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Monday, July 9, 2018

Why Catholics Have a Catechism

In one week I will be winging my way to Franciscan University for three full days of study during the St John Bosco Conference.  I am blessed to belong to a Parish that wants their Catechists and Leaders to be formed in solid Truth rather than fallible opinion.  I look forward to this trip and for the chance to study.  I am a member of the Dominican Order.  Put someone like me in a University setting and say, "take a class" and you have handed me the keys to the kingdom.

In preparation for that week I am re-reading a booklet I picked up there last year.  Written by Dr. Petroc Willey (one of those Catholic Converts who has made an amazing impact on theology since coming into the Church), Reading the Catechism (How to discover and appreciate its riches) is a simple guide designed for people like me.  It helps us to read this tremendous gift with the right mindset, so to speak, so as to reap much from the mine of Love and Truth it presents to the world.

For those not members of The Church there is much misunderstanding as to why us Catholics have 'another book'.  Isn't the Bible enough for us?  The short answer is, "No" and the reason is simple: God did not tell us to simply rely upon Holy Scripture. In fact, in Scripture itself, it is recorded that He set up something visible and real designed to guide us and help us traverse the world.  

For those people who ARE Catholics it is a sadness that the rich and beautiful document offered to us by The Church in 1992 is not appreciated.  I have had otherwise loving and devoted Catholics tell me that they were told by 'a good priest' that they only have to use it as a guide, implying that not everything written there carries authority and it is up to the individual to decide what is okay and what is not okay to hold as Truth.

They were not amused when I suggested to them that what they had just described was Protestantism. 

Why DO Catholics have a Catechism of the Catholic Church?

Essentially, it is because we approach belief in God in much the same way as our Elder Brothers and Sisters in The Faith, the Jews.  In fact, if you want to see how we (as Catholics) trace our Jewish Roots and see Catholic Christianity as a fulfillment of the Covenant with The Nation of Israel you can begin by noticing our reverence for Holy Scripture and our reverence for The Teachings.

Bishop Robert Barron, in a blogpost on March 22, 2016, writes, 

 "The Temple in Jerusalem was everything for ancient Jews. The Temple was the religious center of the nation, as well as political and cultural capital. To get some idea of its importance, we would have to think of the Vatican..."

The good Bishop goes on to use other examples - The United Nations Building is one - for those who are not Catholic; however, the point he is making is that The Temple was everything to the ancient Jew.  It was the center of the universe because it housed the Holy of Holies:  The Ark of the Covenant.  It is not until Mary, through her acceptance of the Good News and the Will of the Father, takes into her womb and shares her flesh, her DNA with The Word that the importance of The Ark shifts from a thing to a being - she becomes, for Catholics, the Ark of the New Covenant for within her is all that the previous Ark held - The Word of God (the 10 Commandments), the Authority of God (the staff of Aaron) and the Food from Heaven (manna).  

For Catholics, accepting Jesus into their lives as their Personal Lord and Savior means accepting ALL that Jesus has proclaimed to us - and He established a Church.  To believe in Jesus means to believe in His Church.  Dominican Theologian Romanus Cessario writes:

"From God and the blessed, to the angels, to the prophets, to Christ and his apostles, to the prelates and teachers and preachers of the Church, Aquinas claims a formal community in those who are taught, the things taught, and one universal causal ordering that moves from principal through instrumental or ministerial teachers." Cessario, Christian Faith and Theological Life, 68-69.

For an individual to declare their belief and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord of their heart, mind and soul without accepting their belief in the Church He founded is to love Him with conditions.  For a Catholic to declare that they really like some things the Church declares to be true but not all of them is to be a Catholic with conditions - and so, by being a Catholic OR a Born Again Christian with conditions, one cannot logically declare that they totally love Jesus.  What they have done is, effectively, made Jesus one more really cool spiritual guru.  He is not God.

BUT WAIT - shout the Catholic Church Haters - what about (cue the endless list of dumb and suspect encyclicals written by every pope since Peter)!  

Yes, we have had some rather ridiculous people sit in the Chair of Peter over the last two thousand years.  In fact, probably no group has done more damage to The Church than her own members.  The know-nothings might have burned out Churches, physically attacked our members in an attempt to keep those uppity Papists out of the American mainstream but they did not do nearly as much harm as the priests who raped and molested children, carried on active homosexual relationships while wearing the cape of the Cardinal or fathered children with women.  If I, as a Catholic, speak out against slavery you can bet I will get an email from someone asking me about the Pope who supported the Confederacy in the Civil War.

To this I can answer simply that The Church has never been anything other than a hospital for sinners.  I can acknowledge those sins committed by her children and humbly ask for forgiveness.  I can try and teach the difference between infallibility and impeccability to those with an open mind and a willingness to listen.  To deny our checked path would be not only foolish but dishonest.

What I can also do, however, is state that I as a Faithful Catholic accept as Truth all that the Catholic Church proclaims and declares to be Truth - and I do not even know all of it and probably never will.

My belief in Jesus is not based on what the rest of the world tells me is expedient and acceptable.  As a result, I will always be the odd person out.  To my shame, as a young person, I did not have the backbone or the strength to stand true and I fell into a life of sin.  To my eternal gratitude, The Church never wavered and never told me to not come home; rather, she held me to a standard she knew to be impossible to achieve without her.  And when I returned, she rejoiced as a Mother does when a child stumbles home, bloody and beaten and tired of trying to do it 'my way'.

I have the Catechism not as a guide to maybe follow if the mood hits me or my friends say it is okay.  I have the Catechism to help me traverse the world as a Christian.  I am the one who has to be willing to walk towards heaven and do so no matter how sore my feet get, no matter the blisters on my heels or the bruises on my knees from falling.  The Catechism is a gift from The Church - it shows me the Way...and I follow it because He gave The Church HIS authority.  His authority does not belong to presidents and kings - it belongs to His Church.

What The Church binds on earth is bound in I better get with it.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Here Comes The Kingdom!

RCIA is taking a bit of a break right now as the Catechists refresh themselves and the staff heads to Franciscan University to attend The St John Bosco Conference.  There we will immerse ourselves in theology, philosophy and Catechetical Studies in order to be able to come back to our parish and share the tremendous Faith that is The Catholic Church.

One of the first topics I will be addressing with the Catechumenate in August is The Kingdom of God.  I love this topic.  It is one I have shared with people in the past.  Every time I do I find myself lost again in the wonder that is The Church.  

Knowing that God the Father has always willed for us to share in His Divine Life gives me a comfort.  I am not doing the Church thing to be fashionable or to be politically correct.  I am doing this stuff because it is His Will.  If I am, as a recovering member of my 12 Step fellowship, turning MY will over to Him and trying, one day at a time, to do only HIS Will then by trying every day to follow the precepts of Holy Mother Church I am on the right track.

We Catholics believe that the sin of Adam darkens our intellect, weakens our will and leads us to disorder in our desires.  We are beautiful creatures damaged by our first father's inability to trust in God.  That wound, what we call Original Sin, does not make us depraved. It makes us DEPRIVED.  The Sacrament of Baptism heals that wound, though the effect of that wound is what we struggle with each day for the rest of our earthly life.

I believe in the Sacramental and Liturgical life of Holy Mother Church because I believe that She was born in the Blood and Water that flowed from the side of Jesus.  I believe He chose 12 Apostles and gave them authority.  I believe He gave Peter primacy.  I believe He established a New Covenant at The Last Supper. I believe He sent The Holy Spirit to teach, guide and instruct that first college of cardinals just as The Holy Spirit does so today.  Most importantly, I believe that ALL those who seek and do the Will of The Father, through Jesus can share in the Kingdom.

Inevitably people ask me if I then believe that no one in authority in The Church can make a mistake.  Uh, no...the members of the Church are sinners and will fall short.  At times Church leaders, laity and ordained, will fall grievously short of their duties as Christians.  What I also know, however, is that The Church will be a sign of contradiction for the world and thus be subject to hatred, persecution and great trials.  

The question I have for myself is this: what am I doing to make Holy Mother Church strong?  Am I poking and prodding, looking for problems?  Am I correcting myself?  Am I participating in the Life offered me to the best of my ability or am I letting someone else do it?  How's my prayer life?  

Every day I am walking the path.  My job is to make sure I am walking in the right direction.  If I am overly concerned with pleasing the world then I can guarantee you I will be taking backward steps rather than marching forward.

As a Catechist it is important for me to walk the talk.  If I don't the results can be dire.  I want to enter into the Kingdom today.  At the end of my life, I want to hear the words, "Well done, Girl....welcome home".  I want Him to recognize me.

I look forward to my time at Franciscan.  This Dominican kid cannot wait to learn some more!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018


2244 Every institution is inspired, at least implicitly, by a vision of man and his destiny, from which it derives the point of reference for its judgment, its hierarchy of values, its line of conduct. Most societies have formed their institutions in the recognition of a certain preeminence of man over things. Only the divinely revealed religion has clearly recognized man's origin and destiny in God, the Creator and Redeemer. The Church invites political authorities to measure their judgments and decisions against this inspired truth about God and man:
Societies not recognizing this vision or rejecting it in the name of their independence from God are brought to seek their criteria and goal in themselves or to borrow them from some ideology. Since they do not admit that one can defend an objective criterion of good and evil, they arrogate to themselves an explicit or implicit totalitarian power over man and his destiny, as history shows.

So much anger today.  So much tribalism.  A whole lot of 'us against them'.  We use ugly language to make our points.  We rail against injustice by calling for murder of elected officials and then we are shocked when people no longer respect our thoughts.  Someone doesn't accept our version of 'normal' and that person is a bigot.  A child sells bottled water to earn money for a Disneyland trip and we call the cops.  A woman tries to walk home safely and she has to clutch her purse and pretend she doesn't hear the cat-calls about the size of her breasts.  A man has a reconversion to the Faith only to leave it behind because it interferes with his political objectives.

If my origin and my destiny is in God, what am I doing to add to the world around me?  Am I sucking it dry?  Am I wishing damnation on those I do not like?

Never to I expect to 'like' everyone.  I don't.  There are people I find maddening because of their closed minds and inability to apply logic.  There are people I once trusted that I now wish I had never shared my thoughts with and am fully expecting them to - at some point - use my confidence in them to their earthly advantage.

I have taken really dopey actions based on poor judgement.

What I hope is that my own hierarchy of values shapes my conduct.  I know it requires grace.  It is up to me to ask for it and then deliberately use that grace to find the strength and courage to trust God.

Happy 4th of July, everyone!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Truth Shall Set You Free

Catholics think a lot.  Dominicans think even more.  All that thinking can get us into trouble or it can clarify our thoughts in such a way that we can reach a deeper understanding of a situation, thereby taking an action that is both honorable and true.

Recently I had to make another one of those tough decisions that change the make up of one's life.  While this decision is not etched in stone it does provide some distance and peace.  For right now I think I made the right decision. 

The driving dilemma was the problem of 'lies'.   As I have been taught to do, I went to the teachings of the Catholic Church to try and figure out what to do about a specific situation that I feel revolves around the affects of a lie.  I knew I had to make a decision.  I wanted to make a decision that was solid, true, Catholic and rooted in love. 

The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines lying as "Speaking deliberately against one's mind".  The definition goes on to clarify what 'speaking deliberately' means and how a lie is not merely a matter of ignorance or misstatement.  "When a person tells a lie, he or she says something that is contrary to what is on that person's mind; there is a real opposition between what one says and what one thinks".

Okay...hmmmm...wait a minute. That did not seem complete to me, so I went to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Sure enough, there is a bit more depth to the definition.  The Catechism teaches:

2482 "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving." The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: "You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies."

The next paragraph goes on to say: 

2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.

Now we are getting somewhere.  We see that the Church differentiates between a mere falsehood (Leslie is 7 feet tall) and speaking that falsehood with the intention of deceiving (I am going to tell everyone that Leslie is 7 feet tall because I do not want them to know she is 5'4").  She then teaches that what will determine whether or not this is a venial sin or a mortal sin will be the harm suffered by its victims (Leslie will no longer have any friends because no one wants a woman who is 7 feet tall to be their friend, and that is my intention behind this lie).

All of us have been the subject of false information.  Most of the time it was spread without the intention of malice.  Someone hears that someone is sick and tells someone else and that person tells another person and then discovers the person was never sick, they were just taking a break from the world and binge watching Fear the Walking Dead, Season 1.   This is not a lie, per se.  It is repeating a falsehood. 

My experience is becoming, however, that in today's world the 'is that person lying?' question can be a heckuva lot more difficult to answer.  Why?

I think, and I may be wrong, that Social Media has made deliberate lying a lot more difficult to determine because so many of us react with emotion.  If we use the Modern Catholic Dictionary definition, people spew forth an assertion that is powered by anger and pride but they honest to GOD believe what they are spewing.  They are not speaking against their own mind.  They honestly believe Hilary Clinton ran a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor, Obama was born in Nigeria and is a practicing Muslim and Donald Trump pays to watch women urinate on one another.  They will bang their fists against a keyboard and declare Pope Francis is a heretic.   The safety of a keyboard makes this possible.  As an old professor of mine once observed, "the guy hunched over the keyboard at 3am determined to let you know exactly what they think of you is commonplace today". 

So the question then becomes, when the person spews forth something that is just flat out not true, are they lying or are they simply speaking their own mind - a mind that is colored with emotion and therefore incapable of discerning Truth.

Recently, I was told that I had 'said' something on Social Media.  I had not said it.  I could point with accuracy to exactly what I had said.  The response I got was a mish mash of accusations and declarations and then a final 'you will always out intellect me' - a statement which I did not understand at all when you consider I am surrounded by people far better educated and lots and lots smarter than moi. 

To say that my feelings were hurt would be an understatement.  I was shocked. My sense of Justice was deeply wounded (and, boy, I have got a HIGHLY developed sense of Justice when it comes to ME).  I was embarrassed and I was concerned that other people who know me would think I had actually said what I had been accused of saying.  I felt like I was choking.  My heart beat so fast.  I realized I felt exactly the same way I always felt growing up when an adult would shout in my face, "LOOK WHAT YOU DID" when I hadn't done anything...anything at all.

Let me tell you what I did:

1.  I spoke to my Spiritual Advisor
2.  I spoke with my 12 step program sponsor
3.  I went before Him in the Blessed Sacrament
4.  I asked for help and guidance

I realized that I was trying to hold onto a relationship that was not a healthy one - this is not the first time this had been done, it was simply the first time it had been done so blatantly and on Social Media.  I had to ask myself if this relationship was necessary.  More importantly, I had to ask myself if the relationship is safe.

Then I had to make sure that I did not take any action in anger.  I had to be prepared  (if I took the action I was being advised to take) for attempts at manipulation.  I was told by someone who doesn't even know the person to watch for subtle efforts to turn my decision into a manifestation of an issue (you must have been triggered - I am so sorry).  I was also told not to have any expectation that the other person would take full responsibility for their action. 

My advisors helped me find my part and make my apology.  I had started a conversation about a hot political topic and one of my points had caused this person a lot of pain.  Their response was to hurt and lash out.  While that was not my intention, it had been the result of my action.  I had to apologize for doing that and then tell them the truth:  I am not equipped to be in their life.  While I am not responsible for their reaction and not responsible for their posting, I am responsible for hurting them.

Part of growing up for me has been to realize that I cannot be all things to all people, despite St Paul telling me that that is what a Catholic is supposed to be - I just cannot seem to achieve that goal.  I am not smart enough, I get easily flummoxed by people with problems I cannot identify.  More importantly, I cannot seem to help people who do not see their part in anything.  I just can't help them if they are 100 percent right, and yet constantly have problems with their relationships.

I know that any problems I have had in my life were caused by me setting the ball rolling.  In this case, I should never have responded to the person's assertion about something.  I should have simply said, "Interesting take.  Thank you for sharing".  By responding, this person thought I was attacking...I thought I was discussing.   Shame on me.

There are few people in my life today that I can have discussions with and I treasure them.  What I need to start doing is recognizing the warning signs - the comments that are edgy in tone.  When I read them, I need to just say, "Thank you...I had not thought about it that way" because that person is not open to discussion.  They are not stupid.  They are not dumb.  They are not wrong or right.  They are simply not open to discussion.  It is up to me to recognize that - or pay the price.  The price today on Social Media is to be accused of saying and writing and doing stuff you never said, wrote or did.

While I understand that a public blog will invite all kinds of comments, I do not need to respond to the ones that are obviously put there to bait.  Those comments usually speak for themselves - the majority of people who read them have no problem discerning the intent of the poster.

Neither do I need to have anyone in close proximity to me who does this on a regular basis.  I expect in my line of work to deal with this type of situation; however, to deliberately tolerate or invite that behavior into my home or life would be foolish.

My job is to love, to observe, to think and to share the fruits of those thoughts and observations.  My job is to be a Dominican in all ways.  My job is to be Catholic.

God help me...

Monday, June 18, 2018

Immigration/Refugees/The Rule of Law

Much attention has been given to Jeff Sessions' recent quoting of The New Testament in regards to present application of the laws governing illegal entry into the United States.  As expected, the push back from  Protestant groups has been immediate though it is difficult for them because, under the ideology of Protestantism, everyone is their own expert when it comes to interpreting Holy Scripture.

As a Catholic, I am blessed.  I have three legs to the stool that is Truth:  Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition and The Magisterium.  I went to the Teachings and found this:

CCC 2241 The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. (emphasis added) Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.

Past administrations have chosen not to criminalize those who seek entry into the United States through channels that are not legal.  This has allowed us to keep families together.  However, Mr. Trump has declared that this is a 'catch and release' method (comparing the people to fish too small to eat, I guess) and that it has not worked because those people, required to come back and 'face the music', don't do it. 

According to the Washington Post, that is not quite true; 80% do report to court following release.  Now, that sure could be better - 20% is a lot of people - but it is still a higher percentage of people doing what they are supposed to do than that of American citizens participating in the voting process.

On June 15th, the Washington Post published an article by Phillip Bump that gives a pretty good history of how we got here to this ugly, messy situation.

As I read this article, I could not help but reflect on how every administration from the beginning has had a really difficult time figuring out this whole 'Give me your tired, your poor" thing that America is supposed to embody.

I am of Irish/Italian/Persian/Native American descent.  One of the jokes I have made to the snotty people I met when I joined a Sorority who told me that their family came over on the Mayflower was that mine came over on the land bridge.  Most of them were Art History majors and didn't get it - even Berkeley has their share of lightweights - but my point I was trying to make is that no one gets a pass when it comes to getting here.  Until science can place the Garden of Eden in Ohio or Arizona, every group here came from somewhere else.  Some came under duress.  Some came in the name of conquest.  Many came to escape a life going nowhere, an unjust government or seeking a chance to earn a living.

Every group that has arrived has had it tough.  Don't believe me?  Ask various Native American Tribes about their history of intertribal warfare, slavery and treatment of females or why ancient cities were abandoned after the people there wasted the natural resources of the area.  From human trafficking to human sacrifice, every culture has had its dark history and to pretend otherwise is to deny the existence of sin.  Concupiscence does not just affect one race, tribe or color.  When it comes to being jerks, every group has qualified.

Past administrations have okayed everything from lynching to rape under the guise of 'that group deserved it because they aren't one of us'.  Democrats and Republicans alike have treated immigrants with disdain because they were the wrong race, color or religion.  Don't believe me again?  Look at past NY Times editorials describing the Irish as 'drunken apes'.  Look up the reason one of our original states is names for The Blessed Mother. 

Our country was okay with buying and selling human beings because, after all, they were not really human.  How did they reach this conclusion?  The color of their skin was not white, their language and system of government was not English and they did not wear the same kind of clothes we wore.   Essentially, they were different.  But if you think people of color did not take advantage of European ignorance in this area you are wrong.  Tribal hatred in Africa resulted in men of color selling men of color.  The slave trade in parts of that continent is alive and well today, broken down along tribal lines.  Sin does not confine itself to race, creed or color.  When Adam turned from God and let sin into the world it hit all of us.  None of us escaped.

Today we are faced with a great humanitarian crisis caused by the rise of violence and the West's inability to respond in a way that protects our culture while welcoming those fleeing that violence.  As the Catechism teaches, both the country and the immigrant have a responsibility to the rule of law.  The sovereign laws need to be respected and enforced.  That has not been done.  No country needs to feel 'over run'.  No person fleeing terror should feel despair.

Therefore, if one enforces the laws to the letter and forsakes the Christian duty of mercy, love and compassion, then one has to be willing to take responsibility for grabbing firmly onto one ideal while jettisoning the other.  And in the same way, if one decides that practicing mercy cannot be done while protecting the culture and laws of the sovereign nation, then one has let go of the ability to think. 

None of this, in my opinion, can be done alone.  Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will continue to battle each other and the better nature we are called to as Catholics.  If I am bound and determined to MAKE YOU BELIEVE that Trump is always right and Democrats are always evil, I am letting Trump be God.  That is wrong. 

If I am bound and determined to MAKE YOU BELIEVE that the left is PERFECT and always right, then I am letting left wing ideology be God.  Guess what, gang?  That is equally wrong.

In my opinion, what is missing in all of this is the practice of Prudence - the charioteer of virtues.  The Catholic Church teaches:

1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; "the prudent man looks where he is going." "Keep sane and sober for your prayers." Prudence is "right reason in action," writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.

I want to apply moral principles to particular cases without error.  I want to overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.

I want to be a Catholic before I am anything else...yes, even an American. 


Because if I can be a good Catholic, I will be a stellar American.  Unlike those in the past, who let personal ambition and prejudices cloud judgement and dictate action, I will be able to be the type of American that the ideals of this country claim we all want to be when we salute the flag.

I do want to make America great - not 'again', because I think we have always missed the point and continue to do so.

I want to make America something fine.  If I do that, I can help make her great.