Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's a Mystery to Me

I think we should meditate more often — in our daily life, marked by problems and at times by dramatic situations — on the fact that believing in a Christian manner means my trusting abandonment to the profound meaning that sustains me and the world, that meaning that we are unable to give to each other but can only receive as a gift, and that is the foundation on which we can live without fear. And we must be able to proclaim this liberating and reassuring certainty of faith with words and show it by living our life as Christians.

However, we see around us every day that many remain indifferent or refuse to accept this proclamation. At the end of Mark’s Gospel we heard harsh words from the Risen One who says: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16), loses himself. I would like to invite you to reflect on this.

General Audience, 24 October 2012

Reflection – The Pope is going to go on here in the audience to reflect himself on this reality of proclamation and rejection of the Gospel of Christ, but since he invites us to reflect on it ourselves, I thought I would stop here and do just that.

The wide-scale rejection of Christianity in the modern world is a deep mystery to me, I must say. I have never quite understood why so many people have turned away from the Christian faith, its practice, its beliefs. I suppose my own experience of Christianity, at least ever since I came to have a true apprehension of it around age 17 or so, has been so thoroughly positive, my understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ and to really plunge into the demands and promises of the Gospel is so radiant and joyful even as it is far from easy and my fidelity to it far from perfect, that I find it difficult to connect with the popular image of the Church and Christianity that so many reject.

It seems to me that what so many people reject—harsh, censorious, hypocritical, joyless, boring, lifeless religion—is simply not the Gospel. Much of the apostasy of our day is not actually (I believe) an apostasy from the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the salvation it offers, but an apostasy from a bizarre caricature of that gospel, a parody Gospel which in fact is an anti-gospel, bad news all around for humanity.

Now I really don’t know where people get this anti-gospel from – that is the mystery to me. The parish life I grew up in was, perhaps, a little boring, the preaching not exactly stirring, the music rather tedious, and the parish life in general not exactly bursting with enthusiasm. But there was certainly no hellfire and brimstone or obsessing over sexual sin or any of the (frankly) ridiculous pictures of Catholicism the popular media like to project. Maybe some of that was true in an earlier era, but I am 46 years old, and I simply do not believe that very many people my age and younger were exposed to that kind of Catholicism.

The wide-scale rejection of faith in our day is mysterious to me. There is an entire generation now whose parents and perhaps even grand-parents were the ones who walked away from the church and from Christ, and for whom the whole thing is simply an utterly alien reality. Meanwhile this same generation are increasingly sub-literate, unlikely to have the attention span to even read (say) this short blog post. The new evangelization has deep challenges.

It seems to me that those of us who do believe and who do see the beauty and joy of Christianity need to reflect deeply on how to communicate this joy and beauty to the world. Social media, yes, but personal encounter more so. Reasoned explanations and elegant formulations, yes, but works of mercy and compassion more so.

Christianity and the Gospel are all about love—God’s passionate personal love for you and me and each human being, our entry into that mystery of love. We need to make love our focus, our priority, the main work to which we give our lives. Otherwise, people will simply never know who God is, and never know the fullness of life He is offering.
We have to do it. It is our job, and no one else can do it for us.


  1. Father Denis,

    If we have to do it if it is our job...then we have to do something about this.....The National Catholic Reporter continues to air the story about Lennon Cihak of Barnesville, MN the teen DENIED confirmation by his pastor Father Gary LaMoine and by the Bishop of Crookston Michael Hoeppner. If I understand correctly his parents have also been DENIED communion by both gentlemen.

    There have multiple editorial comments in Minnesota and North Dakata newspapers from the catholic community about this. People are perhaps following the example of the Cihak family and are dissenting publicly from the " rigid and authoritarian" style of leadership exhibited by the pastoral leaders of the Crookston diocese.

    Bigotry and meanness in the name of Jesus come with a high price tag. I am not sure we have begun to see the cost of this yet.

    "there is certainly not fire and brimstone".... What do you call this?

    1. I call it a priest being heroically charitable, and then declining to defend himself by commenting on a private conversation he had with a family in his charge after they have chosen to make a media story of it.
      For a young man to receive Confirmation when he does not believe in the teachings of the Church is hypocrisy. When this young man made it clear in a public forum that he did not ascribe to Catholic doctrine, and pursuant to a further (private) conversation where I presume that became quite clear, the priest suggested to him that he not be confirmed at this time. How on earth is that a rigid authoritarian act?
      According to the parents own account (the priest has, I say again, remained silent in his own defense) they are not even regular Mass attendants! Why on earth should they be receiving communion if they are not even willing to fulfill their Sunday obligation, which is a grave matter and potentially a mortal sin?
      No bigotry, no meanness, no lack of mercy - not from where I'm sitting. Peace to you.

  2. The above post is an indication of one of the myriad challenges we Catholics face today: other Catholics who do not accept the teachings of the Church, of Christ, and who think that our pastors are somehow mean-spirited or authoritarian or unjust when they defend those teachings.

    Regarding your comments, Fr. Denis, I think two things that factor into this situation (and there are so many factors one could think of) are a lack of quiet in today's world that prevents people from thinking about what is important, and also a general lack of any sense of a spiritual reality, sin, and need for redemption. For Christ to make sense, we have to believe in God, eternity, sin, and the need for repentance and salvation.

    Of course the many forms of media today -- television, radio, internet, games, etc. -- are not only a tremendous distraction, but also an anti-Christian influence that subtly and not-so-subtly attacks Christian faith and morality, making it all the more confusing and unappealing to many.

    For my part, I just try to live my faith as best I can and share it one person at a time as God gives me the opportunity and grace.

  3. Tom, I like your comment....very Christian.
    JV, India

  4. Wow,

    Heart breaking. That's what I would call it.

    Not so different from the arguments the apostles had with one another.

    As far as I see it, there is nothing at all heroic in either argument.

    Have mercy on us, O God.

    1. The priest is trying to protect the young man from the sin of sacrilege, and has been crucified in the media as a result. Sorry, but that's heroic pastoral charity in my books. God bless you.

  5. Umm. Not much I can really do to help you with that, except pray. bless you.

  6. This pastor told a young catholic he could not be confirmed if he did not make a statement renouncing his support for marriage equality. The pastor ludicrously equated the opinion the young catholic had expressed with denying the Nicene creed, then even more ludicrously apologized for the young man's family who he reported caused negative if he himself the , had no hand at all in creating this negative publicity with his pastorally unsound decision to exclude someone from confirmation on such grounds.

    Crookston diocese demonstrates our inability to understand that authentic Catholic values call on us to reach out and include everyone is on full display for the whole world to see. It is not a pretty picture. It is a picture that shows strong traditional families deliberating excluding from their midst their own children an siblings and claiming to do this in the name of strong catholic values,

    There has to be a better way to do Catholic family, I think. There has to be a way that can allow many different kinds of family members to gather around one family table while respecting the differences of each individual conscience- and while we welcome and include those targeted by groups working to ellicit prejudice and outright hate in our society.

    Catholics are capable of an inclusive vision of catholic family. As I read here, I know for certain, there are some who are scandalized to see their brother or sister shoved from the table.

    1. Well, I'm not going to wrangle with you about this matter, especially since a) it wasn't the subject of the blog post and b) you are posting under the cloak on anonymity while I am posting with my actual name and personal information.
      Suffice tosay, I wholly agree with the pastor's decision. Nobody made this a public spectacle until the parents decided to make their son's spiritual struggles a Major Media Event. It is a sacred duty of a priest to ascertain that those receiving the sacraments are rightly disposed to do so in faith, and to defer such reception until a suitable time. And that's all I am going to say on the subject.
      God bless you!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.