Clearing the Heart to See the Truth

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Clearing the Heart to See the Truth

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DAMNATION AND DIVINE MERCY

Posted by on Sep 6, 2013 in featured, Interior Life, Morality, Theology | 15 comments

DAMNATION AND DIVINE MERCY

One of the constant challenges I get from my classes regarding the Church’s teaching on the existence of hell is that this doctrine is incompatible with their idea of a merciful God. “My God is a God of Mercy, Troy, and He wants all to be saved. That’s in the Bible!” Which is true, God does will all men to be saved, but under certain conditions. Ah, there’s the rub! Not abiding by these conditions may cause some souls, perhaps even many souls, to end up going to hell forever. This brings us back to the problem of Divine Mercy. Many Catholics believe that there is a contradiction between Divine Mercy and the existence of hell. When Luke recounts the episode in his Gospel where Jesus is approached by someone from the crowd who asks Him a direct question regarding the number of those saved, Jesus, in His typical mystifying fashion, responds by saying, “Strive to enter by the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Lk 13: 24 NAB. See also Mt 7:14.) I recognize the difficulty in Jesus’ response. If God wills that all men be saved (1 Tim 2:4,) then why would He make the door to salvation so difficult to open for so many? There could only be three possible answers: God makes it difficult despite willing all to be saved, Satan makes it difficult, or we make it difficult. Which answer is implied by Jesus? The first answer is simply implausible based on what we know about God. As stated earlier, God wishes all men to be saved. Further, He sent His only begotten Son to save us, not to condemn us, even though that is what we deserve. Thus, in sending His Infinite Son, God offers the most magnificent and powerful gift He can give to get us all into heaven. Since He is infinite, His gift—namely, His own Son—lacks nothing. Therefore, we can conclude that God can’t be the cause of difficulty for souls getting into heaven. Satan is certainly a likely culprit.  The problem with this possibility, however, is that he is defeated by the blood of the Lamb of God who is Jesus, and his power is vanquished. (Rev. 12: 11, 20:10; 1 Jn 3:8; Lk 11: 21,22, Mt 16: 18; et al.) Therefore, Satan is incapable of barring the doors of heaven since God became incarnate precisely to defeat him and to despoil him of his goods and power. It would make no sense to still leave him the power to prevent persons from entering heaven (see Lk 11: 22.) This can’t be the answer, either. This leaves only one final option: that the door is narrow and heavy because we have made it so. Yet, this understanding is not without its problems. Christ came to save us, and this includes making us strong (see Eph 6:10-11; 2 Cor. 12:10.) How, then, do we make the door to heaven heavy if Christ came to make us strong? The answer is sadly very simple: through our pride, we compromise our ability in Christ to make our way through the narrow gate. Part of the message of Christ is to repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. This repentance...

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Is the Catholic Faith Too Hard To Live?

Posted by on Aug 17, 2013 in featured, Interior Life, Theology | 35 comments

Is the Catholic Faith Too Hard To Live?

“I’d go to Church more often, but I don’t need that Catholic guilt.” “I go to confession, but it doesn’t work for me. I only confess the same sins again and again anyway. What’s the point?” “Who can follow all of those rules, rules, RULES!”  “I’ve left that religion with all of those man-made rituals and regulations in order to have a personal relationship with Jesus.” I have formed adults in the Catholic faith for almost twenty years. During this time, I have heard so many reasons why lukewarm Catholics, fallen away Catholics, and Ex-Catholics are they way that they are. These folks are utterly convinced that the Catholic faith is too demanding and too arbitrary. Practicing the Catholic faith has become heavy-laden with too many rules to follow by popes who apparently had nothing better to do than to invent a myriad of ways to suffocate liberty and joy from the Gospel, or so they say. Of course, this implies that all of us dumb Catholics who actually try to follow this convoluted labyrinth of man-made hocus pocus are, well, dumb—and gullible; or worse, warped. I can appreciate these false understandings, as the Catholic faith demands much from us, and when we choose not to give it our very best, we can unwittingly leave a very insipid taste in those we encounter.  Thus, we help to create the indifferent or disillusioned. Yet, if it is correct that the Catholic faith is riddled with arbitrary laws that are not true or helpful, why hasn’t the Church fallen into complete corruption and disintegration, like the Roman Empire, the Soviet Union, the East India Trading Company, the Oakland Raiders… (o.k. I’m originally from Denver…)?? Why didn’t the Church collapse like Luther and Calvin and Marx and many others predicted? Clearly, the Church doesn’t operate according to worldly standards. One of the strengths of the old Baltimore Catechism was that it did a tremendous job of presenting the richness of the Catholic faith in a simple format that combined memorization with questions and answers. Yet, this strength was also its weakness. Too many Catholics were left with the impression that Catholicism merely consisted in following a bunch of rote rules and sets of obligations. Where is the joy and liberty of being a child of God in that? Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that the old Baltimore Catechism offered some great content, much more than what I received growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, but it appeared to lack sophistication and relied heavily on memorization.  The catechism gave the impression that the Catholic life reduced to lists of   ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts.’   Couple this with concupiscence, and it seems that in trying to obey all of the rules we are merely being set up for a fall. Didn’t Jesus come to deliver us from such a Pharisaical approach to religion? This way of viewing Catholicism seems to be the normative paradigm against which too many people react. This is the Catholicism that can foster the exodus of former Catholics into evangelical Christianity. This is the Catholicism that creates the more liberal approach that seeks to free us from the rules by simply eliminating them. This is the approach that can lead to fallen away Catholics looking for joy in all of...

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Loving Good Music and the Soul

Posted by on Jul 15, 2013 in Current Events, featured, Interior Life, Theology | 10 comments

Loving Good Music and the Soul

…there is a special quality in the essence of beauty, a special quality in the status of art: the conviction carried by a genuine work of art is absolutely indisputable and tames even the strongly opposed heart…Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn In his 1970 Nobel acceptance speech in Literature, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn offered an address entitled, Beauty Will Save the World, a title he borrowed from Dostoevsky. Solzhenitsyn argued that Dostoevsky was not simply offering a passing thought when he articulated this phrase, but instead was providing a prophetic insight into how modern man may be saved from his own self-destructive tendencies. A world paradoxically convinced of the truth of relativism is a world lost in incoherence and inconsistency, the final result of which is cynicism. If one is proclaiming a so-called truth, that person must have the ulterior motive of simply trying to impose his truth on me so as to control me, so the cynic concludes. Thus, when evangelists seek to save such a world by proclaiming the truth of Christ, they will be seen as intolerant busybodies imposing their truth on others. It was for such an era that Solzhenitsyn, through Dostoevsky, offered these words. We are that era. I have run across this same phrase in several different places lately, especially in a  Fr. Robert Barron Word on Fire video discussing this very idea.  As Fr. Barron so eloquently articulates, beauty saving the world is a strategy for re-evangelizing the culture. My work with catechizing Catholic school teachers and parishioners has convinced me that these thinkers are on to something. Relativism is so ingrained in our culture that truth-seeking/finding is now viewed as a bigoted position. In a shocking and strange twist, it is Christians now who aren’t tolerated and will soon, it seems, be attacked for holding to the truth of Christ. We must evangelize with beauty, but how? A few nights ago, I was invited to a backyard concert at a friend’s house. They had willingly offered up their beautiful yard for an evening soirée in order to promote a group of young people touring the country and entertaining audiences with their music and art inspired by their love of God; or, more appropriately, the discovery of their being loved by God and thus love Him in return. What a pleasant coincidence! While musing on how to go about evangelizing the culture, God led me to some Catholics who were well ahead of me in doing something about it. This evening concert was a beautiful idea at a crucial time. This fusion of disparate groups of Catholic musicians and artists in order to form a traveling band of evangelizing entertainers was the brain-child of Jimmy Mitchell, musician and founder of Mysterium Records. Mitchell selected each of the musicians and artists based on their talent, their love of Christ, and their ability to engage and transmit beauty. He called his concert simply, Love Good Music.  I found each artist as excellent as they were young, and their message was as fresh as it was old. Jesus Christ the same, yesterday, today and forever! (Heb 13:8.) I brought my family simply hoping for something different to spend our evening together, not expecting the overwhelming confluence of multiple generations of families flooding my friends’ backyard with picnic blankets, folding chairs, and hordes...

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Fear and the Liturgical Year

Posted by on Jul 4, 2013 in Current Events, featured, Interior Life, Morality | 7 comments

Fear and the Liturgical Year

Christians are afraid. I read it in their blogs; I hear it in their voices. Recently, I, too, experienced a deep sense of foreboding. A couple of nights ago, I had trouble sleeping.  I had watched some rerun from the 1970’s and noticed something in this program—a program my family watched in my youth—that I hadn’t noticed before: the early stages of the inculcation of the homosexual agenda. Although subtle, from our present perspective, the intention was nevertheless apparent. I went to bed thinking, ‘My Lord, they have been working out their strategy for almost 40 years! No wonder this push is coming from so many different directions. The purveyors of this agenda have been at it for years and years while we have been asleep at the wheel. We are doomed!’ Not exactly the ideal closing thoughts to the end of the day of a trusting Christian. The next morning, just as I was beginning my prayer time, I asked the Lord to really speak to me that day regarding my fears. ‘I really need to hear your voice, Lord,’ I told Him, ‘to break through the darkness being caused by my fears and worries!’ As I opened the readings for the Mass, He spoke. The first reading was (surprise, surprise) the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. These wicked cities were destroyed by God’s angels precisely because of their sexual impurity and licentiousness. The destruction, however, was the result of there being found no good person within the districts of these cities. This result was brought about but the refusal of the citizens in these towns to repent and live. They chose their end based on the warped response given to angels of light sent to them from God. Lot, the only God-fearing one of the bunch, was saved, along with his family. The Gospel reading was Matthew’s account of Jesus sleeping in Peter’s boat amidst a violent and raging storm that threatened to swamp the boat. The apostles were so afraid that they could only sputter out one word commands, arousing the Lord with incomplete sentences, “Help, Lord, Save!” (Mt 8:25.) Jesus awoke, examined the scene and asked one simple question before addressing the situation, “Why are you terrified?” (Mt 8:26.) He quickly offers His own answer, “Oh men of little faith.” He then calms the storm with His own command. Oh man of little faith. No truer word could be spoken. This statement hit me like a ball bat square in the forehead. This is why I was terrified, or at least fearful. I know intellectually that darkness can’t overcome the light. I know intellectually that Christ is God made man. I know intellectually that Christ has overcome the world by the victory of His resurrection. In depths of my heart where faith resides, this truth grows in shallow soil. The readings that day confronted me with this sobering truth. I was afraid because my faith is small. Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say that worry is soft atheism.  He was obviously inspired by this Gospel passage. The boat of Peter, a symbol of the Church, was besieged by a violent storm and in danger of capsizing. Any fool would know, let alone experienced fishermen, that this resulted in almost certain death. The apostles’ fears were...

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THE TRUTH, THE LIE, AND THE LAST BATTLE

Posted by on May 24, 2013 in Current Events, featured, Interior Life, Politics, Theology | 6 comments

THE TRUTH, THE LIE, AND THE LAST BATTLE

The thing that bugs me most about all of the unfolding scandals and problems sprouting and spreading in our culture is the manifest inability for people to distinguish truth from fiction.  Worse, I fear that people are growing disinterested from even pursuing the truth. It seems as though we have taken Pilate’s words to Jesus, “What is truth,” as our own. When a political figure utters all kinds of obvious falsehoods to the media-fed public that is too distracted, disinterested, skeptical, or cynical to notice, this is horribly frustrating and frightening, and has led to a series of inconsistent and sometimes contrary states of affairs. For instance, when President Obama made his speech to Planned Parenthood recently and thanked them for the hard work that they do to make parenthood possible, and then invoked God’s blessing on their brutal assault on life in the womb, his contradictory platitudes were mostly received with approval, with only a thin minority in the media expressing shock or outrage.   Similarly, when debating atheists, my colleagues and I are always vexed at the atheist’s ability to take whatever point we are trying to make and twist it to his advantage. “You say that your God shows mercy to the sinner, but why did He make such evil people in the first place?” Try criticizing Obama in a room full of college students or professors and regardless of the evidence provided, you will be judged personally, and your evidence will be ignored or explained away. It is becoming commonplace to disdain authority when it is authoritative (meaning when those in authority are held accountable to the truth), and rally around authority when it is authoritarian (complete lack of accountability to the truth).  Benghazi, the AP and Fox news phone-tapping and email snooping, the IRS targeting groups at odds with the President’s agenda, Federal Programs that proffered assault weapons to drug cartels only to hide behind executive privilege in order to avoid scrutiny,  etc. are all examples of unaccountable government leaders. What gives? This absurd situation is as troubling as it is perplexing. I have spent many an evening racking collective brains with friends over a glass of scotch dissecting such strange affairs. Recently, a friend of mine asked me when the last time was that I read C.S. Lewis’ conclusion to his Narnia series, The Last Battle? Hmm. I thought for a minute, and then realized I had never read that particular book! He couldn’t believe it, and assigned it to me as homework like a high school English teacher. “That way we can discuss it next time we get together,” which was all the inspiration that I needed. I don’t intend to offer this post as a book review for this great story. Instead, I encourage you to read it for yourself. I do, however, want to offer some of the more prophetic and insightful points from Lewis that help me make more sense out of what is going on. There are many profound themes Lewis skillfully weaves through his book: manipulation of sentiment versus pursuing the truth, ends justifying means, cynicism versus conversion, as well as a scary portrait of the minimum necessary conditions needed for evil to appear triumphant over good. Lewis, like any Christian, knows that evil can never totally triumph....

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THE PURIFYING WELL-SPRING OF PRAYER

Posted by on Feb 13, 2013 in featured, Interior Life, Theology | Comments Off on THE PURIFYING WELL-SPRING OF PRAYER

THE PURIFYING WELL-SPRING OF PRAYER

Lent initiates our time to recommit ourselves as disciples of the Lord; to be trained by the Master by imitating him in his 40 days in the desert.Our Lord prays and fasts for 40 days and is tempted by the devil. After three consecutive temptations to satisfy the weakness of the flesh, plus temptations for wealth and power, Jesus defeats the devil in this first encounter.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers an interesting insight into why our Lord enjoyed the strength in His sacred humanity to rebuff the temptations of Satan in the desert: “It is by his prayer that Jesus vanquishes the tempter, both at the outset of his public mission and in the ultimate struggle of his agony…Such a battle and such a victory become possible only through prayer.” CCC 2849 Jesus allows his flesh to be weakened by his fasting in order to reveal the strength of his Holy Spirit. This strength is fostered and then unleashed because of his prayer. He models for us the way to prepare for his ultimate victory at Easter, and ours! This is why Lent is especially important. It is our time to return to our training grounds to be prepared as his beloved disciple. This training consists in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, as outlined by him in his Sermons on the Mount as narrated by Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5-6. All three disciplines are in a sense prayer, because in all three, we are forced to confront our own limitations and weaknesses. They all force us to admit our guilt and need for repentance and forgiveness. In other words, why pray, fast, and alms give if I am innocent and guilty of nothing in God’s eyes? The Catechism gives special emphasis to our prayer life, dedicating an entire section to it (Section 4; #’s  2558-2865). It is through prayer that Jesus himself received the strength in his human nature to overcome Satan. Why is this so? Why is prayer so important? Because it strikes at the root—or, rather, at the heart—of the human problem. The problems of life flow from  acting on our desires for sin. Since the fall, we humans desire things over God, our will over His. We want to decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil, instead of accepting what is good and evil objectively, based on God’s plan and not ours. This is a complex problem, for God doesn’t desire to destroy our freedom, or to wrench it into place, which would have a similar effect, but, rather, to keep our freedom so that we can love Him. That’s why he gives us the example of prayer. Prayer is what transforms our desires which are world-centered into desires that are heaven-centered. Let’s examine the scene of the woman at the well in John’s Gospel chapter 4 as an example of this transforming power of prayer. Jesus leaves Jerusalem for Galilee, stopping at Sychar in Samaria on his way north. He goes to the most famous well in the region, Jacob’s Well, to stop for a drink, and there meets a woman of ill-repute and a Samaritan to boot. He does the unthinkable when he asks her, a Samaritan woman, for a drink of water. Incredulous, she asks him why he, a Jew, would...

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FRONT-LINE TRAINING FOR THE NEW EVANGELISM

Posted by on Jan 24, 2013 in Current Events, featured, Interior Life, Theology | 1 comment

FRONT-LINE TRAINING FOR THE NEW EVANGELISM

There are evident signs of the spring time for the Church. The most obvious is the growing number of laity being trained for the front lines of the new evangelism. The second obvious sign is the number of laity who take seriously their call to holiness. When there exists a program that combines these two realities, God is readying His troops for an offensive. Scott rushed home from his last session of the Spiritual Mentorship Program because he received a frantic call from his wife regarding their plumbing. Water was gushing, things were soaking, and his wife was trying to contain her hysteria while handling a family of five kids. By the time Scott arrived home, the plumber was there vacuuming up the water and replacing the busted hot-water heater. Somehow, Scott recounted, their conversation turned to why Scott was rushing home on a Saturday night. “I told him that I was involved in a Catholic experience called the Spiritual Mentorship Program, where I was being trained to assist other lay people in their interior life.” “Interior Life?” He asked, “what is that?.” Scott explained to him that he was being trained to help other Catholics grow in their relationship with the Lord through prayer, study, and sacraments. The plumber raised his hand in the air and said, ‘Can I be your first guinea pig? “ He was a fallen-away Catholic on his way back into the Church and told Scott that he had been asking God in prayer for direction and help. Then he met Scott! The new springtime in the Church is quietly growing underneath the ice that has settled on the moral and spiritual landscape of this country. Like green blades of grass barely visible beneath the blanket of snow but then seem to magically pop up at the first sign of warmth, the Holy Spirit is preparing for new growth in His Church. In Kansas City, Kansas, a new program called “The Spiritual Mentorship Program” just graduated its first class of trained laity, religious, and deacons to assist the interior life of those who are beginning to experience a thaw from the long, post-Vatican II winter. This new program is being blessed by the Holy Spirit in so many ways. Stories like Scott’s filled the conversation areas during every break time. This program is a beautiful result of an apparent random conversation that had taken place a few years earlier in Italy, of all places. In the sweltering June heat in Rome, on a bus crammed full of commuters, Sr. Susan Pieper, co-foundress of the Roman-based Apostles of the Interior Life Community, asked the visiting Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas what his hopes were regarding the recent establishment of an American Provincial House of her community in his archdiocese.  Without batting an eye, the Archbishop exclaimed, “I want you, Sr. Susan, to train laity to do what your community does for the new evangelization. I want an army of trained spiritual mentors to address the needs of the Church.” So began the odyssey of putting together the Spiritual Mentorship Program, a collaborative effort between the Apostles of the Interior Life and the Holy Family School of Faith to forge a new army of spiritual mentors for Christ. This two-year program, a combination of on-location and distance education...

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Getting to Know the Holy Spirit

Posted by on Oct 30, 2012 in featured, Interior Life, Theology | 6 comments

Getting to Know the Holy Spirit

 Oh Holy Ghost, whose temple I Am, but of mud walls, and condensed dust And being sacrilegiously Half wasted with youth’s fires, of pride and lust, Must with new storms be weatherbeat; Double in my heart they flame Which let devout sad tears intend; and let (Though this glass lanthorn, flesh, do suffer maim) Fire, sacrifice, priest, altar be the same. John Donne     Anyone who’s ever taken a class or read a book on the Trinity knows that the Third Person in God is characterized by pure receptivity/passivity. He is the source of no one in God, but finds His source in the love of both the Father and the Son. He’s the breath they both breathe together, prompting St. Bernard of Clairvaux to call Him the “kiss” between the First Two Persons. Theologians have come up with many ingenious ways to describe the processional structure of the Trinity (i.e., Who comes from Whom) including different verbs for how each procession is lived out by each Person. So, for instance, in the procession of the Son from the Father, we say the Father generates and the Son filiates. And in the procession of the Spirit from Father and Son, we say the Father and Son actively spirate together, while the Spirit passively spirates from the Father and Son. What does all that tell us about the Holy Spirit? Not much. To say that the Spirit spirates and is spirated is kind of like saying that John-Mark johnmarks; it doesn’t lend a lot of clarity, although it may be handy in technical discussion (“Hey, anybody know what John-Mark’s up to?” “I don’t know, probably johnmarking again”). All the same, it remains a fascinating point that the Third Person, whose identity consists in receiving, is the very Person that we receive in the endowment of sanctifying grace. It is the Spirit who is given to us by the Father and the Son; He who is gift in Himself becomes gift to us. It’s strange that the Holy Spirit, the one associated with the most intimate of God’s engagements with the human person, i.e., divinization/participation in the divine life, should be the Person to whom we often feel least connected. Probably it’s because, like our own eyes, He’s too close to see; like our own skin, He’s too close to feel. We have a hard time acknowledging the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives because He’s so pervasive. We don’t recognize his action because He’s doing everything. How is the Holy Spirit made manifest?        I think also that the Holy Spirit is hard to feel close to because of the way He appears in sensible form. After all, we read in the gospels how the Father sometimes makes His voice heard, and the Son of course stands before us in the flesh, but the Holy Spirit comes as wind, cloud, a tongue of fire, a dove. How do you have a relationship with a cloud? Another factor that makes the Spirit mysterious has to do with the way the different members of the Trinity are revealed. A Trinitarian Person is revealed by the Person He sends. So, for instance, the Father sends the Son, and is not revealed unless it’s by the Son, “No one knows the Father except the...

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Door of Faith

Posted by on Oct 24, 2012 in Current Events, featured, Interior Life, Theology | Comments Off on Door of Faith

Door of Faith

The “door of faith” (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace. To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime. It begins with baptism (cf. Rom 6:4), through which we can address God as Father, and it ends with the passage through death to eternal life, fruit of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, whose will it was, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, to draw those who believe in him into his own glory (cf. Jn 17:22).

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