14 November 2015

When Catholicism is "Unrealistic"

At this point, this news from the Synod has been discussed hundreds of times. Go me for being late to the game (or: not paying as close attention as I should have in the moment). I was prompted to think of the Synod again this week when I saw an article about a priest's parents who lived as brother and sister (that is, they did not have sexual relations). Why would a couple choose to do such a thing? The father of the priest (...the Father's father...get it??) had previously been married, divorced the first wife, and married the mother of the priest. Their son came home from school one day concerned that his parents were sinning by not going to Mass. The family went to Mass the next Sunday and continued to do so. They desired to receive Holy Communion but could not, as they were committing the mortal sin of adultery. Their parish priest said that they could petition the Church to see if the first marriage could be annulled or they could abstain from sexual relations, confess their sins, and return to the Sacrament. So they took the priest's second option and remained in such a relationship for the rest of their lives.

While I find this story to be a beautiful testament to the Faith, others would find it preposterous. It is too harsh, some say, to tell people that they cannot participate in receiving the Body of Christ. As if the Blessed Sacrament is a participation trophy. The Blessed Sacrament is not free merchandise distributed at an event. The Blessed Sacrament is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. When we treat the Blessed Sacrament a car that Oprah gives away ("You all get one!"), we have truly disgraced Our Lord. Receiving the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, while living in a state of unrepentant mortal sin is a poor way to thank Christ for His most generous and incomparable gift.*

At the Synod last month, the topic of admitting the divorced and remarried (that is, people committing adultery, a mortal sin) to Communion was discussed. Cardinal Marx said, "The advice to refrain from sexual acts in the new relationship not only appears unrealistic to many. It is also questionable whether sexual actions can be judged independent of the lived context." [Note: Let's be straight up. Marx is not the only person suggesting the Church deviate on various positions She has held for years, even since Her institution, even positions from which it is impossible to deviate. Pray for the Church, for those who oppose Her, and for those who need guidance.]

I will address the second sentence first. "It is questionable whether sexual actions can be judged independent of the lived context." I wonder what kind of context is required. Do we need to know that two people really care about each other? Do we need to know that the new couple has had children? Do we need to know that these people adopt stray animals? While all of these things may be the case, they do not change the fact that sin is being committed. I would like to see someone explain to Christ what the appropriate context is, when Christ Himself has said, "Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery." (Luke 16:18) What does Christ tell the woman caught in adultery? "Go, and now sin no more." (John 8:11)

This reaction is seen again and again when Christ meets sinners. He confronts the sin. He and the sinner both know it. Then He forgives and tells the sinner to go and sin no more. Our God operates under perfect justice and mercy. Our God IS perfect justice and mercy. For this reason, I cannot understand it when people deliberately go against what Our Lord has commanded us. It is not reasonable. Speaking of unreasonable, let's talk about unrealistic.

"The advice to refrain from sexual acts in the new relationship not only appears unrealistic to many." Unrealistic is what I am told it is when I suggest that people practice abstinence or NFP. It is unrealistic to expect that people should refrain from acting on the passions (what low esteem we hold each other in!). It is unrealistic to expect people to act based upon reason. It is unrealistic to live as an all good God has commanded us to do. In a way, it is unrealistic: it is unrealistic to expect that we shall, all on our own, be perfect as Our Father in Heaven is perfect. Sin can seep into our lives. What a good reason to have Confession! We can go to the priest who acts in the person of Christ to absolve us of our sins and help us to be holy.

What about the unrealistic things we cling to as part of the Catholic faith? Is it unrealistic to profess a man to be the Son of God and born of a Virgin? Is it unrealistic to say that the Son of God established His Church among sinners? Is it unrealistic to say that He gave us His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the beauty of a most glorious sacrament? Is it unrealistic to profess that He died and was resurrected? Is it unrealistic to say that He ascended to Heaven? Is it unrealistic?

All these things are unrealistic to the skeptic. Christians have endured persecution for professing a number of unrealistic things. I wonder: if it is unrealistic to believe that men and women cannot rise above their passions, how realistic is it to believe the tenants of the Faith? If we deny the words of Christ, how can we profess to belong to His Church?

I purport that it is unrealistic to allow sin to reign in our lives and at the same time claim we adhere to the Church's teaching. How can we speak of God's loving kindness and ask for His grace when we turn from Him? It is a slap in the face. We are told to love God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength. We are told to put God before all else. We cannot say, "Yes, Lord, I give you everything. But not this. Not this sin that I want to hold on to." When Jesus told the rich young man to give away his possessions and follow Him, the man went away sad (Matthew 19:16-22). He could not serve both Christ and the world. Neither can we serve both Christ and the popular opinion of the world. We cannot submit to sinful lives. Jesus is not in the sinful lives business. Jesus is in the salvation business. Jesus is in the follow me business.Jesus is in the calling it as it is business. Jesus is in the making sinners into saints business.

I could perhaps go into quite a discussion about problematic Church leadership, but I'll keep it brief and affirmative. What kind of leaders do we need in the Church? What kind of role models do we need in the Church? Who are the people who are willing to live out the life God plans for us? Who are the people who love Him fully, who put Him before all else? Look to the saints. Look especially to the martyrs. These are the people who, no matter their situation, said, "Yes. I will give everything to You. Even my very life. Because You are the Truth. You are Good. You are Justice and Mercy and Perfection." The saints are the people who didn't settle. The saints are the people who turned from sin and toward God. The saints are the people who stood at the foot of the cross, who battled dark nights of the soul, who led nations, who raised holy children, who sacrificed themselves for the love they had for their brothers, who served the poorest of the poor, who gave everything to God. The saints are the people who hear: "Well done, good and faithful servant."

So when Catholicism is "unrealistic," when it seems to ask too much of you, when it tells you to abandon sin, listen up! Respond to Christ's call. Return to the God of your fathers. Recall the doctrine of the Church. "Do this in remembrance of me." Remember the saints. The saints before you have followed Christ. They have kept the faith and run the race. Be a saint in our time.

*I couldn't help but include a Harry Potter reference. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Lupin discovers that Harry has been wandering around the school at night and says, "[James] and your mother gave their lives to save yours. And gambling their sacrifice by wandering around the castle, unprotected, with a killer on the loose seems to me to be a pretty poor way to repay them." Christ gave His life for us. Wandering around spiritually, letting ourselves believe that sin is okay, playing right into Satan's hands is a poor way to repay Christ and His sacrifice. It is a poor way to repay God's love for us.

05 November 2015

Coming Out As Catholic To Your Family & Friends

This post will probably be most helpful for those who have religious parents of a different faith, particularly those of a different sect of Christianity (that is, a Protestant denomination like Baptist or Methodist), as that was my situation. It may be helpful for people in other social circumstances, but I won't claim to be able to speak to something I don't have the experience to cover. Okay, let's jump in.

So, after careful study and thought, you've decided to convert (or return!) to Catholicism. First, that is awesome! I'm super stoked for you and hope that you're finding a nice parish, getting yourself to an RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program, learning Church history, choosing a Confirmation saint, preparing for Confession and getting ready to get down at Easter Vigil. You've got a great road ahead of you. But you still have to tell your family and friends about your decision. That can be super difficult, but it is an important step in the conversion process. Here is some of my advice when it comes to having "the conversion talk."

1. Remember Your Roots

Always remember where you came from, especially when it's from a non-Catholic Christian background, especially when your family is pretty devout in their own sect. Your family probably remembers you participating in Sunday School plays and learning about the faith right beside them on Sunday mornings. If your church was as fellowship-focused as mine, you'll probably have a long list of potlucks, picnics and house visits under your belt. In this circumstance, you have faith and community to contend with. You may find that when you say, "Hey, I'm converting," people hear "I don't appreciate what you did to help my faith," or "The memories I have of our times of fellowship together mean nothing."

Just because you now believe the Catholic Church is the Church Christ established while here on earth, you should not feel or communicate arrogance about your conversion. Did you come to the Church all on your own without God's grace? I didn't think so. Instead, be grateful for what God has done in your life, and that includes being thankful for the journey and where it all started.

2. Know Your Audience

Your audience will largely decide your delivery. That is not to say that you should be dishonest about why you are converting. Rather, only you know what kind of people you are telling your epiphany to. If your family is very devoutly Protestant, as mine was, you might find yourself with a large discussion on your hands (*see #3). You might need to emphasize how much they have helped you develop your faith and that this decision is not made against them, but for Christ. If your friends are not incredible apathetic to any religion, as many of mine were, you will face more confused looks than anything else. You may get to thrown down some fun facts (eg. "Do you know about St. Lawrence? He was a martyr who was tied to a grill and slowly roasted to death. Part way through, he said, 'Turn me over. I'm done on this side.' True story."). Knowing who you're speaking to will help you know how to say what you need to say.

3. Plan Your Speech

Now, this doesn't have to be a huge speech, but knowing what you want to say ahead of time can help you out when nerves might be hanging about. [Just don't be like me when I have to talk on the phone and write it all down, only to go off the cuff. "Uh...hi...hello...how are you? My name is Haley. ...Oh, right, I called about" Don't be a bumbling mess.]

If you are at a loss, just keep it simple. "Hi, so-and-so. I want to share some exciting news with you. I am converting to Catholicism. I have thought and prayed about this for a good while. I appreciate your prayers and would love it if you came to my Confirmation. Any questions?"

Don't make excuses. Don't tiptoe around the topic. If your audience is in the "That's interesting. I have many questions" camp, enjoy the opportunity to tell people what you love about the Church. If your audience is in the "What utter nonsense this is!" camp, be patient and charitable. You have had time to think about converting, while your people have not. Continue to be patient and charitable through any questions or exclamations. Looking back, I will always see the ways I could have said or done something differently, and the only thing I regret about converting is that I definitely could have handled telling the news in a more charitable way. Again, this is an opportunity to tell people what you love about the Church. Time to represent.

4. Find Your Support

If your loved ones respond positively to the news of your conversion, then celebrate! That is great! If your loved ones are straight up baffled by your decision, then pray for them and find the support you need in the Church. Invoke the saints: Saints Helen and Monica are patrons of converts (and the mothers of Constantine and Augustine, respectively). We also live in the age of social media; use it to your advantage. I have made many Catholic friends because of blogs and Twitter (check out my "favorite blogs" link above and follow me at @bakeorbake!). Get involved at your parish with Bible studies and weekly Rosaries, and get to know other converts. Find your own support group.

In Conclusion

We owe a great deal to our family and friends. These are the people who have seen us grow up, who know us better than others, and who have our best interests in mind. Remember these things when you share your news. Though this may be a difficult step at first, with time, your loved ones will likely adjust and may even consult you on an aspect of Catholicism. My family and friends came to my Confirmation and showed their support again at my Nuptial Mass. The process of converting can be exciting, but the result is important, too. Always show others the light of Christ.