When one speaks of temptation, it tends to carry a negative connotation because it is often attributed to something we shouldn’t do. However, I would propose that the art of temptation reveals a certain beauty in that a person is faced with a decision to either act out the temptation or not. Whether the decision takes a split-second or is carefully drawn out, a dilemma ensues as to whether the person should or shouldn’t. What we have here is a battle between an attraction that is contrary to right reason and judgment against God’s commandments.
Let’s keep in mind that our first parents faced this situation in a somewhat drawn out process orchestrated by the devil himself. Temptation abounding, the serpent proposed the forbidden tree and its fruit was more tantalizing than all of the others combined. What the serpent offered to our first parents was to think outside of themselves and disregard right reason i.e. God (Gen 3:1-7).
St. Paul sheds light on this interior conflict and battle with temptation and right reason when he shares his own struggles with doing the very things he should avoid but stills does them anyway;
Did that which is good then bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . (Rom 7:13-15)
When faced with temptation to do something we know we shouldn’t, we do it anyway. Our immediate rationalization is the satisfaction our human appetite regardless of how we feel afterwards. Pascal reflects this idea further in his Penses:
“Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think such things” (133).
In a split second we blind ourselves from reality through a perversion of the senses. The problem many of us face is our continual need to live in a blind state of mind.
The Nature of Temptation
The nature of temptation rests in man’s desire to seek an alternative to God’s love. This proposition can only appear to last so long, eventually the alternatives to God’s love do not adequately fulfill the appetite of temptation. We recall that the original disobedience exercised by Lucifer against our Father in Heaven revealed the decisive choice of self-love over a devout love to God. Lucifer and his legion specifically chose their own perverted ideal of love versus God’s love. Their seductive voices resonate a desire to disobey out of envy (Gen 3:1-5; Wis 2:24).
The First Order of Temptation
You will be like God. (Gen 3:5) What is Temptation; an attraction from outside oneself or from within, to act contrary to right reason and the commandments of God. The Catechism reminds us: “Tempting God consists in putting his goodness and almighty power to the test by word and deed. [See: Lk 4:9; Deut 6:16] The challenge contained in such temptations toward God wounds the respect and trust we owe our Creator and Lord. It always harbors doubt about his love, his providence, and his power” (CCC 2119).
Keep in mind; we have indulged ourselves to become a centrist society. Our understanding of the world at times shuns the truth, beauty, and, goodness of who God and the created order of things. In other words, I am no longer a child of God but a child of myself. When we convince ourselves that our own self-fulfillment is more important than our relationship with Jesus Christ our appetite for self-fulfillment will never end and thus never be satisfied. Only in Christ can man fill the void in him.
Enduring the Trial of Temptation
Sacred Scripture tells us that Jesus was tempted three times (Lk 4:1-13) while in the desert for forty days and nights.
- Turn stone into bread
- Authority over all the kingdoms will be given for complete worship of the Devil i.e. renounces God the Father.
- Throw himself from the cliff questioning the faith and the power of God.
An important point to remember as Jesus began his journey into the desert was that he was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. This reflects Jesus’ awareness of the evil forces around him aimed to thwart His mission. We would do well to follow Christ’s example of preparedness through faithful prayer, adherence to the law (Ten Commandments), and faithfully living a sacramental life. A good starting point is immersing ourselves in God’s mercy by making an examination of conscience, shunning those elements of our lifestyle that leads us into temptation and making a concerted effort to receive the sacrament of penance. There is no reason why we should lose all inhibitions over a tempting situation fostering a negative result. St. James provides sound advice on “enduring trials”:
“Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted. ‘I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” (1:12-14)
“. . . and lead us not into temptation but deliver is from evil.”
The second to last petition of the Our Father reflects our desire to not concede to temptation due to our transgression i.e. our trespasses. What this means is a genuine desire of the human heart to combat evil and not fall prey to the emptiness of false gods. There is a two-fold approach to this petition. One: not to yield to temptation; Two: not to be allowed to enter into temptation (See: Mt 26:41). We must remember, God does not tempt anyone and he cannot be tempted by the Devil (CCC 2846).
As a final point, St. Paul provides comforting words on the issue of temptation and how we can understand the power of God’s love regardless of the trials we face;
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).
One of the chief uses of religion is that it makes us remember our coming from darkness, the simple fact that we are created.
As with anything in life, if you want to do something worthwhile then do it well. If your desire is to be a catechist then your aim should be the salvation of souls. This is the fundamental aim of a catechist’s mission. It’s not simply regurgitating information, on the contrary, its leading a soul under your care to seek an intimacy with Christ beyond measure. This means providing an authentic witness of the loving Gospel where you practice what you preach since students learn more from an authentic witness of the faith. This requires a responsibility to know your students and proclaim the basic principles of the faith (Creed) if possible on a daily basis.
Part of a catechist’s responsibility is to promote the Gospel message and that Christian living provides enjoyment which hopefully will lead to a conversion of heart. Within this process is the important theological virtue of love which drives the catechist’s ability to catechize. The virtue of love served as the basis for St. John Bosco’s oratory for boys and girls and was the basis of his catechetical system of formation. St. John Bosco was in short one of the greatest teachers of the Catholic faith, especially in reaching the young men of his day. His proving ground was the very difficult streets of Turin, Italy where the theological virtue of charity was more hoped for than seen on a daily basis. Knowing the environment he had to work with Don Bosco made it his aim for “his boys” to see themselves as children of God. He desired to “save their souls.”
There was no miscommunication on St. John Bosco’s part to reach the souls of these boys. Because of his direct, stern, yet loving approach many children were taken aback on how direct he was towards them, a “fight fire with fire” approach but with Christ at the center.
The Identity of the Catechist
If you truly want to catechize then it must be a matter of the heart. This means a desire to reach the soul of the student and bring him into an active relationship with Jesus Christ. A good catechist introduces the virtue of love. A great catechist shows how to live it. We cannot forget that a void exists in life without religion. It leads to confusion, desolation, despair in a myriad of ways. These are some of the same characteristics we encounter in many of our students. Our responsibility is to identify these expressions of faith or lack thereof.
Our identity as catechists coincides with the understanding that we are always in the presence of God. A great catechist reveals the presence of God through their authentic witness of the Gospel but also through their acts of charity towards their students. One of the greatest charisms a catechist possesses is the ability to respect his students which in itself provides an understanding of religion as a way of life genuinely lived out and not a class.
If you want to be loved, you must love yourself, and the students must see the love of the teacher to the student.
Using St. John Bosco’s Preventive System
The Preventive System is an approach based on three core principles: Reason, Religion, and Kindness. Each principle has a specific point to bring the child closer to Christ.
The Principle of Reason provides a reasonable atmosphere where the child would be given the opportunity to consent to instruction and guidance. The goal of this first principle is to develop good Christians and useful citizens. The teacher must be the bridge to a child’s discovery of the world through patience, diligence, and prayer.
The Principle of Religion stressed the ugliness of sin and the value of living a virtuous life. The aim is to develop the intellectual and physical gifts the child possesses and how he can be directed toward a greater good. There are five steps within this principle to help youth attain personal holiness:
- Holiness of ordinary life
- The joy and optimism of holiness
- Centrality of Confession
- The Holy Eucharist
- Love of Mary
The Principle of Kindness emphasizes the 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 core of all three principles of the Preventive System is to draw the child away from a view that only he exists and no one else. As the last principle stressed; “the family spirit reigned.” We want the child to know that he is part of God’s plan by the very fact he was created in His image and likeness. This in turn will help the child view others in the same light.
What made St. John Bosco’s methods so effective was his willingness to go into the heart of the child regardless of his state in life and see Christ in him. Wisdom tells us these methods not only served St. John Bosco well; they can also reawaken our relationship with Christ. The goal is to foster productive Catholic citizens who seek to assist others before themselves. When teaching others about his preventive system St. John Bosco would always remind his students: “Get them to love you and they’ll follow you anywhere.”
St. John Bosco, patron of all Catechists, pray for us!
The great Frank Sheed in his book Theology and Sanity wrote that;
Man is insufficient for himself, not only by the ill-use he has made of himself, but in any event. There must be clarity here. So many of our troubles flow from a defective use of the intelligence or will or energy we have, that we are in danger of thinking that all our troubles could be cured by a better use of our own powers – in other words, that man has the secret of sufficiency himself if he will but use it. (pg. 382)
Frank Sheed reminds us that “We can be our own worst enemy.” This statement probably resonates with most of us when engaged in the daily annals of life. As a cradle Catholic there were many times where I had an opportunity to learn more about my faith but for whatever reason didn’t, probably because of my own ignorance hence we can be our own worst enemy. The irony here is that it’s exactly what the Devil banks on.
Revelation and the Response of Faith
Baptism signifies entrance into the Kingdom of God and initiates our life in Christ. It also sets the stage to receive the fullness of God’s revelation through His Son Jesus Christ. But what if this journey is delayed? What if the significance of that baptismal event was left to simply waste away? Growing up in a cradle-Catholic Mexican household, this was the case. The notion of living a sacramental life was outweighed by devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. This type of cultural Catholic identity naturally disassociated me from many aspects of the Church especially the sacraments. Ironically, what brought me into direct contact with God’s revelation was my grandmother understanding the value of a sacramental life.
It was my holy grandmother who in not so many ways directed my mother to get with the program and have me and brother begin instruction to receive our first Holy Communion.
In other words grandma wanted her grandchildren to begin their road to Emmaus. What is so unique about the road to Emmaus is the opportunity Jesus takes as only a good teacher would to complete the catechetical training of His pupils. (See: Lk 24:12-35)
So there I was a fifth grader entering the dreaded CCD class for the very first time. My mother registered me and off I went. What I saw upon entering class for the first time was a group of kids wondering “what in the world am I doing here.” Somehow I knew this was going to be interesting when I asked my CCD teacher what CCD meant and she had no idea. Eventually I finished my requirements and made my First Confession and Holy Communion. So now I’m done and can go on with the rest of my life. But this was not to be.
Who is St. Matthew?
My grandmother, pleased I had made my First Holy Communion was not done with me. At her request, she made my mother enroll me in the local Catholic grade school because she knew well enough that a Catholic school is called to perpetuate sacramental living. After attending public school all my life here I was enrolled in seventh grade. I wondered what I had done to God to deserve this exile from reality. In hindsight, this was a wise decision. The first subject of my very first day of class was religion and it ended up being quite an experience. The teacher was a diminutive full habit Dominican nun named Sr. Carmen from Mexico City. Fellow classmates said she had hands of stone and the smile of Mother Teresa. As we settled into class with a Hail Mary the first lesson of the day required us to open our bible and turn to the Gospel of St. Matthew.
Now, keep in mind, my religious knowledge was less than exemplary. Knowledge of the bible paralleled my knowledge of nuclear fusion which was none. As Sr. Carmen began to walk up and down each aisle, sweat began to run profusely down my face. I had no idea where the Gospel of St. Matthew was or who he was. The thought of asking my fellow classmates did not cross my mind for the sole reason of not looking stupid. I asked myself; where is this Gospel of St. Matthew? At this point, something significant occurred forever changing my outlook about Jesus Christ’s love for us. I looked up as this imposing nun (4 ft. tall) began to walk down my aisle and I remember asking Jesus; “Jesus, if you are truly real and I am supposed to be here then tell me where to turn.” Right there and then I blindly opened the bible to the Gospel of St. Matthew 7:7-9;
“Ask, and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
As I looked at the passage, Sr. Carmen announced to the class to turn to Mt 7:7-9! Right there and then I became convinced God had a plan for my life. My Catholic education served as a distinct catalyst for my journey with Christ especially through the witness of teachers like Sr. Carmen and my Catholic high school professor Dennis Jacobelli. Both exemplified the gift of revelation and the response of faith. The reality of my faith became quite clear for me that Christ did have a plan for my life and He made it a point to tell me Himself.
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that is due time he may exalt you.
1 Pt 5:6
St. Francis De Sales has a way of drawing attention away from ourselves and directing it towards Christ. Anyone who has carefully read Introduction the Devout Life sees St. Francis’ method of guiding the person towards the practice of authentic virtue. The key to his method revolved around leading the person to those virtues most suited to him. In other words practice what is more practical and prudent in your journey to Christ. If praying the rosary every day is not your cup of tea seek another method of entering into communion with Christ.
There is a practicality in St. Francis’ Salesian methodology of Reason, Religion and Kindness echoed throughout this great work that tells us to just shut up and listen. We often forget that at times it’s best to say nothing at all in most situations. Imagine what the evangelistic effectiveness of a silent retreat can offer to some of us who simply need to say nothing and listen intently.
The Mastery of the Our Tongue
The reality of the human condition is that our voices tend to speak speak louder than our souls. Just read any blog and you’ll clearly see humanity’s need to yap about everything. A good priest friend of mine once told me; “Marlon, you don’t have to say a damn thing, they already know where you stand!” What he was reminding me was that the best teaching moments are those where practically nothing is said because my genuine Christian witness speaks for itself. St. Francis De Sales reminds us that all of us have the virtue of silence meaning we have the ability to control our tongue; the problem is we simply choose not to.
There is a value in silence where if practiced faithfully presents a unique opportunity to foster an intimacy with Christ that is beyond words. It’s not about my blog post necessarily but instead it’s the one on one encounter with someone who simply needs a servant of the Gospel who is perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48).
Mastering our tongue believe it or not is possible and an actual practice in true freedom. Keep in mind that as long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus growing in perfection of failing and sinning (CCC 1732). Hence our tongue can be our greatest asset of evangelization or our greatest curse in driving someone away. The need some of us have to pontificate because of our multiple degrees, years of experience and ten-thousand followers on social media (not me) doesn’t mean we have to comment on everything. The great Doctor of the Church reminds us that our ultimate goal is spiritual maturity which means having the ability to listen first, speak second.
“Beware then of useless murmuring and keep your tongue from slander; because no secret word is without result and a lying mouth destroys the soul.
When you ask someone how they would describe prayer or their personal prayer life, expect multiple answers. Depending who you ask, this is either an easy or difficult question to answer. Nevertheless it’s a fair question to ask when engaging someone in the faith.
The mere thought of praying may lead some to dread the thought because it means they will have to give up their personal time in order to pray. Imagine if Mass would go past an hour and the congregation would be asked to fervently meditate a bit more after reception of Holy Communion. Lord forbid if this was to happen. In this current day and age, we are wired for expediency instead of patience. We are reactionary instead of prudent. Negatively speaking, prayer is seen as nuisance in many circles unless you are desperate for God to answer a certain prayer without really praying to Him.
St. John Damascene once commented that “prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God . . .” The interesting thing about this quote is that the first premise is to raise our minds and hearts to God. But what if we can’t do what St. John Damascene says? What if our attempt to pray is really dry and empty? All of us at some time or another have experienced these degrees of emptiness and dryness in prayer. It’s an experience where we are called to not dwell on ourselves but instead direct all of our faculties to Christ. St. Augustine would say that “we are called to be beggars before God.”
Of the various tools available to help us pray there is one that many may not consider useful or associate with developing a prayer life. This specific tool is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Often times the Catechism is misunderstood as a mere resource book for the academically elite. This unfortunate mindset proposed liberally when the Catechism first came out over twenty years ago does a great disservice to the gift the Catechism has actually been to the Church. If one were to carefully read St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum which serves as the introduction to the Catechism, he clearly stated that the Catechism of the Catholic Church . . . is offered to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us (3). With that said the Catechism’s aim is to bring the light of joy and hope to the faithful in learning more about their Catholic faith.
The Catechism serves as a symphony of faith where an individual can carefully immerse himself in the teachings of the Church. From the basic formulation of the four pillars (Profession of Faith, Celebration of the Christian Mystery, Life In Christ, and Prayer), the Catechism prayerfully invites the person to walk with Christ in order to know Him more intimately. This is why the Apostles Creed serves as the structure of the first pillar. Even more, the Catechism is an invitation to become better acquainted with God’s family which we are members by virtue of our Baptism.
When you take the time to see the beautiful structure of the Catechism, you immediately come across a systematic method aimed to draw us deeper into the mysteries of Christ and His Church. A good way to extract the beauty of the Catechism is creating a Lectio Divina outline on the Catechism. I used this method and developed a manual to train catechists in how to immerse themselves in prayer via the Catechism and learn to meditate more about their faith. What this format does is allow the person to essentially pray with the Catechism. Utilizing the basic Lectio Divina format I carefully selected certain doctrines that cover a general area of the Catechism allowing the individual to pray and meditate on them at his leisure.
The basic structure would consist of a key doctrine of the faith e.g. “The Desire for God” found in section One of the Catechism and then carefully use the Lectio Divina format to pick out certain scripture and catechism references in conjunction with the doctrine. This first step would comprise the Lectio and Meditatio segments of the Lectio Divina. I would then select more key articles from the Catechism for the Oratio to strengthen the individuals understanding of the faith which would then lead to the Contemplatio where a series of reflection questions would be tied the doctrine. Here’s a sample:
The Desire for God
Reflect and meditate on the following scripture passages to help you foster a deeper desire for God.
Gen 1:27; Acts 17:26-28
His Divine power has granted us all things . . . 2 Pt 1:3-4
In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through who he created the world. Heb 1:1-2
The Desire for God is written in the Human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself.
The Search for God requires the effort of the human intellect, a correct will, an upright heart, and the witness to others who teach us to seek God. CCC 30
Stages of Divine Revelation; the covenants culminate in Jesus Christ. CCC 51-67
Attributes of God: almighty yet merciful. CCC 268-276
Do we desire a relationship with God in our hearts?
Is God established as the central focal point in everything we do?
Through free will, how do we develop or ignore our relationship with God?
As you can see there is a unique and distinct relationship between the Catechism and Lectio Divina which should not be overlooked. Both pillars serve as part of the symphony of grace I mentioned earlier. When you apply the spiritual discipline of Lectio Divina upon the Catechism, the symphony of grace begins to take hold where the person begins to immerse himself into these guideposts of faith.
This method worked very well when training catechists as part of their evangelization and catechetical formation. Everyone involved immediately began to recognize the beauty and value of the Catechism which in turn allowed them to dive deeper into the doctrine of the faith. The “Desire for God” took on a different meaning for them and the results were truly remarkable. Since the desire for God is written in our human hearts, our openness to prayer serves as the vehicle to strengthen this desire. Prayer and the Catechism is an inseparable union in that it constitutes our way of life in Christ. Both concern the Christian life, the same love and the same renunciation, proceeding from love; the same filial and loving conformity with the Father’s plan of love; the same transforming union in the Holy Spirit who conforms us more and more to Christ Jesus; the same love for all men, the love with which Jesus has loved us (CCC 2745).
Is it profitable to enter into the Kingdom of God? When you consider all that is needed is a free consent of the will, the proposition does not appear that costly. As we have just witnessed through the Advent of the Christmas Season, Christ opened the door to the Kingdom by virtue of His Incarnation where we can identify with our Lord through His only-begotten Son.
The key towards entering into the Kingdom is accepting Jesus Christ in Word and Deed. This means acknowledging the living Word by applying it in daily life and in turn authentically living out this Word in the Church. The Catechism (543) reminds us that:
The word of the Lord is compared to a seed which is sown in a field; those who hear it with faith and are numbered among the little flock of Christ have truly received the kingdom. Then, by its own power, the seed sprouts and grows until the harvest.
Keep in mind that the call to enter the Kingdom involves an act of the will. We would assume that a clear and cogent consent of the will would be required for anyone to enter the Kingdom of God. But what if a person desires to enter the Kingdom without full knowledge of the faith or enter with certain misgivings of what Christ and His Church is asking of us.
The Profitability of the Gospel
In a recent article over at the National Catholic Register, a scenario played out where a Catholic school teacher named Emily Herx was awarded $2 million for being wrongfully terminated in the eyes of the jury because of her in-vitro fertilization treatments. For all intense purposes we can assume that Ms. Herx desired to enter into the Kingdom of God albeit with certain doctrinal misgivings. When reading the backdrop of this article my initial thoughts were the probable woeful misunderstanding of Church teaching and a lack of Christian living amongst the faculty and staff at this particular Catholic school. What is even more troubling for me as a former Catholic high school principal and Superintendent is the lack of perceived accountability upon the faculty and staff in living out the Catholic faith. The article mentioned that Ms. Herx had signed a moral clause contract acknowledging that she would adhere to Catholic Church teaching. The problem with this is if the contract is not actively practiced and witnessed by the administration with a clear directive to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ or aim at forming intentional disciples, then the contract is worthless from a spiritual and moral perspective.
One of the many challenges in this case is that the teacher engaged in in-vitro fertilization thinking nothing was wrong. Her position was further reinforced when the principal did not object to Ms. Herx’s choice of in-vitro fertilization and did not realize it was wrong until she read something in a magazine a year later! Whether it is ignorance on the part of both or a specific lack of catechetical formation, the results of this case should not surprise anyone. In reality you can see the growth of ignorance becoming doctrine leading to this out of control scenario.
In a situation such as this St. Augustine is his Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love reminds us that;
“God is to be worshipped with faith, hope, and love . . . without a doubt you will know all these things for which you are looking if you take care to know what should be believed, hoped for, and loved. These are the most important things, or rather the only things . . .” (3&4).
The profitability of the Gospel is a fidelity to Church teaching leading to authentic Christian living in the Kingdom of God. Hence this unfortunate situation with the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend could have been avoided all together.
The Inestimable Value of Catechist Formation
When you have teachers attending a strip bar and harassing a stripper and all that is really done for a reprimand is reminding them of the moral contract they signed problems typically are not far behind. It is no wonder that the teacher in question Ms. Herx felt-blindsided when her contract was not renewed when nothing was explained to her when she first informed the principal about her in-vitro fertilization treatments and her fellow teachers were merely slapped on the wrist for their strip club exploits. To the Dioceses’ credit, the Pastor of the school Fr. John Kuzmich did meet with Ms. Emily Herx after her second round of IVF treatments and explained the Church’s teaching on IVF which Ms. Herx knowingly and willfully rejected expressing no moral remorse for her sinful actions thus necessitating her non-renewal/termination.
Patrick Reilly from the Cardinal Newman Society mentioned that the reason the Diocese got into this mess was due in part to a lack of forming teachers in the Catholic faith. “The teachers filing these lawsuits seem to be largely ignorant of Catholic teaching — despite being entrusted to teach the next generation of Catholics —and such ignorance is widespread in the Church.” Even though the intent of catechist formation is to help a person develop an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and not necessarily to avoid lawsuits, the point cannot be ignored financially but most important catechetically. One thing to understand about the specific formation of Catholic school teachers is that many of them though brought up Catholic are formed in public institutions of higher learning that do not offer a specific core curriculum related to permeating the Catholic faith throughout all academic disciplines. This is where all Dioceses in the United States not just Ft. Wayne-South Bend would be wise to take their rightful charge in forming Catholic school teachers in the basics of the faith and how to apply the faith in their respective academic discipline(s).
The very basis of any catechetical formation program stems from a deliberate effort to bring the individual into the saving mysteries of Christ. These saving realities reflect our position in God’s plan of salvation and how we are to exercise our baptismal promises in order to fulfil God’s plan for the salvation of all. This position reflects our understanding that all our called to enter the Kingdom (CCC 543).
The central message of our catechesis must be Christocentric (Jn 7:13). In other words our actions, thoughts and words are called to be in conformity with Christ. This basic fact is not a limitation in the human condition. On the contrary, it is a personification of the freedom Christ granted upon his crucifixion. It reflects the obedience by virtue of our baptism all of us share and are called to proclaim. The reality for anyone who cares about catechesis is that the value you place in properly forming the faithful will in turn yield spiritual gains that are beyond any monetary value. In return this understanding will keep Dioceses like Fort Wayne-South Bend from having to legally and financially defend being Catholic.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Thanksgiving is that we give thanks around a table of food with people, typically family members, we may not care for. Though this point may be denied by some, it is fact of life that not everyone gets along. Sin, by our own free will can lead us to do funny things around those we care not to converse with. It seems as if our physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual demeanor goes through a metamorphosis when positioned with family members we don’t agree with on a variety of issues.
The Deadly Topics
It never fails that when a family community gathers for a festive event such as Thanksgiving the topic of conversation can only last so long on the weather. The inevitable happens and someone raises an issue about faith, politics, or sports that another family member will not agree with. It’s like the card shark telling the poor sap “pick a card any card.” It doesn’t matter what card you pick, you will end up losing the bet.
A point of contention with any family is the state of religion or faith within the household. There are those who are faithful to the Church and attend Mass every Sunday, there are those who don’t. There are those who believe everything the Church teaches and there are those who don’t. There are those who think they have God’s direct line of thinking and let you know about and there are those who confuse Advent with Lent due to the similarity in liturgical color. So the question is what do you do? How do you humbly begin to offer an authentic witness of the Gospel without causing evangelageddon in the home?
Evangelizing the Family
St. Paul in his letter to the Romans serves as a good sounding board when it comes to matters of evangelizing our own brethren. He remarks that the mark of a true Christian is one who is genuine in their love for another. We are called to live in brotherly affection to the point of outdoing the other in honor (12:9). He then takes it to another level where we he urges the faithful to bless those who persecute you and do not curse them (12:14).
No one will argue that one of the most challenging groups of people to evangelize is your own family. Why, because they know you, or know the old you. They remember when you were not always “this Catholic” or can recall all of your deep dark sins. Nevertheless, this is an opportunity to provide a genuine witness of faith not by what we say, but instead how we now live. Keep in mind even a mime can effectively evangelize a crowd.
St. Paul goes on to say that none of us lives nor dies to himself, instead we live and die for the Lord (Rom14:7-8). The reason for this is that we belong to Him. And if we belong to Him then our actions must be centered on being all things to all men (1 Cor 9:22). So the question then becomes, how do I become all things to my family? The first step is to recognize their dignity as human beings created in the image and likeness of God. It doesn’t mean you condone any aspect of the person’s life that is in contradiction with the Church, it simply means recognize him as God’s child. The second step is to lead him toward a conversation about him and not yourself in light of Christ. Look for the commonalities that actually reflect a genuine Christian life and expand on those and affirm them. Again St. Paul reminds us that our sufficiency is from God and not ourselves (2 Cor 3:5). This means that our actions should be Christcentered when evangelizing our family members. They should see Christ through us and not just us. The third step is to be at peace with any fruit that comes from the first two steps. Keep in mind that the Catechism reminds us that grace is a participation in the life of God (CCC1996). Our efforts are not an isolated act. Our aim is to introduce everyone into the intimacy of the Blessed Trinity which is what grace does (CCC 1996). If this is the case, which it is, then by nature of our Baptism we are called to share the Trinitarian life with those around us. Thus, Thanksgiving provides us with an opportune time to evangelize in light of Jesus Christ. Happy Thanksgiving!
God should always be in our minds. You may say that this was the thinking of Pope Pius XII when he formally established the Feast of Christ the King in 1925. The premise behind this significant Feast was to combat secularism by bringing an awareness of Christ in the daily lives of the faithful. Pope Pius XII saw the rise of secularism amidst society resulting in a way of life without God. The Feast of Christ the King was in essence a way for Pius XII to reclaim the world to and for Christ and deliver the truth that Christ is the true head of society.
The Meaning of Christ the King
In (Quas Primas) Pope Pius XII reminds that “Christ is Lord.” This specific title lays the foundation that our Redeemer Jesus Christ is due proper acknowledgment as our law-giver and requires the faithful to obedience. A central tenet to this encyclical is the fact that all are called to obedience toward Christ. And our obedience is exemplified in our love for Him. Let us not forget that Christ reminded the Roman aristocracy that His Kingdom is not of this world.
Pope Pius XII reminds us that the gospels present the kingdom as one which men prepare to enter by penance, and cannot actually enter except by faith and by baptism, which, though an external rite, signifies and produces an interior regeneration. This kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness. It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross. (15)
What We Can Learn
When we begin to read on the significance of this feast, it calls us to acknowledge that Christ is indeed King and Lord of History. This realization leads us to our first lesson we can learn and apply as evangelist which is to avail people the opportunity to see Christ in everyday life through a living witness of the Gospel. Just like John reminds us that; “In the beginning was the word, and the word was God and the Word is God . . .” (Jn 1:1-2) meaning that the Word of God has always been with us, in Christ the King the Word became flesh to make us partakers of the Divine nature (CCC 456). Thus our evangelistic efforts should provide an authentic witness of the Gospel lived in accord with the teachings of Jesus Christ.
The second lesson we can learn is that redemptive suffering is one of the most powerful gifts Christ left us. The redemptive act culminates in His sacrificial offering on the Cross for the sins of humanity fully revealed in the Holy sacrifice of the Mass. Our evangelistic efforts cannot solely rest on what we preach, which is Christ Crucified. We must also offer the opportunity for the person(s) to take hold of the proclamation of the Gospel and begin to see the relevance of the Gospel in their daily lives. Pope Pius XII reminds us:
It would be a grave error, on the other hand, to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to him by the Father, all things are in his power. (17)
The third lesson we can take from this feast is that we don’t evangelize for our own sake and gratification; instead our evangelistic efforts should be clearly set to reveal the primacy of Christ as Head of the Church. Evangelization is not “me-angelization.” The primacy of evangelization is an authentic encounter with Jesus Christ which in turn fosters a genuine conversion of faith. Our efforts to bring others to Christ does not necessarily rest completely on our personal testimony per se, but instead rests on a personal testimony that has authentically and genuinely embraced Christ. Our daily life walk with Christ is an opportunity to turn towards Him and not the false promise of the world.
The fourth lesson is that we belong to Christ as bestowed by our Father in Heaven. This means that our methods of evangelization should not involve witnessing “I crucified” to others. The aim is “Christ crucified” in order to bring the person into an ongoing and formative relationship with Him. It’s important to note that one of the greatest weapons against our evangelistic efforts is the sin of despair. This is due in part because despair aims at destroying the virtue of hope which leads to a loss of seeing in Christ in our daily life. Thus it is important that we genuinely reveal and explain the relevance of “Christ crucified.”
If the Kingdom of Christ, then, receives, as it should, all nations under its way, there seems no reason why we should despair of seeing that peace which the King of Peace came to bring on earth—he who came to reconcile all things, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister, who, though Lord of all, gave himself to us as a model of humility, and with his principal law united the precept of charity; who said also: “My yoke is sweet and my burden light.” Oh, what happiness would be ours if all men, individuals, families, and nations, would but let themselves be governed by Christ! (20)
The fifth lesson revolves around making it abundantly clear that a life without Christ is an empty life. Our society is indeed Christian, even though it may not appear that way more often than not. Nevertheless, the feast Christ the King reminds us that; it is necessary that the kingship of our Savior should be as widely as possible recognized and understood, and to the end nothing would serve better than the institution of a special feast in honor of the Kingship of Christ. For people are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. (21)
The end goal of our evangelistic efforts is to bring the faithful to rest with our Lord in Heaven. It is not the pleasures of the world which are afforded primacy of place amongst the secular establishment. Christ cannot be dispensed with nor can He be neglected since is He is Lord of all. Pope Pius XII reminds us that the hope of the Kingship of Christ will hasten the return of society to our loving Savior. It would be the duty of Catholics to do all they can to bring about this happy result. (21)
I would imagine that no one ever wants to see a loved one walk away from the Church. This scenario plays out more often than naught with the people I speak to on a daily basis. A day doesn’t go by without encountering someone who is Catholic but not practicing.
When I recently taught on this topic to a large capacity crowd who were anxiously waiting for the magic formula I asked them a basic question: How many of you know someone who has either left the Church or is considering leaving the Church? To the surprise of everyone all hands were raised. It’s a situation that has become all too prevalent for a myriad of reasons. One of the main reasons Catholics leave the Church is a continual disassociation from the Church or in other words, a loss of belonging in the Church.
St. John Paul II once said that conversion requires convincing of sin (CCC 1848) which in turn involves an active conscience and the ability to authentically distinguish right from wrong, grace versus sin. It was very apparent to me that the audience was deeply concerned about their loved ones who have left the Church and had an ardent desire to do something about it. A point I stressed throughout the presentation was to not lose hope and fall into despair. There is no sense in joining the “misery loves company’ approach. Regardless of the reasons someone either leaves or is contemplating on leaving the Church it’s usually for the wrong reasons.
What Should You Say?
Many of us worry that we’ll say the wrong thing and drive our loved one further away from the Church. Thus the temptation might be to say nothing at all or just pray. From one perspective it shouldn’t matter because some have already left the Church in mind and spirit. Cynicism set aside, honestly there is no way you can truly assess whether what you say will have a lasting impact or not. Your actions however can paint a different story. The key is that if you say or do something may it be reverent (1 Pt 3:15-17).
When talking with someone about the Church it’s important that you’re Christian actions speak louder than your words. Genuine discipleship goes a long way in communicating the faith to someone. As I mentioned earlier, one of the main reasons people either leave or drift away is that they have no intimate relationship with the Church especially the Church community. They don’t necessarily see themselves as part of God’s plan. At times it boils down to being religious without affirming God.
Leaving for the Wrong Reasons
A recent article at the Our Sunday Visitor Weekly highlighted a study conducted in the Diocese of Springfield, IL on why Catholics leave the Church. When the sample size data was collected four main reasons stood out within the Diocese of Springfield as to why people left the Church; (birth control, ordination of women, civil marriage after divorce, fertility treatments; same-sex marriage) these four reasons should come as no surprise that they are related to core doctrinal teachings of the Church. This statistic shows us how easily ignorance becomes doctrine. If the Diocese of Springfield is any indication of why Catholics leave the Church in general, then our efforts must be directed on clarifying any misconceptions of the faith through our visible and authentic witness of the Gospel. One of the most striking reasons as to why Catholics tend to leave the Church was a loss of the sense of community which led to people no longer believing in the Church which in turn caused dissatisfaction with the Church as a whole.
Are these legitimate reasons for leaving the Church? Those that left think so, but regardless of the reasons this Diocesan study does reveal an underlying theme; “why can’t the Church give me what I want when I want it?” This “mecentric versus Christocentric” attitude is at the heart of the great diaspora of Catholics from the Church.
St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians presents the counterpoint of being part of the body of Christ where he reminds the people of Ephesus that they are no longer strangers and sojourners, but are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (2:9-22).
What’s the Next Step?
Pray! In particular pray that the person in question is open to God and begins to cooperate with Him. Jesus for example would call upon His disciples to prayer, almsgiving and fasting as the means to cooperate with God (Mt 6). This makes logical sense because these actions aim to draw us away from ourselves and towards God.
Intercessory prayer is by far one of the greatest spiritual weapons you can use for someone who has fallen away from the Church. The desire for God is naturally written in our human heart because it comes from God Himself. We must not forget that we are created for Him and are called to be in communion with Him. It’s an invitation to converse with God (CCC 27). And this is what anyone who is considering leaving the Church needs, a genuine invitation to stay home.
St. John Paul II once said that conversion requires convincing of sin, it includes the interior judgment of conscience which in turn provides the start of a new grant of grace and love (CCC 1848). At the heart of our journey with Christ is identifying what leads us away from grace so we can have a clearer understanding of Christ in our lives. It’s recognizing our sinful ways and striving to make a firm purpose of amendment to avoid the near occasion of sin. In light of recent developments within the Synod on the Family there appears to be a need to recognize the necessity for not only authentic conversion, but authentic discipleship.
The great Doctor of the Church St. Teresa of Avila provides us with what I believe to be an appropriate model on effective discipleship. She describes three characteristics necessary for religious life; Humility, Authentic Detachment, and Fraternal Love. However they can also be viewed as the seeds of effective discipleship.
The Seeds of Discipleship
Humility, Authentic Discipleship and Fraternal Love have one thing in common; they help us form an interior fortitude that enables us to endure suffering. When one goes out to evangelize a person or a group of people these characteristics intimately allow us to look beyond ourselves allowing Christ to work through us. Humility reflects a genuine concern for the person we come in contact with, Authenticity reveals that we do not put on a false face, our discipleship is not a gimmick it’s real and Fraternal Love shows that at the heart of our evangelistic efforts is to bring a person into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ in an organic, systematic, and gradual way. It’s not necessarily what we say as Disciples that stirs conversion, it’s how we authentically live out the Kerygma to others that opens the seeds of a gradual conversion to Christ.
When properly understood and applied the Gradual Law Discipleship does not mean: “I casually try to be a disciple” while maintaining a lifestyle contradictory to the Gospel. The Law of Discipleship means “I actively and progressively shed my sinful habitual nature and gradually begin to live a sacramental life of grace. I don’t necessarily ponder conversion I actively seek conversion through mediation and prayer.”
What Can St. Teresa Teach Us About Discipleship?
St. Teresa would stress that God is truly present within us. Our actions are not meant to be apart from God. We can easily forget that we are part of the Kingdom of God. When this reality is lost then we are merely thinking of ourselves. Our goal in the Christian life is to be in union with Christ. The virtue of charity reveals this desire because it means an intimacy with Him.
One of the greatest gifts St. Teresa gave to the Church is the art of seeking Christian perfection through an interior life with Christ. She exhorted anyone who desires an interior life to embrace the Trinity as it leads the person to Christ. Thus the most important characteristic a disciple can possess is an active prayer life that leads you to the Blessed Trinity. St. Teresa fittingly reminds on how to live out our discipleship;
“Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you, all things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.”