Posted by: Thomas Richard | March 24, 2014

Finding Jesus in the Catholic Church

Finding Jesus in the Catholic Church.

Above is the LINK, below are two brief portions of an article (written by me) in Homiletic & Pastoral Review – just published a few days ago.  Maybe some of you would like to read it.

Have you heard former Catholics—now evangelical and fervent in the Lord—say things such as: “I had to leave the Catholic Church to find Jesus”? Have you heard anyone say, “Once I got out of the Catholic Church, I really heard the Gospel—and I got born again, and I got saved”?

Our mission (as Church) is to bring about that meeting that can change lives, that can make disciples. Then, as a loving mother Church, we are to nurture and guide those disciples into fruitful holiness in Christ.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | March 19, 2014

Men of Lawlessness

The entire second chapter of Paul’s Second Thessalonians seems painfully relevant these days – these days of deep confusion around the whole world.

2Th 2:1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren,
2Th 2:2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.
2Th 2:3 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition,
2Th 2:4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
2Th 2:5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this?
2Th 2:6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.
2Th 2:7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.
2Th 2:8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming.
2Th 2:9 The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders,
2Th 2:10 and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
2Th 2:11 Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false,
2Th 2:12 so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
2Th 2:13 But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
2Th 2:14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2Th 2:15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.
2Th 2:16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,
2Th 2:17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

Paul speaks here of rebellion, of lawlessness, of men exalting themselves against God, of men refusing to believe the truth and to love the truth. Instead of truth, therefore, they received strong delusion to believe and even to love that which is false. He speaks of the need among the faithful to stand firm, to be strong, to work good, to rest in His comfort and hope. He is coming! I continue to remember the often-repeated exhortation of Bl. John Paul II, “Be not afraid!”

Courage that comes from faith in God is necessary in such times because lawless men are dangerous creatures. Law calls men to limit their desires and their behavior to what is prescribed – and the lawless man resents this. He wants to serve neither man nor God, but only himself and his own desires. Rebellion in man is not new, of course. St. Paul observed, in his letter to the Roman church, the steps that it takes for man to fall deeper and deeper away from God and into his own darkness.  It begins with what is self-evident – yet men will not see it:

1) The fact that there is a God is evident in the creation itself, through the use of human reason:

Rom 1:20 Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse;

2) But man rejected the rational evidence before him, and as a consequence the reasoning ability of his mind became darkened. Rejecting reason, he became unreasonable – even foolish:

Rom 1:21 for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.
Rom 1:22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,

3) Rejecting God and His real glory, men projected “glory” onto things they made themselves:

Rom 1:23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.

4) And the holy love that is due to the one true and glorious God, they directed into sexual lust among themselves – not only lustful desires between men and women, but even men for men, and women for women. Unnatural homosexuality became as “natural” to them:

Rom 1:24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
Rom 1:25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.
Rom 1:26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural,
Rom 1:27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

5) The evil desires in their hearts only grew, to dominate all their conduct:

Rom 1:28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct.
Rom 1:29 They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips,
Rom 1:30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,
Rom 1:31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
Rom 1:32 Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.

Such are the men of lawlessness. They reject God and His law, and they embrace lies and foolishness. What is evil seems good to them, and what is good seems evil.  How ugly it is – how shameful – when men of lawlessness take over a country, a society, a culture – and make their darkness into law!

Look, and see, and weep at the works of such men! They hate reality, and they embrace fantasy – calling it “virtual reality,” calling it entertainment. They reject God’s created human nature, and define “natural” to suit their own desires. They reject the goodness of life for those inconvenient to them, therefore willing to abort the innocent and euthanize the weak and dependent. They separate the holy union of conjugal love and new human life, and through contraception degrade potent conjugal love to sterile sexual gratification. And for those who have created a false god to sanction their false lives, they will eventually become murders of other men in worship of their god. Jesus warned us:

John 16:2 They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.
John 16:3 And they will do this because they have not known the Father, nor me.

Lawless man has regard for laws neither of God nor of man.

“Whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” This the Moslems are doing to faithful Christians even now. But men of lawlessness are rising all over the world. Abortion, lawless ones have declared, is a “right” calling for legal protection!  Lawlessness!  Homosexual unions are equivalent to any other “sexual preference” for the “right” to marry, to form a family, to adopt children. Lawlessness! The U.S. Supreme Court has the “right” to rewrite laws they are to judge as constitutional – to rewrite them so as to make them constitutional? Lawlessness! Only Congress is to write the laws. The U.S. Department of Justice has the “right” to enforce laws it likes and overlook laws they do not like? Lawlessness! The President has the “right” to rewrite laws that he is to enforce – so as to make them acceptable to his view of what should be the law? Lawlessness! Congress has the “right” to rewrite congressional procedures so as to make them now able to pass laws and to approve appointments that they want to pass or approve. Lawlessness!

Men of lawlessness make “laws” as they choose, because lawlessness becomes the law of the jungle: the strong do as they please, as if might makes “right.”

Perhaps God will be merciful to this country that has so turned its back on Him. Perhaps it is too late for America. But only God knows whether the time for mercy has past – we do not. We must pray, and work, and exercise the rights of citizenship that we still possess, to be voices and votes for true righteousness! We – the Church here in America, and in the West generally – must repent. We the Church have not been voices and votes for true righteousness in the recent past, and now we are now tasting the bitter fruit of our duplicity, our hypocrisy, our moral weakness, our love too much of this world and the things of this world. “Elections have consequences.” And so also does our silence in the face of growing evil and immorality. We must turn to God in shame and repentance, and cry for His mercy. And if there remains time for us, we must begin in earnest to grow in Him who is true. We, the Church, must renew the Church. Come Lord Jesus, and help us.

The Great Commandment of Life is, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  Love is not attained all at once: there is a process, a path, a journey in Christ: discipleship.  The goal – our vocation – “Be therefore perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

The school of love in Christ, for one wanting to grow in Him, is a journey traveled in stages.  To grow in Christ is to grow in grace, and in His holy love, in stages.  In traditional Catholic spirituality, the saints and doctors of the Church speak of three major stages: the beginning, the progressing, and the perfect.

Stages of Holy Charity:

Before Christ:

A human being born in original sin (that is, born without the grace of God’s life in him) does not have holy charity (divine love) because he does not have the life of God in him.  He has a moral sense, because of the natural moral law in him, because of the image of the God in which he was made.  But he does not yet have holy charity, divine love.  Holy charity is simply God’s love: the love of God the Holy Trinity and the love of other people because of God.

The man without grace has what he calls love, but he has not holy charity.  He loves that which pleases and is good for him.  He loves his car, his favorite football team, his favorite meal.  He loves people, and he loves things, to the extent that they benefit him.  His relationships with other people are defined by the good or the harm that they do to him.  This is not the love of God: if it is love at all, it is the love of self.

In Christ:

1) The Beginner’s, or Purgative, Stage of Holy Charity

The man described above, the man who has led only a self-centered life, a life of self-love, can change radically when by God’s gift of grace he is able to hear and believe the saving love of God in Jesus Christ. The man hears the Gospel, and moved by grace he decides he wants to be a Christian.  He converts to Christ.  God – Jesus Christ – is recognized, seen and loved as the best of possible benefactors for him.  In the past he has loved people who were good to him and who did good for him, but now he learns that God does the best of things for him.  Of all things good for him, God is most good for him.  God in Christ saves him from hell, and promises him an eternity of happiness in heaven!  Therefore, he loves God and he loves Jesus Christ – but selfishly.  However, still, he has changed.  He has begun a new life in Christ, a life destined to grow and to mature in the life of God.

His relationships with other people also change.  People who believe as he does, and who are good to him, are now his brothers and sisters in Christ.  Other people are separated from this “us,” but if they are good to him, he will be good to them.  As God is now salvation for him, so now others with him in salvation are his friends, his brothers and sisters.

2) The Progressing, or Illuminative, Stage of Holy Charity

The man in the Beginner’s stage who continues to learn and to grow in his faith, can by grace come to enter the second or Illuminative Stage.  Here, he comes to know more than “about” God – he comes to encounter Him in a personal way, an experiential and interior way.  God thus comes to be seen very differently from in the beginning: not only is God the best of all benefactors for the man, but now much more than this.  God is now seen to be good and beautiful and true in Himself.  Because of who He is, God is good – not merely because He has done good for the man.

God is good regardless of whether the man has been blessed by Him or not: God is good, beautiful and true.  Thus, now he loves God not merely because God has done and will do good for him, but because of who God is.  But also, the self-love of the man has not been completely replaced by whole-hearted love for God.  The man loves God also because of the good He does and will do for him.  He serves God because God is true, but also because it is very good for him to do so!  His service of God in Christ is both for the sake of God, and for himself.  His divine charity has grown, but it is mixed.  His love for God has radically grown!  But still it is mercenary.

His relationships and attitudes toward people also change and grow in this stage.  People who know God as he now does, and love Him as he now does, and who are good to him – these people he loves; they are his brothers and sisters in Christ.  All others are separated from “our brotherhood in Him,” but he knows he needs to reach out to them, to try to gather “the them” into “the us.”  He wants those others to become his brothers and sisters, to come to know God and to love Him as “we” do.  But if they refuse, or are not interested, he will be good to them if they are good to him – but those are the outsiders, the others; they are not his brothers.

3) The Perfect, or Unitive Stage, of Holy Charity

The man in the Illuminative stage who continues to grow in faith and grace, can grow to enter into the Unitive Stage – the oneness with God that is our vocation.  The man’s vision and understanding of God grows.  Now, the goodness, and beauty, and truth of God have expanded to consume the whole horizon of what the man knows of Him.  God is all good, the perfection of goodness: He is goodness itself, and nothing has goodness apart from Him.  God is all beautiful, the perfection of beauty: He is beauty itself and nothing has beauty apart from Him.  His beauty fills the universe of all creation.  God is all truth, the perfection of truth: He is truth itself and nothing is true apart from Him.  His truth fills the universe of all creation.  Anything good, or beautiful or true is so because of Him who made it, and who touches it with Himself, and signs it with His own signature.  God is all in all, and whether the man lives or dies, whether he rejoices or suffers, whether his service of God brings him benefit or loss of everything in this life, still the man wants now only to serve Him, for God is his all.  Whether God is life for this man, or death for him, God remains his all.

Other people are now seen, here, in a new and holier light.  All people are in a sense his brothers, all his sisters, whether gathered with the man or separated from him, whether they are his friends or his enemies, whether they are loving him or hating him, whether benefiting him or robbing him, whether embracing him or attacking him.  The man’s love for them depends not on them but on God, his God who loved him while he was still God’s enemy.  Thus the man now can only love them all with and in the one God who has loved all.  The man now can only serve with his God who served and who serves all.  The man seeks to be Him for them, seeks to be Christ for them, seeking to be for the “others” what He was for himself: their friend, no matter what, no matter the cost.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | February 21, 2014

The Natural Moral Law

The natural moral law – what is it?

A term – a reality – that we don’t hear much about, but which is increasingly important to us as Catholics, is the natural moral law. The natural moral law is the law of moral action that is part of our human nature, made integral to our human nature by God. Thus this law in our nature is divine, it is of God. Because it is in human nature itself, all human beings are accountable to it. Because it is in human nature, evidence of it is found in all of humanity, in all cultures, places and times of human history. All men know that it is wrong to murder an innocent person. All know it is wrong to steal, to lie, to cheat. All know that we are not eternal, that we were created, and that there is a Creator to Whom we are accountable, and who deserves our gratitude and our service.

We all know this – except that our knowledge and understanding of these (and other) moral imperatives in our nature are now clouded, confused and obscured by sin. Nevertheless, traces and remnants of the natural moral law remain in human nature – and thanks be to God that at least traces remain! Otherwise, the evil and destruction we would rain upon one another would be devastating. The world, dark as it seems now, would be many times worse if traces of a sense of true right and wrong were totally lacking in us.

This natural moral law explains in part the beautiful and yet mysterious dignity that we read of in the Bible, when we read that God made us “in His own image: in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.” (Gen 1:27) Before sin, this inner law ruled Adam and Eve: they chose only good, because it was in their nature immediately to do good – to choose the good, the beautiful and the true. Indeed, their fall into sin was a choice of a lesser good over the greatest good, under the influence of the deceitful serpent: since the forbidden fruit seemed good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise, Eve and then Adam disobeyed God their Creator and ate the fruit. (Gen 3:6)

After that first sin, and the inherited loss of sanctifying grace, human nature was deeply wounded. Our reasoning was darkened, our wills were weakened and prone to sin, and the clarity of the natural law was somewhat confused and clouded – but not lost. Mankind can still discern much of Gods moral law, and the very existence of the natural law serves to point us toward the origin of this inner sense of right and wrong, of good and evil. The inner image of God, impressed upon our souls by Him, serves to point us toward the Source of the image – the Original, because of Whom we sense truth, goodness and beauty. Thus we are drawn toward them, and thus we are drawn toward Him. He made us for personal relationship with Him, and so He made us with an inner compatibility with Him, the divine image, the reason for the great dignity of every personal example of humankind.

Why is this important?

The natural moral law is important for us to know about, for two reasons: 1) for evangelization, and 2) for our civil responsibilities.

1) Evangelization. Persons we meet, and those we already know who are not Catholic Christians, need to find and to serve the one true God revealed in Jesus Christ. The need for God – for a real, living and personal relationship with God in Christ – is in all men in the natural moral law. This is why we see religion in all cultures, in all peoples, in all times and places in human history. It is in us to seek the true God, to worship Him, to serve Him, to live His life.
Therefore telling people about God, and helping them find Him, is not like trying to sell something to people that they neither want nor need. It is like helping people find what they do need, and what they are seeking whether they know it or not. God made us all to need Him, to seek Him, to find Him, and to live in peace happily with Him forever. And the witness for the truth of this, is in every man by the natural moral law – dimmed, distorted or nearly destroyed by sin though it may be.

2) Civil Responsibilities. As Catholic lay persons, we have a responsibility to bring the light of Christ into the secular and temporal world where we live. We are called to be “good citizens.”  In some ways, this calls us to try to lessen the evil; in other ways, we can promote and expand the good. In America, Catholics need to stand against the growing moral lawlessness of the land, and to stand for that which is good and true for all men, and that which is in all men by the natural moral law. Catholics need to vote for the common good – not the current political correctness – but the enduring common good for all men, which is the truth of God. This truth is in all men, but sin is ever denying the truth and seeking to advance the lie – but the lie kills, only the truth saves. Only truth brings happiness in the end.

Secularism is rising, and Christianity is declining in the “developed” West. We must try to help the men of modern secularism, who reject any place of the Bible or of religion in modern society, to see and to value the moral law that has been in our common human nature from the beginning. The natural moral law is in us all – moral truth is not “merely a religious thing”! Moral truth is a human thing, and thus we must advance human morality in our culture, lest in this modern and advanced society we lose our very humanity.

And we, holding moral precepts formed in God’s law, must vote in the light of His eternal truth! We must vote for life and not for death! We must vote for human dignity and not depravity, for true freedom and not for moral lawlessness.

The Catholic Church teaches that homosexual acts are “acts of grave depravity,” they are “intrinsically disordered.” “Under no circumstances can they be approved.” Why does the Church teach this? Because we are mean, prejudiced and homophobic? Because we are blind sheep being led by old men in Rome? Because the Bible teaches it? No, homosexual acts were wrong before there was a Bible. The Church teaches against homosexual acts – to Catholics and to all men – because homosexual acts “are contrary to the natural law.” (all quotes from Catechism 2357) Homosexual acts are harmful to all men and to any culture that endorses such activity because they are harmful to the humanity of persons, who are all created in the divine image.

Other moral issues are being redefined in our time. Abortion is wrong: what mother cannot know in her heart that it is wrong to kill the child within her? Contraception is wrong – it is certainly not the “right” of every sexually active female, to be paid for by the taxpayers. Homosexual marriage – and the right of active homosexual couples thereby to adopt children – is wrong: God has already defined marriage, and parenthood, consisting of a mother and a father.

No government can, by mere civil law, change human nature! No culture can, by mere cultural pressure, redefine normality or moral goodness. Sin has wounded us all, but it need not destroy us. It need not reign over us. Sin need not form us in its own image – we are made in a higher image, the divine image, the image of God.

The Good News

In Jesus Christ, something wonderful happens. Human nature – still preserving some of the divine image placed in us by God, yet wounded and darkened by sin – begins a renewal and a restoration and an upbuilding. This renewal will reach final completion when we are finally finished with this time of trial and cleansing and maturation in Him, and finally see Him face to face. Paul writes,
Col 3:8 But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth.
Col 3:9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices
Col 3:10 and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Again, he exhorts us to this same call to holiness:

Eph 4:22 Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts,
Eph 4:23 and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
Eph 4:24 and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Then, that day, His holy image in us will be restored in all its beauty. Then we will possess both image and likeness, as in the beginning. This hope is powerful – very powerful. It is a hope that all men and women who are struggling in this present darkness, deserve to have by the merits of Jesus Christ. God so loved us, each one, so much that He sent the Son to regather us into that “true righteousness and holiness” fitting for communion with our Lord and God.

There are many brothers and sisters struggling in the darkness of this world, and in this confused and godless culture we live in. They deserve hope! They deserve knowing that in their hearts is still the handprint of God their Creator. His touch calls them to more than this world can understand. His touch speaks of a higher calling, a noble and honorable calling to holiness and righteousness. They are more than accidents. Life is more than toys and pleasures. Love is more than animal lust. Try to help them remember the more noble hungers in their souls. God will help them find themselves again, if they will only hope, and search a little while. He will find them, and they will find themselves again.

What do contraception, abortion, and homosexual activity have in common? They are all contradictions to fruitful love. They are all opposed to the union of human love and new human life, a union of love and life that – by design – God placed into the nature of human sexuality. God placed in the context of marriage between one man and one woman (in the beginning, in the creation of Adam and Eve), a union of two intimacies. The intimacy of covenantal love expressed by a man and a woman to one another, is joined with the intimacy of God’s love for that couple. It is His sacred intervention, His love that can create a new human person made in His holy image, made in the moment of their sexual intimacy. Life and love are bound together, by nature, by design, by intention. Contraception, abortion and homosexual activity all – by design and intention – exclude God from sexual union. They exclude new life from sexual union. They, who knowingly adapt such practices – contraception, abortion or homosexual activity – have excluded God from their lives.

God put into the heart of men and women, a sense of truth. This sense is manifest in human conscience, in “common sense” in questions of human morality. We can see the design in man and woman: physical, emotional, affective complementarity. We see the physical complementarity, such that the union of the two is a natural union, facilitated by their bodies and by their heart-felt desires to be one. And we see that this oneness has, by natural design and intention, a combining of masculine and feminine fertilities and potencies to make a new human life – a being with natural and supernatural consequences.

That is to say, there is a natural moral law, observable by all persons, of any time, culture and religious belief. We can observe and conclude what is of nature, what exists in our human nature, what is there by virtue of our humanity: a natural moral law concerning life and love.

A person’s sense of law – whether law is a good thing or a bad thing, whether law is a friend to embrace or my enemy to avoid or even destroy – is intrinsically linked to his sense of truth, and thus his sense of God. This is because authentic law, law that preexists any man-made law or laws, comes ultimately from God. A person’s sense of law, then, is an indicator of his sense of truth, and of God.

In Scripture, Paul’s “man of lawlessness” (2 Thes 2:3-12) is commonly understood to be the same as “the antichrist” of John (1 Jn 2:18, 22, 4:3; 2 Jn 1:7). The final expression, at the end of time, of the man of sin – the man of lawlessness – the man opposed to the true Christ – is opposed to all true law because true law expresses objective truth – objective, absolute truth that judges and condemns him because of his sin.

I say all this seeking to know how to understand the winds of our time, that blow so forcefully to do away with all authentic law. There is authentic law, that comes from God and that manifests His justice and His mercy. And there is the “law of the jungle” – the “law of the streets” – the law recognized by the lawless: the law of “might makes right.” This law has foundation not in truth or justice but in mere power – the power to force men to obey. This law is the law of the city of man apart from God, it is the law of the culture of death. This is the law that crushes the weak and vulnerable, that disposes of those “unworthy of life” who are, or who are predicted to be, or who have become useless to those having power.

Authentic law, in our times, is under attack. Those having power and seeking ever more power, seek also to eliminate any challenge or threat to that power. The greatest threat to such men is God, and His truth. There is a culture war now raging: the culture of death against the culture of life. This war raging has been engaged from the beginning, ignited in human history through the temptation of the serpent, and man’s initial fall into sin. Then Cain killed his righteous brother Abel, and then it only escalated and intensified. God radically, definitively, inserted Himself into this war with the Incarnation. God became man; He showed the way and He became the Way to life, and to a culture of life. And thus He became, and His followers became, the prime enemy and target for the kings of the culture of death. Christians, today, are “problems” in the plans of the kings of the culture of death.

God created, in the beginning, all things good – including human nature, good human nature, made in the image and likeness of God. Man could see, before the fall into confusion and darkness, the goodness of His creation. Indeed His creation reflected, as a work of art reflects the artist, the beauty, truth and harmony of Himself. The will of God was visible to men in the beginning – and would be today, clear and true, if not for the darkness and confusion that came from our sin. The will of God, His eternal truth as it pertains to our lives and our works and our intentions, would be light plain to our eyes.

Were there no sin, visible to man today would still be the beauty of life, the value of the innocent and the vulnerable, and thus the unthinkable horror of abortion. Visible to man today would still be the beauty and holy oneness of conjugal love: the intrinsic link joining the spiritual and sexual union of husband with wife, with the potency of new human life. And thus the contradiction, the falsity, the ugliness of contraception that rips asunder and separates that which God designed to be as one: love and life. Indeed, visible to man today would still be the beauty and holy oneness of the conjugal love of one man and one woman, as God designed and created in the beginning. And thus clear to man today would still be the unnatural – indeed the “contra-natural” – homosexual counterfeits to the real and the true that man seeks to make equivalent, merely a matter of preference, or even a new and alternate “natural” that God intends and blesses.

Sin confuses man individually, and sin can lead him to seek others who share his sin. Thus a culture of sin, a culture of death begins, and grows, and expands. “Might makes right” expands from a bully in the street to a neighborhood gang to a government with an army and police and web of corruption that feeds on the weak, the vulnerable, the easy-to-deceive. In such a culture of death, the beauty of truth, and the God of truth, and the laws of justice and truth, all are anathema. They are all first inconvenient, then troublesome, then intolerable, then criminal, then traitorous. The law of the jungle is more convenient, more advantageous, to the powerful.

Authentic law, however, will endure. The culture of life persists and will endure. Persons of life, the people of life, will endure because truth is stronger than the lie, and love is stronger than death. God brought order from the chaos, and He will perfect His order. What remains to be seen, for a Western culture that once knew better, is whether we still have the humility and common sense to know that to ignore the truly natural – that which God made very good – is to become a slave to the unnatural, and a victim of the chaos it brings. A culture of lawlessness is a culture of suicide. May God help us to awaken, while there is time.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | January 12, 2014

“It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

Feast of the Baptism of Jesus

Mt 3:13  Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.
Mt 3:14  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Mt 3:15  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.
Mt 3:16  And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him;
Mt 3:17  and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

“It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” – Mt 3:15.

“Us.”  Yes, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  Can anyone be fully righteous except God alone?  Can anyone “fulfill all righteous” except God alone?  Can man add anything to the perfect righteous of God?   Who alone, but God alone, could come among us, work the perfect saving work of righteousness on the Cross, to save us?  Yes, only God.  BUT: “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness,” Jesus told John the Baptist.  Then, John allowed it.  Yes, John then “consented” (RSV) to baptize Jesus.  Because Jesus told him, and he understood that “it was fitting,” John allowed it.

Several things are very important here.

  1. John was reluctant.  He felt – and he was – unworthy.  He recognized the all-holiness of Jesus, and his own need for the “Holy Spirit and fire” baptism that only Jesus could give him.
  2. Jesus came among sinful men and entered their world, and in this identification with us, uniting Himself with our plight and our need – becoming like us in all ways but sin – He presented Himself to the Baptist for the baptism of sinners for repentance.  This is the path that we, sinners who need repentance, must walk in following Him.  It begins with repentance.  Indeed for us it will continue in a life of repentance, until the Day when we are at last fully one with Him who is all-Holy.
  3. John was reluctant – but he “consented” when Jesus helped him hear that in the sight of all-holy God, and in the sight of humanity, that this work of the baptism of Jesus by a sinful man is “fitting.”  Jesus does not, in any “absolute” sense, “need” John or his baptism!  But it is “fitting.”  God wants this!  God wants to work with John, and God wants John to work with Him.   God wants this work in His Gospel to be a work of God and man, man with God.  “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

“Consenting” to God’s desire to work with man, through man, in accomplishing His divine work for man was not isolated to His baptism by John the Baptist.

Mary was both “greatly troubled” and “afraid” when the angel came to her to announce God’s will that she – Mary – was to become mother of “the Son of God.”  The angel eased her fear; he answered her confusion “How shall this be;” he pointed her mind and heart to the “power of the Most High.”  The angel assured her that “nothing will be impossible with God.”  Notice: the angel is not saying merely “nothing is impossible to God”!  The word here is “with,” not “to.”  In the literal Greek, the word “beside,” or “alongside” – para – is used.  That is, with you beside God, with God beside you, Mary, none of this is impossible.  God will do all this with you alongside God, and God alongside you.

Then, Mary consented with her well-known “fiat” – “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  Only then, with her consent given, did the angel depart.  God does not will to do to us; He wills to do for us, with us and through us. “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

It was fitting that Jesus wash the feet of His apostles, including Peter.  Peter, in what appears to be authentic humility, refused:

Jn 13:8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” (RSV) – or, literally, “with me” (KJV).

God wants men – including here specifically Peter and the Apostles, to have part with Him.  The humility of Peter before his feet were washed was good!  But the humility of Peter after he “allowed” Jesus to do God’s will and wash his feet, was better.  Submission to the will of God – who desires to work His work with us – who desires that we have part with Him – is better.

After them would come their successors the bishops, and all the faithful in Christ.  To have part in what?  To have part in His mission, to be light to the world, to bring the saving Gospel to all the nations of the world.  To live the Truth of God before men blinded in the darkness and imprisoned in a prison and crippled in the brokenness of a life without God.  God came to us, for us, to be with us, to gather and grace and empower some of us to go to the rest of us – that all might be gathered into His life:

Mt 28:18  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Mt 28:19  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Mt 28:20  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

God wants us to have part with Him.  In no way are we – in no way is His Church – absolutely needed!  But it is fitting, it is His will, that we have part with Him.  “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  Thus He sent His Church.  This is her mission, this is her apostolate, given her at the close of His time on earth.  This is the life of the Body of Christ.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | December 13, 2013

My Parish is a Business?

I opened the newspaper today to find the troubling news: my local Catholic church was selected by the the “Regional Chamber of Commerce” as…..(trumpet introduction)…..”BUSINESS OF THE WEEK”!  My parish is a business?  When did this happen?  How did this happen?  I looked up “business” in Webster’s Dictionary – maybe the word has been redefined somehow:

Business - the activity of making, buying, or selling goods or providing services in exchange for money.

This is worse than I thought.  “Business” did not get redefined.  God help us all, if “church” got redefined!  I remember that Jesus got very upset when He discovered that the Holy Temple had become a “place of merchandise” – a place of buying and selling – a place of money-changers and money-makers.  “My Father’s House shall be called a house of prayer!”  He cried out for the whole world to hear: church is not a business.

Church is not a business; the activity of a church is not “making, buying, or selling goods or providing services in exchange for money.”  Church ministers – lay or clergy – are not employees with a job; they are in service to God and His people.  And the services they provide are not “in exchange for money” – they are owed, they are the debts of love owed because He first loved us, and gave Himself for us.

No, I do not know how our parish ever got into a “chamber of commerce.”  What “commerce” is a church to be occupied with, except the supernatural commerce of the economy of grace?  God help us.

Below is a paragraph from a brief but excellent article by Fr. Gabriel de Chadarévian, OP, in Homiletic and Pastoral Review on-line.  The article is titled, “The Renewal of Preaching in the Liturgical Homily for the New Evangelization.”  Fr. Gabriel outlines the problem precisely!  He says,

In my own teaching and pastoral experience, I have come to realize, more and more, that a great number of practising Catholics know little about the faith they profess, and whose Sunday Eucharist they more or less faithfully attend. Hence, the great responsibility for sound faith formation or catechesis (doctrinal and moral). I also quickly discovered that among practicing Catholics (including some clergy), few have developed a vital, intimate, and loving relationship with Jesus Christ; few have experienced a living and personal encounter with the Risen Lord in the Eucharist, in the sacraments, in their personal prayer, and their activities, choosing him as the true center, Saviour and Lord of their lives. The dearth and poverty of these two essential components in the life of many Catholics (knowledge of the faith and personal relationship with Christ) have led to a hemorrhaging out of the Church, especially in Europe and North America, and a lukewarmness combined with doctrinal and moral confusion in the lives of many practicing Catholics.

You will be blessed to read the full paper.  He outlines the kind of preaching needed to spark the fire of the faith that the world today needs.  The link to the article is here:

The Renewal of Preaching in the Liturgical Homily for the New Evangelization.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | November 13, 2013

Catholics! Some of the Members are Wandering Away!

Movement among Cradle Catholics_edited-1The Catholic Church is not doing well in holding her own.  Of those Church members raised in the Church from childhood, a Pew Forum Study (Faith in Flux) found only about 2/3 (68%) of “Cradle Catholics” remain.  Of the 1/3 who leave the Church, about half leave and become Protestants and about half leave and remain unaffiliated with any religion.  A small part (3%) of the cradle Catholics leave and join other religious groups (Buddhists, Jehovah Witnesses, etc.)  But – about one out of three “Cradle Catholics” leave!

The Church would be shrinking, were it not for immigration.  Those who have left the Church (over 10% of the American population are now “former Catholics”!) outnumber those who have become Catholic (2.6% of American adults come into the Church), by a margin of nearly four to one.  Only the immigration of Catholics has kept the Church in America from diminishing year by year.  Evangelical groups, meanwhile, are zealously working with the immigrant population to attract, to convert and to keep them satisfied in a non-Catholic form of Christianity.

Here is a number from the Pew Study that I think ought to get our attention.  Of those who left the Church and became Protestant, 71% gave as a reason that their spiritual needs were not being met.  This was the most commonly given reason for this group.  How is it that spiritual needs are not being met, in the Catholic Church formed and sent by Jesus Himself, entrusted with the fullness of divinely revealed truth?  How can former Catholics find more to fill their spiritual needs, in denominations that have less of the spiritual food that God has given?  Something seriously wrong is happening.  Or maybe something seriously right and needed is not happening in the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church believes and teaches that the Sacred Liturgy is the “source and summit of the Christian life”!  We have just noted that of the 1/3 of Catholics who were raised under this Church belief and left the Church for Protestantism, 71% left because their spiritual needs were not being met!  The overwhelming majority of those spiritually hungry former Catholics (78%) found their home in evangelical Protestantism, where Scripture reigns and “sola scriptura” is the dominant doctrine.  We Catholics ought – ought – to learn something from this.

One observation that I think we need to take seriously is the hunger for the Word of God among Catholics.  This hunger is a beautiful gift from God – it is a hunger that the Church is obliged as Mother to respond to, in her children.  Catholics ought not have to leave the Church, to find the beauty and power and presence of Christ in His holy Word.

A related matter is the Presence that the Church does strongly proclaim and offer to her own: the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  Of course these issues are connected, in the Church: in the Mass, we celebrate both the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The table of the Word is offered, the Word is proclaimed in each Mass!

Indeed the Liturgy of the Word precedes that of the Eucharist in the Mass, just as in salvation history the Word was given first in written form, before Christ the Word came in living form as a man.  First the words, then the living Word!  Adult Catholics today need to find Jesus first in the words – in Holy Scripture, spiritually – before they can fully know Him and receive Him by faith in His real, substantial and sacramental Presence in the Eucharist.  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17)

In a CARA study (Sacraments Today) at Georgetown University, the following question was asked the respondents: “Which of the following statements best agrees with your belief about the Eucharist/Holy Communion?”  Two possible responses were offered to choose from:

“Jesus Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.”
In 2001, 63% chose this statement.  In 2008, 57% chose this.

“Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present.”
In 2001, 37% chose this statement.  In 2008, 43% chose this.

Setting aside the imprecise language of the options, the startling fact remains that 43% of self-defined Catholics (not those who consider themselves “former” Catholics, yet) reject the doctrine of the Real Presence.  When we hold in the one hand the “source and summit” doctrine of the Church, and in the other hand a 43% denial of the Real Presence among self-identified Catholics, we can perhaps begin to understand the exodus to Protestantism because of spiritual hunger unfulfilled.  Is it well-educated and carefully discerned rejection of Church doctrine?  Is it ignorance of Church teaching?  Is it because the doctrine is presented (if at all) as hard and formal dogma, as unrealistic and incredible “law”?  Is it because so many Catholics today lack adult formation in the faith, and have never had the opportunity or time to consider carefully and prayerfully as adults this and the many other challenging doctrines entrusted to the Church?

The fact is, many Catholics do not receive Christ spiritually in His Word – a presence they hunger for.   Some – to our loss and theirs – leave the Church to find Him in Scripture elsewhere.   Many Catholics do not have the faith or the understanding to receive Christ in His Real and Substantial Presence in Holy Eucharist.  They think they are receiving merely a symbol, and so they lack the right disposition to become fruitful by the Gift.

Our Faith is not strong

The Pew study gives us more troubling news, concerning those Catholics who remain in the Church: by our own admission, our faith is not strong.  Less than half of the self-identified Catholics questioned, reported their faith to be very strong – whether in their childhood, in their youth, or in their adulthood now.  The numbers were, 46% reported very strong faith when they were children, 34% reported it in their teen years, and 46% reported this as true for them now as adults.  Our remaining Catholics – at least the majority of us – are not remaining because of a fervent (or “very strong”) Catholic faith.

It seems that such a lack of fervor explains very well how so many simply “gradually drifted away” from the Church.  The Pew study writes, “Nearly three-quarters of former Catholics who are now unaffiliated (71%) say this, as do more than half of those who have left Catholicism for Protestantism (54%).”  The ties that bind a human soul to the truth of God ought to be the strongest ties in his life!  But when faith is weak that the Church has such ultimate value – or when faith in God Himself is weak, unclear, poorly grasped in mind and heart – then we can well understand how such a soul can simply wander off, gradually and with little concern.

A relevant and interesting statistic that Pew reports is this: of those who left the Catholic Church for Evangelical Protestantism, 78% said that their spiritual needs were not being met in the Catholic Church, 70% said that they now have found a religion they like more.  Indeed among all former Catholics who are now Protestant (evangelical or main-line), 71% say that now their faith is “very strong”!   To me, this statistic is one of the most troubling.  These Catholics had to leave His Church to find Jesus “really” – with a faith of fervor and zeal.

 Conclusions

The answer to this strange and sad conundrum is simple, and the Church on paper has been exhorting us all to it for some time: we need meaningful, substantive, comprehensive and spiritually rich adult faith formation.  We have done well at dispensing sacraments having immense potency of grace!  But we are far from the rich bounty of fruitfulness that the Lord and His sacrifice deserve.  We have not done well – indeed we continue to do poorly – at making fervent disciples in His name.

Catholic adults deserve the formation worthy of disciples – indeed the defining mission of the Church is to preach the Gospel and make disciples of all nations.  What do we need to do?  What do we need to do better?  What do we need to do less, if at all?  One thing we need to do, I am sure, is begin to care, and deeply, about our obedience to the mission of Christ: make disciples!

Posted by: Thomas Richard | November 11, 2013

Prayer is a Gift Intended to Grow

Living things grow, and develop, and mature.  And a mark of maturity is fruitfulness – an unfolding, a flowering, a quiet revelation of the inner beauty of the thing as it transcends itself.  Prayer is a special example, among the living gifts of God, intended to grow toward maturity and fruitfulness.  Prayer is (as the Catechism teaches, #2558 and following) our relationship with God in Christ.  That relationship, with God’s grace and by His design and intention, is meant to grow and to bear fruit.

As time goes on, as I see more and more of the ways of the world and as I am called deeper and deeper into the ways of God, this becomes increasing clear to me: His Church, His holy and beautiful Bride, His living Body still on this earth, has been given an awesome and crucial task.  The Church was sent as light into the world – a world growing darker and darker, closer and closer to cataclysm, to epic disaster, to final climax.  Yes, I know that “the end is near” has been shouted for millennia now!  And it has been true for millennia, and it remains true today.  These are the last days, the last days which began at Pentecost when the Church was first sent out to the dark and confused world with the Good News of Light, of eternal Life in Christ.

The mission is not new, the message is not new, the impoverished and starving audience is not new, the One Holy Source of the Good News is eternal!  His living water is still flowing from His Sacred Heart, through His pierced side, flowing out for the good and for the salvation of the whole world.  The messenger sent – His Holy Church – is not new either, but she is in profound need of deep and true renewal.  She is as if asleep, as if unable to see, or respond.  Christ in the garden, seeking prayer-communion with His Father in the shadow of the Cross drawing near, warned His disciples: “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  (Lk 22:40)  He knew the Cross was near – at the very door.  He knew the need of His Church: prayer!    He Himself knelt down and entered the agony bound together with love, His Self-offering.  He found them not praying, but sleeping.  He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Lk 22:46)

The Church needs prayer.  Each one of us needs to grow in prayer.  Prayer is union with God.  (John Vianney) Prayer is our relationship with God in Christ.  Prayer is our communion with the Spirit, our living water in the barren desert of man apart from God.  We need to find that communion, and remain in it – in Him, our very life.

New Article on Prayer – Catholic Exchange

The on-line magazine Catholic Exchange has published now two of my articles on prayer – the first one, Grow in Christ, Marriage & Prayer, and now a second one, Ways to Grow in Prayer.  I invite you all to read them both and to add your thoughts and comments, which I always appreciate very much.

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