25 January 2011

Church Shopping


I came across a quiz a little while ago. You know the type. One of the ubiquitous, sometimes serious, sometimes ridiculous Internet quizzes that are out there on every topic under the sun. This quiz was designed to tell you what Christian denomination you should be based on your personal beliefs. I couldn't resist, so I took the quiz. Not surprisingly, it said I was a Catholic. At least it was accurate in one case.

There is a fundamental problem, however, with the idea of choosing a parish, a congregation, a denomination (though I dislike the word denomination) or a church based on your own personal beliefs. It is a bit like choosing a physician based on which one tells you what you want to hear. Do you want the physician that will work to identify any disease in you and prescribe a treatment to eradicate it? Or, do you want a physician who will ignore everything, not tell you of any problems for fear of offending you, and just tell you that you're perfectly fine while your body slowly decays? It is an obvious answer. Any rational person would want a physician who does his job and works to identify and cure illnesses. So why be any different with the church?

Should you go to the various denominations, get their advertising material, see what their statements of belief are on various issues, work out how that matches up with your present beliefs, and then choose the one that is the closest match? Obviously not. This is what happens a lot today, though. Religion has become another consumer enterprise, with churches engaging in tremendous marketing campaigns to vie for members. And, like any consumer enterprise, they necessarily must conform to the wishes of their "customers," the people who might one day fill their pews (and their offering plates). The problem is, though, that it is not we who decide what is correct to belief. Proper theology and proper belief both come from Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church.

People should instead look for the four marks of the true church when deciding where to attend. Is the church in question One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, just like we say in the Nicene Creed at mass? All political and other debates and disagreements aside, these four marks are the ones that must be present. If those four marks are there, then it is a candidate for your membership. If the four marks are not present, however, then run in the other direction. 

Also remember not to pay attention to whether or not all the positions of a church you are considering attending match your own personal beliefs. This is not only a consumerist "shopping" approach, it is the sin of pride. It is the assumption that your beliefs are inherently correct simply because they are yours. It is the assumption that you have no room to grow spiritually. Each and every one of us is on a spiritual journey, as imperfect as we are, working towards spiritual perfection.

The Church is a gift to help us along the pathway towards sanctification. Therefore, the choice of church, and even of the specific parish is of paramount importance. Don't delude yourself by choosing a place that does nothing more than make you feel good or give you a weekly emotional high. Choose the church that has the Four Marks of the True Church and find a parish with clergy dedicated to their vocation and dedicated to helping the faithful grow in their walk with Christ.

22 January 2011

Quality, not Quantity


We attended a orchestra concert last night in the contemporary service "sanctuary" of a local mega church. I put the word sanctuary in quotation marks, as I was hard-pressed to think of the room as anything other than an excellent theatre. Other than two banners, there were no religious markings. Yet, this church built this new facility to house their "come as you are" trendy worship service. Apparently the high seating capacity was justified, as it is a popular service from what I hear.

I was told that this service was started to reach out to those who think church is boring or not relevant to them. "If the people, especially young people, aren't going to church because they find it stuffy or irrelevant," they reckoned, "then we should change it all to suit them." No suit and tie, just come in shorts and a t-shirt if you like. No organ, but plenty of guitars. The ministers are similarly attired to those in the pews. No hymnals, because the music is displayed on a screen like karaoke. Everything is centered about making people feel good. That might be well-intentioned, but it is thoroughly misguided.

When you make church about numbers, you are treading on dangerous ground. Absolutely we should all be trying to convert as many as possible, but we must actually convert them, not simply get them into the pews. When the church ceases to be God-centered and becomes people-centered, yes, you'll probably get people in the pews. This is not surprising, as "worship" becomes about the individual and not about God. People do not truly have to convert in their hearts and souls. All they have to do is show up, put money in the plate, and sing hymns, all in exchange for the emotional high they will receive. No longer is any self-sacrifice suggested and no longer are the people in the pews expected to join in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. There is no longer a concept of spiritual warfare against evil. The concept of sin has flown out the door, and it all becomes about feeling good. No more is anyone told that they are wrong, because theology is now relativistic. Whatever you believe is now considered fine, it seems.

Make no mistake. Being a Catholic is difficult. It is not surprising that the modernist, feel good approach is popular. It is not surprising that people would rather abandon the true faith delivered by Christ and handed down through the Apostles for something instead that is "easy" and gives them an emotional high every Sunday. It is not surprising in the self-centered world of today that we would rather trade something that requires serious spiritual work for something that requires no work at all...except maybe helping at the church picnic.

Large churches can be nice. So can small ones. It isn't the size, the building, or the location. It is the people inside, what they do, and what they believe. Don't you remember the little game you played as children where you took your hands and made a church? Then you made a steeple with your index fingers and opened your hands to show all the other fingertips as the people inside the church? Try it again yourself now. You can see it looks like your two hands, which were the roof of the church, are holding all the people. There is a great message in that. The church is there to take care of the spiritual needs of the people. It must do that, but according to the Faith once delivered, not according to modern trends. The people who are not going to church must be reached out to, but in an authentic way. We profit them nothing by bringing them in if we have to dilute, warp, and destroy the faith to do so.

16 January 2011

Let's Ponder the Inquisition


We have all heard the horror stories about the Inquisition, and especially about the Spanish Inquisition. Some stories are true and documented by evidence. Others are highly sensationalized by protestants and other enemies of the Church. Some (and perhaps many these days) use the Inquisition and similar tribunals to claim that the Church is bad indeed and not following Christ. They use it as an excuse for schism, heresy, and apostasy. "Oh look at those Church people and their Inquisition," they might say. "If they were really religious, they wouldn't do that. So, I'm not going to Church because I don't have to."

Let's ponder one point here. Every nation in the world, including the United States, has experienced abuses in the justice system. This continues to this day. To make the argument less complex, focus only on non-oppressive, first world nations. Do we take the abuses of the past, or even the present, and say as a consequence that we no longer have to do what the law of the land tells us? Not too many people would say that they don't have to obey the law. Given that, why do people think that abuses, real or imagined, in the Church somehow mean that they don't have to follow the laws of the Church?

Heresy is Heresy


In today's "anything goes" world, it is all the rage to say that whatever one believes is fine, in terms of religion or anything else. No one is allowed (at least by society) to criticize anyone else's beliefs, unless, of course, those beliefs are traditional ones. Strange how that works.

Believing what you want in religion is considered acceptable for a whole variety of reasons. One of these is that it furthers the general liberal and socialist agenda by breaking down people's belief in the truths of Christ. Another is that religion is now considered merely a matter of belief, i.e., "not like things we can know for sure, like science." Of course, religion is very much a science (read Thomas Aquinas for a proof of that). To claim that things of a religious nature are mere "belief" because they cannot be proven by modern secular science is both arrogant and wrong. Following Aquinas, two sciences may explain the same phenomenon in their own ways insofar as they may somewhat overlap. Yet, a higher science cannot be made to depend on a lower science. Music, for example, depends on rules coming from the sciences of mathematics and physics. Mathematics and physics, therefore, are higher sciences. Both, of course, explain more of the world than music. Neither mathematics nor physics, however, depend on the rules of music. That music cannot explain certain things in the world does not mean that the explanation given by mathematics or physics is wrong. In the same way, religion covers the entirety of time and space even beyond the comprehension of we mere humans. Modern secular science explains some of the same things, yet cannot explain everything. Secular science is the explanation of God's universe in human terms so that we may better understand the universe. It depends wholly upon God and, therefore, religion. Religion is the superior science, and therefore does not depend on secular science for proof. Failure to grasp this is the source of many modern "rationalist" heresies.

If one has an opinion contrary to the rules of physics, one is justly considered wrong and ignorant. Yes, there are some grey areas, particularly where new ground is being broken. Yet, if one wants to hold vigorously to the opinion that the normal sky color during the daytime in the world is green, one is clearly wrong. Holding that viewpoint does not make it right or make it the truth. Neither does holding that viewpoint make it "right for you."

In religion, it is no different. One can have an opinion or even a deep-rooted belief that is contrary to Sacred Scripture or the doctrine of the Church. That doesn't make it right. Just as with secular science, there are grey areas, though in the case of religion, they either stem from man's inadequacy in interpretation or matters of religious discipline. The Bible is actually self-interpreting. Its divinely-inspired perfection is not challenged by any inabilities of humans to understand all of the vastness of God and His Word.

Fortunately we have the Holy Church to guide us and to be the final word on what the Sacred Scripture means. This is the Sacred Tradition and the teaching authority of the Church. This was established by Jesus Christ Himself. Feel free to consult the Bible if you forgot about that.

What is unfortunate is the division in the Church. While some in apostolic succession have separated into autonomous jurisdictions over various issues, the real crime against religion is the vast number of those without any Biblical authority to interpret, teach, or decide who have opted to place their own intellect above that of the Church and above two thousand years of the collective wisdom of the Apostles and the Bishops, Doctors, and theologians of the Church. Many of these disagreements center on partial interpretation of the Bible, choosing to focus on certain parts while ignoring the rest. Whatever the reason, cause, or motivation, this amounts to pure heresy. It is as worthy of condemnation as ignorant behavior as is the notion that the normal daytime sky color is green. And, it is far more dangerous. Errors in belief regarding modern secular science affect only the mind. Heresy affects both the mind and the soul.

Heresy can be within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church just as much as it can be found in the hodge-podge of protestant denominations. Recent polls of Catholics have shown that only a small number actually believe and practice to the best of their ability the teachings of the Church. Some promote outright heresy. It is one thing to struggle with understanding, believing and practicing the teachings of the Church. This is a normal part of the faith journey. However, it is important to remember that struggling with belief and working on growing your faith is completely different from saying "I don't believe it now, so it isn't true and doesn't apply to me." One is a true Christian working on building his faith. The other is a heretic.

Heresy must be openly opposed wherever it is encountered. This is easier said than done these days, when the world says that everyone's individual beliefs are sacred and therefore cannot be challenged by anyone. Yet, if we stand by and do nothing when we have the chance to do something, we become part of the problem. There is but one Church. You're either in it or you're not. By following, promoting, or supporting heresy, whether actively or passively, even in the face of the truth of the Church, you effectively excommunicate yourself.

10 January 2011

The Fundamental Protestant Error


The fundamental protestant error is in trusting in their own minds more than they trust in God. For all the arguments out there one way or another on the protestant/Catholic debate, it all comes down to this. The protestant movement began when individuals decided that they knew better than the Holy Mother Church. They claimed the Church, especially Rome, had lost its way, or had descended into error, or in some way was no longer the "true church." So, they decided to lead the flock astray into schism and heresy rather than try to work or pray for a solution within. They decided that they knew better. Now, maybe an internal solution was not possible at the time, but how is heresy and schism better than remaining within Christ's Holy Church, even with the flaws of the humans administering her? The protestant leaders did nothing more than lead their misguided followers into centuries of denial of the true mysteries of faith and the saving grace of the Sacraments. They brought them into Churches founded by men, not by Christ Himself.

And there it is, the fundamental error made by the protestants through the ages. It is placing human intellect, even the intellect of one man above the collective wisdom of Christ's Holy Church for 2000 years. It is placing human knowledge and wisdom over God. One need only consult the readings for Morning Prayer today (the 10th of January) or the very beginning of St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica to know that there are things that man cannot understand and that we should neither seek to know that which cannot be understood nor deny the truth of things we cannot understand simply because we do not understand them.

It is truly difficult to argue these points with a protestant. St. Augustine wrote that valid logic can lead to a false conclusion. The reason one cannot argue effectively with a protestant based on logic is that they are starting from a position of false assumption or statement made centuries ago by the first protestant heretics. Their reasoning may indeed follow valid logic, and that is why it is so convincing to them and perhaps to others. Yet, they end up drawing what we know to be false conclusions because they are starting from a false set of assumptions. The logic of man is only as good as the information it is processing.

The Bible is often used as a weapon by protestants against the Catholic Church. This is amusing on one level, as it is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church that wrote the Bible. Those who are Roman, Eastern Rite, Anglican, or Orthodox are the successors of the Sacred Scripture, not those who thought they knew better more than 500 years ago when they rebelled against the Church. Even to this day, protestant and especially evangelical heretics seek to convert Catholics from the true Faith, and they do so using the Bible. The trouble with protestants using the Bible, though, is that they have no choice but to use only part of it, viz. the part of it that they think proves their point, while ignoring the rest. If they took Sacred Scripture as a whole, written in the context of Sacred Tradition, I like to think they would give up their heretical ways and return to the universal Church. The One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is the only Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself. It is the one we are all called to be part of. Everything else is deficient. The Bible tells us this. Sacred Tradition tells us this. The writings of the great theologians tell us this. Only the rantings of protestant heretics say otherwise. Do you want to stand with Christ, or do you want to protest against Him, trusting instead only on your own intellect? The choice is yours.