As soon as the men of the world perceive that you seek the devout life, they will launch forth all their raillery and slander against you; the most ill-natured will pronounce your altered ways to be hypocrisy, affection, or bigotry; they will assert that the world having slighted you, rejected by it, you turn to God; and your friends overwhelm you with a torrent of what they hold to be prudent and charitable remonstrances.
St. Frances De Sales
St. Frances De Sales wrote this piece in part to encourage us not to give heed to what the world says. If the world champions that all young girls from a young age should be on birth control is the world right? Or, if the world says that cohabitation is a perfectly normal way to determine the marriageability of a potential spouse, is this right? The obvious moral answers to these questions is no. However, the world would try to make you think that you’re still a good person even if you happen to believe in cohabitation or the distribution of the birth control pill to young girls.
Oh No, He’s Discovered the Opposite Sex!
The point I just made resounds even more when discussing the opposite sex with our children. The moment our child’s view of the opposite sex changes from “whatever” to “whoa” then you know a whole new human being has just evolved before your very eyes. Keep in mind that the secular world knows this natural phenomenon all too well waiting to pounce on the soul of your child and transform them into a morally distorted sexual being.
When parents realize this change I often find myself on the receiving end of their questions on how to discuss sex to their teens as taught by the Church. However, before I can muster a sound response the parent on his last ounce of despair blurts out in a loud voice: “Oh no, he’s discovered the opposite sex.” I tell parents instead of saying “Oh No” our first response should be, “good, let’s talk about sex.”
As parents it’s important that we become keenly aware of what our kids already know or don’t know with respect to sex. The sex talk meter tends shift toward two extremes where either nothing is discussed or everything is discussed to a fault. A good starting point is to help them reevaluate their understanding or misunderstanding of where the body comes from, why it was made, and what was the result of “the fall” of our first parents with respect to authentic human sexuality.
Establishing a Temptation Meter
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Col 3:1-3)
One of the most effective methods I’ve found to help curb sexual temptation amongst teens is to establish a temptation meter. This idea came to me many years ago when teaching my sophomore class about the morality of passions in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They way to establish a temptation meter is by simply following the outline laid out in the Catechism on the Morality of Passions. Here’s an example of what I would give to my students and then they would have to place a check mark next to each one of the following areas they fell into; it made for quite a class discussion:
- If you begin to pulsate and lose all inhibitions of normal moral behavior i.e. looking at someone inappropriately or beginning to imagine inappropriate situations with someone, then you have reached the realm of – Lust. CCC 1765
- If your appetite for natural friendship abandons ship for an inappropriate sexual appetite then you have reached the realm of – disordered arousal. CCC 1765
- If you all think about is how the young man or woman can satisfy your personal desires versus how you can charitably help the person in a loving way you have reached the realm of disordered pleasure. CCC 1765
- If your intellect and will became deliberately engaged toward a passion of selfish
love, you have reached the realm of – evil. CCC 1766
- If your intellect and will do not see the dignity of the human person in someone you encounter you have reached the realm of – sadness. CCC 1770
As I stated earlier these five characteristics are adapted from the Catechism articles referenced under the Morality of Passions. I would also incorporate a picture related to the characteristic for greater effect. Once the student saw and understood how their behavior fell into one these categories, changes began to occur. They realized they did not want to become sexual zombies. Instead they began to realize their human dignity and the gift that they are to God.
Another point to reflect on is the morality of the human act which is depended upon the object, the intent, and the circumstance (CCC 1750-1754). One way to incorporate this great little nugget of doctrinal instruction is to ask e.g. your son the following questions:
- “What was your first thought when you saw that beautiful girl walk right in front of you?”
- “What was your intent when you saw her?”
- “What did you think about doing after you finished observing this girl?”
These questions may sound blunt but I can assure you they will get your sons attention. Keep in mind that the Catechism reminds us that the Moral Law is the work of Divine wisdom and finds its unity in Christ (CCC 1950-1954). What this means is that we want our children to act in moderation making reasonable use of their senses so as to not become sexual zombies but instead becomes authentic disciples in Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas provides us with a wonderful summation and antidote in dealing with sexual temptation all parents should share with their children:
“To love is to will the good of another”
Faith is the result of the act of the will, following upon a conviction that to believe is a duty.
Blessed Cardinal Newman
St. James tells us if we lack wisdom ask God because He will give generously. Our petition should rest on a genuine faith attributed to Him. If not, then the opposite of faith i.e. doubt will cause us to be like a wave of the seas that is driven and tossed by the wind (1: 5-6). We can easily attribute this same scenario to a classroom full of students listening to a teacher go to and fro about something related to the Catholic faith but never getting there. Scenarios like this make students either walk the plank voluntarily or abandon ship all together.
The art of teaching the Catholic faith doesn’t need to be the most horrifying thing one goes through. The thought of twenty-something high school students waiting or better yet daring you to show and teach them something profound should not stop you in your catechetical tracts and make you scream mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa!
It is not surprising when fear sets that an immediate tendency is to fall back and make the lesson about “you” (the narcissistic teacher) instead of “Church teaching.” I’ve personally witnessed this phenomenon for years and it typically leads to a dilution of doctrinal instruction that leaves the student wondering “how the teacher watering her flowers” has any applicability to Moses and the parting of the Red Sea.
The Method of Blessed Newman
One way to address this phenomenon is by familiarizing ourselves with a beautiful little gem by Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman. In his great work: An Essay in Aid of A Grammar of Assent; Blessed Newman describes “Credence” as the act by which we give credence to propositions or in other words an obedience of faith. He goes on to say; it is the sort of assent which we give to those opinions and professed facts which are ever presenting themselves to us without any effort of ours, and which we commonly take for granted . . . (pg. 60).
The propositions Blessed Newman refers to are carefully embedded in the Creed. At the heart of what Blessed Newman is asking of us is to become knowledgeable of these propositions or what has been made visible by God through His Son Jesus Christ. At the heart of the Creed is a free assent “I believe.” The catechetical effectiveness of any religion teacher rest on his or her fidelity to the Church’s proposition over their own. This does not mean we cannot use our own personal experiences to aid the instruction but it should not be the primary focus.
Another point to consider when dealing with the narcissistic religion teacher is the assumption that a student is incapable of understanding the doctrinal propositions of the Church. Thus the religion teacher takes it upon him or herself to reinterpret doctrine for the sake of the student when in reality it is more for the sake of the teacher. Blessed Newman helps us counter this tendency when he refers to the nature of religion as “the knowledge of God, of His Will, and of our duties toward Him . . .” (pg. 303) He goes on to describe three ways by which nature allows us to acquire this knowledge of God: “our own minds, the voice of mankind, and the course of the world, that is, of human life and human affairs.” (pg. 303) In other words, he presents a perfect balance of knowledge through study and knowledge through experience where in-turn it leads us to a fuller understanding of who God is.
Blessed Newman and the Annunciation Method
Perhaps no scripture passage better encapsulates Blessed Newman’s teaching methodology and at the same time help us how to handle a narcissistic religion teacher other than the Annunciation model in Luke’s Gospel.
- At first we see the Arc Angel Gabriel makes a profound announcement to Mary: “Hail Full of Grace” this unique proclamation if you will immediately identifies what the Lord declares unto Mary-that she is without sin and is highly favored with God (Lk 1:28 ff.) If we take this example and apply it within the context of the classroom; our instruction should be directed toward the specific doctrine we are about to teach and announce to the whole class whether through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Music, Sacred Art or in any proper method that would grab the attention of the students.
- Next we see the Arc Angel Gabriel declare unto Mary: “The Lord is with you.” This statement immediately reassures Mary that she is not alone, God is truly present. It is important that we actively draw the Blessed Trinity into our catechetical instruction through the visible presence of the Crucifix, a sacred space with the liturgical colors of the season etc.
- After Mary expressed concern over this pronouncement the Arc Angel Gabriel reassures her to not be afraid; “for you have found favor with God.” Students tend to express concern or at times defiance when a particular aspect of Church teaching is confusing. It is the responsibility of the catechist to reassure students what the Church teaches and why. The climax of any doctrinal instruction is the development of an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
- The Arc Angel Gabriel instructs Mary on what it is to come: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” The Arc Angel Gabriel serves as the chief catechist carefully articulating what is to take place and explaining the nature and purpose of Mary’s role in Salvation History as the “God-Bearer.”
- Mary’s acceptance and obedience of faith: And Mary said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.” As a faithful servant who knew no sin Mary accepts the instruction delivered by the Arc Angel Gabriel and professes her fidelity to God. The method here rests on the faithful transmission of the Gospel by the catechist and the faithful acceptance of the faith by the student. This means that the catechist actively lives out his/her Catholic faith in response to God’s call through His Son Jesus Christ.
As we just read, the Annunciation provides a clear example of what an assent of faith looks like and the methodology behind it. Upon reflecting on Blessed Newman’s work on the Grammar of Assent , we see a pararllel with respect to the Annunciation narrative towards an assent of faith in the Credo of God. Every religion teacher (myself included) should keep in mind that it’s not about us; it’s about offering the student an authentic opportunity to assent to the will of Christ and His Church.
“You must make up your mind to the prospect of sustaining a certain measure of pain and trouble in your passage through life.”
Blessed Cardinal Newman
Blessed Newman’s remarks should resonate in our souls when it comes to trying to keep our moral nerve. All too often the attempt to freely exercise our moral nerve is meant with disdain by those who would characterize this behavior as too oppressive or judgmental. Imagine a person who is trying to publicly exercise their moral nerve being chastised for doing so. Unfortunately this type of scenario is happening more often than naught in today’s age. Such a situation occurred to a former student of mine who was ridiculed by a group of immodestly dressed girls for praying in front of an abortion facility. One of the girls commented: “You hate women” and without missing a beat he responded: “On the contrary, I love and honor women because God made them and I hope to marry one someday because they are a gift from God just like yourselves.” At that the girls were left speechless and went away quietly.
In order to make a concerted effort to keep your moral nerve and not lose it you have to make up your mind to do so. Blessed Newman alludes to this. In other words, either you will or you won’t. Sounds simple and it can be if you exercise right reason, judgment and prudence. Once this is accomplished you will then realize that maintaining your moral nerve will require sacrifice and God forbid some suffering and ridicule on the way.
I dare to say that no Father wants to raise a son who will not defend the basic moral principles of life established by God in the Ten Commandments (Rule of Faith). It goes without question that our hope in raising morally upright sons is that they develop into morally upright men. However, we know and understand that the development of a moral life in Christ is filled with immoral crevices. They tend are positioned by the Devil himself to somehow convince all of God’s children that there is a better alternative than living in the view of the Devil a prohibitive moral life centered on Jesus Christ.
Origins of Our Moral Nerve
Where does our moral nerve come from? If we take the time to understand who we are as God’s children we can clearly see that the moment we received our soul our moral nerve came into being. And with that, our sense of responsibility, order, and willingness to perform good acts in the name God the Father. However, the advent of the first sin by Adam and Eve’s own free will curtailed our perfect ability to perform good acts and instead our good acts would require sacrifice and a sense of suffering.
God created man a rational being conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions, God willed that man should be left in the hand of his own counsel so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him (CCC 1730). In other words the origin of our moral nerve rests in the very freedom God bestowed on us in order to act on things moral and avoid things immoral (Sir 15:14-20).
How to Keep Our Moral Nerve
A Father’s primary responsibility to his children is to teach them how to have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Once our children recognize this important relationship in their lives then their view of themselves as human beings created in the image and likeness of God will grow.
The second responsibility is to help our children actively engage their relationship with Christ through a visible means of living out the Gospel message. Here’s where the Ten Commandments come in. The Decalogue (Ex 20:1-20) serves as the Rule of Faith all of us are called to follow fully realized in Christ and fulfilled in the Beatitudes (Mt 5: 2-12). The end-goal of fulfilling and keeping the Commandments and Beatitudes is eternal rest with our Lord in Heaven.
If the end goal is Heaven then we need to find a way of keeping our moral nerve through an active engagement of the Ten Commandments and Beatitudes in our daily lives. With respect to our children, reflecting on the Ten Commandments and what they propose is vital in keeping our moral nerve intact. One way of using the Ten Commandments as a daily spiritual guide is placing each commandmens in a Lectio Divina format.
The format would be as follows:
- Lectio – asking the grace to Hear God’s Words: or in this case reflecting on what the Commandment asks.
- Meditatio – upon further reflection of the Commandment, reflect on a certain aspect of the Commandment and how it can be lived in a better way.
- Oratio – speak directly to our Lord and ask for His assistance to exercise your beatitudinal call.
- Contemplatio – listen to any response from God attentively through prayer.
Prayerful reflection of each commandment would follow the same pattern of the Lectio Divina. This method also serves as an examination of conscience further fortifying your moral nerve in your daily walk with Christ.
Making Sure You Don’t Lose Your Moral Nerve
So, how do we make sure that we as Father’s and for the sake of this article our son’s do not lose their moral nerve?
- Seep yourself in prayer (Jn 7:37-39): This may not sound very masculine but on the contrary exhibits masculinity to the highest degree. Our sons must see that we love Christ and His Church especially through active participation in the Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. Being part of the Bride of Christ requires an adherence to the will of the Father revealed through the Son.
- Don’t put on a false face (Col 2:8-15): Hypocrisy is Satan’s tool when we choose to mimic a willingness to live a moral life but in reality care not to. This is what being a hypocrite means – putting on a false face. The importance of this point is the willingness to be ridiculed, mocked and disrespected for publicly professing and authentically living a moral life in Christ. In the case of our sons, it’s teaching them how to handle peer pressure especially in matters of sexual morality. If our sons know and understand the gift God has given them in their identity (1 Jn 3:19-20) then there is no need to put on a false face.
- Perform good deeds and avoid evil ones (Rom 1:32): St. Paul’s reminds us of the need to avoid those acts that cause grave harm to our soul and in turn our relationship with Jesus Christ. Concupiscence takes the stage in this last point where we are faced with daily opportunities to perform good deeds or fall prey to evil ones of our own free will. The message to take from this last point is that the Commandments and Beatitudes must work hand in hand in our daily lives. Merely performing a good deed does not exempt us from immoral thoughts or actions. We are called to actively engage society with a moral compass and effectively show how to live it.
The Church holds the key to keeping our moral nerve intact; this is why it is either loved or hated. Loved, by those who understand the nature of Christ and who we are as Children of God; hated by those who see the Church as an impediment in exercising their own self-prescribed moral autonomy. We may sway in our moral nerve due to the wages of sin, but it can never be destroyed because of the Father’s Infinite love for His children.
In a spiritual testament to his son, St. Louis King of France wrote the following:
My dearest son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all of your heart and all of your strength. Without this there is no salvation. Keep yourself, my son, from everything that you know displeases God, that is to say, from every mortal sin. You should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom before you allow yourself to commit a mortal sin.
It appears that this form of father to son communication has become somewhat of a lost art but not one that has completely disappeared. In an age where the sanctity of Marriage is constantly attacked by those who would rather forcefully have you believe that a union between males or females is perfectly natural and normal under the guise of matrimony there is an underlying current to this malaise in the deconstruction of male and female anthropology.
At the onset of God’s desire to create creatures that would most perfectly reflect His love man and woman were created. Each was given his and her own unique gifts that perfectly complemented one another in all facets of being male and female (Gen 2:4-25) hence the nature and sanctify of marriage from the very beginning. Suffice it to say this point is irrefutable though the current trend is to refute this natural course of action by any means necessary.
One of the unique gifts God bestowed upon man and woman is each possessed their own physical identity while at the same time possessed the same dignity given to them by God. They possessed a rational soul that drove their actions towards good prior to the fall. After the fall the soul was left to deal with the constant battle of dealing with a fallen human nature that would be resuscitated by God’s grace through His Son Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:3-11).
The First Principle of Authentic Masculinity
Owing to the nature God has given us, the male subject in the order of creation has certain natural duties and responsibilities required of him by God. If we take the example of Samuel, he listened and obeyed to the calling of the Lord (1 Sam 3:1-18). Abraham listened to the word of God to the point of willing to sacrificing his son Isaac (Gen 22); Joshua upon seeing the messenger of the Lord immediately paid homage and worshipped (Joshua 5:13-15). These examples of obedience also reflect the gift/act of fidelity towards God. And here lies the first principle of authentic masculinity; a willingness to accept the will of the Father over our own. Men by nature have exhibited great difficulty throughout our Lord’s history to accept His will.
As a father myself the responsibility I hold to my wife and children and in this case to my son must be centered on an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. This intimacy reflects a desire to know the Father’s will and to become visibly and actively sacramental in my way of life with Christ and His Church.
A Father’s Responsibility and the Obedience of Faith
There are several ways many of us can think of toward developing an authentic masculinity for our sons. One that I have found most effective throughout my years of catechizing male students including my own son is the gift of obedience. Obedience by nature affirms a willingness to freely hear or submit to something or someone. The natural tenet of obedience is to draw on a greater good as a result of obedience. This was Adam and Eve’s simple task which as we have seen in the history of the world was not so simple.
The Catechism references obedience with respect to the Word of God as man’s ability to submit freely to the Word that has been heard (CCC 144). This definition echoes the example mentioned earlier with Abraham, Joshua and Samuel. Obedience begets faith in that there is a certainty that what you adhere to will foster greater fruits, in particular the gift of truth.
Witness to Authentic Masculinity
A Father’s greatest gift to his son is how he handles the gift of obedience in everyday life and lives this obedience with others. As the head of the household, Fathers are called in faith and obedience to care for their spouses and their children; they swear an oath through the Holy Covenant of Marriage to love their wives as Christ loves the Church and to be open to the gift and sanctity of life.
Children are keenly aware of their parents’ mannerisms. They analyze everything a parent does and in the process imitate these behaviors habitually. In the case of Father’s, our first pillar of authentic masculinity is the visible role of obedience in our daily life with Christ. Our son’s must see this act of faith on a daily basis so their view of the world does not become secular and instead becomes Catholic. Simple examples of obedience such as:
- Carefully listening to your son when he is speaking to you
- Opening the door for your wife and treating her with utmost respect even when you may be tempted not to
- Not being quick to judge or condemn (very difficult to do)
- Admitting when you’re wrong (even more difficult)
though not exhaustive these examples are nevertheless quite challenging and can lead towards a sound masculine foundation. They reflect a sense of chivalry that has been lost amongst boys in today’s society. I can’t tell you how many times my son has received surprised facial expressions from females he has opened the door for on any given day. Fortunately, the majority of these facial expressions have been positive and affirming rather than negative. Give a boy an opportunity to be a healthy man of God I believe he’ll take it. Authentic masculinity rests in the desire to be an obedient witness of the Gospel with all of the gifts attributed to man by God. We must provide these opportunities as much as possible in order to avoid an identity crisis of sorts in our own son’s masculine development.
“Awake O’ Sleeper, and arise from the dead and Christ shall give you light. Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
As someone who has long appreciated the catechetical value of CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, it was a great pleasure for me to have the opportunity to interview Max McLean, director of the stage adaptation of The Screwtape Letters and its lead actor, portraying Screwtape. McLean originated the role of Screwtape in New York, Chicago, D.C. and on national tour. The following interview took place on Tuesday February 13, 2013.
Marlon De La Torre: Good morning. Thanking you for taking some time from your busy Schedule to speak with Catholic Lane about C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters and the stage adaptation.
Max McLean: Thank you for having me.
De La Torre: Could you provide us with a brief genesis of how the stage adaptation of The Screwtape Letters came to fruition?
McLean: Certainly. While working on another stage production — on the book of Genesis — a producer had noticed my work and sent me an e-mail inquiring if I ever thought of bringing C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters to the stage and [suggesting] that I would make a great Screwtape. The producer saw it more as a meditation instead of a theatrical piece.
De La Torre: I’ve been a life-long fan of C.S. Lewis and his writings, in particular, The Screwtape Letters. I have also had the pleasure of teaching Screwtape Letters in the classroom to high school students for many years and adapted a book in that correlates it with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
How would you describe the stage adaptation of Screwtape Letters to the novice reader of C.S. Lewis and its application in daily life?
McLean: When people encounter Screwtape for the first time, they will experience a theatrical, provocative, humorous performance that will inevitably guide them to think spiritually. For some people, Screwtape will seem quite connected to their daily lives, exposing their inner nature, exposing their inner selves. It can also be humiliating [to consider] how easily we can be swayed by the Devil. The important point to all this is that God wants us to be humble.
De La Torre: You bring to light some marvelous points about the overall nature of not only Screwtape but ourselves. In light of this, was it easy or difficult playing Screwtape? C.S. Lewis had responded, when asked a similar question, that writing Screwtape came fairly easy for him.
McLean: Technically, it was difficult playing Screwtape. C.S. Lewis used highly sophisticated language. It was a challenge vocally, intellectually, etc. to truly capture Lewis’ nature behind Screwtape. The story has such a wonderful ending and when you look at the play it is very satirical hence you can distance yourself from the character.
De La Torre: Was it a challenge getting “out of character” so to speak after each performance?
McLean: Because of the satirical approach to the play it made easier to distance [myself] from the character.
De La Torre: How would you describe Screwtape to a secular audience?
McLean: Screwtape is Satan’s chief psychologist on human nature and what makes human nature tick. He gives us a taste of how the Demonic world can be. He exhibits patience in the sense that every man on earth is unaware so to speak of Screwtape and how he can affect our lives.
C.S. Lewis turns everything upside down, where God is viewed as the “enemy” and the “patient” is the prize. Wormwood is the novice in all this. He is not very good at his job. Screwtape needs to hold his hand and help him along as he attempts to sway “the patient” to the “other side.”
De La Torre: Very well put. I found that teaching Screwtape to adults and teens left the students wondering how they have been affected by the temptations of the world. It brought a realization that there is a constant battle going on between good and evil.
How would this story resonate to a younger generation, in particular teenagers and young adults?
McLean: Screwtape does two important things, [i.e. offers two important lessons] when entering into his world.
One: The safest road to Hell is the gentle, safest road. It’s the little mundane, average things that will get you.
Two: It’s funny how Screwtape strives and thinks the best [most effective] things are done by keeping things out. As Catholic Christians, we were taught about the Spiritual world. Screwtape wants to keep these spiritual things out.
De La Torre: Mr. McLean, it has been a real pleasure speaking with you about The Screwtape Letters. I speak for many of my colleagues who have had the chance to view Screwtape on stage and have come away thoroughly impressed and reinvigorated in their own faith.
Thank you for taking some time from your busy schedule to speak with Catholic Lane and I wish you continued blessings and success.
McLean: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.
Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them I its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy.
We can say that the Catechism quote you just read perfectly characterizes the way Pope Francis lives his life. Everyone he encounters is treated with the utmost dignity and respect it’s contagious to the visible eye. What is even more striking is the solidarity on display; riding the bus back with the Cardinals as the newly minted Pope, to paying his bill and carrying his own luggage which the world has probably seen time and time again. This is no act he is putting on for the whole world to see. On the contrary, he is exhibiting a genuine call to live a life rooted in prayer, grounded in sound moral action, and embrace an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
Social Justice Characteristics
A life rooted in prayer, sound moral grounding and the desire to have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ are the building blocks for society. Suffice to say they also serve as the pillars for sound social justice catechesis. Social Justice by general definition aims to respect the dignity of the human person. Because the world is ordered to man, social justice takes on a greater significance. This is very apparent in Pope Francis’ awareness of the poor and his continual call to serve the poor and seek mercy.
However, what is most apparent which unfortunately may not be for others is Pope Francis’ moral grounding towards acts of social justice. He is not merely implying to serve the poor, he is also calling the faithful to live a moral life rooted in Christ and effectively witness this moral life to those whom we serve. In other words, it is not enough to merely serve the poor, we must live a life according to the rule of faith i.e. the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes rooted in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. In other words, the Rule of Faith drives our social justice outreach.
The Root of Social Justice is the Moral Law.
The moral law is the work of divine Wisdom. Its biblical meaning can be defined as fatherly instruction, God’s pedagogy. It prescribes for man the ways, the rules of conduct that leads to the promised beatitude . . . (CCC 1950). The Catechism reminds us that the moral law drives our rule of conduct in that the dignity of the human person is inherent in everyone. This also means that we have a duty and responsibility to uphold this dignity not only ethically and logically, but morally as well. There is a visible contradiction when someone says it is vital to serve the poor but yet feels the need to engage in sexually immoral acts because it’s their right.
If you were to ask anyone involved in Social Justice Ministry “what is the single-most important thing the Church needs to address?” you may here responses such as: feeding the poor, immigration, fair employment, enhancement of social services, etc. The items listed are very important in the life of anyone in need of assistance and the Church has been at the forefront of helping everyone and anyone for over two millennia. However, there is a distinct problem with this scenario. Social Justice tends to be promoted as a separate entity apart from the Church’s moral teachings. Case in point, while at a gathering of Diocesan Catechetical Educators several years ago someone made the open comment to our group that the Church “needs to stop talking about sex and start talking about social justice-feeding the poor and saving the environment.” There you go, social justice need not involve living or exhorting a moral lifestyle.
Encountering the message of the Gospel (Mt 28:17-20) is at the heart of social justice doctrine because it involves initiating the faithful into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ (Phil 2:5-11). This is what drives authentic social justice by acknowledging the dignity of the human person which in turn directs our social efforts to faithfully care for the needs of the person.
Words cannot begin to express the jubilation felt by my fellow Hispanics with the elevation of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to See of Peter as Pope Francis. This was quite evident last night while teaching a catechist formation class to a group of Hispanic catechists who were continually celebrating and cheering Cardinal Bergoglio’s election.
Comments ranged from, “he is one of us”, to “finally a Spanish speaking Pope” or the funniest one of all, hey, let’s call him “Papa Pancho” Pancho is short for Francisco in Mexico. Nevertheless, there is a definite air of excitement and enthusiasm from every Hispanic I’ve talked to thus far. Even my own mother immediately sensed a stronger connection with Pope Francisco because of his Latin background. If this is any indication of things to come, then we are in for a tremendous Pontificate.
Simplicity of Faith
What immediately struck me about Pope Francis is his living humility. His request to pray for him prior to bestowing his blessing to the faithful was one of the most significant gestures of faith anyone can offer. In essence, he catechized without saying one word. His act of faith resonates well with Hispanics as it is reveals a willingness to know and understand his people which is a central charism of Hispanic culture. It’s about “familia” and this was evident in his way of living.
One of the challenges that Hispanic Catholics face on a daily basis is the root of culture when actively living the Catholic faith. Culture tends to drive the faith more than the faith driving culture. What I mean by this is the tendency to have local cultural customs or ideologies seep into Catholic doctrinal or liturgical practice rather than adhering to the Creed. An example of this is seeing rows of people who attend Mass on Sunday not receive Holy Communion because they have not gone to confession. Now, this may sound as if I’m advocating everyone to receive Holy Communion in an unworthy matter but this is not the case. What tends to happen in Hispanic communities is many congregants would rather not receive Holy Communion in order to avoid the sacrament reconciliation. The perception is that “as long as I’m at Mass I’ll receive all the graces I need whether I receive Holy Communion or go to confession or not.” Hence we have a conundrum with the Hispanic faithful with regard to sacramental practice. I firmly believe Pope Francis will offer a clear directive on how to live our faith appropriately. He’s already firmly and simply told us how we should pray.
Humility is a willful desire to life in Christ. Pope Francis reminded the faithful that we are called to live Christ Crucified. St. Peter reminds us of this call in our daily living;
“. . . as obedient children, do not be conformed to the passion of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
1 Pt 1:14-15
Hispanics will gravitate to Pope Francisco by the mere fact that he is already viewed as “one of us.”
Learn to do thy part and leave the rest to Heaven
Blessed Cardinal Newman
Imagine a Bishop exercising his rightful authority to assure authentic Catholic teaching and practice in Catholic Schools. If this proposition sounds reasonable, then you will find Bishop Vasa of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, CA to be a reasonable man. He had requested/required that all Catholic School teachers publicly affirm Catholic Church teaching and apply it in daily living. Unfortunately his request really stirred up a hornet’s nest amongst those who saw his position as offensive.
What Bishop Vasa was simply asking his Catholic educators to do is guard what has been entrusted to them (1 Tim 6:20). In other words, if you are a Catholic or non-Catholic educator who works in a Catholic School, faithfully hand on what Christ has taught in word and deed or respect what the Catholic Church teaches in the case of the non-Catholic. Apparently this request was seen by many including Catholic School teachers as an infringement on their personal lives meaning “the Church has no right to tell me how to live or what I do on my own time.” Actually Bishop Vasa does have the right to request that all of his Catholic school teachers adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church in practice and instruction or in the case of non-Catholic teachers respect the teachings of the Church.
Several years ago a when I was Superintendent of Catholic Schools we instituted a rigorous clause in the teacher’s contract specifically holding the teacher accountable to adhere and respect Church teaching rooted in Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law. Particular emphasis was placed on the moral teachings of the Catholic Church i.e. artificial contraception, abortion, same-sex unions, cohabitation, homosexual activity etc. Unfortunately, many teachers refused to sign their contracts because they felt it was an infringement on the personal lives and views.
Blessed John Paul II stressed that religious education; “must concern itself not only with nourishing and teaching the faith, but also with arousing it increasingly with the help of grace, with opening the heart, with converting and with preparing total adherence to Jesus Christ on the part of those who are still on the threshold of faith” (Catechesis In Our Time, 19).
The Role of the Catholic School Teacher
The missionary activity of the Catholic educator is essentially ecclesial. This means that anyone who desires to work in a Catholic school environment should know from the very beginning that their role is to be in union with the Church, not against it. Regardless of whether the individual teaches religion or biology, the Catholic School is a direct extension of the Church at large. An important responsibility of all Catholic educators is to always “put people not only in touch, but also in communion and intimacy, with Jesus Christ (GDC, 80; CT 5).” Quite frankly this is a no brainer.
My teaching is not from myself; it comes from the one who sent me. (Jn 7:16). St. John alludes to the fact that all things come from God. Christ proclaims this as such as the Son of God. If a Catholic educator has a doctrinal issue with the Catholic Church why in the world would he or she teach in a Catholic school? In a way, this is what Bishop Vasa is asking his teachers. Since he is the Chief catechist of his Diocese, he has the right to ask this question directly.
Is It Really About Catholic Identity?
Yes, it really is about Catholic identity? The purpose of an authentic Catholic education is first and foremost develop an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ through sound catechesis and effective methods of evangelization to assist the student in applying their knowledge of faith in the world. In other words, all Catholic schools are schools of evangelization. This means that every subject area should be rooted in Christ guiding students on how to apply their faith in every academic discipline they participate in. In other words Catholic Schools were built to assist students to engage their world through their Catholic faith and not the other way around.
There should not be an identity crisis when it comes to teaching or authentically witnessing the Catholic faith in a Catholoic school. A Catholic school teacher either agrees freely to make a profession of faith if they’re Catholic or if they’re non-Catholic agree not to present information or themselves in ways that our contrary to the Church or they don’t.
If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
1 Tim 6:3-5
Faith is the result of the act of the will, following upon a conviction that to believe is a duty.
Blessed Cardinal Newman
Ever since Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI announced his resignation from the Chair of St. Peter the whole world has clamored to offer opinions on the legacy of Benedict XVI’s pontificate and the Church at large. Quite frankly, there is no shortage of opinion on who the next Holy Father will or should be or how the Church needs to change its stance on certain doctrinal norms, as if it ever would.
What fascinates me even more is the steps secularists take to negatively dissect a Divine Institution on mere human terms. This has been the consistent message from various media outlets seizing the opportunity to paint the Church as an archaic institution that appeared to lose its touch with the world under Benedict XVI.
A recent New York Times/CBS poll reveals that many Catholics are supposedly dissatisfied with Benedict XVI pontificate and feel the Church needs to change to adapt to the cultural norms of the day. These norms tend to gravitate towards the usual suspects, contraception, same-sex marriage, woman priests, married priests, abortion, and sex on demand.
The mindset I allude to does have an origin. When Adam and Eve had the choice to ignore the serpents appealing proposition to be like God but failed to do so, the birth of the “I’m more important than God” generation was born. Keep in mind, of the many definitions of sin, one that resonates most is: sin is a failure in genuine love for God (CCC 1849). This led to the ever evolving nature of man’s self-seeking pleasure rather than the adoration of God. If you want a great example of this read the Book of Judges. Hence, Narcissistic Catechesis takes its cue from this mind set. It prides itself on emphasizing the human element of things rather than directing our attention on the divine, holy, and sacred. This form of catechesis became the integral framework of most catechetical curriculums and textbooks of the seventies and eighties. Typical content would consist of the following:
What Does Narcissistic Catechesis Look like?
The mindset I allude to does have an origin. When Adam and Eve had the choice to ignore the serpents appealing proposition to be like God but failed to do so, the birth of the “I’m more important than God” generation was born. Keep in mind, of the many definitions of sin, one that resonates most is: sin is a failure in genuine love for God (CCC 1849). This led to the ever evolving nature of man’s self-seeking pleasure rather than the adoration of God. Hence, Narcissistic Catechesis takes its cue from this mind set. It prides itself on emphasizing the human element of things rather than directing our attention on the divine, holy, and sacred. This form of catechesis became the integral framework of most catechetical curriculums and textbooks of the seventies and eighties. Typical content would consist of the following:
- You are loved (though love is never clearly defined).
- Jesus is your friend.
- It’s okay to say you are sorry.
- All you need is God to forgive you.
- All faiths are equal because they come from God.
- It’s important that you follow your own conscience.
- What’s more important is how you feel about the situation.
- It’s not really a sin it’s an error in judgment.
Keep in mind that along with this type of terminology were the pictures and illustrations that went along with the language. Crosses instead of crucifixes, pictures of the sacraments that gave no indication of the sacraments e.g. Baptism represented by a river; the Holy Eucharist represented by plain bread etc. This form of supposed catechesis took the element of the Divine completely out of the religious formation of many children. And you wonder why people have issues with the Church.
A culminating example of all this is the following interview I came across between CNN’s Piers Morgan a self-proclaimed Catholic and Penn Jillette of Pen&Teller fame. Morgan makes no secret his disdain for Pope Benedict XVI and the teachings of the Catholic Church to Penn Jillette (a proclaimed Atheist). However what makes this interview so unbelievable is when pressed to agree with Morgan on the problems Morgan sees with the Catholic Church Penn Jillette makes multiple sound arguments in favor of the Church as the Divine Institution it naturally is and that if you say you are a Catholic, it would seem natural to follow what this Holy Institution proclaims, especially through its leader.
There is still a lot of work to do.
These examples should not surprise us nor make us lose hope. Encouraging signs are everywhere regarding the flowering of the Church, one has to only look at the media attention the conclave is generating regarding who the next Pope will be. Even in the advent of social media and the New Evangelization, there is still much work to do especially in the front lines of every parish religious education and Catholic school catechetical program.
Keep in mind, if society as a whole did not care about the Church, the argument is you wouldn’t hear much about it. However, the world does care albeit for different reasons. This is the time to clearly articulate the teaching of the Church and deliver them faithfully and lovingly to all who will listen.
The Prophet Isaiah tells us:
Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come to be ashamed all who were incensed against him (45:22-24).
Are there consequences for believing in God? I guess it would depend on who you ask. Whether your persuasion is to believe in God or not it is an interesting question to think about. The argument against believing in God typically resonates with the individual seeing faith as an impediment to his daily living. For the culturally self-proclaimed Atheist, belief in God requires adhering to a set of beliefs or “requirements” that are necessary to live a certain way of life in accordance with God. However these requirements are interpreted as impediments or, in laymen’s terms, belief in God interrupts one’s personal life.
Consequences for Believing in God
But what if the consequences were referring to are actually good; Consequences that actually guide your relationship with God and help you became a faithful witness of the Gospel. When one professes belief in God e.g. through the Profession of Faith, or the Sign of the Cross. . . these modes of belief have one thing in common; they call us to worship God first before all else including ourselves! Imagine that! The Catechism paints a clear picture on what the term consequence means with respect to believing in God.
The First Consequence – Coming to Know God’s greatness and majesty: this means that there is an actual affirmation that God does exist and that He is omnipotent, omniscient, and Father of all. He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. It reveals that God’s greatness can be known up to a certain point due to our fallible nature. It also means we are called to serve God first before ourselves (CCC 223). In other words, we actually have to place God first in everything we do. The consequence results in our undying faith in God while shunning the temptations of the world.
The Second Consequence – To live in Thanksgiving: We give thanks that everything we have is a result of God Himself and not ourselves. He is the one who created in us in His image and likeness, and whether we like it or not, it is because of God that we are able to function in this world regardless of the degree to which we can function (CCC 224).
The Third Consequence – Knowing the unity and true dignity of all men: We are creatures created in the image and likeness of God. As children of God our responsibility is to live a moral life where true beauty is affirmed and not objectified in a lustful manner. It calls us to respect the beauty and integrity of each and every human being as a child of God. For some of us, this may prove to be one of the most difficult consequences to embrace. This consequence calls us to shun all immoral vehicles that denigrate the dignity of the human person e.g. pornography in all forms.
The Fourth Consequence – making good use of created things: Our faith should navigate how we prudently use objects that may not come directly from God but should still be used with God in mind. Objects such as computers, smart phones, and the internet that can be used to promote the New Evangelization at the same time should not take or distract us away from our faith in God.
The Fifth Consequences and by far “the most challenging” – trusting God in every circumstance, even in adversity: I am never surprised to hear someone thank God when everything is going well and then denounce Him when things do not. This last consequence is a perfect reflection on our need to constantly seek an interior conversion to God through His Son Jesus Christ.
These consequences firmly elicit a response to place ourselves within God’s love He has shown through His Son Jesus Christ. They call us to a state of holiness aimed to prepare our way to Heaven. In other words, these consequences draw us closer to God clearing away any confusion we may have had prior, about who God really is.
The Catechism (CCC 227) fittingly concludes with St. Teresa of Avila who aptly places these consequences into perspective:
Let nothing trouble you; Let nothing frighten you;
Everything passes; God never changes;
Patience; Obtains all
Whoever has God; Wants for nothing
God alone is enough.