ChristianityRichly

Archive for 2019|Yearly archive page

Why Is This Church Empty?!

In Christianity on June 14, 2019 at 7:56 pm

One of the most memorable exclamations I’ve ever heard in a homily was made recently by a passionate young priest. Gesturing to the half-filled pews, he asked, “Why is this church empty?!”

Why Indeed?
We can blame the sexual and financial scandals. Similarly, the silence from Rome to Archbishop Viganò, and to the dubia asking for clarification of Amoris Laetitia, has not helped. Beyond that, one could cite the contrast between Cardinal Cupich’s ever-anodyne statements, versus the scholars’ open letter accusing Pope Francis of the “canonical delict of heresy.”

But the decay in Mass attendance began long before these problems. Moreover, to limit ourselves to issues with the episcopacy takes us off the hook too easily. If we are praying for Church renewal (read Ezekiel chapters 8 and 9, but particularly Ezekiel 9:6), then what about us individually?

Are we willing to say with the Lord not only “Begin at my sanctuary,” but “Begin with me”?

A Muscular Christianity
James V. Schall, S.J.’s † fine short book, Another Sort of Learning, points in chapter 12 to Hilaire Belloc’s Catholic exuberance. “Belloc was much more than a folk hero. [He was] a man who made us think our faith was in fact thinkable.”

Fr. Schall’s writings are one of my touchstones for many things Catholic. That said, even he sells Belloc short here. Consider Belloc’s own words, i.e., that he believed in:

Not a hypothetical God, but a real God full of beef, creator of Heaven and Earth et omnium visibilium et invisibilium.¹

A real God full of beef, creator of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible! Good heavens. What a statement. How very much we need this certainty, this muscular Catholicism today—as opposed to equivocation and vagueries. Yet one almost dares not say such a thing for fear of being thought “traditionalist,” “dogmatic,” or even sacrilegious.

Empty Pews — Why?
“A real God full of beef” is the reality to which the young priest was pointing, even summonsing, from Heaven (Psalm 144:5). If we truly believed Christ is present in the Eucharist, and that the God of Heaven speaks through Word and Sacrament, then how could even one empty seat in our parishes be empty?

Lest we think Belloc exaggerates, or has engaged in sacrilege, consider this from Paul Claudel’s A Poet Before the Cross, a book that should be revered by every Catholic Christian:

The God we worship is not only standing, He is raised, all His body stretched, an active power visible in each fiber! He is above everything and holds on to nothing. But it is He who holds us, and we who depend on Him, the two of us indissoluble. He is here forever between Heaven and Earth, suspended, intermediary. He is a God fully functioning

Fully functioning, indeed! A real God, full of beef. Belloc again:

The Catholic Church is the exponent of Reality. It is true. Its doctrines in matters large and small are statement of what is. This is that which the ultimate act of the intelligence accepts. This is that which the will deliberately confirms.

As Belloc biographer A.N. Wilson concludes:

The Mass [for Belloc] was a daily chance to be present at the material and true miracle of Christ’s incarnation . . . As often as he knelt [at the altar] . . . Belloc renewed his intellectual appreciation of the fact that he belonged to the one institution on earth founded, guided, and daily visited by Almighty God

If this is true, then Christ is always present in the tabernacle of even the most modest parish church as well as the grandest cathedral. If this is true, then the Catholic Church is the clearest mirror of Reality. If this is true, then the Mass opens a door into Heaven.

If we believe this — then “why is this Church empty?!”

 

¹ A.N. Wilson, Hilaire Belloc: A Biography (New York: Atheneum, 1984), p. 361.

² Paul Claudel, A Poet Before the Cross (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1958), p. 225.

³ Wilson, pp. 250-253.

We Believe in a Person

In Christianity on March 18, 2019 at 7:53 pm

My original title for this post was, “Before a Crucifix.”

Then I realized the point of the post was not so much the Crucifix itself, as important as it is, but rather that Christians do not have an abstract faith. We don’t take a “leap of faith.” We don’t say things like, “I have faith everything will work out,” without knowing why.

The why is is a person, Jesus Christ. We could better say, a Person. In the words of the Nicene Creed, adopted by the Church in 325 A.D., Jesus Christ is:

The only begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
consubstantial with the Father.

One must recognize not all men and women believe in God. Yet many who do, or claim to believe, seem to believe in an abstract God—a noble ideal, or a moral standard, or a systematic theology, rather than a flesh and blood reality.

Saved by a Person
The Crucifix reminds us Christ was much more than an noble ideal and certainly was not a disembodied moral standard. This is the deficiency, and sadness, of using an empty cross as a symbol. We can say that it is empty because Christ has risen. He has. But we risk missing the equally important fact that a Person died and rose:

No man understands sin until he sees it in the light of the face of Christ. He [or she] may feel mortified at the fool he has made of himself, but he will sorrow only when he sees the Beloved crucified.¹

Saved by a Look
How was Christ crucified? Lifted up on a cross, among thieves, in full view of the men and women of His day. Jesus Christ said in John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”

Simone Weil describes the Crucifixion as the definitive event in our lives, i.e., that we are saved by a look:

One of the principal truths of Christianity, a truth that goes almost unrecognized today, is that looking is what save us. The bronze serpent was lifted up so that those who lay maimed in the depths of degradation should be saved by looking upon it … It is an act of attention and consent.²

Venerable Fulton Sheen writes that the Crucifix remind us of our sin, our own degradation:

  • Crown of thorns: Our evil thoughts and sins of pride
  • Torn flesh: Our sins of lust; cowardice; injury to others
  • Nakedness: Our avarice; covetousness; grasping
  • Thirst: Our abuse of alcohol, drugs, and other excesses

Looking at Christ on the cross, do we see our our sins being borne by a Person? Do we appreciate the truly supernatural intervention, that God Who created us would, out of love for us, come to earth as a man and die for our sins?

We don’t believe in an abstraction, or an ideal, or a moral standard. “When I am lifted up,” Christ said. And in Him, we should see ourselves and the price of our redemption.

The ultimate sorrow is related to the Crucifix, where each of us can read his autobiography

 

¹ Fulton Sheen, The Priest is Not His Own, location 2654, Kindle edition.

² Simone Weil, Waiting for God, pp. 125-126.

³ Fulton Sheen, The Priest is Not His Own, location 2667, Kindle edition.

I Believe in God

In Christianity on March 1, 2019 at 12:38 am

Waking up in a hospital bed focuses one’s attention. “What happened?” “How did I get here?” “What’s wrong with me?” “Will I recover?”

On a Sunday in early January, my wife and I were hit head-on by a large, heavy pickup truck. Our car was destroyed. I had to be cut out of what remained. She and I were taken to the hospital in critical condition. Doctors were not certain I would live. Recovery will be long.

At the beginning of 2019, I wrote in my prayer journal, “Lord, increase my faith.”¹ This request has been answered in a thousand times since the crash. The answers began with a simple conversation in my mind:

Q:  Do you still believe in God?
A:  I do.

Q:  Did He know this would happen?
A:  He did.

Q:  What is your response?
A:  God is in control.

When we say “I believe in God” (the first four word of the Apostles’ Creed) we acknowledge that God is. He is real. Not all men and women acknowledge that, of course—so the first step for you and me is to decide if God real. “I believe in God.” Few words. Many consequences.

If God does exist—and if He is loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful—then when bad things happen we are forced to face the existential question Job faced: “Why did this happen?” In most cases, the answer doesn’t come quickly, if at all.

That’s when we must say, “God is in control.” If He exists and He is a loving God, then we can only say like Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”²

The Christian’s everyday life is the “amen” to “I believe.”³

One last thought: please don’t interpret this post in the way I would have as a child—i.e., if you surrender yourself to God, something bad will happen to test your faith. For example, I remember thinking, “If I surrender myself to be a missionary, God might send me some place I’m scared to go.” God doesn’t do that. Yet, even if we are to be tested, He goes through the testing with us.

He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation. Psalm 91:15-16

“Lord, increase our faith!”

 

¹ Luke 17:5

² Job 13:15 (KJV). For many years as a child and young adult, I studied and memorized scripture from the King James Version. In some instances, this verse being one such case, the language is so transcendent and grace-filled, I still prefer the KJV.

³ Summarizing and paraphrasing paragraph 1064 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

 

2019 is Not 2002

In Christianity on February 28, 2019 at 9:23 pm

Between 2002 and 2019, the patterns of communication in our world changed dramatically. The Internet and social media elbowed broadcast news aside.

The old pattern or model was one way, one-to-many communication. Today multi-platform, many-to-many conversations are the rule. Facebook launched in 2004, YouTube in 2005, and Twitter in 2006. Reported news is now only one thread among many. No public figure from the President to the Pope can stonewall discussion of an important topic.

Stand Firm
Nowhere is the futility of trying to put a lid on discussion more evident than with the laity’s response to the summer of shame. An unending stream of social media posts and comments make it clear the glacial pace of the Vatican is at odds with the immense disappointment of the laity. With additional action anticipated by various states’ attorneys general, the social media stream risks becoming a torrent. We can hope that the Vatican ultimately will respond with a clarity and sense of urgency we have not yet seen.

As Catholic Christians, we must acknowledge that the situation is more complex than an allegedly isolated Pope or timid bishops.

A Resource Guide
The post, A Resource Guide, is intended to provide insight into the current crisis in the Church. The guide is not comprehensive, but perhaps it will be helpful. But how? Why?

On July 27, 2008, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, SC, I responded “I do” to the following question:

Do you believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.

The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church embraced me and warmly welcomed me. I did not deserve the riches of the Church then. I don’t today. But by the grace and mercy of God I became a Catholic Christian and was received into full communion.

Do We All Believe and Profess?
The resource guide seeks to answer the question, “Do all Catholic Christians believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God?” The answer, of course, is “no.” But when one sees a Cardinal with this record admonishing the President of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops to be patient and wait until February 2019 to take any meaningful action [move the video slider to the right to 18:20 for the beginning of Cardinal Cupich’s remarks], it makes one wonder what to do?

The answer? Read and speak up. 2019 is not 2002! Speak with respect. Be sure of your facts. Offer gentle correction and guidance to any who are wrong. But use the tools we have in 2019, with God’s help, to ensure the Church is not faced with a repeat—or worse—of 2002. What could be worse? The stage-managed February 2019 gathering in Rome produced ambiguous statements and no meaningful action yet again.

One final thought: no well-formed Catholic Christian wants laity in control of the Church. If the vehement lay response to the current crisis is interpreted by the episcopacy as the laity wanting control, that would be a grave mistake. What so many are asking for is faithful spiritual fathers—holy bishops who teach, govern, and sanctify. An emphasis on personal sanctity, sound teaching, and accountability where those attributes are not present is what’s being called for.

These resources have been helpful to me. The red subheads are clickable links.

The Bible
Sacred Scripture is essential. The link in the subhead will take you to Olive Tree Bible Software. They offer downloadable Bibles. Get the RSV, NABre, and Douay-Rheims. You may also want the ESV Strong’s. Although the ESV Strongs lacks the deuterocanonical books, it provides quick links to the original languages in which the Bible was written (Hebrew–Old Testament; Greek–New Testament).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church
Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are summarized in the Catechism. This expresses the teaching of the magisterium of the Church. Our own views, as well those of Cardinal Cupich, must be tested against the doctrine defined by the Catechism. The Kindle version of the Catechism is wonderfully useful because it contains links for cross references, as well as easily access to footnotes.

Triumphs and Tragedies
This 23 episode series is both informative and encouraging. Fr. Longenecker puts 2,000 years of history into perspective, reminding listeners that the Church has survived scandal and bad popes before (read Eamon Duffy’s Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes). Fr. Longenecker goes beyond Duffy, however, in putting the current crisis into the historical context. It is Christ’s Church and the forces of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).

Books
The subhead, above, provides a link to Philip Lawler’s 2018 assessment of our episcopacy’s response to the crisis in the Church. It is the most recent book-length account. Also very helpful, however, is Marcantonio Colonna‘s (pen name for Henry Sire) background study of Pope Francis’ papacy. Finally, for a comprehensive summary of the sex abuse crisis and legal responses as of 2014 see the scholarly work by James T. O’Reilly and Margaret S.P. Chalmers. Note that the latter book is often available far more inexpensively on AbeBooks.com.

Blogs, Podcasts, and Twitter
Twitter posts generally point back to the authors’ blogs and/or podcasts.  So, here is a list several accounts worth following on Twitter. Take the next step and visit their blogs, too.

@dlongenecker1 (Fr. Dwight Longenecker)
@TaylorRMarshall (Dr. Taylor Marshall)
@NCRegister (National Catholic Register)
@EdwardPentin (Edward Pentin)
@PhilLawler (Philip Lawler)
@ccpecknold (C.C. Pecknold)
@canonlaw (Edward Peters)
@jdflynn (J.D. Flynn)
@LSNCatholic (LifeSite News)
@OnePeterFive (Journal of Catholic Theology)

Stand Firm
We are repeatedly admonished in Sacred Scripture to “stand firm.” Ephesians 6:13-14: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

With the latest “revelations,” and potential legal action by as many as 17 states, it would be easy to become discouraged. Don’t. If this is your Church and mine, let’s begin by purifying ourselves; by praying for and encouraging faithful shepherds; and by keeping the pressure on the episcopacy. It’s always worth being reminded of Hillaire Belloc’s observation:

“No merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.”

The Church is Christ’s and He has promised the forces of hell will not prevail against. Hold your ground and continue to fight the good fight.