My husband and I have been doing a Bible study with a friend of ours over the past few months. It has been such a great experience to sit down together, break open and discuss the chapter we have been reading, have dinner, and even play a few board games after if time allows. The fun and fellowship has been an amazing way to build relationship with one another, but most importantly, with Our Lord.
I have been realizing through this journey that we have had so far, how my relationship with the Lord has deepened and how and continues to grow. Through doing this Bible study, the reality really hit me that if I do not take measures for my faith to grow, it will instead gradually die. It is extremely disheartening that I have seen this all too much within my own family and friends, but also within myself at times. When I am not spending time with the Lord and taking measures to grow in my faith, my faith is weaker, but it grows stronger the more time I spend with Him and learn. I have seen the same in my own family and friends. I have seen too many family members and friends go from just regular Sunday churchgoers, to occasional ones, to not at all. I have also seen family and friends pick and choose over time what they believe “as a Catholic” based on their personal feeling and opinion, rather than seeking to come to know, understand, and embrace what the Church teaches and why. Slowly, they become increasingly lukewarm and give up any semblance of living the Faith.
I can recall personally wrestling with different tenants of my faith, everything from the Eucharist, to Sacramental marriage between one man and one woman, to not condoning abortion, etc, however I came to trust our Lord, and the Church He established, knowing He left His Church with the fullness of truth. This is key, for how can we seek the truth in the Church if we do not even believe that Jesus left us with the truth? From there, I sought to understand why He taught what He did. We are not to accept faith blindly, and so with faith coupled with reason, I researched, and read, and prayed, and came to the knowledge, understanding, and deeply held belief in the tenants of the Faith.
Truth be told, it was and is not always easy to push into our faith and learn rather than choose to reject because we disagree. We have a responsibility as Catholics to know our faith, but also to live it and grow in it, and share it. We cannot do this if we do not know it, and especially if we do not know Our Lord, or trust Him.
There are so many ways in which our faith can be deepened and can grow, and I encourage you to try to work one of these into your life, or some of them. You can go to Adoration, read the Catechism or scripture and/or do a Bible Study. For these, Catholic Biblical commentaries are invaluable! I’ve listed some resources below. You can also read and be inspired by the writings of the Saints, or other good Catholic literature, also links listed below.
Jesus once shared with us, in the Gospel of Matthew, the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids:
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The oil of which they speak is the oil of faith, and only our faith in the Lord, will count for us in the end. But where do we get this oil? We get it from taking measures to get to know our Lord, through the prayer and Sacraments, and through study of scripture and the writings of the Saints, and by their example which we read about. May we all take measures to know Our Lord. God wants to to be with Him, but as He tells us, we need to seek to know Him too.
One month ago, a media firestorm came about over the decision of a Catholic Priest from the Archdiocese of San Francisco, California, to have male-only altar servers. Fr. Joseph Illo shared with his parishioners the reasons for his decision, one of his main reasons being the “essential connection between the Church’s male priesthood and the acolytes who assist them in their high priestly office.” Being an altar server is meant to inspire in males a consideration of a possible vocation to the priesthood. In Fr. Illo’s decision to no longer have altar girls, he said that “we consider that developing an all-boys and father-son acolyte program will strengthen the community as it has in many parishes by bonding boys and focusing their efforts on the Mass as sacrifice offered by the priest.” There remain many roles in the parish for the girls to help out with. Despite this, many girls and women shared their direct opposition of this change in Fr. Illo’s parish with the media, stemming from the offense that they took. One parishioner said “it’s disturbing”, while a parent from Fr. Illo’s Catholic School said “They’re definitely taking a step in the wrong direction.” One girl in grade seven at the school, Star of the Sea said that “It just kind of makes me feel that I’m not good enough because I’m a girl. I feel kind of insulted.”
I am not trying to spark a debate here of whether or not girl altar servers should be allowed, but rather, discuss how we should respond in the face of decisions that our priests and bishops make, whether they be made in the mind of Holy Mother Church, or from a personal belief or opinion. When our priests and bishops make decisions, like that of Fr. Illo, that impact parishioners, school parents, etc, it can be very difficult to accept, especially when it is not a decision that we understand or personally agree with. Fr. Illo wrote a blog post in response to this, and in this blog post, he said:
“Vatican II (Lumen gentium 25) defines a Catholic as one who exercises “religious submission of will” to the Church’s teaching authority. At the parish level, this simply means trusting your priest. Catholics used to trust their priests, and there are various compelling reasons most do not trust them today. But to be Catholic means to regain that trust, both in the Church as mater et magistra and in the local bishop and priest. How can priests serve their flocks as spiritual fathers if their spiritual children do not trust them?”
Christ call us to be like Him, and as such, to be obedient as He was obedient (Philippians 2:8). While anyone can be obedient, a pure and holy obedience requires trust, sacrifice, and a willingness to find out what Holy Mother Church teaches (if we do not already know), so that we can be properly informed and understand the rationale. It requires trust in our priests, and our bishops, in their teaching authority which has been given to them by Christ through their ordination. It requires a sacrifice of our will, for us to allow God’s will to reign in us. It also requires that we find out what the Church teaches when we do not already know. We need to be willing to put aside our feelings and personal beliefs in order that we can seek God and what He desires for us, trusting that His will for us is good. We need to cooperate with God and allow Him to raise our understanding so that He can make our hearts more ready when obedience is requested by our superiors. If we are open and obedient to the Lord, especially within the context of our Catholic communities, it will not only allow our communities to grow, but will also help us to grow in virtue.
St. Bernard said that “A truly obedient man does not discriminate between one thing and another, or desire one employment more than another, since his only aim is to execute faithfully whatever may be assigned to him.” Recalling the story of the wedding at Cana, Mary said to the servants when the wine ran out to “do whatever He tells you.”
Our priests and bishops are the ministers of Christ in the parish or diocese in which they serve, and when they exercise that ministry, they do so with His authority. Just as Jesus said to his disciples, “he who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me,” he invests his own authority in his ministers today.
I encourage you to be ready to be at the service of our Lord and His Church; to respond obediently to the direction of our pastors, and seek to properly know and understand the decisions that they make, from the mind of Holy Mother Church.
Extra Resources for you because we love you:
Some great resources to learn more about the beliefs of the Church are the Catechism of the Catholic Church, whether the Baltimore Catechism, or the newer version of the Catechism, or even related encyclicals or letters.
It seems that every time the Pope (current or previous) opens his mouth on a controversial issue, the media flips out and starts claiming that the Church is changing all of her “old, medieval ways of thinking” and finally “coming into the 21st Century”. That’s not because the Church has been changing any of her doctrines, but because the media doesn’t properly understand what the Church teaches to begin with.
As you’ve probably all heard plastered over the news, Pope Francis was answering questions on the plane home from World Youth Day in Rio, and he said on the subject of homosexuality: “If a gay person is a person of good will who seeks God, who am I to judge?” The problem is that when the media hears this they often assume this means that the Church, whom they believe to hate homosexual people, is now turning over a new leaf.
The Church never taught that. In fact, the Catechism, (which the Pope then later referred to) says that those with homosexual tendencies “… must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (CCC 2358). In the very same line the Catechism also refers to homosexuality as “objectively disordered”. So which is it, Catechism? Care to get your story straight?
In an over-simplified manner, I have often heard it put this way: “hate the sin, love the sinner”. The trouble people usually have with this phrase is that we find it hard not to equate homosexual action with homosexual inclination. For those who are attracted to those of the same gender, it feels like one’s identity, and currently this notion is heavily promoted. In fact, I also recently saw an article parody the Pope’s position by stating, “It’s fine for a man to have Pope-ish feelings, as long as he does not act on them in any way” (from here). The silly thing about this kind of comparison is that being the Pope is an office, not an orientation, and is by election and choice. (I was under the impression the argument was for being ‘born that way’, not against!) So this comparison isn’t really helping the argument very much. The truth is, it is easily possible to have disordered passions, desires, and inclinations. In fact, we all do. EV.RY.BO.DY. If I have the desire to eat until I make myself sick, this is a disordered inclination. Does this mean that I am unlovable, or should not be treated with respect or fully integrated with society? No! But it doesn’t change the fact that gorging myself silly isn’t good for me.
The challenge is that when a particular desire is so incredibly strong and when you really feel like it’s something you can’t say no to, it’s much harder and even feels offensive for someone to even make the comparison I just made to overeating. It may feel like homosexual actions are tied to happiness, and so to say that one’s happiness is objectively disordered is like a slap in the face. I know I can’t relate personally to how difficult the struggle must be, and so I can only sympathize with that pain. I have gay friends who range from thoroughly embracing the whole gay lifestyle and being angry with the Church, to those who have found amazing joy through accepting the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, to those who are in the middle ground, fighting the battle and unsure about which side they will come out on. What I do know is that life is a struggle. It is a battlefield on which virtue cannot be attained without being willing to say no to some of our own most deeply-seated desires. There is no victory without a fight. And simply accepting and giving in to a passion, inclination or desire just because the feeling is very, very strong and rooted, is a road that leads to selfishness and cutting off the good of others around us. That’s something we all have to battle with in various ways. The Christian life is the life of the cross. We live out our lives on the cross and the cross is not a walk in the park, but a victory won through self-sacrifice and an emptying of self for the love of God.
As an extra note, here are some other great references and testimonies I’ve come across over the years for those who are interested:
By November 1st, read CCC 114-166
Oct 26: CCC 114-120
Oct 27: CCC 121-127
Oct 28: CCC 128-137
Oct 29: CCC 138-149
Oct 30: CCC 150-155
Oct 31: CCC 156-160
Nov 1: CCC 161-166
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