31 January 2012

Commentary on Religion


A surprisingly large number of people believe religion is merely a crutch to help them make it through life. Secularists use this belief to turn from religion and encourage others to do the same, instead trusting merely in themselves and the institutions of this world. The obvious fallacy of this is great and perhaps explains in part why there are so many people suffering from emotional and psychological problems and a lack of real happiness today. 

While Karl Marx proclaimed religion to be the opiate of the masses, Archbishop Fulton Sheen offered a far better viewpoint. He said that "[religion] is actually not a crutch; it is a cross. It is not an escape, it is a burden; not a flight, but a response. We speak here of a religion with teeth in it, the wind that demands self-sacrifice and surrender. One leans on a crutch, but a cross rests on us. A coward can use a crutch, but it takes a hero to embrace a cross." This beautifully and accurately captures what it means to be a true Christian.

Now, there are certainly many for whom religion is warped into being a crutch. Some modern Christian communities even thrive on this, providing and promoting feel-good emotional highs rather than authentic, self-sacrificing worship. Nothing is expected, except perhaps financial contribution and volunteered time. No sacrifice is expected, no real conversion is expected, and no spiritual warfare is expected. The lines between right and wrong become blurred as relativism takes over. The purpose of modernist religion is merely to soothe and placate like an Alka-Seltzer tablet or an aspirin. This type of religion is a crutch.

Also, the modern trend of individualistic religion, in which an individual professes belief in Jesus Christ, but eschews the Church and devises his own way is another extension of this. For those who do not simply take the Faith as it is, but rather individualize it to suit their own beliefs, desires, and needs, religion is a crutch. To do this is to be cheated of experiencing an authentic expression of the Christian Faith. It is the easy way out.

It has been said that Catholicism is not easy, and that is true. But what is true Catholicism other than the true and original Christian Faith given to the Apostles and handed down through the generations to the present time? It is Christianity, pure, simple, and uncomplicated with extraneous innovations. True Christianity, therefore, is not easy. Authentic Christianity requires a conversion of heart, a strong sense of self-sacrifice, and a complete surrender. It can be a burden at times, with many difficulties and failures. It is more courageous, though, to remain true to the ways of the Faith rather than taking the easy way out. It takes courage to pick up your own cross and follow the Lord. It is easy and ultimately of little or no benefit to take the path of the feel-good panacea. To reap the benefits that God has set out for us, one must lay down the crutch and embrace a cross.

20 January 2012

The New Face of Traditions in the Church


There is a notion in the Church today that much of her venerable traditions are no longer relevant, and indeed some of those traditions are no longer to be tolerated. An age of so-called tolerance has led to more intolerance. It may not be a popular view, or one that is keeping up with the times, but the simple truth is that traditions have sustained the Church and taught the Faith in an authentic way through two millenia. I believe people today are starving for tradition and orthodoxy of faith. Yet, they are so immersed in anti-tradition and modernist viewpoints that they might not even be aware of this internal hunger. The timeless traditions of the Church, now smoldering in their few remaining strongholds, need to be re-kindled into the brilliant flames of the Faith that will spread far and wide and leave no Christian untouched.

First recall the words of Saint Athanasius, whose name graces that great Creed that explicitly defines what is required to be Catholic. Saint Athanasius said that those who hold to the traditions of the Faith, even if reduced to a handful, are the true Catholic Church. Certainly those today who hold to tradition often feel marginalized like an unwelcome minority or a strange oddity. Widespread changes in the 1970s affected Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and even much of other Christian communities. In some cases, the social justice movement fought to be supreme, leading to social justice arguments defining theology rather than the other way around. New freedom resulted in fundamental changes to liturgy and necessarily to underlying theology. A God-centered attitude was replaced with a people-centered attitude. Clerical dress has largely disappeared, with many clerics preferring to dress like parishioners rather than live up to the obligations of their state in life. Traditions were eroded, boundaries were blurred, and consequently the people were given an empty shell of what once was the norm.

Just as building a new house requires more precise control than renovating an existing building, in order to form a new order in the Church not built on timeless traditions, more controls are necessarily required. Ironically, it appears that the modernist changes that were ostensibly supposed to inspire more freedom for the people have ultimately resulted in less freedom. 

A large number of the old traditions of the Church are now often the subject of derision. Those who uphold them are often made to feel like outcasts, even within their own churches, parishes, and faith communities. What the modernists do not understand, though, is that adherence to tradition does not equate with being stuck in the past and unable to move forward. Being stuck in the past is not a good thing. Traditions, though, have allowed the Church to move forward and progress through the centuries. One must know where one has been in order to know where one is going, and tradition serves that purpose. One must have a strong foundation on which to build in order to be confident, and tradition serves that purpose. One must be certain of the authenticity of the message in order to share it, and tradition serves that purpose. Each generation of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church has built on the traditions of each generation of the Church before. We progress and we evolve. Catholics do not tear down and destroy. Yet, that is precisely what happened in the latter half of the twentieth century. Tradition was largely replaced with the here-and-now.

Clinging to tradition is being determined not to throw away what is tried and true for what is not proven. To hold fast to tradition is to hold fast to Holy Mother Church with a resolve that will not and cannot be shaken. To keep tradition is to keep the Faith once delivered. I preach nothing more than what the Catholic Faith has professed for two millenia and do not preach my opinions. No Catholic should do otherwise. With the firm foundation of Sacred Tradition, we have confidence in the knowledge of the Faith. When traditions are eroded, we have a foundation that is weakened. When traditions are significantly eroded, we are necessarily left with the preaching of opinion and new doctrine that form a new tradition, which, by virtue of its break with historic tradition, may or may not be truly and wholly Catholic.

Fortunately, many are now re-discovering the venerable traditions of the Church. Once they were stifled, but now they are being presented and promoted as relevant in the modern world. The world changes constantly, but the Church is a firm rock that always and everywhere must be consistent with herself. The true Christian Faith today is the same as it was when it was delivered to the world by Christ. Tradition is what keeps that constancy. The modern world, with all the rapid changes in technology, dissemination of information, the economy, security, and ways of life, needs to see the true traditions of the Church again. The new face of tradition is not a change in tradition, but rather a new application of something tried and true to the modern world. The world is always changing, but the Faith is eternal. Let deacons, priests, bishops, and all clerics not try to blend in when outside the walls of the Church, but proclaim both the Faith and the mission of their vocation of service to God, His Church, and His people. Let all the faithful in Christ not be shy about living the Faith in all they do, openly and in the true humility of Christ. Let the new face of ageless tradition proclaim the presence of the Church in the world for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

Great Catholic Apologetics


Here are two recent videos that were made by Fr. Claude Burns (better known as Fr. Pontifex) and Make a Friar in response to the video "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus" by Jefferson Bethke. See the video against the Church first, and then look at the two Catholic responses:

12 January 2012

A Great Day for Religious Freedom


The Supreme Court of the United States voted 9-0 yesterday to uphold religious freedom and independence in America. The details of the case are well-known through news reports. In short, the decision upheld the sovereignty of churches, particularly in the appointment and removal of ministers and teachers. The civil court system simply has no authority to interfere with ecclesiastical doctrine, discipline, polity, or sincerely held religious belief. The Supreme Court had unanimously voted to uphold that sacred principle of the United States. With all the threats to religious freedom today, this decision by the Supreme Court is a bright ray of hope.

09 January 2012

Alabama Immigration and Humanitarian Concerns


While I may differ from some of my brethren on the Alabama immigration law's justice under God's law, I am certainly in agreement with them that humanitarian concerns and ecclesiastical concerns must not be allowed to be damaged by this law. While a nation and the states within have a right and duty to control immigration appropriately, this cannot justly extend to humanitarian services or the work of the Church. The Most Rev. Thomas J. Rodi, Archbishop of Mobile, said that “[no] law is just which prevents the proclamation of the Gospel message, the baptizing of believers, or love shown to a neighbor in need.” The Archbishop is quite correct in that statement.

That a civil government would pass a law that makes it illegal for a priest to baptize, to hear a confession, or to administer the Blessed Sacrament to an illegal immigrant is unbelievable to me. Many is not all of Church social services are apparently illegal. This aspect of the law is a gross injustice and a misuse of civil authority.

The simple fact is that the civil government does not have the authority to interfere with a member of the clergy in the performance of his duties. The civil government cannot limit the administration of the Sacraments, provision of basic humanitarian and social services, and other functions of the Church only to those who have the appropriate legal status. This aspect of the law is intrinsically unjust under the Laws of Christ. In such cases, Christians are absolved from their duty to follow those parts of the law, as Christians are only bound to follow civil laws that are in accordance with the Laws of Christ. Only civil laws that are in accordance with the Laws of Christ are rightly considered just.

Now, that certain aspects of the immigration laws in Alabama are inherently unjust does not automatically mean that the entirety of the law should be dismissed. As I have written in a previous pastoral letter, there are very serious issues at hand here in the United States. Immigration is something that can and must be controlled for the good of the people, both the current citizens and the immigrants. That control is part of the responsibility of the civil government. That responsibility, though, includes the duty to ensure that immigration reform is just and effective, without serious impact to humanitarian and ecclesiastical services.