Monday, September 28, 2015

True Tolerance

Tolerance is the chief virtue in the modern hierarchy of values. The enlightened man is the tolerant man; he may certainly have his own convictions, but he understands that others have their convictions, too, and they are as certain of theirs as he is of his. This attitude leads him to hold his convictions in a sort of vague and non-dogmatic manner, for to insist too strongly on any particular point of belief would imply the rejection of non-complementary values, which is the fundamental sin against tolerance. Thus while the tolerant man may not commit certain sins himself, he must not be too strident in condemning sinful activities in others. He may not personally affirm a certain philosophy or political belief, but his tolerance keeps him from arguing too vehemently for his own. It must never seem that there is not room for every man and creed under the big tent of pluralism. Tolerance effectively keeps such a man from taking a stand for anything – except the virtue of tolerance, which must be consistently asserted above all things.

We are all used to this reprehensible modern idea. But, as we have seen in other cases, this modern definition of tolerance is merely a cheap counterfeit for what was once an actual Christian concept. This is nothing new. Christian liberty is replaced by the secular concept of liberty; the Aristotelian-Thomist philosophy of nature is dethroned by a Freudian-biologist assessment of nature; the classical ethos of love is transformed into the debased, passion-driven thing that now passes as love. This bait-and-switch has also happened with the concepts of the State, faith, justice, worship and almost every other aspect of Christian thought. It is no different with tolerance. The purpose of this article, then, is not to be another invective against false tolerance, but an examination of the older, Christian virtue of tolerance that the modern counterfeit has replaced.

Christian tolerance is a related to the cardinal virtue of fortitude. Fortitude is the habit of the soul whereby a person is able to endure difficulties resolutely in pursuit of the good. Tolerance is one aspect of fortitude and related to patience. When we encounter an obstacle or difficulty, patience is the virtue that helps us to maintain our inner tranquility in the midst of the difficulty, thus enabling us to persevere in God’s grace undisturbed. 

This is related to tolerance, but tolerance is a further refinement of patience. There are many kinds of difficulties one can encounter in life – a storm may knock a tree on your fence, a reckless driver may rear end your vehicle, a co-worker may irritate you by grinding their teeth non-stop, or you may come down with a nasty case of gall stones. 

We are called to be patient in every adversity, but tolerance is a special kind of patience that we exercise when the source of our adversity is a moral agent, because the free will of the agent endows the obstacle or adversity with another degree of value – personal culpability. Whereas patience helps us to maintain our tranquility in the face of any obstacle, tolerance helps us persevere in charity when faced with the culpable failings of others; it moderates our responses to such persons and enables us to react with charity and forgiveness instead of harshness. 

Thus, tolerance can only be exercised towards moral agents. I can be patient when the tree falls on my fence, but I do not exercise tolerance towards it. A man can be heroically patient when passing a gall stone, but he is not practicing tolerance. Tolerance is exercised, however, when we continue to be charitable and friendly towards our co-worker despite his annoying personal habits; it is a work of tolerance to smile and continue undisturbed in our tranquility when the clumsy teenage driver rear ends our car. While we are patient in every adversity, tolerance is a special kind of patience that must be exercised when our adversity comes from a culpable moral agent.

Humility is necessary for tolerance; in fact, tolerance is motivated by humility. We are quick to overlook the irritating traits or faults of others because we know that we, too, have such faults. Tolerance grounded in humility stops us from rushing to judgment and losing charity in a particular sort of adversity.

But there is one further distinction to make: Tolerance is exercised in face of difficulties that come from a culpable agent, but which are not in themselves immoral. For example, we can be tolerant of a co-worker’s constant teeth-grinding, a family member’s unpleasant body odor, a friend’s habit of picking his nose, a customer who irritates you with his inane chatter. St. Therese of Lisieux mentions a nun who consistently splashed her unintentionally while doing dishes, and an old nun who had a habit of “sucking her cheek” during Adoration. These sorts of actions are the proper objects of tolerance; it helps us to maintain our charity in the midst of the annoyances and irritations we inevitably encounter when dealing with other human beings. The patient endurance of these foibles of human nature is what Christian tradition has called tolerance.

But notice that none of these things are immoral in themselves; they are morally neutral acts whose unpleasantness comes not from the fact that they are evil but that we personally find them irritating. Morally evil actions are not the proper objects of tolerance; we may be tolerant of a friend who always carries around a disgusting chaw-bottle to spit his tobacco in, but we should never be tolerant of a friend who steals or blasphemes. We may be tolerant of a customer who wastes our time with banal chit-chat, but we should not be tolerant of a customer who offends our ears with sexually explicit jokes and provocative or harassing speech.

The same can be said of formal error or heresy. St. Bernard of Clairvaux was extremely forgiving of the personal faults and irritations of his brothers but was relentless in condemning the heresies of Abelard. The same can be said of many other saints and doctors.

In short, sin or error can never be the proper objects of tolerance. No saint ever spoke of tolerating heresy or exercising tolerance towards the adulteries of the sinner. In such cases, we have an obligation to “preach the truth in season and out” (2 Tim. 4:2) and to “admonish the sinner”. It is not tolerance to refuse to condemn a wicked action or expose the errors of heretical or harmful philosophies. Modern “tolerance” is not tolerance but indecision.

It is not a coincidence that the idea of tolerance has been perverted to mean refusal to take a decisive stand against something; tolerance was originally about us. It was originally about my reactions to something, maintaining my tranquility and my charity. Its purpose was to help maintain is in a specific, objective state of grace in the face of daily annoyances. It used to be known as Christian forbearance, as St. Paul says "forbearing one another" (Col. 3:13, Eph. 4:2). But modern tolerance is about the other; it is about not offending someone else, not disturbing them. And this shift to the other is a shift to the subjective, both because it is no longer focused on maintaining ourselves in an objective state of grace, but also because it is irrelevant whether the other’s perceived offense may be rightly or wrongly incurred. The mere fact of their possible offense is to be avoided at all costs; it is of no consequence why they are offended or whether they are right to be so. So we see in the modern corruption of tolerance of profound shift towards the subject that has robbed the concept of all its objective value.

And that is a profoundly harmful shift that we should have no desire to tolerate.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Evangelization vs Sales

Are sales and evangelizing the same? In a discussion I had once about persuasion and evangelization, it was asserted that they are. His reasoning was that both sales and religion are trying to convince someone that they need what you have to offer. The manner in which those truths are presented and the outcome of whether a person is persuaded (or the sale is made) determines whether one is good evangelizer (salesman) or not. Such a conclusion, to me, seems to go against those examples given by us by our Blessed Lord in the Gospel.

After Jesus Christ stated in John 6 that He is the bread of life, and that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood to have life, what happened? First they complained “Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: This saying is hard, and who can hear it?” John 6:60. Christ asserts that His words are truth and life, but to no avail, for “After this many of his disciples went back; and walked no more with him” John 6:66

In sales, the success is dependent upon the ability to make the sale and close the deal. Successful evangelization is the faithful presentation of the Gospel for the love of God. Sure, both an evangelizer and a salesman could be dishonest, and they may both choose to attract people's attention with something attractive, or how this or that will avoid something terrible; to a salesman, it is ultimately about numbers, whereas the ultimate goal of an evangelizer is proclaiming the kingdom of God and the truth.

We are ambassadors sent on a mission from God with a message of salvation for all men. The goal of a salesman is to close a sale, while an ambassador is concerned about communicating the message that his King has given him. If an ambassador is rejected (and God has told us that we would be rejected as He was rejected John 15:18), he is not a failure, for many offerings of peace and good will go rejected.

What would cause displeasure in a king with an ambassador? Not going to those he sent them, not relaying the message he gave them, not being loyal to him. As the character of the ambassador reflects on the character of the king, in the case of the Christian, not being upright and virtuous would cause anger to our King.

Once a sale is complete, oftentimes a salesman moves on or may perhaps try to sell you something else in the future, but an ambassador who stays in the country helps maintain that good relationship between the king and those to whom the King sent him.

Efforts that are not grounded in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and that limit themselves to what makes our holy Religion most attractive in the hopes of getting all men under one big tent will ultimately fail because they are not a faithful Imitation of Christ's proclamation of the Kingdom, they are not rooted truth, neither are they sustained by grace.

On this feast of St.Matthew let us resolve to take our place amongst the Prophets and Apostles of old, who spoke God’s truth in and out of season, who were willing to suffer and even be put to death, and who concerned themselves more with fidelity to the words which God told them to speak, rather than on how they could alter the message to make it more enticing.

“They shall speak of the magnificence of the glory of thy holiness: and shall tell thy wondrous works.” Psalm 145:5.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Spirit blows where He will

Years ago, when I was a Director of Religious Education, I had a certain young man come into my RCIA program who had a pretty amazing journey to the Catholic Faith. He was raised with no religion whatsoever, in what I would call as redneck or white trash sort of upbringing. When he was 18, he got a girl knocked up. He wanted to continue dating her, but her father, an evangelical Christian of the Benny Hinn/Kenneth Copeland sort, refused unless the young man turned his life around. So the dad took him to a Promise Keepers rally and the young man had a genuine and powerful conversion to Christ.

Well, he turned his life around and became a committed evangelical Christian. He married the girl he knocked up and went on to have several more children with her. He studied the Scriptures, read spiritual books, and went to Protestant evangelical churches that had reputations for being dynamic. 

But he was restless in his spirituality, because he was a structured sort of fellow and evangelical Christianity provided him with little structure to guide his spiritual development. 

Anyhow, he ended up exploring Messianic-Judaism, which is essentially a kind of Christianity that still retains aspects of the Mosaic Law. He adopted dietary customs, proscribed fast days, ritual prayers, wearing the tzitzit tassles, attended a Messianic Christian church, and put the mezuzah on his house. His evangelical Christian friends (rightly) chided him for Judaizing and suggested his faith was weak or incomplete. I, who knew him casually, took another approach, suggesting the similarities between the ritual aspects of Judaism and the practices of Catholics. He was very excited to learn that there was another branch of Christianity that provided this sort of structure, and eventually I was able to demonstrate that Catholicism was the fulfillment of all the symbols and ceremonies of the Old Law. Once he realized this, he desired to enter the Church and enrolled in my RCIA program.

The next nine months were amazing. The guy was a sponge. He devoured Catholic books and articles, attended Extraordinary Form Masses with me, spent hours with me before and after classes talking about how eye-opening his conversion to the Faith had been. He cried during and after his First Confession. We prayed together. We developed a wonderful friendship. 

On Easter Vigil, he came into the Church alone; his wife refused to attend the service because she was in such opposition to his entry into the Church. But I rejoiced. He could not be daunted. He entered the Church of Christ with joy. Here was one who would glorify Christ by doing great things for God's kingdom.

Some years later, another man came to me seeking entry into the Church. He was an older fellow who had spent most of his life in a Lutheran assembly, but I got the impression this was solely because his extended family attended there. He did not seem to have any real spiritual or religious inclination one way or another; he wanted to get into the Church because his girl friend was Catholic and he wanted to marry her soon. So we let him through the program. He was a decent fellow; he came to all the classes (although he never asked any questions); he did not really ask for anything and did whatever we asked, although he demonstrated no particular spiritual or theological interest at all. He always left immediately after classes; I can't say I ever had a real spiritual conversation with him one on one. I had serious concerns about his commitment to the faith and whether or not he would still be practicing after his wedding. He just seemed like he was going through the motions. He lacked any of the zeal or knowledge of the other fellow.

Well, after making his first confession - what seemed to be a real uncomfortable chore to him - he was received into the Church at the Easter Vigil as well.

Many years have passed. Guess who is still practicing the Faith?

The first fellow, the zealous young man who had gone through agnosticism, evangelical Protestantism. and Messianic Christianity to get to Catholicism, very quickly abandoned the practice of the faith. Not long after being received into the Church, he began an affair with a friend of the family. He carried it on for some time before it eventually became public. All his friends were scandalized. His wife divorced him and took the kids. He began smoking pot and shacked up with his mistress. He never returned to the practice of the Faith. I saw him some years later and he tried to express some stumbling, insincere resolutions about "getting to Mass this Christmas" or something, but one could see that the spark of faith had long since died, extinguished by a string of adulteries and kept out by constant drug use.

What about the second man, the one whom I had little hope for? Yes, you guessed it. He has kept the Faith. I see him at Mass every single Sunday. I can't say he ever developed a spiritual disposition or an interest in anything theological, but year after year of Mass attendance and reception of the sacraments ennobled him with a certain humble joy. He is always smiling. He volunteers regularly for the Fish Fry, the festivals, the cemetery clean up - I see him at the Stations of the Cross during Lent and other public devotions. He regularly serves as an usher. His Mass observance is regular and his disposition always cheerful. I would have never suspected he would still be around, but he is. And the work of grace is evident.

What is the lesson of this? The Spirit blows where He wills. Nobody can predict how anyone will turn out. God's providence makes a mockery of the wisdom of men.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Who Can Take the Grace of God From Us?

“Just as the action of one and the same water acts differently on the earth, air, and sun, according to the nature of each, producing wine in the vine and oil in the olive tree, so does one and the same grace profit each person according to his needs.” St. John Damascene, 2nd Homily on the Assumption. Available here on Audiobook

Grace is what sustains us, what allows us to have good thoughts, good desires, and good deeds. To grow in grace is to have greater favor with God. Grace is what allowed St. John the Baptist to subsist on locusts and honey, for the Virgin Mary to remain spotless from all sin, for St. Laurence to jest even on the gridiron, and for St. Thomas to write the Summa. Grace was made manifest in them in different ways, according to their needs and God’s plan.

St. Thomas did not subsist on locusts and honey, yet who would say that he was not a great vessel of grace and friend of God? This is an important consideration when seeking after perfection, that the grace which we hope and labor for will be apportioned to us according to our nature. What do I mean by nature that which is necessary for us to fulfill the labors which God has put in front of us this day, and to grow in such a manner as to yield greater fruit and be given greater tasks for the honor and Glory of God in the future . 

“If a holy exercise be sometimes omitted for the sake of some act of piety, or of some brotherly kindness, it can easily be taken up afterwards; but if it be neglected through distaste or slothfulness, then it is sinful, and the mischief will be felt.” Imitation of Christ, Book One, Of the Exercises of a Religious Man 

To receive the fullness grace one must not be only doing the right things, but must also be doing them for the right reason, at the right time, and in the right manner. Please note that I said the fullness of grace. If through neglect a person omitted saying the Rosary which they normally say before dinner in order to make time for personal amusement, they may still receive grace by saying it before bed, but perhaps not the fullness of Grace by saying it in the time and manner which they are accustomed. 

It is more important that we seek after doing the good and acceptable will of God than even choosing things that, in and of themselves, exteriorly seem more pleasing when isolated in and of themselves. The Mass, for example, is an inexhaustible source of grace, but it only benefits us in proportion to our disposition to receive grace while in attendance at its celebration. It would seem more pleasing to hear Mass twice on a Sunday in and of itself, but such an exercise could be a hindrance to grace if to do so meant the neglect of small children, the abandonment of spiritual reading, and so on. It does not mean that to hear Mass twice will not lead to more grace, but that the fullness of grace is only received when these activities are in harmony with God’s will.  Hearing a second Mass may not lead to the reward or benefit that the attentive patient care of little children might lead to depending on circumstances.  

This is where great strife comes, because being aware of our own weaknesses and inclinations we cannot trust that an impulse always comes from grace. To counter this problem, the spiritual masters have written about the importance of religious obedience to a superior or spiritual director, and to that we add the importance of reading the works of the spiritual masters and lives of the Saints, following a trusted rule of life, and performing the Ignatian exercises. 

These ideas, such as the need for a spiritual director, are often times advances not only as something good but as something absolutely necessary. Dare I say many admonishments from the Saints on this point can even make people anxious to find a director, even to the point of possibly of picking one that is bad for them rather than good.

Ultimately, our greatest need is the Grace of God; not all of us have at our disposal the same means to it, but it is one grace that rather manifests its fruition in holy living and the perfecting of every good work.  Our greatest obstacle to this grace is our own sinfulness, weakness, and stubbornness.

One day in the near future, the public worship might be taken away from us, our Holy Bible may be made illegal or be prohibited from citing in public because it is too offensive, and anything in between. Yet, the government cannot outlaw grace, and in the future they may produce those circumstances in which we can obtain from God His favor in abundance.

Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. Matthew 5:11

If we can let this truth penetrate our hearts, on that frightful day when we may be stripped naked of all things that were previously beneficial or seemed so needful to us,we can stand with boldness and say with St. Paul:

"Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? or distress? or famine? or nakedness? or danger? or persecution? or the sword? (As it is written: For thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) But in all these things we overcome, because of him that hath loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8 35-39

Friday, September 04, 2015

My First Attempt at Catholic Writing

I was a cradle Catholic in the sense that I was baptized as a baby. But I never was taken to Mass, never made a First Communion as a fact, I never even knew I was Catholic until I was an adult.

I had a powerful conversion to evangelical Protestantism in 1999, when I was 19 year old, but almost immediately saw the flaws in it and began exploring Catholicism in 2000. I was converted solely through historical and theological reading and was received into the Church on October 4, 2002, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

From the very beginning of my conversion, I was filled with a zeal to share the good news I had received with others, especially Protestants I knew who loved the Lord Jesus but did not know about the fullness of faith in the Holy Catholic Church. 

Last night when I was cleaning out some old boxes, I cam across an essay on the Blessed Virgin Mary I wrote in June, 2002, which was actually before I was even received into full communion. The essay was supposed to be part of a longer "book" meant to explain Mary to Protestants. The particular essay was entitled "The Role of the Woman in God's Salvific Plan." It was, essentially, my first foray into writing to defend the faith, though three years before I'd ever heard of blogging.

It is a rambling essay, and very theologically unsound; in fact it contains some serious errors. But the language is flowery and it has a charming style that is pleasant to read. I thought it would be fun to scan it and post it here; you can see my edits in several places where I'd planned on making revisions. It is 12 pages long. It's just funny for me to see how I was writing when I was 22.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Restoration of SSPX Faculties

"A final consideration concerns those faithful who for various reasons choose to attend churches officiated by priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X. This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one. From various quarters, several Brother Bishops have told me of their good faith and sacramental practice, combined however with an uneasy situation from the pastoral standpoint. I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity. In the meantime,motivated by the need to respond to the good of these faithful, through my own disposition, I establish that those who during the Holy Year of Mercy approach these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins."

My friends, this is good news. Undoubtedly, good news.

There are those who are arguing that this is a bad because it represents a further "concession" of Rome and a further "victory" for the SSPX. Yes, this is a concession from Rome; and yes, it certainly is a victory for the SSPX - but Rome and the SSPX are not "against" each other, as if the SSPX "wins" and Rome "loses." People who think that way see these two groups in fundamental and irreconcilable opposition; they do not want the SSPX to reconcile with Rome. They want the SSPX to go off into oblivion (or for Rome to).

My friends, I have argued in the past on this blog that I believed the SSPX were in an objective state of schism. I have argued for a traditionalism that is not yoked to the SSPX. I did not personally come to Catholic tradition through the SSPX nor do I feel I personally owe anything to Archbishop Lefebvre. Still, no matter what position you hold, this is good news. It is good because it is legitimate. It is undeniable. It removes us from the realm of speculation and debate and puts us on solid footing with something.

There are some who will say that Francis should not have restored their faculties for confession without first settling their irregular canonical status. There are those who will huff and say that they didn't need to have their faculties restored because they were never validly revoked. Whatever. I am going to rejoice in this, and rejoice in it fully, without any "yeah buts" or "should've beens."

It is ironic that Francis, in his obvious lack of any care for the specifics of doctrine, is better poised to reconcile the SSPX than Benedict, for whom every doctrinal issue had to be settled first. Francis' approach to the SSPX has only been generous thus far; it is not perfect. He no doubt sees the SSPX and traditionalism as one of many "ways" of "expressing" the infinite "creativity" of the Holy Spirit's movement within Catholicism. Trads are one member of the group under the big tent - a stodgy, ill-manner, sour-faced, funereal, rosary counting member, but a member none the less. And there is room under the tent for us, just like there is for charismatics, Novus Ordo Catholics, and every other little group within the Church (whatever he means by that word).

I am fairly certain this is Francis' ecclesiology. And from the point of view of the SSPX's situation, it is good, because it means that Francis values getting them in the tent rather than making sure they agree on everything before they can come in.

I am going out on a limb here, but I believe that once faculties are restored, it will be difficult to remove them again without some kind of precipitating event or crisis. Francis cited the SSPX's excellent character and behavior as reasons for restoring their faculties. I assume the next year is a time of testing and probation for the SSPX. If nothing goes wrong, I would be surprised if they are not fully reconciled before the end of Francis' pontificate. Is that too optimistic? If even Benedict, who was sympathetic to the Traditional Mass, could not reconcile them, how could Francis? Simple. Francis is way, way more likely to simply reconcile them immediately and work out the details later. Again, he doesn't care about the doctrinal details. He just wants them in the house. He is more likely to grant them unconditional reconciliation; no preambles, no agreements, just "come on in and we'll sort it out later."

Sure, some will say it is a plot - that he wants them regularized so he can begin dismantling them, as he did with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. I don't know; I grant that's a possibility, but my in my gut I do not think this is the case. I suspect, motivated by some happy-clappy "We are one in the spirit; we are one in the Lord" sort of mood, he just wants everybody together and everything else can ultimately be debated later.

One final point - I have argued in the past that the SSPX are/were in a state of schism. Many Catholics are divided on this, and honestly, not just because of axes to grind for or against the Society, but because the Magisterium itself has given contrary opinions on the matter and refused to definitively clarify their position. But one thing is clear: after yesterday's announcement, there is no way I can consider the SSPX to currently be in schism.

The reason is simple: the Pontiff cannot give faculties to a group truly in schism. If they were in schism, reconciliation would have to happen first. If the Pope wanted to make judgments pertaining to the faculties of some oriental schism or some other break-away group, reconciliation with Rome would be a sine qua non of such discussions. Can you imagine the Pope talking about the granting or removing of faculties to a group that had not even been reunited with Rome? It would be unthinkable; nonsense, even. Like restoring faculties to the Old Catholics without first getting them back into some sort of communion.

By granting the SSPX faculties, Francis has demonstrated his belief that they are not outside the pale. Not that they are in a perfect situation, either. The pope had said in his statement that he hopes the SSPX will recover "full communion" with Rome, which obviously speaks to the point that the Society's position is still irregular and that they are not in perfect communion. There is still work to be done. But I can't see how they can still be in schism.

That's not to say I believe they were never in schism, but I cannot see how they are still in that state now. Of course, there is one other option to consider - that neither the Pope, nor anyone at the Vatican, knows what their true status is; in fact, "status" may not even be a concept that this pope cares about. After all, this is a man who calls a Protestant pastor "my brother bishop." That words like "schism", "communion", "reconciliation" and so on no longer mean anything and anyone trying to sort out of objective status of the group is trying to nail Jell-O to a tree.

I do not know how to sort out the particulars; any attempt to do so presupposes a kind of consistency on the part of the Magisterium and a uniformity of the definitions of words and canonical terms, something nobody can presume upon anymore.

That is why it is enough for me to simply say, this is a good thing. I pray for my brethren in the SSPX. I pray they will find away, in the wisdom of God, to be fully reconciled in the Church with a regularized status in full union with Rome and exercising a legitimate ministry. This is a very powerful step, and it is one I rejoice in unconditionally.