I recently was introduced to Brian Holdsworth and his YouTube series on the Catholic faith. I was extremely impressed by this video, especially since it is a layman who has been saying the same thing I have been arguing for years about why the faith is in decline. It is well worth the 6-minute view.
The other night I dropped in on our young adult group and one of the young men asked me a question that he says friends of his frequently ask him: “With all the different denominations of Christianity out there, why should we worry about being Catholic?” I told him that the answer ultimately comes down to a question of authority. There are so many different denominations of Christianity in the world today, many of whom teach things that are drastically different from each other to the point that they can’t all be correct. While some things are differences of culture and custom, others disagree with each other about theology, and they can’t all be right. Therefore, with all the different churches saying different things that contradict each other, how do you know who’s telling the truth? Obviously, Christ is the truth, so we have to know who is teaching what Christ revealed, which means we have to ask the question, “Who has the authority to speak in the name of Christ?” We are the only denomination of Christianity that can point to a Scripture text that explicitly gives us that authority: Matthew 16:13-20. In this famous account Jesus says to Simon “…you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you let loose on earth shall be let loose in heaven.” We as Catholics take that as a clear creation of the church by Jesus, that Jesus gave the authority to St. Peter to speak in his name and that that authority passes down through the centuries to Pope Francis today. Of course, lots of non-Catholics will disagree with us and claim that that’s not at all what Jesus meant. They try to disprove it with a variety of arguments, but one thing they can’t do is provide a Scripture quote to authorize themselves. No one can point to a Scripture quote that says Martin Luther was authorized by Christ to speak in his name, or John Calvin, or Zwingli, or Henry VIII, or the guy who just got religion last week and rented a storefront and made himself a minister. Ultimately, we have to ask these people “by what authority do you speak in the name of Christ?”
When I first realized that God was calling me to be a priest, I didn’t just rent a storefront and appoint myself a minister. No, I went to the Church that I was convinced was the only one that possessed the fulness of truth and asked to be given the authority to preach in its name, which was done to me on May 12, 1990 by Cardinal O’Connor, who had the authority to ordain priests given to him by Pope John Paul II, a direct successor of St. Peter. Of course, that means I must always preach what the Church teaches is the truth and not my own opinion. Just because I was authorized to speak in the name of the Church doesn’t mean anything I think up is automatically true. I will only be helping people when I teach what the Church has taught me is the truth that Christ entrusted to her.
Years ago I remember a man asking me the following question: “Why do you feel you have to parrot everything the Pope says? You have a brain; think things out for yourself!” I remember saying to him, “Thank you for the compliment! You think I’m infallible?” I am not infallible. I have been wrong in the past and I will be wrong at times in the future. If I love my people I will not get up in the pulpit on Sunday and tell them my opinion. First of all, that’s not why they come to Mass. and secondly, how can I tell them with certainty to follow something that I may later discover not to be true? My mind is not the source of all truth. But when I teach the Truth that Christ has given through the Catholic faith that he gave the apostles and is handed down to us today through his Church, then I can speak with certitude and tell my people they must follow it, for what the Church clearly teaches as the truth of Christ must be correct or Jesus lied to St. Peter!
Lots of times people follow individuals who are very charismatic and perhaps do a good job praying and leading people in prayer before the Lord. I don’t question for a moment the sincerity of any of these individuals. I’m sure they are very well intended and are doing their best to follow the Lord. But before we can say we speak definitively in the name of Jesus we have to be sure that what we’re saying is in fact what he has revealed and that we are well schooled in what he reveals. We firmly believe that Jesus gave the deposit of revelation to the apostles and told them to preserve it through the generations and that he gave Peter and the other apostles the authority to speak in his name; therefore, in order to say we are speaking the definitive truth of Jesus we must be in union with that Church, be well schooled in what we believe, and have the authority to teach in the name of Christ given to us by someone with the authority to do so, namely, a bishop, one of the successors of the apostles. Many people today don’t do that. They somehow find Jesus and come to believe in him, and they want to go out and bear witness to him, and that’s wonderful. But they go out without any authorization from him and without any schooling on their own and rent a storefront and claim that they are now a minister for Christ and that they’re speaking the truth in his name. But how do they know that what they think is the meaning of a certain Bible text is the correct interpretation, especially when so many storefront preachers and denominations of Christianity disagree with each other? I get the fact that many people listen to them because they can be very charismatic and very entertaining and that they feel very comfortable around the person. Perhaps he is a compassionate individual that makes them feel good and that’s all wonderful. But try this analogy: suppose you were sick and needed a doctor and a friend of yours told you about this wonderful guy that they go to who is very compassionate. He’s funny and his office is beautiful, and you go to the guy and he is a wonderful person and he really gives you all sorts of good sounding advice. Maybe he even tells jokes, perhaps he sings and he makes your experience in his office so wonderful, whereas the doctor you used to go to you just went in, he met you, he gave you a prescription and that was it. You decide that, from now on this is the doctor for you! Then you discover that this new doctor you are going to is not in fact a doctor; he never went to medical school and has no medical degree. All he did was pick up a couple of books on medicine and read them. Would you be comfortable receiving medical advice from this man? And if he’s not giving you any medicine – which he can’t do if he’s not a doctor because he doesn’t have the right to give you a prescription – in the long run, is he doing you any good? He may have been very comforting and compassionate, but when you leave your still sick. So just because the experience was a lot more enjoyable doesn’t mean the man in fact helped you in any way. It’s the same thing when we seek out denominations of Christianity or storefront churches or ministers or whomever it may be that say things that we like to hear or who give us a lot more of an enjoyable experience in our prayer but who are in fact not giving us the truth of Christ. All that warmth is wonderful, but if it’s not being accompanied by the truth of Christ then it’s not doing us any good.
I don’t know if it still there, but I remember when I was in the seminary and we would go down to the cathedral once a month to serve mass for the Cardinal we passed a storefront church in Harlem whose title was “The True Church of Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith.” I realized right away what that minister was attempting. He realized that, with all these ministers out there saying such vastly different things, that people needed to know who in fact was teaching the truth of Jesus. He therefore decided to try to rediscover what Jesus taught the apostles to hand down to us, and that his church would be the place where people heard the true teachings of Christ. But what that man didn’t realize is that he attempted to re-create the Catholic Church! That is precisely what we are! We are the true Church of Jesus Christ of the apostolic faith. We are the only ones who can say that Jesus clearly gave us the authority to speak in his name. No one else can make that claim!
In the end, while it’s nice to look for exciting communities with uplifting music and powerful pray-ers, ultimately it is more important to find those who have the authority to teach in the name of Christ and who are faithful to what Christ revealed to the apostles. Neither exciting liturgy nor charismatic preaching will set you free, only the truth of Christ can do that, which he reveals in its fulness through the only Church he gave the authority to speak in his name: The Catholic Church.
When I was in college I became friends with a young man who was what I describe as a natural Christian, meaning that all the virtues that you and I sometimes work so hard to try to cultivate, to him came naturally. For that reason, it seemed to me such a great incongruity in his personality that, although he was Catholic, he didn’t go to church on Sunday. One day I got the opportunity to talk to him about it and he was very straightforward with me. He told me exactly why he didn’t go to church. He said he used to go when he was younger, but then one day he was sitting in church and he looked around all the people sitting there and he said to himself, “Look at all these people! They have no clue as to why they are here and what’s going on. It’s all such a waste of time!” And so he became very disillusioned by going to Mass and stopped attending. I remember I said several different things to him. First I asked him, “How do you know what’s going on in the minds of the other people who were sitting there in church? Is it possible that what you claimed they were feeling was really what you were feeling and that you were projecting your lack of understanding upon them? There are some people that go to church that have a fairly good idea of what’s taking place and truly listen to the Scriptures and are praying and feel like they have encountered the Lord every time they go to Mass. And even if there are people who are not all that sure about why they’re there, why would you let that prevent you from having a good relationship with Christ at Mass?” Then I said to him finally, “Alright, I will agree with you that there probably are some people who come to church that don’t really have any clue as to why they’re there and what it’s all about. But at least they’re there! Nobody has put a gun to their head and forced them to come to church. They may not understand everything that’s happening, but they know there’s something good is going on and that there is a reason they should be attending. They’re looking for God and maybe in time they will find him.”
I reminded him of the story of the transfiguration. I said, “Look what happened when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain with him. He was transfigured before them: his clothes became white and his face glowed with a radiance they had never seen before. Basically, Jesus showed them a hint of the glory that would be his when he was risen from the dead. It’s as if he took off the veil of his mortal image and let them see his true divinity; he let them see him for whom he was. Then Moses and Elijah appeared talking with him. Moses, the great lawgiver to whom God gave the Ten Commandments and who promised ‘A prophet like me will the Lord raise up from among your kinsman’ and Elijah, the great prophet who was taken to heaven in a whirlwind whom it was believed would precede the coming of the Messiah, and both of them were standing talking with Jesus about what he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Any good Jew would recognize the expression, ‘The law and the prophets’. That summarized the entire promise of Israel, everything written in the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old Testament as we call it. It’s as if all of the promise that God had given from Abraham to that time was now standing there bearing witness to Jesus, saying ‘this is the one! The promise is fulfilled! This is the person you been waiting for!’ Peter sees all this and says, ‘Master, how good it is for us to be here!’ Good, Peter! Great response! But then he says something silly, ‘Let us build three booths here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!’ Open mouth, insert foot, close, enjoy your meal Peter, because you just put your foot in your mouth big-time! Mark and Luke even apologize for Peter. They say he really didn’t know what to say because he was so awestruck by what had taken place. When they came down the mountain, Jesus didn’t say to Peter, ‘How could you be so stupid/! Didn’t you see what was going on there?’ Of course not! He knew Peter wasn’t a theologian; he was just a fisherman. He knew it was beyond Peter’s ability to grasp, and he didn’t expect it of him. Peter knew something good was happening there, and even though the significance of it passed him by and he didn’t realize the full ramification of everything he’d seen, he realized he’d seen something good, and that’s all Jesus wanted from him. I explained to my friend that Mass is the same thing. Yes, sometimes people are there and maybe don’t understand the fullness of the mystery, but they’re trying. So don’t sell them short. Give them the opportunity to grow in their understanding.”
Thankfully my friend eventually did return to regular worship. But this story gives us an opportunity to look at our understanding of the Mass. Do we comprehend what’s taking place every time we come to Mass on Sunday? Perhaps sometimes we feel we do or maybe we’d honestly say “I haven’t got a clue!” That’s okay! As long as we’re there and trying to grow, leave your mind open to learning more about the Mass. Don’t be discouraged or disillusioned if it doesn’t make sense to you. After all, can any of us honestly say we truly understand everything that takes place in Mass? St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, once said that if any priest realized what was actually taking place at his hands while he celebrated Mass he would die of fright for fear of what he was handling! It’s a mystery beyond our ability to fathom! We can’t even begin to comprehend the fullness of what’s taking place at Mass. We can have a basic idea, sure, but if we ever think we’ve gotten to the point that we understand everything perfectly well, were only deluding ourselves.
I like to think of it as when you go to an art museum. If you were to go to the Louvre in Paris or the Uffizi in Florence, even the Metropolitan Museum of Art here in New York, if you go in and don’t know much about art it can be overwhelming! There are thousands of paintings there, and you look around and can be lost. Maybe we look at a picture or two here or there and that helps a little bit, but if you take try to take in the whole thing it can be an absolutely daunting proposition. I don’t think anyone expects anyone to go into a museum and in one day take a look at every single picture and take in everything that each picture has to offer. You just couldn’t do it in one day! So if we have just a few hours to go through museum, we’ll look at the few things that seem to strike us the most, even if it’s only the highlights. In the Louvre everybody goes and looks at Mona Lisa and maybe there are a few others that might strike people’s interest. In the Uffizi gallery, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is the most famous one. Real devotees of art will go back to the museum over and over again and each time to try to take in another picture and get a little bit more out of each painting than they could at just one glance. Maybe they might go back one day and say “I’m only going into this one room here and only take in the pictures in this room or of this style.” Another day they take in another, and they would quickly discover that the museum is an inexhaustible resource. They could spend their entire lives going into the museum and never take it all in, but I think any curator of a museum would be thrilled if somebody came and even sat and looked at just one painting and took that in to the best of his ability: they’d say he’s gotten something out of his visit to the museum that day. Well, coming to Mass is in many ways just like that. We come Sunday after Sunday to hear a Gospel reading that we probably heard before; in fact, many of them we hear over and over again to the point that we might feel that we’ve got it memorized. But we never exhaust the meaning of that Gospel. We are fed on it, we are nourished by the word, and we discover that we can come back time and time again and be nourished and grow more in the mystery. And of course, most importantly, we come and receive the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion. We take his actual body and blood as our food and that strengthens us and brings us into full union with him. And that’s when we discover what Jesus really want to do for us and the full importance of the Mass, why we come Sunday after Sunday, many people day after day: to receive the Eucharist.
A lot of times I’ll hear people talking about what God wants to do for them and they say, “Well, God just wants me to be happy!” I just shake my head in despair when I hear that. Yes, God wants us to be happy but he wants so much more than that! He has things planned for us that are far greater than anything we could even begin to comprehend, and our happiness is not going to come through the things that we think are going to make us happy, but by what God reveals to us as the true way to happiness. Sometimes people will discover the next step of that and realize that true happiness comes from living an upright moral life, which is a lot more meaningful than simply having the little pleasant things in our lives. Indeed, God wants even more for us than merely being ethical people or being kind to one another, being nice guys and helping us get along better. I’m not for a moment trying to make light of ethical living and of following the moral teachings of the Church and of the Lord. Don’t get me wrong! They are important. But they are only steps along the way to what God really wants to do for us. What does God want to do for us? He wants to deify us! The greatest thing that we can experience is deification – actually becoming part of God himself! The ancient Christians used to say that God became man so that man could become as God. He took on our nature so that we could take on his. He wants to draw us into all beauty, all essence, all goodness, all truth, total joy, total perfection. He wants us to be transfigured just as he was transfigured. Everything that Jesus inherited by his death and resurrection you and I will also inherit! All the glory that he now has in heaven he wants to share with us, and he has far more in store for us than when we often think about when we come to church and pray. Sometimes we pray for things that maybe are a little silly, maybe more serious. but God’s plan for us is always greater them what we have in mind. Maybe all we’re worried about is losing ten pounds to look better in that dress, so that when I go to so-and-so’s wedding, nobody will laugh at me and at how much weight I put on. Well, I have news for you! God is probably laughing at that, because if you think that the most important thing in life is losing ten pounds because otherwise everybody’s going to be staring at you at the wedding, no they’re not! Everybody will be looking at the bride! Probably few people if anybody are actually going to look at you and notice you put on ten pounds since the last time they saw you! Usually that’s one of our own vanities! Sometimes we pray about little more important things. If somebody is ill and we pray for their healing, that’s a good thing to pray for! Certainly, if somebody is out of a job, we pray for them to get work. Maybe sometimes it is a little frivolous: we just want a little more money so we can book a nicer room on our upcoming vacation, and maybe that’s not the most important thing that we should be praying about. It’s not to say that it is wrong to pray for the things we need here and now; but first we have to ask if they really are important – if they really are the things we should be worrying about, and sometimes we have to honestly admit that they’re not – Jesus does say to pray “give us this day our daily bread.” But God wants so much more for us than merely worrying about the things of this life. If we’re only worried about the here and now and not heaven, then were missing what God wants to do for us! He is not saying, “I want you to be comfortable! I want you to have an easy life! I want you to fit in and enjoy yourself!” No, he is saying, “I want to raise you up, I want to elevate you and lift you up to heights you can’t even begin to imagine, so far more important than anything this brief visit on earth has to offer! I have dreams for you that have never even entered into your consciousness!”
If we’re only concerned about the needs in our lives here on earth then were missing everything God wants to do for us. We will never find the joy that we can know when we know the heights of glory to which we are being called by God. And maybe that’s why we don’t follow our faith as strongly as we should and don’t evangelize others, because maybe if we honestly ask ourselves, “Do I really want to worry about heaven?” the answer is, “No! I’m only really worried about here and now. I’m not looking for God to save my soul. I’m not looking for him to make me the best I can be. I’m not looking for God to bring me to great heights. All I want God to do is make my life comfortable here and now. I want him to be Santa Claus and give me all the things I want.” Sometimes people even go so far as wanting God to allow them to believe in and practice things that contradict that call to holiness, that are completely opposed to it, and they want the church to teach that those are good simply because it will make them feel good now, it will make their life easier and help them feel good about themselves, and they end up sacrificing the very call to holiness simply to fit in here on earth. They flee from any talk about challenge, about changing our hearts, about carrying our crosses, about realizing that it takes much prayer and sacrifice in order to reach those heights that God has in store, and instead demand only to be left where they are and told that their lives are perfect, when they know very well they are not.
My brothers and sisters, yes, the Lord does care about our everyday needs, and it’s okay to pray for them, but let’s make sure that’s not the only thing we ever pray for, that were not caught up only in the here and now. Do we ever pray for holiness? Do we ever pray, “Lord, help me to overcome sin! Help me to be righteous!” Do we ever pray, “Lord, change me! lift me up, Lord! Beam me up! Help me to be what you want me to be! Lord, let me worry not about what I want for myself but what you want from me! Transfigure me! give me the holiness and the joy that only you can give!” When we do that, then we will know true happiness, true peace.
Imagine someone were to go to the doctor and attempt to tell the doctor everything that is wrong with him and every cure that the doctor needs to give him in order to be well again. I think we can all realize that this would be a big mistake. We go to the doctor precisely because we don’t know medicine as well as he does, and we want him to use his expertise to show us how to be as healthy as we can be. Suppose you got angry because the doctor would not give you the medicine you are convinced would be good for you and decided never to go to the doctor again. Whom would you be hurting? You’d only be hurting yourself. The same thing is true of God. Sometimes we make the mistake of going to God with a predetermined diagnosis for what we need in life and if God says no or doesn’t grant us what we’re looking for we decide we’re not going to worship him anymore. But whom are we hurting? Only ourselves! Sometimes it’s helpful for us to step back and look at exactly what God wants to do for us.
Take, for example, the gospel parable Jesus tells about the man who had a great harvest and decided to build extra barns and store all of his goods there. He then says he can relax and take it easy because now he has everything stored for the rest of his life, and Jesus says of him “you fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you, and to whom will all these piled up goods go?” Jesus is showing us something critical for our lives in this little parable. Why did he call the man a fool? It was not because the man had a good harvest and had done well and was wealthy. The problem was that the man thought that as long as he had money in the bank he was good to go and he needed nothing else. And that’s why Jesus said called him a fool because he said that very night he would die and what good would all of that saved up grain do for him? So the Lord is not saying that we should not pray for the goods of earth but that we should not make them our priority. Certainly the Lord’s prayer teaches us to pray “give us this day our daily bread”, and it’s certainly fine if we’re financially strapped or somebody is ill and we pray for healing for more money whatever the situation may be, but our primary focus must always be getting to heaven. We call Jesus our Savior. But from what did he come to save us? from poverty? No! He was born and laid in a manger. To save us from ill health? No! He was in terribly poor health as he hung on the cross and eventually died. To save us from lack of popularity? No! His friends all abandoned him. To save us from false judgment? No! He was falsely accused of being the devil himself and when he was crucified those who killed him thought they were doing the will of God. No, Jesus came to save us from sin. But sometimes sin seems to be the last thing we worry about and maybe we don’t even worry about it at all! Sometimes I even hear people joking about sin, making fun of it as if it’s an antiquated notion that we’ve wisely outgrown. Nothing could be further from the truth! Sin is indeed something very deadly. Remember that Original Sin, Adam and Eve turning against God and deciding they could choose for themselves what’s right and wrong and not have to listen to God, is what brought all the evil into the world from which we suffer each and every day. And more importantly Original Sin closed the gates of heaven to us. You and I could try to be perfect and maybe we could live without committing any sin, but even with that we could not get to heaven and we would be condemned to hell for all eternity, because heaven was close to us thanks to the sin of Adam and Eve. There was no human being who could do anything about it, because in order to adequately pay the price – the ransom – for sin one would have to be perfect, and since there was no perfect human being, there was not a single human being who could change anything. We were doomed! Only God – the perfect one – could save us, and that’s what he did: by taking on flesh, suffering and dying on the cross, and rising from the dead. When he rose from the dead he destroyed the power of death and now turned death around completely, so that it is no longer our entrance into condemnation – into hell – but is now our entrance into salvation – into heaven! Jesus now teaches us through the Church how to follow him, to avoid sin, and stay on the path to heaven, to avoid all the pitfalls of this earth which is Satan still trying to lead us back into his clutches. Yet again, sometimes we just don’t seem to care about that and we approach God with the answer already in our minds of what God has to allow us to do. This becomes especially a problem when something that God teaches us through the Scriptures or the Church we don’t want to accept. Instead of accepting it, we either invoke the opinion of society and decide, “well, society accepts it now and so must the Church” or we give ourselves an excuse as to why that teaching doesn’t apply to us. Sometimes people even go further by demanding of God and of the Church that he change things that he’s teaching are sinful and that are harmful to us and tell us it’s good for us, and if the Church won’t tell us what we want to hear, then we search out a denomination of Christianity that will do so. But is that really helping at all?
Going back to our example of the doctor, imagine if someone decided they want to be perfectly healthy except they don’t want to have to exercise or eat properly. They go to the doctor and tell the doctor they want to be able to sleep as much as they want sit on the couch and eat all the rich and fatty foods they want and still be healthy. Obviously the doctor tells the person he cannot do that, that if he wants to be healthy he has to exercise and eat properly. But the person doesn’t like that so he says, “Fine! I’ll find another doctor will tell me it’s okay to do so! And maybe he comes across a doctor who has very few patients – for obvious reasons, that he’s a bad doctor – but this doctor, eager to keep patients, tells him whatever he wants to hear. “Sure! It’s perfectly fine for you to sit on the couch all day eat all the potato chips and junk food you want, and don’t worry about exercising; you’ll still be perfectly healthy!” The patient says to himself, “Great! I finally found a doctor who sees the truth, a doctor who understands my needs and my feelings. This is exactly what I was looking for!” Well, what happens to that person when he follows this doctor’s advice? You know the answer: he gets very sick! The same is true of Christians who look for denominations of Christianity that will tell them that whatever they want to believe is fine just as long as they stay with them, or with Christians who turn to God and say, “Hey God, if you don’t give me what I want I’m not going to church anymore!” Well they’re not hurting God, they’re only hurting themselves!”
Remember that God is not here to give us the life of Riley and he is not Santa Claus, the one who gives us presents if we are good. I know I’ve said this in previous blog posts, but it’s worth repeating. God never said “come follow me and I’ll give you a bed of roses!” He never said that! In fact, he said if we want to follow him we must deny ourselves take up our cross each day and follow in his footsteps. In other words, there will be challenges as we follow the Lord in this world. There are going to be times when we have to go against the flow, where we cannot follow what society says is right and instead must remain faithful to the Lord even if it means going against what is currently socially acceptable. Jesus is not here to make our lives easy and to give us whatever we want. He came to show us the way to heaven, and we should be willing to reject anything in this world – no matter how difficult it may be for us – if it’s going to mean losing our eternal salvation.
And so my friends, when you go to God in prayer don’t go with a preconceived notion that you already know what God should do for you and figure were going to manipulate him and do anything possible to get God to give us what we want. Don’t pre-form your mind as to what you believe is right for you and then just look for the church or denomination that teaches what you want to believe, nor should you decide that that’s okay not to follow God because you don’t like what he’s saying. There’s only one thing for us to do: follow God with all of your heart. Turn to him and say, as St. Francis of Assisi said, “Lord what do you want me to do?” God is not here to give us what we want but to lead us to heaven. May we never forget this truth, and may we always remember that we are only here temporarily, just passing through this world on a journey to heaven, which is our true home. May we never sacrifice the glory of heaven and our true home for any comfort or convenience or pleasure here on earth!
Everybody wants to show compassion, especially to people who are emotionally hurting. Most people, however, know that misplaced compassion is even more harmful than lack of compassion, and sometimes we have to look very carefully at exactly what we’re doing when we decide to address someone’s needs. Let’s consider the following example:
Suppose I were to come to believe one day that I feel more like a chicken than a human being and I publicly announced to the world that from now on I want to be considered a chicken. What do you think most people would say? They may feel terrible for my plight and may see the anguish I am going through, but they would clearly realize that, irrespective of the cause, something has gone wrong in my thought process and my feelings to make me believe I am a chicken. They would undoubtedly say I need some sort of help. I am not a chicken, and they need to get me to accept the truth that I have deceived myself. Of course there would be some people who, in compassion for me and in fear of being accused of discrimination against those with different feelings, would go along with me and would tell me that it’s okay for me to be a chicken if I want to be, and they might even build me a chicken coop to live in. They would publicly defend my “right” to live as I wish and would brand anyone who doesn’t allow me to live out my fantasy as “chicken-phobes”. Someone may even find a doctor who is willing to give me avian hormone shots to help me grow feathers and others may teach me how to cluck properly, but is any of this really doing me any good? As much as I may think I’m a chicken, I’m never going to lay an egg! In fact I am not a chicken: I am a man, and the only thing that will truly help me in the long run is to get me the help I need to accept that I am a human being and address whatever the cause is that’s made me think that I am a chicken. Anything to the contrary would be a misplaced compassion, which is far more harmful than lack of compassion.
It may seem a bizarre stretch from this story, and I apologize if anyone is offended by the analogy for I assure you no offense is intended, but I find our modern society guilty of making the very same mistake when it comes to “transgender” individuals. Now please don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are great pains involved by someone in such a situation. I have a good friend of mine whose daughter is going through this at this very moment, and I know the pain both the child and the parents are experiencing. But are we actually helping anyone who thinks they’re a different gender by going along with the charade? We can certainly empathize with their struggle, and we may think we’re helping a girl who think she’s really a boy or vice-versa by telling her she can dress as a man and use the men’s room (even the Obama administration is now encouraging schools all over the country to allow young people to use the bathroom of their choice rather than their natural gender), but the girl is not a boy; she is a girl. We are male or female down to every gene in our body and dressing up in other clothes, even having surgeries to alter the appearance is only doing that: altering the appearance. It’s like putting on a costume, but it does not change reality. I know that we want to understand and help people, but are we in the long run helping people by encouraging them to deceive themselves? It would be far better if we were to help the person accept the reality of their gender and work with them in living as that gender, not encouraging them to delude themselves into thinking they are something which in fact they are not. And especially when we are talking about teenagers, who have their whole lives ahead of them, would it not be far better in the long run for us to help them live with the gender they are rather than encouraging them to live their whole lives pretending to be something they are not? Encouraging someone to be “transgender” is the easy way to convince ourselves we’re helping them, but it is not the right way in the long run.
Consider this real instance: I know of a young woman who is living as a man and dating another woman. Does the other woman know that this “man” she is dating is really another woman? If she does, then she’s a woman dating a woman pretending to be a man. Am I the only one who sees something unhealthy in this whole bizarre scenario? Is encouraging this altered reality really in either of their best interests in the long run? And if she doesn’t know “he’s” really a woman, imagine how hurt and angry she will be when eventually she finds out! Is that fair to the other woman? I find that indefensibly cruel.
I do not want to mislead anyone into thinking I am naïve about the real pain experienced by people and families in these situations, and I’m not for a moment pretending that I can offer a simple solution, but I know what the solution is not: it is of absolutely no help to encourage people to live a lie. This massive social embrace of “transgenderism” is, quite frankly, political correctness run amok. We’re so afraid of being accused of lacking compassion or of discriminating that we don’t tell people the truth for fear of hurting them, so instead, we encourage a farce. As a society we have overdosed on looking for simple solutions to complicated problems, and so we blindly embrace anything that offers a quick answer. But there are no simple solutions; if there were, they would not be complicated problems. When matters are complicated, you can be sure that the solution will be difficult. My question is, what’s the next lie we are going to embrace?
It’s time we start facing the hard reality that encouraging people to identify themselves as “transgender” is convenient and accommodating in the short run, but in the long run it only makes things worse. Counseling and true compassion – not misplaced compassion – that lovingly helps the person live with their God-given gender (or nature-given if you don’t believe in God) is the only hope for true peace of mind for the “transgender” individual. Anything else is nothing more than a real life application of the Emperor’s New Clothes.
Someone recently told me that he was having a discussion with a few people who were very much trying to follow the Lord, but they felt like fake Catholics because they don’t agree with the Church on some of the “hot button” topics today, and they wanted to know if that means they’re not good Catholics and are instead hypocrites. It’s an excellent question and I was very glad that these young people were considering it. There may be many others reading this who have the same feeling. Should you be considered a fake Catholic or a hypocrite if you don’t follow everything the Church teaches? My answer is, “not necessarily.” There is more information that needs to be looked at before anyone could judge himself and accuse himself of being fake or a hypocrite.
First of all, what does it mean to be a hypocrite? Hypocrites are not people who don’t understand or who don’t agree: hypocrites are people who claim they are doing God’s will and yet turn around and end up doing precisely the opposite of what God wants. I will give you an example of where I have found hypocrisy recently in some people in the church: Usually on my blog and in other places I find myself battling the liberal people who want the Church to change her teachings, but recently I have found myself in a strong battle against people on the extreme right who are condemning Pope Francis. I found myself in a conversation on a rather reactionary conservative site that is accusing Pope Francis of abandoning the faith in his new apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. They seem to have ignored all of the strong things the Pope said about the value of a traditional marriage and the things for families to do in order to keep their marriage strong and have focused their attention on a footnote in one comment about Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. In the exhortation the Pope clearly reiterated the Church’s teaching that divorced and remarried Catholics who have done so without an annulment are in an irregular situation and cannot licitly present themselves to receive Holy Communion. In a footnote to that the Pope mentions that under certain circumstances some people may be able to be admitted to Communion. That has always been the teaching of the Church. For example, couples who are invalidly married but willing to live as brother and sister-meaning they refrain from any sexual activity-may present themselves for Holy Communion after confession provided no scandal to the faithful exists. Unfortunately, these reactionary people read only the footnote and seemed to be convinced beforehand that Pope Francis, by not just bashing people over the head as sinners, is somehow altering the Faith and has changed the Church’s teaching on the matter. I put a comment on a question board on this site asking people, “please someone showed me the quote where Pope Francis changed the Church’s teaching on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics?” The reactions I got back from that were vile and obscene! While some very politely accused me of living in a naïvely Pollyanna world where I did not want to see the “serious danger of the Pope’s new teaching,” others told me I was doing the devil’s work and they were praying for my soul because I was in danger of being condemned for all eternity simply because I did not condemn Pope Francis! Another one said he would listen to tradition and not “the evil teachings of this evil Pope”. When I asked him where he found the justification to judge the Pope, he said to me “God has given me the right to judge the Pope!” Mamma Mia! That sounds like Martin Luther all over to me! That’s precisely what the Protestant reformers had said: they felt that the Pope had broken from Tradition and they had a God-given duty to correct the Pope and even broke away to “reform” the Church into what they thought it was supposed to be! I wrote a note to the editor of that website saying that I would no longer participate on the site because of the self-righteous and sanctimonious statements of some of the readers that they are attracting. I told him they are attracting people who believe they speak for God and when even the Pope says something they don’t like they believe the Pope is wrong and they are right; in other words, their minds and their thoughts are the ultimate judge of truth, and in their self-righteousness they have repeated exactly what the Pharisees did in condemning Jesus. The Pharisees were convinced they were defending God and attacking an evil person when they sent Jesus to his death, and I told the editor I would have no part of such an attitude! That to me is hypocrisy; the “I-am-right-and-anyone-who-disagrees-with-me-is-a-condemned-sinner” attitude.
As for others who don’t believe they agree with the Church, we must remember that Jesus during his lifetime made some very provocative statements and he challenged people. Lots of things that he said went against the grain. Sometimes people rejected him without hearing him through and understanding why he taught what he did, and so they ended up not following Jesus and not experiencing the salvation he could offer them. That is a mistake. Take for example the situation when Jesus gave the Great Discourse on the Bread of Life, telling everyone they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life (cf John 6). For Jews that was a horror! Contact with human blood made you unclean, and so it violated everything they believed in. In addition, Jesus did not tell them he was going to turn bread and wine into his body and blood, and so they must have thought he was talking about cannibalism. St. John tells us that after this many of Jesus’ followers abandoned him and would no longer be his disciples. He turned to the apostles and asked them if they too wanted to leave him, and Peter replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter didn’t understand any more than the others did, but he was so convinced in whom Jesus was that he accepted something that made no sense to him simply because Jesus said it and he knew Jesus could not be wrong. What Peter said is what Jesus was looking for: trust in him completely, so that even things that did not make sense to us we would accept because Jesus said it and then look for the answer and the explanation as to why Jesus said what he did. The apostles found that; those who left him did not.
So to people who accuse themselves of being fake Catholics because they reject the Church’s teaching on any number of issues, I ask them to ask themselves this: have you carefully looked at why the Church teaches what she does on this particular issue? Many times we reject something without understanding why it’s taught in the first place. Remember that we, thanks to Original Sin, are rewired in a faulty way whereby what is God’s will and what advances us on the spiritual journey to salvation is not natural to us. Because of that, our natural inclination is not to embrace the things that lead us to heaven but what makes us happy here on earth. Sometimes meeting a need here on earth would compromise our call to salvation. But we don’t see that, especially when to follow the Lord’s teaching would be to cause us inconvenience or even suffering here and now, and we end up rejecting the teaching because we only want convenience now and don’t see the high price we have to pay for that convenience.
So have we thought everything through and gotten complete and sufficient information to know that something that would satisfy our desire now will compromise our call to salvation, and then chosen to reject the teaching? If so, then I would say we are not authentic Catholics. But for most people we simply have our own opinions that have come from the world around us which we have openly accepted without even thinking through, and ended up rejecting the Church’s teaching without really thinking it through. So I’m not saying for a moment that it’s okay for someone to reject the Church’s teaching! At the same time, however, I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to accuse either himself or another of being a hypocrite or a fake Catholic simply because he has not completely come to understand why the Church teaches something it does. So before you condemn yourself, do research and find out why the Church teaches what she does on certain issues. If you are of honest faith and a desire to follow Jesus, chances are when you do, you will find yourself understanding the teaching better and perhaps even accepting it. Only if someone has completely understood the teaching and chosen to reject it should he say that he is not a faithful Catholic.
I’d like to share some thoughts I have about our Lenten penitential practices. First of all, there is a common misunderstanding going on for many years now that penance is only for Lent. This is not true at all. There are other penitential days of the year, such as All Souls’ Day, January 22nd in reparation for the sin of legal abortion in the United States, and every Friday of the year! THE CHURCH NEVER REMOVED THE OBLIGATION TO PERFORM PENANCE ON ALL FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR!!! What happened was that, for several understandable reasons, the Church allowed people to replace abstinence from meat on Fridays outside of Lent with another form of penance without having to call their pastor and ask for his permission. But somehow that got commonly interpreted as “Friday penance is optional” or “You don’t have to do penance on Friday.” The only change was that, outside of Lent, while abstinence from meat is still the preferred form of penance, individuals are free to replace abstinence with another form of penance, but not to eliminate penance altogether! Not doing something penitential every Friday is something that should be brought to confession. During Lent, we are obliged to observe that Friday penance by abstaining from meat.
“Okay, so I’m good to go in that department; I never eat meat on Fridays!” Great! But now let’s take it one step further: what is the purpose for abstaining from meat? It is so that we do penance. Since we all like meat, we give it up as a sacrifice. Lots of people, however, don’t eat meat but instead go out to a seafood restaurant and have lobster. I don’t know about you, but I’ll give up a hamburger for a lobster any day! While technically we obeyed the letter of the law: “lobster is not meat, so I did not eat meat on Friday,” neither did we do any penance. We obeyed the letter of the law but ignored the reason for the law. Now imagine you’re eating a succulent lobster dinner and say to the waiter, “This glaze on the lobster is delicious! What’s in it?” and he tells you, “Oh, the cook uses several herbs and a chicken bouillon base!” You gasp, “Oh, no! I ate chicken on Friday! I’ve sinned!” To be honest, the chicken bouillon in the glaze that you didn’t even know was there is not nearly as sinful as skirting the obligation to do penance by eating a lobster. Or imagine you decide to have a lasagna dinner but make sure it’s cheese lasagna instead of meat lasagna. Well, again, the letter of the law is fulfilled, but where is the penance? So instead, I recommend having something you don’t like as much. I remember my mother making lentil soup, pasta e fagioli (a.k.a. pasta fazool!), buttered noodles & fish cakes, or other items that made us look forward to having our meat again. So let’s all try to observe the true meaning of going meatless – to do penance – and avoid succumbing to the temptation to get around the requirement by having delicious meatless meals. After all, that’s what Jesus blasted the Pharisees for doing and called them hypocrites. Let’s be sincere and keep our Friday meals simple.
Someone recently asked me a question that I found to be quite profound: “Father, do you think there is any hope for the world?” (This question actually came from a young man who came with his fiancée to make arrangements for their marriage.) I was floored by such a deep question at a wedding interview. I told him, “Well, any hope we have can only be found in Christ. It won’t come from Washington!” In the midst of a presidential election year, we will continue to hear many promises from all the candidates for President until Election Day. We will listen, and we will ultimately each vote for the person we feel offers the most hope for America. But you know what will happen? No one we elect will deliver 100% of what he or she promises. We know all too well that much of the time candidates say what they know we want to hear in order to get our vote. At other times they promise things that they firmly believe they will be able to provide, yet once they get into office and face the reality of the situation, they realize they can’t fulfill the promise, and sometimes they even espouse the very opposite position to what they promised. Rarely do they actually make good on their promises. I don’t mean this as a blanket condemnation of all politicians but as an observation of fact: it is very hard for even the most honest politicians to keep the promises they make. That is because we are all fallen individuals and do not have all knowledge of reality. Only one person does – Jesus – and yet too often we listen to everyone but Jesus. For some reason that we’re hard pressed to explain, we dismiss the Gospel of Jesus as too “pie-in-the-sky” and unrealistic but we listen with devotion to politicians. We tend to see the Gospel as something that would be nice in a perfect world but which is not practical here and now. Dismissing the Gospel because the world is not perfect is like being lost and having a GPS but not using it because you’re lost! Does that make any sense? The Gospel is precisely the way to make the world the place we long for it to be. So why don’t we listen to Jesus. There is a plethora of reasons people will offer, but underneath them all is one common denominator: we are not in love with Jesus. We don’t trust him because we don’t really know him. We believe in him, but without falling in love with him, we don’t make him the foundation of our lives. I am convinced that we will only know true peace when we come to love Jesus with all our hearts and make him the center of our life. We cannot make the world love Jesus overnight, but we can learn to love him ourselves and change our own lives to have the meaning and purpose for which we always yearn.
Here at St. Ann’s we are introducing a new program entitled “Christlife.” it is a seven-week retreat series that will take place on Thursday evenings from 7:00 PM -9:30 PM in Fr. Anthony Hall. Our first session entitled “Discovering Christ” will talk about precisely these things. We will not dwell on specific beliefs nor enter into catechetics or any hard sell of Jesus. Instead, we will talk about what life is all about and why we need a Savior, specifically Jesus. You will be fed a great meal and then we will have discussion about life and the role Jesus should play in it. Our team has people of every age from 15 through elderly adults, both male and female. If you live near Yonkers, come to Christlife! It may change your life! If you don’t live in our area, look for Christlife where you live. Catholic parishes are offering it all over the country. Make a commitment that will pay off for the rest of your life and into eternity! Come to know Jesus, and you will come to know yourself!
When the Supreme Court legalized marriage in all 50 states of the union this past summer I knew it would be inevitable that people would be asking whether or not they could attend the marriage of a same-sex couple. May we attend or should we politely bow out? Before we answer, let’s set a foundation.
By attending an event we implicitly show that we are giving approval to the event. Imagine, for example, if we were to show up at a celebration by the Ku Klux Klan. There would be no way we can claim that we were just showing up for the event but not approving of the Klan. Similarly, how could we show up for a marriage celebration that violates what we believe without giving tacit approval to the event? As a rule, therefore, those who oppose gay marriage should not attend a same-sex celebration. Naturally, there will be an awkwardness involved in turning down the invitation. Sometimes someone may feel that they are so close to someone, especially an immediate family member or very dear friends, that they feel it would harm the relationship by not attending. If that is the case, the only way we could attend without implicitly approving would be to clearly let the individuals know beforehand that our presence should in no way be interpreted as approving of what they are doing. I know that many people will find that a difficult thing to do, but sometimes in life we must do things that are awkward or difficult in order to remain faithful to our beliefs. Others may feel that they are judging the individuals by not showing up; in fact, that is precisely what the gay-rights community has been doing to us: making us believe that we are judging them by not approving of their activities. Nothing of that sort is taking place at all. Do not let individuals put you on the defensive and make it sound like you’re judging them. Actually, there is a breach of charity on their part if they should do that. Charity dictates that we should never deliberately place anyone in a situation where their presence would violate their beliefs, religious or otherwise. Would you invite an animal rights activist to attend the opening of a new fur salon and expect them to attend and be supportive? That would be uncharitable. Similarly, same-sex couples should not invite to their wedding someone they know does not approve of gay marriage. To do so would be insensitive on their part. Same-sex couples may have won the legal right to marry, but they must understand that not everyone approves of what they’re doing and for them to put anyone in a situation whereby they would be forcing them to choose between their relationship with them and their religious beliefs is unconscionable. I find that the onus is on a same- sex couple to be sensitive to other peoples’ feelings and not put them on the spot. If they worry that someone would be offended by not being invited, I would suggest adding a note with the invitation that says, “You are a very important person in my life and so I welcome you to take part in my celebration; however, I realize that this may cause awkwardness for you, and if you feel you cannot in good conscience attend I will understand.” Similarly, it would behoove a same-sex couple to understand if someone says, “listen, you’re very important to me and I love you but you know what you’re doing violates my religious beliefs and I cannot in good conscience celebrate with you.” If they are people of integrity, they will understand. If not, they are merely trying to use their marriage as a means to force you to accept their beliefs, even at the risk of violating your own, and that is wrong of them. They should not turn their celebration into a moral battleground. Let them celebrate with those who support them and understand that some cannot. So if you are invited to a same-sex ceremony, very politely inform the person that you cannot attend because it violates your religious beliefs and you’re sure they understand that and know you mean them no ill will. If you feel you absolutely must attend the event, make it clear to the person beforehand that under no circumstances should they interpret your attendance as approval of what they are doing.