The Pope Said What?

Pope FrancisThe Pope Said What?

The Church’s teachings on abortion, contraception, and homosexual marriage are among some of the hardest lessons to swallow. They are also the hot topics often discussed in today’s world. In a recent interview Pope Francis made the comment:

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

 Many people misinterpreted the Popes words and rejoiced that the Church had finally ‘gotten over’ their old fuddy duddy teachings and have accepted that the culture will behave the way it wants and the Church has no power over the moral order. However, Pope Francis did not mean that the Church along with her faithful should abandon her teachings. He does encourage the Church and Catholics everywhere to take a better approach to winning over the stubborn hearts of the people.

Common Sense

To understand the Pope’s suggestion, you must only use common sense. How do we expect to change minds and hearts by pushing a moral agenda and blasting unbelievers with the Church’s hardest teachings.  If you approach someone who has a hard time accepting the Church, why would you believe that getting on your soap box and rattling off cannon law and scriptures that support a pro-life, anti-contraception, anti-gay marriage stance would encourage them to learn more about the Church. Despite the fact that we are called to support the Church and the truths that she proclaims, we cannot use this approach at first.

If Necessary Use Words

To use an over-used saying, but with a twist, we must “preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.”  In this case I am using the ‘Gospel’ to mean the moral and ethical teachings of the church. We must not always use words when trying to prove that our moral and ethical teachings are correct and based in natural law. We must show the love and mercy and forgiveness that Christ taught. We must live our lives according to these laws. We must become true examples of how the moral teachings of the Church provide a foundation for a life well lived. We must approach our brothers and sisters as brothers and sisters in Christ. We must show them the beauty of our faith, the compassion of our love, and our inspiring hope in Jesus Christ. Through living in this way, we will win over hearts before we even open our mouths to evangelize.  Then when we do come to a point where we can express the Church’s views to open ears, (and this point must come eventually) the hearts of our listeners will be softened by their curiosity and admiration for the way we live.

“The Lord counts on you to spread the ‘Gospel of life’” – Pope Francis

Suffering as Seen by the Father

24490_Father_And_Son_Walking_cn_b_smThe Problem With the General Consensus

Our culture today has a bad habit of seeing suffering as punishment. The general consensus of suffering follows along these lines: We suffer because God is punishing us. God oppresses us because we have sinned against him. We experience suffering because God thinks we deserve it.

There is a danger in explaining suffering in this way. First of all more than just the guilty suffer. A definition of suffering as punishment does not explain why the innocent suffer. Secondly, if God punishes and causes harm to his people who he supposedly love, it tends towards a disconnect between loving Father and abusive guardian. Finally, suffering may be punishment, but it extends far beyond it. To confine suffering to punishment slights the beauty of what suffering truly means.

The Proper View of Suffering

The question of why we suffer and how we should suffer is a topic which needs more than a simple blog post to explain. Nevertheless, I will attempt to give a quick explanation of the proper view of suffering. First, lets start of with a wrong view of suffering.

Many of us who suffer feel God treats us unfairly. We believe that God betrays us and abandons us to suffer in our human weakness. We blame God for our sufferings and challenge him. We ask him why he makes us suffer. Why do I deserve this? Why are you doing this to me? This way of looking at suffering gets us nowhere. Like Job we began to get fed up with our suffering. Job wishes at one point that he were never born saying, “Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? (Job 3:11).

Pope John Paul II comments on Job’s position saying, “Job must look upon suffering with new eyes and realize that it must be accepted as a mystery beyond human understanding.”This is the proper view of suffering: Suffering is a mystery. 

Suffering as a Mystery

A mystery draws you in and inspires you to reflect in a deeper way. Mysteries change our perspective on life. Suffering is a mystery because we in our human understanding cannot grasp it’s meaning completely. In faith we can learn more about suffering, and by asking ‘Why?’ we are led into deeper contemplation of suffering.

Suffering is used to discipline, to convert, to rebuild goodness, to express Divine Mercy, and to overcome evil that lies dormant in us.  I think the best way to explain this notion of suffering is through an analogy.

The Breakdown

Think of an experience as a young child when your parents refused to let you have something that you wanted. Or perhaps a time where your parents took away something you had. Maybe they took away play time in exchange for timeout, or maybe they didn’t let you have candy before dinner.  You may have cried and through a tantrum, but young children rarely hold grudges and the next second i’m sure you had forgotten all about it. In these early years children completely trust their parents and don’t question their authority. Parents set guidelines for their children to protect and instruct them in life.

Now think of an experience during your teenage years when your parents refused to let you have something that you wanted. Or perhaps a time where your parents took away something you had. Maybe they wouldn’t give you money to pay for movies, or maybe they grounded you for underage drinking. In this circumstance the majority of teenagers rebel from the authority of their parents. When a parent sets a guideline, it is now seen as a punishment. From the eyes of the son or daughter, the parents are oppressing them and causing them to suffer. In their minds they are missing out on some perceived good, so they suffer because of it. They ask, why are you punishing me? Why do I deserve this?

Even a child who hasn’t done anything wrong can still ‘suffer’ on account of their parents. It might be a difference of opinion, or a misunderstanding. In our culture today people have an awful habit of being repulsed by authority. We grew up in a wold where we can ‘do what we want’ and no one can tell us otherwise. It’s a very individualist society and we do not like to be punished. We see punishment as bad, evil, awful and suffering.

However, when a parent sets a guidelines they do not view them as punishments. Even when they do ‘punish’ it’s never because they want their children to suffer but it’s because they know what is best for their child. A child doesn’t see the big picture of life yet, and a parent tries to illuminate their path.

God As The Perfect Father

To translate this relationship of ‘Parent and Child’ to ‘God and Human’ is easy. God is Our Father. “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). This Father knows even more than an earthy father does. His wisdom exceeds out imaginations.  God sees the entire universe and all reality in one instance, so of course he knows better than us.

He wants us to come to him when we suffer and ask ‘Why?” just as a teenager asks his mom ‘Why?’. Simply by asking ‘why am I suffering’ shows that you truly do trust God and you believe he has the answers. If your parent punished you and you turned around and walked out on them, claiming that they do not know anything and they are being unfair and you run away, your parents would be devastated. It was not their intention to punish you so you would walk away. Instead they truly care and want you to open up to them. God wants the same from us. As children of God we should be open with him about our feelings of confusion or despair.

When we ask God to answer our questions we assume that he is there, truly present to give us the answers. Suffering may seem unbearable, but like any good parent, God knows what his children can handle and would never as too much from us. We need to view suffering through the eyes of God. This is what God wants for us, to participate in his Love and see that suffering for love of him creates in us a new heart.

We must trust that God sees more than we do and that our suffering serves a greater purpose. Perhaps it is to form our wills to conform more with the will fo God. Perhaps it is so that we are made stronger for events to come. Perhaps it is God asking us to come closer to him and dwell in his own suffering.

The Stalagmite of the Heart

Image

“Stalagmites are columns of limestone the form in some very old es when drops of limestone water fall from the ceiling. The drops are chiefly composed of water, which drains off, but a small percent of limestone in each drop is deposited and beings to form a mass with the preceding one. Over the course of centuries, a limestone column is formed.”

“My sins, from  the first to the last, had fallen into the bottom of my heart like so many drops of limestone water. The majority had been drained off, thanks to confession, Eucharist and prayer. But because the repentance had not been perfect, there remained a particle of ‘limestone’ each time – a bit of compromise, of resistance to God, of sin in short. This particle amassed with the preceding ones and, day by day, ended up creating a stalagmite. In an instant i understood then what the well-known heart of stone is that the Bible speaks about: It is the heart that we ourselves make, through small infractions of compromise and hardening of the heart.”

“How could i get free? I was immediately aware that I could not destroy the stalagmite by my will because it was precisely there – in my will. A new love was born in me for the blood of Christ then, because I understood that it is the only solvent that can remove the incrustation.”

Verses to Meditate On:

 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26

For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

Matthew 16:28

How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Hebrews 9:14

This excerpt is from Sober Intoxication of the Spirit by Raniero Catalamessa, O.F.M. Cap.

Grow Up

Image

Pigeon Holeing

There is a common tendency of our culture to pigeon hole ourselves, label ourselves, put our selves in a box and stay there. Complacency is embraced, over-tolerance is praised, and growth is unnecessary or in some cases impossible.

I find this is especially the case with college students. I’ve heard so many times from a wide variety or people, ‘I can’t do that because I’m like this‘ or ‘well that’s just who I am’ or ‘I’ve always been this way’. Unfortunately no one objects to that excuse. However, it is just that. An excuse.

So many people, including myself, exclude themselves from the growing, maturing aspect of life because we are complacent and comfortable with where we are. Or, on the other hand, we are complacent even though we are not happy with our state of life. We lead a life based on how we ‘label’ ourselves.

This is a naive and immature way to view life. For Christians, faith is meant to catalyze a profound transformation. Many of us claim to keep the faith, to be Christians, to love the lord. We went to all the religious education classes, the retreats, and received the Sacraments. We are Christian in our heads, but the faith hasn’t moved its way into our hearts. And that is what moves us to get out of our box and grow up.

Our culture is in an interesting predicament. Everyone wants to be the best version of themselves and to flourish as a human being, to be happy and comfortable. However, our worldly desires lead us to a life of complacency. We do not like change, we do not like challenge. So we’re stuck not being happy, trapped by our own oppression.

What do you need to grow out of to become more Christ-like?

As Mother Teresa once said, “We are all called to be Saints.” Some people see that goal as a lofty impossible dream. One that cannot even be fathomed in the extreme state of sin we live in. However people aren’t born saints, they become saints due to their choices.

As I said earlier, the faith is meant to start a profound transformation in your life. However, this transformation is not an instantaneous conversion of heart such as St. Paul experiences.

As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” (Acts 9:3-5)

We cannot all be as fortunate as Paul. All of the saints and even the apostles though they all had profound transformations, the transformations were gradual. The apostles after following Christ for two years and watching him die on the cross went back to fishing after his death! People have fluctuation in transformations and it will not always be an on-fire unstoppable growth toward holiness. It requires conscious effort and work.

That is why I posed the question What do you need to grow out of to become more Christ-like? Nothing is permanent in you. You cannot make the excuse, ‘this is the way I am’ ‘I can’t change’. People do change, it just takes great effort and zeal. It also takes a reason.

The Reason

If you say you believe in the good news of Jesus Christ, ask yourself what difference does it make in your life? If nothing changes, what’s the point of believing in so great a mystery as the Resurrection of Our Lord.  How does your faith in Christ change your life.

What must you grow out of, what habit must you work on, in order to grow into Christ? Do not put yourself in a box and limit your God-given ability for greatness by your own human despair.

Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

(2 Corinthians 5:17)

Let your faith in Christ move you to profound transformation. There is no need to be complacent, there is no need to believe you cannot change.

Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)

Stand firm and give yourself fully to the transformative power of Christ. Look to all the saints as an example of true change: St. Paul persecuted Christians, St, Augustine was promiscuous, St. Teresa of Jesus was a major flirt. Even the biblical characters serve as a great source of hope: Peter denied Christ, Rahab was a prostitute, David was a adulterer and a murderer. What is common between all of these people is not only that they were sinner, but they turned their lives around and grew out of their sin and into Christ.

Do not believe the people who say people don’t change. People do change and it is through the power of God.

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)