Have you ever wondered if Jesus actually believed everything He taught to those around Him? This is an out of the box type of question but it’s one that is gaining momentum amongst people who wish to defend a personal position contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Their method is to use Christ and somehow convince people that we he taught was an openness to embrace a golden rule of loving everyone but leaving the person to their own devices with no attempt at a genuine conversion of heart to Christ Himself.
Our human condition is both a great gift from God and at the same a great curse by our own free will. What was originally created with the fullness of grace in mind is now involved in a drama of right and wrong choices, moral and immoral impulses and everything else in between. It appears when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Word made flesh becomes too much for us to handle, we in turn fashioned Him into our own version of the Golden Calf to fulfill our own devices.
The letter to the Hebrews tells us that it is impossible to please God without faith, since anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who try to find him (11:6). The funny thing about this Scripture passage is the last few words; “those who try to find him.” And “try” is the operative word. When Moses was delayed from coming down the mountain Israel’s impatience and still lingering pagan sensibilities gathered and encouraged Aaron to discard Moses as their leader and instead championed a “new way” of satisfying their moral tastes and likings through the fashioning of a golden calf. Sacred Scripture tells us that Aaron did just that and the end result was the slaughter of over three thousand men and the affliction of another plague thrown upon the people of Israel by God (Ex 32). As we can see with the example of the Golden Calf Israel’s insistence to refashion God led to a series of events that did not end in their favor.
A Catechetical Refashioning of Jesus Christ
The reality of this story is that it still continues to this day. The latest example of refashioning Christ to fit a new moral norm occurred on the campus of Seton Hall University where a popular Priest and campus minister Fr. Warren Hall was fired from his duties for supporting gay marriage on his Twitter and Facebook page. As one might expect, a group of individuals protested his firing invoking the name of Jesus Christ and Pope Francis to legitimize their position.
The underpinning of this group’s argument is not so much invoking Jesus Christ and Pope Francis to defend their position, instead it’s the attempt to refashion Jesus Christ and Pope Francis, if that is even possible in order to promote a new form of doctrinal conformity, one that would deny any authentic remnant of Christ-centered thought. The Catechism reminds us that; the way of Christ “leads to life”; a contrary way “leads to destruction.” (1696)
We should not assume that the attempt to refashion Christ is a new phenomenon. At first glance we should look at what would drive people to reclassify Church teaching to fit their personal lifestyle. If we really take a closer look at this phenomenon we should look no further than the specific catechetical instruction of the last forty years consisting of the “Jesus loves you” lesson plan with no reasonable explanation as to “why He loves us”, or, the emphasis to embrace the Resurrected Christ (happy) versus the Crucified Christ (gory). A sponsor in an RCIA class I was teaching commented to me that “Jesus was a pacifist.” I asked him to explain how Jesus’ crucifixion was a sign of pacifism. His response, “I hadn’t thought about that.”
Jesus Christ and the Golden Rule
Christ asks us to meditate and imitate him (Jn 8:12). These two requests lay the groundwork to freely and lovingly embrace the Gospel intimately and lovingly uniting ourselves with the Father and the Holy Spirit. These two seeds of mediation and imitation forge the Law of the Gospel which requires us to make the decisive choice between “the two ways” and to put into practice the words of the Lord which is summed up in the Golden Rule, Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; this is the law and the prophets (CCC 1907).
The Church of Jesus Christ
To imply that Jesus Christ Himself would somehow be at odds with His own message of the Kerygma is simply senseless. It reveals a more ignorant and at the same time sinister approach to undermine the Deposit of Faith and refashion the Golden Rule. Man’s very essence is deistic in that we are created in the image and likeness of God. Our baptism reflects this image upon entering His Kingdom. One of the gifts of Baptism is the opportunity to seek a more intimate union with Christ. Baptism gives us the opportunity to be one with God and be of single heart and mind with Him. We become open to the light of reason if we so choose and disposes us to listen based on right reason. Hence we become members of the body of Christ the Church by which he instituted at Pentecost.
Let us continue to pray for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those who may not fully understand the gift of their faith nor see the light of reason that the Church of Christ actually provides for them. One of the greatest acts we can participate to foster unity of the faithful is to engage in the act of prayer affirming our faith and conformity to God. St. Francis De Sales describes this act in these terms;
Christian doctrine clearly proposes unto us the truths which God wills that we should believe, the goods he will have us hope, for the pains he will have us dread, what he will have us love, the commandments he will have us observe, and the counsels he desires us to follow. And this is called God’s signified will, because he has signified and made manifest unto us that it is his will and intention that all this should be believed, hoped for, feared, loved, and practiced.
Treatise on the Love of God, Book VIII, Ch. III, pp. 329-330
A cold heard reality sets in when the mere thought of holding someone morally accountable is met with outright contempt. The day of simply looking at the truth of the matter because “it’s the truth of the matter” does not appear to resonate with some people and in some cases even less than others. In other words you or I should supposedly think twice before holding someone moral accountable for their actions.
The scenario is currently playing out against Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of the Archdiocese of San Francisco who chose to exercise his right to do so. The crime supposedly committed by this person of moral authority was requiring his employees i.e. teachers who work in catholic schools to faithfully adhere to the moral standards set by the Church. His request was viewed as “discriminatory” for requiring his employees to live by a basic moral standard. The irony here is that we are talking about his employees who work in his religious institutions where religion is taught.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has been accused of being a discriminatory employer whose actions of moral authority requiring his teachers to adhere to the moral teachings of the Church are viewed as criminal. The characterized “criminalization” of Archbishop Cordileone’s right to ask his employees to faithfully exercise sound moral standards is a reality that is now becoming commonplace. Anyone with a basic sense of right and wrong would see that the Archbishop’s position and that of the Church does not incite or imply discrimination. Nor does it impede a person’s freedom in anyway. On the contrary, a sound understanding of moral truth prospers and advances man’s freedom to act without reservation on the basic tenets of life; do what is good, avoid what is evil. The supposed logic in not adhering to a moral code rests on a basic secular principal that morality hinders and limits human freedom. Any attempt to withhold the freedom of the human being from acting or partaking in their own way of living is simply seen as affront to their identity as persons. Even though the moral standard I am speaking of i.e. the “rule of faith” which consists of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes breathes an openness to live life in charity amongst one another, its basic standard appears to be too much for these employees and those who are in agreement with them to bear.
Let’s keep in mind that Archbishop Cordileone’s crime was implementing language based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding sexual morality. His role as Chief Shepherd of his diocese is not only being called into question, it is being implied by public civic authorities as something not applicable to the teachers who teach in his diocese. In other words, the rule of the city of San Francisco trumps the rule of faith in the eyes of the city government even though they have no right to a position on the matter.
The Premise of a Catholic School Teacher
Lost in all the mayhem is the question of what is the actual role of a catholic school teacher? y a teacher “teaches” in a catholic school. An important distinction we need to make when speaking of catholic school teachers is that they are both evangelists and catechists first and foremost. Their ministerial responsibility is to bring each and every student into a personal and intimate and relationship with Jesus Christ (CT, 5).
Every teacher in a catholic school by nature of their mission is called to present an authentic witness of the Gospel which in short is called the “Kerygma.” The kerygma simply means an authentic witness of the Gospel in an organic and visible way. In other words the teacher is by nature of his ministry a living witness i.e. a disciple of Jesus Christ. If this wasn’t brought up when a teacher applied to work in the Archdiocese of San Francisco then I can see why there is such disdain and defiance toward the language in their contracts.
St. Paul reminds us that we are called to enlighten all men to the riches of Christ and to the dispensation of the mysteries which has been hidden from eternity in God (Eph 3:8). The responsibility of any sound catholic school teacher is to give their students regardless of the academic discipline a clear knowledge of the faith. The key is not how much of the Catechism we can ram down their throats which is what is perceived by these dissenting teachers. The actual goal is to help and foster students into authentic religious living i.e. living an authentic sacramental life rooted in Christ. And this is precisely what Archbishop Cordileone is doing which is his right as Archbishop.
A Call to Prayer
Should morality be criminalized? The answer is no regardless if a group of ignorant people feel it should be just because it should. One of the most important things we can do as faithful witnesses of the Gospel is pray, especially for those persecuted for defending Christ in the public square. Archbishop Cordileone is exercising his moral right to uphold the teachings of the Church and in turn care for the souls of his flock even for those who have no desire for such a gift. Let’s keep Archbishop Cordileone in our prayers as he cares and navigates his flock toward Christ. Our Lady of Good Counsel, pray for us!
Have you ever encountered someone who felt threatened by the mere thought of praying? One could assume that if anyone would remotely be threatened by prayer it would either by the hardened Atheist or the Devil and his underlings. But the question is; why would anyone be threatened by prayer? Perhaps its a person who is worried what he may discover about himself if he does pray. Or maybe he will come to the realization of something he’s been avoiding for a long time. Regardless of the situation, it’s not at all impossible to encounter someone who simply views prayer as a threat.
The basic act of prayer simply requires us to go beyond ourselves and seek the counsel of God. One of the consequences of man’s fall from grace due to original sin is that we tend to seek the glorification of ourselves rather than glorifying God. Prayer in relation to God is an act of deference toward Him. This outward-inward act can be quite a challenge for anyone who sees the art of prayer as a threat for whatever the reason.
St. John Damascene describes prayer as:
“a raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.”
Our communication with God is a natural byproduct of our creation. We are naturally wired to pray, the key is whether we choose to pray in order to have an intimate communion with Him. The act of Prayer whether through remote prayers (general intercession) or proximate prayers (Our Father, Hail Mary etc.) offers us the opportunity to walk with Him and keep our mind free from the distractions of the world. The very gift of prayer which is a grace is exactly what the Devil does not want us to experience and enjoy. The Devil’s joy so to speak is that we don’t pray to his enemy.
In his famous Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis writes about the pain Screwtape experiences every time the “patient” prays. For example Screwtape encourages his underling Wormwood to keep the “patient” from developing an authentic prayer life. The reason behind this is fairly simple, the more the “patient” prays that harder it will be to distract him from God. The last thing Screwtape wants to see is someone walking with God (Book Four).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that prayer is a genuine conversation with God which in turn leads to a desire for grace (CCC 2558). Screwtape is adamant about leading the “patient” away from God because his intent is to keep things out of the “patients” mind. The more the “patient” focuses on himself and the temptations of the world the less he will direct his attention toward communicating with God.
Alleviating the Threat and the Gift of Adoration
Something to consider when threatened by the prospect of praying is to consider the prayer of Adoration. This method of prayer offers us the opportunity to see something greater than ourselves and in turn helps us to gradually develop an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Why Adoration? Because the spiritual practice of Adoration exalts the greatness of the Lord who made us (Ps 24:9-10) and the almighty power of the Savior who sets us free from evil. Adoration is an opportunity to give homage to God in respectful silence (Ps 24:9-10). The prayer of Adoration serves as a spiritual filter allowing us to have a fixed gaze on Christ and avoid distractions that may divert our attention from Him and squelch any perceived threats.
Adoration is the first attitude of man acknowledging that he is a creature before his Creator. It exalts the greatness of the Lord who made us and the almighty power of the Savior who sets us free from evil. Adoration is homage of the spirit to the “King of Glory,” respectful silence in the presence of the “ever greater” God. Adoration of the thrice-holy and sovereign God of love blends with humility and gives assurance to our supplications (CCC 2628).
The Kingdom Is For All
We are reminded that we are part of a holy nation (1 Pet 2:9) and that we are the salt of the earth (Mt 5:13-16). For these very reasons we have a free and natural response to pray to someone greater than ourselves. The very act of prayer should not be a cause for spiritual alarm or despair in thinking that you cannot possibly pray to God or that He can’t possibly here what you have on your mind and in your heart. On the contrary, the gift of prayer is the simple opportunity God forged in our very hearts to speak with Him. Even though we are sinners, God is merciful to His children (Lk 18-9-14) which grants us the opportunity to see prayer as an opportunity and not a threat. St. Thomas Aquinas for example described the Lord’s Prayer as the “most perfect of prayers . . .” because its petitions directly call us to live out our Baptismal call.
The next time you encounter a threatening situation involving prayer, invoke the name of Jesus Christ. The Catechism reminds us:
The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always. When the holy name is repeated often by a humbly attentive heart, the prayer is not lost by heaping up empty phrases, but holds fast to the word and “brings forth fruit with patience.” This prayer is possible “at all times” because it is not one occupation among others but the only occupation: that of loving God, which animates and transfigures every action in Christ Jesus (CCC 2668).
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!