The Mass as Spectacle

ConsecrationThree weeks ago at Sunday Mass, I spent an hour in total amazement watching how thoroughly Holy Mass can be reduced to a loud, irreverent spectacle.  After many days of replaying the incident in my mind, I managed to put my jumbled, upset thoughts into a blog post. It’s on the Catholic Insight website (here).

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Living Out the Great Commission: Practical Tips to Evangelize our Youth

“It’s very important for parents to remember that, even though God might give you the great responsibility to be the primary educator of your child with regards to the faith, He also gives you the corresponding grace to actually do what must be done.” Fr. Eric Mah is a priest of the Archdiocese of Toronto. His Trinity Sunday homily addresses the important subject of parents’ responsibility to hand on the Catholic Faith to their children.

go and make disciples of all nationsIn today’s Gospel (Mt 28:16-20), we hear what is most commonly known as the so-called “Great Commission”. After the Resurrection, Jesus appears to His disciples and says to them: “Go forth, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). But we often forget the line which comes immediately afterwards, which gives the first line some context. Jesus says to them: “[Yes], go forth and make disciples of all nations; [but at the same time, teach] them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20).

We might say that the Lord is saying to them this: “Yes, introduce these people to the divine life – the life of the Trinity – the life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – by introducing them to the grace of the sacraments, whether we’re talking about Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, Confession, or whatever the case might be. But in order that the divine life might take hold, and in order that the grace of sacraments might actually flourish and develop, make sure that these people actually know their faith!” In other words, it’s not enough for people to simply receive “valid sacraments”: they actually have to know how to live their faith in a very real and practical way – lest they actually lose their faith in a matter of time.

To illustrate the point, let me give you an example: imagine a child who is born and then is baptized a few weeks later. This is followed by the important period between the date of the child’s baptism and Grade 2: the year of First Reconciliation and First Communion. Now, the question is this: “What kind of faith formation will this child typically receive during this period of time?” I would suggest something like this: “Be nice. Be kind. Be obedient to your parents. Be obedient to your teachers. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Be a good little boy or girl.” We might perceive, though, that there’s something lacking with this type of approach: it’s not sufficiently rooted in the Ten Commandments, and it’s not mindful of a certain relationship with God. It’s basically all about trying to be a good citizen in the midst of secular society: there’s nothing really distinctively “Christian” about it. Now, one might say: “Well, that’s just because of their particular age group: they’re just in Grade 2 after all!” And let’s presume that we give you that. And so, the child receives First Reconciliation and First Communion.

But then, what happens after that? This is followed by that crucial period between Grade 2 and Grade 7 or Grade 8: the year when the child receives the Sacrament of Confirmation. What kind of faith formation will the child typically receive during this period of time? I would suggest something not too far off from what he or she received just before: “Be nice. Be kind. Be obedient to your parents. Be obedient to your teachers. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Be a good person.”

The child then receives the Sacrament of Confirmation. Then the child goes off for further studies, reads a few secular books, meets a few secular friends who perhaps challenge the child very aggressively about his faith. The child begins to question his or her faith. Then eventually, perhaps not right away, the child will probably lose his or her faith. The child might continue a certain superficial practice of the faith: he or she might continue going to Mass on Christmas and Easter, with a few smattering instances of Sunday Mass attendance in between. But for all intents and purposes, he or she will probably become a so-called “practical atheist”.

Why does this happen? Perhaps because somewhere along the line, the child will come to the conclusion that the Catholic faith just isn’t up to much, that it’s too childish, not sufficiently intellectual, and that it’s not sufficiently rooted in right reason to deal with the sophisticated, adult problems that he or she faces every day. And so, perhaps he or she will say to herself: “Well, it’s not as if I really want to stop being a practicing Catholic; but it’s just that my faith seems completely inadequate to deal with the many problems that I’m facing in my everyday, adult life!”

The reality, though, is not that the faith lacks a certain substance: the reality is that the child stopped learning about the faith back when he or she was in Grade 2, if not even before! In other words, the child may have received a number of “valid sacraments” over the course of his or her life, but this was not met with a corresponding growth in knowledge as to how to live the faith in a very real and practical way. And the end result was a total loss of faith. I’m not sure if that’s surprising or shocking, but that I would submit to you is the typical “faith journey” of your average Catholic child living in the world today.

Of course, the question is: “What do we do about it?” To preface everything we’re going to talk about from this point on, it’s very important that we pray, we trust and we believe. In other words, we must always remember that God is ultimately the author of conversion; such that, if a person makes even the slightest movement back towards the Lord, it is always primarily by the grace of God. And so, we must pray, we must offer sacrifice, and we must trust and believe that in the fullness of time, in His own particular way, God can bring anyone back from the brink. Again, no matter what the stage of your child’s faith journey, even if you’re living in an “empty nest” situation, it is very important that you pray, trust and believe.

family rosaryBut what might we do on a practical basis to actively cooperate with God’s grace? I would recommend three things. First of all, parents must always remember that they are the primary educators of their kids with regards to the faith (cf. CCC 2221). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had parents come up to me and say: “You know, Father, I really wish someone would talk to my kids about the Catholic faith!” Quite honestly, I say to myself many times: “Well, how about you?” Now, I appreciate the value of sometimes having a third party talk with your kids about the Catholic faith; and so, if you want me to talk to your kids, I’ll talk to your kids! But the whole point is that parents simply cannot abdicate their responsibility to be the primary educators of their kids with regards to the Catholic faith.

Now, there might be any number of interested parties or groups, such as the government, Catholic school teachers, youth ministers or even Catholic priests, but these groups and persons are meant to help, they’re meant to assist, but they’re never meant to replace. Parents are always meant to be the primary educators of their kids with regards to the faith.

These persons or groups might know more than you about the Catholic faith. And so, if you find that you have certain gaps in your knowledge of the faith, you should definitely take the appropriate steps to rectify the situation, perhaps by reading, for example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church  or the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, both of which are readily available free of charge on the Vatican website.

But there is always something very special and unique about the parent/child relationship which simply cannot be duplicated in any other relationship in the modern world. When mom or dad says to their child: “Do this. Don’t do that. This is right. This is wrong. This is true. This is false,” the child receives that information and is transformed by it in a way that simply cannot be duplicated in any other relationship in modern society. It’s very important for parents to remember that, even though God might give you the great responsibility to be the primary educator of your child with regards to the faith, He also gives you the corresponding grace to actually do what must be done.

The second point is this: repetition, repetition, repetition. A few years ago at my last parish, a parent came up to me and started giving me tips about how to visit the schools. She basically said: “Father, when you visit the kids in the schools, you really have to teach them how to go to the Sacrament of Confession – and not just once! You have to teach them over and over again, because that’s how they learn to really appropriate the concept!” I remember thinking to myself: “Well, yeah, you’re right! But don’t put this primarily on me! This is primarily on you as the primary educator!”

child in confessionI’ve gone to the schools many times to teach them how to receive the Sacrament of Confession. But I believe I speak for priests everywhere when I say that a constant source of frustration for all of us is that, when we go to the schools to hear kids’ confession, many times they don’t know the Act of Contrition; and many times, they actually get up to leave before you can say the words of absolution! Think of it like this: if you go to Confession and you don’t expect to say “sorry” and you don’t expect to be forgiven for your sins by Christ through the words of the priest, then what’s your notion of Confession? Confession becomes an empty ritual! And what’s the grace that one obtains in that situation? I would submit: not that much!

That’s the great value of repetition! In the case of the Sacrament of Confession, for example, the point is to not simply develop a “basic familiarity” with the ritual, but to actually make going to Confession normative – such that Confession stops being a “weird thing” that we do, perhaps, once or twice in our whole life; but rather, it becomes something that we’re just completely familiar with because it’s something we just talk about all the time as a Catholic family, and it’s something that we actually do all the time as a Catholic family!

Obviously, we can’t talk to someone in Gr. 2 in the same way that we’d talk to someone in Gr. 8. We have to tailor our message to the particular age group that we’re addressing. But, again, that’s the great value of repetition! Because, even though we might be talking about the same topic repeatedly, we can approach it from several different angles depending on with whom we are speaking.

For example, let’s consider the Fifth Commandment: “Thou shall not kill”. If you’re talking to your toddler, you wouldn’t want to lead by talking about murderous psychopaths roaming the countryside! That’s just not prudent, and it’s probably just bad parenting! Perhaps what you might do instead is to speak, at least indirectly, about the dignity of the human person (cf. CCC 1700). You might begin by talking about how everyone comes from God, and is ultimately destined to return to God (cf. CCC 1700). And what this means is that everyone is special: everyone deserves respect. This might lead to a discussion of what it means to actually treat people with dignity and respect, and what it means to treat even yourself with dignity and respect.

Later on, you might talk about self-defence. You might say: “Yes, if someone attacks you with physical aggression, it is a legitimate thing in certain cases to defend yourself even using physical force” (cf. CCC 2263). But, at the same time, you might bring in issues of proportionality (cf. CCC 2267) or proximity (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, ST II-II.64.7). Later on, you might start bringing up certain “hot topic” issues like euthanasia (cf. CCC 2276-2279), abortion (cf. CCC 2270-2275) and suicide (cf. CCC 2280-2283). And after that, you might bring up more complex topics like the principle of “double effect”, formal vs. material cooperation or the “just war” theory (cf. CCC 2309). In every instance, we’re still talking about the Fifth Commandment; but every time, we’re doing so in such a way that is appropriate to the particular age of the child that we’re dealing with. And so, again: repetition, repetition, repetition.

The third and final point is perhaps the most important one: live the integrated life. For example, I remember years ago reading about a study that dealt with the question of what was most influential in the formation of children’s particular notion of sexual morality (cf. Ford, 2005). You might expect that a study like this would simply say that parents were most influential in the formation of their kids’ opinions with regards to sexual morality, as opposed to friends or teachers; and it certainly said that. But the study went one step further by suggesting that what was most influential in the formation of kids was not so much what parents said; but rather, it was what parents actually believed! In other words, if parents talked to their kids without really believing what they actually said, the implication was that their kids might listen politely to what their parents were saying, but they wouldn’t ultimately be changed. On the other hand, if the parents actually believed what they were saying, and this was backed up by what they actually did, then their kids would be changed. Then they would be transformed!

conversion of St. PaulOne of the best examples of this is to reflect on the life of St. Paul. As you might recall, St. Paul often said that he “preached nothing but Christ crucified” (cf. 1 Cor 1:23; 2:2). And there are moments in his letters when St. Paul was merely raising the historical fact that Christ suffered and died on the Cross, and then came back from the dead. We’re certainly not discounting any of that. But, if we really want to understand what St. Paul means when he says that he “preached nothing but Christ crucified”, we have to look back on who he was before his conversion: back when he was known merely as “Saul”. Because, when he was simply “Saul”, St. Paul was not a good person; he was actually a very evil, wicked person. He was actively involved in the work of genocide because he was killing the early Christians (cf. Acts 9-1-2)!

But then, what happened? He encountered the crucified Christ on the road to Damascus who said to him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me” (Acts 9:4). That’s when he started to become this person who was all about love, communion and personal sacrifice. That’s when he started to become the so-called “Apostle to the Gentiles”!

At a priest seminar a few years ago, I heard a great analogy which underlined this point about St. Paul. And so, the speaker said: imagine if someone like Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein (people who were actively involved in mass genocide) had a massive conversion experience, turned from their evil ways, and then started preaching all about love, communion and personal sacrifice – and then even wrote a sonnet about love that would be used in weddings throughout the world and throughout human history!

Well, that’s St. Paul! “Love is patient, love is kind…” (cf. 1 Cor 13:4-8). When people saw this, they would remember: “Hey, weren’t you the guy who used to go around killing Christians?” But then they would see that he was now completely different. And so, at the very least, they would listen to him, not so much because of what he said, but because of who he was! In other words, they would listen to him because of his integrated sense of Christian witness. That’s the value of living the integrated life.

I realize that there’s a lot here for us to consider. But if we can try to implement even a few of these points: to remember that parents are the primary educators of their kids; to remember the value of repetition; and to remember the value of living the integrated life, then we can go a long way towards building up the Christian family; and thereby, at least begin to “Christianize” modern society.

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Enthroning the Sacred Heart of Jesus in our Families

sacred-heart-tinToday is the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Enthroning the Sacred Heart of Jesus in our families is one of the best things we can do. Two years ago, with the help of a friend who is a priest, we enthroned Jesus’ Sacred Heart in our family.  I wrote about it (here) on my blog at Catholic Insight.

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Bishop Athanasius Schneider – Holy Communion on the Tongue

As Dominus est - it is the Lordwe prepare to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi this Sunday, June 7, 2015, I am re-linking to my Catholic Insight article on why Holy Communion should be received on the tongue. The article is based on Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s important book, Dominus Est – It Is The Lord, in which Bishop Schneider explains why the reverent reception of Holy Communion on the tongue is necessary to the life of the Catholic Church.

Here’s the link to the article: http://catholicinsight.com/bishop-athanasius-schneider-holy-communion-on-the-tongue/

Schneider, A. (2008). Dominus Est – It is the Lord! Reflections of a Bishop of Central Asia on Holy  Communion. New Jersey: Newman House Press.

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Charlie Charlie: a wake-up call for sobriety

St. Michael the ArchangelI had a talk with my teen-aged kids about the Charlie Charlie craze that has spread throughout social media in epidemic proportions. Charlie Charlie is the “poor man’s Ouija Board” that summons a Mexican demon who answers participants’ questions, much like a Ouija Board. Until I explained how Satan deceives us with his lies, they thought the Charlie Charlie Challenge was just an innocent game.

After speaking with my kids, I wrote about Charlie Charlie on my blog at Catholic Insight. I invite you to read it here.

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In Honour of World Communications Day 2015

One of my greatest pleasures and privileges as a blogger is to be part of the team at CatholicMom.com. On this website, founded by author and speaker, Lisa Hendey, I write a Gospel reflection for the third day of each month. I also contribute an article for the first Friday of each month.

For World Communications Day, May 17 2015, CatholicMom.com produced this youtube video honouring families. The theme of World Communications Day is “Communicating the Family: A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love.” The video reflects this theme by showing the families of CatholicMom.com contributors. My family is around the 3:36 mark.

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St. Gianna: the modern woman’s saint

Also posted at Catholic Insight

St. Gianna Beretta MollaIt is said that God gives us the saints we need in our time. Saints who, by their lives rooted in self-surrendering, self-sacrificing love show us how to conquer the darkness of the world in which we live and rise to their ranks. In our time, when so many women continue to deny their authentic femininity as ordained by God, He has given us St. Gianna Beretta Molla.

16 May 2015 marks the eleventh anniversary of St. Gianna’s canonization by Pope St. John-Paul II. We know St. Gianna as a pro-life saint because she chose to save the life of her unborn baby instead of opting for surgery that would have saved her life at the expense of  the life of her unborn daughter.

But if we examine her life, we come to know a thoroughly modern, vivacious woman who had all the marks of success in the world. At a time when women typically did not work outside of the home, St. Gianna was a well-loved physician with a thriving medical practice. Not only was she a working mom (unheard of in her day) who sometimes had childcare emergencies, she was a female doctor in a male-dominated profession. She believed that she was called by God to be a physician. Reflecting on her work as a doctor, she said: “We touch Jesus in the bodies of our patients.” To her, work was prayer: “We are apostles, and if we do not want our work to be in vain, but to be effective, there is only one method that will not fail: prayer. We must pray with faith, hope, charity, humility, devotion, and reverence…. Work can be prayer … if we offer to the Lord all the actions that we perform so that they might serve His glory.”

All of the published photos of St. Gianna show a strikingly beautiful, elegantly dressed, lively, confident young woman. She enjoyed beauty; she enjoyed life. Her husband, Pietro, said: “Gianna was a splendid, but ordinary woman…. She was stylish and elegant, a beautiful and intelligent woman who loved to smile. She loved going to the mountains and she skied very well. She loved music. For years we had season tickets for the concerts at the Milan Conservatory…. She also liked to travel.” St. Gianna appreciated the beauty of women expressed in refined fashion. Shortly before the birth of their fourth child, as Pietro prepared to leave for business trip to Paris, St. Gianna asked him to bring back some French fashion magazines. “If God keeps me here, I would like to make some nice clothes.”

Her letters to Pietro, written when he was away on frequent business trips, revealed a woman passionately in love with her husband who missed him when he was away and who at times was frustrated with his absences. Pietro was the plant manager for a large manufacturing company and business travel was necessary; therefore, she always tried to be supportive of his trips away. She wrote that she “missed [his] warm embrace,” and the “strength and support of [his] presence.” She believed that Pietro “completed [her] has a human being.” The married couple knew the importance of spending time together. They regularly attended concerts, plays, movies, and art galleries in Milan. St. Gianna traveled with Pietro on one of his extended business trips, leaving the children in the care of their relatives.

A devoted mother, she juggled the needs of her growing family with the demands of a busy medical practice. She wanted a large family and thanked God when she realized she was pregnant with her fourth baby.

It wasn’t long before she noticed an abnormal swelling in her abdomen. Her brother, Ferdinando, also a physician, assisted Dr. Vitali during the surgery to remove a large benign tumour growing on her uterus.  Ideally, the uterus ought to have been removed, but at her insistence, it was kept intact so the baby would not be harmed. In his clinical report, Ferdinando noted: “the patient did not hesitate to place the baby’s life ahead of her own, knowing what could occur, and pleaded with the surgeon to respect her wishes during the operation.”

After recovering from the surgery, she returned to her work and the pregnancy proceeded cautiously. Although she knew there could be further danger to the uterus, she abandoned her life to God’s Providence. Pietro recalled that Gianna “prayed to the Lord, to Our Lady, and to [her] own mother that the right and guarantee to life for the baby in [her] womb might not require the sacrifice of [her] life, that [she] would be spared for the sake of our children and our family.”

St. Gianna’s and Pietro’s four child, Gianna Emanuela Molla was born by cesarean section on 21 April 1961. Within a few days, St. Gianna was diagnosed with septic peritonitis. The painful agony that followed would have been unbearable if not for her immense faith. She called to Jesus for help as she clasped and kissed a crucifix. “Oh, if Jesus were not here to console us at times like this…” she murmured.  She found the strength to receive Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. After one week of intense pain, her self-sacrifice almost complete, St. Gianna fell into a coma. Pietro brought her home from the hospital. He laid her in the bed that they shared, and with her children sound asleep in the other room, St. Gianna died peacefully at 8:00 A.M. on 28 April 1962 with Pietro at her side.

In the photos of St. Gianna, in the recollections of those closest to her, and in her writing, the picture emerges of an intelligent woman who to a certain extent was ahead of her time. She loved all the good things the world had to offer: beauty, culture, nature. She loved her work and she loved people. In turn, she was much loved by everyone who knew her. In her we have the example of a beautiful woman,  a successful physician, a loving mother, and a devoted wife. But these qualities, as noble as they are, are not her most important attributes. It was her daily witness to the Gospel in all areas of her life and her heroic love culminating in her ultimate self-sacrifice that is an inspiration for women seeking to live a life of holiness.

In her own words:

“The most essential condition for every fruitful activity is stillness in prayer. The apostle begins work by kneeling…. Before acting, we lift our souls to God. The more we feel the desire to give, the more often it is necessary to go back to the infinite fountain of love that is God….

Our task is to make the truth visible and lovable in ourselves, offering ourselves as an attractive and, if possible heroic example….

Work and sacrifice yourself only for the glory of God…. If, even after all of your best efforts, failure seems to be the result, accept this generously. A failure gracefully accepted by an apostle, who has used all the means available to succeed, may be more beneficial for salvation than a victory. Let us always work generously and humbly; let us try not to look immediately for the fruits of our labor…. Remember that saving the world has never been easy, not even for the Son of God, not even for the Apostles.”

Sources:

Guerriero, E. (2014). The Journey of Our Love: The Letters of Saint Gianna Beretta and Pietro Molla. Boston: Pauline Books and Media.

Pelucchi, G. (1994). Saint Gianna Beretta Molla: A Woman’s Life 1922 – 1962. Boston: Pauline Books and Media.

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The month of May and the Act of Total Consecration

Preparation for Total consecration to Jesus Christ Through Mary according to St. Louis de Montfort” I’d like to renew my Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary,” I explained  to my spiritual director. ” I feel that something in my life needs to change.”

It has been about one year since I first prayed the thirty days of preparation for Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. In that year, life has been very busy. And while I take time for daily quiet prayer which includes the Rosary, as well as praying the family Rosary on most evenings, for the last few months, something has been  gnawing at me.

“Do you feel that you need more in your prayer life?” my spiritual director asked during the course of our conversation.

“Yes, that’s it,” I answered. “Something’s missing from my prayer life. I feel like I’m in a routine of repeating the words but not really living them.”

Before renewing the Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary, I am following the preparation prayers through out the month of May. My guide is the book written by Fr. Hugh Gillespie, SMM, Preparation for Total Consecration to Jesus Christ Through Mary According to  St. Louis de Montfort. This is the book I used the first time I made the Total Consecration and the prayers as well as Fr. Gillespie’s insights into the teachings of St. Louis de Montfort are inspiring.

There is a danger that those of us who spend much of our time trying to follow what our Blessed Lord admonished (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked – in other words, performing much needed corporal acts of mercy) can sometimes be so focused on “doing” for the Lord and for our neighbours that we forget to first “be” before the Lord. And when we feel that nagging in our soul, we try to silence it with more “doing.”

If we take the time to stop and take an honest look at ourselves, we may find that we have become so caught up with the importance of all the good things we are doing that we have forgotten that the real reason we are performing all those corporal works of mercy is because of our love for the Merciful One. The spirit of the world has crept into our good works.  Because of our weak human nature, “even our best efforts in the service of the Gospel are coloured by our pride, our selfishness, our desire to be noticed, our resentments and our self-interest.”

Father Gillespie explains that for St. Louis de Montfort “consecration is never simply the gesture of a moment, but a fundamental movement of self-giving and self-surrender, an act of radical belonging to the Lord through Our Lady, that asserts itself in every aspect of life.” Just as in sacramental marriage, love  compels us to surrender ourselves entirely to our spouse, so too our love for the Lord should compel us to undergo a “radical surrender of oneself into the life of Jesus Christ.” But just as we sometimes take our spouse for granted, we can take the Lord for granted and we ignore Him. And that’s when the gnawing  in our soul tells us that we have to re-evaluate our lives and renew our self-surrendering commitment to Him.

The month of May is a providential  time for renewal since it is the month of our Blessed Mother. The way of renewal is to  follow the two  basic movements of de Montfort spirituality” “emptying [my]self of the spirit of the world and filling [my]self with the spirit of Jesus Christ.”

“The path of Total Consecration draws its strength from an intimate participation in the life of Jesus Christ himself, who, in the Mystery of his Incarnation, took upon himself the form of a slave and entrusted himself completely into the hands of his Blessed Mother. The act of self-gift and self-surrender that one makes in the Act of Total Consecration is an act made in union with and in honour of this great act of self-gift and self-surrender of Jesus Christ who consecrates himself, in Mary, to the glorification of his Father and to the achievement of our salvation…. The life of the one who is consecrated must be, therefore, a life lived in celebration of this great Mystery.”

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Individualism, Hedonism, and Minimalism: Spirit of the world disguised as the Spirit of the Gospel

Father Eric Mah is a priest of the Archdiocese of Toronto. Here is one of his recent thought-provoking homilies.

Hoffman-ChristAndTheRichYoungRuler

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hofmann. Wikipedia.org

This past Christmas, the Knights of Columbus from our parish generously handed out free copies of a book by Matthew Kelly called Rediscover Catholicism.(1) I encourage you to take the time to read this book and share it with your own families, because it’s a great way to introduce people to how to live the Catholic faith in a very real and practical way.

When I read this book on my own, something which immediately caught my attention was near the beginning where the author speaks about the various attitudes and philosophies which shape and define the particular mindset of the modern secular world. In particular, he identifies three key things: individualism, hedonism and minimalism.(2)

Let’s run through all three of these things. First, what’s individualism? Individualism is an attitude whereby I come to see myself as the center of the universe. The individualist will typically go through the course of his or her day asking himself or herself one question: “What’s in it for me?”(3)

Secondly, what’s hedonism? Essentially, it is an attitude whereby I come to see the pursuit of my own personal pleasure as my primary concern in life.(4) The hedonist will typically ask himself or herself this question: “How can I maximize the amount of pleasure in my life while minimizing the amount of pain and inconvenience which I must endure?”

Thirdly, what is minimalism? This is a particular attitude whereby I look to put in the minimum amount of effort that I possibly can into life, while reaping the maximum amount of reward.(5) The minimalist will typically ask himself or herself questions such as these: “What’s the least amount I can possibly do at the workplace and still keep my job?”(6) Or perhaps: “What’s the least amount I can possibly do at school and still get a good grade?”(7)

There are many people in the world today who might “self-identify” as being “Christian”, if not “Catholic”, who are still, in reality, giving their hearts very much to the so-called “spirit of the world”; whether we’re talking about the spirit of individualism, hedonism or minimalism.

For instance, we can say that there are many Catholics in the world who go to Mass, say their prayers, and perhaps even occasionally eat fish on Fridays – who still govern the vast majority of their conduct by asking themselves this one simple question: “What’s in it for me?”

Many of these people might still be very “kind” and “generous” to certain persons that they happen to know. Who isn’t from time to time? But perhaps, this sense of “kindness” and “generosity” is still governed by a pervasive sense of selfishness and self-interest. In other words: “I’ll be kind to you, but only insofar as you’re being kind back onto me!” or “I’ll be nice to you only insofar as you’re being nice back onto me!” And what is that but the spirit of individualism.

Let’s take a different example. Again, we can say that there are many Catholics in the world today who go to Mass, say their prayers, and perhaps belong to certain religious clubs or organizations who still govern the bulk of their conduct by asking: “How can I get through the course of my day while incurring the least amount of pain or inconvenience to myself?”

Many of these people might still be saying their prayers, perhaps even every day, but what’s often the real substance behind these prayers? “O Lord, give me the things that I want, the things that I desire, the things that I believe to be essential to my own sense of happiness and well-being. But Lord, whatever You do: do not make me suffer, do not give me inconvenience, and do not give me pain! In other words, do not give me the Cross!” And that is the spirit of hedonism: the relentless and almost single-minded pursuit of one’s own personal pleasure as one’s ultimate concern.

This takes us to our third example. Again, there are many Catholics in the world who go to church, go to confession, and even follow the Commandments who still perhaps ask themselves this question over and over again: “How can I get myself into the kingdom of heaven, while putting the least amount of effort into my relationship with God?”

These people might try their very best to avoid all sorts of serious sin. But, as we know from personal experience, there is a huge difference in reality between simply trying to avoid “serious sin”, and actually trying our very best to please the Lord in all things, especially in those little details which perhaps no one else would ever notice, except Christ Himself! But that’s really the difference between being a “lukewarm Catholic” (or a “minimalist”) and being a true disciple of the Lord.

Perhaps one of the best ways for us to pull this together is to reflect on the story in the Gospel of the rich young man (Mt 10:17-31; Mk 19:16-30; Lk 18:18-30). You’ll recall how the story actually begins: the rich young man goes up to Jesus and he says to Him: “[Good] Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life” (Mt 19:16)? If we look at the very wording of the rich young man’s question, we find the spirit of individualism. Because he’s basically saying: “[Good] Teacher, what good deed must I do on my own to ‘buy’ my way into the kingdom of heaven, without any kind of real regard for my relationship with You or my relationship with other people?” This is the spirit of individualism.

But that’s just the first thing. The second is this: we can also perceive in the wording of the rich young man’s question a strong sense of minimalism. He’s also saying: “What’s the least amount I can possibly do in the context of the spiritual life, whether we’re talking about saying a certain number of prayers or doing a certain number of good works, to ‘guarantee’ my spot in the kingdom of heaven, such that I can just ‘do those things’ and then get on with the rest of my life?

You’ll recall what Jesus says to him in response. The Gospel says that Jesus looks at him with love (cf. Mk 10:17). But then, Jesus says to him: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow Me” (Mt 19:21) [emphasis added]. Because the rich young man is not just an individualist and a minimalist, but he’s also a hedonist, he is “shocked” (Mk 10:22) by our Lord’s response. And so, the Gospel says (very famously) that he “[goes] away grieving, [because] he had many possessions” (Mk 10:22) [emphasis added].

jm_200_NT2.pd-P20.tiffWhenever we hear this story, we too are often inclined to come away “grieving, [because we too] have many possessions”. But we have to think about what Jesus is really saying. In a certain sense, what He’s actually saying to us is this: being a Christian is not about doing “randomly good stuff,” and it’s not about trying to simply “buy our way into heaven.” No, being a Christian is ultimately about following the person of Christ: it’s about being His disciple. In particular, it’s about making that very explicit choice throughout the course of our day, in all those really tiny, discreet little decisions that make up the very fabric of our day, to orientate the entirety of our lives to the person of Christ: everything that we are, everything that we do, and everything that we have. That is what it ultimately means to be a true disciple of the Lord.

That is why it doesn’t make sense for us to “claim” to be a Christian, to “claim” to be a Catholic, where we seem to be doing all the right things from a purely external point of view, whether we’re talking about going to Mass, saying our prayers, going to confession, or even belonging to certain religious clubs or organizations. But at the same time, what we are actually doing is giving our hearts very much to the so-called “spirit of the world,” whether we’re talking about the spirit of individualism, hedonism or minimalism.

If we’re only being nice to other people because they’re being nice back onto us; or if we’re only saying our prayers or doing good works because we believe that these things will help us to “buy” our way into heaven; or if we’re only interested in doing what is right when it doesn’t cost us very much, or when it seems to be convenient for us to do, then, what we are actually doing is living not for the person of Christ, but rather, we are still living simply for ourselves.

The point is that when we try to live the Catholic faith in this very narrow, compromised, and ultimately selfish way, is it really any wonder that we’re left feeling empty and sad? Not because the Catholic faith “doesn’t work,” but rather, because we have not yet learned, or more accurately, we have not yet acquired the courage to actually live the Catholic faith in the way that we should. Perhaps not even for a single day!

I think the Lord is inviting each one of us to really take a chance here; to really have courage; to really try and live the Catholic faith in the way that we should: not as a “moral code” or as merely “philosophy” but rather, as a life of true discipleship vis-à-vis the person of Christ.(8) And then, to see if the peace of Christ, which is beyond all understanding (cf. Phil 4:7) does not then and only then become ours for the taking.

Source:

1. Matthew Kelly, Rediscover Catholicism (Cincinnati, Ohio: Beacon Publishing, 2010).
2. Ibid., 26-30.
3. Ibid., 26.
4. Ibid., 28.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.

8. Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1.

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“Look at Him, even just for a moment”

Life is extremely busy. I’m taking another parish nursing online course and my days are filled with family/work/school/volunteer commitments. There’s never enough time.

When the calendar is overflowing, it’s easy to rush through prayer, or worse, stop spending time in quiet prayer. These days, I have to force myself to be still before the Lord.

Providentially, a friend gave me this piece of writing from St. Teresa of Avila. Her wisdom is exactly what a busy person needs.

220px-Claude_Mellan_-_Face_of_Christ_-_WGA14764

“I’m not asking you now that you think about Him or that you draw out a lot of concepts or make long and subtle reflections with your intellect. I’m not asking you to do anything more than look at Him. For who can keep you from turning the eyes of your soul toward this Lord, even if you do so just for a moment if you can’t do more?

He has suffered your committing a thousand ugly offenses and abominations against Him, and this suffering wasn’t enough for Him to cease looking at you. Is it too much to ask you to turn your eyes from these exterior things in order to look at Him sometimes? Behold, He is not waiting for anything else… than that we look at Him. In the measure you desire Him, you will find Him.”

St. Teresa of Avila, Way of Perfection, Ch. 26:3

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