“By faith man completely submits his intellect and his will to God.”
Dei Verbum, 5
Our Screwtape Tendency
You may be wondering how the “Screwtape Letters” can possibly help us to become better disciples. If we take the time to carefully dissect what Screwtape’s intent is with the “Patient”, we see the very thing Screwtape is afraid of; the patient developing a relationship with the enemy (God) and actually enjoying it.
When a person denies their faith outright it’s usually due to many things, one in particular is feeling constrained to practice their faith because the person feels incarcerated. They convince themselves that a faith life is not really a necessity in life. This is the very premise by which Wormwood tries to convince the patient in Book One of the Screwtape Letters. The view is that any man can be satisfied with the ways of the world without being constrained to a belief system. In many ways this position reflects the art of relativism where everything is basically anything to anybody regardless if it has moral meaning or action.
When contemplating our own faith life in relation to Jesus Christ, many fail to see how un-balanced we are when it comes to placing Christ first in our lives. One of the first areas of our faith-life we tend to lose balance in is our communication with God. Our intellect and will become affected so to speak with a sense of communicating with ourselves versus someone greater than us. In turn this mode of communication tends to set the stage for a disregard of our basic belief system (the Creed). Hence if we disregard any truth of the faith then our attention is turned towards ourselves rather than Christ.
The Catechism reminds us that to obey means to “hear or listen to,” “to submit freely to the word that has been heard.” (CCC 144) One of the most prudent things we can practice during Lent is distancing ourselves from those distractions that take us away from our communication with God. Our genuine desire to practice our faith reflects a “personal adherence to God.” (CCC 150)
“But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”
The Apostles Creed offers us a multitude of propositions from the “first profession” to belief in God (Heb 11:8) to acknowledging that we are created in His image and likeness. This is where relevance takes hold seen when we see the connection between God the Father and ourselves. Meditation on the Creed creates an opportunity to embrace someone other than ourselves. It rightly positions our devotion to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Acts of Discipleship
Jesus reminds us that if we continue in His Word we are truly his disciples (Jn 8:31) One of the many acts of discipleship is to seek the truth in everything especially in ourselves. Christ mentions the importance of coming to know the truth (vs. 32-32). This important point sets the stage with Christ proclaiming to the Apostles that he is the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6).
As I mentioned earlier, Screwtape would like to see us view faith as a constraint in our daily lives. This feeds into his notion of distancing us from the enemy (God). Our discipleship rests in an openness to seek the will of God. Being a disciple need not be that hard if we truly see ourselves as living witnesses of the Gospel.
Here are some practical points to consider on being an effective disciple:
- Establish a practical time to pray with our Lord (morning, midday, evening, night).
- Seek the intercessory prayers of your patron saint to guide you in your daily walk with Christ.
- Immerse yourself in Sacred Scripture on a daily basis. Select a specific book of the bible that has always intrigued you and meditate on each chapter.
- Immerse yourself in reading an article from the Catechism each day.
- Incorporate one spiritual and corporal work of mercy in your daily routine.
- Listen to others intently before speaking about yourself.
- Share your walk with Christ to others when the appropriate opportunity arises.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
It’s funny when the topic of catechesis takes center stage every perceivable angle is taken on the good, the bad, and the ugly of catechesis. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from G.K Chesterton:
“We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. We want a religion that is right where we are wrong. We do not want, as the newspapers say, a church that will move with the world. We want a church that will move the world.”
Chesterton in his usual insightful and witty self knew the basic necessity of the human soul. The aim of Religion is not a set of rules or guideline meant to hamper the soul, quite contrary, the premise of religion is to assist man in gauging or better yet openly confirming his soul with Christ. We’ve recently seen how a society without sound catechesis can quickly turn on very basic moral human tenets such as the sanctity of marriage and the sacredness of human sexuality which is part of The Catechetical Dilemma of our day.
However, with this backdrop I read with amusement Joanne McPortland’s perspective on the status of religious education in the United States. In many ways her position is quite accurate regarding the status of religious education in our country. We do face a challenge of transmitting authentic instruction not to children first but to the parents. Joanne makes the case that the reason we have failed to properly catechize is not because of “the methods of our teachers and or our educational philosophy . . . but because we have been catechizing the wrong damn people.” She is partially correct on this front. It is true that part of our catechetical dilemma is a tail wagging the dog catechetical directive of emphasizing the child over the adult. We have to ask the question if the parent or parish catechist is not equipped to teach the faith, will the child be able to learn his or her faith well?
One of the primary basis of catechesis rests with the adult catechetical model which is primarily seen through the Catechumenal model of instruction i.e. RCIA. St. Augustine realized the necessity of catechizing adults and bringing them into a fuller understanding of Christ and His Church. Another point to remember is that proper method matters! If the person doesn’t know the faith then it probably means they have the furthest clue on how to convey it to begin with. Part of the problem has been the need to fill a child with information instead of offering an opportunity to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Blessed John Paul II echoed this in his Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae where the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy with Jesus Christ; only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity (5).
Bad Catechesis Does Exist
St. Luke reminds us:
For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. . . The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil . . . (6:43-45).
Christ’s words regarding good and bad fruit are predicated on the parable of the blind man leading the blind man (Lk 6:39-40). The end result is that both will fall into the pit. This sums up the bad catechetical platform many are still falling into. It should come to no ones’ surprise that the push for a modified form of the act of contrition to stray away from actually calling sin “sin” is a direct result of catechetical ignorance which leads to an unwillingness to embrace and present “right and proper instruction.” Whenever we fail to present what the Catechism (156) refers to as the “motives of credibility” signs of Divine Revelation, we allow “motives of incredibility” to take form validating the development of false doctrines that simply make no sense but to the poorly catechized appear to be perfectly normal and within their right to live and profess. Does this sound familiar in your parish programs?
Should We Stop Catechizing Children?
The obvious answer is no, but we do need to change our methodological approach and understanding of catechesis in general. Catechesis is not about embracing the sinner and forgetting about the sin. Catechesis is about embracing the sinner and leading him to a life of holiness in communion with Christ and His Church in order to sin no more. It’s about “authentic intentional discipleship.” I can attest to where Joanne is coming from due the various catechetical programs I have witnessed over the years where I wouldn’t let my own children set foot in. But we can’t forget about the fruits that have developed over the last twenty years especially the introduction of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) as the definitive synthesis of our Catholic faith.
Part of our new methodology should stress in providing opportunities to encounter Christ before force feeding any written material upon the adult or child. The “classroom” per se should not be looked upon as a classroom instead, it should be carefully constructed as an opportunity for prayer and conversion with uniquely positioned motives of credibility e.g. Crucifix, sacred space, sacramentals, saints etc. This model applies to both adults and children. This is what I refer to as our catechetical disengagement of dissecting the false pretenses a person has about the faith and starting from Heaven to earth (see: Col 3:1-3).
There is Definitive Hope in Catechesis
Christ embodies Hope (Col 1:27). We can only blind ourselves so much until a realization sets in that there is something greater at work than ourselves. Bad catechesis established its precedent on the notion that everything depended on man i.e. his emotions, feelings, thoughts. This idea led to a concerted effort to eliminate any notion of a creed-rule of faith hence many of the issues Joanne points out.
When God promised Abraham (Heb 6:19 ff.) that He would bless him and multiply his flock, God assured Abraham of his continual love and guidance. He would never go away. God strengthened this Hope and promise by the birth of His only-begotten Son. Christ became and continues to be the anchor by which we practice a steadfast faith revealed in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Church in her goodness will be steadfast in its continual proclamation of the Gospel. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that:
. . . the Lord is an everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow faint or grow weary, his understanding in unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youth shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they shall mount up with wings like eagles they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (40:27-31).
Is there a problem with religious education? The answer is yes? Has the current approach been skewed for multiple generations, in many ways it has. Part of the answer is a reaffirmation of our own identity as Baptized Christians in the faith i.e. recalling the day of our baptism and the significance of it. It comes down to basics which in turn is a call to understand our own discipleship in Christ. If the person realized what he or she was baptized into, and if this is constantly reaffirmed and taught then there would be a more open disposition to seek a deeper relationship with Christ. It’s not about the puppets, the textbook or the altered act of contrition; it’s about Christ actively in my life.
“We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe.”
Blessed Cardinal Newman
Is it better to be Prudent or not? When discussing the infamous educational system of St. John Bosco (Preventive System) one cannot help to see how prudent he was in helping the children of Turin.
The Method of St. John Bosco
A striking characteristic one encounters upon reading about St. John Bosco and his Preventive System is just how direct his methods were in acquiring the attention of a child. His Preventive System of Reason, Religion and Kindness can be said hinged on the virtue of Prudence. How so? When you take the first principle of Reason, the child would be given an opportunity to consent to guidance and instruction. Take note that the first principle does not dictate or mandate anything. On the contrary it offers an opportunity for a child to consider the guidance and instruction St. John Bosco would keenly offer.
Human virtues as the Catechism reminds us are: firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions and guide our conduct according to reason and faith (CCC 1804). This catechetical instruction aptly describes St. John Bosco’s intentional practice to encourage and then draw in a child to live a life in conjunction with faith and reason.
What St. John Bosco wanted to establish with the child was a bridge from where he was to where he could be if open to it. The hope of this bridge was to bring the child toward Christ thus establishing a joyful spirit.
The second principle of Religion stressed the ugliness of sin and the value of living a virtuous life. The purpose of this second principal was to direct the child’s actions toward a greater good. We can say that aim was to help the child practice good things versus bad ones. In other words, holiness is the aim in this second principle. Five simple methods of this principle are as follows:
- Holiness of ordinary life
- The joy and optimism of holiness
- Centrality of Confession
- The Holy Eucharist
- Love of Mary
The third principle of Kindness emphasizes the theological virtue of love. St. John Bosco would stress: “Let us make ourselves loved, and we shall possess their hearts.” In other words, our Christian witness must be constant for the development of the child. The learning environment should be warm and inviting, not cold. The family spirit reigned; he did this through rapport, friendliness, presence, respect, attention, dedication to service, and personal responsibility.
The Exercise of Virtue and the Value of Prudence
The exercise of virtue lies at the heart of St. John Bosco’s Preventive System. Each child was offered the opportunity to pursue the good and live it through an active sacramental life in Christ. If there was one particular virtue that stood out in the Preventive System, it was the virtue of Prudence. Why, because exercise of this virtue disposes the person to practical reason to discern out true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it (CCC 1806). Our actions should be directed by a right sense of reason and not a wrong one. In other words it means to set a standard of right behavior ordered towards the good who is Christ Himself.
St. John Bosco desired that the children in his oratory both boys and girls make correct and moral choices. This involves making right judgments which in turn would lead toward a Christian moral principle to live by. It guides our discernment in embracing and understanding good and avoiding evil.
St. John Bosco, father an teacher of youth, raised up by God, especially for the salvation of poor and needy children: obtain that we may be enkindled by the same fire of charity as inflamed thee. Thou dist labor unceasingly in search of souls for Christ. May we, with the help of thy prayers, find God as thou didst, and enjoy eternal beatitude with thee.
So The Story continues with a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of Seattle who dismissed a former vice-principal Mark Zmuda for openly engaing in a same-sex union with his partner. Beside the unfortunate but expected criticism directed toward the school and the Church for being homophobic and the all-too common misrepresntation of Pope Francis’ famous line: “Who am I to judge” when asked about Homosexuals on his return trip from World Youth Day in Brazil the East Side Catholic high school has remaind steadfast in its decision.
One of the most striking lines within the article I’ve linked was from a parent who said that “families have chosen to enroll their kids in the 600-student Catholic high school for the academics, not necessarily for the religious education.” There you have it, a quote the has come to define Catholic Education over the last forty years. If you think this is an exaggeration I would think again.
Not all Catholic schools paint religious education as an elective. But these comments should pique our Catholic sense to ask the question: What Is the Purpose of a Catholic School? As a former Catholic high school principal and Superintendent of Catholic Schools, I can assure you that this question causes much heated debate. But should it?
Something to pray and think about.
Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman once said that “we need to learn to do our part and leave the rest to Heaven.” This goes without saying that when promoting effective catechesis at any level our first instance is to reflect Christ and not ourselves. However our human condition can easily sway us toward the act of preaching for the sake of ourselves instead of Christ.
Our responsibility as catechists falls on authentically reflecting Christ in Word and Deed. This premise holds true if our mission is to foster a genuine conversion towards those whom we catechize. Pope Paul VI reminded us of this important fact where being an effective teacher means being an effective witness of the faith. (Evangelization In the Modern World, 41)
And here lies the important responsibility of our role as disciples in Christ. A very important aspect about discipleship is embracing Jesus’ message to preach and teach the “Good News” (Lk 4:43) before anything else. Christ offers us the perfect model of discipleship as the Catechism tells us:
He is “the perfect man,” who invites us to become his disciples and follow him. In humbling himself, he has given us an example to imitate, through his prayer he draws us to pray, and by his poverty he calls us to accept freely the privation and persecutions that may come our way. (CCC 520)
The Meaning of Discipleship
Discipleship means openness to witness and share the Gospel of Christ versus our own. Christ reminds his fellow Jews in the temple that His “teaching is not from myself; it comes from the one who sent me” (Jn 7:16). He continues his point by reminding everyone present those who teach for their own glory teach falsehood (7:17-18). Another meaning of discipleship is a willingness to share in the joy and sufferings of our Lord. Perhaps these last two characteristics are what distinguish authentic discipleship versus a false one. St. Paul elaborates on this point further regarding discipleship and catechesis:
“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
There is a clear and definitive relationship between discipleship and catechesis. Both aspire to be in communion with Christ. One aspect offers the witness of authentic Christian living while the other offers authentic Christian instruction.
The General Directory for Catechesis describes that the missionary activity of the Catechist is essentially ecclesial. (80) This means that from the very beginning our role is to be in union with Christ and His Church. The Prophet Isaiah echoes this point where he offers himself to God “Here I am Lord, send me” (Is 6:8). The lives of the saints exercised this simple yet profound act described by Isaiah. It reflects an act of the will to first seek communion with God and second, to surrender oneself as an instrument of grace in His name.
Our role as disciples reflects a saintly character which in turn reflects a desire for a healthy spiritual life in Christ. The Guide for Catechists tells us:
To be able to educate others in the Faith, catechists should themselves have a deep spiritual life. This is the most important aspect of their personality . . . the real catechist is a saint. (22)
The Sacramental Life
The life of discipleship cannot be void of the sacramental life. One of the main responsibilities of all catechesis is to place the person into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. The first premise toward the sacramental life is an understanding of the Incarnate Word of God. Jesus Christ came to bring light to humanity and therefore reveal God’s glory (Rom 6:1-6). In baptism we are not only initiated into His life but his death as well. It opens an opportunity to participate in Christ’s glory freely and willingly if we so choose. This active participation and continual renewal of our baptismal call leads us to partake of his sacrificial gift of Himself on the Cross. It allows us to become partakers of the Divine Nature in the Holy Eucharist (CCC 460). Our engagement in the sacramental life reflects our desire to not only know live with Christ but die with him thus becoming the unifying characteristic of authentic discipleship.
The Guide for Catechists offers us some practical ways to further strengthen our sacramental character:
1. Regular, even daily reception of the Eucharist, so as to nourish oneself with the “bread of life” (Jn6:34), to form a single body” with the community (cf. 1 Cor10:17) and offer oneself to the Father along with the Lord’s body and blood;
2. Lived Liturgy in its various dimensions for the personal growth and for the help of the community;
3. Recital of part of the Divine Office;
4. Daily Meditation, especially on the Word of God, in an attitude of contemplation and response;
5. Personal Prayer, with special attention to Marian Prayers;
6. Frequent reception of the sacrament of penance, to ask pardon for faults committed and renew one’s fervor. (22)
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.”
1 Pt 1:6-9
Thomas à Kempis once commented that the beginning of all evil temptations is incomplete inconstancy of the mind, and small confidence in God (Ch. 13, Imitation of Christ). The point he makes here is a simple one. Trust in God reduces the need for your mind to wander thus reducing the amount of opportunities for evil to seep in.
If we take this point to heart, our journey with Christ is constantly filled with ample opportunities to mature in love for Him and for others. This echoes a two-fold proclamation of the Ten Commandments to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself (Deut 6). It also bears to mind that God is constantly showering us with His love fully realized in His Son Jesus Christ.
The two-fold proclamation I just mentioned reflects a desire to be more intimate with our Lord which in turn leads to a desire to turn away from sin. St. Paul reminds us that all of us who are baptized into Christ were baptized into his death. (Rom 6:3) The creation of our human condition was always intended to be in communion with our Lord. As a result of the fall, our communion with God was fractured but not destroyed. God’s mercy towards His own children was evident with His announcement to Adam (Gen 3:15) of what his and Eve’s human condition would have to endure in anticipation of a redemptive future. The redemptive act fulfilled in Christ’s death breathed life into our souls via baptism, hence our baptism into Christ’s death (Rom 6:4).
Catholicism and the Human Condition
The human condition with its imperfection and frailties is one of the most magnificent gifts God created with exception to our Blessed Mother who is the perfect model of humanity (charity). Man’s perspective of the world can at times be less than desirable when dealing with his fellow man. The Gospel tends to be the last thing on a person’s mind when the human condition attempts to place itself outside of God’s parameters.
The gist here is that we can’t simply throw away our existence as meaningless because when you take the time to analyze why we exist our whole being is directed to worshipping someone beyond ourselves and sharing it with others (Jn 3:30). Ask an Atheist if he desires to share Atheism to the whole world and his first response would be; yes. Who wouldn’t want to share what he authentically believes to be true to anyone who will listen. And here is why Catholicism makes sense because it reveals who Jesus Christ is and why He instituted the Church (Mt 16:16-19). The human condition is intimately bound with what Christ teaches; a desire to love God and your neighbor as yourself (Jn 15:12). These visible realities make sense in revealing the unifying character of the Church. It places us within the parameters of what God desires of us. The Catechism expounds this point further with respect to the New Law in Christ:
The new law or the Law of the Gospel is the perfection here on earth of the divine law, natural and revealed. It is the work of Christ as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount . . . it fulfills the commandments of the law . . . and practices the acts of religion. The New Law is called the Law of love because it makes us act out of the love infused by the Holy Spirit . . .” (CCC 1965-1972)
The Human Condition at Work
Scripture makes it clear that our human condition needs constant refinement. Jesus reminds US of this when He takes His place on the Mount of Beatitudes and begins his Beatitudinal exhortation as the second of the two-fold process to love God and neighbor (Mt 5). Christ’s immediately lays the ground work by which we are to live out the Gospel and thus usher in a new way to know God. St. James alludes to this groundwork exhorting the importance of fulfilling the law:
If you really fulfill the royal law, according to Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well. But if you show partiality you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. (Jas 2:8-10)
When the human condition is united to Christ Catholicism makes sense. Christ’s sacrificial and redemptive acts are the source by which we love Him and are called to love our fellow man. Our mandate if you will is to bring people to the fullness of the truth which means the salvation of the soul (Jas 5:19). When the human condition embraces the visible reality of Christ and His Church, clarity of the soul sets in. The challenge is simply arriving at this reality and staying there. St. Augustine, pray for us!
Are Catholic Schools Unfair?
Nothing is more common than for men to think that because they are familiar with words they understand the ideas they stand for.
Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman
One of the most common complaints I’ve heard in my years as a Catholic high school principal was that the school I administered seemed unfair in its mission to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church. One of the most memorable comments was a parent who asked me: “you don’t really teach everything the Catholic Church teaches, do you? There must be something you disagree with it.” Amused by her question I told this parent that in fact there are certain things I do disagree with the Church. Waiting for some colossal rejection of Church doctrine, I simply said; “I don’t agree with the way the Holy Father dresses in white.” Quickly realizing how awkward her question was she politely apologized.
Another comment came from a prospective student whose mother revealed to me that she was involved in a lesbian relationship and that she and her partner serve as legal parents to this young lady. I charitably explained that their current lifestyle would be in contradiction to the nature of the school and the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church, I explained does not discriminate against the individual, it is the act itself which the Church appropriately deems immoral (CCC 2357). The mother and her partner understood my position but were not pleased. The daughter however felt that this was “unfair” and that her “parents” were being punished for “loving one another.” I further explained that both her mother and her partner are clearly God’s children created in His image and likeness and that their dignity as human beings is to be respected and cared for. At issue is their same-sex relationship. After sometime everyone agreed that the school would not be a good fit and moved on.
These examples are not far off from what Catholic schools our experiencing throughout the country. One prime example is what recently occurred at Eastside Catholic High School in the Arch Diocese of Seattle. At issue was a former vice-principal who married his same-sex partner while employed at the Catholic school. It was discovered that the vice-principal had informed some of the faculty of his same-sex union which lead to his resignation.
A Bad Sense of Catholic Identity
Though on the surface it should be of no surprise that a Catholic School would act in good faith and right conscience in dealing with a matter such as this, the reality is if you attempt to address an issue such as homosexuality within the confines of a Catholic institution any civility is thrown out the window primarily from those who oppose the Church’s position.
Two disturbing but not surprising points about this whole situation are that students within Eastside Catholic held a sit-in united with other area Catholic high school students in protest of the vice-principals resignation. The other was an upset freshman who commented: “Just because I’m Catholic doesn’t mean I need to believe every rule the Church has . . .”
On Oath of Fidelity
One of the ironies of this situation is the fact that the former vice-principal did indeed sign a contract that stipulated he would not engage in any behavior that would contradict the teachings of the Catholic Church. He knew this not only applying for the position but once he officially began working at Eastside Catholic high school. It should come as no surprise to him that his actions initiated an inquiry by the Catholic school about his position to engage in a same-sex union. In other words by signing his contract he supposedly took an oath to uphold what the Catholic Church founded by Jesus Christ teaches about homosexuality. Unfortunately, this former administrator made it a point to join students in their protest of his resignation and encouraged them to “find true love.”
Clarity and Charity
The teachings of the Church are very clear and unambiguous when it comes to homosexuality:
Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (CCC 2357)
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. (CCC 2358)
Was Eastside Catholic unfair in its position with the former vice-principal? No. Was it acting in accordance with Church teaching with respect to upholding its Catholic identity? Yes. We can probably pick apart the administrative aspects of this entire scenario of who actually said what etc. And we can argue “if” the school new about the former vice-principals personal lifestyle or not. In fairness, Eastside Catholic had an obligation and requirement when pressed to uphold Church teaching.
The art of daily discernment is a practice and a virtue that many of us tend to forget and at times ignore. By definition the act of discernment from the Latin meaning discernere means one’s ability to distinguish what is happening around them whether positive or negative and to move toward a sound resolution of the positive or negative situation. Within the context of our relationship with Christ it would mean our ability to either embrace Him in a personal relationship or distance ourselves from Him.
G.K. Chesterton once said:
The modern world is not evil: in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of virtues gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone.”
Orthodoxy, pg. 27-28
As a Father, one of things that I realized early on is that my children are in a constant state of discernment whether they realized it or not. Their spiritual development is a constant practicum of understanding right from wrong, how to respond to us as parents, what they can do and not do etc. It’s a continual maturation of their Catholic being with the central focus being an intentionally formed relationship with Jesus Christ.
This particular process came to fruition with my eldest son. Every so often my son and I would engage in conversation related to his discernment of the priesthood. It would begin with a simple question: Son how’s your discernment with the priesthood going? My son’s response would be a typical; “Dad, it’s there, it comes and goes.” Our conversations about the priesthood have been constant for a couple of years not bearing too much weight on the possibility but at the same time not letting it go. There have been times when my son has bluntly said: “I sense the Lord calling me to the priesthood” to other times where he wasn’t sure. This is the beauty of discernment.
“They Need Confession”
One of the most striking moments of our conversation about the priesthood, one that left me speechless, detailed my son elaborating a little bit further on the priesthood as follows:
“Dad at times when I’m serving at Mass I see the people out in the pew, all of them. It’s not that I am not paying attention at Mass, but I see their faces. They appear lost and in search of something. They’re looking for something. If I was to become a priest I know what I would want to do.” I asked him; “what is that?” “I would hear confessions sixteen hours a day because they need healing, they need confession.”
I had nothing else to say after that. For whatever reason, my son discerned quiet accurately what we all need if we are to come into full communion with Jesus Christ. It reminds us of our responsibility to discern the will of God in our lives and develop that personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Chesterton’s words echo strongly in light of our need for discernment and confession; “The modern world is full of virtues gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!
Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman once said: “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.” If the will is the source of action and faith is illuminative because it comes from God, then our free will should drive us to illumine our faith as much as possible.
One of the illuminations of faith Blessed Newman refers to is a “heightened sense of guilt” or in other words an awareness of sin in your life. St. Gregory of Nyssa echoes this point further;
“Empowered by God’s blessing man held a lofty position. He was appointed to rule over the earth and everything on it. His form was beautiful, for he was created as an image of the archetypal beauty. In nature he was free from passion, for he was a copy of him who is without passion. He was wholly free and open, reveling in the direct vision of God. But all this was fuel to the flames of the adversary’s passionate envy. He could not fulfill his purpose by violence or brute force, for the power of God’s blessing was stronger than such force. So he contrived to detach man from the power which strengthened him and thus to render him an easy prey to his intrigue.”
Documents in Early Christian Thought, pg. s 106-107
No one I believe ever wants to be asked: “when was the last time you’ve been to confession?” And yet, when I’ve respectfully posed this question to people it cuts to the heart of the matter. I immediately tell the person(s) that my desire is not to know whether they have or haven’t. The intent of the question is to stir the heart toward a continual call to conversion (CCC 1423). This question becomes more pivotal when a parent desires their child to make their first reconciliation but yet they in turn haven’t step foot in a confessional for years. It begs to ask the question; “when was the last time . . .?”
In a recent interview The Archbishop of Canterbury recently said that “confession is good for the soul.” Who would have guessed that the Anglican primate would encourage the sacrament of confession. The Most Rev. Justin Welby goes on to say; “through it God releases forgiveness and absolution and a sense of cleansing.”
Did You Run Out of Sins?
One of the results of the fall some of us tend to overlook is that we still carry the propensity to sin even- though Baptism removes the initial calamity of sin.
“By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. . .Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, “the tinder for sin” (fomes peccati); since concupiscence “is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.” (CCC 1263-1254)
A significant fallacy related to sin is the denial it exists. We easily forget that we live in a temporal world with limitations and consequences that affect us on a daily basis. This is a direct result of the fall of man. To this day our human condition is still trying to find the best way to reclassify sin.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
1 Jn 1:8
A student once asked me: “what’s the best way to teach someone about sin?” A simple method is as follows:
- Present a false story about someone. In other words describe the development of a lie.
- Deny that you lied about the person by developing another lie to covert the first one.
- Convince everyone around you that your lie is justified because it’s how you see it.
Sin by definition is an offense against, truth, reason, and right conscience. This leads to an offense against God (Ps 51:4) because our actions contradict His love for us (CCC 1849-1850). The sin of lying reflects a love of self over the love of another. It is what St. Augustine calls: “a love of oneself even to contempt of God.”
One of the most important things you can tell anyone who questions the doctrine of Sin is that he can be healed. A consistent theme attributed towards a misunderstanding of sin is that the person cannot be healed or there is no need of healing to begin with. Both reasons are one in the same because the person has convinced himself that he is fine. The reality is this, we live in a temporal world, and because of this reality certain limitation do exist that require our attention, correction, and healing.
Avoiding the Great Deception
St. Paul reminds us that we have a great penchant for fooling ourselves:
“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’” (1 Cor 3:18-19).
When someone says they have no sins to worry about the reality is they’re convinced they have no need for God’s mercy, and here lies the Great Deception. In other words, “my soul is just fine thank you very much.” The actual reality of the temporal world is that we are constantly challenged to perform good acts or evil ones. A genuine desire for mercy opens our understanding of sin and the desire to avoid it. Mercy reflects an intimate desire to be united with Christ and His Church.
Blaise Pascal sums it up best:
Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think such things.”
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do; sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, bit to those who live according to the spirit.
One of the many aspects involved in catechist formation is helping the catechist understand the realities of their ministry. They’re not merely handing out information to students of any age. Their pedagogical instruction is an intricate exposition of the faith that can take many turns and twists along the way. Case in point, a student once asked me the following question about Mary:
“Did Mary have sex with Joseph?”
Well, that’s a great way to start your class on Mary. This particular question opens a myriad of catechetical possibilities from explaining the Immaculate Conception to Mary’s Perpetual Virginity and then her perfect obedience (fiat). Or even better yet, our Blessed Mother’s role within the context of the Theology of the Body. As any veteran catechist will tell you, “prepare for yourself for the unexpected if you can.”
All catechesis is directed toward bringing an individual into an authentic encounter with Jesus Christ. This intimacy is based on the premise that the individual catechized will place Christ squarely at the core of everything he does. Practically speaking this involves placing Christ in your everyday activities e.g. exercising your faith in prayer through work, friends, recreational activities and so forth. Why would this mode of living be important? First, the immersion of Christ in everything you do places your activities not for the sake of yourself; instead your activities are now solely placed on Christ and in turn toward the spiritual well-being of those around you.
With respect to the role of catechist, this is exactly our missionary mandate. We are called to reveal or better yet re-echo what Christ has taught (Col 3:1-3; Jn 3:30). It’s not that we should not value ourselves; instead our responsibility is the cultivating of souls. When you apply this basic principle within the classroom, your catechesis will not be about yourself; instead it will be about Christ through your authentic witness of the faith.
St. Paul reminds us:
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbor for his good to edify him. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, ‘the reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’” (Rom 15:1-2)
When I’ve posed the following question to catechists: “When was the first time you truly discovered Christ in your life?” the initial response was silence. A glazed look would dominates some catechists wondering; “why in the world would he ask such a question?” or “I don’t see the point of the question?” Thankfully, after some careful reflection many catechists did see the point to the question. I recall one particular catechist describe in detail the day he truly encountered Christ. The event occurred during his college years where he found himself surrendering to Christ during a difficult time and immediately felt the presence of Christ and a call to return to Him. It was at that very moment that he had the extreme urge to go to confession and attend daily Mass.
The Reality of Sin
When this gentleman finished witnessing to the whole group I asked if he came to the realization of sin in his life. His immediate response was a deafening, Yes! I then asked him to explain this a bit more. He described how his life in short was devoid of any notion of sin. He lived his life as he pleased with no hesitation or thought to any consequences for his actions in his life. It was as if sin did not exist and the mere notion of being a good person in the secular sense dispelled any notion of actually sinning. In other words, the very notion of sin in his life was nothing more than a foreign concept that did not apply.
Once he came to find Christ, he realized the realities of his sinful ways thus his immediate need to go to confession and then Mass. This example enters us into the heart of catechesis. Once mankind recognizes who he is as a created being in the image and likeness of God the natural tendency is to express this deistic image and likeness through God’s Son Jesus Christ. In other words we allow Christ to resonate through us. Pope Paul VI reminds us:
Sin is a reality that we cannot afford to ignore, especially if we are teaching the faith. It’s not a question of becoming consumed by it but instead; exercise a prudent awareness of the reality of sin in our daily lives. Jesus came to reconcile us to God’s love (CCC 457). We had literally lost sight of our basic identity as children of God; and why Christ reminds us of this loss when speaking to the Pharisees that He is “light of the world” and that whoever follows Him “will not live in darkness.” (Jn 8:12)
Jesus continues to teach us about the realities of sin and how discovering who He is will lead anyone toward a clearer path to our Father in heaven:
If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciple, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. . . Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (Jn 8:31-32; 34-36)
The Reality of Catechesis
Christ’s death is both a Paschal sacrifice and a sacrifice of the New Covenant. This means that our catechesis is ordered in two ways:
- Toward helping man understand that Christ came to redeem man.
- He came to restore man into communion with God by reconciling him to God through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. (CCC 613)
If we can thoughtfully and lovingly deliver these two pillars in our catechetical instruction then our task will bear fruit. Discovering the reality of Christ truly leads us toward the discovery of sin which in turn calls us to sin no more (Lk 7:36-50). And this is precisely the point our catechesis should strive for; once an intimacy with Christ is firmly established the habitual desire to sin will begin to fade away.