Coronavirus From a Catholic Perspective

My dear brothers and sisters:

I bid you all, in our Lord Jesus Christ, peace!  May God’s peace be with you and with your families.

I don’t generally start a blog post with such a seemingly pretentious greeting (I certainly don’t talk this way usually), but I start this one with a wish of peace to all of you for a very specific reason. In the tradition of St. Paul who often included a peace benediction in his letters, I wanted to open this post with a wish for peace to all of you, because I feel it’s something we all need to remember during this time.

Peace in Adversity

The shelves at many grocery stores are relatively empty.  People are hoarding enough toilet paper to serve a small army.  Hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes have become a rare and highly valuable commodity.  We’ve suspended the offering of peace during mass, the distribution of the precious cup during communion, and, in many parishes, Catholics are being encouraged to receive communion only in their hands, or not at all (I’ve heard that some bishops are even encouraging people to make an act of spiritual communion instead of receiving sacramental communion). Some dioceses have even suspended public masses altogether or have excused Catholics from their Sunday mass obligation.  All of these things signify a time of panic and fear. But panic and fear have no place in the Catholic experience.

So the first thing I want to say is don’t panic.  There’s no need to panic.  It’s prudent to be smart during this pandemic and to take reasonable precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones—especially elderly relatives.  But panic isn’t prudent and much of the panic over coronavirus  that we’re seeing is not proportionate to the facts of the virus.  This is not the apocalypse, and it is not the Black Plague. Don’t panic.  Just be smart.  Be at peace. If you find yourself without peace during this pandemic, then you’re crossing (or have crossed) the threshold of panic.  Remember that we belong to Christ and we have God as our Father.  Have faith and trust in God.  He’ll get us all through this, and he has only permitted this pandemic in order to teach us something. Are we learning?

Perhaps he wants to teach us how to reclaim a holy peace when temporal matters threaten to take it away from us. Perhaps he wants to teach us temperance in our lifestyles. Perhaps he wants to teach us to remember Him.  Perhaps he wants to teach each of us, individually, something unique and necessary to each one of us personally.  Perhaps he wants to reveal to you you that you have no faith at all!  Whatever the case, remember that nothing happens without God’s approval. He doesn’t cause bad things, like virus pandemics, but he may sometimes allow them to happen. Why? Everything God permits is for some greater benefit that brings us closer to Himself, strengthens us in holiness, purges us of some of our sinfulness, and/or eventually culminates in our salvation.  Have faith, and don’t worry

You of Little Faith, Why Do You Doubt?

Remember in the Gospel when Peter walked on water with Jesus:

During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward [the disciples]  walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.  But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Saint Peter Attempting to Walk on Water

Saint Peter Attempting to Walk on Water, 1766, by François Boucher

The coronavirus pandemic is a storm, and much of the world is in panic. As Christians we should not be frightened by how strong the winds appear to blow. We should look at the blowing wind and say to it “You are nothing. You are temporary. You answer to the Lord of creation, and that Lord is my own Heavenly Father. He will keep me safe. And so I do not fear you.  You may make my life a little inconvenient for a little while, but you won’t scare me. ”

Have faith. Don’t worry. Don’t doubt.   Be at peace, and learn from this time and this experience.  Take some time to be more prayerful, to simplify your lifestyle a little bit, to be in silence more and to listen to God’s prompting a little more.  Take advantage of the gift of this trial because God’s gifts are rare pearls, not mass-produced items that you can just find and purchase whenever you wan it.  God is offering us something unique in these times. Are we accepting it?  He is teaching us something special.  Are we learning it?

Is Coronavirus a Chastisement

I’ve heard it suggested that coronavirus may be a chastisement of some kind.  I believe that’s possible, but what I think is more likely is that it may be a prelude to some coming chastisement, and perhaps God is giving us an opportunity now to “practice” during this pandemic before a more serious chastisement arrives, which humanity would otherwise be wholly unprepared for.  In that light, perhaps this coronavirus pandemic is yet another act of mercy from God.

Maybe this is a chastisement. Maybe it’s practice. And maybe there is no chastisement coming. Either way, what we’re living through in these times is permitted by God for a reason. So take advantage of it, don’t panic, have faith and be at peace.  Peace is not as simple as “the absence of strife”. Peace means living, and being in God’s love, come what may, even during strife and trial. Peace is having a constant awareness of God’s love for us, and a holy trust in his providential care for us.  Stay close to God, and stay close to the Blessed Virgin, our mother. She is always close to her children when they feel threatened, so stay close to her.

May God’s peace be with you, brothers and sisters. Don’t worry, and don’t be afraid.

Ave Maria, Virgo Fidelis!

Godlessness Fears Truthfulness

Fake news? Says who? Extremist speech? According to who? The latest craze in secular rhetoric is to disqualify truth by labeling it as fraudulent, dishonest, cruel, or unjust.  The secular super powers who control the information are becoming the arbiters of what information is worthy of being seen, read or heard. Today, it’s political speech. Tomorrow—and this is already starting to happen—it’ll be moral speech.

The European Union has drafted a law that would force sites to remove extremist content. In an article on engadget.com, Jon Fingas writes,

“[T]he EU is drafting legislation to force Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other internet companies to delete material when law enforcement flags it as terrorist-related.”

He goes on to talk about how the law, if passed by the EU and member nations, could be a logistical nightmare for small websites who don’t have the staff or resources to respond to the ‘take-down’ mandate within the legally mandated hour of it being flagged. But he suggests that, on a positive note, “A law could [still] help by encouraging sites to think about anti-extremist strategies from the get go, but it might also create logistical headaches for sites with limited staff and tight budgets.”

While he sees some concern for worry, his worry is logistical, and not moral or ethical.  Because nowhere does the author mention the problem of a lack of credible, central authority, or the problem of authoritarian rule over free speech.  Who decides what content is “extreme” or too extreme for people to have access to it? Who decides what content is “terrorist-related”?  In a world that views the communication of certain truths as “hate speech”, or speech that does “harm” to the emotions of others, it would seem that anything could be flagged as “extremist”, based on a whim, a misunderstanding, or worse, based on personal bias.  Though the article, site, or video could be completely true, accurate, and fair, it could be taken down by Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or others with the “authority” of this new law behind them.

There are real reasons to be worried about this trend.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which seems to be a de facto authority and reference for which groups should be considered “extreme”, or “hate groups” labels “radical traditional Catholicism” as “extremist” and “hate groups”. Even the Department of Defense had classified Catholics and evangelicals as extremists just a few years ago.  Whether or not some traditionalist Catholic groups are actually extreme or not is irrelevant. The Southern Poverty Law Center has no credibility, competency (with regard to Catholic theology, Vatican II and so on), and therefor no authority to make that determination.  For example I don’t personally care for The Remnant, and I would personally call them extreme. But I wouldn’t call them “extremist” or a hate group, nor would I call them too extreme for the eyes and ears of the general public. I say let the public make that determination themselves.  Yet The Remnant is one of many groups that made the SPLC’s list of “extermist hate groups”.

An interesting article at the Catholic Herald discussed this same concern of Christians possibly becoming victims of the government’s crackdown on Islamism.  In truth, without an objective measurement (which the secular world intentionally never provides), it’s not at all fantastic to imagine that Catholics and Catholic groups who say abortion is wrong, that marriage is between a man and a woman, that sex is unitive, and procreative and reserved to the sacred institution of marriage, or who “injure” the emotions of others by saying that hell is real could be labeled as hate groups, or as extremists, or both.  In todays world, these basic truths of the faith are extreme, and are challenging enough in such a morally disfigured world that a person could consider them “harmful” or “hate speech”.

Another article on engadget.com today has this headline: “Jack Dorsey [CEO of Twitter] explains why Twitter is reluctant to fight fake news“.  Again, who is the authority that determines what news is “fake”?  Is it Jack Dorsey?  Is it Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook?  Why should they have this authority?  And by what standard to they determine what news is “fake” and should therefor be censored?  Would it be news that they don’t like? News that conflicts with their misunderstanding of the facts? News that opposes their political perspectives?

In 2009 the Washington Post wrote an article titled “Condoms, HIV-AIDS and Africa – The Pope Was Right“. It’s based on the research of Dr. Edward C Green; a non-religious, non-conservative researcher who had determined that the Catholic Church’s approach to AIDS (behavior change) is actually the only one proven to work. Not condoms, but Catholic truth!  Mr. Green’s conclusions are based on empirical evidence. But today I would bet that the article would be labeled as “fake news” because it bucks the system, and opposes the current narrative that condoms actually save lives?  Perhaps, being published on The Washington Post, it would get a pass (and perhaps not, given the gravity of the topic), but if a similar article were published on an independent news site or blog, it’d be sure to get flagged and blocked. The work, and conclusions of a bona fide researcher in the field would likely never be seen or heard about, because some intern at Facebook or Twitter would flag it as “fake news”, and it would be deleted, or hidden and never seen.

We are living in times where the culture is shaped, ruled and governed by the godless, and by godlessness.  And this world is waging war on God and His truth.  Current trends in the culture, in media and social media are creating an atmosphere where telling the truth can get you silenced, and in time perhaps even penalized.  The godless fear the truth. That has been true since the Old Testament.  But even the sinful Ninevites were wise and honest enough with themselves that they repented at the preaching of Jonah. What will become of this modern day Nineveh? Will they repent at the preaching of the Church, or will they crucify the truth, and feed the truth-tellers to the wild animals of the modern culture?  Pray!

Ave Maria, virgo fidelis!

Modernism — Catholic Civil War Part 3

This is the final post in the “Catholic Civil War” series, in which I talk about a destructive tug of war between Catholicism,  and some factions of Catholics—Political Catholics, Traditionalists, and, today, Modernists.

If you’d like to read or revisit my thoughts on this “Civil War” in the Church, or about the first two factions I wrote about, follow the link. It would be good to have that foundation before reading this post.  I will here discuss Modernism itself, and to conclude I will talk about how Modernism compares to, and contrasts with Traditionalism, and in some ways Political Catholicism.  I will also talk a bit about Vatican II, the so-called “Spirit of Vatican II”, and the harmful effects that Modernism and other factions have on the Church.

Modernist Heresy

Pope Pius X labeled modernism as “the synthesis of all heresies”.  Brilliantly stated!  But what is “modernism” in practical terms? How can it be understood and identified? To put it simply, Modernists do not observe the authority of Sacred Tradition—the deposit of faith, direction, norms, guides, and teachings by Jesus and the Apostles, which the Church is wholly bound to, throughout time. The position that Sacred Tradition has no binding authority is heretical by itself, but also results in subsequent heresies because modernism views Catholicism as being changeable, formable, often relative.  Hence, the “synthesis of all heresies”.

Modernists generally reject, in some way or other, various authoritative teachings and doctrines of the Church, in whole or in part.  The Church’s doctrines on life, teaching on sexuality and marriage, the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the doctrine of Our Blessed Mother’s perpetual virginity and/or her immaculate conception, and so on.  One, several, or more of these core teachings are negotiable, expendable, or changeable for Modernists.

Modernism is quite a shape shifter.  Where two, or two million faithful Catholics are substantially identical in their beliefs, no two Modernist are exactly alike in theirs.  And so you can find Modernists out there who are faithful to some of the more Traditional, and fundamental core doctrines of the faith (the real presence, or the dignity of life in the womb for example), while rejecting others. Regardless of what beliefs they hold or reject, the personal theological stock of Modernists is often fickle, and sometimes fantastic.

Modernism and the Mass

It isn’t just a loose approach to doctrine that defines Modernism  Perhaps more commonly idenfitiable, Modernist Catholics tend to lack a respect for the order and substance of the Liturgy (the mass), since the mass, for them, is detached from the authority of Tradition.  This leads to masses that range from absurd or farcical, to illicit and sacrilegious.

Vatican II permitted some flexibility in the liturgy in order to slightly tailor the mass, when necessary, to be more in tune to local cultures of a parish/people or to serve a particular and unique need or purpose. But that flexibility cannot be understood at license.  The flexibility permitted in the liturgy does not provide for alterations of the mass that reduce it to a novelty for entertainment, undermine Sacred Tradition, or obscure the presence of Christ.

Liturgical dance, the changing of prayers, the rephrasing of opening and closing blessings, novelties intended to make the mass “entertaining” or fun are all not permitted.  Changing the mass into performance art is a no-no. Breaking from the rubrics and the guidelines of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal is not allowed. But these are some of the things favored by Modernist Catholics.  Liturgical flexibility does not permit anyone to do with the mass whatever they may please. The flexibility permitted exists within the boundaries of Sacred Tradition, not beyond them.  The mass cannot be turned into a carnival. It must remain reverent, sacred, with Jesus as the center of attention. Modernists tend to want to put the people, themselves, or the celebrant at the center of attention, and they alter and progressively disfigure the mass in order to achieve that end; always leveraging the so-called “spirit of Vatican II” to justify desacralizing the mass.  It can’t be over-stressed that Vatican II permits very little flexibility in the mass, and permits absolutely no license to recreate the mass.

Modernism and [the spirit of] Vatican II

Inigo-Montoya-on-Vatican-II2Modernists often point to Vatican II to justify and validate their errors.  They misquote and misapply various documents of the Council, under the umbrella of “The spirit of Vatican II”, a term that exists nowhere in any of the Council’s documents. What is this “spirit” of the Council? It’s an attempt to arbitrarily interpret the documents and glean the actual intent of the Council from that arbitrary interpretation. Even if the “intent” they glean has no connection to what the Council actually states in the document.  Rather than following what the Council said, Modernists (and other modernsized Catholics) interpret and apply what they determine the Council meant or intended to achieve.

I’ll give you an example. Paragraph III of Sacrosanctum Concilium, (the Vatican Council’s document on the Liturgy) covers “The Reform of the Sacred Liturgy”.  In subsection 21 of that paragraph it states that some elements of the Liturgy are “subject to change”.  But it also says that the Liturgy is “made up of immutable elements divinely instituted”. In other words, some parts of the liturgy cannot be changed, while other parts “can and should” change with time, if those parts are no longer in harmony with, or suited to “the inner nature of the Liturgy”.  That’s what the Council said. The “spirit of Vatican II” interprets that as “There, ya see, the mass can, and should change if it’s no longer in step with the times. So let’s change this, and let’s change that, and let’s make it more entertaining, and….” you get the idea.  Well that’s not what the Council said, it’s merely what people claim that the Council actually meant.  That’s the Spirit of Vatican II. It’s as fictitious as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and twice as frightful as the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come.

Comparisons to, Contrasts with Traditionalism

Risks and Dangers

To be clear, Traditionalism and Political Catholicism are technically not heresies. They are ordered toward error, which makes them just as dangerous as an actual heresy.  Unlike Traditionalism or political Catholicism, Modernism is a bona fide, clearly defined heresy.  But unlike Modernism, which has a clear border that makes it easy to identify and avoid (because it is a bona fide heresy), Traditionalism and political Catholicism are easy errors to fall into.  Though not actual heresies, and because they’re not actual heresies, they can lure many souls, and seduce many people into their errant dispositions and ideas, because they aren’t so easy to identify as Modernism is.

No one would drink from a bottle with a skull and crossbones on the label. You’ll know it’s poison, and you’ll avoid it. That’s Modernism. Apart from being a defined heresy, it’s so obviously un-Catholic that it’s easy for most reasoned Catholics to avoid.  But what about a bottle with the same color label on the front, but lacking the skull and crossbones? You may drink from that if you’re thirsty enough.  It’s not so clear that it’s poison, it’s not identified as poison, and it seems to satisfy a need, so you drink.  That’s Traditionalism and Political Catholicism.  They aren’t labeled as poisons, but they are.  And because they don’t have a skull and crossbones on the label, many Catholics drink. And consequently their Catholicity slowly dies. They embody something that resembles Catholicism, but actually is not. Just as a lifeless body lacks the soul that once animated it, gave it life, enabled its purpose and being, a dead Catholicity may have resemblance to the true Faith, but it lacks the authentic being, expression, and dynamism of the true Faith.  Traditionalists and Political Catholics are ordered toward heresy, immediately or eventually, whereas Modernism isn’t an ordering toward heresy, but is itself a heresy.

Effects on the Church, theology and culture

Modernism has been trying to pull the Church to the far left (politically and theologically), and far, far away from Sacred Tradition for about 100 years, but most noticeably during latter portion of the 20th century.  It is responsible for a lot of the confusion, disorientation, and the identity disorder we find throughout the Church today.  The warm and fluffy Jesus, the God who doesn’t judge, the Church that, it would seem, didn’t really exist until Vatican II, the belief that women should be ordained, that weekly mass isn’t important, that confession isn’t necessary—all of this, and more are all the result of Modernism.  In response to this identity disorder traditionalism is now going to the other extreme, trying to pull the Church to the far right, theologically and culturally

Traditionalism is responsible for the Jesus who judges seemingly beyond any capacity for mercy, the belief that the Church cannot grow or develop, that the Church rightly is bound to Tradition, but must wrongly be bound by her customs. Traditionalism fosters an understanding of doctrine that is authoritarian in its character, and an ideological understanding of the Catholic faith.  Political Catholicism is responsible for the error of placing the authority of oneself over the authority of the Church, which carries Christ’s own authority; it is responsible for turning Catholics into political pundits who offer commentary on Church teaching, but resist being converted by it—whether that person is Joe Biden, or Joe Shmo Average Catholic.

Modernism is dying, but the damage it has done over the past 50 years will be with us for a long time.  Many Catholics who are not at all “modernist” have had their personal understanding of Catholicism shaped in some way by modernist errors.  Catholics who are faithful, reverent and orthodox in every other way, but believe that God doesn’t judge anyone to hell have had their faith shaped by modernism—at least in that regard, if not in others as well.  Wherever Catholicism or Catholicity attempts to blend with the modern world, that’s the result of Modernism, even if the person is not Modernist themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s important for Catholics and Catholicism to exist, in its fullness, in the modern world. That was the point of Vatican II.  But when Catholicism blends—that is, when it is largely indistinguishable from the modern secular world—it is no longer Catholicism. The more it blends, the less Catholic it is.  It instead becomes a secular spiritualism that does not answer to the true God, but to the god of public opinion, perception, and sentimentality.

Traditionalists and modernists are opposite sides of the same problematic coin—a lack of authentic Catholicity, rooted in rebellion rather than in the character of God. They all have good intentions, but their good intentions become misdirected.

Ave Maria, virgo fidelis!

 

 

Traditionalism – Catholic Civil War Part 2

Yesterday I talked about how a modern Catholic “civil war” is leaving us, and all mankind, weak, confused, and vulnerable to the assault of the ancient enemy on mankind.  This Catholic civil war is being fought between three main camps within the Church; Political Catholics, Traditionalists, and Modernist.  I talked about political Catholicism in that post. Now I’ll talk about Traditionalism.   In the next day or two I’ll go over Modernism and start to wrap up this series of posts on the subject.

Labels, Titles, Terminology

Some readers will doubtless be thinking “But I’m a traditional Catholic. What’s wrong with that?”.  The answer is “Nothing”…or “Everything”. It depends on what kind of Catholic the person labeling themselves as “traditional” really is.

It can be a little confusing, so I think it’d be helpful to go through some terminology, so that what I’m trying to say in this post is conveyed clearly to you, the reader.

Traditional Catholic

Since all Catholics, and the institution of the Church itself are bound by Sacred Tradition, the term “traditional Catholic” has always sounded redundant and silly to me, and therefor an unnecessary title.  We don’t have to say “wet water” or “hot fire” and we don’t have to say “traditional Catholic”.

But following the great and tragic harm that many secularized Catholics have done to the Church, wielding an errant understanding of Vatican II as their chief weapon, many Catholics have found it necessary to distinguish themselves from their left-leaning, “spirit of Vatican II” brethren.  So by calling themselves “traditional Catholics”, what they’re really saying is “I’m a normal Catholic, not a liberal one”.   This post is not intended to address that. Because, as I said, those types of “traditional Catholics” are just CATHOLIC.

Traditionalist Catholic

TraditionalIST Catholics are characteristically different from others who call themselves “a traditional Catholic”.  Those calling themselves “traditional Catholics” were traditionally just orthodox, faithful Catholics. They were normal Catholics. That’s it. But nowadays the term has evolved and includes a wider, more divergent class of Catholics, all using the same title, but not engendering the same theological attitudes.  Some “traditional Catholics” are much more conservative than others, and that’s not a good thing.

So when I talk about traditional Catholics here, I’m not addressing the “normal” or orthodox ones who call themselves “traditional Catholics”, I’m rather addressing the more extreme of the traditional crowd, which I’ll call Traditionalists.

Traditionalism

Traditionalists today are no longer just orthodox or faithful Catholics. The term today includes a more extreme persona. Today traditionalists largely favor the Latin mass (for good or bad reasons), believing it to be substantially superior, and more efficacious than the Novus Ordo (the “new” mass). They take issue with the Second Vatican Council itself, not just with the implementation of its documents. They adopt an erroneous, purist point of view, calling everything “heretical” or “Modernist” if it doesn’t agree with their often incorrect or off-base understanding of the faith, or the Church or her history.   They correctly acknowledge that the Church is bound to Sacred Tradition, but they also believe that Sacred Tradition precludes the Church from growing and developing through time.

The Church—including her people—is supposed to grow and develop through time, but not change with time.  Yes, there’s a difference. Our practices sometimes grow, our understanding of theology grows, and our theology develops. A development isn’t a departure from a foundation (that would be modernism), it’s an expansion from, and guided by a foundation. That, my brothers and sisters is Catholicism.  Not “traditionalism”, just Catholicism.   Anything less than that is modernism, and anything more than that is malignant traditionalism.

Good Intention, Bad Destination

Many have gone over to the “traditional” side out of reasonable and understandable frustration with some objectively problematic practices and habits in the Church today.  They’re tired of masses not being celebrated well, or reverently, or even illicitly in some cases. They’re tired of bad theology being presented as actual Catholicism.  They’re tired of what has become an environment in much of the Church that fails to take itself seriously in a secular world that needs the Church to take itself seriously now more than ever.  Their reaction to all of this has been to become more and more traditional in their practice of the faith. That’s not altogether a bad thing. It’s not bad to become more prayerful or to have a more regimented prayer life, to receive communion kneeling down, and/or on the tongue, to learn more about the saints or about the Church fathers, read the bible, to study the Church’s teachings, or councils or papal documents. But, again, to me that isn’t a Catholic being “traditional”, it’s just a Catholic being Catholic.  And it’s a good thing. But becoming ‘more traditional’ becomes a problem when it locks a Catholic in the past. They begin to view everything not through the prism of the Church throughout history, but rather from a fabricated point of view of the Church in the past. That’s a very different thing, and it’s a very dangerous thing.

Traditionalism is part of the Catholic civil war, because it creates division, and a combative atmosphere.  The combat is between Traditionalists and every other Catholic (orthodox and modernists alike), and between Traditionalists and the Church.  Neither holiness nor piety flourish in this fog of war. Only division, fear, confusion flourish. Which is exactly what the devil wants.

Traditionalism is dangerous.  It assaults unity, confuses the faithful, perverts the faith, and disorients and sours the lifeblood of the Church. Every manifestation of Traditionalism, therefor, bears, by its nature, a characteristic of evil, antithetical to the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  And that should be your first and only needed clue as to its true origin.

Being a so-called “traditional” Catholic—that is to say a normal, orthodox, faithful Catholic—is a good thing. But when our obedience to Sacred Tradition becomes merely a cult of customs (customs and Sacred Tradition are not the same thing), the Catholic heart is made to stop beating, to stop living; the body of the Church is forced to stop growing. Catholics themselves become more old-school Catholics, but they do not grow. They become more regimented, but not more faithful. They become more devout, but not more holy.  They become more saint-like, but not more saintly. More purist, but not more pious.

Stick to what the Church teaches.  The Church never teaches error. She never has, and she never will.  Trust and believe in the Church, which is, has always been, and will always be guided by the Holy Spirit.  Be patient with the bumps in the road, because the Church is driving over many of them right now. There is the occasional bad/silly mass. There is the occasional foolish/wrong thing spoken by some priests or bishops. There is a spirit of fear and political correctness.  The list goes on. There are bumps in the road. But the road is sure, and the Church’s direction is true.  Despite the bumps in the road the Church continues to drive forward toward a glorious destination, and is being driven by the Holy Spirit.  Don’t let your Catholicity be defined or shaped by the bumps in the road. Remember our history, and remember the goal.  The Church will get there.  You won’t be there with her if you’re not along for the ride now. Be brave. Be Catholic. Stay Catholic.

In a later post I’ll talk about Modernism, why it’s so bad, and ways in which Modernism and traditionalism are eerily similar, and how they play off of each other to achieve the devil’s main goal—to hamstring the Church by hamstringing Catholics.

Ave Maria, virgo fidelis

Can People Still Be “Good” Without Going to Mass?

This is probably the one statement or question I hear most often in my experience in evangelization and apologetics. Coming in several forms, wrapped in a variety of moral claims, it goes something like this…

 “I don’t have to go to mass to be a good person.”

Alternatively, “Yeah, I/He/She/They don’t go to mass, but I’m/They’re still a good person, so it isn’t a big deal. At least they’re good people”.

So is it true? Can people be “good” without having to go to mass?  I’m going to cover this through three prisms: Jesus’ words and example, the meaning, and meaninglessness of what we call “good”, and finally the question of whether good people who don’t go to mass can get into heaven.

We all have friends or family who are baptized Catholics yet haven’t set foot inside a church in years.  They may be exceedingly nice people who do some very good things.  And thank God for that, it’s fantastic.  But it’s incorrect, and a risky miscalculation to think that mass can be taken out of the formula.  It could cost a person their salvation.

“Good” isn’t good enough.

Doing good, by itself, doesn’t qualify us.  Evil, or marginally-moral people can do good things, too.  Some of the nicest people on earth are also people who do the most terrible things.  Being nice isn’t enough, and doing good things isn’t enough, since even morally compromised people can do all of those things, too, even with some regularity.  In the end, “good people” don’t get to Heaven. Nice people don’t get to Heaven.  Holy people get to Heaven!  And getting to Heaven is kind of the point.  So the question cannot be “Can I/We be good without going to mass”, but “Can I/We be holy without going to mass?”  The answer to both questions is no.

In addition, we have to acknowledge that those who we would call “good people” aren’t consistently good in all that they do. They often are indifferent to, supportive of, or partake in things that are wrong, bad, or objectively evil, even if, whether by moral ignorance, or oversight, they aren’t aware of it. Lots of good people who do good things consistently vote for the most liberal abortion laws you’ve ever heard of!

Good vs. Holy

Don’t get me wrong, I know and love plenty of people who do truly good things, have big hearts, and are nice, kind people, despite the fact that they haven’t gone to mass in years.  You might ask “In that case wouldn’t you say they’re good people”  No, I wouldn’t.  Because that term is very exclusive by its nature, and we unjustly throw it around indiscriminately to everyone who does a good thing.  People who do good things aren’t necessarily Good people.  And people who speak Spanish aren’t necessarily latino.  For someone to be latino, they have to come from that culture/ethnicity. It has to be what they are.  For someone to be good, they can’t just do good things. It has to be what they are.  They have to be people of Goodness itself or cultivators of goodness itself.  Being kind, or doing good things is certainly part of the process of becoming Goodness itself, but it isn’t the end game.  Holiness is the end game.  Only holy people cultivate goodness itself, and that is what Jesus calls us to do. Not to simply do good things but to cultivate goodness in the world.  People of Goodness itself—holy people—don’t simply do good deeds (which anybody else can do, too), but actually cultivate Goodness in the world.  That involves doing good things, but it doesn’t end there.  Cultivating goodness also involves combating evil, refusing to support it, refusing to be blind or indifferent to it, and making it their life’s purpose, in small or large ways, to uphold and defend the good at all costs.

To be sure, being holy doesn’t mean being perfect people. Being holy means that we are growing in perfection, trying to be more and more like Jesus, living in God’s sanctifying grace, and frequently interfacing with Him sacramentally and in prayer.

charity

Charity is good, but, contrary to popular belief, it does not guarantee our place in Heaven.

The Catholic who is holy cultivates goodness. The Catholic who has broken away from grace (i.e. the mass) merely does good deeds. But they can just as easily do deeds that are not good, or that are objectively evil, because their moral attitude is not solidified by the sanctifying grace available through the mass and the Eucharist.  How many lapsed Catholics do good deeds, but also support abortion rights, are pro-contraception, do not support the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman?

What Did Jesus Say and Do?

Jesus didn’t tell us “Don’t worry about the sabbath, and don’t worry about ‘doing this in memory of me’. As long as you’re good to other people, you’re golden!”  Jesus never said that.  In fact it’s completely contrary to what Jesus told us.  He did tell us to love our neighbor, to feed the hungry, and so on, but he also directed us to observe the ten commandments—one of them being to honor the sabbath day—to pray, to receive Holy Communion.   He came to fulfill the old covenant, not to destroy it.  To bring the law to fullness, not to destroy it. So “just do good things, and you’re golden” is contrary Jesus’ words. Furthermore it’s contrary to the model of his own actions and life.

Jesus himself didn’t only do good things, he was also also a practicing Jew. It wasn’t enough that he cared for others, loved others, fed the hungry, healed the sick, etc. etc. He also prayed, went to the Temple when he was required to and went to synagogue.  Who are we to say “As long as I’m good to others, that’s enough” if Jesus Himself never said that, and never lived like that?  Better yet, how can we claim greater authority than Jesus?  If Jesus said “Do this in memory of me” and “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you”, who are we to say “Hey, as long as I’m a good person, that’s all that matters”?  I say again, Jesus never said that, and Jesus never lived that model.  What he said, and what he showed us by his very example, was to honor God, the Law, and Himself in religious practice.  But hey if your’e higher than Jesus, let me know, because I’d love to get a selfie with you.

What about Heaven and Hell?

I said earlier that only holy people get to Heaven.  So what can we say of the salvation of the lapsed Catholics in our lives who, despite never going to mass, are nice people who do good things?  Are they going to hell because they never go to mass?  Are they going to Haven because they’re at least good people? Only God knows that answer.  Anyone who tells you that such people are definitely going to Heaven, or are definitely going to Hell is either mistaken, ignorant, or they’re lying to you.  Without getting too deep into salvation theology, here’s what I can offer, which is correct and faithful to the Church’s teaching.

People who practice the faith are definitely going to Heaven. People who are not practicing the faith definitely lose the guarantee of Heaven.  That doesn’t mean they’re going to hell. It means they definitely lose the guarantee of Heaven.

What I mean by “practicing the faith” is the person lives the Gospel message (doing good deeds, etc.), works to grow in virtue/holiness, to purge sin from their lives, goes to confession somewhat regularly, receives holy communion (assuming they’re able to), and attends mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. People who are not practicing the faith, but are doing some good things may get to Heaven, and they may not. They may actually go to Hell!  Or they may have a very extended stay in Purgatory before eventually getting to Heaven. It all depends on a complex formula, and on factors that only the person and God can possibly know.  So ultimately only God knows the person’s fate, but what we know, and can confidently say is that their guarantee of Heaven is lost, and their risk of Hell is very real…despite the fact that they do good things.

 

Ave Maria, virgo fidelis!

It’s Hard Being Human

As human persons, we are really complex. We’re created in God’s image and likeness. We’re more like God than we are like the ape.  We are the Rolls Royce of all living creatures. More correctly, we are the starship Enterprise where every other living thing is, at best, a tricycle.  And that’s why it’s so easy to screw up being a human being.

The more complex a thing is, the more ways there are to err when applying or utilizing it (think calculator vs. a supercomputer).  Human beings are infinitely more complex than any other living creature.  An ape can hardly screw up being an ape. A salmon can hardly go wrong being a salmon.  A human person however can get his own being wrong in all sorts of ways, because we’re so deep, so amazing…so complex.

Human Being: A human character possessed of a spiritual soul and a physical body.

Human Person: The essence and foundation of the whole human being.  A person is a person, regardless  of their stage of development, regardless of their health, regardless of any subjective measurement of their value in the world.

Being (verb): The expression of the person.

Living life in a way that is positive, rich, and naturally joyful is a process that’s full of balancing acts. Is it wrong to get angry? Is it ok to be lazy? Where do we draw the line between being sexual persons and being lustful, or where do we draw the line between righteous anger and unrighteous (wrong) anger?  Where’s the line to be drawn between justice and mercy, between patience and tolerance?  How much should we go out of my way for our kids, our spouses, our friends, or even a stranger?

People get these balancing acts wrong all the time. We’re designed by God, and being true to God’s original design is tricky work.  But it isn’t impossible. Mastery of the self is a discipline that is freeing, empowering, and is totally within our grasp.  The starting point is simple: Be like Jesus.

jesus-preaching

When we read the Gospels we don’t get an account of everything Jesus Christ says and does while on Earth, but what we do get is a clear image of the entire person and nature of Jesus. His words, his behavior, his thinking, his deepest interests and concerns. Most importantly what we get from all of that is the model of his being; how he applies those things to life, and to the world around him.

Jesus is indeed God, but while he is a divine person he is also possessed of a human nature.  In other words he is God, but he also is a human, just like you are. Everything he experienced on earth—every significant thing, and every trivial thing—he experienced as a man, the same way we, as men and women, experience life on earth.  It would be incorrect to say “It was easy for Jesus to be so good and so kind to everybody, because he was God” or “It was easy for Jesus to be religious. After all, he was God. I’m just a human”.  That’s wrong.  The expression of his being was that of a human, same as you and me.  Jesus is a real and true model for what we all can be, and a model for how we all can and should be.

In later posts I’ll take you through some examples of Jesus’ being, and show you what we see of his character in the Gospels, and how we should apply it in our own lives.  Until then, remember…be like Jesus.

Ave Maria, virgo fidelis!