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.

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Is Mass Boring?

Throughout my years of working in youth ministry, the number one response I receive when I ask students about their Church-going habits is that they don’t go because it is boring. Second and third place responses are usually tied to issues of oversleeping or perhaps Mass, for them, simply isn’t a family affair. Granted, a good number of the teens I work with do attend Mass faithfully. On the other hand there are a few who rarely do. If there is anything that I can hope to accomplish in youth ministry it is this: that every one of them would fall madly in love with the Eucharist. More than hype, more than fun and games (which are absolutely crucial) my only desire for these young souls is that they allow for their hearts to be swept away in desire for Christ in the Eucharist. Truly, this would be the greatest accomplishment of any parish ministry.

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Is the Catholic Church Waking Up?

Growing up, I was always taught that it was important to get ‘plugged in’ at church. Such a belief has stuck with me, still today. In order to “be the Church” we are obliged to do more than just occupy a pew on Sundays. Being the Church entails an active participation in the various ministries that your community of faith has to offer. Believe me, there is always a spot for everyone. If you can sing, join the choir. If you can’t, be a lector. Stage fright? Be an usher. I could go on and on but the fact remains that whatever your unique skill set may be, the Church can use it. Even if you don’t think you have any skills the Church still needs you!

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On Being Pro-Life: Part 1 of 2

Being anti-abortion is easy. Being pro-life is hard.

Ever since I found out the truth about abortion, I was against it. I have always believed that life begins at conception and that any force of man to end the life of another was nothing short of murder. To many of you reading this, you are likely to be quite familiar with the pro-life, pro-choice debate here in the United States. As we approach the anniversary of Roe V. Wade this debate will only intensify. On one hand you have the mostly Christian, mostly conservative pro-life establishment that seeks to overturn Roe V. Wade and all similar legislation. Most people who claim to be of religious affiliation or even claim to abide by some moral code will likely stand with the pro-life camp. The correlation between being religious and being anti-abortion rests in the belief that all life is sacred. Even if you aren’t fighting abortion due to certain religious convictions your stand against abortion probably comes from some innate feeling inside you that tells you life is worth preserving.

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The Spirit-filled Catholic Church

One of the most common questions I get asked regarding my conversion to the Catholic faith is why I would leave a ‘spirit-filled’ church to join a dead, lifeless, ritualistic, man-made religion. Bear in mind, the inquiries don’t normally put down the Catholic Church in such a manner; however, these questions are usually pretty loaded. The nature of the question offers up very specific implications regarding the Catholic tradition. Over time, I have learned not to take offense when asked. Moreover, no matter the intention of the person asking I take the initiative in believing that these moments are opportunity for true, ecumenical dialogue. So, I oblige them to define exactly what they think being ‘spirit-filled’ means.

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The Church, Salvation, & You

Previously, I had written about the first precept of the Church. The first precept of the Church is actually quite simple to remember: Go to church! Primarily, I addressed the precept of attending mass regularly and precepts in general through the lens of being ‘rules of engagement’ that the Church imposes onto all Catholics. The conclusion we arrived at is that whether these rules take on a legalistic definition or are viewed as efficacious signs of our love for Christ and His Church depends significantly on us. Our relationship with Christ determines what our relationship will be with these rules. I wanted to clarify some imagery, as well, because going back I noticed that I used both the “Church-as-Mother” analogy then went on to employ the “Christ-and-Church-Spousal” analogy and that might have gotten confusing. Quick summary: Christ seeks to sanctify His Church, as a husband does (or should do) for his wife. However, within the Bride (the Church) there exists a unique dynamic that mirrors a mother & child relationship in that certain teachings and ‘rules’ have been established so that the Church might examine her own conscience. Overall, one could say that Christ seeks to make His bride holy but, she must be a willing participant in this journey as well.

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Take Me To Church.

It’s been said that church can be boring and that going to church is usually an hour that a person will never get back. Many of us have had feeling comparable to this relating to the mass. It certainly doesn’t help if the homily is lack-luster, the readings are long, and the music is off key. There are countless reasons that we can decide for ourselves that mass or just church in general isn’t worth our time. The question remains; however, what is it exactly that we’re going to church for anyways? If we’re walking in the doors because the preaching is good or because the music is on point then leaving when one of these areas suffers makes a bit more sense. What if I told you that neither of the aforementioned elements are the point of mass?

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The Church vs. The Media

christianmedia

A few months ago, I was at a friend’s house for a celebration of his college graduation. [I should provide some context in saying that my friend isn’t Catholic, so when I say Pastor I am not referring to a priest or any ordained member of the catholic clergy.] He was making the rounds, thanking everyone for coming, etc., and I was looking for familiar faces to chat with. I ended up speaking briefly with his pastor, a great and humble man who knows me from my days as a protestant (and as a former attendee of his congregation). So, naturally, we began to shoot the breeze and the conversation ventured towards topics of church and faith. I can’t quite recall how but, we reached a point where Pope Francis became the focal point of discussion. I noted how the new Catholic Pontiff was making quite a few positive connections, both within the Church and ecumenically. A statement was made that deeply puzzled me and effectively killed the conversation. This pastor said, “I don’t agree with [Pope Francis’] stand on homosexuality.” At that point, I just thought to myself… “Does he mean the Christian stance?”

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