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.
By now everyone has had the opportunity to read and react to Pope Francis’ Interview and either agreed or disagreed with what he had to say. Regardless of what your position may be several things come to mind that all of us should be aware of:
Pope Francis did not:
- Ask us to disregard over 2000 years of Church teaching.
- Tell the faithful to disregard the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
- All of sudden advocate for abortion, homosexual behavior, contraception or that true social justice does not need to involve a moral compass.
On the contrary, what Pope Francis did is help us understand how to properly establish the Kerygma to anyone who desires a deep intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. In other words, our efforts to effectively evangelize and catechize the faithful must be rooted in the Kerygma (proclamation of the Gospel). If we are to look at the heart of Francis’ message, he is calling us to re-propose the Gospel not change it. In other words, our methods need a little refinement if we are to bring another soul in to the fold. This is not to say that we shouldn’t articulate Church teaching on abortion, contraception, and homosexuality. What he’s asking us to do first and foremost is foster an openness to Jesus Christ.
Bring Rest to the Burdened
A good way of deconstructing Pope Francis’ interview is the emphasis he places on taking the burden of sin away from those that are wounded. I am not talking about ignoring sin or calling it something else, instead the proposed method is to show the person that he is still God’s child and that he still has a role in God’s salvific plan.
“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”
From here he challenges all ministers of the Church to:
“. . .be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.
Once we have to right frame of reference in evangelizing the burdened we then:
“. . . need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound.
A False Controversy
The biggest controversy over Pope Francis’ words is probably the following statement:
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
Pope Francis in no clear matter implies the rejection of Church teaching on the sinful acts of abortion, gay marriage or contraception. What he does say is for us to try a different approach towards those engaged or have been engaged in these immoral acts.
He goes on to say:
“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
How To Teach
I believe it is becoming clear what our Holy Father is asking of us. Our love for the sinner does not mean we reject Church teaching or the sinful acts of the person we encounter all together. On the contrary, embrace the person but not the act. Don’t persecute him, witness to him for the purpose of bring his soul back to Christ and in turn he will become receptive to the Church’s teaching which serves as the Depository of Christ’s love on earth.
His Catechetical Plan is quiet clear:
“I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.
Keep this in mind, how do you get a sinner to recognize he is sinning. Get him to first recognize his human dignity and deistic character given to him by God. The hope here is he will hopefully come to the realization that he is damaging his own God-given dignity (his soul) by the very immoral acts he’s engaged in. Once this is accomplished then the burdened will find rest (Mt 11:28).
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.
With the start of a new catechetical year catechists throughout the country whether in parish programs or Catholic schools prepare to faithfully impart the Catholic faith to our children. But is this too strong of an assumption to make toward what is actually happening in our religious education programs? We need to honestly reflect on this question in order to properly discern what defines sound catechetical instruction ergo faithful Catholic teaching.
G.K. Chesterton reminds us that the premise of sound religion is not to affirm our misunderstandings but on the contrary correct them. In other words, we not only want religion to accept us where we are at, but primarily we want religion to move us where we are supposed to be. Hence Christ the Divine teacher calls us to not only be hearers but also doers of the Word (Lk 6:46-47).
Do you agree?
This obvious point appears not so obvious amongst some catechists in the field. One of my primary tasks as Director of Catechist Formation is you guessed it, training catechists. There is never a dull moment walking into a classroom of people who have all the right intentions but not all the right faculties to hand on the faith. The schematic of every class involves an explanation of the Kerygma i.e. the Gospel message of Jesus Christ (Salvation History) to wet the prospective catechist’s appetite on how to engage students and in turn instruct them; in other words: evangelize and then catechize.. Once the session nears its end and everyone appears to be inspired and ready to tackle this very important ministry I ask a very important and inevitable question:
“Does everyone here agree with every teaching of the Catholic Church?”
I clarified this question by mentioning that I am not referring whether they like or dislike their Pastor’s Homilies or the choice of colors used to paint the new narthex or the way the parish asks for money. It comes down to Church teaching and whether you honestly believe in it or not.
Out of the over 60catechists present that evening at least half raised their hands openly saying they had issues with Church teaching. When I mentioned specific Church teaching on contraception, homosexuality, cohabitation etc. their faces were let’s just say priceless!
Is it Ignorance, Misunderstanding or Defiance?
The response I received should not surprise everyone. Though some may say this is to be expected or the number should have been greater or lower we need to address where this supposed ignorance, misunderstanding or defiance comes from.
Catechists are co-operators with Christ the Teacher. Their responsibility lies in creating a true Catholic environment for all. This Catholic ethos rests on Christ and His constant revelation intimately found in Sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. One of the greatest challenges is helping an individual understand what his role is in life with respect to Christ. This is even more important when a particular person desires to teach the faith, but whose faith?
Guadium Et Spes specifically lays out what our responsibility is to be in accord with the Church:
The root reason for human dignity lies in man’s call to communion with God. From the very circumstance of his origin man is already invited to converse with God. For man would not exist were he not created by Gods love and constantly preserved by it; and he cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and devotes himself to His Creator. (19)
When an individual is outside of communion with God on any level then the proclivity of seeking or even inventing a new doctrine becomes very tempting. Our catechesis becomes skewed and is directed toward the self rather than Christ. Catechesis is an education in the faith for children, young people, and adults which includes especially, the teaching of Christian Doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to imitating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life. (Catechesis In Our Time, 18)
Jesus echoes the integrity of the Kerygma (Gospel message) faithfully where he reminds everyone that after the greatest commandment to love one another as he has loved us is to understand “all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (Jn 15:15). What we have here is faithful transmission of the Gospel. This point was somewhat missed by the catechists I posed the question to. Jesus reminds us that;
My teaching is not from myself; it comes from the one who sent me. (Jn 7:16).
After an initial awkward: “I can’t believe he just asked us that question” look from those who raised their hands I kindly but firmly laid out some of the negatives ramifications to this position on the children they will teach.
- Your personal views against Church teaching will inevitably seep into the classroom.
- The student will not receive the fullness of the Gospel and instead will receive a “catechesis of me” instead of a catechesis centered on Christ.
- You may end up chastising a student who disagrees with you on Church teaching even though the student may be right and you may be wrong.
- Your language will go from the “Church teaches” to “ I believe the Church needs to . . .”
I can go on with this list but you get the point. When these scenarios were presented many who raised their hands did not deny that this may happen to which those who did not raise their hands asked the question again, then why teach the faith! These scenarios resonates with St. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy “to guard what has been entrusted to you” (2 Tim 3:16).
The General Directory for Catechesis answers the question of teaching the faith this way:
- The first and primary role of the Catechist is to be a primary witness of the Catholic faith to students.
- That faith must also be put into practice resulting in the catechist being an active model of Christian charity for all to see, especially the student being catechized.
- In the act of faith and works, a catechist exemplifies the model of catechesis as a systematic, organic presentation of the faith rooted firmly in the teachings of the Catholic Church and visibly expressed through participation in the sacraments, the commandments, beatitudes, and prayer.
- The missionary mandate of Jesus, the supreme evangelist, was to proclaim the kingdom of God. In proclaiming the Kingdom of His Father, Jesus preached of the joy of the kingdom and the fruits that would be shared in the kingdom. (34)
What Is the Role of the Catechist?
Should we allow the catechists I mentioned who for whatever reason do not agree with everything the Church teaches teach children the Catholic faith? Two possible answers to this question might be: “Absolutely not”; or “not completely.” The reason for both possibilities is the need to discern and determine prior to their first catechetical instruction if their position is one of ignorance or misunderstanding (not completely). If this is the case then these misunderstandings about Church teaching can be clarified and hope reigns. However, if the catechist is adamant against a certain teaching of the Church then the catechist should receive an (absolutely not) response.
Blessed John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation: Catechesis In Our Time outlined some very practical points on catechetical instruction that all Catechists would be wise to follow. They are:
- Begin with an initial proclamation of the Gospel or missionary preaching through the kerygma (proclamation) to arouse faith.
- Use sound apologetics or an examination of the reasons for why we believe what we believe.
- Provide an authentic experience of Christian living
- Provide ample opportunities to celebrate the sacraments.
- Help the student become integrated onto the ecclesial community.
- Be Apostolic and missionary witness.” (18).
St. James calls on his fellow brethren to show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory . . . for whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it . . . (2:1, 10)
G.K Chesterton told us that the world needs a religion that will move it not pamper it. If the primacy of teaching the faith is to move the soul towards Christ, then our ministry as catechists should be very clear with no reservations.
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
When something just doesn’t seem right, you tend to remember the time, place and surroundings of when that event occurred. Everything becomes predicated on that one moment that set the pace for the rest of the day or week. Whether it’s something someone said or an action performed by someone the human condition can be quite unpredictable at times.
One of the greatest fallacies taught by the human condition is that everything is dependent upon man. When I pose this thought every time I teach the obvious response I get from the audience is “no.” However, there are some who would argue that if we don’t use our God-given abilities then we’re wasting our human faculties. There is truth to this point but we cannot forget that in order to utilize these gifts we are asked to respond to God’s call, this is turn is called the gift of grace.
Grace is a participation in the life of God. The Catechism (1997) tells us that without grace our relationship with God would lack an intimate union. Taking these points a little further, God provides us with an opportunity to respond to His grace so that we can participate in his plan for our salvation. God’s proposition makes perfect sense when we freely and knowingly open ourselves to receive His grace. And yet, this seemingly easy path to holiness often times is rejected.
The book of Titus says that we should: show yourself in all respects a model of good deeds, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us (2:7-8).
What is the Theology of Me?
Titus reminds us of the need to exercise a charitable character rooted in love and faithful to the mission of the Church. This should be the mindset of anyone involved in the Apostolic work of the Church to witness and teach the Catholic faith. Unfortunately this is not always the case. Many of us have experienced the catechetical practices of teachers that tend to profess a personal theology rather than the Deposit of Faith. A brief analogy to this would be an aeronautical engineering constructing an airplane based purely on his-own experience. Upon completion of the airplane, he turns to you and says, “Alright, let’s take it for a test flight.” Would you join him on the test flight? The answer is probably not due to the fact that he relied purely on his own experience of building planes and did not use an established blueprint.
In essence the example just described represents the methodologies used to teach the Catholic faith e.g. the “Theology of Me.” Overnight this particular methodology became the preferred model of teaching the Catholic faith in the late sixties holding form for the next couple of decades until the publication of the Catechism Catholic Church (1992) and a renewal in Catholic apologetics prior to that in the early to mid-eighties.
The reality of this methodology placed more emphasis on the teachers experience skewed or not over what had been transmitted by the Church for over two-thousand years. This approach inevitably led to a catechesis by personal experience versus the Creed of the Church. Instruction was not built on grace, instead it was built on the personal disposition of the teacher whether he agreed with the Catholic Church or not.
The Catechism reminds that:
“The eternal Father, in accordance with the utterly gratuitous and mysterious design of his wisdom and goodness, created the whole universe and chose to raise up men to share in his own divine life,” to which he calls all men in his Son. “The Father… determined to call together in a holy Church those who should believe in Christ.” This “family of God” is gradually formed and takes shape during the stages of human history, in keeping with the Father’s plan. In fact, “already present in figure at the beginning of the world, this Church was prepared in marvelous fashion in the history of the people of Israel and the old Alliance. Established in this last age of the world and made manifest in the outpouring of the Spirit, it will be brought to glorious completion at the end of time (CCC 759).
What are the Characteristics of the Theology of Me Person?
There are certain characteristics that I have come across in over seventeen years of teaching. These characteristics are neither exhaustive, nor definitive as I’m sure we come up with many more. In general, the most common characteristics I’ve experienced are as follows:
- They tend to talk about themselves more than what the Church teaches.
- Their outlook is neither black, white nor grey instead it’s a multi-colored view where everyone can choose what to believe as they deem fit.
- They tend to balk at anything that comes from the Vatican as “not applicable to the societal trends of the day.”
- Their motto tends to be: “I believe the Church needs to. . .”
- “Doctrine” and “Dogma” are viewed as harsh words and are replaced with “acceptance,” and “freedom.”
- You would hardly see the use of Sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in their lesson as these resources “inhibit academic freedom.”
- Another motto is: “You don’t have to believe in everything the Church teaches to be a faithful Catholic.”
As I said earlier there are many characteristics we can come up with but this is a fair start. Even though the Church has made great strides in clearing up the catechetical mess we have had to live with for the last forty plus years, the characteristics I mentioned are still happening to this day albeit more infrequently than say fifteen years ago. Nonetheless, it’s no wonder we’ve seen a generation brought up with no sense of a Catholic world view which includes a proper understanding of the Rule of Faith, the sacramental life, the moral life and prayer. You can attribute the curious rise of Atheism, Gnosticism and Narcissism to the “Theology of Me” approach. It never set a firm foundation on who we are or what to believe. The Theology of Me in many ways was a result of looking at the Christian ideal and finding it too hard to follow as alluded to by Chesterton. How do we correct the “Theology of Me” syndrome, by teaching the fundamental of the faith or as the Catechism states: “teach the motives of credibility.”
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’s words resonate with the current moral state of our country. Whether it’s the Supreme Court Decision regarding aspects of DOMA, to Proposition 8 in my home state of California, one is left to wonder; when did this advocacy of immoral behavior come from? One needs look no further than our first parents (Adam and Eve) and the initial act of self-love that drove them to seek the pleasure of self rather than directing their love toward our Father in Heaven.
At the onset of any moral dilemma lies a certain moral proposition: Am I willing to love others before myself? This proposition is hinged on the Great Commandment to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:34-40). The significance of this great proposition by Christ is that when the Pharisees posed the question to Jesus; “which is the greatest commandment in the Law,” he went beyond the law they were referring to. Jesus calls us toward an unconditional love toward God and in turn reflects our call to love our neighbor who is created in the image and likeness of God.
The Template of Bad Catechesis
The greatest commandment tells us to seek the Lord first, and in seeking Him we seek the spiritual well-being of others before ourselves. Thus it is not a question of material or carnal desires that draw us to love God and our fellow neighbor; it’s the desire to lead our fellow brother and sister in Christ to Heaven. Unfortunately this was not the premise of most Catechetical programs after the Second Vatican Council.
Bad Catechetical templates beginning at the turn of 1970 would consistently include the following:
- “Love language” that was so ambiguous you couldn’t tell whether you were called to love God or a tree.
- Christ was viewed not in the Sacraments e.g. the Holy Eucharist but in “mother earth.”
- Christ was not viewed as Lord, Savior, and King. Instead he was viewed as our “friend.”
- The sacraments were taught as mere symbols of faith and not actual gifts from Christ that dispenses grace.
- If you truly loved someone, then it was alright to express that love anyway you wanted without moral restraint.
- Acts of Social justice e.g. saving the environment was more important than living a moral life in Christ.
This is just a small sample of what the catechetical landscape was like for many of us growing up during this time period. The notion of charitably clarifying someone for their misunderstanding of Church teaching was taboo because it meant we did not love the individual in question. This disdain for sound evangelization was even more apparent when one would try to charitably offer the alternative to actively and publicly living an immoral lifestyle. In many instances the responses were hostile in nature. In an article I wrote many years ago I described the experience of my Confirmation class where the catechist told us if you truly loved somebody then it would be okay to have pre-marital sex with him or her. Needless to say this was not the message to be sent to a group of hormonal driven teenagers but it does provide us with a glimpse of the bad catechetical landscape of the time.
The Fruits of Bad Catechesis
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 same-sex marriage, homosexuality, cohabitation, artificial contraception is a direct result of the unwillingness to present “right teaching” i.e. orthodox teaching. Whenever we fail to present the “motives of credibility” what the Catechism (156) refers to as the signs of Divine Revelation then we allow motives of incredibility to take form allowing for 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.
There is Definitive Hope
Christ embodies Hope (Col 1:27). We can only blind ourselves so much until a realization hopefully 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.
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 sanctity of Marriage as a holy and natural institution will withstand the barrage of attacks. Something so natural and beautiful can never truly be redefined or destroyed. It will only get stronger. 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).
“We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe.”
Blessed Cardinal Newman
As soon as the men of the world perceive that you seek the devout life, they will launch forth all their raillery and slander against you; the most ill-natured will pronounce your altered ways to be hypocrisy, affection, or bigotry; they will assert that the world having slighted you, rejected by it, you turn to God; and your friends overwhelm you with a torrent of what they hold to be prudent and charitable remonstrances.
St. Frances De Sales
St. Frances De Sales wrote this piece in part to encourage us not to give heed to what the world says. If the world champions that all young girls from a young age should be on birth control is the world right? Or, if the world says that cohabitation is a perfectly normal way to determine the marriageability of a potential spouse, is this right? The obvious moral answers to these questions is no. However, the world would try to make you think that you’re still a good person even if you happen to believe in cohabitation or the distribution of the birth control pill to young girls.
Oh No, He’s Discovered the Opposite Sex!
The point I just made resounds even more when discussing the opposite sex with our children. The moment our child’s view of the opposite sex changes from “whatever” to “whoa” then you know a whole new human being has just evolved before your very eyes. Keep in mind that the secular world knows this natural phenomenon all too well waiting to pounce on the soul of your child and transform them into a morally distorted sexual being.
When parents realize this change I often find myself on the receiving end of their questions on how to discuss sex to their teens as taught by the Church. However, before I can muster a sound response the parent on his last ounce of despair blurts out in a loud voice: “Oh no, he’s discovered the opposite sex.” I tell parents instead of saying “Oh No” our first response should be, “good, let’s talk about sex.”
As parents it’s important that we become keenly aware of what our kids already know or don’t know with respect to sex. The sex talk meter tends shift toward two extremes where either nothing is discussed or everything is discussed to a fault. A good starting point is to help them reevaluate their understanding or misunderstanding of where the body comes from, why it was made, and what was the result of “the fall” of our first parents with respect to authentic human sexuality.
Establishing a Temptation Meter
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Col 3:1-3)
One of the most effective methods I’ve found to help curb sexual temptation amongst teens is to establish a temptation meter. This idea came to me many years ago when teaching my sophomore class about the morality of passions in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They way to establish a temptation meter is by simply following the outline laid out in the Catechism on the Morality of Passions. Here’s an example of what I would give to my students and then they would have to place a check mark next to each one of the following areas they fell into; it made for quite a class discussion:
- If you begin to pulsate and lose all inhibitions of normal moral behavior i.e. looking at someone inappropriately or beginning to imagine inappropriate situations with someone, then you have reached the realm of – Lust. CCC 1765
- If your appetite for natural friendship abandons ship for an inappropriate sexual appetite then you have reached the realm of – disordered arousal. CCC 1765
- If you all think about is how the young man or woman can satisfy your personal desires versus how you can charitably help the person in a loving way you have reached the realm of disordered pleasure. CCC 1765
- If your intellect and will became deliberately engaged toward a passion of selfish
love, you have reached the realm of – evil. CCC 1766
- If your intellect and will do not see the dignity of the human person in someone you encounter you have reached the realm of – sadness. CCC 1770
As I stated earlier these five characteristics are adapted from the Catechism articles referenced under the Morality of Passions. I would also incorporate a picture related to the characteristic for greater effect. Once the student saw and understood how their behavior fell into one these categories, changes began to occur. They realized they did not want to become sexual zombies. Instead they began to realize their human dignity and the gift that they are to God.
Another point to reflect on is the morality of the human act which is depended upon the object, the intent, and the circumstance (CCC 1750-1754). One way to incorporate this great little nugget of doctrinal instruction is to ask e.g. your son the following questions:
- “What was your first thought when you saw that beautiful girl walk right in front of you?”
- “What was your intent when you saw her?”
- “What did you think about doing after you finished observing this girl?”
These questions may sound blunt but I can assure you they will get your sons attention. Keep in mind that the Catechism reminds us that the Moral Law is the work of Divine wisdom and finds its unity in Christ (CCC 1950-1954). What this means is that we want our children to act in moderation making reasonable use of their senses so as to not become sexual zombies but instead becomes authentic disciples in Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas provides us with a wonderful summation and antidote in dealing with sexual temptation all parents should share with their children:
“To love is to will the good of another”
Faith is the result of the act of the will, following upon a conviction that to believe is a duty.
Blessed Cardinal Newman
St. James tells us if we lack wisdom ask God because He will give generously. Our petition should rest on a genuine faith attributed to Him. If not, then the opposite of faith i.e. doubt will cause us to be like a wave of the seas that is driven and tossed by the wind (1: 5-6). We can easily attribute this same scenario to a classroom full of students listening to a teacher go to and fro about something related to the Catholic faith but never getting there. Scenarios like this make students either walk the plank voluntarily or abandon ship all together.
The art of teaching the Catholic faith doesn’t need to be the most horrifying thing one goes through. The thought of twenty-something high school students waiting or better yet daring you to show and teach them something profound should not stop you in your catechetical tracts and make you scream mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa!
It is not surprising when fear sets that an immediate tendency is to fall back and make the lesson about “you” (the narcissistic teacher) instead of “Church teaching.” I’ve personally witnessed this phenomenon for years and it typically leads to a dilution of doctrinal instruction that leaves the student wondering “how the teacher watering her flowers” has any applicability to Moses and the parting of the Red Sea.
The Method of Blessed Newman
One way to address this phenomenon is by familiarizing ourselves with a beautiful little gem by Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman. In his great work: An Essay in Aid of A Grammar of Assent; Blessed Newman describes “Credence” as the act by which we give credence to propositions or in other words an obedience of faith. He goes on to say; it is the sort of assent which we give to those opinions and professed facts which are ever presenting themselves to us without any effort of ours, and which we commonly take for granted . . . (pg. 60).
The propositions Blessed Newman refers to are carefully embedded in the Creed. At the heart of what Blessed Newman is asking of us is to become knowledgeable of these propositions or what has been made visible by God through His Son Jesus Christ. At the heart of the Creed is a free assent “I believe.” The catechetical effectiveness of any religion teacher rest on his or her fidelity to the Church’s proposition over their own. This does not mean we cannot use our own personal experiences to aid the instruction but it should not be the primary focus.
Another point to consider when dealing with the narcissistic religion teacher is the assumption that a student is incapable of understanding the doctrinal propositions of the Church. Thus the religion teacher takes it upon him or herself to reinterpret doctrine for the sake of the student when in reality it is more for the sake of the teacher. Blessed Newman helps us counter this tendency when he refers to the nature of religion as “the knowledge of God, of His Will, and of our duties toward Him . . .” (pg. 303) He goes on to describe three ways by which nature allows us to acquire this knowledge of God: “our own minds, the voice of mankind, and the course of the world, that is, of human life and human affairs.” (pg. 303) In other words, he presents a perfect balance of knowledge through study and knowledge through experience where in-turn it leads us to a fuller understanding of who God is.
Blessed Newman and the Annunciation Method
Perhaps no scripture passage better encapsulates Blessed Newman’s teaching methodology and at the same time help us how to handle a narcissistic religion teacher other than the Annunciation model in Luke’s Gospel.
- At first we see the Arc Angel Gabriel makes a profound announcement to Mary: “Hail Full of Grace” this unique proclamation if you will immediately identifies what the Lord declares unto Mary-that she is without sin and is highly favored with God (Lk 1:28 ff.) If we take this example and apply it within the context of the classroom; our instruction should be directed toward the specific doctrine we are about to teach and announce to the whole class whether through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Music, Sacred Art or in any proper method that would grab the attention of the students.
- Next we see the Arc Angel Gabriel declare unto Mary: “The Lord is with you.” This statement immediately reassures Mary that she is not alone, God is truly present. It is important that we actively draw the Blessed Trinity into our catechetical instruction through the visible presence of the Crucifix, a sacred space with the liturgical colors of the season etc.
- After Mary expressed concern over this pronouncement the Arc Angel Gabriel reassures her to not be afraid; “for you have found favor with God.” Students tend to express concern or at times defiance when a particular aspect of Church teaching is confusing. It is the responsibility of the catechist to reassure students what the Church teaches and why. The climax of any doctrinal instruction is the development of an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
- The Arc Angel Gabriel instructs Mary on what it is to come: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” The Arc Angel Gabriel serves as the chief catechist carefully articulating what is to take place and explaining the nature and purpose of Mary’s role in Salvation History as the “God-Bearer.”
- Mary’s acceptance and obedience of faith: And Mary said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.” As a faithful servant who knew no sin Mary accepts the instruction delivered by the Arc Angel Gabriel and professes her fidelity to God. The method here rests on the faithful transmission of the Gospel by the catechist and the faithful acceptance of the faith by the student. This means that the catechist actively lives out his/her Catholic faith in response to God’s call through His Son Jesus Christ.
As we just read, the Annunciation provides a clear example of what an assent of faith looks like and the methodology behind it. Upon reflecting on Blessed Newman’s work on the Grammar of Assent , we see a pararllel with respect to the Annunciation narrative towards an assent of faith in the Credo of God. Every religion teacher (myself included) should keep in mind that it’s not about us; it’s about offering the student an authentic opportunity to assent to the will of Christ and His Church.
“You must make up your mind to the prospect of sustaining a certain measure of pain and trouble in your passage through life.”
Blessed Cardinal Newman
Blessed Newman’s remarks should resonate in our souls when it comes to trying to keep our moral nerve. All too often the attempt to freely exercise our moral nerve is meant with disdain by those who would characterize this behavior as too oppressive or judgmental. Imagine a person who is trying to publicly exercise their moral nerve being chastised for doing so. Unfortunately this type of scenario is happening more often than naught in today’s age. Such a situation occurred to a former student of mine who was ridiculed by a group of immodestly dressed girls for praying in front of an abortion facility. One of the girls commented: “You hate women” and without missing a beat he responded: “On the contrary, I love and honor women because God made them and I hope to marry one someday because they are a gift from God just like yourselves.” At that the girls were left speechless and went away quietly.
In order to make a concerted effort to keep your moral nerve and not lose it you have to make up your mind to do so. Blessed Newman alludes to this. In other words, either you will or you won’t. Sounds simple and it can be if you exercise right reason, judgment and prudence. Once this is accomplished you will then realize that maintaining your moral nerve will require sacrifice and God forbid some suffering and ridicule on the way.
I dare to say that no Father wants to raise a son who will not defend the basic moral principles of life established by God in the Ten Commandments (Rule of Faith). It goes without question that our hope in raising morally upright sons is that they develop into morally upright men. However, we know and understand that the development of a moral life in Christ is filled with immoral crevices. They tend are positioned by the Devil himself to somehow convince all of God’s children that there is a better alternative than living in the view of the Devil a prohibitive moral life centered on Jesus Christ.
Origins of Our Moral Nerve
Where does our moral nerve come from? If we take the time to understand who we are as God’s children we can clearly see that the moment we received our soul our moral nerve came into being. And with that, our sense of responsibility, order, and willingness to perform good acts in the name God the Father. However, the advent of the first sin by Adam and Eve’s own free will curtailed our perfect ability to perform good acts and instead our good acts would require sacrifice and a sense of suffering.
God created man a rational being conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions, God willed that man should be left in the hand of his own counsel so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him (CCC 1730). In other words the origin of our moral nerve rests in the very freedom God bestowed on us in order to act on things moral and avoid things immoral (Sir 15:14-20).
How to Keep Our Moral Nerve
A Father’s primary responsibility to his children is to teach them how to have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Once our children recognize this important relationship in their lives then their view of themselves as human beings created in the image and likeness of God will grow.
The second responsibility is to help our children actively engage their relationship with Christ through a visible means of living out the Gospel message. Here’s where the Ten Commandments come in. The Decalogue (Ex 20:1-20) serves as the Rule of Faith all of us are called to follow fully realized in Christ and fulfilled in the Beatitudes (Mt 5: 2-12). The end-goal of fulfilling and keeping the Commandments and Beatitudes is eternal rest with our Lord in Heaven.
If the end goal is Heaven then we need to find a way of keeping our moral nerve through an active engagement of the Ten Commandments and Beatitudes in our daily lives. With respect to our children, reflecting on the Ten Commandments and what they propose is vital in keeping our moral nerve intact. One way of using the Ten Commandments as a daily spiritual guide is placing each commandmens in a Lectio Divina format.
The format would be as follows:
- Lectio – asking the grace to Hear God’s Words: or in this case reflecting on what the Commandment asks.
- Meditatio – upon further reflection of the Commandment, reflect on a certain aspect of the Commandment and how it can be lived in a better way.
- Oratio – speak directly to our Lord and ask for His assistance to exercise your beatitudinal call.
- Contemplatio – listen to any response from God attentively through prayer.
Prayerful reflection of each commandment would follow the same pattern of the Lectio Divina. This method also serves as an examination of conscience further fortifying your moral nerve in your daily walk with Christ.
Making Sure You Don’t Lose Your Moral Nerve
So, how do we make sure that we as Father’s and for the sake of this article our son’s do not lose their moral nerve?
- Seep yourself in prayer (Jn 7:37-39): This may not sound very masculine but on the contrary exhibits masculinity to the highest degree. Our sons must see that we love Christ and His Church especially through active participation in the Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. Being part of the Bride of Christ requires an adherence to the will of the Father revealed through the Son.
- Don’t put on a false face (Col 2:8-15): Hypocrisy is Satan’s tool when we choose to mimic a willingness to live a moral life but in reality care not to. This is what being a hypocrite means – putting on a false face. The importance of this point is the willingness to be ridiculed, mocked and disrespected for publicly professing and authentically living a moral life in Christ. In the case of our sons, it’s teaching them how to handle peer pressure especially in matters of sexual morality. If our sons know and understand the gift God has given them in their identity (1 Jn 3:19-20) then there is no need to put on a false face.
- Perform good deeds and avoid evil ones (Rom 1:32): St. Paul’s reminds us of the need to avoid those acts that cause grave harm to our soul and in turn our relationship with Jesus Christ. Concupiscence takes the stage in this last point where we are faced with daily opportunities to perform good deeds or fall prey to evil ones of our own free will. The message to take from this last point is that the Commandments and Beatitudes must work hand in hand in our daily lives. Merely performing a good deed does not exempt us from immoral thoughts or actions. We are called to actively engage society with a moral compass and effectively show how to live it.
The Church holds the key to keeping our moral nerve intact; this is why it is either loved or hated. Loved, by those who understand the nature of Christ and who we are as Children of God; hated by those who see the Church as an impediment in exercising their own self-prescribed moral autonomy. We may sway in our moral nerve due to the wages of sin, but it can never be destroyed because of the Father’s Infinite love for His children.
In a spiritual testament to his son, St. Louis King of France wrote the following:
My dearest son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all of your heart and all of your strength. Without this there is no salvation. Keep yourself, my son, from everything that you know displeases God, that is to say, from every mortal sin. You should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom before you allow yourself to commit a mortal sin.
It appears that this form of father to son communication has become somewhat of a lost art but not one that has completely disappeared. In an age where the sanctity of Marriage is constantly attacked by those who would rather forcefully have you believe that a union between males or females is perfectly natural and normal under the guise of matrimony there is an underlying current to this malaise in the deconstruction of male and female anthropology.
At the onset of God’s desire to create creatures that would most perfectly reflect His love man and woman were created. Each was given his and her own unique gifts that perfectly complemented one another in all facets of being male and female (Gen 2:4-25) hence the nature and sanctify of marriage from the very beginning. Suffice it to say this point is irrefutable though the current trend is to refute this natural course of action by any means necessary.
One of the unique gifts God bestowed upon man and woman is each possessed their own physical identity while at the same time possessed the same dignity given to them by God. They possessed a rational soul that drove their actions towards good prior to the fall. After the fall the soul was left to deal with the constant battle of dealing with a fallen human nature that would be resuscitated by God’s grace through His Son Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:3-11).
The First Principle of Authentic Masculinity
Owing to the nature God has given us, the male subject in the order of creation has certain natural duties and responsibilities required of him by God. If we take the example of Samuel, he listened and obeyed to the calling of the Lord (1 Sam 3:1-18). Abraham listened to the word of God to the point of willing to sacrificing his son Isaac (Gen 22); Joshua upon seeing the messenger of the Lord immediately paid homage and worshipped (Joshua 5:13-15). These examples of obedience also reflect the gift/act of fidelity towards God. And here lies the first principle of authentic masculinity; a willingness to accept the will of the Father over our own. Men by nature have exhibited great difficulty throughout our Lord’s history to accept His will.
As a father myself the responsibility I hold to my wife and children and in this case to my son must be centered on an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. This intimacy reflects a desire to know the Father’s will and to become visibly and actively sacramental in my way of life with Christ and His Church.
A Father’s Responsibility and the Obedience of Faith
There are several ways many of us can think of toward developing an authentic masculinity for our sons. One that I have found most effective throughout my years of catechizing male students including my own son is the gift of obedience. Obedience by nature affirms a willingness to freely hear or submit to something or someone. The natural tenet of obedience is to draw on a greater good as a result of obedience. This was Adam and Eve’s simple task which as we have seen in the history of the world was not so simple.
The Catechism references obedience with respect to the Word of God as man’s ability to submit freely to the Word that has been heard (CCC 144). This definition echoes the example mentioned earlier with Abraham, Joshua and Samuel. Obedience begets faith in that there is a certainty that what you adhere to will foster greater fruits, in particular the gift of truth.
Witness to Authentic Masculinity
A Father’s greatest gift to his son is how he handles the gift of obedience in everyday life and lives this obedience with others. As the head of the household, Fathers are called in faith and obedience to care for their spouses and their children; they swear an oath through the Holy Covenant of Marriage to love their wives as Christ loves the Church and to be open to the gift and sanctity of life.
Children are keenly aware of their parents’ mannerisms. They analyze everything a parent does and in the process imitate these behaviors habitually. In the case of Father’s, our first pillar of authentic masculinity is the visible role of obedience in our daily life with Christ. Our son’s must see this act of faith on a daily basis so their view of the world does not become secular and instead becomes Catholic. Simple examples of obedience such as:
- Carefully listening to your son when he is speaking to you
- Opening the door for your wife and treating her with utmost respect even when you may be tempted not to
- Not being quick to judge or condemn (very difficult to do)
- Admitting when you’re wrong (even more difficult)
though not exhaustive these examples are nevertheless quite challenging and can lead towards a sound masculine foundation. They reflect a sense of chivalry that has been lost amongst boys in today’s society. I can’t tell you how many times my son has received surprised facial expressions from females he has opened the door for on any given day. Fortunately, the majority of these facial expressions have been positive and affirming rather than negative. Give a boy an opportunity to be a healthy man of God I believe he’ll take it. Authentic masculinity rests in the desire to be an obedient witness of the Gospel with all of the gifts attributed to man by God. We must provide these opportunities as much as possible in order to avoid an identity crisis of sorts in our own son’s masculine development.
“Awake O’ Sleeper, and arise from the dead and Christ shall give you light. Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”