THE REMNANT NEWSPAPER: Prophetic Words of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

Many a modern preacher is far less concerned with preaching Christ and Him crucified than he is with his popularity with his congregation.  A want of intellectual backbone makes him straddle the ox of truth and the ass of nonsense…Fulton J. Sheen

America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance.  It is not.  It is suffering from tolerance:  tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos.  Our country is not nearly so much overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broad-minded.  The man who can make up his mind in an orderly way, as a man might make up his bed, is called a bigot; but a man who cannot make up his mind, any more than he can make up for lost time, is called tolerant and broad-minded.

A bigoted man is one who refuses to accept a reason for anything; a broad-minded man is one who will accept anything for a reason—providing it is not a good reason.  It is true that there is a demand for precision, exactness, and definiteness, but it is only for precision in scientific measurement, not in logic. The breakdown that has produced this natural broad-mindedness is mental, not moral.  The evidence for this statement is threefold: the tendency to settle issues not by arguments but by words, the unqualified willingness to accept the authority of anyone on the subject of religion, and lastly the love of novelty.

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Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: Obedience

The Real Basis of Obedience

Obedience does not mean the execution of orders that are given by a drill sergeant. It springs rather from the love of an order, and love of him who gave it. The merit of obedience is less in the act than in the love; the submission, the devotion, and the service which obedience implies are not born of servitude, but are, rather, effects that spring from and are unified by love. Obedience is servility only to those who have not understood the spontaneity of love.

Our universe is governed by laws: things are this way and that way. By submission to laws, we make them our own. If, for instance we obey the laws of the body, we keep it in health; If we obey the laws of mind, we keep it learned. Spiritual being has its prizes too, as Our Lord said: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

In other words, true obedience springs from love not from force. The worst man in the world knows a great deal more of his duty than the best man does. It is not for want of knowledge that men go to pieces, but rather for want of obedience to the knowledge of the good they already possess.

The legal world says: “If you fear me, keep my commandments.” In the Divine order it is different: “If you love Me, You will keep My commandments.

Today Liberty is taking the place of obedience. It is said that obedience has had its day. Civilization is in danger when the rights of liberty plead against the duties of obedience as if the two were opposed to one another. A man who has never obeyed is not the man who will know how to command. He will be a poor general who has never come up through the ranks.

Our Lord went down to Nazareth and was subject to His mother and foster father; then He became obedient unto death, even unto the death on the Cross.

Obedience is not the quality of slaves, for slaves act against their will. He who had liberty to do all things became subject to His parents to prove that obedience is the pathway to freedom. As St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “You who are children must show obedience in the Lord to your parents; it is your duty.” The parent is strong when he says to the child: “I must have your obedience because I am responsible to God for your upbringing in goodness and truth.

On the other hand the child’s strongest encouragement is in the same thought: “In obeying my parents I am doing that which is pleasing to God, and I do it because I love the Lord.” In “Lamentations” it is written: “It is well that you should learn to bear the yoke, now in your youth.” A horse must be broken in while he is a colt; a dog must be trained when he is young. So it is with youth. He who has never learned to submit, will make himself a tyrant when he obtains power. A silver spoon has choked many youth.

St. Thomas Aquinas said: “The respect that one has for the rule flows naturally from the respect that one has for the person who gave it.” Authority must always have behind it some value which elicits respect and reverence.

In courtship there are no laws, but the lover always seeks to fulfill the will of the beloved: and in religion no compulsion is felt by anyone who loves God. The real basis of obedience in the family, therefore, is not the fear of punishment, just as in religion it is not the fear of hell. Rather, it is based on the fact that one never wants to hurt anyone whom one loves. It will bear repeating that Our Lord said: “If you love Me, you will keep My Commandments.

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, April 1979

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: the Person and the State

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The Person and the State

Two words are very useful in our modern vocabulary, “social welfare” and “social adjustment“. They are even right and necessary when they imply that each citizen must work for the common good of society. But there is also a danger that these words may lull people into believing that the person is secondary, and that society is primary.

This problem can be put into focus by asking: “Where do we get our rights of free speech, freedom of conscience, property and freedom of assembly?” Those thinkers who have been bitten by the ‘social bug’ would say that the state gives them to us. But if these rights are not inherent and God-given, as our Declaration of Independence states, if they are state-given, then the state can take them away.

Communist claim that all liberties are given by party: —- He who opposes it thereby loses his state-given rights — this means the person has no right which is inalienable.

You see the problem? It is whether our rights are inherent, that is to say whether they exist prior to state, are inalienable and cannot be taken away. Our Declaration of Independence rightly state that they were bestowed on us by the Creator.

On the other hand, if the rights and liberties exist only because they are socially useful, then a powerful government can interpret their abolition as socially useful. If they say that society is apt to be harassed if we are intolerant about these rights, then what shall they say to a dictator with a pistol who says that society gains by such intolerance?

THE STATE ISN’T AN ORGANISM

The overemphasis on the social is apt to lead people to believe that the state has a conscience and has a brain all its own. The truth of the matter is that the thought, the freedom and the conscience of distinct personalities are the only thoughts, freedoms and consciences there are. The state is not an organism with its own intelligence and will: because the people choose a government, they do not choose a total different truth and a totally different good than those inherent in persons. The state exists for persons, not the persons for the state.

The business of “social adjustment” can be overdone. First of all, we do not want a nation in which everyone thinks alike politically and economically, and is educated in exactly the same pattern. It is one thing to have unity in a nation, and quite another thing to have uniformity: which recognizes certain basic differences. In 1939, when our socialist theorists were asking for “social adjustment,” it turned out they were adjusting themselves to a war that set out to destroy two-thirds of totalitarians, while calling the other third “democratic.”

OBLIGATION OF PARENTS

When this socialist mentality seizes a nation, then everyone is told what to do. Our great republic would make more progress if our citizens were told what they are. Doing flows from being. Once the people are conscious of their God-given inherent liberties, and that their rights are always balanced by duties, they produce a sound government.

Whoever brings a being into the world, incurs an obligation. Parents owe children something and not because the baby has done something, but because they are parents. Telling citizens what to do, regiments them: it assumes they are puppets to be pulled by bureaucratic managers. Citizens who are personalities are ready to do, because they know that doing is a duty, and a duty “is the other side of a right.” Thus a nation is what its citizens are — no more and no less— and citizens are what they develop to be through exercising individual initiative. Out of this concept, the new world will be reborn. There are no short-cuts, either for individuals or the state. Too many Americans these days are forgetting this great truth, as they demonstrate their willingness — this socialist idea — is the termite that is nibbling away at the foundations of western civilization.

Fulton J. Sheen, D.D., Ph.D., Bishop Sheen Writes, 1956

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: Essay on Muslims from 1952

Mary And The Moslems

by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

In 1952, the late Bishop Fulton Sheen devoted a chapter in his book The World’s First Love (Garden City Books, Garden City, N.Y.) — entitled “Mary and the Moslems” — to this significant query. Following are Bishop Sheen’s observations; more significant now perhaps than when written 49 years ago.

 

Our Lady of Fatima

Moslemism is the only great post-Christian religion of the world. Because it had its origin in the seventh century under Mohammed, it was possible to unite, within it, some elements of Christianity and of Judaism, along with particular customs of Arabia. Moslemism takes the doctrine of the unity of God, His majesty and His creative power, and uses it, in part, as a basis for the reproduction of Christ, the Son of God. Misunderstanding the notion of the Trinity, Mohammed made Christ a prophet announcing Him just as to Christians, Isaiah and John the Baptist are prophets announcing Christ.

The Christian European West barely escaped destruction at the hands of the Moslems. At one point they were stopped near Tours and at another point, later on in time, outside the gates of Vienna. The Church throughout northern Africa was practically destroyed by Moslem power, and at the present hour, the Moslems are beginning to rise again.

If Moslemism is a heresy, as Hiliaire Belloc believes it to be, it is the only heresy that has never declined. Others have had a moment of vigor, then gone into doctrinal decay at the death of the leader, and finally evaporated in a vague social movement. Moslemism, on the contrary, has only had its first phase. There was never a time in which it declined, either in numbers, or in the devotion of its followers.

The missionary effort of the Church toward this group has been at least on the surface, a failure, for the Moslems are so far almost unconvertible. The reason is that for a follower of Mohammed to become a Christian is much like a Christian becoming a Jew. The Moslems believe that they have the final and definitive revelation of God to the world and that Christ was only a prophet announcing Mohammed, the last of God’s real prophets.

At the present time, the hatred of the Moslem countries against the West is becoming a hatred against Christianity itself. Although the statesmen have not yet taken it into account, there is still grave danger that the temporal power of Islam may return and, with it, the menace that it may shake off a West which has ceased to be Christian, and affirm itself as a great anti-Christian world power. Moslem writers say, “When the locust swarms darken countries, they bear on their wings these Arabic words: ‘We are God’s host, each of us has ninety-nine eggs, and if we had a hundred, we should lay waste the world, with all that is in it.'”

The problem is, how shall we prevent the hatching of the hundredth egg? It is our firm belief that the fears some entertain concerning the Moslems are not to be realized, but the Moslemism, instead, will eventually be converted to Christianity — and in a way that even some of our missionaries never suspect. It is our belief that this will happen not through the direct teachings of Christianity, but through a summoning of the Moslems to a veneration of the Mother of God. This is the line of argument:

Mary

The Koran, which is the Bible of the Moslems, has many passages concerning the Blessed Virgin. First of all, the Koran believes in her Immaculate Conception, and also, in her Virgin Birth. The third chapter of the Koran places the history of Mary’s family in a genealogy, which goes back through Abraham, Noah, and Adam. When one compares the Koran’s description of the birth of Mary with the apocryphal Gospel of the birth of Mary, one is tempted to believe that Mohammed very much depended upon the latter. Both books describe the old age and the definite sterility of the mother of Mary. When, however, she conceives, the mother of Mary is made to say in the Koran; “O Lord, I vow and consecrate to you what is already within me. Accept it from me.”

When Mary is born, the mother says: “And I consecrate her with all of her posterity under thy protection, O Lord, against Satan!”

The Koran passes over Joseph in the life of Mary, but the Moslem tradition know his name and has some familiarity with him. In this tradition, Joseph is made to speak to Mary, who is a virgin. As he inquired how she conceived Jesus without a father, Mary answered: “Do you not know that God, when He created the wheat had no need of seed, and that God by His power made the trees grow without the help of rain? All that God had to do was to say, ‘So be it, and it was done.'”

The Koran has also verses on the Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity. Angels are pictured as accompanying the Blessed Mother and saying: “Oh, Mary, God has chosen you and purified you, and elected you above all the women of the earth.” In the nineteenth chapter of the Koran there are 41 verses on Jesus and Mary. There is such a strong defense of the virginity of Mary here that the Koran, in the fourth book, attributed the condemnation of the Jews to their monstrous calumny against the Virgin Mary.

Fatima

Mary, then, is for the Moslems the true Sayyida, or Lady. The only possible serious rival to her in their creed would be Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed himself. But after the death of Fatima, Mohammed wrote: “Thou shalt be the most blessed of all the women in Paradise, after Mary.” In a variant of the text, Fatima is made to say, “I surpass all the women, except Mary.”

This brings us to our second point: namely, why the Blessed Mother, in the 20th century should have revealed herself in the significant little village of Fatima, so that to all future generations she would be known as “Our Lady of Fatima.” Since nothing ever happens out of Heaven except with a finesse of all details, I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as “Our Lady of Fatima” as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her divine Son too.

Evidence to support these views is found in the historical fact that the Moslems occupied Portugal for centuries. At the time when they were finally driven out, the last Moslem chief had a beautiful daughter by the name of Fatima. A Catholic boy fell in love with her, and for him she not only stayed behind when the Moslems left, but even embraced the Faith. The young husband was so much in love with her that he changed the name of the town where he lived to Fatima. Thus, the very place where our Lady appeared in 1917 bears a historical connection to Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed.

The final evidence of the relationship of Fatima to the Moslems is the enthusiastic reception, which the Moslems in Africa and India and elsewhere gave to the Pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima, as mentioned earlier. Moslems attended the church services in honor of Our Lady, they allowed religious processions and even prayers before their mosques; and in Mozambique the Moslems who were unconverted, began to be Christian as soon as the statue of Our Lady of Fatima was erected.

Missionaries

Missionaries in the future will, more and more, see that their apostolate among the Moslems will be successful in the measure that they preach Our Lady of Fatima. Mary is the advent of Christ, bringing Christ to the people before Christ Himself is born. In an apologetic endeavor, it is always best to start with that which people already accept. Because the Moslems have a devotion to Mary, our missionaries should be satisfied merely to expand and to develop that devotion, with the full realization that Our Blessed Lady will carry the Moslems the rest of the way to her divine Son. She is forever a “traitor,” in the sense that she will not accept any devotion for herself, but will always bring anyone who is devoted to her to her divine Son. As those who lose devotion to her lose belief in the divinity of Christ, so those who intensify devotion to her gradually acquire that belief.

Many of our great missionaries in Africa have already broken down the bitter hatred and prejudices of the Moslems against the Christians through their acts of charity, their schools and hospitals. It now remains to use another approach, namely, that of taking the 41st chapter of the Koran and showing them that it was taken out of the Gospel of Luke, that Mary could not be, even in their own eyes, the most blessed of all the women of Heaven if she had not also borne One who was the Savior of the world. If Judith and Esther of the Old Testament were pre-figures of Mary, then it may well be that Fatima herself was a post-figure of Mary! The Moslems should be prepared to acknowledge that, if Fatima must give way in honor to the Blessed Mother, it is because she is different from all the other mothers of the world and that without Christ she would be nothing.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: Another Relevant Essay

 

Scandals

by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Every now and then people come across a counterfeit bill, but I never knew anyone who, because of it, argued that the United States currency was worthless. Astronomers have seen spots on the sun, but I have yet to hear of one who denied that the sun is the light of the world. But I know many who pick out the failings and sins of a few Catholics and then say: “But, my dear, they don’t tell you everything! The Church is really the work of the devil.”

This extreme point of view starts with a fact: There are scandals. For example, some Catholic husbands and wives are unfaithful; some Catholic politicians are more crooked than those who have no religion; some Catholic boys steal; some Catholic girls worship the same saints as pagan girls: movie heroes or band leaders; some Catholic industrialists are selfish and hardhearted and totally indifferent to the rights of workers; some Catholic labor leaders are more interested in keeping their leadership by annual strikes than in cooperating for social justice. Then in the Papacy, there is Alexander VI.

What does all this prove, but that Our Dear Lord has espoused humanity as it is, rather than as we would like it to be! He never expected His Mystical Body the Church to be without scandals because He Himself was the first scandal. It was a terrible scandal for those who knew Him to be God to see Him crucified and go down to seeming defeat, at the moment His enemies challenged Him to prove His Divinity by coming down from the Cross. No wonder He had to beg His followers not to be scandalized by Him. If the human nature of Our Lord could suffer physical defeat and be a scandal, why should there not be scandals in Our Lord’s Mystical Body made up of poor mortals such as we? If He permitted thirst, pain and a death sentence to affect His Physical Body, why should He not permit mystical and moral weaknesses such as loss of faith, sin, scandals, heresies, schisms, and sacrileges to affect His Mystical Body? When these things do happen, it does not prove that the Mystical Body the Church is not Divine in its inmost nature, any more than the Crucifixion of Our Lord proved He is not Divine. Because our hands are dirty, the whole body is not polluted. The scandals of the Mystical Body the Church no more destroy its substantial holiness than the Crucifixion destroyed the substantial wholeness of Christ’s Physical Body. The Old Testament prophecy fulfilled on Calvary was that not a bone of His Body would be broken. His flesh would hang like purple rags about Him, wounds like poor dumb mouths would speak their pain with blood, pierced hands and feet would open up torrents of redemptive life – but His substance, his bones, they would be sound. So with His Mystical Body. Not a bone of it shall ever be broken; the substance of Her doctrines will always be pure, though the flesh of some of her doctors fail; the substance of Her discipline will be sound, though the passion of some of her disciples rebel; the substance of Her faith will always be Divine though the flesh of some of her faithful will be so carnal. Her wounds will never be mortal, for Her Soul is Holy and Immortal, with the Immortality of Love Divine that came to Her Body on the Day of Pentecost as tongues of living fire.

Coming to one of the major scandals, let it be asked: “How could a wicked man like Alexander VI be the infallible Vicar of Christ and head of His Mystical Body the Church?” For an answer, go to the Gospel text where Our Lord changes the name of Simon to Rock, and then made Him the Rock on which He built what He called “My Church.” Our Lord on that very occasion made a distinction very few ever think of: He distinguished between infallibility or immunity from error, and impeccability or immunity from sin. Infallibility is inability to teach what is wrong; impeccability is inability to do wrong. Our Lord made the Rock infallible, but not impeccable.

Immediately after assuring Peter that he had the keys of Heaven and authority to bind and loose, Our Blessed Lord tells His Apostles that He “must go up to Jerusalem,” and “must be put to death” (Matthew 16:21). Poor, weak, human Peter, proud of his authority as the Rock draws Our Lord to his side, and begins rebuking Him, saying: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to You” (Matthew 16:22). On hearing these words Our Lord “turned around and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an obstacle to Me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Matthew 16:23).

A moment before Peter was called the Rock; now he is called Satan! In so many words Our Lord was telling him: “As a Rock upon which I build My Church, whenever you speak with the assistance of Heaven, you shall be preserved from error; but as Simon, son of Jonah, as a man, you are so frail, so carnal, so apt to be sinful, that you can become even like unto Satan. In your office you, as Peter, are infallible; but as man, Simon, you are peccable. The Power you have as Peter is My Making; the want of morals you have as Simon, is of your making.” Is this distinction between a person and his function hard to grasp? If a policeman directing traffic held up his hand and ordered you to stop, you would do so, even though you knew he beat his wife. And why? Because you make a distinction between his function as a representative of law and his person. I am sure that Our Lord permitted the fall of Peter immediately after the gift of Primacy to remind him and all his successors that infallibility would belong necessarily to his office, but virtue would have to be acquired by his own striving with the help of God’s grace. Whether the voice be sweet, or dull and grating, whether it be spoken with an accent or a flaw in grammar, we consider not the tone but the message. “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening” (I Samuel 3:9).

It is generally safe to say that those who know everything about the few bad successors of Peter, know nothing at all about the very many good ones. The wickedness of one man in authority is allowed to obscure a million saints. How many who dwell on the Vicars of Christ during the brief period of the Renaissance, ever dwell on their history for the other 1900 years? How many of those who exploit the bad few ever admit that of the first thirty-three successors of Peter, thirty were martyrs for their Faith, and the other three exiled for it? How many of those who concentrate on the bad example of a few know, or ever admit, that of the two hundred and sixty-one successors of St. Peter, eighty-three have been canonized for their heroic virtue, and that over fifty were chosen over the protest of their own unworthiness for such a high office, and that few can match in humility, wisdom and learning our present Holy Father, Pius XII? Anyone who attacks such a long line of martyrs, saints, and scholars must be certain of his own sinlessness to lay his hand on the few who revealed the human side of their office. If the revilers themselves are holy, pure and undefiled, let them pick up their stones. Our Lord said that it is the privilege only of those who are without sin to cast the first stone. But if they are not without sin, then let them leave the judgment to God. If they are without sin, they belong to a different race from you and me, for from deep down in our hearts a cry comes to our lips: “Be merciful to me a sinner.”

Turning to the scandal of bad Catholics, it must be remembered that Our Lord no more expected to have every member of His Church perfect than He expected to have perfect Apostles. That is why He said that on the last day He would throw the bad fish out of His net. Some Catholics may be bad, but that does not prove the Mystical Body is wicked, any more than because a few Americans who sell themselves to Russia, proves that America is a race of traitors. Our Faith increases responsibility, but it does not force obedience; it increases blame but it does not prevent sin. If some Catholics are bad, it is not because they are members of Christ’s Mystical Body, but rather because they are not living up to its Lights and Grace.

The psychology of those who are scandalized as bad Catholics is interesting. It means that they expected something better; if people who themselves are wicked, rejoice in the scandal, it is because they think they have greater authority for sinning than anyone else who fell. One never hears it said: “He is a bad Relativist,” or he is a “scandalous Humanist” or an “adulterous Ethicist,” because they never really expected anything better from them in the beginning. The horror that one feels at those who fall, is the measure of the height of virtue to which they expected to stand. We are grateful for the compliment of their being scandalized at our weak members, and for being intolerant with us about the very things they tolerate in others. They know that there are no other new lights possible if the sun fails! It is intellectually stultifying and morally easy to be a Communist; it is intellectually refreshing and morally hard to be a Catholic.

No ideal is more difficult of attainment. When anyone falls away from a Sun Cult he never has very far to tumble. But when a Catholic falls away, he is apt to be far worse than anyone else. The greater the height from which he falls, the greater the splash. “The corruption of the best is the worst.” No flowers smell worse than the rotted lily.

May we ask those who are scandalized with the failings of the Church, how perfect the Church would have to be before they would become incorporated into it as a living cell? If it were as perfect as they wanted it to be, do they realize that there would be no room for them? Just suppose for a moment, that Christ’s Mystical Body had no moral weaknesses; suppose that no monk ever broke his priestly vows to marry a nun and start a new religion – and this really happened; suppose that no bishop was ever just a business administrator and no priest ever disedifying and no monk ever fat, and no sister ever cross to children, and sanctity was as automatic as a parking meter; and suppose no one ever gave scandal to those who are on the outside to justify the way they were living. Would such a Church be the kind that Our Lord envisaged Who told us that cockle would be sowed with wheat, and that some of the children of the Kingdom would be cast out? If the Mystical Body were as perfect as the scandalized would have it, would not Her very perfection accuse and condemn us who are not saintly? Too high an ideal often repels rather than attracts. She would be so saintly that She would no longer allure ordinary mortals. She might even appear to the struggling souls as terribly Puritan, easily scandalized at our failings, and might even shrink from having Her garments touched by sinners like ourselves. Gone then would be the hope for those who are unholy or in sin. NO! The Mystical Body with none but perfect members would be a stumbling block. Then, instead of us being scandalized by Her, She would be scandalized by us, which would be far worse.

If the life of the Mystical Body had been one triumphant, blazing transfiguration on a mountain top, apart from the woes and ills of man, She would never have been the comforter of the afflicted and the refuge of sinners. She has been called like Her Divine Head, to be a redemptress, lifting men from the shadows of sin to be the tabernacles of grace where saints are made. She is not a far-off, abstract idea, but a Mother, and though She has been stained with dust in Her long journey through the centuries, and though some of her children have nailed Her Body and saddened Her Soul, yet there is joy in her Heart because of the children She has nourished; there is gladness in Her eyes, because of the faith She has preserved; there is understanding in Her soul, for She has understood the frailty of our flesh, and knows how to nourish it back to life. And in these qualities one divines the reason why Our Lord chose, not a saintly man like John, but a weak, fallen man like Peter as His First Vicar, in order that through his weakness he, and the Church of which he is the head, might sympathize with the weakness of his brethren, be their apostle of mercy and, in the truest sense of the term, the vicar of the Savior and the Redeemer of the world, Who came not to save the just but me, a sinner.

Our Lord often punishes His Mystical Body from time to time, by permitting some of the members or cells of that Body to separate themselves from it, but He punishes them still more. On the whole the world is right! We Catholics are not all we ought to be! The world is the way it is, because we Catholics are the way we are. Our Lord said: “If salt loses its taste, what is there left to give taste to it?” (Matthew 5:13). It is not the world we have failed, but Christ, and in failing Christ, we failed the world. But we beg those of you who see our failings to remember how hard it is for us to be everything Our Lord wants us to be. It is so easy to be a Democrat or a Republican or a “Cosmic Unifier,” but it is very hard to be a Catholic! Judge us not by our failings, as you judge not art by the feeble scribbling of a child. Look rather to our artistic masterpieces: the saints, and there are countless armies of them in the world. We have hurt you by our failings, and we beg your pardon, but we hurt Our Dear Lord more, and we shall do penance.

There are many of you who are scandalized by us, who, if you had the same Infallible Truth to guide you, the same Divine Eucharist to nourish you daily, would be a thousand times better than we are. We ought to be better than we are. And here I touch on the only unhappiness that comes to us as Catholics, and believe me, it is very real! We are unhappy because we are not saints. Will you therefore pray for us? Thanks!

God love you!

Adherence to a Standard

The basis for all spirituality is adherence to a standard. In the case of Catholic Spirituality the standard is, of course, the definitive teachings of the Roman Catholic Church; including Her moral standard, as well as Her practices.

To borrow one of the late Fulton Sheen’s illustrations, let’s imagine ourselves sitting at a piano.

English: Pianist Mark Eisenman

When we strike any key on the instrument no one can say that we have hit a wrong note. However, in the context of playing a particular piece of music, many wrong notes are possible. The music to be played is a standard that must be followed precisely if we are to receive the applause that follows a successful rendition at a concert.

Our spiritual lives are very much like this. Our saints are like the virtuosos who garner much admiration after a difficult musical performance. We do not see or hear the mistakes previously made during practice nor are we made aware of the depth of the trials that these persons overcame in order to achieve their success. But rest assured that a struggle was a necessary prelude to all that they achieved.

The piano player made mistakes in practicing and worked them out. If they were beyond his ability to recognize and correct, he sought out a maestro or teacher who could give them musical exercises to overcome their shortfalls. But never did they decide to rewrite the score themselves in order that they might more easily play the piece or because they disagreed with some section of the musical piece. They adhered completely to the standard.

Likewise, a Catholic soul who desires to lead a spiritual life, who wishes to attempt Christ’s lofty goal to “be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), must practice holiness like a virtuoso practices his instrument. When he stumbles and falls, he returns to his Maestro (the Church) for correction. It is through this never ending and meticulous process of failure, confession, absolution, and spiritual direction that the soul is purified and our Catholic Spirituality made sound. We don’t rely solely on our own abilities nor do we re-write the teachings of the Church to aid us in our journey. For then we have only substituted our private standard for that of the Church and our spirituality becomes as flawed as the musician who ‘does his own thing’ without regard to the music that he has been asked to play. Just as such a musician will not long be a member of an orchestra, so too those who create their own standards cannot long remain members of the Divine Orchestra the Holy Catholic Church unless one fully accepts the Divine Music and at least attempts to play the performance according to Her Standard.

The first step to a healthy spirituality then is the desire to play in the Heavenly Orchestra and to humbly submit to play only those notes that are written. The next step is to practice according to the rules those things that are difficult and to seek help in correcting those things with which we constantly have problems. Once the soul has begun to faithfully apply himself to this humble obedience (this training of the will) and has sought help through prayer, countless days of practice (making virtues habitual,  and through the utilization of appointed teachers within the Church, much progress in the Spiritual Life is assured.

In music one studies the theory of music, seeks help and listens to others who play well, while in Spirituality the soul studies the teachings, the moral laws and precepts, prays, practices the virtues, and acquaints themselves with the great saints in order that he might acquire their abilities which are not yet possessed in full. Imperfections and failures are certain along the way but with these basics one can proceed safely without danger to ones immortal soul. “For what will it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26) Remember that sloth or laxity is a capital sin that we must always be on guard to fight. Zeal for the Faith and zeal for Christ comes no other way: it requires spiritual exercise and slow, hard work.