Archives for May 2010

Learning Catholicism

A kind reader has asked that I share what resources were most helpful to me when I converted. Of course, simply going to Mass and RCIA were very helpful. You may not think of them as resources but they are! Other opportunities to engage in discussion and put on your religion “thinking cap” are also good such as groups like the Men’s Fellowship I spoke of in other posts.

If I had to name 1 resource that is critical, that would be the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is comprehensive and absolutely authoritative. I know it takes time to read, but it is so crucial to learning the faith. Nothing else is so complete and reliable. The catechism draws upon many source documents and reading those directly may also be helpful. I usually didn’t, but if you wish to further explore, it never hurts to go to the source. For example, Human Vitae (a Papal Encyclical written by Pope Paul VI) is often cited as an excellent framework for understanding the Catholic teaching on sexual matters.

I probably spent the greatest amount of time with excellent online resources. However you must be very careful. While there are hundreds of good sites, there are unfortunately hundreds of bad ones too. Just because a site has “Catholic” in its name does not mean it adheres to Catholic teaching. There are many examples of this, but the “poster child” for this genre of websites has to be Catholics for Choice a pro-abortion organization.

It would be great if there were some sort of “seal of approval” for online content. As a practical matter, that is impossible for several reasons. Just be careful out there. Reading the Catechism early on will help you make good judgments about the nature and intent of online sites as you encounter them. For example – sites that promote abortion, homosexuality, women priests, and similar viewpoints are attempting to pressure the Church to change her teaching. That is impossible, the truth does not change. These sites are in opposition to the Church, seek to undermine her and have their own agendas. Go to them if you want, but know they are often driven more by the Devil then inspired by the Holy Spirit.

So, what are some of the good sites? My #1 is Catholic Answers. There are many good articles and the apologetics area of the forum is excellent. They can be trusted. Also, the forum in general is very good – but a forum none-the-less. There will be all sorts of viewpoints, but you will learn well from the majority of the posts. Another good resource for essays on Catholic topics is the archive of Father Hardon’s writings.

Finally, there is the blogosphere. There are many, many faithful Catholics who wish to share their faith. I strongly recommend that you explore these resource and learn how to “subscribe” (get updates) to their content. The only note of caution is that they (including this blog) are certainly far from authoritative. We are amateurs trying our best. The most important thing for you to discern is that their intent is to be 100% loyal to the teaching of the Magisterium – that is the acid test.

You can find a sampling of sites I highly recommend under “Great Blogs” and “Further Reading” in the right column. If you have a question about a site, send me an e-mail message and I would be happy to share my thoughts. We are so blessed to live in this information age. Surf it wisely!

Spiritual desert

In some ways we Catholics (and other Christians too) are like spiritual manic depressives. Often we are on a “high,” close to God and at peace. Other times we allow ourselves to become trapped in worldly matters, giving little attention to the “big picture” in deference to immediate needs of our earthly world.

Sometimes our focus is lost only for days or weeks. Sometimes it is lost for years. We worry too much about our family or jobs. We think about our endless to-do list. Our first thought in the morning is preparation for that 9:00am meeting and the report due tomorrow. Our last thought at night is managing our schedule to meet a family commitment we just can’t miss. In all of that hustle and bustle of daily life we forget whose child we are. Prayers, when we remember, are scheduled and essentially become just another task.

This doesn’t happen on purpose. It happens slowly without much notice. No big harm is done at first but after a while, something feels wrong. Maybe it is that last thought before we go to sleep or the emptiness of a mechanical prayer. We know it can be different, it should be different, it must be different. If left untended, the seeds of our faith will bear no fruit. It can eventually wither and die.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein, Rita Mae Brown, or ?

If you expect things to get better all by themselves you are delusional! At least a little effort must be made. Saying grace at meal time, a prayer at bedtime and going to church every Sunday is not enough. Use 1 or 2 of the other 168 hours of the week for something different. It is not impossible, you can do this. We are only talking about the time you might spend watching TV one night, a movie, on tennis or a thousand other things. If you are honest with yourself you know it is only a matter of priority. Do not fall into the trap of recognizing all of this, agreeing to it “in theory” and planning to do it at some non-specific, future time. Now is the time. This is week. How about today?

Here is a wild, off-the-wall idea – go to a daily Mass. When was the last time you did that? It will do more for your soul then the same time at the gym will do for your body. You can get in and out in under 30 minutes, but why not go 10 minutes early and pray. I bet that wherever you work, there is a Catholic church nearby offering Mass during your lunch hour. MassTimes.org will help you find one if you haven’t looked before.

Perhaps one of the best things you can do to get back on track is go to adoration. You do not have to sign-up or anything, just go wherever it is offered (MassTimes.org lists adoration availability too). Spend some quality time with the Lord. Tell Him how your life is going and what is on your mind. Thank Him for your blessings. Listen for His advice, then and later, however He may choose to answer you. Stay as long as you like, but I recommend at least 30 minutes (you will be amazed how very quickly that goes by). Jesus is waiting for you.

How long has it been since you went to confession? That growing distance between you and God is probably due in some part to sin. Deprive the Devil of his success. Run into the arms of the Father who is always waiting to joyfully welcome you back.

Prayer always helps. Why not add a short, new prayer time. If you don’t pray in the morning, try getting up 10 or 15 minutes earlier. In Microeconomic terms, the marginal utility of the prayer will vastly outweigh a couple extra minutes of sleep! If your creative juices are not yet flowing at that hour for “free-form” prayer, why not read the daily readings to get you started? If you can spend just a few extra minutes, a great source for the readings with excellent comments from the Navarre Bible is available online.

Along the same lines, consider Praying the Rosary. Say the daily mysteries each day takes only 15 minutes.

Daily Mass, adoration, confession, prayer, daily readings, the Rosary – all great ways to recharge your spiritual batteries. As Catholics we are especially blessed to have the sacraments, the real presence, the Mass and so many great traditions to call upon. If you find yourself walking aimlessly through a spiritual desert, the tools are there to get out – you only need the will to use them.

7 Quick Takes Friday (set #5)

Some random thoughts or bits of information are worthy of sharing but don’t warrant their own full post. This idea was started by Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary to address this blogging need. So, some Fridays I too participate when I have accumulated 7 worthy items. Without further ado:

— 1 —

It is often difficult for most people to attend daily Mass with jobs and family obligations. I highly recommend it when you can, perhaps when you are taking a vacation day. One thing you will notice is there are far fewer people present than on Sunday. That does not mean the church is any less full. Mass brings heaven and earth together, so fewer people simply makes more room for the angels and saints!

— 2 —

Along the same lines, when was the last time you went to Adoration? If the answer is “never,” why not consider spending some quality time with your Lord and Savior? You can spend as little or as much time as you like, but I recommend that you put aside at least 30 minutes as it will go very quickly. MassTimes.org lists churches in your area and which ones have adoration (if yours does not).

— 3 —

Which brings me to today’s quote:

In a world where there is so much noise, so much bewilderment, there is a need for silent adoration of Jesus concealed in the Host. Be assiduous in the prayer of adoration and teach it to the faithful. It is a source of comfort and light, particularly to those who are suffering.

Pope Benedict XVI

— 4 —

As the true nature of the sex scandal in society is realized – teachers, coaches, scout masters and others will be more and more prejudged much as our priests have been. The perverted, criminal sins of a few will also reflect poorly upon their entire organizations. It will similarly be unfair to what priests and the Church have suffered. The vast majority of these people are providing selfless services to our children. Let’s pray that the bad apples are quickly found and removed, but also remember to honor the organizations and individuals who provide selfless services for the benefit of our children.

— 5 —

Deacon John reminded me that Latin is a dead language and that is a good thing! Latin is no longer developed or evolved so it is a great language to express something that should never change. The truth never changes so Latin is a great means of documenting it.

— 6 —

I write on topics that pique my interest more or less at random. What would you like to see covered? Is there some area of Catholic beliefs that you would like a short, straightforward piece on? It doesn’t matter to me if you are Catholic or not! Drop me a note.

— 7 —

You have seen this on bumper stickers:

God is my co-Pilot.

A good “answer” to it is the following bumper sticker:

If God is your co-pilot, you’re in the wrong seat!

Father Lopez

Last Saturday my daughter graduated from her Catholic high school. There are many people she will remember fondly, but one person in particular stands out – Msgr. Richard Lopez, one of the priests assigned to the school. Father Lopez had no special relationship with my daughter any different from every other student. He stands out entirely for his exceptional love of people.

I first met Father Lopez at the Annual Dads’ Morning of Recollection, one Saturday morning last January. This was the 19th time this fellowship event and Mass was held for the fathers of students. Father Lopez was very warm and funny, but the thing I remember most was receiving a blessing. At that point I was not yet confirmed so I could not receive the Eucharist at Mass, but I did go up for a blessing. Father Lopez had such a warm smile for everyone. Much more than a smile really…   obvious joy. Somehow completely accepting, embracing and reassuring.

When I first learned of the retreat, I was undecided about attending. My wife had met Father Lopez on a parent / teacher night and said I definitely had to meet him. My daughter, who is usually neutral on these things, urged me to go. Other parents did likewise. I am glad I listened to them! Many of the dad’s who were present didn’t even have students still enrolled. They simply enjoy coming each year and are invited to do so.

My daughter often recounted how some students would misbehave and get in trouble at school. One thing I appreciated about her Catholic high school is their unwavering discipline. Those pushing the fairly tight envelope would swiftly find themselves in detention or worse. In Father Lopez’ classes things were different. Punishment was never necessary.

For example, if Father noticed a student apparently chewing gum – he would turn around and face the blackboard. Then he would offer a prayer something like, “Heavenly Father – I must be imagining what appeared to be gum chewing. Please let me see my error when I turn around in 3 – 2 – 1…” Of course, the offending student would quickly discard the gum. The class would proceed and no punishment assigned, but it was more than just that. The students did not want to misbehave for Father Lopez. If not out of respect and love, they behaved simply due to peer pressure from the love everyone else had for him.

Of course, the relationship Father had with the students meant they especially listened to him and did as he asked. It was respect he never requested but received fully and gladly from everyone. Such treatment from high school kids most teachers can only dream of. That love and respect is reciprocal. Father has covered the walls of his classroom with pictures of hundreds – maybe thousands – of past students.

Last Friday an end-of-year awards assembly was held. Various awards were presented to students and teachers. I remember joking with my wife that any “teacher of the year” type award should really be renamed “teacher of the year other than Father Lopez” to give everyone else a chance. As it turned out, Father Lopez did in fact win an award, but true to his nature, he was not there to receive it. Father was out in service to others.

On graduation day, Father Lopez was on stage with all the other faculty, administrators, dignitaries and our Archbishop. The principal presented the award at that time. Everyone immediately stood-up and enthusiastically applauded. Parents, teachers, students – everyone. Not to be polite or because their view was obstructed, but in recognition of someone they truly admired. Father Lopez accepted the award and sat down as quickly as he could, motioning for everyone else to also do so. Always humble, he wanted the focus to remain on the students and not himself.

Later that day a “lock-in” for the new graduates was held. They had a lot of fun and received nice prizes. One thing they all received was a “Father Lopez Bobblehead Doll” (pictured). I suppose such things are sometimes to make fun of someone. Not in this case. I have no doubt that these toys will accompany most of the kids to college in the fall to remember Father Lopez.

In this Year of the Priest, we celebrate Father Lopez and all of our priests. We are truly blessed to have such humble servants called to the priesthood. They are the Catholic priests who should be in the news. Since the news doesn’t value them, it is up to us to honor them and keep them in our minds and prayers.

Myth: Jack Chick tracts

This is not a single myth, but a collection. Actually – more of a lifetime achievement award for quantity and absurdness from one Jack T. Chick.

In his prolific career as a comic producer, Chick produced “tracts” addressing fundamentalist Christian beliefs and anti-Catholic exposés. For example, Chick explains the Holy Eucharist in his tract entitled “The Death Cookie” (I can’t imagine how he could be any more offensive). From Chick, we learn that the Catholic Church has deliberately caused many of the world’s problems. Among the numerous, dastardly deeds:

  • started the American Civil War (to undermine the Union)
  • arranged Lincoln’s assassination
  • invented and promoted Communism
  • masterminded the 1917 Russian Revolution
  • instigated the Bolshevik Revolution and the murder of the czar’s family
  • started World War II (and backed Hitler, Mussolini and Franco)
  • created the Holocaust
  • formed the KKK
  • maintains a database in a “big computer” with the name of every Protestant in the world (for future persecution)
  • the Jesuits run an extensive conspiracy through the Illuminati, the Council on Foreign Relations, international bankers, the Mafia, the Club of Rome, the Masons and the New Age movement
  • founded Islam, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists

Jack Chick has not exposed all of this to hurt Catholics individually, just to save them from the Roman Catholic Church. If Chick were just some random nutcase, most people would never have heard of him. Unfortunately he has been very successful in distributing his tracts…   reportedly over 750 million copies.

There is some good news and some bad news. The good news is that most Christian book stores now refuse to offer this nonsense. The bad news is that the tracts are still produced and – believe it or not – distributed by some misled, fundamentalist churches.

For more information, read the Catholic Answers special report:  The Nightmare World of Jack T. Chick.

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