Seven Fathers of the Church above the South Porch of Lichfield Cathedral: Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, Saint Ambrose, Saint Gregory, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Athanasius and Saint Basil (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Right Where We Are Wrong

Right Where I Was Right
My Conversion to Catholicism brought with it many shifts that I did not expect. I was confirmed in the Catholic Church on May 21st, 2011 because I had become convinced that She was right. I fit with the theology of the Catholic Church more fully than I ever did anywhere else. I came to believe not only that She was right, but that every other expression of Christianity was incomplete. I say this not to cause conflict, but only to say that if I had found another home that I thought would have sufficed, I would not have become Catholic.

There is something weighty in the decision to become Catholic. One knows that it is somehow intrinsically different than joining any denomination. There would not have been trepidation before leaving my Methodist congregation to become a Baptist or a Non-Denominational, or an Anglican. Yet there were gasps and cautions expressed when I talked about becoming a Catholic. Even so, I came to the Catholic Church because I was convinced She was right. The One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church had drawn me in because I found a place where I fit. Certainly there were a few beliefs She propagated that I didn’t quite understand, but I made the choice to submit to the Church, to trust Her, and to learn from Her.

Then a strange thing happened, I discovered that I didn’t fit as well as I had first thought. G.K. Chesterton best summed up this next (and ongoing) period in his essay about becoming Catholic himself. He says,

The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age. I have compared it with the New Religions; but this is exactly where it differs from the New Religions. The New Religions are in many ways suited to the new conditions; but they are only suited to the new conditions. When those conditions shall have changed in only a century or so, the points upon which alone they insist at present will have become almost pointless. If the Faith has all the freshness of a new religion, it has all the richness of an old religion; it has especially all the reserves of an old religion. So far as that is concerned, its antiquity is alone a great advantage, and especially a great advantage for purposes of renovation and youth. It is only by the analogy of animal bodies that we suppose that old things must be stiff. It is a mere metaphor from bones and arteries. In an intellectual sense old things are flexible. Above all, they are various and have many alternatives to offer. There is a sort of rotation of crops in religious history; and old fields can lie fallow for a while and then be worked again. But when the new religion or any such notion has sown its one crop of wild oats, which the wind generally blows away, it is barren. A thing as old as the Catholic Church has an accumulated armoury and treasury to choose from; it can pick and choose among the centuries and brings one age to the rescue of another. It can call in the old world to redress the balance of the new.

Anyhow, the New Religions are suited to the new world; and this is their most damning defect. Each religion is produced by contemporary causes that can be clearly pointed out. Socialism is a reaction against Capitalism. Spiritualism is a reaction against Materialism; it is also in its intensified form merely the trail of the tragedy of the Great War. But there is a somewhat more subtle sense in which the very fitness of the new creeds makes them unfit; their very acceptability makes them inacceptable. Thus they all profess to be progressive because the peculiar boast of their peculiar period was progress; they claim to be democratic because our political system still rather pathetically claims to be democratic. They rushed to a reconciliation with science, which was often only a premature surrender to science. They hastily divested themselves of anything considered dowdy or old-fashioned in the way of vesture or symbol. They claimed to have bright services and cheery sermons; the churches competed with the cinemas; the churches even became cinemas. In its more moderate form the mood was merely one of praising natural pleasures, such as the enjoyment of nature and even the enjoyment of human nature. These are excellent things and this is an excellent liberty; and yet it has its limitations.

We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong. In these current fashions it is not really a question of the religion allowing us liberty; but (at the best) of the liberty allowing us a religion. These people merely take the modern mood, with much in it that is amiable and much that is anarchical and much that is merely dull and obvious, and then require any creed to be cut down to fit that mood. But the mood would exist even without the creed. They say they want a religion to be social, when they would be social without any religion. They say they want a religion to be practical, when they would be practical without any religion. They say they want a religion acceptable to science, when they would accept the science even if they did not accept the religion. They say they want a religion like this because they are like this already. They say they want it, when they mean that they could do without it.

It is a very different matter when a religion, in the real sense of a binding thing, binds men to their morality when it is not identical with their mood. It is very different when some of the saints preached social reconciliation to fierce and raging factions who could hardly bear the sight of each others’ faces. It was a very different thing when charity was preached to pagans who really did not believe in it; just as it is a very different thing now, when chastity is preached to new pagans who do not believe in it. It is in those cases that we get the real grapple of religion; and it is in those cases that we get the peculiar and solitary triumph of the Catholic faith. It is not in merely being right when we are right, as in being cheerful or hopeful or humane. It is in having been right when we were wrong, and in the fact coming back upon us afterwards like a boomerang. One word that tells us what we do not know outweighs a thousand words that tell us what we do know. And the thing is all the more striking if we not only did not know it but could not believe it. It may seem a paradox to say that the truth teaches us more by the words we reject than by the words we receive.

- The Catholic Church and Conversion (1926)

My Own Standard
I, like Chesterton, came to find that the Church was not only right where I was right. In my youth, a church was selected not because of its intrinsic authority, but because of how well its theology aligned with our own. We went to the church that was right where we were right. As such, our own theology became the standard (the magisterium, if you will) for the rightness of the church in question. But I’ve never been comfortable with myself as a standard. I’m too flimsy to be a good foundation. Even using Sacred Scripture as a standard is insufficient because the foundation of Scripture will waver and vary depending on the hermeneutic by which we understand what Sacred Scripture is communicating (This is why there are so many different schisms, so many different denominations, so many different theologies springing from only one library of Sacred Scripture – We all read it just a little differently).

But once I was confirmed in the Catholic Church, that foundational attitude in me changed. I submitted to an authority and standard outside of my own understanding. I declared that submission on the day of my confirmation by saying, “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.” Of course, I didn’t understand everything She taught, but I declared my trust in Her to teach rightly, and declared my submission to Her teaching.

Then I found out that She was not only right where I was right, She was also right where I was wrong. I came from a very conservative family (both politically and theologically), and there were a number of ‘religious’ beliefs I held because of my political platform, rather than through my thorough reading of scripture. This is the weakness of Scripture as the sole standard, (not to diminish the importance of Scripture) it depends on ‘how’ we read it — and we humans are perfectly capable of justifying our beliefs and finding the scripture to back it up.

Ch-Ch-Changes
As a Catholic, determined to receive the words of my bishop and pope with a ‘spirit of docility’ (CCC 87), I was faced with words I had never considered. I was faced with positions on important issues that I had long dismissed as “liberal.” It started with Immigration. I don’t remember how it shifted, but I began to look at the issue seriously and without the guides of political talking points. You can see the genesis of this evolution in the post Sour Grapes: Illegal Immigration & the Book of Ezekiel. Soon after I discovered that my own beloved Bishop Edward Slattery had written a pastoral letter on the topic called The Suffering Faces of the Poor are the Suffering Faces of Christ. Afterward I was surprised to look back and see just how quickly I had changed my mind.

I had been wrong. The Church was right where I was wrong. I submitted.

Next came the death penalty. As I worked more and more to educate people about the lasting horrors of abortion, I came to understand that we bear the Image of God, not because of our innocence or merit, but because God made us. That intrinsic worth should not be snuffed out, no matter how depraved a person may become. By executing them we take away any possibility of their repentance. And so the words of the Church sunk down deep into my inmost being. I came to see that even if the State executes criminals justly, it does so unnecessarily.

My next domino to fall was economics. I am still trying to wrap my mind around Distributism with its dual Catholic principles of Subsidiarity and Solidarity constantly held in tension.

Lastly (so far), came science. Suddenly, I no longer shudder at my children reading books that talk about evolution, or watching shows that talk about dinosaurs living millions of years ago. It was a Catholic Priest, after all, who first postulated the Big Bang. I had so long associated evolution with the removal of God from the process. I assumed that all evolutionists believed that the world happened by mere chance, rather than with careful guidance by a creative God. I still fully believe in creation. I believe that God created by his word (that single utterance of God, Jesus – through whom all things were made, and without whom was not anything made that was made). But at the same time, both my seminary background and the Catechism remind me to read Sacred Scripture according to the genre in which it was written. Reading passages of poetry (like Genesis 1-11) as if they were a science textbook misses the authors point. It will always come up short. Sacred Scripture conveys Truth, and deep Truth, but not always in the journalistic, factual way that Westerners crave.

And so here I find myself, having what is wrong in me being made right (a quite uncomfortable process). As I survey my surroundings, I find that I am more at home in my faith than ever before, but less comfortable in the American Christian subculture. I have found a deeply satisfying home in faith, but have become politically homeless. One party won’t take me because I stand for the sanctity of Life (abortion, contraception IVF, surrogacy, et. al.), the indissolubility of marriage, the complimentarity of men and women, among other things. The other party won’t take me because of my views on the sanctity of Life (the death penalty, contraception, IVF, surrogacy, et. al.), economics, immigration, certain scientific stances.

I find myself a sojourner in a strange land, no longer content with the nationalism of the American church. I seek a broader home farther up and further in. I seek to submit to a beautiful Mother Church who conveys to me the heart of my Father, a Church that is right where I’m wrong.

through-the-roof

Through the Roof.

And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay.” Mark 2:3,4

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

One week ago, I aired my inner struggles concerning a particular family difficulty in a very public place. It was nerve wracking. On the one hand it felt like a failure, because it felt as though I were not trusting that God would take care of my needs. On the other hand, I knew that God provides through people. In the last week through the generosity of friends (and a few friends of friends) and our parish family not only have our immediate needs been met, but likely the all the needs we will have during the reconstruction.

I had reached a place where I could not see how I could, under my own power, walk the path in front of me. But you carried my mat, dug through the roof, and laid me at the feet of Jesus. I cannot thank you enough.

I also want to urge you, make your needs known. God is faithful to meet our needs, but he uses his Church to do it. Tonight, after I began this post, I learned of a close acquaintance of mine who was in great need. I learned of his need only after he reached a breaking point and had his name and face plastered all over the news. He has put himself in a place where any help offered will be diluted. Don’t allow the enemy of your soul to steal your joy by isolating you from the generous and capable body of Christ.

It’s frightening, nerve-wracking, and quite humbling to let others know your needs, but it’s worth it.

Job and his Friends

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed…

…perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. – 2 Cor 4:8-11

If you’ve been following us on facebook over the course of the last month, you have witnessed a small demonstration of the above verse. Since Mother’s Day we have had a house flood, our car has been vandalized, and our children, filled to the brim with cabin fever from living in a hotel suite, have incurred various injuries from rough play in confined spaces – the latest of which required emergency oral surgery and the removal of our oldest son’s two front teeth. Kristin and I have done our best to keep everyone in good spirits, but we are feeling afflicted in every way and perplexed, and struck down.

We are so grateful that we have insurance, and if nothing else, this has shown us how important insurance is. While insurance will pay for most of the repairs (to building and body), the ancillary costs are mounting beyond what our budget can sustain. With the increased living expense of not being in our home, and the uncertainty if all or any of it will be reimbursed and when, we have reached the point where we cannot afford to pay for all that must be done.

I am the kind of guy that does not like to ask for help until there are no other options. Generally I have to be destitute before I ask. And so, it is difficult for me to bring this to your attention now, because even though we are afflicted in every way, we are not crushed. Even though we’re perplexed, we are not yet driven to despair. Even though we feel struck down, we are not destroyed. God has been very good to us, and we, at most, feel very tired and uncertain.

But, even so, we do need help. I cannot pull us out of the hole we find ourselves in, and so I send this request out to the Christian community. I humbly implore your help. I ask that, first and foremost, you would pray for us. In those prayers, I ask that you would listen to see if God would have you send a small financial amount to help us make it through this season of testing. If You don’t feel that God is asking you to give, please don’t. We know and are convinced that God is our provider, and he knows our needs. We also know that God uses the Body of Christ (the Church) to fulfill his desires.

If you do feel that God wants to use you to help meet our needs, you can use the donate button below.




As you pray for us, please lift up the following needs:

  • Physical Protection
  • Spiritual Refreshment
  • Financial Provision

Thank you for your friendship, and your prayers.

Pax et Bonum

Noah

Noah: Deluge-onal or Buoy Genius?

I’ve just returned from watching Darron Aronofsky’s adaptation of Noah, and I’ve got a lot to say. I ask your pardon, in the middle of this review, my wife gave birth to a beautiful son, so this was written quickly in two separate sessions. If I have a few disjointed thoughts, I blame in on first night of sleep with a new baby.

On to the review!

Spoiler #1 There’s a big flood that covers the Earth.
Spoiler #2 When it’s over, only Noah’s family survives.
Are you surprised? Continue reading

jerome

Understanding the Sacrament of Confession: Part I – Scripture

Someone recently asked me why Catholics go to Confession. Honestly, this is a blog post I’ve been putting off for a while, but it is a question that deserves an answer. As always, when my answers touch on Catholic doctrine, I offer this *Quick Disclaimer.* I answer the following questions according to my current understanding. I cannot claim beyond a shadow of doubt that my answers are totally without error. I reserve the right to edit the answer at anytime. Thanks for your understanding.

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saints

Praying to the Saints

*Quick Disclaimer* I answer the following questions according to my current understanding. I cannot claim beyond a shadow of doubt that my answers are totally without error. I reserve the right to edit the answer at anytime. Thanks for your understanding.

What’s the deal with praying to the saints?
Why wouldn’t I just pray directly to Jesus?
Isn’t it sinful communicating with the dead?

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aggregateme

Jesus Vs. Religion: Aggregate Me!

Recently, the internet has blown up with this video: In his poem his accurately identifies the dangers of religious practice without the life-changing relationship to support it. However, in this poem, he attributes that evil to the generic term “Religion” creating quite a stir.

After the jump you’ll find the original video and several rebuttals from different denominational perspectives.

——Edit——
Jeff Bethke, Poet, acknowledges the criticism, and agrees with it. Humbly accepts correction.

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40days

40 Days for Life

Friday I went out to Pray at the Garden of Hope across from “Reproductive Services” at 32nd pl near Sheridan in Tulsa. I was amazed at how many cars arrived or left during the 45 minutes I was there. I spent time praying for the women who feel like they have no choice but to abort, praying for the souls of the infants, praying that the Holy Spirit would intervene and bring them out safely. Continue reading

Benedict XVI’s message to the Youth of Germany (and to us)

(emphasis mine)

Dear young friends,

Throughout today I have been looking forward to this evening, and to this opportunity to be together with you and to join you in prayer. No doubt some of you were present at World Youth Day, where we were able to experience the special atmosphere of peace, deep fellowship and inner joy that characterizes an evening prayer vigil. It is my wish that we may experience the same thing now: that the Lord may touch our hearts and make us joyful witnesses who pray together and support one another, not just this evening but throughout our lives. Continue reading