I’m not perfect, so why aren’t you?

As a pastor I find I have many different types of people to shepherd. Some are proud, and some have no self-esteem. Some are weak, and some are strong. Sojesus-good-shepherdme are trying very hard to be the best they can be, and some are convinced they are already perfect. It’s not easy. I have to love all of them and shepherd each one as his or her needs require. For some that means offering encouragement and lifting them up. For others, it means awakening in them the realization that they need to change. Some need to face the consequences of their choices, and some need to move beyond them. If I am to be a faithful shepherd, I need to know each sheep individually and what they are dealing with, and the more I know about them, the better I can help them. There is no one magic approach that will heal everyone.

One of the biggest challenges I face is trying my best to see where each person is on that journey and how to help them go further. I must confess that it is not always easy. I am not always sure where someone is on the journey. I can best help my people by knowing who they truly are, warts and all. If I know what is really going on in their hearts, perhaps I can say something specific that will make a difference. Without this knowledge, I can only offer general platitudes.

Some people can be frustrating, especially those who see no need for any further growth. They think they are perfectly fine just where they are. That group includes the two extremes: those who don’t worship God because they think their life is just fine and don’t think they need him, and those who think they have arrived at perfection and have no need for any further growth. I find both of those groups difficult because they will not be guided; they don’t need any help. The people in between are where the real graces happen, with those who see the need for growth and want to be helped. Their weaknesses and needs may be as far apart as the tundra is from the tropics, but as long as they want to be better, there will be growth toward God.

Lately I have come across a trend, especially in newcomers to the faith and in people who have become painfully aware of their sinfulness: even if they have been forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they still tend to view those who have been there before them as better than they, and they don’t feel worthy to be counted among them. I can imagine St. Paul going through that when he first met Peter, James, and John. After all, Paul had persecuted the faith and was trying to destroy it until Jesus converted him in dramatic fashion on the way to Damascus. With all of his sinful past, how could he now be counted as equals with the Apostles? But Peter denied Jesus three times, and James and John wanted to sit at Jesus’ right and left in His glory. They were not without sin. Every saint has his past, and every sinner has his future. Jesus has an uncanny ability to see past our weaknesses to the good we can do when we realize He knows all too well our sins and allow Him to work through us in spite of – perhaps even because of – our sinfulness. As St. Paul says, “when I am weak, it is then that I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10) An ideal example of this is the recovering drug addict who has been sober for many years and is now running a program to help others with an addiction to overcome them. His awareness of his past and of how Jesus pulled him through gives him the desire and the ability to minister to others who are on that same journey. He might even feel that Jesus allowed him to go down that dangerous path so that he would be able to help many others to leave that road and start out on the right way. It can be the man who was once addicted to pornography who now runs a program to free others from their enslavement. He understands their pain and their weakness, and has a more burning desire for them to be freed from their burden.

I am a human being with my own sins, and sometimes someone confesses something to me that I have personally dealt with in the past or even at present, and I find myself in a good position to offer them advice that I have gleaned from my own struggle with that particular sin. But no one falls prey to every sin possible, and I’ve discovered over the years that I have learned a lot about the sinfulness of the human person from what I have heard in confession, and even if I never myself fell prey to a certain sin, the lessons I have learned from those who have puts me in a better position to understand and guide another. For this reason, I always tell people never to be afraid to bring your worst sins and fears to a priest in confession. We deal with the weaknesses of human nature on a regular basis and can usually appreciate what you’re going through, even if we haven’t been there ourselves. For example, my parents are thankfully still healthy, but I have counseled enough people dealing with invalid parents to know that they can find it frustrating and that they often lose patience with them. Although I am not married, I have dealt with enough people who are tempted to be unfaithful so as to be able to say something constructive to them. I have worked with teenagers for many years, and I know the strange, dumb, and embarrassing things they sometimes do, especially when it comes to sexuality: from the one fighting compulsive masturbation, to the one who took naked selfies and accidentally emailed them to someone, to the one who was caught by their parents in the midst of a sexual act, the list goes on and on. I always tell people the same thing: if there is anyone you should NOT be embarrassed to share your worst sins with it is a priest in confession. Remember that he has the power to offer you the forgiveness of Christ.

Sometimes I discover that people have quite the reverse attitude toward what they think they should appear to be in the eyes of their pastor and what they in fact should do. Perhaps because they respect their priest so much they want Father to think they are holy, and if Father should discover they have any faults or sins they would be mortified and it would ruin his opinion of them. But that would be like so wanting the doctor to believe you’re healthy that you don’t tell him when you are sick! If anyone needs to know your illness it is the doctor. Similarly, if anyone needs to know your weakness and sins it is your priest. My job is not to pretend you are perfect, but to see you as you are, to love you as you are, and to try to help you become perfect.i'm not a perfect person

But sometimes people worry that, if they tell Father their sins and he remembers them, every time he sees them he will be recalling their sins and he’ll be ashamed of them. I can’t speak for every priest, but I can tell you what I feel. What I said above about the pastor needing to know his sheep and tend to them as they are applies here. If I pretended that my parishioners were a gathering of perfect people I’d be sorely deluded. My job is not to judge people nor is it to feel ashamed of them, as if their sin was somehow a reflection upon myself. The more in fact that I know about a person, the better position I am in to be able to respond properly to their needs. If I do in fact remember something someone told me in confession (which, by the way, I can’t even repeat to them), it only serves to help me know them better and respond in a more understanding manner to their needs. I find that the people who receive the most peace of mind are those who tell the full truth about themselves to their priest, trusting that he is there to help them and that he wants to help ease their burdenconfession-4. I will not feel like a failure if you confess your sins to me, nor will I lose respect for you because I know of all the horrible and sordid things you have done; on the contrary, I will feel like a failure if you were afraid to come to me! When I deal with a person and hear his confession on a regular basis, I end up developing a more complete understanding of him and end up loving him all the more. Everyone needs a place where they can divulge their deepest sins and failings. Who better to bring them to than your priest?

A parish is not a gathering of saints but of sinners trying to become saints. While we are all at different stages in our journey to holiness – to being the best version of ourselves that we can be – we will never be perfected until we enter into Heaven.

So don’t be afraid of your pastor or any priest with whom you have a good relationship knowing your faults and weaknesses. Don’t be embarrassed. The more he knows of you the more he can help you, and the more you know he knows of you, the more easily you will be able to share other problems with him, and the better he can help you grow in holiness and peace of mind.

Hey, you Catholics! This is 2014! You gotta get with it and change those unpopular teachings!

 

i-am-the-wayA comment we all frequently hear from people is that lots of people don’t accept the Church’s teaching on certain issues, therefore the Church should change them so that people will come to church again. They will claim, “This is 2014! The Church has to get with the times and change its teachings or more people will continue to leave!” We don’t at all like the idea that people are leaving, but what would it profit us to change the teachings just to keep people in church on Sunday? Recall what happened when Jesus revealed his teaching on the Eucharist and many people found it too hard to accept and no longer followed him (cf John 6). What didJesus do? Did he call out after them and say, “Wait a minute! Come back! You don’t like that teaching? Okay, I’ll change it. What do you want me to teach? Just tell me and I’ll teach that, as long as you stay with me!” No. Instead, with a heavy heart, he let them go. He was not happy that they would no longer follow him, but he could not change his message and the call to unity with himself and the truth he had come to reveal simply because people didn’t like it. Neither can the Church change a teaching just because it is not popular.

“But,” they may object, “if the message were more appealing, more people would come, and you’re never going to get certain people to come back as long as the Church holds that teaching!”  In other words, “give the people what they want and they will come!” I like to use this analogy:

I could fill our church every Sunday night with teenagers, young adults, and others who would never otherwise come to Mass. It’s very simple: give away free beer and show porn. First of all, I’d be arrested. But even if I weren’t, would that be doing anyone any good? Are we merely trying to count how many people are sitting in church on Sunday, or are we trying to bring them the call of salvation by fidelity to the teachings of Christ? I realize this is a drastic example, but it makes the point: anyone who would have us change the teachings just to get more bodies in the pews does not understand the call to salvation by avoiding sin and being formed in the image and likeness of Christ.

Yes, we should do everything in ourpower to be welcoming and acknowledge that even people who are sinners – as we all are – are welcome in church on Sunday and can have positive gifts to offer, which is what Pope Francis has been saying. But under no circumstances can we pretend that sin is not a sin just to make them happy. Our job is not to craft a popular message but to be consistent to the message of salvation by fidelity to the call of Christ. Only that can save people.

Suppose someone, tired of paying over $4 per gallon for gasoline, observing that water from the garden hose is far cheaper, decides he wants his car to run on water. He even gets 96% of car owners to agree with him, and petitions the car manufacturer to allow them to put water and not gas in the gas tank. All the opinion of those people doesn’t change the fact that the car doesn’t run on water. If the people complain that the car manufacturer lacks compassion and understanding of the people’s difficulties and keeps petitioning every new CEO who comes along to change the “law” and allow the car to run on water, does the manufacturer give in and allow it because the people want it? Of course not! Put water in your gas tank and your car will be destroyed! Similarly, when the Church clearly teaches that any given action (such as any sexual act outside of the covenant of marriage, abortion, etc.) does not lead to union with Christ but instead damages that union, no one’s personal opinion changes that. So anyone who advises us to ignore what the Church teaches and “follow their own hearts” is like telling people it’s okay to put water in the gas tank.

“Okay, but how about issues that do notseem to have moral relevance, such as women priests?” Some people are clamoring for the Church to readdress this issue. Well, Pope Paul VI did precisely that. He looked carefully at Tradition, at Scripture, and at previous magisterial teachings, and after extensive prayerful study, he defined in the encyclical Inter Insigniores that the Church does not possess the authority to admit women to the priesthood, and that this is a teaching that is part of the Deposit of Faith which must be adhered to by all. Pope John Paul II further defended and upheld this position in his encyclical Dignitatis Mulieris. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have upheld this, Pope Francis most emphatically so when in one interview he would not even address the question. He simply said, “No. That has been settled definitively.” The question is therefore settled; end of discussion. So those who are still clamoring for women priests are, quite frankly, throwing an ecclesiastical temper tantrum. Like a child who continues to cry and nag when a parent says no, trying to wear them down until they give in and give the child what he wants, so these people continue to cry and carry on, kicking and screaming in their tantrum. This is hardly mature behavior, and hardly what a disciple of Jesus is expected to do. While some issues are within the Church’s power to change (such as married clergy), others are not, such as women priests, gay “marriage”, abortion, contraception, etc. These have been definitively settled by the Church. So let’s end the temper tantrums, but in a spirit of love for the Lord and maturity of action, accept it and move on.

Remember that the Church’s purpose is not to be popular. We’re not battling other religions to see who has the most people in our pews on Sunday. Our commission by Jesus is to preserve what he has revealed to us and to faithfully teach everything he has commanded us and call people to salvation. Our job is to teach the truth whether people accept it or not. Yes, we will do everything we can to help people understandand accept Christ’s call to holiness, but we cannot change Christ’s teaching. That would betray our very reason for existence. going to heaven

With all the different religions out there, why should I choose to be Catholic?

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Years ago, I remember reading an article someone had written in the local newspaper to the effect that she was Catholic and her sister had become a Jehovah’s Witness. She mentioned how she struggled with her sister’s decision until she eventually reached the conclusion, “To each his own!” She said that being a Catholic worked for her, and if being a Jehovah’s Witness worked for her sister, then that’s great! Her ultimate conclusion was that everyone should find whatever religion he likes and stick with it, as they’re all fine. I disagree.

Religion is not a country club. Religion is our response to the revelation of God. We worship God according to the truth we believe he reveals about himself. Virtually every society on the face of the earth has come to believe in the existence of God. Many people have shown how belief in God can be deduced logically, and many of these arguments are quite compelling. But while we can logically deduce his existence, there is wide disagreement on what he is like. Ancient civilizations believed in many gods, and most of these were angry gods that needed to be appeased with sacrifices, incense, throwing virgins into volcanoes, even child sacrifice! If we came across such religions today, I don’t think any of us would merely say, “To each his own!” No, we’d be horrified! In time we’ve come to realize that certain religions are not true and have rejected them. But there are many others still widely practiced across the globe whose adherents will die for their belief that this is the truth. The beliefs of different religions sometimes contradict each other, thus they cannot both be true. For example, Hinduism believes in several gods, while Judaism, Christianity, and Islam believe in only one. Logic tells us that Judaism’s claim that God has said, “I am God, and there is no other” prohibits the possibility that we could reconcile Hinduism with Judaism. At most only one of them is revealing the truth about God, but not both.

So why be Catholic? I can best respond to that question by relating my own process of reasoning which led me to believe that the fullness of truth subsists in the Catholic Church.

When I was in the 7th grade, I was automatically launched on the program of preparation in my Catholic grammar school which would get me ready for the Sacrament of Confirmation. I was told about the “big decision” I was making to choose Christ and his Catholic Church. Being the person I was, I could never consent to anything without asking myself if I agreed with it. I therefore launched myself on an exhaustive soul-searching enterprise to see if this is in fact what I believed.

Since we are talking about religion and not science, I knew I had to start somewhere with a leap of faith. I certainly believed in the existence of God. I took the leap of faith to believe in the God of Israel. To me that made sense. With that as a foundation, I asked myself, “Okay, Judaism or Christianity?” I discovered that the crux in the whole question here was the person of Jesus. Israel had been longing for a messiah, and Jesus ultimately claimed to be that messiah. If he was truly the messiah, then Christianity was true; if he was a false prophet, I would be duty bound to become Jewish. It seemed obvious to me that the belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the key issue: did he or didn’t he rise? If he did, I felt he had proven himself to be truly what he said he was. If he did not rise, he was a fake. So could anyone prove he had risen from the dead?

It seemed strange to me at first that the accounts of the resurrection claimed that Jesus only appeared to his followers and not to Pontius Pilate, the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas, or King Herod. But then I realized that these unschooled men went out and boldly proclaimed to the very people they had previously been afraid of that they had seen Jesus risen on numerous occasions. They couldn’t have all been mistaken or have hallucinated. No, they firmly believed they’d seen Jesus risen, and they went to foreign countries preaching his name and died horrible deaths defending it. I couldn’t conceive of eleven of the twelve apostles willingly dying for something they knew they’d made up or if they couldn’t be sure they hadn’t hallucinated. No, they were crucified, boiled alive, sawed in half and skinned alive convinced they’d seen Jesus risen. That to me was proof! They wouldn’t have suffered so terribly for something they knew was a lie! So I realized I beleived in Christ. That also valdiated my leap of faith in the God of Israel. If Jesus rose from the dead, and he was the fulfillment of the promise to Israel, then the God who made the promise was real!

Okay, so I was a Christian, but how about Catholic? Many verses of scripture convinced me that Jesus gave the apostles his authority and sent them as his witnesses, and that we had to remain one with them and the tradition they handed down. That tradition is what Ignatius of Antioch first called “The Catholic Church” around the year 107 AD. I knew that, since Jesus had given his authority to them, only he could take it away. Even though there were periods in history when everything wasn’t rosy, when some of the popes and priests were not giving the greatest of example, even sinning terribly, that still didn’t take away the authority that Jesus gave them.

I thought of it this way: suppose a President of the United States committed a serious crime and had to be removed from office, maybe even sent to prison for his crime. He was an embarrassment to his Office, no doubt. But what do we do now? We get a new president! No one would say that the Constitution of the United States was rendered null and void by the sins of the president. Similarly, even if some popes had sinned and were a disgrace, that still did not remove the authority Jesus gave to St. Peter. In order for the Catholic Church to lose her authority to speak in Jesus’ name, Jesus himself would have to return to earth and formally remove it and give it to another. He never did that with Martin Luther, John Calvin, Henry VIII, Zwingli, or any other reformer, and none of them ever claimed he did! I therefore concluded that the Catholic Church still possesses the authority to teach in the name of Christ and not any of the other denominations of Christianity, that those who separated from the Catholic Church were not in full Communion with Christ, and I was therefore duty-bound to embrace the Catholic faith. On October 16, 1976 at 11 AM, I did so at my Confirmation and have not looked back since.