A look at Faith, Morals and Practice

Holy Hour

There is a symmetry that one might even call symbiosis which exits between Faith, Morals and Practice. It might be helpful should we take the time to look at these more closely.

Faith

Religion, starts with matters of Faith which are guarded and taught primarily as a basis or foundation of the underlying reason for submitting oneself to the yoke of religion. This Doctrine of Faith gives man a glimpse into the meaning of life and the end for which the human soul was made as well as the nature and perfection of God and the fallen and miserable state of the human soul. It describes and sets forth the reasons for our misery and the insurmountable chasm between the perfection which is God and the imperfection that is mankind. It delivers to the soul a message of how serious is our sinfulness: serious or grievous sin, smaller less serious sin and even imperfections of things that God would have us do better though they are not of themselves, to the letter of the law, sinful of themselves.

These doctrines help us orient ourselves toward the Light which is God, the Beauty inherent in God’s Love and His ultimate Goodness. It acts as a beacon to that which is immutable and never changing and orders our lives toward the All Good and the Everlasting. These are primarily the thinking and the road map of the Church, given for our edification, as passed down through the ages and which encompass the wisdom of the Saints and the Teachings of our Lord and the History of our Fall and of our Desired Salvation.

Thereby, doctrine is a source for our Faith, our Hope and our Love which becomes the necessary virtues to be gained in this life. Without them, we are left to make the best of our fallen lives in a fallen world in which we have no hope of ever changing before we finally succumb to the inevitability of death in our transitory passage through this world.

So it becomes incumbent on the soul that wishes to escape this goldfish bowl of an existence to gaze through the distorted glass and dream of an existence far more fulfilling than the natural state into which it was born. In fact, it is a means by which we are told, should we do well, leads precisely to the fulfillment of that dream to a life that neither ends nor suffers the natural ills that accompany this transient life which we truly deserve.

Faith lets us know that God is so perfect that, like a goldfish in a bowl, if He were to remove you from this state and take you as you are into His realm, we would die; for the air is much too pure for the gills to endure and the Love is too concentrated for our hearts and minds to bare.

So pointing the soul to live its life for a higher purpose and to develop habits and capacities to love in a way that totally transforms us into children of God seems to be the end for which we were created and the ultimate vocation of each and every soul that God has made. How do we then begin?

First we come to the realization of Who this God is and form a desire or zeal for Him and learn about His Love for us and His plan for our lives; and we love Him for the love of us. Then we are pointed toward a journey intent of eliminating those things within our lives which separate us from our God and try, one by one, to eliminate their hold on us. We begin to feed ourselves on the things of God and on God Himself; He provides all. We become knowingly dependent on His good pleasure to do with us as He will and that our every breath and even our creation is a product of His good will and His love. And since His good will is that we live with Him forever we should do all that is in our power, using the gifts that only He can and will supply us, to attain to that end. It is a vocation that requires all along our way, the proof of our avowed love of Him and our assurance that there is nothing that we would not do to please Him in order to reach the end for which He has made for us.

Morals

Morality is a an outgrowth of love of God. It has as its end the purpose to bring the soul into a more intimate love of God and conversely to discourage the soul from harming its relationship with God. It has as its secondary purpose the education of the soul to its fallen state and its inordinate desire and love of creatures.Thereby, moral teaching creates habits that let us live our lives truthfully, in full knowledge of who we are and Who God is. For God is He who is and I am he who is not, so that we will find that of ourselves we are nothing, or even less than nothing because nothingness does not have the capacity to offend God, though we have only the capacity to sin if left to ourselves.

Therefore all the good that we will must be supplied by Him who is even supplying the willing itself. Therefore the outcome of morality, when used as intended, is to enlighten the soul as to what it really is and to thereby establish a soul in humility; which is seeing the truth about itself. Therefore, the denial of self and the acceptance of Divine Providence is taught us by our practice of the principles found in moral teaching. It sets our feet firmly on the way to dying to self and becoming other Christ’s in this world. So morality is not only avoiding that which is intrinsically bad for us, it is a teacher of our most inner fallen nature. It is a window into our soul.

Morality is a constant reminder that we have not the ability to resist sin and to endure hardships unless we rely on the strength and the love of God for all things.

Practice

Though Faith and Morals are considered Teachings of the Catholic Church which (we have been taught) are infallibly guarded from error by the Holy Ghost, practice is not. That is not to say that practice is of little consequence to the soul who looks to the Church for guidance in this world. For practice should flow from our Teachings and thereby be a reflection to every Catholic soul and perhaps to a lesser extent, to the rest of the world about what we truly believe: our liturgy, our music, our prayers, our alms giving, our care of the poor, our care of the sick and all other aspects of Christian living which come from this body of practices though informed, as it were, from Faith and Morals.

It is not, thereby, unusual that practices are at times confused with our faith or morals and that much of what is discussed at length between differing faiths is often a critique of this realm.

Practices change, as the world has changed to reflect both the intellect and learning of a world that is more literate than it once was (though that might easily be contested). It has also changed due to a shift, largely in developed countries, who have become soft (if I might use that word) in regards to suffering, or self-denial. For today, every small act of discipline, abstinence or self denial is seen as inordinate and far too demanding. We have become obsessed with our own comfort and our own sense of worth and our own sense that we are deserving of something. We have lost the visceral reaction that we might once have had by looking upon a realistic crucifix of the only truly innocent victim of our sins. So if mis-accused of some wrong deed we want the Doctrines to change or the practices to change. If we are inconvenienced, we do not bear the cross with joy but we squirm and complain and demand relief. I wonder if is were so for the not-so-modern Christians of yore. Their yoke was hard already, just eking out a living. And to sacrifice for the good of their souls seemed, perhaps, not that much different from their day to day existence.

I think the Church takes such things into consideration, though for some of us it seems to be a bit too comfortable and conciliatory. Perhaps they are trying to take these weaker souls and wean them off their mother’s breasts and encourage them to take their first steps into the supernatural realm of spiritual warfare and to awaken within them an interior life which they have not yet discovered. It remains to be seen if this strategy will work or fail. For the teachings of the saints are still with us: we only need make ourselves understand what it takes to lay hold of the Pearl of Great Price and then utilize what is already there for the taking.

The Sound of Silence: the Refusal to Face Culpability for the Huge Loss of Faith

While the Church is meeting to discuss the New Evangelization we get a sense that there is a wringing of hands about the sorry state of the Faith while our leadership attends a synod to address the problems that face us in the Church today. They have posited many social problems and historical and political irregularities to wag a finger at. But if the flock is not educated in the faith who is it that should be red-faced with shame? The answer that one would think is obvious is never brought up. Many of our Bishops and priests have all but left the sheep of their flocks abandoned and by their silence have in effect told them that they are capable of leading themselves.

Intrinsic evils and other moral teaching have not been taught parishioners in their homilies and according to Janet E. Smith’s article most Catholic’s receive their Catholic instruction through the homilies, as few read the Catechism on their own or do any outside reading whatsoever. If our priests and Bishops were doing their jobs in evangelizing their own flock then we might have a much better chance in taking out faith out into the world and evangelizing those who are outside the flock. There are some who fight against all odds and they should be commended, but there should be a large majority of our pastors who are “all in” in this war on faith.

The current election is very telling. On one hand we have a typical Republican candidate with a rather typical Republican Platform in the tradition of American politics and there is nothing in their teaching that is anathema to the faith of the Catholic. On the other, we have a party that not only had a hard time using the word God in their platform but we have the most pro-abortion, pro-contraceptive, pro-homosexuality candidate in the history of this nation. It is not a typical American political party platform but one that embraces intrinsic evil as a good and also posits its beliefs in many socialistic ideologies that are in stark contrast to the teachings of the Church. See my sidebar to read a few quotes on our Church’s take on socialism, Marxism or communism.

If we have not properly formed the consciences of the sheep in the pews of the Catholic Church, who’s responsibility was it to do so? Who is culpable for their ignorance in such matters?

That being said, we should thank the following Bishops who are speaking out on the intrinsic evils that Catholics cannot support in the coming election. Out of approximately 173 active diocesan Bishops in the U.S. these few are actively involved in speaking out to their flocks. These few, at least, are doing something, albeit probably not enough to stem the tide of secular thought. We need a more united front if we are ever going to reverse this trend.

Bishop Robert Guglielmone, of Charleston, SC
Bishop Michael Burbidge, of Raleigh, NC
Bishop Paul Loverde, of Arlington, VA
Bishop Peter Libasci, of Manchester, NH
Bishop Thomas Paprocki, of Springfield, IL

Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, of Cincinnati, OH
Archbishop Samuel Aquila, of Denver, CO
Bishop Richard Pates, of Des Moines, IA
Bishop Walker Nickless, of Sioux City, IA (and here and here!)

Bishop Michael Mulvey, of Corpus Christi, TX
Archbishop Jose Gomez, of Los Angeles, CA
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, of Louisville, KY
Bishop Roger Foys, of Covington, KY
Bishop Felipe Estevez, of St Augustine, FL
Bishop Frank Dewane, of Venice, FL (and here and here)

Bishop David Ricken, of Green Bay, WI
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, of Brooklyn, NY
Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, NY

Bishop Arthur Serratelli, of Paterson, NJ
Bishop George Thomas, of Helena, MT

Archbishop Robert Carlson, of Saint Louis, MO
Bishop Paul Swain, of Sioux Falls, SD

Now this is a small list when compared to all the Bishops in this country: about 10% and among them, many did not make as strong an appeal as they should. But it is a start. However, the question that bears being asked is as follows: where are the other 90%? Do they not care enough to inform their flocks that they will become complicit in the furthering of intrinsic evil should they vote for what is morally condemned by the Church? Are they afraid to lose their tax exempt status or are they afraid that they will gain the ire of their own flock?

Priests who have spoken up on their own in a strong and clear way have sometimes had their hands slapped by their Bishops for saying precisely what the Church teaches. Somehow, that seems to be a wrong-headed approach and rather cowardly at that.

It is time for our leaders, both Bishops and priests to examine their own consciences and ask themselves if they still remember why they entered the priesthood in the first place and if they really think that they are living up to their own vocation. The sheep are being slaughtered out here and torn from limb to limb by the secular wolves that roam among us and sometimes hiding behind clerical clothing. It is time they end their feigned and false wringing of hands and look to themselves for answers.

Just a simple view from the pew and a personal reflection from what little I see being done to confront our moral descent.

The Virtue of Faith

Depiction of faith, hope, and charity (love), ...

The Virtue of Faith is found in the intellect (which aspires to truth) and the will, not in the emotions. This can often be confusing due to the fact that the gift of faith has as its goal Love (Charity), which in essence is God Himself. Likewise, our expressions of Faith are also motivated by the virtue of Love – the love of God and of neighbor as oneself, for the love of God. This Theological Virtue of Love is not, however, to be confused with emotional love though it quite often (but not necessarily) accompanies this virtue by the same name.

Love is the ‘form’ of the virtues as well as the ‘source and goal’ of their practice. (see CCC 1827)  And it is by the Virtue of Faith that we dare Hope for the Divine Promises. Our love of Christ (Truth) is a sure foundation for the Virtue of Faith while Theological Hope in these promises depends upon our acceptance and belief in Him Who is True. One can easily see why we have need for all 3 of the Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope, Charity) as described by the Church: for none can operate in isolation from the others. Only when we meet God face-to-face will we no longer have need of Faith and Hope though Love will always remain – our will becoming one with His Divine Will. It is God’s free gift of love that operates in us now and will someday sustain us in heaven; He has loved us first and this love moves our hearts to seek Him with our freewill through Faith, Hope and Love.

The similarity to marital love is quite striking. We can easily mistake the ‘magic’ of love for the selfless love necessary in a successful marriage. This ‘magic’ or emotionalism that accompanies a loving relationship can and often does fade in time. But a successful marriage is a movement of the will to sacrifice and surrender oneself to the other even in the absence of these emotions. Often the love-swoon of a new romance is sufficient to motivate many good and noble actions: not necessarily for the sake of True sacrificial love for the other, but in order to maintain this emotional nirvana. It is an old saying that some people are merely in love with Love. But even this love, which is wonderful in its own right, points to a higher Love – a Love still more complete. This Love is sacrificial in nature and devoid of self-satisfaction as its object. It is other-oriented and not egocentric. It is this kind of Love that God has for us and that we should have for Him. No wonder we speak of spiritual marriage between our souls and Christ.

Therefore, our spiritual quest should be consistent with this proper orientation. It should be Christ-centered rather than me-centered. A loss of emotional fulfillment is not necessarily a sign that one has lost his faith; although an abandonment of one’s duties to this faith may certainly indicate such. Faith does not leave us unchanged. It demands works of charity and obedience of faith, bearing witness to God. (CCC 2087) True faith and a healthy spiritual life are often found in those who have been denied the ‘feelings’ (instant gratifications) of faith but trudge ever forward into the seeming darkness. They are guided only by their unchangeable fiat, “not my will but Thine be done.” Their will is guided by Faith, Hope, and Love, though they operate in a way sometimes unseen or unfelt by the spiritual pilgrim.

If we seek only emotional consolation from our faith then we have not truly been tested in our faith. It is wonderful to be given such lights from our Lord and we should always thank Him for them. But we should never confuse these consolations for the True Gift of Faith. When we are tested in our faith by a loss of these comforts we should thank God all the more for the faith bestowed on us, which can only be practiced by our will which is accompanied by hope and love of God. Thus stripped of self-satisfaction, we stand naked before God, unashamed like the new Adam (Christ Jesus) when He willed to die an ignominious death on the cross for Love of us.

I believe it was the Curé of Ars who was once asked how a person might become a saint.  His answer was: “You will it.”

Faith Sharing

Toruń, church of St. James, Descent of the Hol...

There is much talk these days about ‘faith sharing’ (this is especially true in catechetical circles) and far too little thought regarding the meaning of these words. Admittedly, most of us think that we understand this phrase to mean that we are to share stories about our faith with others, though some might come to think that this ‘faith sharing’ somehow creates faith in others or perhaps increases their faith. There are a number of things that are fundamentally wrong with such notions.

First, paragraph 153 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following:

Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. “Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and ‘makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.’”

To reiterate, faith is a gift from God – we do not give someone else what faith we might possess. Likewise, it is faith that makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth. Faith “is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed.” (CCC 150)  Since Christ has said that He is Truth (Jn.14:6), it follows that the truths of the faith need be presented to all who are interested in the Catholic Faith in order that they have the opportunity to make this necessary but free assent. Should one come to believe and hold to all of these truths you can bet that he or she has received this gift of Faith by the working of the Holy Spirit, a sharing in Christ’s Spirit, and wholly by the grace of God. (see CCC 152)  The Church, “the pillar and bulwark of the truth,” faithfully guards “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (CCC 172)  It therefore becomes imperative for those who wish to “share their faith” with others, to teach only that which is in full-agreement with this pillar and bulwark of the truth – the Church.

Secondly, the Catechism makes clear that the transmission of “faith consists primarily in proclaiming Jesus Christ in order to lead others to faith in him.” (CCC 425). Christ is the center of all catechesis which “is taught – everything else is taught with reference to him – and it is Christ alone who teaches – anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips. . . .” (see CCC 426 and 427)  It seems that the Church advises us to teach or, if we must use the vernacular of today, share the teachings with others – not the faith for that is impossible for man.

There is always a danger, when relating our personal and subjective spiritual matters to one another, that we might veer into a forum of “faith sharing” inconsistent with the teachings of the Catholic Faith.   It is vitally important that in our individual spiritual reflections we submit our spirituality to all of the Truth as taught by the Church. It should be scrutinized under the magnifying lens of Sacred Theology and made to conform to God’s Revelation of Himself through His Catholic and Apostolic Church. If our reflections and spirituality are found faulty, we must amend our views (no matter how wonderful our musings might make us feel) and trade them in for inclinations and reflections that are totally and 100% in conformity with the Church; for if we are not sharing the teachings of the Catholic Faith faithfully, we are only presenting a counterfeit faith of our own making.

Can Dogs Go to Heaven?

Fred

I must admit I don’t have an answer to this one and theology does make it seem like an impossibility. But as doubtful as it is, I’d love to think that they do because one thing is obviously certain to me. Dogs can teach us more about living the Christian life than most people. Now dogs have different personalities and natures, so this does not pertain to every dog. However, I have been blessed with some truly remarkable pets throughout my life.

What is it about dogs that I admire? What have I learned from my dogs that I would do well to emulate in my own life?

First of all, loyalty: for the loyalty of a good dog is something to be admired and rarely found among our peers. You can mistreat a dog, forget to feed him or walk him, or ignore him and yet he persists in being faithfully attached and would never abandon your home for another person who offered him better food and treatment; as his loyalty is built on love and trust.

Also, patience: for the patience of a dog is amazing. They wait for their owner to pay them some attention, to play with them, etc. and never give up hope that the hour will come – if not today, maybe tomorrow or the next day.

Obedience is another admirable trait. Some dogs surrender their will to you entirely. They only want to be pleasing to you. Though they do not understand our motives or the outcome of our commands they are only happy to promptly comply with our wishes – no back talk, no hesitation.

An attitude of self-sacrifice is present in many dogs; willing to give their very lives to protect their family and to come to their aid. They do not weigh the odds or ponder the possible failure of their action – they just defend what they have come to believe in, which is us. Their love is agape love or self-sacrificing love and is of the highest order.

Cheerfulness and joy is the normal disposition of a dog that has been properly raised and socialized. They always lift your spirits by their show of happiness and joy at just seeing you after a short absence. Leave the house for 5 minutes and upon your return your dog will greet you like he hasn’t seen you in months.

Long-suffering is another trait that truly amazes me.  They live in the moment with no thoughts about past sufferings or future uncertainties. I have seen dogs on the verge of death lying on an operating table at the vet. At their first sight of a familiar family face they express pure joy by wagging their tail even if they have lost the ability to sit, stand or roll over. When hurt, sick or dying, they suffer in silence without so much as a whimper. They simply go silent and suffer in silence.

A dog may be mans best friend on a number of levels and we might learn more from our dogs than they do from us. I can teach a dog many silly tricks but a dog can teach me to practice the theological virtues of faith, hope and love in a most profound way. An entire book could be written about many other admirable qualities of these fine animals but these will suffice.

If I could only live a life that expressed my love for God in such a manner I might become a saint. Dogs may not go to heaven but they just might help some of us get there by setting a wonderful example. All we have to do is apply it in our lives and thus mimic their behavior in acts of unconditional love for God. That might make them more than man’s best friend; they may be our soul’s best friend and spiritual director as well.

P.S. Wally, dog on the right, went to his reward about 1 1/2 years ago. Fred, on the left, has taken up Wally’s role as spiritual director and seems capable of filling the paws of his predecessor.

Are Catholic’s Too Rigid In Their Beliefs?

Recently much confusion has been spread in Catholic circles concerning our need to be less rigid in the religious views that we hold. There could be some truth in such a statement if one held these beliefs based solely on personal desire or prejudice and without the aid of reason or logic. Such rigidity would likely make a person obstinate to truth should it be presented to him.

However, true rigidity in Catholic thought might be better described as the persistent refusal to accept a truth of the faith even though it is recognized and understood to be true. The reason for this stubbornness might then be the result of personal sin or a disordered attachment to the world and may find its root in pride or sloth etc. Such a reluctance to adhere to truth would certainly qualify one to be categorized as rigid.

But for those who have been confronted with the truths of the faith, submitting these truths to reason and prayer ought not be slandered for persistence in their beliefs. Instead they ought to be praised when seen clinging to truth in the face of adversity and at times faced with a martyrs death. This is the nature of truth: it is worth dying for, it gives meaning to an otherwise meaningless universe, and it transcends the world and its conventions. Truth transforms the believer and gives meaning to all of his actions and is thereby the whole of what the believer seeks: for Christ is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life’ and the Truth is inseparable from Christ.

The Catholic today is more likely to hear a challenge to his beliefs from another Catholic than he is from a person of another faith. He will hear theologians claim that Christ did not know that He was God, though Pope St. Pius X taught definitively the opposite to be true in the Condemnation of the Error of Modernists, 1907. Was Pope St. Pius X guilty of rigidity? Or was he merely persistent in the truths of the faith as taught for 2000 years?

When we are confronted by novel theories, though presented by reputable scholars, one must always understand that theories and hypotheses are only that: theories and hypotheses. But if Christ was God (which we believe to be true) and if Christ established a Church to carry on His ministry in the world (which we also believe to be true), real truth must necessarily be consistent with Church teaching. Without these beliefs there is nothing that could be fully accepted as true: a Christ who is nothing but our projection of what we desire, could not be the Authority that we seek. Likewise if Christ is our creation, there could never be a Church that would possess true Authority given Her by Christ. Such thought makes a mockery of Christianity and places us back into the ranks of agnostic or atheistic belief.

Therefore being persistent in our faith is a virtue that is not to be confused with ignorance, prejudice or rigidity. Let no one convince you that adherence to the truths of the Catholic faith is the same as being intolerant of other credible ideas and thus close-minded. If such is the case, remember that we are in good company; never forgetting the countless saints and martyrs that died for these same beliefs. “Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine (2 Timothy 4:2).”