Monday, December 8, 2014

In Praise of the Immaculate Conception

O Mother, how pure you are, you are untouched by sin;
yours was the privilege to carry God within you.

Divine Office
If you wanted to be a great baseball player, what would you need? First and foremost, you need innate talent. You either got it or your don't. But then you would need someone who could help develop your natural talent. Wouldn't you want to be coached and taught by the best? Certainly it is the dream of every wannabe major league baseball player to take the traits of all the best baseball players in history - Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, etc. etc. - and roll them all into one person who would be your own personal coach. And to make the pot sweeter, your coach would have access to the Commissioner of Professional Baseball, and just by his connections, your coach would be able to get you onto any team you wished. When you messed up and didn't have such a good day, your coach would be able to smooth it over with all of the powers that be so that they would barely be aware of your weaknesses and failings. In time, all of your failings would actually disappear and you would become that great baseball player you always dreamed of being.

As Christians, we have been given a much loftier and immensely more difficult goal and even higher obstacles to overcome than one aspiring to be a first rate baseball player.

Jesus Christ laid it out as follows: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48). Our Lord requires each one of us to become perfect and sinless sons of God.  And He demands this even though He knows that not one of us has the innate capability or "talent" to do so.  On our own, it is easier for an ant to become an elephant than for a fallen human being to become spiritually perfect.

Of course, Our Lord has given us many ways in which to achieve holiness and spiritual perfection. First are the sacraments - baptism, confession, the Eucharist, etc. We have the Mass in which we present the bloodless sacrifice of Jesus Christ to the Father in atonement for our sins. We have the written Word of God - the Bible. We have the prayers of the angels and saints. We have the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit. We have the Holy Spirit Himself as our guide and comforter who will never let us down. These are just a few of the many spiritual aids we have been given.

And yet we stumble and fall constantly.  Our sinful nature keeps pulling us down.  It seems like we fail more often than we succeed.

Just as someone aspiring to be a great ball player would want an expertly skilled coach, so we, as Christians, need an expert skilled in following Christ. We need someone to hold our hand, to guide our every step. We need this someone to be compassionate and understanding of our sinful state. And when we do inevitably fall, we need someone who can go to the Lord and ask Him for the grace we are too stupid and ignorant to ask for on our own.

Credit:  www.vismaya-maitreya.pl
And that is exactly what Our Lord gave us as He was dying on the Cross.   This was the meaning behind His words to His Mother and St. John as He was dying on the cross (Matthew 19:26-27):
When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. 
On this day, December 8, we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary, declared a dogma by the Church in 1854. This states that Mary was conceived without sin and that she remained in that sinless state for the rest of her life. Mary knew the secret to perfection. Mary lived her life in perfect conformity to God, never once wavering. She was able to live her life untainted by sin of any kind.

Apart from the Holy Trinity, we can find no better teacher and guide than the Blessed Virgin. And that is exactly why Our Lord gave His Most Blessed Mother to us, to be our mother.

St. Louis de Montfort writes ("True Devotion to Mary"):
Poor children of Mary, you are extremely weak and changeable. Your human nature is deeply impaired. It is sadly true that you have been fashioned from the same corrupted nature as the other children of Adam and Eve. But do not let that discourage you. Rejoice and be glad! Here is a secret which I am revealing to you, a secret unknown to most Christians, even the most devout.
St. Louis de Montfort further writes :
As all perfection consists in our being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus it naturally follows that the most perfect of all devotions is that which conforms, unites, and consecrates us most completely to Jesus. Now of all God's creatures Mary is the most conformed to Jesus. It therefore follows that, of all devotions, devotion to her makes for the most effective consecration and conformity to him. The more one is consecrated to Mary, the more one is consecrated to Jesus.
That is why perfect consecration to Jesus is but a perfect and complete consecration of oneself to the Blessed Virgin, which is the devotion I teach; or in other words, it is the perfect renewal of the vows and promises of holy baptism.
Sinless Virgin, let us follow joyfully in your footsteps;
draw us after you in the fragrance of your holiness.
Divine Office
Mary is our role model. She is what we must all attain to - total spiritual perfection. But she is not only meant to be our role model. Our Lord gave her to us as our own personal coach! Our Lord told St. John to take Mary into his household, and He tells each of us that we must take Mary into our "household" and make her a central part of our lives. As St. Louis de Montfort said, just as Christ came to us through Mary, we must go to Him through her. It is through her that we receive all graces. 

Our Lord said that "among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist."  And how was John the Baptist sanctified?  It was at the moment when the pregnant Mary, carrying the unborn Jesus, came to see her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, who was carrying John the Baptist.  And so Mary has done ever since.  It is her role to bring Jesus Christ to each of us.  As St. Louis de Montfort wrote, Mary "is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus."  

The actual tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Credit:  http://holyrosarysite.com/archives/2114
In just a few short days we will be celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I find this the most amazing of all the Marian apparitions.  At the time of this appearance, the Aztecs ruled the land and were especially barbaric, performing thousands of human sacrifices every year.  The missionaries were despairing of ever converting them, as the Indians seemed to resist every effort made to bring Christ to them.

Our Blessed Mother appeared to St. Juan Diego in Mexico and told him to tell the bishop that she wanted church built on the site where she appeared. The bishop was, of course, skeptical, and asked St. Juan Diego to bring him a sign. The Blessed Mother appeared again and gave Juan Diego roses to put into his tilma. This was miraculous enough as it was winter time and nothing was blooming. When Juan Diego came to the bishop to give him the roses, the bishop fell back in amazement, not at the roses but at what he saw on the tilma. There was a beautiful portrait of Our Lady. Interestingly, Our Lady was pregnant in this portrait just as she was when she sanctified John the Baptist. 
 
The Church was built and the tilma put in a prominent place.  As a result, the largest conversion in history took place.  Nine million of the 10 million Aztec Indians were converted in just a few short years.  And how was this accomplished?  By great preaching?  By beating people over the head and telling them what rotten sinners they were?  No.  Our Blessed Mother physically brought Jesus to the Indians, just as she did to John the Baptist.  This happened in 1519.  The Tilma is still displayed in Mexico City, and it is estimated that 20 million people see it every year.  

You are the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel;
you are the fairest honor of our race.

Divine Office
Mary is the greatest of all of creation because she is the most fully conformed to the Trinity. She is the daughter of the Father, the mother of the Son and the spouse of the Holy Spirit. As St. Louis de Montfort wrote:
Mary is the supreme masterpiece of Almighty God and he has reserved the knowledge and possession of her for himself. She is the glorious Mother of God the Son who chose to humble and conceal her during her lifetime in order to foster her humility. He called her "Woman" as if she were a stranger, although in his heart he esteemed and loved her above all men and angels. Mary is the sealed fountain and the faithful spouse of the Holy Spirit where only he may enter. She is the sanctuary and resting-place of the Blessed Trinity where God dwells in greater and more divine splendour than anywhere else in the universe, not excluding his dwelling above the cherubim and seraphim. No creature, however pure, may enter there without being specially privileged.
The Lord God said to the serpent: I will make you enemies,
you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring;
she will crush your head, alleluia.

Divine Office
Mary is the supreme enemy of the devil.
Thus the most fearful enemy that God has set up against the devil is Mary, his holy Mother. From the time of the earthly paradise, although she existed then only in his mind, he gave her such a hatred for his accursed enemy, such ingenuity in exposing the wickedness of the ancient serpent and such power to defeat, overthrow and crush this proud rebel, that Satan fears her not only more than angels and men but in a certain sense more than God himself. This does not mean that the anger, hatred and power of God are not infinitely greater than the Blessed Virgin's, since her attributes are limited. It simply means that Satan, being so proud, suffers infinitely more in being vanquished and punished by a lowly and humble servant of God, for her humility humiliates him more than the power of God. Moreover, God has given Mary such great power over the evil spirits that, as they have often been forced unwillingly to admit through the lips of possessed persons, they fear one of her pleadings for a soul more than the prayers of all the saints, and one of her threats more than all their other torments.
This "supreme masterpiece", this greatest enemy of the devil, is the one whom Jesus Christ has given to each one of us as our own loving mother and guide to heaven.

Mary never left her Son.  She was there from His conception by the Holy Spirit to the moment He breathed His last breath on the Cross.  She is the most loyal of all His creation.  And she offers that same loyalty to each one of us.  She promises never to let go of us.  We are separated from the Lord when we sin. But just as Mary stayed with the apostles even when they ran away in fear, so she will stay with us when we stumble and fall.  And we can be sure that as long as we stay close to Mary, we are close to the Lord.  

St. Louis de Montfort tells us that unless Mary is our mother, God cannot be our Father:
Since Mary produced the head of the elect, Jesus Christ, she must also produce the members of that head, that is, all true Christians. A mother does not conceive a head without members, nor members without a head. If anyone, then, wishes to become a member of Jesus Christ, and consequently be filled with grace and truth , he must be formed in Mary through the grace of Jesus Christ, which she possesses with a fullness enabling her to communicate it abundantly to true members of Jesus Christ, her true children.
St. Louis de Montfort also tells us that when we take Mary into our lives, she begins immediately to conform our will to Her Son.
Mary is called by St Augustine, and is indeed, the "living mold of God".  In her alone the God-man was formed in his human nature without losing any feature of the Godhead. In her alone, by the grace of Jesus Christ, man is made godlike as far as human nature is capable of it. A sculptor can make a statue or a life-like model in two ways: 
(i) By using his skill, strength, experience and good tools to produce a statue out of hard, shapeless matter; 
(ii) By making a cast of it in a mold. The first way is long and involved and open to all sorts of accidents. It only needs a faulty stroke of the chisel or hammer to ruin the whole work. The second is quick, easy, straightforward, almost effortless and inexpensive, but the mold must be perfect and true to life and the material must be easy to handle and offer no resistance.
No human being has ever been as perfectly conformed to God as was the Blessed Mother.  She is that perfect mold to which all of us need to be conformed.  Just as she was in perfect union with her Son, so we will also be in perfect conformity with Jesus Christ.
Mary is the great mold of God, fashioned by the Holy Spirit to give human nature to a Man who is God by the hypostatic union, and to fashion through grace men who are like to God. No godly feature is missing from this mold. Everyone who casts himself into it and allows himself to be moulded will acquire every feature of Jesus Christ, true God, with little pain or effort, as befits his weak human condition. He will take on a faithful likeness to Jesus with no possibility of distortion, for the devil has never had and never will have any access to Mary, the holy and immaculate Virgin, in whom there is not the least suspicion of a stain of sin.
Mary is truly one of the greatest gifts from Our Lord.  She is the personification of His love and devotion to us.  Nothing in His creation is more precious to Him than His mother, and yet He freely gives her to us.   No saint has ever achieved holiness and perfection apart from her.  As St. Louis de Montfort told us, Our Lord could have chosen another way.  
With the whole Church I acknowledge that Mary, being a mere creature fashioned by the hands of God is, compared to his infinite majesty, less than an atom, or rather is simply nothing, since he alone can say, "I am he who is". Consequently, this great Lord, who is ever independent and self-sufficient, never had and does not now have any absolute need of the Blessed Virgin for the accomplishment of his will and the manifestation of his glory. To do all things he has only to will them.
But the fact remains that Mary is the path given to us by the Trinity, and if we wish to become one with our Creator, she is the path we must choose:
However, I declare that, considering things as they are, because God has decided to begin and accomplish his greatest works through the Blessed Virgin ever since he created her, we can safely believe that he will not change his plan in the time to come, for he is God and therefore does not change in his thoughts or his way of acting.
God the Father gave his only Son to the world only through Mary. Whatever desires the patriarchs may have cherished, whatever entreaties the prophets and saints of the Old Law may have had for 4,000 years to obtain that treasure, it was Mary alone who merited it and found grace before God by the power of her prayers and the perfection of her virtues. "The world being unworthy," said Saint Augustine, "to receive the Son of God directly from the hands of the Father, he gave his Son to Mary for the world to receive him from her."
Do not neglect this greatest of gifts.  Devotion to Mary, this greatest of God's creation, is without doubt the surest way to Jesus Christ.  St. Louis de Montfort said it best:
The saints have said wonderful things of Mary, the holy City of God, and, as they themselves admit, they were never more eloquent and more pleased than when they spoke of her. And yet they maintain that the height of her merits rising up to the throne of the Godhead cannot be perceived; the breadth of her love which is wider than the earth cannot be measured; the greatness of the power which she wields over one who is God cannot be conceived; and the depths of her profound humility and all her virtues and graces cannot be sounded. What incomprehensible height! What indescribable breadth! What immeasurable greatness! What an impenetrable abyss!

You made Mary our mother. Through her intercession grant strength to the weak,
 comfort to the sorrowing, pardon to sinners,

 salvation and peace to all.
Mary, full of grace, intercede for us.

Picture Credit:  proconversioneinfidelium.blogspot.com

Thursday, November 27, 2014

You Are Either Hanging On The Cross or Banging In The Nails

Credit:  redmoonrapture.com
The ultimate submission to God
Surrender to God, and he will do everything for you.
Antiphon, Liturgy of the Hours

In the last couple of posts here I have been giving my thoughts on how to keep our spiritual equilibrium in what appears to be a very chaotic time in the Catholic Church.  Catholics are flinging accusations of heresy at one another, bishops are attacking other bishops, many people are even questioning the actions and words of the Holy Father.  As Cardinal Raymond Burke said, many feel the Church is a ship without a rudder.

It is a normal thing to want to be in control of events and circumstances.  We all have an innate need to be in the driver's seat.  We want to plan our own course and be in charge of our destiny.  There is one problem with that.  In order to follow Christ, we have to completely surrender to Him and give up all control in our lives.  "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it."  (Luke 9:23-24).  A follower of Christ must learn to stop trusting in himself (Proverbs 3:5-6):
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Far too often we confuse our own will with the Will of God. If something looks right to us, then surely this is the Will of God. In our arrogance, we think we know how God thinks. But any human being who tells you he understands the Mind of God is either a fool or a liar. " 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD." (Isaiah 55:8). We can never know the Mind of God, and therefore to follow Him, we must allow Him to take complete control of our lives and, as Revelation 14:4 says, "follow the Lamb wherever he goes." That often means going places and doing things that make no sense to our human, limited minds.

We see this all throughout the Bible. The actions of God are never what a "rational" human being would do. The father of the faithful, Abraham, was 75 years old, he was called by God and told to leave everything that was familiar to him. "The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you." (Gen. 12:1). Abraham could have argued with the Lord, but instead he willingly obeyed with no hesitation. Joseph, son of Jacob, was sold by his own brothers as a slave to the Egyptians and then imprisoned for several years after being falsely accused of rape. It was through these bizarre circumstances that led Joseph to be in a position to save the known civilized world, including his own family, from death by famine. Moses was an 80-year old shepherd in the desert when The Lord approached and told him that he was going to lead the Israelites out of slavery to the Promised Land. David was a young shepherd boy when he was anointed King of Israel. At the time he was anointed, King Saul was still on the throne and, as a result, David became the target of Saul's murderous rage. Esther was a young Hebrew slave in Persia, and yet she was chosen to save her people from genocide. Daniel was a young Hebrew slave in Babylon, and was chosen by God to become one of our greatest prophets.

In all of these examples, those chosen by God were put in circumstances that make no sense to our human minds. They had no control over their lives, and yet because of their willingness to completely submit and put their total trust in the Lord, they were used to accomplish great things. As our Lord told us, "whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it." All of these biblical examples are of men and woman who were willing to give up their lives, and by doing so, they gained true, eternal life.

One of our greatest role models is Mary, our Blessed Mother. When asked to be the Mother of God, her reply was, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Thy Word." She imposed no conditions. She gave no recommendations about how this should be down. Never once do we see Mary pushing her own will upon her Son. When they were both at the wedding feast where the wine ran out, the only words Our Blessed Mother said to the Lord were, "they have no wine." She gave no instructions to Him about what she thought needed to be done to correct the situation. She reported the situation to Him and then got out of the way. As she told the servants, "Do whatever He tells you." This is her message to each one of us, her children. Bring your requests to her, which she will relay to her Son, and then "do whatever He tells you." Does pouring water into jars make sense? It doesn't matter. Just do it.

The ultimate example of submission is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. As St. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5-8:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
And of course, there is that most famous statement which Christ uttered when He was face to face with the horrendous crucifixion He was about to undergo (Matthew 26:39):
My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.
As Christ said, (John 6:38):
For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
From a human perspective, there is no more helpless image than that of Jesus Christ hanging on the cross. He was completely immobilized, unable to move any part of his body, unable to defend himself in any way. He couldn't even swat the flies away that were buzzing around His wounds or wipe away the blood that was pouring into His eyes. And yet, this is the picture of Our Savior taking away the sin of the world, freeing each one of us from eternal damnation. No human being was ever more powerful than the Lamb of God as He hung physically helpless on the Cross. 

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he begged the Lord to remove a "thorn in the flesh." He said he begged the Lord three times to take away this thorn. The Lord told him,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
There is a beautiful reading from Saint John Chrysostum in the Office of Readings which addresses the issue of how to fight the "wolves" among us.  As this great saint tells us, our Lord could do things quite differently and not send us out among the wolves.  Our Lord could tell us not to be meek, defenseless sheep but instead to be fiercer than lions.  But that is not the path Christ has chosen.  He has told us to be "harmless as doves, but as wise as serpents."    

Second reading
From a homily on Matthew by Saint John Chrysostum, bishop
If we are sheep, we overcome, if wolves, we are overcome
As long as we are sheep, we overcome and, though surrounded by countless wolves, we emerge victorious; but if we turn into wolves, we are overcome, for we lose the shepherd’s help. He, after all, feeds the sheep not wolves, and will abandon you if you do not let him show his power in you.

What he says is this: “Do not be upset that, as I send you out among the wolves, I bid you be as sheep and doves. I could have managed things quite differently and sent you, not to suffer evil nor to yield like sheep to the wolves, but to be fiercer than lions. but the way I have chosen is right. It will bring you greater praise and at the same time manifest my power.” That is what he told Paul: My grace is enough for you, for in weakness my power is made perfect. “I intend,” he says, “to deal the same way with you.” For, when he says, I am sending you out like sheep, he implies: “But do not therefore lose heart, for I know and am certain that no one will be able to overcome you.”

The Lord, however, does want them to contribute something, lest everything seem to be the work of grace, and they seem to win their reward without deserving it. Therefore he adds: You must be clever as snakes and innocent as doves. But, they may object, what good is our cleverness amid so many dangers? How can we be clever when tossed about by so many waves? However great the cleverness of the sheep as he stands among the wolves – so may wolves! – what can it accomplish? However great the innocence of the dove, what good does it do him, with so many hawks swooping upon him? To all this I say: Cleverness and innocence admittedly do these irrational creatures no good, but they can help you greatly.

What cleverness is the Lord requiring here? The cleverness of a snake. A snake will surrender everything and will put up no great resistance even if its body is being cut in pieces, provided it can save its head. So you, the Lord is saying, must surrender everything but your faith: money, body, even life itself. For faith is the head and the root; keep that, and though you lose all else, you will get it back in abundance. The Lord therefore counselled the disciples to be not simply clever or innocent; rather he joined the two qualities so that they become a genuine virtue. He insisted on the cleverness of the snake so that deadly wounds might be avoided, and he insisted on the innocence of the dove so that revenge might not be taken on those who injure or lay traps for you. Cleverness is useless without innocence.

Do not believe that this precept is beyond your power. More than anyone else, the Lord knows the true natures of created things; he knows that moderation, not a fierce defense, beats back a fierce attack.
 
"Cleverness is useless without innocence." "Moderation, not a fierce defense, beats back a fierce attack." For most people, these statements go against common sense. How does an innocent, defenseless sheep survive the attacks of fierce wolves? Yet, this is what has been commanded by our Savior. Nowhere does Jesus tell us, blessed are the great warriors, or blessed are those who destroy their enemies. He never praises the "mighty and strong." Instead, He tells us this in Matthew 5:3-10:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Our Lord told us that when someone slaps you on the face, not only should you not fight back, you should turn so that he can strike the other side of your face.  If someone sues you and takes away your coat, give him your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to walk one mile, go two miles.  In other words, do not allow concern about self or self defense to play any role in your life.  As Christians, we are to make ourselves as defenseless as Christ was on the Cross.  We are never to fight our own battles, but to allow Christ to fight for us.  The one thing we stand up for is the faith.  But even then, we are to be "as harmless as doves and as wise as serpents."  Even then, we must allow the Lord to lead us and not take matters into our own hands.

Not that long ago, I was deep into the Catholic traditionalist movement.  Like most traditionalists, I believed I had it all figured out.  The salvation of the Church was to be found in the Traditional Latin Mass and in a return to the traditional practices of the Church.  I looked at anyone who did not agree with this as an enemy of the church, whether inside or outside of the Church.  I saw most priests and bishops, and even most Catholics in the pews, as my enemy.  I was very sure that I knew the Mind of God, and there could be no doubt that God is a "traditionalist."

However, when Pope Benedict XVI gave us Summorum Pontificum, he wrote the following:
The Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the lex orandi (rule of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. The Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Pius V and revised by Blessed John XXIII is nonetheless to be considered an extraordinary expression of the same lex orandi of the Church and duly honoured for its venerable and ancient usage. These two expressions of the Church’s lex orandi will in no way lead to a division in the Church’s lex credendi (rule of faith); for they are two usages of the one Roman rite.
I did not really believe that last statement and I can tell you that most Trads do not believe that last sentence. They look at the Ordinary Form of the Mass as barely above a Protestant prayer service. They will only go to a "Novus Ordo" Mass if they have no other choice. Many Trads believe that in 50 years time, there will only be the Latin Mass. As Anthony S. Layne wrote on catholicstand.com in a post entitled, "Tradition vs. Traditionalism" [HERE]:
The great danger in traditionalism, however, is the tendency to conflate liturgical and devotional traditions with the apostolic tradition. Doctor Taylor Marshall speaks of “the [radical traditionalist] belief that Latin Mass Catholics are ‘A Team’ and Novus Ordo Catholics are ‘B Team’”, but that’s actually a bit mild: the further you move to the right, the more you run across the sentiment that Novus OrdoCatholics, or “neo-Catholics”, aren’t really Catholic at all — we’re crypto-Protestants with an idiosyncratic fondness for the pope.
I now realize that, as a traditionalist, I was actually boxing God in.  I was telling Him what to do and how to do it.  I was opposing those He had put in authority over me.  I had become Peter telling the Lord that I will not allow Him to be crucified.

I have come to realize that the problem with the majority of traditionalists is that they want to be in the driver's seat.  They are not content to be the harmless dove.  They are not content to let the Lord fight their battles.  They have their own game plan, and no one - not a priest, bishop or even the Holy Father - can tell them any different.

I don't understand everything that is happening in the Church, but the beauty is that I don't have to! Our Lord tells me that I just have to concentrate on submitting my will to His, and He will do the rest, and He will accomplish His Purpose in ways I could never imagine. I have 2000 years of Church history to testify to that fact. I would never think of telling a great artist like Michelangelo how to paint or sculpture, and I most certainly would never think to tell Our Lord how to run His Church.

A few years back Mel Gibson did a typical Mel Gibson movie with lots of violence entitled, "Edge of Darkness", but there was one line in this move that I have made a kind of motto in my life. "You are either hanging on the cross or banging in the nails." The reason Mary, our Blessed Mother, is held in such high esteem is because she suffered a spiritual martyrdom in accepting her Son's crucifixion. Spiritually, she hung on the Cross with him, and she did that because she was completely submissive to the Will of God.

"You are either hanging on the Cross or banging in the nails."  That is the only choice we have.

Credit:  orthodoxruminations.wordpress.com

Saturday, November 15, 2014

In The Day You Eat Thereof, You Shall Surely Die

Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
Credit:  www.puzzlepuzzles.com
Did you ever wonder why God put the tree of good and evil in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and then told them not to eat of it?  The whole story, in many ways, seems like a set up.  If God had to leave this deadly tree right in plain sight, the least He could have done was put up big "Danger" signs, or station an angel warning of the danger. Not only didn't God put up any guard around the tree, He allowed Satan into the Garden to actually tempt our first parents to disobey. Here are poor Adam and Eve who had no personal experience of evil but only an academic knowledge which they had received from their Creator, up against the clever and evil Satan.  Adam and Eve in their innocence were no match for this malevolent creature. Certainly God knew this, so why would He allow Satan to tempt them? And if the fruit of this tree was so deadly, then why, as Eve wondered, did it look so good? Surely if something was bad for us, it would look bad. But the fruit of this tree looked as good as everything else in the garden.

Credit:  www.toptenstuffs.com
On the other hand, since God had told Adam and Eve that they should not eat of the tree of good and evil, why was Eve hanging around this forbidden tree in the first place? The Garden of Eden was a pretty magnificent place with all kinds of sights, sounds and smells to delight the senses. What made her gravitate to the only thing in the entire garden which God had declared off limits?

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the ultimate symbol of sin. Sin is proclaiming that we know better than God, i.e., that we can decide for ourselves the difference between good and bad, right and wrong.  For example, God says we shouldn't lie to one another, but we know there are times when telling the truth just doesn't work, and if God was in our situation, He would agree. And why would God make sin so delightful, e.g. promiscuous sex, and then say it is forbidden? What kind of sadist is Our Creator?

God is not a sadist.  He is also not a controller, unlike our enemy, Satan.  The story of Adam and Eve portrays a God who lovingly instructed His Creation, and then allowed them to decide their own path with no manipulation on His part whatsoever.  If Eve had called out to the Lord at any time, He would have come immediately and rescued her from Satan's devices.  But instead, she chose to listen to Satan and make her own decision, apart from God.  

And so it is with Adam and Eve's progeny. Our Lord has given us minds and the ability to choose. He wants us to come to Him freely because we love Him. But because we are born into and live in a world immersed in sin and disobedience, Our Lord takes that extra step to actually come and live inside of us, showing the way to walk and follow Him. All that is required of us is our "yes", modeled for us by the Mother of God when she said yes to the Holy Spirit.  And just as our Blessed Mother did, we too must say "yes" to God every moment of our lives.  The minute we stop saying "yes" to God, we become targets of Satan.  We must say "yes" to God when we want to, and even more importantly, we must say "yes" when it goes against everything inside of us.  Our "yes" is our power over life and death.  The great Creator of the Universe, the One who gives us every breath we breathe, is powerless against our "no."  Our "no" will block God, allowing Satan to immediately fill that void.  

Mary says yes to Gabriel and the Holy Spirit
Credit:  www.art-wallpaper.com
Another interesting aspect of the story of Adam and Eve's fall is the deceptive nature of sin. Evil rarely looks evil. It appears as something good and desirable, something that will in some way make us "complete." Genesis 3:6 tells us that, "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it."  We should never trust appearances or our feelings. Our physical senses and unenlightened intellect, deformed by sin, will betray us more often than not.  

The Garden of Eden
Credit:  wwyeshua.wordpress.com
Why do I bring up this story? It seems to me that the story of the fall of Adam and Eve is the story of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is the Garden of Eden in a sinful world. God dwells in the Catholic Church through the Holy Spirit and through the Eucharist. It is where the angels and saints of heaven gather on earth. The Catholic Church is filled with mystical wonders and delights that can raise us up to heaven. The Catholic Church contains the tree of life, which will give us eternal life with God.

However, the Catholic Church also contains the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Our sin is that tree.  It is always there, beckoning to us, enticing us with promises of pleasure, power, security.  If we allow him, Satan will whisper into our ear just as he did to Mother Eve, "For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."  (Gen. 3:5)

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil comes in many forms, shapes and guises.  But it always amounts to trusting in ourselves over God, taking for ourselves the decision of right and wrong.  

Many Catholics today are looking at the Church and, following in the footsteps of Adam and Eve, deciding for themselves what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong. They seem to have forgotten Our Lord's promise that the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church. They seem to have forgotten our Lord's promise that He will never leave His Church. They have forgotten that Our Lord sent the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us. They never make mention of the fact that Our Lord gave the Keys of the Kingdom to Peter without conditions, and said that whatever Peter binds on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever Peter looses on earth is loosed in heaven. It doesn't matter if Peter is the greatest of sinners. He may lose his personal salvation, but He will never mislead the Church. We have seen Popes stumble just as our first Pope did, but never have they led the Church astray.

Our Lord has given us 2000 years of saints who have led the way. He has given us His Written Word which is more accessible now than at any time in history. He has given us sacraments filled with His Grace and Mercy which cleanse our sin and draw us close to Him. Jesus Christ lives in the tabernacles of our churches, and we can visit Him every day. He promised that as long as we abide in Him, we will continue to bear fruit, and, in fact, apart from Him we will wither and die. We often hear that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. But there is one other thing you can add to that list: the Catholic Church.

Yet, not many Catholics seem to believe this.  There are many Catholics today who, to use biblical terms, tear their clothes and throw ashes on their heads, warning of doom and gloom, telling us that we cannot trust anyone but them.  They tell us that our priests and bishops and even the Holy Father are evil and enemies of the Church.  They tell us that the only thing we can rely on is "tradition."  They tell us that everything happening in the Church today is of Satan.  They tell us that it is actually imperative that we criticize those in authority over us.  

And where do these critical Catholics get their authority?  From their own knowledge and understanding.  A priest, bishop, or the Pope says something that does not fit in with their understanding and views, and they feel they have an immediate right, nay a responsibility, to call out the one who disagrees with them as a heretic and evil.  These critical Catholics feel that they, not Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, are the ones who will keep the Church on the right course.  If they don't say something, Satan will take over completely.  

We even have bishops making this claim. An article in the Catholic Herald contained an interview with Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan [HERE]. Bishop Schneider made the pronouncement that the Church is now in her "fourth greatest crisis", comparing the current situation with the likes of the Arian heresy. Ah, but he sees a great hope for the Church. Is it the prayers, sacrifices and obedience of the faithful? Not quite. According to the article, "he has embraced cyberspace to put over a trenchant, traditional defence of the Church. 'Thanks be to God, the internet exists,' he said."
 
Bishop Schneider is harshly critical of many of his fellow bishops, accusing them of being "traitors of the faith",  He sees a split coming in the Church, "leading to an eventual renewal of the Church on traditional lines. But, he believes, this will not be before the crisis has plunged the Church further into disarray. Eventually, he thinks, the 'anthropocentric' [man-centred] clerical system will collapse. 'This liberal clerical edifice will crash down because they have no roots and no fruits,' he said."

As can be seen from the above quotes, Bishop Schneider denounces and condemns the contemporary Catholic Church, feeling it is headed for an inevitable collapse.  Bishop Schneider does not seem to see any conflict between his belief and the promises of Jesus Christ that the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church.  Bishop Schneider puts his trust in "tradition."  According to the article, "despite his concerns, Bishop Schneider is not pessimistic and believes that there is already a groundswell of support for traditional values that will, in time, renew the Church: 'Little ones in the Church have been let down and neglected,' he said. '[But] they have kept the purity of their faith and they represent the true power of the Church in the eyes of God and not those who are in administration.' "

To be fair, after making all of these terrible predictions and condemnations, he ends the interview by saying, "I am not worried about the future. The Church is Christ’s Church and He is the real head of the Church, the Pope is only the vicar of Christ. The soul of the Church is the Holy Spirit and He is powerful.” However, I find this statement to be quite troubling, as His Excellency seems to be discounting the importance of the Holy Father.  He is quite right when He says the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church.  However, he seems to feel that that way of obedience to the Holy Spirit is through "tradition" aside and apart from the hierarchy of the Church.

Tradition is an important part of the Catholic Church, but to contend that "tradition" is the savior of the Church is putting your faith in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Some of the most "traditional" Catholic groups are sedevacantist or headed that way.  Why?  Because they are deciding for themselves what is good and what is evil.

When Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre made the unilateral decision to disobey St. John Paul II, he said it was because he had no other choice. He felt that if he obeyed the Holy Father, his Society of St. Pius X would be destroyed. That is a classic example of those hanging onto tradition and making it into the tree of good and evil. Archbishop Lefebvre mirrored St. Peter exactly when Peter told the Lord that he would not allow Him to be crucified. "Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!" (Matthew 16:22).  Peter was taking for himself the decision as to whether Christ should die.  Our Lord's reply to Peter was, "Get behind me, Satan!"

Is it just coincidence that so many of those who stand in opposition to Church hierarchy today look to Archbishop Lefebvre as their role model? Our true role model in following Christ is Mary, our Blessed Mother. I doubt very much that, on her own, she would have made any of the decisions in her life which were made by the Holy Spirit. Would she have thought to get pregnant before marriage, an offense then punishable by stoning? Would she have made the decision to travel from her home in Nazareth to Bethlehem when she was 9 months pregnant and then give birth in a dirty, vermin infested stable? Would she have made the decision to flee with a newborn baby to Egypt, a society hostile to her culture where she didn't even know the language? Would she have made the decision to have her Son beaten, tortured and hung on the Cross as a common criminal? Yet, to all of these things she gave an unwavering, unconditional "yes."

None of us can understand all of the events that are happening around us. We may find it very disconcerting and unsettling. It certainly isn't the path we would choose. I have used this analogy before, but I feel we are like the ancient Israelites, when Moses led them out of Egypt into what seemed a certain death trap, caught between the Red Sea and Pharaoh's army. Yet this is exactly where Our Lord wanted them because it was through this situation that He would show them His Glory.

Those who pray the Divine Office on a regular basis are familiar with Psalm 95, which is often used as the Invitatory Psalm.  Part of that Psalm says,
"Today, listen to the voice of the Lord:
Do not grow stubborn, as your fathers did in the wilderness,
when at Meriba and Massah they challenged me and provoked me,
Although they had seen all of my works."
Meriba means "quarreling" and Massah means "testing."  This refers to an event in the travels of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land, as found here in Exodus 17:
"1The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

3But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

4Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

5The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
As can be seen from this passage, the Lord places extreme importance on how people act towards those He has put in authority.  The passage tells us that Israel was challenging Moses.  However, in Psalm 95, the Lord says "they challenged and provoked me."  The complaints of the Israelites against Moses seem to me to be very similar to those many Catholics make against Pope Francis, accusing him of spiritually leaving them in the wilderness to die, as can be seen in the statement by Cardinal Burke that the Church is like a ship without a rudder.

We know that The Lord interpreted the Israelites' rebellion against Moses as rebellion against Him.  How do you think He is interpreting those who speak against His Vicar?

Psalm 95 tells us the fate of those who rebelled against Moses:
10 For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
 
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”
The ancient Israelites, in rebelling against Moses, were following the example of Adam and Eve in that they took of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, deciding for themselves what was right and what was wrong.  They paid for this decision by missing out on the Promised Land and instead, dying in the wilderness.

Which tree shall we choose?  The Tree of Life, or the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

Credit:  www.agodman.com

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Finding Safety in the Midst of the Storm


I have been seeing the word "schism" used on Catholic websites and blogs many times in the last couple of weeks since the Synod, and even on secular sources.  Many conservative and traditional Catholics feel that the traditions of the Church are under attack by "liberal" priests and bishops, including His Holiness, Pope Francis.  An "us versus them" mentality has truly taken hold among many who call themselves Catholic, and the tragic part is that it is Catholic against Catholic.

Last spring, Bishop Athanasius Schneider gave an interview [HERE] in which he said, "we are in the fourth great crisis [of the Church], in a tremendous confusion over doctrine and liturgy. We have already been in this for 50 years."  His Excellency said in the interview that if God is merciful to us, this crisis will only last another 20 to 30 years.

According to the linked article, Bishop Schneider "can foresee a split coming, leading to an eventual renewal of the Church on traditional lines. But, he believes, this will not be before the crisis has plunged the Church further into disarray."

It surely does seem that many conservative and traditional Catholics are itching to go up against the hierarchy of the Church.  Many on the Internet have no hesitation in calling the Magesterium of the Church "evil".  They attack the Holy Father almost with glee.

Instead of seeing the Internet fueling the growing schism, Bishop Schneider is very grateful for cyberspace.  "Thanks be to God, the internet exists."  His Excellency seems to believe that much of the salvation of the Church lies in Joe Catholic in the pew standing up for "what is right."  The problem is, everyone is convinced of his or her own rightness and the wrongness of anyone who disagrees. The Internet seems to embody the words of Judges 21:25 - "all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes."

So what is a faithful Catholic to do when bishops seem to be aligning against other bishops, and "conservatives" against "liberals"?  How do we maintain our equilibrium and not lose our faith?  Let me ask this.  When you see a storm approaching, do you run out into the storm and try to fight it?  Or do you find the safest place you can go and stay put until the storm passes?

As storms swirl around the Church, is our spiritual safety to be found in our own righteousness?  Are we competent to pass judgments on others, especially the hierarchy, and accuse them of trying to destroy the Church?  Are we able to understand the ways of God and know exactly how He is working through the Church in bringing the saving message of the Gospel to the world?  Just who can we trust?

Credit;  www.godfrey.info
The Church herself has given us many safe places in which to hide. First and foremost, we have Our Lord who is present in all of the tabernacles of the Catholic Church everywhere in the world. Archbishop Fulton Sheen never a let day go by without an hour in front of the tabernacle. In fact, he died while kneeling in front of the tabernacle. Bishop Sheen saw many controversies in his years as priest and bishop, and was the recipient of attacks from other prelates. But nothing ever disturbed him. He was never shaken in his faith. What grounded him?

Here are a few quotes about the benefits of adoration from Bishop Sheen:

"The holy hour becomes like an oxygen tank to revive the breath of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the foul and fetid atmosphere of the world."

"Neither theological action nor social action alone is enough to keep us in love with Christ unless both are proceeded by a personal encounter with Him in Adoration."

"During out Holy Hour we grow more and more into His likeness."

"A Holy Hour of Adoration in our modern rat race is necessary for authentic prayer."

"A Holy Hour becomes a magister and teacher.  Theological insights are gained not only from the covers of a treatise, but on two knees before the Blessed Sacrament."

Bishop Sheen was not the only one who saw the vital importance of time before the Blessed Sacrament:

St. John Paul II:  "The spiritual lives of our families are strengthened through our Holy Hour."

"The future belongs to those who worship God in silence."

St. Alphonsus Ligouri - "Our Lord hears our prayers anywhere, but He has revealed to His servants that those who visit Him in the Eucharist will obtain a more abundant measure of grace."

"Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament consoles a soul far beyond what the world can offer."

"A Holy Hour will give you more strength during life and more consolation at the hour of your death and eternity."

Father John Hardon:  "It is impossible in human terms to exaggerate the importance of being in adoration before the Eucharist as often and for as long as our duties and state of life allow."

"During our Holy Hour our souls are fed in two faculties of the spirit - the Mind and the Will.  In the Mind, we need light; in the Will we need strength."

"I strongly recommend that each of us make a resolution, no matter how much the decision may cost us, to make a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament. . .once a week."

St. John Bosco:  "Do you want the Lord to give you many graces?  Visit Him often.  Do you want Him to give you few graces?  Visit Him rarely.  Do you want the devil to attack you?  Visit Jesus rarely in the Blessed Sacrament.  Do you want him to flee from you?  Visit Jesus often!"

St. Padre Pio:  "A Holy Hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament is worth more than a thousand years of human glory."

St. John XXIII:  "There is no doubt that a flood of graces will descend upon your family and the world if more souls would become docile pupils of adoration."

St. Bernadette Soubirous:  "The Eucharist bathes the tormented soul in light and love.  Then the soul appreciates these word, 'Come all you who are sick.  I will restore your health."

Blessed Mother Teresa:  "In order to convert America and save the World what we need is for every parish to come before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in Holy Hours of prayer."

These are just a few quotes from saints and other holy people who so obviously benefited from following their own words.  I would offer that regular visits to the Blessed Sacrament are actually vital to our personal spiritual health and the health of the Church.  There is no safer place from spiritual storms than in the presence of Jesus Christ, which is available wherever there is a Catholic Church.


The Rosary is also another great haven in a storm.  Following are just a few quotes about the efficacy and power of the Rosary:
“Never will anyone who says his Rosary every day be led astray. This is a statement that I would gladly sign with my blood.”
Saint Louis de Montfort

“Give me an army saying the Rosary and I will conquer the world.”
Pope Blessed Pius IX

“The greatest method of praying is to pray the Rosary.”
Saint Francis de Sales

“When the Holy Rosary is said well, it gives Jesus and Mary more glory and is more meritorious than any other prayer.”
Saint Louis de Montfort

“One day, through the Rosary and the Scapular, Our Lady will save the world.”
Saint Dominic

“If you say the Rosary faithfully unto death, I do assure you that, in spite of the gravity of your sins, ‘you will receive a never-fading crown of glory’ (1 St. Peter 5:4).”
Saint Louis de Montfort

“The Rosary is THE weapon.”
Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio)

“You must know that when you ‘hail’ Mary, she immediately greets you! Don’t think that she is one of those rude women of whom there are so many—on the contrary, she is utterly courteous and pleasant. If you greet her, she will answer you right away and converse with you!”
Saint Bernardine of Siena

“Recite your Rosary with faith, with humility, with confidence, and with perseverance.”
Saint Louis de Montfort
“The Rosary is the most beautiful and the most rich in graces of all prayers; it is the prayer that touches most the Heart of the Mother of God…and if you wish peace to reign in your homes, recite the family Rosary.”
Pope Saint Pius X

“Never will anyone who says his Rosary every day become a formal heretic or be led astray by the devil.”
Saint Louis de Montfort

“Even if you are on the brink of damnation, even if you have one foot in hell, even if you have sold your soul to the devil as sorcerers do who practice black magic, and even if you are a heretic as obstinate as a devil, sooner or later you will be converted and will amend your life and will save your soul, if—and mark well what I say—if you say the Holy Rosary devoutly every day until death for the purpose of knowing the truth and obtaining contrition and pardon for your sins.”
Saint Louis de Montfort

“The Most Holy Virgin in these last times in which we live has given a new efficacy to the recitation of the Rosary to such an extent that there is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, whether temporal or above all spiritual, in the personal life of each one of us, of our families…that cannot be solved by the Rosary. There is no problem, I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.”
Sister Lucia dos Santos, Fatima seer
There are many other ways to stay sane in the midst of madness: go to Mass every day or as often as you possibly can. Receive the graces from the Sacrament of penance by going a couple times a month. Read the saints. Read the "Imitation of Christ" by Thomas a Kempis. This was a favorite book of St. Therese of Lisieux and many other saints. Read the Bible, the written Word of God. Ground yourself in the words of God rather than a lot of blowhards (including yours truly) on the Internet. Read the Bible.  If you can, pray the Divine Liturgy, which can be found HERE.  

In other words, bury yourself in Jesus Christ.  He is the haven in the storm.  He will keep you safe and warm, and nothing will be able to touch you.

Psalm 121:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

No Conversion Without Welcome

Credit:  www.wyssyr.com
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30
I saw an interesting blog post entitled, "The Church's Essential Mission: Conversion, Not Welcome". You can read it HERE. The blog, "One Peter 5", is written by a Mr. Eric Sammons, who has some pretty impressive credentials.  He is "father of six children, author of three books, and Director of Evangelization for the Diocese of Venice in Florida."  He has appeared on "The Journey Home" on EWTN, "Catholic Answers", "Kresta In the Afternoon" "Catholic Answers" and other programs.  He hires himself out as a speaker.  Mr. Sammons is a convert to the Catholic faith from Evangelical Protestantism.

However, I must respectfully disagree with the blog post mentioned above.  Mr. Sammons' argument is stated in the first paragraph:
“All are welcome!”
You can hardly walk into a Catholic parish today without encountering this slogan. Not so long ago all the talk was about the “New Evangelization,” but that topic has been back-burnered in favor of “welcoming.” No one should feel excluded from the Catholic Church! Who is it, exactly, that has been complaining about feeling unwelcome? That’s usually left unsaid. Yet the current emphasis on welcoming people to the Church certainly implies, at the very least, that we have been in some way inhospitable in the past.
The welcome wagon movement has as a foundational principle the need for changes in the language of the Church. It posits two problems with the language of our first 1,981 years:
1) It’s too hard to understand, and
2) It makes people feel bad.
Mr. Sammons is upset with those in the Church who are "dumbing down" language to make it more understandable to people because he feels that simplifying language actually "undermines the work of salvation."  He gives an example:
They propose that the Church sought to explain the Trinity in ways people could understand, specifically by using Greek philosophical terms. However, a closer look shows that the Church was not primarily concerned with making the doctrine of the Trinity understandable. She was interested in making it precise. If the end goal is “understandable,” one usually ends up with a dumbed-down explanation which can easily lead to errors. But if the goal is precision, then although one might have to work to understand a concept, he can be assured of arriving at the correct understanding.
Mr. Sammons seems to feel that "understandable" and "precise" are mutually exclusive.  Mr. Sammons feels that the Church cannot be concerned with being "understandable" because trying to be "understandable" only leads to more error.  If people can't understand, that is their problem.  Mr. Sammons feels it is better to leave people completely in the dark than to try to speak in language to which they are more accustomed.

Mr. Sammons tells us that Jesus never tried to make things easier for people to understand.  In fact, according to Mr. Sammons, our Lord was purposely trying to hide the Gospel from certain people:
Nor do the Gospels attest that the desire to make language understandable is a priority for our Lord. After Jesus tells the story of the Sower in Matthew 13, the disciples ask him why he speaks in parables. Our Lord replies, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:11-13). Christ himself makes it clear that the “secrets of the kingdom of heaven” will not be understood by everyone, and there is nothing we can do about it. Concentrating our efforts to do so, then, appears to be for naught.
This excerpt from the Gospels has nothing to do with language. Jesus used every day language and situations in the parables which were easily understood by the people. Our Lord was hiding the meaning of these parables from the people at that time which was before His Crucifixion and Resurrection, before the Gospel was opened to the whole world. But does Mr. Sammons believe that there are groups of people in the world today from whom Our Lord is purposely hiding the saving message of the Gospel? Remember, Christ also told Peter, James, John and Andrew not to reveal His transfiguration on Mount Tabor until after His resurrection. However, this was most certainly not true after Our Lord rose from the dead. Our Lord made it very clear to the apostles, just before He ascended to heaven, that they were to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:16). The message of the Gospel is no longer hidden from anyone, as St. Paul tells us that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (I Tim 2:4).

If we are to take Mr. Sammons' argument to its logical conclusion, we would have to say that the Church should concentrate on "precision" and forget about "understandability" because (1) worrying about "understandability" will only lead to more errors, (2) if people cannot understand what the Church is saying for whatever reason, then it is out of our hands and they can all just quite literally "go to hell" and (3), there are actually people who are not supposed to understand the Gospel because Our Lord is not interested in saving them.

Certainly there have been and always will be those who will reject the saving message of the Gospel. That is a consequence of free will. But how can free will be involved if people are not even able to understand what the Church is saying? If I speak only English, and someone is trying to tell me something in Russian, is it my fault that I don't understand?

Mr. Sammons has another argument against using language to make the church more welcoming:
The second attempt to change the Church’s language is more pernicious. It aims not just to make the Church’s language more understandable to modern man, but also to make it more acceptable to him. We see this in the desire to soften the Church’s language about sin, especially in the area of sexual morality. Less than a generation ago, St. John Paul II called the attempt of those who had divorced to later marry outside the Church “evil” (Familiarius Consortio 84), yet today such language is condemned in many quarters of the Church. People will only feel welcome and thus enter our doors, it is said, if we soften our language on the “hard teachings.”
Mr. Sammons seems to feel that unless the Church uses specific, theological language, truth and dogma will be lost.  He feels it is better to leave the teachings of the Church less understandable in order to avoid the loss of "truth."  I would like Mr. Sammons to show me one passage in the Gospel where Our Lord speaks to people using "theological" language.  He always used the language of the people, always speaking with words easily understood by the people.

Certainly I agree with Mr. Sammons that we must not use imprecise or incorrect words in order to make spiritual concepts easier to understand.  However, our world is basically biblically illiterate. Most people cannot even name the four Gospels. Knowledge of God and salvation is as foreign to most people as knowledge of quantum physics. In addition, people are just not as generally literate as they use to be. There is a reason why newspapers are now written at an 8th grade level. The Church, in her wisdom and guided by the Holy Spirit, realizes that she cannot reach people as she once did.

In answer to Mr. Sammons, here is an interesting video which was just made at the Synod of the family in which the fathers of the Synod discuss this very issue:


These Cardinals explain far better than I can why Mr. Sammons is wrong:

Cardinal Wilfred Napier of South Africa: "I think language is something we have overlooked for a good while. We used language that is out of touch with the way people speak today. In the past, it was sufficient to say to people, "you are going to go to hell if you continue this way of life." Hell was a reality. It was something they knew, or they understood it. When you talk about hell today, people don't know what you are talking about. So I think the emphasis is shifting."

Cardinal Godfried Daneels: "We don't begin by accusing or stigmatizing but by talking. At a later stage you can take the person to a higher level. But beginning with accusation or a stigmatization is not good pastoral method."

Cardinal André Armand Vingt-Trois: "If the Church wants to address not only its members, but also others outside the Church, it must look for words and formulas that will allow it to be understood by those who are not already inside."

Cardinal Wilfred Napier of South Africa: "All kinds of people came to Jesus. What did Jesus do? He opened the doors for them. He spoke the language that they understood and He converted them out of their sin. "Woman, did no one condemn you?" He wasn't saying you are okay, you were just caught out. He said, "Did no one condemn you? Neither do I condemn you." Which means that He could have condemned her for what she had done. But He didn't use that language of condemnation. And I think that's sort of the feeling that I get. Let's put our language in a way that is going to invite people to a conversion, to an experience of Christ which is going to be realistic and is going to make a change in their life rather than leave them going away with a terrible guilt conscience or something like that."

Cardinal André Armand Vingt-Trois: "When a physician makes a diagnosis, he has terms to designate exactly the disease in question, but if he uses these terms with his patient, he will not be understood. Therefore, he must explain the meaning of the diagnosis with words that are not technical words. In theology, it is the same thing. One has a precise theological vocabulary that is a science with a technical reference, and when one addresses people to announce the goods news of Christ, one does not teach them a theology course. One tells them the contents of the theology but with a vocabulary that can be understood."

Mr. Sammons writes, "picture finding a person drowning in quicksand. Would your first concern be greeting her cheerfully and making sure she feels comfortable in your presence?" Mr. Sammons thinks the first thing we need to do is make sure they understand the correct terminology of why they are in quicksand. Mr. Sammons also writes, "Today there are countless souls lost and drowning, and the mission of the Church is to set them on the right path to salvation." I could not agree more with that statement. But when someone is drowning, as Mr. Sammons says, do we look at them floundering in the water and start lecturing them on the dangers of whatever led to them to this situation? Don't we first have to pull them out before we can do anything else? When someone is drowning, that is not the time to give them swimming lessons. 
 
Our world is most definitely drowning in sin, and they can no longer hear the Voice of God. Holy Mother Church, as evidenced by the above video of various cardinals, realizes that her job has become to reach out to people who know nothing of God. The Catholic Church has truly become an alien culture in the world. Since the world no longer speaks our language, we must now speak in a language that they will understand. It is a daunting task, but with God, all things are possible.

And to answer the title of Mr. Sammons's post, "The Church’s Essential Mission: Conversion, Not Welcome," the truth is there can be no "conversion" without "welcome". Why should anyone come to a Church which he or she feels is standing in judgment and condemnation, and speaks in ways that no one can understand anyway. Our Lord said, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:17). That does not mean that Jesus did not show people their sins. He was always telling people "Sin no more." And certainly the Church must always define sin.

But as Pope Francis said, the Church is a field hospital. And a hospital never turns anyone away. In fact, the more ill someone is, the more right that person has to be a patient. It doesn't matter what the patient understands or doesn't understand about his illness. As Our Lord said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick." (Mt. 9:12). And as Cardinal André Armand Vingt-Trois explained, "When a physician makes a diagnosis, he has terms to designate exactly the disease in question, but if he uses these terms with his patient, he will not be understood . . . when one addresses people to announce the goods news of Christ, one does not teach them a theology course. One tells them the contents of the theology but with a vocabulary that can be understood."



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