underlying truth we come to realize is that all sin points to a flaw within ourselves. We are all created in the image and likeness of God, but due to the fall we have an innate tendency towards what is pleasurable or sinful; this is called concupiscence.

The effects of our sinfulness are not altogether autonomous, because even though the nature of our sins can be radically different, their differing effects are all commonly involved. Sin is, essentially, an effort on our part that is in opposition to God, albeit direct or indirect. God is the only ‘true good’ that man can come to know and sin looks upon this ‘true good’ and chooses otherwise. Not only that, our sins are in opposition to our own human nature according to our nature’s ordering in the image of God’s divine nature. Just as Adam and eve were robbed of their paradise, so too are we robbed of perfect freedom when we sin. God created us to be free and to discover this true freedom that orients itself towards the good.

Sins can be distinguished according to their objects, as can every human act; or according to the virtues they oppose, by excess or defect; or according to the commandments they violate. They can also be classed according to whether they concern God, neighbor, or oneself; they can be divided into spiritual and carnal sins, or again as sins in thought, word, deed, or omission. The root of sin is in the heart of man, in his free will, according to the teaching of the Lord: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man.” But in the heart also resides charity, the source of the good and pure works, which sin wounds. – CCC 1853

As we have already established, our sin can either be a direct or indirect effort. To further clarify, an indirect effort would be an instantaneous or reactionary sin that we failed to give full consent to, but committed it anyways. The Church recognizes these minor offenses as being venial. Venial sins wound the virtue of charity in our lives; however, they are not intentional, malicious acts towards God, who is the ‘true good.’ These types of sins point out a flaw or shortcoming in our spiritual life that must be attended to before it gets out of hand. Venial sins, as they relate to our communion with the Body of Christ are not acts that sever this relationship. We would do well to confess such venial sins, although not required, so that we might receive just penance as a preventative measure for future occasions of sin.

Beyond that, sin, as it relates to the disposition of man, can also be categorized as mortal or what the Scriptures call ‘deadly.’ Whether a sin is mortal or venial determines the vitality of man’s relationship with God. Mortal sin severs the bond between man and the larger body of Christ and, effectively, the bond between man and God. Mortal sin is to be viewed as a literal rejection or ‘turning away’ from God that results from the grave error of our choices. A murder that has been premeditated or, perhaps, the willingness to be unfaithful to one’s spouse are two examples of mortal sin. Sins that have been adequately considered and carried out regardless of the harm that may result are considered to be mortal. When man chooses such selfish behavior, he acts in complete opposition to God and his actions demonstrate a forsaking of his union with the true good.

“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss. – CCC 1864

What is sin?

My older daughter, Lucia (2 yrs.), is very… adventurous. Lucia likes to explore every part of our house that she can get to without any major difficulties. I should add that even if it is difficult she will still give it everything she’s got. A few months ago we installed child-proof locks all throughout our house, but unfortunately, we forgot a few cabinets in the kitchen. One afternoon, I was sitting on the couch working on schoolwork when, piece by piece, Lucia brought me our rice cooker. With each passing part, while holding back laughter, I would ask her to “bring this piece back to mom” and soon enough I had an entire rice cooker in my lap as I worked.

Right away, one would affirm that Lucia’s (very cute) disregard for my requests would be an action in need of correction and one would be right. Very firmly, yet in the most loving way, Rachel and I find ourselves correcting Lucia not because she is in trouble but because, as parents, we are forming her into a child who respects and trusts in our authority. Did Lucia sin when she ignored my requests to bring the rice cooker parts back? Absolutely not. She’s too young and not yet culpable for such actions. Much (if not all) responsibility has yet to burden her for her actions, given her age and ability to understand the implications of our parenting. As she grows older, however, Lucia, Audrey, and (Lord willing) any other kids we are blessed with will have to give an account for when they disobey what they have come to understand as rules in our household.

The Bible talks about sin quite often throughout the cannon of Scripture. Church teaching, throughout the millennia, has provided us with much clarity regarding the weight of these Scripture passages in our world today. Within Church Tradition we come to find that there are many absolute moral norms that hold true in any culture and in any time period. This basically means that what was a sin 1,000 years ago is still a sin today. This sin will, of course, look different in light of the vast cultural shifts that have taken place; however, the spirit of the act will have prevailed and would still be considered… a sin.

Sin, from a theological perspective, is to say “that is not the way it is meant to be…” Sin is a deviation from God’s plan and it isn’t until we recognize our ‘deviations’ or ‘shortcomings’ that we are opened up to God’s mercy. In short, sin is when we act in a way contrary to what God has in store for us. It is through God’s grace and mercy that we can recover from our deviations and be reconciled back to our created order. Pope Saint John Paul II affirms that conversion requires convincing of sin. The logic behind this is simple: If you feel as though you are without sin or that you don’t really sin… then you don’t really need a savior.

If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:8

If we think for a moment on the origins of sin, we are taken back to the story of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. God had given them paradise and asked only one thing of them: just stay away from one tree and… they blew it. If we dissect this incident we will come to find that all the familiar characteristics of sin are found within this ‘forbidden fruit’ story. To begin we can plainly see that the first sin was not only the breaking of God’s commandment but a rejection of God’s authority. If we dig a bit further we sense an obvious frustration with the ‘limits’ that God has put on Adam and Eve’s freedom, according to the serpent. The two, after hearing that the fruit of this tree will make them ‘like Gods’, feel as though something is being kept from them; as if God was being unfair. All of the sudden we witness a level of ingratitude for the entire gift that is paradise; this points out a distrust of God’s plan. When we, like Adam and Eve begin to doubt God’s plan, or worse, think we have a better plan we become prideful in our thoughts and actions. Finally, as in all sin, we tend to develop an unhealthy attachment to some created good; a forbidden fruit.

Sin, according to Sacred Scripture is meritorious of death. Not just a physical death, but an eternal death precisely because sin separates us from God. Our relationship with God grows stronger through virtuous living especially when we walk firmly in the theological virtues of Faith in God, Hope for eternity, and Charity (love) for God and neighbor. Sin wounds charity, the virtue from which all other virtues proceed. (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:13) In the most serious of sins, our actions actually bring about a turning away from God and sever our relationship with God altogether. This, of course, disturbs a ‘once saved, always saved’ notion that tends to circulate in some theological circles. I can assure you that salvation is a process and not a one-time event. Our life is a constant battle against temptation and sinfulness and we cannot win this battle without God’s grace and mercy. We must continue to struggle against self, with great courage, and realize that no matter how difficult this journey becomes… we are not alone.

Living with Passion

We’re always encouraged to “live with passion” and I would agree with that statement. A common sense question for a Christian to ask would be: what does” living with passion” look like?

Passion has driven people to achieve great things, to love relentlessly, and even to a near-successful attempt to take over Europe. Wait… what? Yeah, that’s a Hitler reference, but I think we can all agree that Hitler was definitely a man of great passion. Hitler believed in his political and social agenda with all of his being. John the Baptist was also a passionate fellow. No one would ever think to compare the two but they both had one thing in common: they were passionate.

I think we can safely assume that passion isn’t always oriented to what is truly good. As I have already mentioned, our passions can be disordered and can drive our reason and will into some very poor decisions. Our most common passion is love and such passion becomes aroused by what is seen as good or desirable. We are naturally drawn to what is, in our eyes, desirable. You might not believe this, but passions, in and of themselves, are never sinful. It is never a sin to desire something. Depending on what the particular object of desire might be, acting on a desire is where the actual ‘sinfulness’ materializes.

Strong feelings are not decisive for the morality or the holiness of persons; they are simply the inexhaustible reservoir of images and affections in which the moral life is expressed. Passions are morally good when they contribute to a good action, evil in the opposite case. The upright will orders the movements of the senses it appropriates to the good and to beatitude; an evil will succumbs to disordered passions and exacerbates them. Emotions and feelings can be taken up into the virtues or perverted by the vices. – CCC 1768

I have written before about the freedom that Christians enjoy in the truth of their faith. I have made note that Catholicism, in particular, is not a restrictive, legalistic cult but a religion of divine freedom, love, and most importantly: passion. We ought not to live out our faith due to some undue expectation of condemnation for our shortcomings. GK Chesterton once said that we should allow for our religion to be more of a love affair than just a well-constructed theory. (paraphrasing, of course) If our faith isn’t motivated by love then what is the point?

We can be passionate about many things. Many of these things can lead us towards death and destruction. Throughout our life, millions of voices will compete for our attention and each of them will claim to have the key to true fulfillment. There are many seemingly-noble causes that will tug at our heartstrings and, if our conscience isn’t well informed, motivate us to the point of becoming passionate about something that only serves to destroy any hope for true happiness. It is so often the case, that, what we are passionate about competes with the morality of our religion. Can we simply attribute this to a poor marketing campaign on behalf of the Church? Perhaps. (kidding!) The reason for this amounts to a lack of one particular element. You guessed it: passion.

“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses…” – Blessed Pope Paul VI

We know that our faith seeks to unite us closer to God and as we mature in this faith we will, inevitably, become more conformed to the likeness of Christ. Jesus Christ was, in fact, the epitome of moral perfection; perfection in the flesh, one might say. If we are to be more conformed to the moral perfection of Christ we must, first, become more virtuous. Virtue, as the Church teaches, is a firm disposition of the soul to do what is truly good. We are not born with virtue; rather we acquire it through choosing repeatedly, with the help of grace, in accord with what is good. As we grow in virtue the temptations of our vices become easier to resist. The residual effects of our ‘old self’ can still be felt in light of grace’s transformative effects. In time, as we grow in virtue, our passions will begin to reorder themselves to what is truly good.

Moral perfection consists in man’s being moved to the good not by his will alone, but also by his sensitive appetite, as in the words of the psalm: “My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (cf. Psalm 84:2) – CCC 1770

We ought to live with passion because the alternative to living in such a way will rob us of our joy and of our faith. Growing towards a virtuous life is a painful process and our flesh will constantly put our efforts at odds with what is right. With the help of God’s grace, however, we can reorient our passions towards the desires of God. We would do well to remember that not every passion will lead us to happiness and in our prayer we should discern the upright will of God. It is when we become passionate about what is truly good that we will become powerful witnesses of our faith and only then will we sanctify all of society.

We must be passionate.

Does the Church limit my freedom?

If there is anything I can remember from my high school experience it was that rules were the worst. At the time, I could have sworn that I was the only one among my friends with a curfew. Also, I would have bet anything that my parents were among the strictest around. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just be free. I was young and wanted to assert my independence as often as possible. Looking back, as most of us come to realize, these ‘rules’ were in place to help shape us into who we are today. In order for us to move forward in life there has to be some boundaries and guidelines. Often times, there were things that my parents taught me that I didn’t understand at the time but my only option was to trust them and believe that they only wanted the best for me. I learned that when I rejected these valuable life lessons it only pointed out a shortcoming in my own character and not in their parenting style.

In today’s society there are many who reject the Catholic Church and even religion altogether because they feel as though the Church only seeks to limit their freedom. Many evangelicals take cheap shots and compare the Church to the scribes and the Pharisees in the scriptures who dished out their fair share of impossible-to-follow doctrines. Keep in mind, I don’t mean to speak divisively, but sentiments similar to the aforementioned ones are… well… misguided thoughts, to be charitable about it.

To better understand why such views still prevail, even today, we must consider what the most common understanding of freedom might be in the world today. Many people, even some Catholics, view freedom as the ability to do whatever, whenever, free from consequences. To an extent, this definition is actually correct, except for the no consequences part. As we learn from just growing up, doing what is right, as opposed to what is wrong, is a proven recipe for smooth sailing. Granted, trials will befall us; however, when we desire and live oriented towards what is truly good, we can survive any such trials. Because God created us in His image we are, by design, made to live in service to what is truly good. The occasion of sin that tempts us can often distort our created purpose and enslave us to our corporeal desires. Concupiscence, our own tendency to sin, lead us to believe that obliging our own immorality is actually the key to being truly free and that any attempt to stifle it is a limit to such freedom.

Man’s freedom is limited and fallible. In fact, man failed. He freely sinned. By refusing God’s plan of love, he deceived himself and became a slave to sin. This first alienation engendered a multitude of others. From its outset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom.  – CCC 1739

Sin is the limit of our freedom. As the Gospel tells us, it is the truth of Christ that actually sets us free. This reality is most beautifully explained in that we were made by God and for God. Any number of analogies, for example, using a power tool for something other than its intended purpose making a job more difficult, can be used to describe how living contrary to our created purpose only serves to limit our intended freedom.

In light of the so-called rules and impossible doctrines of the Church, any amount of pure-intentioned prayer and discernment can reveal to us the parent-like nature of the Church itself. Like a mother seeking to keep her child from harm and guide them in the way they should go, the Church makes definitive statements regarding our purpose and morality so that we might live according to what God has in mind for us. There are many reasons as to why we might reject the Church’s rules, but these rejections most often point to a level of (intentional or innocent) ignorance or to the blindness that our conscience suffers due to habitual sin. The Catholic Church guides us into a more complete experience of God’s love. We will do well to remember that true love calls upon us to die to self for the good of the other. The Church doesn’t seek to take away your freedom; she seeks to guide you into eternity with Christ.

A Few Thoughts on Freedom.

Thoughts on Being ‘Trapped’

Yesterday evening, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the monthly gathering of our Diocese’s young adult ministry called Truth Poured Out (similar to Theology on Tap). The topic that Fr. Jeff selected is one that, in recent years, has been gaining traction among various faith groups; the topic of human trafficking. Leading up to last night, my only familiarity with this issue stemmed from a documentary I viewed a few years back and having witnessed a few of my friends participate in awareness marches, locally. I knew there was a major problem, especially here in the US but I never really gave it much thought. Even though this problem had, in a major way, become a domestic problem I always felt that it wouldn’t be happening here, in a nearby big city perhaps, not here though.

Continue reading “A Few Thoughts on Freedom.”