The premise behind communicating a convincing story is to make it relatable to your audience. In other words show them they are part of the actual story. Any good narrative relies on the existence of natural truths that help anyone come to a realization that this story actually means something to the person.
When the premise behind a good narrative is the actualization of faith, the key word is actualization. Expanding on this a bit further, any sound narrative offers the listener an opportunity to engage the story and at some point assent to the premise of the story and the realities associated with it. These realities or actualizations when associated with Christ for example take on a whole different meaning because the intent is an assent of faith to Christ. But to convince someone to assent to Christ we must first provide the backdrop i.e. the premise behind this assent. And here is where the story needs to be convincing i.e. God’s plan for our salvation and His desire for us to be in full communion with Him.
At the Heart of the Story
Sound catechesis rests on the principal that what you are echoing i.e. teaching is Christ in order to develop an intimate relationship with Him and thus deepen our understanding of His story which we are also a part. When the Archangel Gabriel introduces himself to the Blessed Mother in Luke’s Gospel (1:26-31) his first words were not about himself, instead his very first statement is a direct affirmation from God on who she is: “Hail full of grace the Lord is with you!”
Applying the Annunciation model to our premise on “the story” our first catechetical step should involve an introduction to God’s narrative e.g. where we fit in God’s plan and what we are called to do within this plan. Any sound catechist would tell you that the first preparatory step in teaching the faith to anyone is a clear and precise introduction of God’s story and that His story is also ours and that we are still currently still in it. This basic principle is found again in the Annunciation narrative where after the Archangel Gabriel affirms our Blessed Mother he initiates a second phase of communication by telling Mary that she has “found favor with God.”
A good catechetical narrative aspires to reveal the mysteries of Christ and that these mysteries are not beyond our reach. Let’s keep in mind that the mysteries of Christ can be understood to the degree that we see the process of Divine Revelation throughout history and the development doctrine rooted in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. Even though we tend to speak of mystery as something that cannot be understood at all in relation to God, this is far from the case when we see what has been revealed in light of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. One needs to look no further than the Catechism of the Catholic Church to gain a better appreciation on how the mysteries of Christ can be understood in light of Divine Revelation.
The Centrality of Catechesis is the Kerygma
Part and parcel toward offering a convincing story is setting the stage for a proper understanding on how to live within the story. In other words those we teach should be exposed to the visible witness of our own sacramental life i.e. authentic Christian living which leads to holy action. St. Paul speaks about the need to mature our faith in order to build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-13). This particular point reflects the union between the Kerygma i.e. the proclamation of the living Gospel of Jesus Christ and our ability to articulate it through sound catechetical practice, content, and method. The kerygma for all intense purposes sets the stage toward embracing the story of Salvation History; meaning after a specific period of time guiding an individual toward the saving realities of God’s plan for our lives, Salvation History begins to make a little more sense. And this step can take some time depending on the individual’s state in life.
The effective aim of catechesis relies on a clear submission of God’s plan for our lives and how this plan is fully realized in Jesus Christ. Our catechetical instruction cannot be void of the central message of Christ because our way to the Father is through the Son and not ourselves (Jn 3:16; Rom 8:32). This reflects a concerted effort to teach the content of the faith and not be anchored by anything the deviates from what has been echoed (the Deposit of Faith).
What Does a Convincing Story Reveal?
A convincing story reveals truth. And this truth creates a walkway where a person can see him or herself engaging the potentiality of a route to Christ thus having a desire become members of Christ and His Church (Rom 6:3-4).
Part of our fundamental task as catechists is to help people young and old become aware of their vocation and of their purpose in life as a Christian. The study of Christian doctrine thus becomes an opportunity to not just memorize the faith it is an opportunity to help the person become aware of the Church’s doctrinal truths through a personal invitation to enter into God’s plan introduced at Baptism. The Catechism (156) reinforces this point even further:
What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe “because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.” So “that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit.” Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church’s growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability “are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all”; they are “motives of credibility” (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is “by no means a blind impulse of the mind.
Effective catechesis reveals that God is waiting for an answer to His personal invitation. This is where the story offers its most convincing position in that God is waiting and not going away no matter how hard we try to replace or ignore Him. Our response of faith is not solely based on our intellectual prowess, instead our response is an unreserved desire to follow God’s loving plan in Christ made more evident by the birth of His only-begotten Son as mentioned earlier in the Annunciation narrative. God’s story is our story, whether we realize it or not. The only way we can truly embrace our doctrinal call and duty is to understand the relationship between our vocation as created beings in the image likeness of God and the response of faith that results from this creation. In other words the symphony of faith rests on the saving realities brought to us by Jesus Christ Himself who is Lord of History.
“But above all it’s the Gospels that occupy my mind when I’m at prayer; my poor soul has so many needs, and yet this is the one thing needful. I’m always finding fresh lights there, hidden and enthralling meanings.”
St. Thérèse of Lisieux
It’s easy to dismiss the influence of the Devil when we are neck deep in our human pleasures. It begs the question do we actually realize what we’re doing when this happens? When one begins to reflect on this question a bit further the Devil appears to be the last person we worry about because of our own self-consumption. One definite illustration of this behavior is the tendency to reject accountability for our own actions creating a “right as I please attitude” because it’s for the greater good of me. And here lies part of Satan’s aim for man, the desire to draw him away from God and draw him inwardly to himself. Interestingly enough Satan’s greatest aim (man’s loss of humility) is also his greatest fear when properly ordered in the human condition. The Catechism for example defines humility as the virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. This is exactly what Satan does not want. St. Peter (1 Pt 5:6) reinforces this definition even further:
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you.
Why is sit so important for Satan to draw us away from God? Simply put, the further we distances ourselves from God the greater the opportunity to fall away from His grace and mercy. What better way for Satan to come in and offer alternatives to God. Primary to this desire is an open disregard for the Divine and establishing a sense of entitlement. Let’s keep in mind that Satan had a process in mind on fostering a sense of entitlement when he asked Eve; did God say you shall not eat of any tree of the garden? (Gen 3:1-3) Satan offers our parents a proposition between satisfying their own desires versus their desire for God, a love of self over a love for God.
All this leads to a second and most devastating part of Satan’s aim for man; the love of self above all other things. God becomes an afterthought even though we may try to convince ourselves this is not so. He plays on our incessant need to be happy instead of faithful, ambivalent instead of prudent, prideful instead of humble. His very aim reflects the characteristic he chose to forever be associated with, pride.
The Gift of Humility
Christ reminds us that he who humbles himself will be exalted (Lk 18:9-14). Humility serves as an action of self-abandonment. This means our will and intellect are directed toward a love for Christ and His Church. It reflects a willingness to die to self in order to gain eternal life. This virtue recognizes God as the author of everything good and clearly reveals to us that we are nothing without God.
Humility leads us to have a poverty of heart. This means our preference is Christ before anything else. St. Luke provides us with a great description of a poverty of heart in reference to the cost of discipleship where Jesus asks the Apostles to renounce everything for Him (Lk 14:33).
“All Christ’s faithful are to direct their affections rightly lest they be hindered in their pursuit of perfect charity by the use of worldly things and by an adherence to riches which is contrary to the spirit of evangelical poverty.” (CCC 2345)
One of the central characteristics of humility is the willful act of poor in spirit which helps us to recognize the awesome power of God and his goodness revealed through His son Jesus Christ. In a practical way, we are asked to live out our beatitudinal call i.e. poor in spirit (Mt 5:3) as a way of serving our fellow brother and sister in Christ not only spiritually but corporally as well. St. Gregory of Nyssa echoes this point further describing that the “world speaks of voluntary humility as poverty in spirit; the Apostle gives an example of God’s poverty when he says; for your sakes he became poor.”
St. Gregory of Nyssa reminds us that there is a relationship between humility and our beatitudinal call. When we examine the beatitudes closely, they represent the heart of Jesus’ preaching. The beatitudes fulfill the law of the commandments by placing into action the rule of the faith. The Catechism (1717) strengthens this point even further:
The Beatitudes depict the countenance of Jesus Christ and portray his charity. They express the vocation of the faithful associated with the glory of his Passion and Resurrection; they shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life; they are the paradoxical promises that sustain hope in the midst of tribulations; they proclaim the blessings and rewards already secured, however dimly, for Christ’s disciples; they have begun in the lives of the Virgin Mary and all the saints.
By nature of our baptismal call we are called to combat our own selfish desires through humility and abandonment to God’s providence. Our actions should not contradict the Gospel but instead should be in unison with our Lord’s desires for us as His children. St. Paul leaves us with a good reminder on how to keep ourselves in a humble manner within the mind of Christ: Pray constantly… always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (1Thess 5:17).
I am often asked the question: “what is the greatest challenge you face as a catechist?” My response is typically immediate: “it’s the doctrine of ignorance.” When I answer their question in this manner, I typically receive an initial bewildered look, but after a few moments the person begins to understand my response. Let’s put my answer in better perspective, the notion of ignorance on one front is that a person gives the impression to have sound and thorough knowledge of a topic when in reality he does not. On the contrary, what this person says is based on incomplete information which begins the construction of new doctrine not out of malice but out of ignorance. The problem here lies with the tendency to see this ignorance take on a creedal character. In order to avoid the development of ignorance as doctrine our first principle action should involve introducing the person into God’s narrative.
Handling the Doctrine of Ignorance
St. Augustine tells us:
The best method for instructing ignorant men in Christian doctrine, one that will bear much fruit is to ask questions in a friendly fashion after the explanation; from this questioning one can learn whether each one understood what he heard or whether the explanation needs repeating. In order that the learner grasp the matter, we must ascertain by questioning whether the one being catechized has understood, and in accordance with his response, we must either explain more clearly and fully or not dwell further on what is known to them etc. But if a man is very slow, he must be mercifully helped and the most necessary doctrines especially should be briefly imparted to him.
What St. Augustine is revealing to us is that we should be cognizant of whom we are evangelizing and catechizing when dealing with people who have succumbed to the doctrine of ignorance. A first step is by an authentic Christian witness (Acts 2:22-42). Another is to explain his Miracles (Acts 4:8-12), a third is to bear witness to the Love God has for his children through His Son (Rom 5:5-8) and a fourth is we are all called to eternal life (Acts 10:34-43; 13:16-41). St. Augustine is reminding us that our method is not the primary means by which someone will learn the faith and squelch their ignorance. The best method is our genuine witness of Christ in our daily life which is the way by which the person will begin to learn the faith with clarity.
St. Augustine’s Methodology
At the heart of this great Doctor’s methodology as found in his First Catechetical Instruction was the Kerygma i.e. the proclamation of the Gospel. Why is the narration (kerygma) so important in dispelling doctrinal ignorance? Because it involves revealing to the person that he is indeed part of God’s plan by the very nature of his creation. The narration establishes a focal point revealing the salvific reality of the Church and how the Church is the Deposit of faith and morals instituted by Christ.
Pope Paul VI makes us keenly aware of the value of the “narration” when he reminded us that modern man is more willing to listen to an authentic witness of the Gospel (Evangelization In the Modern World, 41). And this is where the apex of conversion, evangelization and catechesis takes hold on the soul, will and intellect of the person. The content of the “narration” involves a genuine love for the Word of God, a willingness to live out the Word and a desire to hand it on to others.
The doctrine of ignorance I argue can be far more damaging to the overall health of a Christian community than anything else. Why? Because it establishes new paradigms of faith and morals, new creeds become the normative way of believing and worshipping Christ without any clue as to whether what is perceived to be true should actually be believed. When dealing with the doctrine of ignorance St. John Paul II lays out a very clear process of conversion which: requires convincing of sin, it includes the interior judgment of conscience, and this, being proof of the action of the Spirit of Truth in man’s inmost being, becomes at the same time the start of a new grant of grace and love.” (DeV 31; CCC 1848)
St. Paul furthers this point by reminding us that we can recover from the doctrine of ignorance by immersing ourselves in the following way:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:1-2)
Handling doctrinal ignorance is not a catechetical death sentence. It simply means we have to engage in deconstructing what has developed and immerse the individual in God’s salvific plan. It also means revealing to the individual that he is intimately linked to this plan in order to have the opportunity to place himself in eternal rest with Christ in heaven.
Our human desire for both spiritual and physical affection is two of the strongest and most potent aspects of our human existence. It involves quenching the desires of our soul and our senses derived from the soul e.g. intellect, will, reason, logic, and love. When these affections are properly ordered they take on a sacrificial nature versus a selfish one. This reflects a natural disposition toward Christ and freely embracing His sacrificial love for us and imparting unto others. We must keep in mind that the moment sin entered freely into the heart and soul of our first parents our own human faculties would bear the brunt of this first sin. Our desire to live a life centered on Christ is a contested one due to the inclination to sin.
Man participates in the wisdom and goodness of the Creator who gives him mastery over his acts and the ability to govern himself with a view to the true and the good. The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie (CCC 1954).
The Catechism reminds us that we do indeed have mastery over our acts in order to govern ourselves to choose good over evil through our moral sense. Our own human reason directs us to perform good acts and avoid sinful ones. This order of reason is a gift from God Himself which stems from the divine and natural law that helps us practice these good acts.
Avoiding the Trap of Spiritual Neglect
As I mentioned earlier the human desire for affection if not properly ordered can cloud not only the free mutual self-giving of spouses, it can also deepen this materialistic attitude where the well-being of each other is only taken into consideration when one receives something from the other. The process of spiritual neglect begins with a very humanistic approach to marriage where the male and female simply engage in desires outside of the covenantal act of marriage.
One of the by-products of a spiritually neglected spouse is the disdain one spouse shows toward the other due in part because of a lack of spiritual and human intimacy. This simply means that there is no communication i.e. engagement of the soul. The sacrament of marriage aims to perfect the love of the couple which also reflects a willingness help one another attain holiness in life and bear a love that is both directed at one another and for the creation of children (CCC 1641).
One way to avoid the trap of spiritual neglect is to begin offering oneself as a spiritual sacrifice toward the other in service. We are called to serve one another in fidelity and mutual respect where we look toward fostering the spiritual welfare of the spouse in union with Christ. A good starting point is praying for your spouse every morning and every evening by a simple method of calling upon the intercession their guardian angel or a particular saint.
Marriage as an Act of Prayer
If we read St. Paul’s letter to the Romans very carefully we see St. Paul spiritually carving out a route that man’s soul must take in order to exercise a healthy understanding and living of the dignity of the human person. This theme is especially poignant in chapter seven where he urges us to die to the law of man which in turn frees us to live according to a new life in the spirit (7:4-6). Another example is his exhortation to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (12:1-2).
These particular scripture passages establish an opportunity for us to reflect on the sacrament of Holy Matrimony as an authentic act of prayer centered on Christ. If the basic principle of marriage is man and woman marrying one another under the eyes of the Church this also means that the spouses intercede and offer each other up in spiritual sacrifices.
St. John Paul II tells us that love is always a mutual relationship between persons. . . Love between man and woman is one particular form of love, in which elements common to all of its form are embodied in a certain way (Love and Responsibility pg. 73). Fr. Paul Quay expands on this point in his book The Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality where he reminds us that the Man who truly loves his wife satisfies her greatest need as a woman, her need for the security of a steadfast love and faithful protection. The maturity of love that Fr. Quay describes in man is a result of a commitment to prayer in the marital relationship. It reveals a cooperation with the Divine plan of marriage (Mt 9:33; Jn 4:34) where communication with God serves as the core foundation to any covenantal relationship.
Affirming Your Covenantal Marriage
In any covenantal relationship the ultimate goal is sanctification through the glorification of Christ and not in us. This formula allows us to clearly articulate a genuine love for one another in Christ and in turn aides our understanding of one another as a son or daughter of Christ. This formula also allows us to avoid the possibility of spiritual neglect within the covenantal relationship. Here are a couple of suggestions to consider the next time you begin to experience or recognize the onset of spiritual neglect;
- Husband and wife must reverence each other and the marriage relation, this is essential.
- Total self-giving is the key to successful marriage.
- Love is the key to self-giving.
- Love is more powerful than the intellect.
- Husband and wife must have a love of Christ between them. Without this no human relation is possible.
- Only God can meet all of our needs.
St. Maximillian Kolbe, pray for us!
Blessed Cardinal Newman once said that “Faith is illuminative, not operative; it does not force obedience, though it increases responsibility; it heightens guilt, but it does not prevent sin. The will is the source of action.” When you take a moment to analyze Blessed Newman’s words, they can easily be directed toward the spiritual relationship between parent and child.
One of the constant challenges any human being faces in this world is illuminating any form of faith. Because the human condition is in a constant spiritual tug of war between grace and vice our own free will is in constant need of seeking the Divine condition versus the human one. And because of this very fact, how we either assent or turn away from our faith in Jesus Christ will have lasting consequences to those who witness these acts i.e. our children.
The Parent as the First Evangelist
As a father of four I remember the day I REALIZED that every little thing I did or said around my first born son molded his Catholic world view and that of the rest of my children for better or worse. The first time you encounter mimicked behaviors i.e. mannerisms and words that come out of their mouths you are left wondering where those “things” came from and then all of sudden realizing with a shocked expression that they came from “me.” This becomes the time where we do not want our children to be referenced as “a chip off the old block.”
The manner by which we live out our kerygmatic (Gospel) call is tantamount to what our own children will perceive and apply in daily life. If our faith life is nothing more than a side bar in the grand scheme of the soul then don’t be surprised to see your child act out in the same way. When you honestly and earnestly begin to reflect on these things you have to wonder how our own lack of faith affects those around us especially our children. We are reminded to “be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48) whereas St. Paul tells us that we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).
The Call to Christian Holiness
The Catechism tells us that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of charity (2013). In other words all are called to holiness. This means that our parental primacy should always be directed toward the spiritual well-being of our children. The book of Hebrews echoes this point reminding us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (11:1). Our participation into the life of Christ through the Holy Trinity sets the stage to faithfully transmit the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our children and in turn not leave them feeling spiritually neglected. If you think for a minute that a child does not recognize when a parent is not prayerfully interceding for them, think again.
The effect of our own spiritual progress cannot be achieved unless it is intimately bound with Jesus Christ. Our Trinitarian character cannot exist without this fundamental trait because it reflects not only a desire to know and live in Christ but it also reflects a willingness to die for Him by dying to self and embracing His Cross. When we honestly come to our prayerful senses; we know that Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity bearing these sins in order to free us from the bondage of sin. This means that our way of life is directed to actively denounce all manner of sin that takes us away from our duties as authentic disciples in Christ especially toward our children.
Avoiding Spiritual Neglect
A sound way to avoid the spiritual neglect of our children is to first make an examination of conscience and prudently reflect and discern those times you and I have not prayed for our own children. At times, what we as parents are dealing with spiritually often inhibits our capacity to pray for our children because we are so wrapped up in our own devices. Another spiritual method to consider is renewing your baptismal promises. This method allows us to reflect on the Creed which leads us to make a profession of faith to Christ and His Church. By nature of our baptism, we enter into a faithful relationship with Christ which calls us to live out our baptismal call. The Catechism expands this point even further:
The fidelity of the baptized is a primordial condition for the proclamation of the Gospel and for the Church’s mission in the world. In order that the message of salvation can show the power of its truth and radiance before men, it must be authenticated by the witness of the life of Christians. The witness of a Christian life and good works done in a supernatural spirit have great power to draw men to the faith and to God (CCC 2044).
Making Spiritual Progress
Our spiritual aim is to always be in communion with Christ which in turn leads us to freely intercede on behalf of our children. Spiritual progress means a more intimate union with Christ. This union is called “mystical” because it participates in the mystery of Christ through the sacraments . . . the holy mysteries . . . the mystery of the Holy Trinity (CCC 2014). Our way of perfection must reflect the way of the Cross. The Catechism reminds us that there is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle (2015).
As I mentioned earlier our children do have a sense of knowing when we pray for them. Our spiritual progress is hinged on whether our devotion to Christ is reflective of our sacramental living in particular our faithful observance of the Lord’s Day. And this progress will indeed help us stay on course when it comes to the spiritual well-being of our children.
St. John Bosco, pray for us!
The reality of SCOTUS’ decision should not surprise anyone. Many, myself included were sounding the alarm for years that this was eventually going to happen. There was a naive sense that the legalization of same-sex marriage would at best be left up to the states. The human reality of this decision reveals an intimate development that should not only prepare us to evangelize but catechize. What I mean by this is the establishment of a “new catechism of love” by the five Justices of the Supreme Court who affirmed the rite to same-sex marriage.
This “new catechism of love” echoes what the Prophet Isaiah warned about the rebellious people who “. . . carry out a plan, but not mine; and who make a league, but not my spirit, that they may add sin to sin . . . (29:1). In essence this is what the five Supreme Court Justices have done. They have positoned themselves to be the new moral law of the land thus creating a “new catechism of love” that has no distinction between man and woman, nor takes into consideration the well-being of children, the authentic definition of a hetrosexual marital relationship or the proper defense of life and the dignity of the human person. Instead we have by the personal perspective of a few a definition of love that can mean anything to anyone to satisfy one’s own personal gratification.
An Opportunity to Evangelize
The book of Proverbs tells us that whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid (12:1). SCOTUS’ decison while a supposed bruise to the natural order of the human condition does not destroy it. On the contrary it provides us with a great opportunity to witness the authenticity and sacredness of marriage and the reasonableness to witness the joy of authentic love between one man and one woman in holy matrimony. Heterosexual marriage is not extinct though the Supreme Courts ruling may imply this. The Catechism reminds us that the vocation of marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator (CCC 1603). SCOTUS knows it is not the author of marriage, but through its decision proposes to establish in essence a new moral order that rejects God’s creation of man out of love who is created in His image and likeness who Himself is love (CCC 1604).
Again, we have a unique opportunity to express the beauty of marriage and clearly live out our dignity as children of God. We must remind everyone in love that God seals the mutual consent of spouses in marriage and desires a covenantal relationship with us. God established the marriage bond (CCC 1640) which means our call is to live out this bond with joy and grace. Consider these threee points the next time you have an opportunity to discuss the beauty and sacredness of marriage:
1. Be genuine in your evangelism, mirror the image of God toward others.
2. Fidelity and charity must work hand in hand.
3. Ignorance in most cases has become personal doctrine, do not attack, clarify.
Remember, the conversion of hearts begins with how much we are able to love.
Imagine if you were completely docile to the will of God. At first you may think highly unlikely due to the challenges of original sin and our own narcissistic tendencies. However what if God placed a unique and burning desire in your heart to proclaim and exalt Him especially through His Son Christ Crucified. God in His loving goodness constantly desires a covenantal relationship with his children. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us of this fact where God affirms that He will make a covenant with Israel by placing the law within them and writing it in their hearts (31:33).
An often overlooked aspect of our own distinctive nature is that we are offered the opportunity to share the Incarnational reality of the Son of God Jesus Christ in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The events surrounding His Paschal Mystery culminating in His death and resurrection reflect a sacrificial willingness to embrace our sinful ways through His loving heart. St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians echoes the Incarnational reality this way:
I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (2:20).
Our Moral Responsibility
One of the greatest attributes of the Feast of the Sacred Heart is its emphasis on the union between Christ and man. This may sound obvious to many but when we truly reflect and pray the Litany to Sacred Heart the culminating thrust of this prayer is salvation, trust, communion, renunciation of sin, and hope that leads to our eternal rest in Heaven.
Part of our moral responsibility is exercising the virtues of prudence in temperance because these virtues help us identify and understand the need to seek the will of God and be in communion with Him through His Son Jesus Christ. Thus our moral responsibility is keenly etched in our active participation in the Mass (CCC 1325).
Discerning for and against God
A perfectly good way of discerning for or against God is to engage in the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father). Whatever your current religious state with God may be, it doesn’t hurt to remove yourself for a brief period of time from the distractions of the world and discern God’s will. The Lord’s Prayer offers us several propositions; He is Father, He is with us, He is Holy, and His will permeates both Heaven and earth. This means that man has a unique place in His heart. In other words He loves us so much that He gave us “our daily bread” in the form of His Son Jesus Christ crucified for the salvation of all humanity. On top of this, we are offered the opportunity to seek His mercy and in turn show mercy toward others culminating in the request to avoid the near occasion of sin and be delivered from all evil. This is why when we read the institution of the Lord’s Prayer in Mt 6:7-13 Christ directs his disciples to establish an intimate relationship with the Father and not with the world.
The Catechism reminds us:
The prayer of the Church venerates and honors the Heart of Jesus just as it invokes his most holy name. It adores the incarnate Word and his Heart which, out of love for men, he allowed to be pierced by our sins (2669).
Discerning for or against God does not mean discerning whether you like God or not. This discernment revolves around a genuine and intentional desire to seek someone greater than one’s self. It’s the first step in orienting ourselves to God the Father if we so desire and if we do then the reality of His Son Jesus Christ begins to make sense.
St. Thomas Aquinas alludes to this very point where he calls the Lord’s Prayer the most perfect of prayers because in it we ask not only for the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them (STh II-II, 83, 9).
The gift of the Sacred Heart echoes St. Thomas’ points on the things we rightly desire because it is the devotion to the Sacred Heart where we have the opportunity to properly order our desires to Him and in turn helps us discern for or against God. It introduces the opportunity to seek Him from above and avoid the things of the earth (Col 3:3). Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us!
Every time I hear the phrase “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side” I often wonder what was so bad about the side you were in. It begs to ask the question; “what was missing that made you leave in the first place?” Blessed Cardinal Newman tells us to; “take things as we find them: let us not attempt to distort them into what they are not… We cannot make facts. All our wishing cannot change them. We must use them.” This is a very poignant statement because it directs the human condition to recognize and affirm what humanity has received and that is an imagery that reflects God’s love for His children.
This imagery embraces greater significance when God sends forth His Son begotten not made, born of a Virgin maiden with the faculties encompassing both Divinity and humanity. He did this so that we would clearly see the love He has for us through Jesus Christ. The Christian narrative reflects an opportunity to squelch any confusion about our identity because this narrative is fully realized in Jesus Christ who is both Savior and King. The Catechism lays out a beautiful “Proclamation” emphasizing our clear identity with Christ;
We believe and confess that Jesus of Nazareth, born a Jew of a daughter of Israel at Bethlehem at the time of King Herod the Great and the emperor Caesar Augustus, a carpenter by trade, who died crucified in Jerusalem under the procurator Pontius Pilate during the reign of the emperor Tiberius, is the eternal Son of God made man. He “came from God,” “descended from heaven,” and “came in the flesh.” For “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father…. And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace (423).
The Seed of Doubt leads to Confusion
Our human condition has a difficult time embracing what is actually good for us. We tend to dive toward an alternative mindset that is always looking for the next best thing. And if we can’t find the next best thing we immediately begin to distort the actually reality of things as Blessed Newman alludes to. The seed of distortion receives its nourishment from the fear of suffering. What I mean here is the fear of not wanting to sacrifice for the sake of anyone person or thing. Since the loss of the preternatural gifts due to the fall of our first parents, the notion of having to suffer for something doesn’t immediately appeal to the human appetite. On the contrary we find ways to distort this reality instead of embracing suffering as an actual gift of grace. St. Peter reminds to;
. . . not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to reprove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Pt 4:12-16).
The Gift of Corpus Christi
When one begins to take account the significance of Corpus Christ and how this feast reminds us of what Christ did at the Last Supper the state of perpetual confusion many of us tend to live by begins to actually subside. St. Mark reminds us;
And as they were eating, he took bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them and said, take; this is my body. And he took a chalice, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them and they all drank of it. And he said to them, this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I say to you O shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God (14:22-25).
The gift of the Holy Eucharist simply put is the primordial gift left by Christ to keep us on the path of redemption to Heaven. The significance of the Holy Eucharist is the fact that He took on human nature to save us from the state of moral and spiritual confusion causing us to replace Christ’s narrative with a false one. The institution of the Holy Eucharist serves as a reminder of the perpetual sacrifice offered at Mass (CCC 1323).
St. John reminds us that Christ is the living bread that came down from heaven (6:51) for the sole purpose of experiencing the joy of Christ’s love for us. The Feast of Corpus Christ makes sense because the purpose of the Eucharist is to:
Reconcile us with God; to know God’s love; to be our model of holiness; to make us partakers of the divine nature (CCC 457-460).
These reasons sanctify our own human condition to Christ Himself and in so doing clarifies our relationship with Him avoiding the temptation of trying to find an alternative that no matter how hard you try just doesn’t seem to work.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that is due time he may exalt you (1 Pt 5:6).
A common phrase I hear all too often about the doctrine of the Trinity is that “it’s a mystery” and that’s all you really need to know. Followed by; “Just make the Sign of the Cross and be on your way.” This unfortunate catechetical reality immediately negates the opportunity to draw someone into God’s Trinitarian narrative. Simply applying the label “mystery” doesn’t give our Lord due justice for revealing Himself in systematic and loving way.
G.K. Chesterton once said that “One of the chief uses of religion is that it makes us remember our coming from darkness, the simple fact that we are created.” Chesterton’s point is very poignant when one begins to extrapolate the beautiful doctrine of the Trinity and realize that God is truly our Father and Lord. And because He is our Father, the creator of heaven and of earth, He continuously reveals Himself to us in ways we can understand and engage him more clearly, if we pay attention.
If this is the case, then the Trinity is not merely a concept of three different persons with three different natures. It is God first and foremost who chose to reveal Himself ever more through the begetting of a Son and establish a perpetual communication through the Holy Spirit. Thus we are not talking about three Gods but one God with three distinct persons. Let’s keep in mind that the principal aim of the sign of the Cross is a clear and unambiguous designation that we are Christians united to the Triune God.
God Does Reveal Himself
We often overlook how many times God actually reveals Himself in Sacred Scripture e.g. when he told Moses “I am who am” (Ex 3:14), or the acknowledgement that “our God is One God (Deut. 6:4-7). Jesus reminds us that he and the Father are one (Jn 10:30). We see this union more clearly at Jesus’ baptism (Mt 3:13-17) where Jesus is the Son of God become man and is identified so by the Father and confirmed by the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus.
The Catechism reminds us that we believe in one God, not three. Each Person is God, whole and entire (CCC 253). “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life” (CCC 261). One of the striking images the Trinity offers us is the love of a Father to his children so much so that He chooses to reveal Himself more intimately by begetting a Son in human form and then providing us the opportunity to see His son more clearly through the Divine messenger in the Holy Spirit.
The Error of Simply Saying “It’s a Mystery”
Merely identifying the Blessed Trinity as a foreign concept that cannot be understood reduces the whole creation narrative of why we even exist in the image and likeness of God. It is true that the Blessed Trinity is “the mystery” of all mysteries but this doesn’t mean we’re unable to understand the basic Trinitarian concept about God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
A simple way of looking at the Trinity is through example of water. When frozen, water turns into ice, when heated or boiled it evaporates and you witness the steam coming from a pan. And then you have water in liquid form, three distinct properties but still the same nature (water-liquid). Keep in mind that each member of the Blessed Trinity possesses the whole nature of God as his own. This means that God is God as God, God is God as the Son and God is God as the Holy Spirit. Each has its own unique character possessing the same Divine nature.
It is a grave error on the part of anyone to dismiss the Trinity as something that is beyond someone’s reach. We know that the Trinity is three persons in One God (CCC 202, 251, 253). God transcends all human understanding of Himself meaning He is above us all (CCC 42; 212). He is also immanent where we share a unique and intimate relationship with Him because He is constantly preparing us for the divine life (CCC 239; 300-305).
Let’s not forget that God does want to share His life with us (2 Pet 1:4). One of the most striking facts about the Blessed Trinity is that we are intimately tied to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit by virtue of our creation and baptism. We adore and worship the Father who is the source of all, whereas the Son became the Incarnate Word and bore the sins of humanity (CCC 1077-1110). The Holy Spirit brings us into a living relationship with Christ (CCC 1101). The Holy Spirit helps us respond to this communion.
Our Place in the “Mystery”
God transcends truth, beauty and goodness. This means that he is above all things because He is God (CCC 214-221). Let’s keep in mind that He sent His son to “bear witness to the truth” (Jn 18:37). The mystery that many say cannot be understood seems pretty clear when we place our Lord within the context of the Son and the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). This Divine evidence does affirm a certain narrative that we are intimately drawn into God’s story by virtue of our creation and baptism. Our very being is wired to become an integral part of God’s story which in reality is no mystery that cannot be understood.
Have you ever wondered if Jesus actually believed everything He taught to those around Him? This is an out of the box type of question but it’s one that is gaining momentum amongst people who wish to defend a personal position contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Their method is to use Christ and somehow convince people that we he taught was an openness to embrace a golden rule of loving everyone but leaving the person to their own devices with no attempt at a genuine conversion of heart to Christ Himself.
Our human condition is both a great gift from God and at the same a great curse by our own free will. What was originally created with the fullness of grace in mind is now involved in a drama of right and wrong choices, moral and immoral impulses and everything else in between. It appears when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Word made flesh becomes too much for us to handle, we in turn fashioned Him into our own version of the Golden Calf to fulfill our own devices.
The letter to the Hebrews tells us that it is impossible to please God without faith, since anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who try to find him (11:6). The funny thing about this Scripture passage is the last few words; “those who try to find him.” And “try” is the operative word. When Moses was delayed from coming down the mountain Israel’s impatience and still lingering pagan sensibilities gathered and encouraged Aaron to discard Moses as their leader and instead championed a “new way” of satisfying their moral tastes and likings through the fashioning of a golden calf. Sacred Scripture tells us that Aaron did just that and the end result was the slaughter of over three thousand men and the affliction of another plague thrown upon the people of Israel by God (Ex 32). As we can see with the example of the Golden Calf Israel’s insistence to refashion God led to a series of events that did not end in their favor.
A Catechetical Refashioning of Jesus Christ
The reality of this story is that it still continues to this day. The latest example of refashioning Christ to fit a new moral norm occurred on the campus of Seton Hall University where a popular Priest and campus minister Fr. Warren Hall was fired from his duties for supporting gay marriage on his Twitter and Facebook page. As one might expect, a group of individuals protested his firing invoking the name of Jesus Christ and Pope Francis to legitimize their position.
The underpinning of this group’s argument is not so much invoking Jesus Christ and Pope Francis to defend their position, instead it’s the attempt to refashion Jesus Christ and Pope Francis, if that is even possible in order to promote a new form of doctrinal conformity, one that would deny any authentic remnant of Christ-centered thought. The Catechism reminds us that; the way of Christ “leads to life”; a contrary way “leads to destruction.” (1696)
We should not assume that the attempt to refashion Christ is a new phenomenon. At first glance we should look at what would drive people to reclassify Church teaching to fit their personal lifestyle. If we really take a closer look at this phenomenon we should look no further than the specific catechetical instruction of the last forty years consisting of the “Jesus loves you” lesson plan with no reasonable explanation as to “why He loves us”, or, the emphasis to embrace the Resurrected Christ (happy) versus the Crucified Christ (gory). A sponsor in an RCIA class I was teaching commented to me that “Jesus was a pacifist.” I asked him to explain how Jesus’ crucifixion was a sign of pacifism. His response, “I hadn’t thought about that.”
Jesus Christ and the Golden Rule
Christ asks us to meditate and imitate him (Jn 8:12). These two requests lay the groundwork to freely and lovingly embrace the Gospel intimately and lovingly uniting ourselves with the Father and the Holy Spirit. These two seeds of mediation and imitation forge the Law of the Gospel which requires us to make the decisive choice between “the two ways” and to put into practice the words of the Lord which is summed up in the Golden Rule, Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; this is the law and the prophets (CCC 1907).
The Church of Jesus Christ
To imply that Jesus Christ Himself would somehow be at odds with His own message of the Kerygma is simply senseless. It reveals a more ignorant and at the same time sinister approach to undermine the Deposit of Faith and refashion the Golden Rule. Man’s very essence is deistic in that we are created in the image and likeness of God. Our baptism reflects this image upon entering His Kingdom. One of the gifts of Baptism is the opportunity to seek a more intimate union with Christ. Baptism gives us the opportunity to be one with God and be of single heart and mind with Him. We become open to the light of reason if we so choose and disposes us to listen based on right reason. Hence we become members of the body of Christ the Church by which he instituted at Pentecost.
Let us continue to pray for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those who may not fully understand the gift of their faith nor see the light of reason that the Church of Christ actually provides for them. One of the greatest acts we can participate to foster unity of the faithful is to engage in the act of prayer affirming our faith and conformity to God. St. Francis De Sales describes this act in these terms;
Christian doctrine clearly proposes unto us the truths which God wills that we should believe, the goods he will have us hope, for the pains he will have us dread, what he will have us love, the commandments he will have us observe, and the counsels he desires us to follow. And this is called God’s signified will, because he has signified and made manifest unto us that it is his will and intention that all this should be believed, hoped for, feared, loved, and practiced.
Treatise on the Love of God, Book VIII, Ch. III, pp. 329-330