“Be the change you want to see in the world”
“Never change who you are”
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, No one thinks of changing himself.”
“You were born this way”
These are all familiar quotes to us. We hear them in music, in movies, and see them on cheesy prints they sell at gift stores. One challenges us to change ourselves for the good of the world, while the other embraces comfort in not changing at all.
Often people assume they can change the world by giving in to who they feel they are. This means embracing all faults and making them excusable by thinking that removing those faults would be dishonest to who they are. For example, I really struggle reaching out to people. I am shy about meeting new people, and often I make excuses for myself because I am too afraid to get out of my comfort zone. I found out there is another new mom not far from me and I was so afraid to reach out to her. I made excuses like “she’s a bit older than me”, “she won’t like me” , “she is a stranger”, and “I’m too shy”. I convinced myself it was okay to just keep to myself because of my introverted nature. It took several weeks for me to just send her an e-mail.
It seems more apparent that people would rather change their surroundings than change who they are internally. We may challenge ourselves to do good deeds, which in turn can make an impact on ourselves, but it is only temporary if it isn’t pursued and ultimately will yield little or no fruit if we do not continue to change ourselves.
We may need to reflect on the little things we do and ask ourselves some hard questions. Am I humble? Am I modest in dress? Do I love selflessly? Do I always expect something in return when I do something kind for someone else? Do I really put God first?
The change we embrace must not be solely fuelled by the desire for what we wish to see happen in the word nor in what the world wants from us. Instead, any change we make must be rooted in Christ, who is truth and love. It is only by Him that we can be made perfect. This conversion is about seeking holiness rather than temporary happiness.
Christianity calls us to change the world by changing ourselves daily by picking up our cross and conforming out lives to Christ. It means turning away from sins that we may have allowed to become habits in our daily lives. It requires repentance. A murderer can become a capuchin, but it requires a change of heart through conversion, not just once, but daily.
As the Christmas season draws near, let us prepare our hearts for the celebration of the Incarnation. Let us change our ways and continue to pursue a real relationship with Christ, one that requires us to change and to grow. Let us change into the people of God, not of the world.
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.
A Problem with Truth
As a Catholic who often ends up debating social issues, I’ve often thought, in frustration, that some people have a problem with the truth. Now, that’s a pretty prideful thing to think when it’s born out of frustration. This person isn’t listening to me, so they must just not like the truth!
But there is a real issue here. It’s not just me; anyone who has ever tried to debate with someone about a moral issue recently has likely experienced it. It’s clear that at a deep level, whether they realize it or not, a lot of people actually don’t care about truth at all. And I don’t think that’s because they’re stubborn, stupid, or intellectually lazy. Rather, it’s the influence of the philosophy of post-modernism.
“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”
– Pope St. John Paul II in his encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio (1998)
In its most basic form, modernism is a rejection of the use of faith as a means to know truth, and therefore the elevation of reason as the only way of knowing truth. This philosophy was very common in the early 20th century, and many parts of it still remain common. For example, over-emphasis on science and neglect of philosophy and theology, and the assertion that science is opposed to religious belief.
This philosophy is and was a colossal failure, both in effect and in substance. Shearing off the wing of faith from the human spirit, modernism leaves us tumbling from the heights of truth to crash in the dirt below.
Modernists believed that the use of reason alone would lead ultimately to a greater understanding of truth, and to a better, more just future for humanity. But in fact, it lead to the opposite: the rejection of previously known truths to be replaced with nothing but confusion, and the most violent, brutal and unjust century humanity has ever seen.
Modernism could never be a long-term success, nor lead to progress toward truth, because it rejects faith. As John Paul II pointed out, faith and reason are complimentary, and to a large extent, dependent on each other. Without reason, faith can become blind. It can become gullible and prone to error, and it doesn’t allow us to properly understand the significance of revelation. But without faith, reason has no basis, no axioms to proceed from. Reason becomes worthless and ultimately leads to arbitrary answers. And it is largely the frustration with this inevitable failure that leads into post-modernism, which is where so many people find themselves today.
Post-modernism is modernism taken to its inevitable conclusion. Reason alone cannot find any truth, and modernism relies on reason alone. What, then, is a modernist to conclude, but that truth cannot be known at all? This is post-modernism, at its core: the abandonment of all hope of coming to know truth.
The poor one-winged bird that is the modernist human spirit, deprived of faith, incapable of flight, quite naturally decides to rid itself of its remaining wing: reason. After all, it is no more than dead weight without its counterpart.
Tragically, instead of realizing the mistake of modernist philosophies, our culture has doubled-down on its error, and spirals further from sanity every day.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
All hope is not lost for our culture. As Catholics, we always have hope, because our God is not only capable of anything, he has already done everything for us.
The fact is, post-modernism and the lifestyles that result from it do not lead to God, and they do not lead to happiness. They lead to despair and depression, and thus, the human spirit will begin to long for what it was made for. As St. Philip the Apostle famously asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.”
This is where it becomes important for us to evangelise through our lives, as well as our words. Because, even when argument fails to convince the skeptic, the hope of a life lived for God is an undeniable light in the darkness. And just as a physical light becomes more obvious the darker the surroundings, our lives will diverge further from those of our neighbours, as the culture moves further from God.
This is painful, and sometimes even deadly for us, but we can take comfort in the fact that it also makes us a clearer sign pointing to Christ.
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” ~ Brennan Manning
No one likes it when they encounter a hypocritical Christian. Many of us would agree with this quote, no matter what our faith is. As a Church-going Catholic, I certainly do. When I profess to believe what the Church teaches, and live my life contrary to that, whether it be internally or externally, it communicates something. It communicates that Jesus is not really who He says He is, because where my life should be changed because of Him, it isn’t.
When we live our faith, we demonstrate it in the works that we do. People know we are Christians by our love, or, at least they should. Real love is shown not in word, but in action. Real love is shown in the walk, not just the talk. We know this in our families, in our Churches, in our workplaces, in the people we meet on the street.
Many of us have heard the common protestant claim, contrary to what our Blessed Lord teaches us, that we are saved by “faith alone”, since our good works cannot save us. We as Catholics are often accused of believing that we have to earn Heaven by our good works alone. The truth is, as the quote by Brennan Manning so well communicates, faith and works cannot be separated, and when they are, the effects are devastating. It is right to say that we cannot earn Heaven as none of us deserve it. It is by the sacrifice of Christ alone that we have been granted access to eternity with God. Good works, however, are still necessary in order for us to be united with Christ and merit Heaven.
It is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given to us through Baptism, that has the power to justify us, which is to say, that it has the power to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ”. St. Paul tell us that “now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (emphasis mine).” It can be seen here that the Church understands that faith in Christ is necessary as the basis for our salvation.
What a beautiful gift! Through our Baptism, we are cleansed from original sin, and welcomed into the Covenental bond with our Lord, as an adopted son or daughter of God, with the rest of the Christian community. So begins God’s work in us, first through conversion, where we are commanded by Jesus to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” By God’s grace, we turn from our sin, and accept God’s forgiveness and righteousness (justice). The Council of Trent says that “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.“
The Catechism tells us that “justification establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom. On man’s part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent”. The Council of Trent also says that “when God touches man’s heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God’s grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God’s sight.”
We need God’s grace to change. It is this favor of the free, undeserved help that He gives to us to enable us to respond to his call to become “partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” In other words, we need God’s grace to become holy, to become saints, for it is only the saints who are in Heaven. In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he states, “I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness… But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.” St. Paul was clear on his understanding and teaching of what the Church taught. This has not changed. We receive eternal life if we become sanctified. This is our goal and this is the prize we are running the race to receive.
The grace we receive in Baptism is sanctifying grace and is the source of the work of our sanctification. The Catechism makes clear that “sanctifying grace is an habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love. Habitual grace, the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God’s call, is distinguished from actual graces which refer to God’s interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification.”
God has given us free will, and so we are freely able to cooperate with or choose not to cooperate with God’s graces for our sanctification. Our Blessed Lord said to us, “thus you will know them by their fruits.” It is by one’s “fruits” that we can see the working of God in their life. The fruits are what is seen in action, which are our good works. St. Augustine said in relation to God that “if at the end of your very good works . . . you rested on the seventh day, it was to foretell by the voice of your book that at the end of our works, which are indeed “very good” since you have given them to us, we shall also rest in you on the sabbath of eternal life.
A common claim that protestants make against Catholics is that good works are the “Works of the Law” that St. Paul tells us not to do, in an effort to support their claim that we are justified by “faith alone”. Dr. John Bergsma, a Professor of Sacred Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, gave a talk regarding The Dead Sea Scrolls in which he shared some very important findings regarding the “Works of the Law”, spoken of in Scripture. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the caves of Qumran in the 1940’s. This was a very significant discovery, because therein were contained the oldest copies of many Old Testament Writings, dating back as early as 200 years before Christ. Dr. Bergsma related that there were three different groups of Jews at the time of the Apostles: the Saduccees, the Pharisees (which St. Paul was a part of), and the Essenes. The Qumranites were Essenes. In the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls, they found the scroll “Miqtsat Ma’asei ha-Torah” which translates to the “Precepts of the Works of the Law”. This was a letter from the Essenes to the Pharisees about ritual purity, and this was the only place in which was found the phrase “Works of the Law” outside of St. Paul’s Gospel.
The “Works of the Law” included instructions about ritual purity, including things such as the purity of liquids poured from one container to another, the impurity of bones and animal hides, the keeping of dogs outside of Jerusalem, keeping away from Gentiles, and keeping the Blind and Deaf out of the Temple since they were defiled. What many protestants do not realize, are that the “Works of the Law” are wholly different from good works, which our blessed Lord asks us to do. The works of mercy are charitable actions done for the aid of our neighbor in both spiritual and bodily needs. The spiritual works of mercy include instructing, advising, consoling, comforting, forgiving, and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy include feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead, as well as giving alms to the poor.
Our Lord says to us in scripture, that when we care for others, we care for Him. Whenever we encounter another, we have an opportunity to love, whether in word or deed, and in doing so, we are really loving our Lord. Our lives should point to God in all that we say and do. As Catholics, we hear at least weekly at Mass, the “great commission” to us. May we respond ever more fully, with our whole heart when we hear the command at the end of Mass, and truly go in peace, glorifying the Lord by our lives.