Miracles: do they exist anymore?

Do Miracles actually happen?

Introduction

The book of Acts describes the early church. During this time many miracles occurred. One example occurs in Acts 3:7-11. In this chapter, Peter heals a beggar sitting at the temple gate. Yet in today’s society Miracles like the ones in Acts are rare. Likewise, people treat miracles with skepticism. On the other hand, you have evangelicals, who make miracles a priority. Given these two choices, How should one view miracles?

My Testimony

I too have a difficult time with healing and miracles. As a disabled person, who has yet to receive God’s gift of healing, I find the miracle stories hard to believe. I also have had spiritual harm done to me by well-intended Evangelicals. While out shopping, some religious person stopped me and told me that if I believed in Jesus Christ, I’d be healed. When belief is a prerequisite for healing, then a lack of healing must mean a lack of belief. Thus, when I am confronted with healing, I feel a sense of unworthiness. My experience highlights one viewpoint on healing called Name it and claims it. The Catholic Church denies this viewpoint. Instead, The Catholic Church offers the notion of redemptive suffering. Redemptive suffering is a very well rationed theology. However, it can become a crutch.

Name it Claim it

The name claims it theology is related to the prosperity gospel and word of faith. The idea is that if we say certain words or perform certain actions then God will bless us. While all of God’s promises are true, his ways are also higher than ours. We cannot fathom the mind of God. Persons who claim that we can somehow manipulate or control God by the words we say or the amount of faith we have. This seems arrogant. God is not a vending machine. One positive contribution is that it teaches people to expect the miraculous.

Redemptive Suffering

The Catholic Church is not ashamed of suffering. Most icons depict suffering. In our sanctuary hangs a crucifix of Jesus. Outsiders would claim that Catholics are obsessed with suffering. Unlike evangelical Protestants, Catholics pinpoint the moment of salvation at the cross. Christ suffered to save the world. We can take part in this salvific act by uniting our suffering to Christ. St Paul testifies to this in Colossians 1:24

”Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, which is the church”

Of course, nothing is truly lacking in Christ, but God chooses to honor our sacrifice because he loves us. However, if this is true, how do miracles fit in?

It’s important to distinguish redemptive suffering from the gift of healing. The former is a vocation and the latter is a gift from God. When we choose to offer up our suffering as a sacrifice, we are choosing a way of life. We are working the salvation of others. God bestows healing upon us as a free gift. Yes, we can pray for healing, but whether it comes is not up to us.

Finding Balance

Individual Catholics and Christians need to find balance when it comes to healing. God does not bend to the whims of men. God chooses at his discretion who receives healing. When healing does not come, a person’s faith is not the direct cause. Furthermore, we cannot use redemptive suffering as a crutch. The notion of redemptive suffering was not designed to quench the Holy Spirit. Thus even if we feel that our vocation is to offer up our suffering, we should still pray for healing. The world is full of negativity. The church needs a renewal. As a part of this renewal, The church needs to reclaim miracles in order to be hope for the hopeless. 

Catholic church’s promotion problem

177 project

Project spotlight: 177 project

Last Friday, I attended Eucharistic adoration at St. Nicholas church. This event intrigued me. It included performances by Tom Young and Taylor Trippoli. Who are they, you might ask? They are Catholic Contemporary Music artists. I’ve written about the existence of such artists and their struggles before. I criticize Contemporary Christian music (CCM) for failing to have an authentic expression. Rather, the industry seems to push commercialized generic music produced by mega churches. Catholic artist tends to write lyrics that feel more authentic, and real. However, their minority status causes Catholic artist to have difficulty with exposure. I was pleasantly surprised to hear about an event featuring Catholic artists. Yet, I was disappointed with the level of promotion.

How I heard about the event

I heard about the event through social media. When I studied at Yale, I joined a Catholic Young Adult group. Even though I am now back in Virginia Beach, I never unfollowed the group. Therefore, I will occasionally get updates about events. A post about the 177 project caught my eye. I saw that they were traveling to other dioceses. I visited the website and saw that they were coming to St Nicholas Catholic Church. This surprised me because I had not heard it mentioned. I found no event info on the Richmond diocese website nor the parish’s website. The Catholic Church claims to be universal, yet it has a myopic view on promotion. Rather than coming together, parishes would rather promote their events. The vision of the 177 project encompasses the New Evangelization and deserves the promotion.

the 177 project’s vision

The 177 project is an initiative from Adoration Artist designed to help spark a renewal in parishes across the country. They seek to bring renewal through hosting nights of worship. These nights include Prayer of the rosary, confession, Eucharistic adoration, and music. The artists belong to an organization call Adoration Artist. This organization seeks to invest into Catholic artist. They invest by providing them with resources and exposure. In the hopes that they can turn their gifts into a career. As Tom Young said, “it’s nice to be able to command my music talents with my faith as I usually have to write commercial jingles to get by.” All artist struggle with exposure, but Catholic artist most of all due to lack of parish support. I think the lack of support needs to change. The church should promote because music unites everyone. Also, it creates a community event, where Catholics get to hear music that reflects their values.

Music Unites Everyone and is Ecumenical

Vatican II recognizes the Holy Spirit working in other Christian denominations. Believers baptized in the trinitarian format are incorporated into the unity of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church works with other Christian denominations to come together in unity. Music helps facilitate this goal because music has universal appeal. Both Protestants and Catholics enjoy spiritual songs.

Creates an Event to Invite Others

Catholic parish life is commonly devoid of outreach activities. I read a tweet once that said, “can we decide whether the Mass is welcoming or not. If not, can we have community events.” A major liturgical divide among Catholics centers on the question, should the Mass be accessible to outsiders? If you answer yes then you change the liturgy to be appealing to outsiders. This is the main argument in the book, Rebuilt by Father White. However, if the Mass is for baptized Catholics then when and where do we invite our non-Catholic friends. A Night of worship with adoration makes the Catholic faith accessible to the outsider.

Catholics Get to Hear Music that Reflects Their Values

So much of Christian music is written by Protestant artists. They may share our faith in Christ. Yet they often don’t acknowledge or understand sacramental theology or Marian devotion. Therefore, whenever possible Catholics should support the artist that uphold these values. Unfortunately, Catholics only know hymns and not contemporary music.

Conclusion

In short, I think the 177 project and Adoration artist offer good contributions to the Church. I hope Catholics will come together and worship regardless of parish affiliation.

Why Praise and Worship is Important to Catholics

Left side is man raising hands praising and right side is a church choir practicing

Introduction

Catholics tend to criticize praise and worship music. I’ve heard it described as sappy emotionalism that has no place in worship. Catholic rightfully criticize its presence in Mass. Yet, praise and worship may have a legitimate place in Catholic spirituality. St. Paul speaks of spiritual songs in Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God

According to this verse, we are to keep the words of Christ in us. St. Paul offers two ways of doing so by teaching and admonishing each other and through singing. According to Paul, we are to sing: 1. Psalms, 2. Hymns, and 3. Spiritual songs. Most Catholics are familiar with singing Psalms and hymns because it happens at Mass. Yet, I’m sure the concept of spiritual songs would confuse most Catholics. I argue that hymns are distinct from Spiritual songs. I also argue that one needs both in order to “let the word of God dwell in us.” Praise and worship songs fall under the category of spiritual songs. I will use both spiritual songs and praise and worship interchangeably. First, I need to explain the difference between Hymns and Spiritual songs.

What are hymns

Hymns are a piece of music that the church uses to give glory to God. In a Catholic context, a piece of music qualifies as a hymn when it also qualifies as Sacred Music. A hymn qualifies when it is: 1. Holy, 2. Has beauty of form and 3. Is universal.1 Traditionally the church only allowed for Gregorian chant and Polyphony. Since Vatican II, the church has allowed newer composition. Newer compositions do not automatically include modern songs. To understand why we need to understand the philosophy behind beauty of forms.

The criteria that allow Forms to be Beautiful 2

The philosophy of Thomas Aquinas helps define these criteria. If you hate philosophy, you may want to skip this section as the concept can get pretty confusing. Aquinas stated that a person conceptualizes beauty. A person bases beauty on actuality, proportion, radiance, and integrity.

Actuality

Aquinas argues that everything is beautiful in proportion to its own form. Every object that exists has a form. A form helps distinguish different objects. For example, the body of a human takes a different shape than the body of a dog. When a human possesses all the correct body parts, that is beautiful according to form. The object must have action. In other words, the object must be doing a thing that makes it different from other objects. A dog must be acting like a dog. A human must be acting like a human. So to summarize, actuality requires existence, a form, and action. All this is necessary for anything to have beauty.

Proportion

This pertains to the idea that all the parts relate to the whole in a balanced way. Going back to our human example again. We can imagine a human with all the typical body parts, but those parts are out of proportion. For example, if one arm is longer than the body, then it would be impractical and not beautiful.

Radiance

Radiance refers to the shine that comes from the object and seizes the attention of the beholder. Music has radiance when it captures the attention of the listener.

Integrity

An object has integrity in two ways. The object must be perfect concerning it’s being. Likewise, the object must be perfect in operation. In other words, the object is not missing anything.

Hymns conclusion

So, Aquinas laid the groundwork to argue for an objective nature of beauty. So the church states reference the above criteria to determine beauty of form. If an object has beauty of form then it will have universality. Holiness refers to the purpose of the music, which is to give glory to God alone. So a perfect hymn must honor God, be beautiful to everyone. At the very least it must honor God and be in harmony like choir music.

Are praise and worship considered spiritual songs

These are songs inspired by the Holy Spirit. They are spontaneous and have no proportionality. They incorporate multiple instruments. Modern praise and worship music incorporates all of these characteristics. One such example would be Bethel, who will often sing spontaneously. They also create a mashup of two different songs. Catholic artist also performs this style of music. One artist that comes to mind is Emmanuel worship. Some people will mention that praise and worship are repetitive and emotional. This serves the purpose of spiritual songs. Spiritual songs help us reflect on God and his relationship with us. Hymns on the other hand help give God honor and praise. Thus spiritual songs are more meditative. Repeating over and over that God is a good father may sound simplistic, but it helps internalize the truth.

Conclusion

My frustration as of late stems from Catholics wanting to have their cake and eat it too. Some want traditional chants and to look down on praise and worship. Others want the mass to incorporate praise and worship. The songs may not be appropriate to function as a hymn. The former while correct denies the power of praise and worship. The latter waters down the Mass. I would like to see a balance. I would like to see beautiful harmonized music during Mass. The church can also have monthly spontaneous worship events. Yes, I can listen to praise and worship in my own time. Yet, there is something exuberant about worshiping spontaneously with the body of Christ.

Why Mass under 40 Min?

Why Mass under 40 Min, Pope Francis’ unusual request

Introduction

I attend the 9am Sunday mass on 9/16/18. I got out at 10:05am. I guess I should alert my bishop. My parish is refusing to adhere to Pope Francis’ guidelines about the Mass. Cindy Wood, Catholic News Service’s Rome Bureau Chief, tweeted out the following:

#PopeFrancis in Sicily garners big applause when he says a homily shouldn’t last more than 8 minutes. “A 40-minute homily? NO. The whole Mass should last about 40 minutes!

When I saw this, my blood began to boil. This tweet gave me the inspiration to address the elephant in the room. Why is there a pervasive apathy in Catholic culture to the Mass?

This apathy stems from two intertwined issues. First, the Mass as an obligation and second a lack of understanding about the point behind Mass.

Mass as Obligation

I must admit there are days, where I do not want to attend Sunday Mass. I find it especially hard when I have not slept well or I do not feel well. Yet I choose to still attend, why? Sometimes I feel guilty. However, the guilt is not because I would be neglecting an obligation imposed on me by the church. Rather my guilt is the same response I would have if I neglected a friend. Mass is one of the only times Jesus gets to feed me through his word and body. Just like you wouldn’t want to rush time spent with a friend, why do you want to rush spending time with Jesus.

Yet so many Catholics attend Mass out of obligation. They attend because it is something they’ve always done or because they are afraid of sinning. Now fear of hell is not necessarily a bad reason. After all, fear of hell is an important motivator for imperfect contrition. Yet we should strive for perfect contrition or the idea that we can motivate ourselves out of pure love for God. We should strive to attend Mass out of pure love for God. If that is our motivation then we should be able to spend at least an hour with God.

Protestant Experience

As a convert, I attended Protestant worship services. The top criticisms I heard about those services from Catholics is that 1. They express interest in entertainment only and 2. The attitude of the people are fake. In response to the latter, I know from my own personal experience that I did not fake my attitude. I was genuinely happy to be there. I think a major difference was that I actively chose to be there. I didn’t need it. Most Protestant churches either live stream their services or record it. One does not need to attend to hear the message. If so, then why do so many people attend. I know for myself I attended for the community; I felt like the church wanted me.

Shortening the Mass to 40 minutes is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Catholics need to reclaim a desire for the liturgy and community. Shortening the Mass may make it more convenient, but it will not change hearts. Catholics need to feel like they’re wanted at church. They need to feel like Church is feeding them.

The dual purpose of Mass

The church divides Mass into two parts: The Liturgy of The Word, and The Liturgy of The Eucharist. During the Liturgy of the Word, The lector reads scripture and the priest gives the homily. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist one brings up the gifts. Then, the priest consecrates the host. Finally The extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist distribute the host to the faithful. The priest gives the homily from the ambo and consecrates from the altar. The ambo and the altar represent the two tables by which the church feeds faithful. Hence the point of mass is to feed on the word of God and the Eucharist

The Homily

The Homily assists in the overarching goal of Mass. According to the General Instructions on the Roman Missal,

“Although in the readings from Sacred Scripture the Word of God is addressed to all people of whatever era and is understandable to them, a fuller understanding and a greater efficaciousness of the word is nevertheless fostered by a living commentary on the word, that is, by the Homily, as part of the liturgical action.”

Thus the homily offers a living commentary. This commentary includes a reflection on all the readings, not just the gospels. Priests have the responsibility to present us with this commentary regardless of time-constants. I would rather hear a well-researched well-articulated- passionate long homily, than a short 8-minute reflection. We, as Catholics, should not concern ourselves with the length of the homily. Rather, we should ask does it speak the truth, does it help me understand the scriptures, and does it convict.

Conclusion

The tweet reminded me of the story in Acts 20:9-10

“And a certain young man named Eutychus, seated by the window, was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell from the third story and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, threw himself on the young man, and embraced him. “Do not be alarmed!” he said. “He is still alive!”…”

I wonder if Pope Francis would criticize St. Paul. His homilies were so long that a parishioner fainted out a window and died. We need to have a hunger and desire for the word of God. We need to demand living commentary regardless of how long they take.

The Charismatic Renewal: The Unique History

The Charismatic Renewal: The Unique History

Introduction

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The Bible describes miraculous encounters with the divine. These include healing, proclamation, visions, and speaking in tongues. Yet a person living the modern Christian life does not experience these events. Christians often fail to have a divine encounter with God and fail to exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The sacramental life provides empowerment to Catholics. It strengthens them to live as Priest, Prophet, and King. Likewise, The sacraments increase love, joy, peace patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, and self-control. Catholics should read scripture and spiritual books. One should do spiritual activities not out of obligation, but out of a growing love for God. Sadly so many Catholics live their faith out of obligation. The Charismatic Renewal began with the genuine desire to revitalize the church. The Renewal seeks to promote spiritual works as in the book of Acts

Reception

Most Catholics do not understand the Renewal. To outsiders, it appears as a weird group of people with bad taste in music. They come together to “speak in tongues” and undermine the church’s authority. Others describe it as another way protestant influence has seeped into the church. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the subsequent movement is not Catholic.

I will explore the Renewal in two parts: The History, and Nature.

History of the Charismatic Renewal

The beginning

The Renewal began at Duquesne University. It had focused on the book of Acts. The professors had already experienced the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” They had shared their testimony. The students had decided to pray “Veni Spritus” at the conclusion of the retreat. As they were praying, the students began to experience the Holy Spirit’s presence.

The Spread

After the Duquesne retreat, the word began to spread about the “Baptism of The Holy Spirit.” Today, the movement has spread to 238 countries and 100 million Catholics1. Despite the rapid growth, certain people questioned the legitimacy of the movement. Some Catholics questioned how Baptism of the Holy Spirit co-existed with Catholic theology

Papel endorsement

Both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II supported the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Pope Paul VI stated,

the miracle of Pentecost should continue in history’ . . . How could this ‘spiritual renewal’ not be ‘good fortune’ for the Church and the world?”1

He saw The Charismatic Renewal as an extension of Pentecost. He reaffirmed the idea that Pentecost was not a one time experience in history. Rather Pentecost is a lived experience that should continue.

Pope John Paul spoke about the Renewal in 1979. He stated that

I am convinced that this movement is a sign of the Spirit’s action . . . a very important component in the total renewal of the Church.”1

Hence, Pope John Paul II saw the Renewal as one of the main components in the overall renewal of the Church.

Not only did the papacy give their opinions on the topic, but so did The U.S bishops. The bishops released a document called, Grace for a New Springtime, published in 1997. It affirmed the renewal.1

Despite the above affirmation, Catholics still question the Renewal’s legitimacy. Often Catholics think of the movement as a separate devotion. Thus they fail to understand the nature of the Charismatic Movement. It’s unique nature separates it from other ecclesiastical communities.

The Nature of The Charismatic Renewal

Personal experience

Charles Whitehead describes The Charismatic Renewal as

a personal experience of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who brings alive in new ways the graces of our baptism. The Holy Spirit not only sets on fire all that we have already received but comes again in power to equip us with his gifts for service and mission.2

Most Catholics object to the idea of bringing the graces of baptism to life. It seems to deny the efficiency of the sacraments. However, a person’s spiritual muscle may become weakened. One may require an additional encounter with the Holy Spirit to make the muscle useful again.

This makes The Charismatic Renewal, less of a moment, and more of the work of The Holy Spirit.

Common Characteristics

Despite being the work of the Holy Spirit, a genuine pattern begins to emerge. Charismatic communities typically have no formal structure or hierarchy. These communities associated with one another by relationships. They know that they are all members of the larger church community. These communities offer diversity. This diversity exists, not only in membership but also in the types of ministries offered. All communities strive to experience the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. The communities differ in their execution of this goal.2

Two modes of being Charismatic

The term “Charismatic” can denote either the work of the Holy Spirit or the communities itself. The former refers to the ways in which the Holy Spirit is bringing about the renewal of the Church. The communities, on the other hand, refer to organizations within the church. These organizations “emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit. Their role entails being a reminder and witness in the Church of the importance of the Holy Spirit.”3. A person can have had an encounter with The Holy Spirit and not be a member of a charismatic community. However, there are “special graces for those who affirm membership in communities.

Conclusion

A ‘Charismatic’ person is one, who claims to have had a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit. The Charismatic renewal has emerged to make this encounter a reality. Vatican II stresses that the church is both hierarchical and charismatic. Thus, the Charismatic Renewal helps strengthen and renew Catholic theology. Every Catholic must grow in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This growth can only come through an encounter with the Holy Spirit.

Caution These Stereotypical Labels We Use Destroy Unity

Caution These Stereotypical Labels We Use Destroy Unity

Introduction

Labels and stereotypes are funny things. People use them in-jokes to make fun of a person different than them. Sometimes people create true stereotypes. Yet most of the time, People create stereotypes based on exaggeration. One can use labels to divide or put down. Even in the Catholic Church, one uses labels to create division. The Catholic Church’s appeals to unity. Yet. the Church divides through labels such as traditional, Charismatic, or cafeteria. The essence of Catholic spirituality is both traditional and charismatic

Personal experience with labels

In my own life, I don’t fit into the cookie-cutter boxes that social media wants to place me in. Am I Charismatic because I’ve had a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit? Am I tradition because I desire to adhere to the liturgical guidelines of the church. Catholics might label me because I appreciate the vast artistic tradition of the church? I question a church’s liturgical practice, Catholics label me a hater and Pharisee. I lift my hands to pray or speak about a personal relationship with Jesus, Catholics label me Charismatic. For these reasons, I want to explore each label. I’ve already discussed what the label charismatic means. In this post, I am going to define what it means to be a traditional Catholic.

The Stereotypical Characteristics of a Traditional Catholic

1. An adherence to one liturgical style

Traditional Catholic can describe someone who prefers and attends an extraordinary form Mass. For those who don’t know, the extraordinary form mass refers to a mass celebrated before Vatican II. The council of Vatican II revised the liturgy to be more receptive to the modern world.

Changes in the Liturgy

The most profound change was the transition from Latin to the vernacular. Those, who attend the Extraordinary Form liturgy, still hear the scripture readings in Latin. The second change was the cycle of readings. Those who attend Novus Ordo hear more scripture and sometimes different scripture. Priest faces the congregation in Novus Ordo as opposed to facing the tabernacle in the extraordinary form. Lastly, the Novus Ordo reinstates the sign of peace. In *Novus Ordo*, the laity takes an active role including the distributing of the Eucharist.

Misconception

Since most traditionalists have a deep appreciation for the Mass, most resist change. They would like to see a liturgy that contained pre-Vatican II elements. However, one cannot assume that a traditional Catholic must attend an extraordinary form mass. For me at least, it’s not a matter of the form, Novus Ordo is fine. Rather, I have a problem with blatant liturgical abuses.

2. Cares more about the rules rather than Mercy

Often times traditional Catholics and modern day Pharisees go hand in hand. Traditional Catholics care more about the letter of the law rather than making people feel welcome. People often cite,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.- Mathew 23:24

I know that I’ve been guilty of this argument. I used to think that silent sanctuaries were cold and uninviting. But, the longer I stay Catholic, the more I begin to appreciate the respect and reverence. This seems missing from Novus Ordo parishes. We should heed the advice of Jesus and not neglect the respect and reverence due to the Eucharist while still practicing love for neighbor.

3. Nit-picky

Sometimes understanding and articulating the rules comes across as nit-picky. Some people object to the frustration with hand-holding during our father as a nit-picky complaint. However, hand holding introduces a new liturgical gesture into the Mass. In order to introduce a new gesture into the Mass, the council of bishops must approve it by 2/3rd vote. The hand holding gesture has not received the necessary support from the bishops. Thus most traditionalist would argue that one should not hold hands. In my own view, I feel that while one should not hold hands, silence regarding the proper posture leaves room for change. However, as a traditional Catholic, I desire that change comes from the proper authority.

4. Hater of Vatican II

While extreme traditional Catholics exist that deny the legitimacy of Vatican II, I welcome the changes. I believe that reading scripture and having personal participation is important. Vatican II helped open up the church to the modern age and helps promote ecumenicalism. I do object to the “spirit of Vatican II,” which priest used as an excuse to introduce liturgical abuses. In other words, Vatican II is not a problem, rather the implementation is problematic.

Conclusion

Thus, a traditional Catholic as myself possess the following

  1. Loyal to the Catholic Church and the teachings of the Magisterium

     

  2. Lives the life according to The teachings of the Church

  3. admires the beauty of the rich history of the Church

The reality is that all Catholics are called to uphold the traditions of the Catholic Church and to care about the liturgy. Labeling a person, “traditional” due to liturgical preference undermines this call. As someone, who doesn’t fit into these categories, I want to know that I am a part of the Universal Church. We should be uniformly Catholic and not destroy unity through the labeling of the other.

Faith In The Midst of Scandal

Faith In The Midst of Scandal

Introduction

If you followed me on social media, you would see that I have not posted anything regarding the sexual abuse scandal. I have not posted not because I am not confused, angry, frustrated, sad, and disappointed. Rather, I could find the words to express my thoughts. Others have posted on the issue and I felt that my voice would be a repetitive clanging cymbal echoing their sentiments. However St. Gregory the Great once said,

“It is better that scandals arise than the truth be suppressed.”

Hence I will no longer keep silent on this issue; I will express my confusion, anger, sadness, and disappointment

Confusion leading up to the scandal

The application of Amoris Laetitia confused me. I struggled to understand the intercommunion statement given by the German bishops. When Pope Francis made the death penalty inadmissible, I began to question. Yet I continued to trust that the Holy Spirit would guide Church’s magisterium. I continued to believe that these events were an evolution of understanding.

Confusion turned to anger

My confusion turned to anger when I heard about Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual abuse. After I read the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, I became disappointed and sad. Then it went from bad to worse. The media released Viganò”s testimony.

Amidst the onslaught of emotions, I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “Why has the Vatican been so silent”. My second instinct was to run, to leave and never look back.

But The Lord Spoke

As I went to my Friday’s adoration hour, partly out of habit, As I prayed for the Church, the Lord spoke:

People are running away because they can’t love my bride. She may be a prostitute, but I am redeeming her, just like I’m redeeming you.

For like-minded confused and angry Catholic like me, I offer the following advice

Pray and Know the Word of God

We are fighting against darkness and evil in the church and in our lives. Thus, we need to allow prayer and the Word of God to equip us to put on the armor of God.

If you are a victim or know a victim, then it will be hard to view God as a just and loving father. Here the beauty of the Church shines. You need not say something original, you can recite rote prayers such as the rosary. The key is constancy.

We also need to know the word of God. St. Paul in Ephesians describes it as a sword. It is our only weapon. We need to know what it says, not only to hold ourselves accountable but others as well.

Go to Adoration

Jesus is there waiting in the monstrance for you. When describing the Blessed Sacrament, St John Mary Vianney once said,

I just look at him and he looks at me

I always feel more at peace after my holy hour.

Channel Your Righteous Anger

You are angry. You have every right to be angry. Yet, what you do with that anger will define you as a person. Anger is an emotion. After all, Jesus had righteous anger at the money changers, who defiled his church, but it cannot rule over us or consume us.

”Correction given in anger, however, tempered by reason, never has so much effect as that which is given altogether without anger; for the reasonable soul being naturally subject to reason, it is a mere tyranny which subjects it to passion, and whereinsoever reason is led by passion it becomes odious, and its just rule obnoxious.” St. Francis de Sales

The laity needs to correct The Church. This correction is much more effective without anger.

Instead of demanding Pope Francis to resign, we should put our energy and effort into demanding a release of the documents and independent investigations. We need to demand a statement of contrition from all leader. Furthermore, continuously strive for the virtue of persistence.

Practically speaking, one can write to church leadership especially your bishop. They need to know how we feel and how the scandal effects us. The Sienna project offers letter templets as well as bishop addresses to make it easier to write your own letter.

Join a Lay Ecclesial Community

A lay ecclesial community consists of Catholic lay people, who come together to

“strive in a common endeavor to foster a more perfect life, to promote public worship or Christian doctrine, or to exercise other works of the apostolate such as initiatives of evangelization, works of piety or charity, and those which animate the temporal order with a Christian spirit.”1

These communities exist outside of the church’s hierarchy. Lay-led communities, are not a substitute for Mass but can help combat loneliness and despair.

Conclusion

It is hard to have faith as a Catholic, but it is even harder to have faith in the midst of a scandal. We must remember that the devil comes to seek, kill, and destroy, but Jesus comes to give life. We must place our faith, hope, and trust in Jesus. We must demand that The Church act justly so that Christ may transform his bride. We, the laity, must persevere in holiness, putting on the armor of God wielding faith and truth. Faith and truth come from prayer and knowing the word of God. We should strive to build lay driven faith communities. Theses communities function as places of renewal.


  1. Card. Stanisław Ryłko, “Preface,” in Directory of Associations, Published by the Pontifical Council for the Laity 

Liturgy: How to restore Balance:

Last week I attended a potluck with New Creation Charismatic Fraternity.  While at the potluck I struck up an interesting conversation with a fellow convert to the Catholic faith. He, being much older than I, shared with me some insightful commentary on the liturgy. He made the statement that as a high Episcopalian he feels he has downgraded in terms of liturgical quality. This statement comes as no surprise to me; however, it makes me sad. How is it that the Catholic Church known for its beautiful art and music produce such mediocre liturgies; the likes of which causes my friend to feel as if he has downgraded? 

Liturgy as a play

We can imagine the liturgy as like a play. If we went to a play with ugly props, and a bad score,  you would either leave or demand a refund. Yet so many people attend parishes that either have tacky decorations from the 70’s (felt banners anyone?) or no decorations at all. We attend parishes, where the music is bad and uninspired.  If the liturgy were a play, we should demand our money back. Luckily for parishes, the liturgy is not on equal footing with a play. One does not attend for entertainment value, but to receive the nourishment that comes from partaking in the Eucharist. However, even though entertainment is not our ultimate goal, reverence does demand a certain quality to the liturgy that I feel is lacking from today’s parishes. For that reason, I seek to address two questions: why should we care about the liturgy and what would my ideal liturgy look like?

What is the liturgy and why is it important?

Introduction

One of my blog readers wrote in the comments, “as long as Christ and unamended Scripture are at the center, I’m less concerned if the music comes from a little blue-haired lady at an organ or a bearded dude playing an electric guitar wearing skinny jeans.” This begs the question, aren’t certain aspects of the liturgy culturally subjective? Why should we care what the music sounds like or what the sanctuary looks like as long as the Mass is valid?

Licit verse valid: what is the difference.

I’ve gone over valid and licit in the past, but I will provide a brief recap. A valid Mass is one in which the priest says the words necessary for the bread and the wine to be consecrated. These words are: this is my body…this is my blood. A licit mass is one in which none of the rules outlined in the General Instructions of the Roman Missal are violated. These rules allow the liturgy to be uniformly celebrated. A uniformed liturgy separates Catholicism from Evangelical Protestantism. Hence as Catholics, we have a right to demand a universal experience not depended on the whims of the congregation or the preferences of the priests. 

Liturgy and our Christian call

Not only is the liturgy defined by the church, but it also encompasses our call as Christians.

Those who with God’s help have welcomed Christ’s call and freely responded to it are urged on by love of Christ to proclaim the Good News everywhere in the world. This treasure, received from the apostles, has been faithfully guarded by their successors. All Christ’s faithful are called to hand it on from generation to generation, by professing the faith, by living it in fraternal sharing, and by celebrating it in liturgy and prayer. (The Catechism of the Catholic church, “prologue” section I paragraph 4 pg. 8)  

The Catechism cites Acts 2:42 as a reference. This scripture states that “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to prayer.” The Catholic Church seeks to retain the practice of the early church through its liturgy. Every liturgy contains the reading of scripture, including a reading from the apostles typically Paul. Every liturgy includes prayer; those said by the priest and those recited by the faithful. Every liturgy contains the breaking of the bread through the shared eucharistic meal.

Christian Liturgy has dual dimensions 

The Catechism describes the tension present in the liturgy.

On the one hand, the Church, united with her Lord and “in the Holy Spirit,”5 blesses the Father “for his inexpressible gift in her adoration, praise, and thanksgiving. On the other hand, until the consummation of God’s plan, the Church never ceases to present to the Father the offering of his own gifts and to beg him to send the Holy Spirit upon that offering, upon herself, upon the faithful, and upon the whole world, so that through communion in the death and resurrection of Christ the Priest, and by the power of the Spirit, these divine blessings will bring forth the fruits of life “to the praise of his glorious grace.. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The sacramental economy,” part two section one paragraph 1083, pg 281.) 

One one hand the liturgy is meant to be a joyous occasion where we give adoration, thanksgiving, and praise to God. On the other hand, it is meant to be a sacrifice in which we offer ourselves to God. Thus the liturgy should be a balance of both exuberance and solemness. It is this balance that seems missing in today’s liturgies.

Restoring balance: my ideal Liturgy

Sacred Art

 First thing I would do is restore the use of sacred art. The Catechism defines sacred art as being true and beautiful when,

its form corresponds to its particular vocation: evoking and glorifying, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery of God.

The current trend to remove art means that our churches no longer testify to the mysteries of God. I would like to note two things: depictions are not idolatry and art can’t replace evangelization.

Depictions of Jesus are not Idolatry

It is a common misconception that depictions of the divine constitute idolatry. We as Catholics understand that Christ’s incarnation means that we are free to detect God through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus alluded to this himself when he declared, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the son of man must be lifted up.”John 3:14 For those not familiar with the Old Testament story Jesus references, the Israelites were suffering from snake bites due to their disobedience. God took pity on them and instructed Moses to build a bronze serpent. The Israelites were instructed to look at the serpent to be healed. This story shows that statues and icons are not idolatry in themselves, but only when they take the place of worship owed to God. 

Sacred Art Doesn’t Equal Evangelization

I disagree with those who claim that fallen away Catholics will return by the revitalization of beautiful churches or that the dwindling church attendance correlates to a lack of art. If this were the case, the cathedrals in Europe would be full and the warehouse churches would be empty. I do not think art should be used as an evangelization tool, rather I believe good art sets the tone and brings people to the truth.

Embrace digital art

I also think that the church needs to expand its definition of art to encompass web design and communications and multimedia. This would include print media. Church lobbies should not look like a bad kid’s craft project nor should bulletins contain clip art instead of pictures. Free software such as Canva can help design beautiful bulletins.   

Sacred music

Next, I would work with the music director to focus on quality music. The next time you go to Mass, I want you to focus on the date of every song used. Depending on your parish, you may get songs from the 1800’s or earlier or every song will be from the 1970’s and 80’s. I’ve always wondered why.  It seems that there has been no innovation in Catholic music since the 70’s. If you do get more current songs, it is usually from Protestant composers or Matt Maher. We need more innovation. 

Not only do we need more innovation, but we need to stop focussing on the type and style of music and focus on intent. The Catechism states that,

Song and music fulfill their function as signs in a manner all the more significant when they are “more closely connected . . . with the liturgical action,”22 according to three principal criteria: beauty expressive of prayer, the unanimous participation of the assembly at the designated moments, and the solemn character of the celebration. In this way, they participate in the purpose of the liturgical words and actions: the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful.

Contrary to popular opinion, the church does not require a specific form of music. The church does hold chant and polyphony in high esteem; however, it’s much more important that,

      1. the song fosters participation
      2. It expresses prayer
      3.  fits what is occurring in the liturgy
        1. As much as you may like an upbeat song, it is not appropriate for the moment of consecration 

For example, you may have a beautiful latin polyphony song, but if no one is singing then it fails on equal merits as a loud contemporary worship song that everyone knows.

Bring latin back

Lastly, I would bring back latin chanting for the following songs,\

      1. Kyrie
      2. Gloria 
      3. Santus
      4. Angus dei

We need to blend traditional music from our Catholic heritage with newer styles when appropriate, to invest in musical innovation and to compose hymns for this generation. 

Fellowship

I’ve been to parishes that make fellowship a priority. They are exuberant, loud, and noisy. Everyone greets each other, and they know when you are missing. Conversely, I’ve been to a church that prioritized silence. Nobody greats you, or knows your name; however, there are plenty of opportunities for contemplation and prayer. I personally think both are out of balance. Catholics seem to think that sacred silence means no fellowship. It’s a me and Jesus mentally. For these Catholics, the needs of the community are not important. I think if not kept in check this attitude can overvalue ritualistic formality over the messiness of community. For example, An elderly women consumed by praying her rosary fails to acknowledge the new person besides her. Now praying the rosary before mass is a good thing; however, loving your neighbor is the higher good. I purpose the following to achieve balance:

I would like to see the sanctuary become a silent zone. Having ushers stand outside the sanctuary door could achieve the establishment of a silent zone. They could politely tell people to please enter respectfully. On the flip side, I want to transform Catholic Narthex to look more like Protestant church’s lobbies. There should be a maned welcome desk, where newcomers can get information. There should be lounge spaces for Catholics to fellowship and a coffee bar available after mass. Parish staff should have name tags. Greeters should be at the front door of the church, welcoming everyone. Catholic parishioners should not be afraid to greet new people. 

Conclusion

I was inspired to write this post due to a series of tweets posted by Katie Prejean McGrady: https://twitter.com/KatiePrejean/status/10239663298025144320 

In this conversation, she describes how “we could argue that we don’t go to Mass to just build community but to receive the Eucharist. But the community is important too.” I think American parishes are in desperate need of balance.

Evangelization Barriers: a call for messy authentic Christianity

New Evangelization

The Pope has called for a New Evangelization or a re-evangelization, where we win back those fallen away Catholics. Cradle Catholics are not equipped for this type of evangelization and most parishes are not equipped either. The reason has to do with the walls we built around us, and our reluctance to leave our fortified parishes to embrace the other. Bishop Barron, in Getting out of the Sacristy  writes about how parish life needs to be revitalized to focus on missional oriented activities rather than existing parish structures. Gone are the days where we can expect people to show up. Rather than do the messy work of reaching the lost, we would rather protect our own through fostering divisive labels.

The Parable of The Lost sheep: How to Evangelize

Luke 15:1-7 gives us the parable of the lost sheep, and this parable gives us an important lesson on evangelization. In this parable, the shepherd is concerned about his lost sheep so he leaves the 99 sheep, which symbolizes the righteous Pharisees and goes to the lost sheep, the sinner. There is a lot to unpack here, but I think that when we use labels to describe one another, we put us in the righteous Pharisee camp.

Three labels commonly used

When I think about the Catholic church I think three labels come to mind, Traditional Catholic, Charismatic Catholic, liberal Catholic. Let us break each one down.

Traditional Catholic

The traditional Catholic prefers pre-Vatican II style worship and attends Latin Mass exclusively. At best these persons care deeply for the liturgy and reverence that it deserves. I think a desire to preserve the traditions of the Catholic church is a well-intentioned noble goal and a worthwhile pursuit. The more I learn about Catholicism, the more I went the incense, the chanting, and the beauty of more traditional churches. I think my desire comes from wanting liturgical excellence. The danger comes when we fence ourselves in and we say that the Mass is not valid and licit unless it conforms to pre-Vatican II standards. This is dangerous because the beautiful traditions of the church become a fence that prevents a person from going out into the world. Rather than engaging with other equally beautiful and valid traditions, traditional Catholics would rather label it as wrong. Also, Tradition Catholics dangerously over emphasize right practice over right belief.

Charismatic Catholics

Charismatic Catholics are completely the opposite. They emphasize obedience to the Holy Spirit and right relationship. They desire to foster an encounter with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I would say that charismatic masses have an exuberant quality to them. They emphasize scripture reading and praying for one another. Praise and worship and community are the focus. At best Charismatics help revitalize the parish by placing the focus back where it belongs, which is Jesus. They can help unlock scripture and foster community. The danger becomes when private revelation contradicts church authority. Private revelation should never take the place of church obligations. Likewise, there is the danger of emotionalism in which a person is constantly seeking the mountaintop experiences. Thus Mass becomes mundane. Because of these dangers, it is very easy for one to make the charismatic community the sole bases of their spirituality.

Liberal Catholics

The last category is liberals. These Catholics care about social justice, so much so that the oftentimes pick and choose to ignore certain teachings in favor of inclusivity. The benefit is that it reminds the church to be compassionate and merciful. The danger is that ignoring church teachings gives way to complacency, where people are not compelled to live according to the truth.

Conclusion

The reality is that the parish needs people who go beyond the labels.  The church needs to be traditionally minded to help safeguard the parish from liturgical abuses and to help safeguard the traditions of the church. The parish needs to be Charismatic because the parish needs to be reminded that God is still working, is still performing miracles, and is still speaking outside the sacraments. The parish needs to be liberal because the church needs to balance mercy with justice and to always show compassion. Furthermore, we need to have all three types as our spirituality. Rather we should break down the labels and be authentically Catholic. To do that though requires us to be uncomfortable and messy. When we accept and love each other, we can embrace and love those who have walked away.

Church Infallibility: Does Corruption Limit Authority?

Dear readers, I apologize for not posting last week; life became crazy.

Church Infallibility: Does Corruption Limit Authority?

So I was talking to my mom the other day regarding my recent blog post about the dancing snakes. She says that even if she buys that Jesus gave the disciples authority to define the church doctrine; this authority became corrupt after popes began to behave immorally. My mom like so many other fallen away Catholics, question the doctrine of church infallibility. It is here that I would like to make an analogy.

School analogy: Why behavior does not affect the truth

Let’s say that you have a math teacher. He teaches you the basic principles of math correctly, but you find out later that he behaved immorally such as molesting children. You wouldn’t deny that he taught you true math principles because you can verify independently the truth of these principles and you can see that society has historically held the truth of these principles. Similarly, the church can teach historically held truths about faith and morals regardless of the outward behavior.

Some would argue that this analogy breaks down because unlike math principles, faith and morals directly relate to how one should behave. Let’s tweak the analogy a bit. Let’s say that your math teacher is not a horribly immoral person, but instead can’t add numbers without a calculator.  Once again, you wouldn’t question the principles your math teacher taught; although, you may question the efficiency of the math teacher. In other words, the ability to teach does not affect the subject taught by the teacher; the subject remains true. Papel infallibility works the same way. It states that when it comes to faith and morals the Pope can teach no wrong. I would like to explore the biblical bases for this and explore how infallibility works practically.

Biblical Bases For Infallibility

Let’s start with the obvious, Mark 16:17-19.

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.

Scripture Interpretation of Mark 16:17-19

We’ve talked about this scripture before, but I want to emphasize the verse, “The gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The ‘it’ in this quote refers to the church. Now I don’t know about you, but I believe when God promises something, He keeps his word. So why would God through Jesus promise to protect his church only to allow it to be corrupted? It’s also important to note that Jesus establishes his church on a rock aka something visible. He changes Simon’s name to Peter, which in Greek means rock. In the old testament, name changes are important. For example, Abram is changed to Abraham to signify a change in God’s covenant relationship with him. Jesus is doing the same thing with Peter.

Mathew 18:18, How the Church Handles Conflict

When Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep, it is not only a moment of repentance for Peter after his denial but also strengthening the covenantal bond established in Matthew 16:17-19. This promise of authority is repeated in Matthew 18:18 and Luke 10:16. Mathew 18:18 Jesus states,

 Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.

It’s important to note the context of this passage. Here Jesus is instructing the apostles on how to handle conflict. He says that people should tell the church and listen to the church. If they don’t listen to the authority of the church they will be cut off like Gentiles and tax collectors. In verse 18 he gives context for this authority by reestablishing his promise to bind eternally what the Apostles bind on earth. In Luke 10:16, Jesus says that whoever rejects the authority of the Apostles rejects Jesus himself.

Acts 15:  A Model for the Church

The bible even provides an example of how this works. In Acts 15 we have the first recorded dispute in the church. Paul and Barnabas were arguing with certain teachers about whether the Gentiles should follow Jewish dietary restrictions. Because there was a dispute, they went up to Jerusalem to seek the opinion of the apostles. Note that they didn’t hold an individual Bible study or search the scriptures for their own interpretation nor did they establish their own church, rather they came together and formed a council and allowed Peter and James to have the final say.

It’s also important to note that Peter was not always faithful to his own teaching. In Gal 2:11-16 Paul describes how he need to correct Peter, who was not eating with the Gentiles. This goes to show that even the first pope was not immune to hypocrisy and yet Paul stills states in 1st Tim 3:15 that the church of the living God is the pillar and foundation of truth. A hypocritical action does not negate a person’s authority to teach the truth. So if Acts 15 is the model, the question remains does the church retain this model or is the pope’s infallibility unrestricted?

The Magisterium: modern day Acts 15

Sacred scripture and sacred tradition

There are three tiers of church infallibility that makes up the Magisterium. The first is Sacred scripture and sacred tradition. These are not two separate teaching but rather a single teaching under two modes. It encompasses everything the apostle’s taught either by word of mouth or by writing. This makes sense when one considers sacred scripture to be a product of tradition. An example would be establishing the canon of scripture. Even the most staunch supporters of sola scripture have to admit that the bible does not establish its own canon, rather one must rely on outside theological experts. In fact, the Catholic church established the New Testament canon in 325AD during the council of Nicaea. No proclamation can contradict sacred scripture or tradition.

Extraordinary Magisterium

The second tier of infallibility is the extraordinary Magisterium. This consists of solemn definitions by the pope or ecumenical council ratified by the pope. The most recent example would be the council of Trent, which sought to clarify Catholic teachings in light of the Protestant Reformation. This tier seeks to clarify consistently held doctrine and elevated it to dogma. For a review of the difference between Dogma and doctrine see this.

Universal Magisterium

The last tier of infallibility is the ordinary and universal Magisterium. This includes the ordinary teaching of the Church, accomplished via papal pronouncements, statements of bishops, catechisms, homilies, etc. By ordinary and universal, it means that the decision must be in agreement in time and space. In other words, you must have the agreement of all bishops and this agreement must be consistent with all the bishops throughout history. This makes it extremely hard to create brand new doctrine from a papal pronouncement or Bishop’s statement.

When assessing the Magisterium, it is important to remember that this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it with regards to faith and morals.

 

The Church as the Pillar of Truth

So to answer the question, Can the church teach faith and morals wrongly? The answer would be no because to say yes would make Jesus a liar. To say yes would mean that Jesus’ promise to protect the church from the gates of hell remains unfulfilled. To say yes, would mean that that the Magisterium has taught something that was not handed down to it. Just like math principles are handed down and taught historically, the church has been entrusted with teaching faith and morals. This began with Peter and the Council of Jerusalem and continues with the Council of Trent. Just like Peter’s hypocrisy did not stop Paul from declaring the church as a pillar of truth, we shouldn’t let people’s hypocrisy keep us from believing the truth of the Church.

Why does God care

Birth Control: a Defense of the Church’s teachings

Most opposition to church infallibility comes from an unwillingness to accept the papal pronouncements. Many Catholics struggled to accept The Encyclical Humanae Vitae mainly the teachings against birth control. We must remember that church authority extends to moral proclamations consistent with scripture and tradition. Scripture teaches and tradition concurs that marriage is a union of ‘one flesh.’ Humanae vitae merely issued moral guidance on what it means to be ‘one flesh’ and concluded that artificial contraceptives hinder a couple’s ability to become ‘one flesh.’ To conclude that the pope reached this judgment in error is to show a lack of faith in the promise Jesus gave to the church, which was to protect it from error.

Objection: no Authority Over Private Life

One objection might be that the church has no authority over private life. After all, God only cares about whether I am a good person. This couldn’t be further from the truth. God loves us and cares about every aspect of our lives. Yes, God wants us to love others, but He also wants to obey his will. God for better or worse entrusted his apostles to carry out his will and build his church. This means that the church can extend on the word of God. Scripture was not created in a vacuum but was fostered and preserved by the traditions of the church. If we trust the church to define the canon of scripture, then we also have to trust that God is continuously guiding the church when it defines other moral truths.

Imagine for a moment that we are walking a dog. The dog sees a car and wants to chase it. However, the dog is constrained by a leash. We as rational being know that the leash is for the dog’s own good and wellbeing. However, to the dog, it keeps it from being free. In a similar way, the church’s moral judgments act as a leash. We, like the dog, may not understand why we are being constrained, but out of obedience and love for our master, we learn to obey.