The Ultimate Personality Test

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Have you ever taken a personality test?  They ask you a few questions, and then “reveal” something about who you are…

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
  • Which Color Are You?
  • The 5 Love Languages (9 million copies sold)
  • Keirsey Temperament Sorter
  • Strengthsfinder 2.0 (Wall Street Journal #1 and BusinessWeek #1 bestseller)

I used to gleefully spend hours taking personality tests.  Some were even school course requirements.   While they can offer some helpful insights, personality tests can also – especially for Christians – distract us from where we should find our identity.

John the Baptist’s Test

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My fellow pilgrims walking to the site of Christ’s baptism, in Jordan.

In November 2010, I remember walking through the tall grass of the Jordanian wilderness, accompanying my fellow pilgrims to the site of Christ’s baptism.  We were privileged to trek there, rather than the typical Jordan River ‘pilgrim stop’ in Israel which is busy and developed.  Here, though, it seemed we were discovering uncharted territory.  As we walked, our shoes crushing rock and fallen foliage, and I almost expected to hear the voice of hairy, wild John the Baptist shouting, “Prepare the way for the Lord!”

On Gaudete Sunday, we read that Jewish priests and Levites tested John the Baptist about his identity. I am amazed by his disarming authenticity and self-knowledge:

He admitted and did not deny it,
but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”
So they asked him,
“What are you then? Are you Elijah?”
And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”

Three times, John affirms who he is not. Then, he answers them:

“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘make straight the way of the Lord,’

as Isaiah the prophet said.”

I wonder if John’s mother, Elizabeth, ever told him the story of his name.  He would know that instead of being named after his father, זְכַרְיָה – meaning “YHWH has remembered” – the Lord sent an angel to ensure that John would be named יוֹחָנָן – “YHWH is gracious”.

God wanted John’s name to say something: That he was sent to call people toward repentance and conversion.  John prepared the way for Jesus, who would eat with sinners, forgive them, and die for them, revealing that God is gracious.  John’s entire life was directed toward preparing people for Jesus’ coming.

Hence, John found his identity in his relationship to Jesus, and to his fellow man: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.'”

Discovering Who We Are

From John, we learn that the ultimate personality test consists of two simple questions:  What is my relationship to Jesus Christ?  How does that inform my relationships with other people?

Pope Benedict XVI once said, “The Christian rediscovers his true identity in Christ […] In identifying with him, in being one with him, I rediscover my personal identity…” Benedict also taught us in his encyclical Charity in Truth, “As a spiritual being, the human creature is defined through interpersonal relations. The more authentically he or she lives these relations, the more his or her own personal identity matures. It is not by isolation that man establishes his worth, but by placing himself in relation with others and with God. Hence these relations take on fundamental importance.”

This Advent and Christmas, take time to rediscover your true identity. Consider journaling or sitting in silence to reflect:

  • How did my relationship with Jesus begin? How has it grown?
  • How would I describe my relationship with Jesus today?  (Who is Jesus to me?)
  • How has Jesus transformed my relationship with others?
  • In what ways might Jesus be calling me to be more authentic in my relationship with Him?  In my relationships with others?

Thank you, Lord Jesus – for becoming human, for being gracious, and for showing me who I truly am.  Amen.

Wake Up the World!

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“Anglers”, Raol Dufy

“Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.’” Matthew 4:19
“Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” Acts 8:4

What is at the heart of Pope Francis’ decree to “Wake up the world”?…..Evangelism! But what does that mean? I submit that Evangelism is found not only in formal preaching but, more dynamically, in the common lay person – you and me – informally chatting with our friends, neighbors, strangers at home, in the grocery store, at work, on a walk. Everywhere, speaking enthusiastically about the good news, sincerely and with conviction…thus being taken seriously.

Evangelism, at its core, is nomadic. At its heartbeat is a community of scattered saints, men and women on the move, going forth to spread the net of the gospel into the waters where unbelievers swim.

Isn’t that the way it was “in the beginning,” when the apostles scattered to the four winds and every follower of Christ was viewed as being in full-time ministry; a time when each believer saw their workplace and neighborhood as their designated mission field? There is no greater service in life than becoming a fisher of men, but that can only happen by frequenting their waters.

Water is often used in scripture as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit. “He who believes in Me (as the Scripture has said) out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” And the Holy Spirit can and will use each of us as His personal suit of clothes through whom He can serve others. He can look through our eyes, hear through our ears, think with our mind, speak with our tongues, walk with our feet and, most of all, love through our hearts.

Next time you say a prayer, watch how Holy Spirit answers that prayer, more times than not, through another person. Someone says just the thing you need to hear, offers you a helping hand, or spontaneously shows up with the very thing that you need. When that happens, I like to point out to that person that they were just the instrument of the Holy Spirit in answering my prayer.

You don’t have to look further than you and me to see how God weaves His blessings in the world. That is why we are laity – so we can be in the world and change the world from within.

So…”Wake up, wake up, shine His light on a weary world!”

Advent, Beauty, and Salvation

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“Immaculate Conception,” Matthew Alderman

In his book Spiritual Passages, the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel, OFM Cap, (may he rest in ambrosial peace), notes that people tend to be attracted to God by way of four transcendental values: beauty, truth, goodness, and unity. Everyone naturally delights in these, but each is oriented toward God with different emphases on each value.

Some find peace most of all in God’s ability to draw all things to himself (unity), while others are taken primarily by the authenticity of God as Truth, etc. But Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the foremost influential theologians of the last century, theorized that every person is first drawn to God as Beauty. Perhaps this is why St. Augustine wrote of his adult conversion, praying, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new”.

Whether we’re admiring a stunning piece of religious artwork, listening to a Tom Waits song, or holding a baby, beauty is the foundation of fascination. “Before the beautiful,” von Balthasar wrote, “no, not really before but within the beautiful—the whole person quivers. He not only ‘finds’ the beautiful moving; rather, he experiences himself as being moved and possessed by it.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously said (and several popes have quoted him) that “Beauty will save the world.”

Advent is here, the season of candlelit waiting. Christ rests in the warm darkness of Mary’s womb, and we try to keep indoors for long and chilly evenings. Christ was nourished by Mary’s body, protected by his mother and Joseph, who waited upon the Lord’s providence.

As dusk narrows our focus, let’s make repeated attempts to recognize beauty. And by that, I don’t mean trying to enjoy saccharine holiday specials and cloying artwork. I mean seeking out things that make faith both sweet and credible; that create a desire for other things that are good, pure, and intimate; that offer a space for us to rest, be healed, and challenged.

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“Second Dream of St. Joseph,” Daniel Mitsui

Contemplating beauty is not optional. Without it, we can’t be saved.

But if we train ourselves to ponder beauty, we can become the Church led by a Child (and a Dove), under the tender care of his Mother.

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“Mother of Turfan,” Nikolai Roerich

Finding a Home on Mount Tabor

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At the top of Mount Tabor, on the path to the Church of the Transfiguration, there is a canopy of sweet-smelling shady Eucalyptus trees that lead into a lush courtyard garden. Low and high stone walls topped with ornate iron work and cascading vines separate a patchwork of gardens full of a variety of plants and colorful flowers. Statues and garden objects dot the landscape, the most magnificent being the life-size statue of Christ on the cross bending down towards St. Francis, whom He made custodian of His Holy Land.

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All my life I have been attracted to gardens. As a child I loved collecting rocks and little statues, and as an adult living in New Orleans, I loved touring the ironwork in the French Quarter. I can spend hours at a plant nursery just looking and dreaming of my perfect garden. The garden of my dreams is always filled with ironwork, statues, and colorful flowers galore, covering the ground, filled to overflowing in pots and cascading down the side of stone walls.

As I walk the grounds at Mount Tabor, kept since the 14th Century by the Franciscan Order, I realize that I am in my dream garden. It is so beautiful and in it is everything I long to place in my garden. This beauty opens my eyes to see that at the very place where the Son of God revealed His Glory to His apostles, He is doing the same for me. Since childhood, God has placed in my heart the love for His created things, anticipating the day that my heart would transcend to the Creator Himself.

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For years, I had made no room for God, choosing instead to occupy myself with the glittery but ultimately empty places of the world. For years, now I see, that Jesus has passed through my heart without finding a place to stay. He has been waiting for me to hear His cry from Matthew 8:20, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

Overwhelmed at the revelation that God has pursued me all my life, I seek the One who has always loved me. I enter the Church of the Transfiguration, find Jesus in His Real Presence in the Tabernacle, kneel before my Creator and my Love, open the door of my heart, and invite Him in.

Sweet as Cana Wine

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In Cana of Galilee there is a small Catholic Church named after its village – Kafr Kana (Hebrew: Village of Cana). A large wedding took place here 2,000 years ago that is remembered every day in this small town with the population of Arab Christians and Muslims. That wedding is recorded in John 2:1-11. Those invited to the Wedding were Jesus and His disciple, and the mother of Jesus was there as well.

Today, the Church of Cana is an active community of families that have been worshipping at this Church for many generations. They are proud to tell visitors about their love for Christ and His mother, Mary.

The Church is built over the ancient ruins of the “wedding house” we read about in the Gospel of John. Pilgrim groups are welcome to pray in the church and couples who have received the Sacrament of Matrimony are so happy to be able to renew their wedding vows. Imagine, renewing your wedding vows with your spouse in the very place where Jesus blessed the young couple with His Presence, and provided the “good wine” for their celebration!

Tom and I have lead numerous pilgrim groups to the Holy Land and arranged for the couples in our groups to have this opportunity to renew their vows to one another in this holy place. We also join the pilgrims, and each time it is a moment of grace as we remember the very first day we looked into each other’s eyes and committed ourselves to one another in marriage. Parishioners also offer us “Cana Wine” – a sweet wine to celebrate!

Thirty six years ago, on November 25th, we entered the Sacrament of Matrimony with Christ. We were married the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. We often comment on how we thank God for finding each other.

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With Bishop Oscar Cantu after renewing our marriage vows.

The Sacrament of Marriage is so important that the Church says that the love of the husband and wife for each other should reflect the love that Christ has for His Church.

Marriage is God’s gift to us, and it is our primary vocation which must be protected. Outside of our salvation, we have no greater task than to protect our marriage, which may be God’s means to heal us and others on the way to eternal life.

Each is responsible for the salvation of the other; we can help each other get to Heaven.

It is especially in our marriage that we live out the two greatest Commandments as we read in Mark 12:28-31:

One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

If we do not love God above everything else, we will never reach our potential in loving our spouse or our children. That is by God’s design. If you are faithful to God, you will be faithful to each other and grow spiritually!

What do Catholic church buildings teach us?

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I’ve heard so many stories from Catholic converts about how they felt mysteriously drawn to Catholic church buildings, even before they knew what everything inside the buildings meant. Catholic church buildings are markedly different from other places of worship…but what does it all mean?

When I started learning the remarkable symbolism behind Catholic churches and their elements inside, I felt like I was discovering an entirely new (yet ancient) world!  Allow me to share just a taste of this with you.

“Visible churches are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible the Church living in this place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ… In this ‘house of God’ the truth and the harmony of the signs that make it up should show Christ to be present and active in this place.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 1180-81)

Beginning a Journey…

As you enter most Catholic churches, you’ll step into a “foyer” area, or a large front porch. This is called the narthex, where we transition from the outside world into the House of God. It is where liturgical processions begin. Because of its transitory nature, the narthex is also known as the galilee; reminding us of Christ’s journey to the Cross, from Israel’s Galilee area into Jerusalem.

 …To the Water, To the Ship…

As we enter the church, we dip our fingers into holy water fonts, making the Sign of the Cross over ourselves to remind us of our Baptism. Some churches have a separate baptistry area, with a large, octagonal baptismal font. Its eight sides refer to Christ’s resurrection on the eighth day (Sunday).

We often think of the next area – where people sit – as the “congregation,” or even the sanctuary.  However, the proper name is the nave, the Latin word for “ship” (think of “navy” / “naval”).  Why a ship?  The Church is the “ark of salvation,” the ship that carries us to Heaven over the stormy seas of life.  Our Pilgrim Center of Hope logo is a ship for this very reason.

Up to Jerusalem

During Mass, we see the liturgical ministers process up to the front of the building, to a place many might refer to as the “stage” or the “altar”.  This area is actually the sanctuary, from the Latin for “holy place”.  The sanctuary area is raised higher than the nave to signify…

  • The head of Christ (the nave signifies His Body, the people)
  • Mount Zion – where King David’s fortress was located, and also the location of the Upper Room where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper (instituting the Holy Eucharist)
  • Jerusalem – the location of the Jewish Temple, and of Christ’s crucifixion
  • Heaven – the “New Jerusalem” where we will celebrate the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Christ) forever

To receive Holy Communion, we always process toward the sanctuary because it reminds that we are pilgrims journeying toward Heaven.

TabernacleThe Old and the New

In the sanctuary, we see our Jewish roots married to our Christian identity.

  • TabernacleTabernacle means “tent”.  The first Jewish Tabernacle was built by the Israelites after they were freed from slavery, as God’s dwelling place among them. Our Tabernacle is an ornate “box” commonly made of precious metals, containing the Body of Christ (bread consecrated during Mass that Catholics believe becomes the real Body of Jesus Christ).
  • Sanctuary Lamp – The (often red) candle which, when lit, indicates God’s presence in the Tabernacle.  The ancient Jewish Sanctuary also contained a sanctuary lamp. It was kept just outside the Holy of Holies, the place where God dwelt.
  • Altar – The altar is no ordinary table.  Ancient Jews slaughtered an unblemished lamb on an altar as sacrifice for their sins.  Jesus came to become the Lamb of God, who was slaughtered as a sacrifice for all sins.  Today, the altar is where we offer bread and wine that become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, who is the Lamb of God.  At the altar, time and space are no barrier; by the Holy Spirit’s power, we are present at Jesus’ Crucifixion.
  • Presider’s Chair – Whereas the altar represents Christ’s priesthood, the chair represents his kingship.  In ancient writings, a seated figure was a figure of authority.  The presider’s chair is where the priest or bishop who is celebrating the Mass, sits.
  • Ambo – Represents Christ as prophet. This “podium” is where God’s word is proclaimed to the people.  It may jut out from the sanctuary into the nave, symbolizing the prophet going out to the people with God’s word.
  • Crucifix – Cross with the body of the suffering Christ. During Mass, a crucifix must be present.  It reminds us to unite ourselves to Christ’s sufferings*, and points to the reality of what is taking place on the altar during Mass.

Many modern churches lack an altar rail around the sanctuary.  This is a beautiful “table-like” rail designed as an extension of the altar.  At the altar rail, people would receive Holy Communion.  Thus, the altar rail is not designed as a mere barrier around the sanctuary; it is a table where the Banquet of the Lord is given to the people.

Earth and Heaven

Catholic churches’ beauty and art are essential to Catholic worship.  Statues, paintings, mosaics, and stained glass of the saints, angels, and Biblical scenes remind us of the family we have which spans history – past, present, future – and space – across the globe, in Purgatory, and in Heaven.  Catholic Mass is where “Earth and Heaven kiss”.  The ornamentation, marble, precious metals, jewels, etc., communicate this supernatural reality.

God does not need our beautiful things.  Yet, from the beginning of Judeo-Christian history, God has asked us to make sacrifices and create beautiful religious articles / structures.  Why?  Our physical, human nature needs physical reminders of what cannot be known by our senses.

This is all just the “tip of the iceberg”!  I encourage you to seek out resources and continue learning.  Here are a few:

* See 1 Peter 2:21-24, 1 Corinthians 2:2, Romans 6:3-5, and Colossians 1:24.

Casting Your Ballot

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One can never find all of life in life. Being born, growing up, obtaining an education, finding a job, marrying, raising a family, eating, drinking, playing a sport, enjoying a hobby; these are all wonderful facets of our temporary pilgrimage on Earth. But none of them have the capacity to provide LIFE as God created and intended it.

The reason is God has rigged this thing we call “life”. Rigged it so that the best life has to offer is never big enough to fill the vacuum in our souls. Rigged it so that we can never be fully satisfied by anything less than the presence of God.

Within every one of us is an innate, inextinguishable yearning. If we do not allow the cry of our soul to be answered by God, we will begin dialing other numbers. The appeal for some confused souls to join ISIS, a terrorist movement, or to be connected to a gang, are, I believe, an attempt to fill this void.

But none of those numbers can deliver what they offer. Saint Augustine expressed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Elsewhere he writes, “Sin is energy in the wrong channel.”

Since I became Catholic, just a little over a year ago, I have spent more time in prayer than I ever had before. This, enhanced with attending Mass regularly, has deepened my awareness of my dependence on God. We now have an ongoing conversation – all the time and about everything. This simple act of making Him the center of my life is what gives me the greatest feeling of wholeness.

Indeed, this internal thirst will either drive us deeper into the arms of God or those of His rival. The choice is ours.

“Imitators of Us and the Lord”

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Martyrs and Saint Virgins. Lucas Signorelli (1499-1502)

Martyrs and Saint Virgins. Lucas Signorelli (1499-1502)

If someone asked you today, “What is the most important thing in your life,” what would you say? There are lots of things important to all of us, but what is most important? Take a moment to think about that. It is easy to be distracted by our busy routines and the pressures to fulfill our responsibilities and plan for our future. However, what is our purpose for being on this earth? Are we here by accident or are we part of God’s plan? If God has a plan for us, what is it?

In today’s Gospel, the religious leaders tested Jesus. They wanted to know if he knew God’s plan. Jesus gives them the answer; “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as your self. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” We could say that all of God’s revelation depends on these two commandments. If no one observed these two commandments, God’s divine revelation would cease to have meaning. God’s Word has reached us because others have believed and lived it, even at the shedding of their own blood.

In the second reading from Paul to the Thessalonians, he says, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the Word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” Even though it was a hardship for them to receive the Word of God, the Thessalonians, “with joy from the Holy Spirit,” became models for other believers, which made it easier for Paul to preach. If there are no witnesses, preaching has little effect.

In October 2008, we were in Thessalonica with a group of pilgrims. We were also in Philippi where Paul was imprisoned and in Ephesus, Corinth, and other places where the Roman ruins consisted of, among other things, amphitheaters where Christians were martyred for the faith. Their faith was more important to them than their lives.

Now, what about us? Is it “in (God) that we live and move and have our being” as Paul says in Acts 17:28? Have we found our purpose in Him?

He has not given us the commandments as a means to dominate us, but as a means to guide us. And because He knows us and the strength of our nature He has made them commandments, not suggestions. We may think we know what is best for us, but if God is not in the picture we are only deceiving ourselves. At some point we all must surrender to the love of God. We must make a firm decision to follow Jesus as our Lord and to be faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church.

Our temptation is to say, “Well then, what is the minimum I must do?” Of course that would be a mistake. If we are only interested in doing the minimum, we soon perceive the minimum only as an obligation and a burden which becomes too difficult to fulfill.

God has a wonderful plan for humanity in general and each of us individually, but He must be the most important part of that plan. The only way we will reach our potential for happiness is by drawing closer and closer to God who is the source of all love and all that is good. For this reason He has given us the Church and the sacraments as a source of grace. We have everything we need to become a saint, but it depends upon our desire, our free will.

Do you want to be a saint? Of course we all want to go to heaven, but do you want to be a saint now? God’s plan is that we be saints now; that we cooperate with His grace and live our lives in union with Him for our own sake and the good of the Church. It is in our decision to struggle to do the “Will of God” and our effort to be faithful that we are purified and become witnesses of what we believe. It is the will of God that we be purified now instead of after our death. The unfolding of the Kingdom of God depends on the sanctity of the baptized. St Therese, the Little Flower, once said, “The creator of the universe awaits the prayer of a poor little soul to save other souls.” It is not only our prayers that Our Lord needs, but also our faithfulness, our witnesses and our charity.

When something is important to us we invest in it. If you want to be a good student, you will study hard. if you want to be a good athlete, you will practice hard. How much more should be our concerned about being a good Christian, which has eternal consequences for our selves and the people we love, and the whole world.

To be a good Christian requires us to enter into a personal relationship with Our Heavenly Father by making a commitment to daily prayer, reading the Scriptures, living the sacramental life, continuing to be formed in the faith, and participating in our faith community by being good stewards of what we have received.

This relationship with God should influence every important decision we make. And this is not an obligation or a burden, but the proven path to real happiness, now and forever. God has a great plan and we all are part of that plan.

Who Would Want to Live in a Ghetto?

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Alley. Jacek Yerka (2004)

Here at the Pilgrim Center of Hope, I do a number of things, including screening telephone calls for our weekly show, Catholicism Live!. (That means if you called and weren’t given time to talk about your question or comment, you can blame me. Please send all hate mail to media@pilgrimcenteroffakeaddress.com)

Last week, we had a show about pornography, it’s toxicity, and tools for attaining freedom if you are one of the many men and women trapped in the grip of porn addiction.

The promo for this episode got thirteen shares on Facebook. Thirteen! But you know who didn’t share the promo?

The one lady who called in during the show.

I know this because I talked with her for a few minutes, and she vented her spleen about just how terrible it was that we were trying to educate the public about pornography and help for those mired in addiction.

Couldn’t we talk about something else?, she wanted to know.
There’s so much beauty in the faith and rich history of the Church, it would be better to tell others about those things, she asserted.
Do we really think someone who views pornography would listen anyway?, she posed.
And what if a child was listening and, you know, getting ideas!
, she fretted.

Maybe she has that last point; we could have put a disclaimer. But it was clear from the conversation that she just thought the subject was disgusting and didn’t want to be made uncomfortable. Nevermind mercy, forget hope – she just didn’t want to deal with the ‘ew’ factor!

Well, let me tell you: all sin is ugly. All sin. And there will always be particular kinds of sins that bother us more than others, often for good reasons. There is wisdom in being disturbed. But repugnance is no reason to draw up the Church’s lifeboats while casting an eye-roll.

There was one other comment this woman made that I found particularly revealing: she complained that our program had replaced the EWTN program on the Crusades. That, she asserted, is the kind of thing people should be learning about. We need to be able to defend our faith against the secular media, after all, and misinformation about the Crusades is always being used against the Church. In other words, why worry about sinners who are already lost? We need to defend ourselves!

No, people. This is exactly the wrong attitude, the un-Christlike attitude, and its ironic to worry about being misunderstood while advocating ignorance of others who need our help. I bring this up not because this woman has kept me up at night, but because I’m reminded of this episode as I read some of the feedback on the bishops’ recent document, Relatio post disceptationem, the result of a week of discussion at the ongoing Synod on the Family in Rome.

Much ink has been spilt over the emphasis on what’s called the “law of gradualness” – a long established, common sense rule of pastoral theology which encourages pastors to keep in mind that people grow into spiritual life gradually, rather than all at once.

The bishops have voiced a desire to ponder whether we have failed to create a welcoming atmosphere in the Church for people in “irregular unions” (homosexuals, divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, cohabitating couples), and whether keeping the “law of gradualness” in mind would allow Church leaders to seek out, walk beside, and love mercifully such people even while they are not living in full communion with the Church.

Here is one beautiful section of the document:

21. The Gospel of the family, while it shines in the witness of many families who live coherently their fidelity to the sacrament, with their mature fruits of authentic daily sanctity, must also nurture those seeds that are yet to mature, and must care for those trees that have dried up and wish not to be neglected.

22. In this respect, a new dimension of today’s family pastoral consists of accepting the reality of civil marriage and also cohabitation, taking into account the due differences. Indeed, when a union reaches a notable level of stability through a public bond, is characterized by deep affection, responsibility with regard to offspring, and capacity to withstand tests, it may be seen as a germ to be accompanied in development towards the sacrament of marriage. Very often, however, cohabitation is established not with a view to a possible future marriage, but rather without any intention of establishing an institutionally-recognized relationship.

23. Imitating Jesus’ merciful gaze, the Church must accompany her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love, with attention and care, restoring trust and hope to them like the light of a beacon in a port, or a torch carried among the people to light the way for those who are lost or find themselves in the midst of the storm.

25. …The Church has to carry this out with the tenderness of a mother and the clarity of a teacher (cf. Eph 4,15), in fidelity to the merciful kenosi of Christ. The truth is incarnated in human fragility not to condemn it, but to cure it.

Many Catholics in the public sphere have praised this unified shift in tone from the bishops. While there are challenges and open questions left to be carefully contemplated (as always), it is clearly addressing issues with due consideration, that have been seen as needing this kind of attention for a long time.

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Refreshment at the city’s fountain of Taorimina. Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (1846)

But not all are happy with the document. Many Catholics, in fact, are downright panicky. Consider these comments gleaned from Facebook:

“The truth is that if it’s approval people want, there are many other better places to find it. The Church’s role should simply be to proclaim the truth. Those who have ears will hear and God will build His Church.”

“Having just attended a retreat on the family, and restoring family life, I got a very clear perspective on the family, and how broken the family is in our society, and how fundamental the family is to our society. This synod, if it persists in the homosexual context, will completely break what the family is.”

“Jesus called a spade a spade way more than anybody else in the Bible. The results of the questionnaire sent out last year should have the Fathers of the Church scared for their eternal lives having allowed so many people to not only fall into but also to embrace grave sin. Their response: to focus on the positive aspects of the sinful choices Catholics have embraced.”

Do you see the same defensive irony in these comments as the lady who called into last week’s show? On the one hand, the Kingdom of God deserves to flourish, to have its truth understood and its rich splendor appreciated; and on the other hand, the Kingdom of God is as poor as a ghetto, so if the doors were opened, the roof would likely come tumbling down.

One of these views is correct, and here’s a hint: who would want to live in a ghetto?

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Rainbow, New York City. John French Sloan (1912)

The Crisis of the Family

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“Flight Into Egypt” by Giotto di Bondone, c. 1311

On October 5, 2014 Pope Francis called for a Synod on the Family in Rome. Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko, President of the Pontifical Council of the Laity, in issuing a statement for the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, said “Today more than ever, we need witnesses who live out the Gospel of the family to the fullest and with joy, and who show the world that it is a beautiful and fascinating way of life, a source of happiness for spouses and children.” These witnesses are needed, he says, even if the voice of the Church is “often contested, rejected and even ridiculed by the media.”
The family is the most basic and most important unit in society everywhere in the world. Wherever there are strong, secure and healthy families, there are strong, secure and healthy societies.

However, families have been greatly weakened everywhere in the Western world because of the growing influence of secularism. When people are more influenced by the world and what it has to offer than by faith in God and what He has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church, we have a crisis.

Secularism has led to individualism and the selfishness that leads to (among other things) divorce, uncontrolled passions, greed, and the loss of concern for the good of the other.

St. John Paul II said the root cause of the “culture of death” is preoccupation with efficiency, which is a product of secularism. We want what we want right now, even at the expense of our own good and the good of others.

The family is meant to be an environment where parents and children grow in love with each other and with God. For this to happen there must be an emphasis on prayer and worship. Spouses should pray with each other every day and with their children. It gives children a great sense of security to know their parents love each other and that they pray together.

Also necessary is the discipline which is a dimension of love. Even as parents must discipline their own lives – “You must deny your selves, take up your cross and follow me” – they must also provide the discipline for their children that will prepare them to live a life close to God, so they will discover their true dignity and the great plan that the Lord has for them.

When we have healthy, faithful families, we will have an increase in priestly and religious vocations needed for the life of the Church.