Monday, July 3, 2017

Preaching At People Will Never Convert Anyone

I try to do a fair amount of spiritual reading (not near as much as I probably should), mostly writings of the saints, in a quest to understand how people become saints.  Pope Francis has said saints are ordinary people who followed God “with all their heart.”  In a sermon given on the Feast of All Saints, November 1, 2013, Pope Francis said:
They are like us, they are like each of us, they are people who before reaching the glory of heaven lived a normal life, with joys and griefs, struggles and hopes.
So what drove them to rise above being an ordinary person like me to become a saint?  From Pope Francis:
[T]hey recognized the love of God, they followed him with all their heart, without conditions and hypocrisies. 

I think this is the key to everything:  "They recognized the love of God."   The saints completely commit themselves to God and love Him even more than they love their own lives.  But why do the saints love God so much?  Why are they not only willing but even want to sacrifice their lives for Him?  What drove a great saint like St. Maximilian Kolbe to want to be a martyr and rejoice when he had the opportunity to sacrifice his life for another?  This is what this great saint told us:
Life begins to make sense when we recognize and acknowledge God’s infinite goodness and our absolute dependence on Him. Our response will be praise and total love expressed in obedience.

This knowledge and assurance of God's love is what gave the saints the courage to face their own sins, admit their inability to overcome their sins and instead of trusting in themselves, look to Jesus for their salvation.  It is love that converts.

From St John Chrysostom:
Thou dost not so much desire thy sins to be forgiven, as He desires to forgive thee thy sins. In proof that thou dost not so desire it, consider that thou hast no mind either to practice vigils, or to give thy money freely: but He, that He might forgive our sins, spared not His Only-Begotten and True Son, the partner of His throne.
From St John of Kronstadt :
Often during the day I have been a great sinner, and at night, after prayer, I have gone to rest, justified and whiter than snow by the grace of the Holy Spirit, with the deepest peace and joy in my heart! How easy it will be for the Lord to save us too in the evening of our life, at the decline of our days! O save, save, save me, most gracious Lord; receive me in Thy heavenly Kingdom! Everything is possible to Thee!
Our commission from Christ is to preach the Gospel. Gospel means "Good News." And what is that good news? It is the love, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. It is the message that God loves us more than we can imagine, and wants every human being, no matter how sinful, to spend eternity with him in paradise.

And yet, the majority of Christians, at least on the Internet, seem to think that preaching the Gospel means throwing people's sins in their faces. We must tell them how terrible they are, and that is somehow going to motivate them to love God and repent. Are you kidding me? All this accomplishes is to drive them even further away.

As I have written over and over again, this is never the message we heard from Jesus Christ.  Except for the religious leaders of his time, Jesus never talked to people about their sins.  His message was about how much he loved them and wanted to save them from the misery they called life. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."  (Matthew 11:28).

Christ said that he came to give us life, and give it more abundantly.  Christ told us that he did not come to judge us, but to save us.  Even when a woman was taken in the very act of adultery and brought to him, he refused to condemn her.  He didn't even talk to her about what she had done.  She knew she had done wrong.  She knew she was guilty.  All he said was, I don't condemn you.  Now go and sin no more.  He gave her a new lease on life, a way to put her sin behind her and start completely fresh.

And that is what Jesus Christ does for all of us.  A true Christian loves Jesus Christ because he has experienced Christ's love for him.  A true Christian hates his sin not out of spiritual pride but because he knows it grieves his Savior.  A true Christian struggles against the sinful part of his self not to show how righteous he is or even because he is afraid of hell, but because he wants to please the One who gave His all on the cross for him.

If we really want to convince people to turn from their sins and give their lives to Jesus Christ, then our first priority is not to talk about their sin, but about the love, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  That is why I am so supportive of Pope Francis.  This is how Pope Francis talks about sin:
  • Sometimes we are saddened by the weight of our sins. May we not be discouraged. Christ has come to lift this burden and give us peace.
  • Mercy is the true power that can save humanity and the world from sin and evil.
  • The crucifix does not signify defeat or failure. It reveals to us the Love that overcomes evil and sin.
  • Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.
  • When Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan and was baptized by John the Baptist, he did so not because he was in need of repentance, or conversion: he did it to be among people who need forgiveness, among us sinners, and to take upon himself the burden of our sins.
  • Being Christian is not just obeying orders but means being in Christ, thinking like him, acting like him, loving like him; it means letting him take possession of our life and change it, transform it, and free it from the darkness of evil and sin. ... Let us show the joy of being children of God, the freedom that living in Christ gives us which is true freedom, the freedom that saves us from the slavery of evil, of sin and of death!
It is this line of thinking that I have seen in Father James Martin and his approach to the gay community.  That is why I am supportive of him.  As I have written, Father Martin has been roundly condemned by most conservative Catholics, basically denounced as a heretic.  However, I found an article written on a Catholic website that does not completely condemn Father Martin, entitled:  "Fr. James Martin's LGBT book: Where it's strong, where it falls short".

The author of the article, Adelaide Mena, likes Father Martin's encouragement of mutual respect on the part of the gay community and the Church.  She writes, "Fr. Martin rightfully reinforces God’s love for all his children in a world that places terms and conditions upon our human dignity and worth."

But she feels the book has a major shortcoming:
I was confused by the book’s avoidance of the Church’s teaching on the Sacrament of marriage, as well as the importance of the gifts of celibacy and chastity for the life of the Church. Likewise, I was baffled by Fr. Martin’s reluctance to acknowledge Catholics who experience same-sex attraction who live in obedience to Church teaching – either through celibacy or in sacramental marriages to persons of the opposite sex. If the purpose of the book is to build a bridge between the Church and the broader LGBT community, why skip over the perspective of those at the crossroads of living a Catholic life and experiencing same-sex attraction?
Is there anyone involved in this struggle who does not know the Church's teaching on homosexuality? It is not some well kept secret that needs to be exposed.  But we need to take things one step at a time.  A baby doesn't come out of the womb running.  First he learns how to sit, then to crawl, then to walk and finally how to run.  It doesn't happen all at once.  You can't expect a baby who can barely sit up to be able to run.

Why doesn't Father Martin talk about the Church's teachings with the gay community?  Because he wants them to one day follow this very teaching!  He doesn't want to push them away.  He wants to bring them to Jesus Christ, and the first step in this is to bring them to the saving knowledge of the Love of God.  

The author of the referenced article wants to know why Father Martin is so insistent on using terms like "Gay, LGBT, transgender."  The author says that many people involved in Courage don't use those terms to identify themselves. The author would do well to remember that the people in Courage have already come to Christ and received his forgiveness.  Father Martin is reaching out to people who, up to this time, have resisted Church teaching.  They require a very different approach.  

Remember what our goal is in reaching out to the gay community. Yes, absolutely we would like them to repent and live celibate lives. We also need to remember that this can only be done through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. So the first thing we need to do is not tell them they are sinners headed to hell. The first thing we need to do is open them up to the Love of God. We need to tell them that God loves and values them. We need to make them FEEL valued and loved. We don't need to remind them of something they already know, that the Church does not condone homosexual behavior and never will. When they hear that, they hear only condemnation, not love and acceptance. 

Do we want the world to be saved? Than show them the Love of God in your words and actions. Don't judge. Don't condemn. Love them, reveal the God of love and mercy who pulled you out of your sins. Show them the same mercy you received and continue to receive every day. That is what will lead people out of their sins.


  1. Speaking of Father James Martin, check out the following link:

    1. I am certainly not advocating in any way that Church teaching needs to be changed, and I do not see anything like this in Father Martin's writings, although his support of Sister Jeanine Gramick does concern me. My point is that the Church's teachings are no secret to anyone. There is a time and place to emphasize Church teaching, but it is not when initially reaching out to those outside the Church. At that time we should emphasize God's love for people, which is the only way their lives can truly be transformed.

  2. JULY 4, 2017

    Rational and traditional Catholic apologetics based on Feeneyism and not Cushingism


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