Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Featured Post: How to Defend the Catholic Faith

The prospect of defending the Catholic faith is daunting for most people. It's scary to put yourself out there, and if someone asks you a difficult question ... what are you going to say?

But, it's really not as hard as you might think. With the right approach, a few key resources, and a healthy dose of practice and prayer, you can become an effective Catholic apologist. Here's what you need to get started, and if you've already started, this will take you well on your way to confidently engaging in Catholic apologetics.

Friday, November 30, 2018

St. Joseph and Docility of the Spirit


In his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales writes that genuine, living devotion exists when a person not only does good, but does it carefully, frequently, and promptly. This kind of instinctive, loving action is also called "docility of the spirit." As Scripture reveals, an excellent role model of this docility is St. Joseph.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph was in peril from the start. That the inn was full was only one of their many troubles. But, despite the obstacles that the Holy Family had to overcome, they prevailed. This is due in large part to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Any time there was confusion or danger that threatened the Holy Family, God needed only to speak to Joseph in a dream and Joseph would immediately do whatever was necessary to care for and protect his family.

The Birth of Jesus

The Holy Family threatened to unravel before it was even fully created! Mary was found to be pregnant while she and Joseph were betrothed, but before Joseph brought her into his home to consummate the marriage. Mary’s pregnancy could have caused tremendous scandal in the community and the shaming of Mary, but “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly” (Mt 1:19) – a noble gesture, and from Joseph’s point-of-view, the only thing he could have done. But, God had something else in mind:
“As [Joseph] considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which his conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’” (Mt 1:20-21)

What did Joseph do? Did he question the dream? Did he wonder if it was really a message from God? Did he put off making a decision, or choose contrary to what he heard in the dream? No. “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Mt 1:24).

The Escape to Egypt

The wise men who followed the star to the Holy Family’s house were supposed to return to Herod and report to him where they had found the child. But they didn’t! They too had great docility of spirit and, heeding the warning they received in a dream, decided to depart to their own country by another way (Mt 2:12).
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the Wise Men, was in furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to that time which he had ascertained from the Wise Men.” (Mt 2:16)

But, God again intervened, and Joseph responded:
“[B]ehold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod” (Mt 2:13-15).

Joseph didn’t wait to make preparations and plans. He didn’t even ask where in Egypt he was to go or how he was going to get there. He rose that very night, gathered up his precious family, and left. It’s alarming to the modern mind to see how singularly focused he was on being obedient to the promptings of God. Nothing else mattered in comparison to that.

The Return from Egypt

After the death of Herod, we see that God told Joseph in a dream that it was safe to return to Israel, and then, on the way there, God told him in another dream exactly where he should settle.
“[W]hen Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archela′us reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’” (Mt 2:19-23)

It’s interesting that, for this particular mission, God appeared to Joseph twice. Perhaps God did this because Joseph had proven himself keen to respond carefully, frequently, and promptly to the Lord.

Joseph’s life is an example to us that if we readily respond to the guidance and promptings of God’s grace, then we will receive more guidance and more promptings from Him. In other words, in order to know the Will of God, we have to follow the Will of God! That is the message of the life of St. Joseph. That’s what docility of the spirit is, and that’s what true devotion is.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Thursday, November 15, 2018

How to Discern the Will of God

How to discern the Will of God

As Catholics we know that anything that aligns with Scripture, Tradition, or the teaching of the Church is the Will of God, since these are sources of truth for us. But, often times, we have to discern the Will of God on matters that don’t pertain to morality or doctrine. There is no Church teaching on whether I should move to another city, buy a particular house, marry a certain person, or become a priest or a nun.

What do we do then?

Discerning the Will of God is all about asking the right questions, living differently, and following your heart (hear me out on that last one!).

Ask the Right Questions

Saints and sages from every age have been pondering this question: “What do you want me to do, Lord?” They have found that the answer to this ultimate question comes by answering a series of smaller questions. These questions can help us discern God’s Will, whether we are concerned with our vocation or state in life, or we’re pondering any type of big, life-changing decision.

Try praying with the following questions:
  • Will this bring me closer to heaven? Does it give God glory?
  • What is the path of greatest love? Am I willing my own good or the good of the other?
  • Will this option help me fulfill the duties of my state in life? What does my current state in life allow?
  • Does it make sense based on my skills and talents?
  • What are the pros and cons of each option?
  • What does my conscience tell me about the morality of each option?

These questions will help filter out the noise of life and dig down to the heart of what God wants for us.

Begin Living Differently

After a couple has been married several years, they don’t have to ask each other what they desire in a given situation. They just know. They’ve shared enough of their lives together to intuit the will of the other.

We can have that same relationship with God, if we are willing to live a little differently. Just by focusing more on our prayer life, receiving the sacraments regularly, and keeping an eye out for the fruits of the Spirit, we can foster the kind of relationship with God that makes it easier to discern His Will.

  • A few minutes a day. Prayer is key. It’s how we enter into dialogue with the Lord. It’s how we listen to Him. It’s how we get to know Him and grow to love Him better. The more we know and love God, the better we are able to discern His Will. Even a few minutes a day can make all the difference (see Dynamic Catholic's "Prayer Process" for a simple method of prayer that anyone can use)

  • Grace for the keeping. Sin darkens the intellect and weakens the will – the two things God gave us to discern His Will and walk in it. The antidote is the divine life of God, and we receive that new life through the Mass and the Sacraments.

    Receiving the sacraments more frequently can feel like a burden at first, especially when there are so many other responsibilities demanding our time and attention. But, going to Confession at least once a month is doable, as long as we schedule it. And maybe there’s a parish nearby that offers a quick Mass during the usual lunch break.

  • Flesh and fruit. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he lists the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit:
    “Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God …”

    “… but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” (Gal 5:19-23)
    If we make decisions out of the works of the flesh or when enslaved by them, we will almost always choose wrongly. If we make decisions out of the fruits of the Spirit, or if we see the Spirit bear these fruits in our lives after we make a decision, then we can be sure we have chosen rightly.

Follow Your Heart

Sometimes, the best thing we can do is follow the heart. Of course, our hearts are not infallible. As Jeremiah reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). While it’s not the only guide we use when discerning God’s Will, it can be one of them. After all, God created our “hearts”, our inner-life where our soul, will, and desire are located. He has planted desires within us as a way to draw us to Him. So, it’s worth hearing what the heart has to say.

And at any rate, if we love God and are filled with His love, then our hearts will be worth following. As Augustine said, “Love God, and then do what you will.”

For more on how to discern the Will of God from a Catholic perspective, see the following articles:
Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Church Documents on Catholic Education

The documents listed below are in chronological order. Note that I am making a distinction between "education" and "catechesis" or "evangelization." Although they are all related terms, I am only interested in Catholic education here. Please leave a comment and let me know if there is a document I forgot to add to the list.


Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Monday, October 15, 2018

Catholic Resources on Halloween and All Saints/Souls Day


There is much confusion about the origins of Halloween, and about what the Church celebrates on and around this day. Sometimes it can be a little difficult to make sense of it all. As a result, I offer the following links to articles and other resources that will help you to learn more about these holidays, and to defend them against the oh-so-typical charge that Catholics are pagans. I say Protestants just don't know how to throw a party like we do! (evidence here)

I repost this every year around this time with additional links, so if you are a regular here see the bottom of the list for some material that you might not have read yet.

Have fun everyone! Be holy!

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Pope Francis, Capital Punishment, and the Death Penalty

Thanks to Pope Francis, our Catechism reads a little differently now. On August 1st, paragraph 2267 on capital punishment was revised to read as follows:
Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” (Francis, Address, Oct. 11, 2017), and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

When I first read this, I was shocked. Inadmissible? How is this not a complete change to what the Church had previously taught?

Let’s take a closer look at this. I think it’s important for us to understand what the pope has done here because the Church’s stance on capital punishment affects our witness to the world. It’s our answer to the question, “How dedicated are you really to the dignity of the human person?”

The original wording of paragraph 2267 frequently left people of good will debating when capital punishment could be used. It acknowledged that “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty,” and it observed that the cases in which it is absolutely necessary to execute the offender “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” Some proponents of capital punishment would read this and say, “See? It’s not always wrong, just sometimes.” The Church had given them an inch, and it was tempting to take a mile.

The original wording also included an important statement that was often lost in the debate on capital punishment. It read: “If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means.” An important question remained: At what point do we finally say that our non-lethal means are sufficient?

In the new wording, Pope Francis declares that capital punishment is inadmissible only after surveying the state of our understanding of human dignity and our current systems of detention. He has determined that non-lethal means are now sufficient to defend and protect. Therefore, we will limit ourselves to such means and consider the death penalty inadmissible.

Note that the new wording does not say that capital punishment is intrinsically evil (as in, evil always and everywhere, like abortion or euthanasia). In this sense, the teaching of the Church has not changed. Instead, it simply says that, in light of current circumstances, it is no longer necessary. Basically, he has shifted the conversation from, “When can we kill someone?” to “What can we do to defend and protect society without resorting to this?”

Back in 1968, Pope Paul VI challenged the world in a similar way. His advisors were telling him to make contraception permissible, at least in certain situations. Instead, he wrote Humanae Vitae, which courageously taught that contraception was contrary to human dignity, and he challenged the Church to come up with creative solutions to the problem of spacing births while maintaining unity and fruitfulness. As a result, Natural Family Planning was born.

What will be the creative solution to the problem of capital punishment? We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, let’s seize upon this exciting time to be Catholic, and let’s radically commit ourselves to the dignity of every human person.

For more on Pope Francis' contribution to the development of the Church's teaching on capital punishment and the death penalty, see the following resources:
Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Being Catholic in the Face of Scandal

In the last few months, national news stories have outlined new allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct involving bishops, priests, and even seminarians from various dioceses. It’s hard to read about. Very hard. It can test the faith of even the strongest of Catholics.

Yet, I'm still Catholic.

Why?

Nowadays, it’s not an easy question to answer. And as much as I want to seize the catechetical moment (and help you to seize it, too), I’d rather have some other reason to “account for the hope that is in me” (1 Pet 3:15) then these latest revelations. Yet here we are. Our friends, family, and the secular world all want to know why we don’t just jump ship already. We certainly can’t pretend this isn’t happening. We have to have an answer, not only for them but also for ourselves.

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. In order to stay and continue to give, pray, worship, and work with this Church of sinners, each of us will have to discover our own reason for being Catholic and remaining Catholic.

I recently came across a poignant quotation from F. J. Sheed, one of the greatest Catholic catechists and apologists of the 20th century. In his work Christ in Eclipse (1978), he offers a penetrating analysis of the scandals in his own day. The following words in particular were a moment of clarity for me:
“We are not baptized into the hierarchy; do not receive the cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope. [. . .] Christ is the point. [. . .] even if I sometimes find the Church, as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing a Pope [or bishop, or priest] could do or say would make me wish to leave the Church, although I might well wish that they would leave.” (pg. 6)

Isn’t that the truth! The hierarchy is such a visible symbol of the Church that when it goes wrong and we discover serious sinfulness within it, we are tempted to think that the Church is rotten to the core. And, if the hierarchy was all there is to the Church, then we’d be right.

But, that’s not all there is. The hierarchy is not the core, Jesus is. Granted, the hierarchy is vitally important. I don’t deny that for a moment. In fact, their importance is what makes their sins so tragic. Plus, a genuine, spiritual father in our midst is a tremendous blessing. But, there’s so much more to being Catholic than belonging to a Church with a hierarchy in it.

And that’s why I stay. I’m here for the good bishops, priests, and deacons, but I’m also here for the “so much more”: the Mass, the sacraments, the Eucharist, the undivided truth of what we believe, and the fullness of grace I so desperately need. I’m here for the angels and saints, for the prayers and the liturgy, for the best way to heaven. I’m here for our Blessed Mother, and Joseph, her most chaste spouse. I'm here for Jesus.

I can’t live without these things, and a million scandals could never tear them away from me. I refuse to give them that much power over me. And at any rate, where would I go? To some other church? There’s sinners there, too, even very wretched ones.

So, I’m choosing to stay. I’m choosing to fight for justice and truth where I am, to unceasingly strive for holiness, and to trust that the goodness of God will always prevail.

And I’m trying to never forget: Christ is the point.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Thursday, July 26, 2018

How to Explain the Mass to Children

Marissa Rick, "Jesus Meets the Women
from Jerusalem," The Compass 
“Daddy, why is the priest dressed like Jesus?” This is one of those seize-the-moment questions that children often ask their parents. If you have an answer, right there on the spot, then you can really teach them something.

Do you know the answer? I have my own thoughts, and I will share them, but first let's challenge ourselves and ask an even deeper question: “What is really going on at Mass?” That's what is at the heart of all this. There is something going on, some reason for doing worship this way, that causes the priest to dress how he does.

The “adult” answer is this: At Mass, Jesus re-presents His one, eternal sacrifice on the Cross to the Father, and we receive the grace that flows from this gift. That is all very well and good. In fact, it’s about as well and good as it gets! But, how do we explain the Mass to children?

Back in 2007, a homeschool mom, Christine, solved this problem for me. I think her answer is brilliant, and I've been using it ever since.

Here's how it goes: First, we have to explain how God is outside of time. After all, the Crucifixion was a long time ago. How can it still be present today? Imagine that time is like a movie reel rolled out on a table. The characters in each frame of the reel can only see what’s in that frame. But, we can see all the frames of the movie at once. That’s sort of like how time appears to God. All of time is eternally present to Him. He sees all the frames at once.

Next, we have to explain how Jesus can offer the same sacrifice every day. Imagine a drawing that a boy has created for his father. Better yet, if you have a son, think of a piece of artwork that he has created for you! It’s an example of his love for you. Prominently displayed on your refrigerator, it reminds you of his love for you every time you see it. And you are, in turn, compelled to love him and everyone else in your life. After all, love always begets love.

That’s how this “re-presentation of the one, eternal sacrifice” works. It’s as if Jesus is in heaven, pointing to His sacrifice on the Cross and saying, “Look Daddy, look at how much I love you!”

Note also that Jesus isn’t being sacrificed again and again, every day. The son isn’t drawing a new picture for his father every day. Instead, the son has created one drawing, and this is displayed every day. And the grace that we receive is the Father’s response of love, as His heart is filled to overflowing at the sight of what His Son has done for Him.

A movie reel. A child’s loving piece of art for his father. These are two images from everyday life that we can use to seize the moment and give the children in our lives a sense of what the Mass is like.

Oh, and why is the priest dressed like Jesus? Because he represents Jesus! The priest is doing what Jesus does. As Jesus presents His gift of love to the Father in heaven, the priest is presenting that same gift of love to us on earth. Thanks be to God!

To learn more about the Sacrifice of the Mass, see the following blog posts:

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

My Beard Evangelized, and You Can Too!

Me, happily bearded and evangelizing
A few years ago, when I was still working in a parish, my beard did some evangelizing. Now, before I elaborate, I should share a couple of points about my beard. First, it’s long. It's not “ZZ Top” long, but it's getting there. It recently grew past my collar bone, a milestone in the beard-growing community. Secondly, it's red, even though the hair on my head is dark brown. I'm not a geneticist, I don't know how or why these things happen, but they do.

All of this means that I frequently get comments on it, which can lead to some interesting conversations. In one instance, my beard even helped me invite someone to become Catholic! My wife and I were at a restaurant for Valentine’s Day, and the waiter and I started talking. It went something like this:

Waiter: I have always wanted to grow a beard like that.
Me: Make it happen!
Waiter: I can't! I tried once and it grew all patchy and misshapen, made me look like a creeper.
Me: I'm sorry to hear that.
Waiter: Yours makes you look so ... (he's waving his hand in the air, trying to find the right word)
Me: ... professorial?
Waiter: Yes, exactly! Nice word! What do you do for a living?
Me: I'm the Director of Religious Education at my parish.

He nodded his head in approval and then took our order. I thought that was the end of the conversation, but when he brought us our ticket after the meal, he reignited the conversation:

Waiter: What church did you say you worked for?
Me: Blessed Mother Church.
Waiter: Is that a church around here?
Me: Yes, it's a Catholic church here in Owensboro.
Waiter: Oh, Catholic! I've always thought that if I ever joined a church it would be a Catholic one. Everything there just seems so much more ... serious.
Me: Well, I'm the man to talk to!

I shook his hand, told him more about what I did for a living, and gave him my contact information. It was all a very pleasant surprise, and I walked away thinking, "All of that started because he liked my beard. My beard just evangelized!" It made me glad to have something that can be a conversation starter, that gets people to open up and share a bit of themselves.

Catholics often have trouble extending the invitation to consider the Catholic faith because they don't know how to get past that initial barrier that people put up in a public setting. We wait and wait for the perfect time when inviting someone to Mass or to RCIA would fit naturally in the conversation, and that time never comes. What should we do, just blurt it out?

Here’s the key: “out” yourself as a Catholic and people will come to you! I work for the Church, so all I have to do is say what I do for a living and I have an opening. But there are simple strategies that anyone can use. For example:
  • Pray before meals, even at restaurants or bars.
  • Wear t-shirts with Catholic or pro-life messages.
  • Put a Catholic bumper sticker on your car.
  • Be the only person in your group who doesn’t gossip or use curse words.
  • If someone asks about your lunch plans, say, “I’m going to daily Mass, want to join me?”
  • If someone opens up about a struggle or difficulty, offer to pray for that person right then and there.

None of this is rocket science. Just live a joyful, honest life and be proud to be Catholic. You have something that people desperately need. When they see you for who you are, they will have questions. That’s your opening. Then you just have to provide some answers and extend the invitation.

If all else fails, grow a beard. A highly recommend it.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Friday, May 25, 2018

5 Ways to Keep Your Catholic Faith on Campus

You just graduated from high school. Congratulations! Now college is on the horizon, a time full of promise and possibility. You will learn a lot, meet interesting people, choose a career, and possibly even find the person you will marry.

You will also make important decisions about your faith life. A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that 2/3 of Catholics who leave the Church do so before age 24. What will you do? It all depends on the plan you make now to nurture your faith during the grand adventure that awaits you.

Here are 5 ways to keep your faith on campus:
  1. Own your faith. Let’s be honest: when you go to Mass or Confession, it’s probably because your parents or your teachers are taking you there. You are Catholic because, well, that’s what they raised you to be. But, when you’re on your own it’s not up to them anymore. It can’t be. If you’re ever going to live a fully Catholic life, it has to be because that’s what you want. Otherwise it won’t stick. You have to make it yours.

  2. Find your why. One of the best ways to make it yours is to put it to the test. Ask the difficult questions: “Why do Catholics believe Jesus is God?” “What’s so bad about premarital sex, getting drunk, or skipping Mass?” “Should I even bother being Catholic anymore?”

    These are scary questions, but if Catholicism is true, it should stand up to such criticism, right? And at any rate, you need some answers. Without the “why” behind the “what” you believe and do as a Catholic, your faith will crumble at the first passionate atheist, Protestant, or secular apologist who comes along.

  3. Find others to be Catholic with. Faith is confirmed through learning, but it also needs to be lived with others. Christ made us to be a Mystical Body. “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). A group of good Catholic friends can hold you accountable, look out for you, and show you that it’s possible to have fun and enjoy life and still be true to what you believe.

    Look for a Newman Center or a local parish’s young adult ministry. Look for someone making the sign of the Cross before they eat. Look for dirty foreheads on Ash Wednesday. Good Catholics are always around, they're just in different degrees of hiding. They can be the support system you need in order to live your faith well.

  4. Serve others. I know you’re probably looking forward to that first Spring Break without any chaperones, but what if you went on a mission trip instead? That may sound boring or like too much work, but I can assure you: nothing will make your faith come alive like seeing how it transforms the lives of others. Someone you do not know is waiting on your spiritual or corporal work of mercy. Someone is waiting on you to share your faith with them. When you do, your smile will make them smile, and you will be so glad that you are Catholic.

  5. Stay close to the Gift-giver. As much as you are preparing for life after high school, keep in mind: your faith does not come from your own striving. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). He gave it, and He can sustain it as long as you remain close to Him.

    This means prayer and the sacraments. They are your lifeline, the air your soul needs in order to breathe. There is grace in communing with God in prayer, receiving Him in the Eucharist, and returning to Him in Confession.

With this grace you can be, not another statistic, but a happy Catholic full of life and grounded in your faith. I hope that's what you want! I desperately want it for you, and I think that if you are intentional about it, your faith can come alive on any campus.

For more advice on how to stay Catholic in college, see the following:
Pax Christi,
phatcatholic
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