Thursday, May 18, 2017

What is value without a cost?

There is no argument that BMWs are great cars. They run well, they handle well, they are safe, and they are stylish. If BMWs are such great cars why do so few people drive them? The answer, of course, is cost. BMWs are expensive to buy, paying retail anyway. They are expensive to own and maintain properly. Their cost puts them out of most people’s reach. The people who do buy them care for them. They know not only the cost of a BMW but the value a well maintained one holds.

Today we live in a throw away culture that recognizes the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Cheap is always best. There is no reason to take care of or maintain something we own. When it breaks we just throw it away and get a new one. Cell phones are a great example. We barely have one model when we start looking at upgrading to the next, best thing. I just got the Universe 8 last week and the 8A is already available.

The throw-away culture is affecting our faith as well. The “nones”, that is the people who check “none” when asked about religious affiliation, are the fastest growing group in first world nations. Catholics used to leave their faith for one the easier to follow Protestant faiths and now Catholics and Protestants alike are leaving for one of the many mega-churches that concentrate their services on feeling and experience over a relationship with Jesus.

Something that comes at great cost usually carries with it great value. Becoming Catholic used to come at a great cost. It used to take years instead of months to be accepted into the Church. As a catechumen you weren’t allowed in the Nave during the distribution of the Holy Eucharist. Porters used to remove anyone not a Catholic in good standing and lock the doors. You were allowed one confession in a lifetime. That was made in public before the entire Church. Penance was harsh and took more than a year to complete.

Most would say that the Church was too strict in the way she did things. But the Church knew the value of what she had – the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ through which eternal life was obtained. The Church was strict, but the lines for confession were long and the Masses were full of people dressed in their Sunday best. That all started to change in a major way when the documents of Vatican II were used as an excuse to undo the shackles and open the Church up to a more liberal interpretation.

Sixty years of watered down catechesis has done its damage. Churches and church organizations all over the first world are closing due to lack of parishioners. We make things easier and simpler in the hope of keeping the modern parishioner from going to another faith that is easier and simpler. The fast before Mass used to start at midnight the night before. Today it is only an hour long and is too much of an inconvenience for some. Instruction to join the Church consists of a few hours a week for about six months. Lines for confession are short despite easy penances. We live at a time where everything seems to be permissible but nothing is forgiven. People understand what is happening at Mass so well that they see nothing wrong showing up to receive our Lord in the Eucharist in shower shoes, shorts, and T-shirts full of holes.

Because we have lowered the cost of our faith we have lost the understanding of the immense value it has. It has become a commodity. It has become something we no longer need in our lives. Yet, the Church is thriving in third world nations where there still is a great cost to be Catholic. We have more Saints being created through martyrdom today than we did during the years of the early Church. People will walk through life threatening conditions for ten or more miles just to attend Mass. They have what we have lost – faith with value.

The house I grew up in has been torn down and replaced with new town homes so I cannot go home again. We cannot return to the way things were. We can only move forward. If we want the Church to flourish in this country once again we need to live our faith joyfully and publically. We need to pass down our faith through proper catechesis so those who are new to it will know the value without being charged the cost.

What value does the Catholic Church offer? We have the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus given for the salvation and redemption of all those who love him. Nothing on earth or in heaven is more precious. The cost? Your life. The value? Eternal life with God in heaven.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Pray for us

My brothers and I have just completed our second year of diaconate formation. Our aspirancy period has ended. We get the summer to reflect and further discern our future. At the end of July we will face our second scrutiny. If we are found worthy our diocese will invite us to Candidacy. This is where the Church publically declares her intention to ordain us at the end of our formal formation. We will have to make a choice. If we decide to go forward we will be publically declaring our intention to be ordained.

This is no small decision. In a world that doesn’t believe or understand the supernatural many do not get why this is such a big deal. I have a friend who is a Baptist deacon. His formation period was two weeks. Mine is a total of seven years. When a man is ordained in the Catholic Church the Bishop passes along his authority through the laying on of hands. The Bishop received this authority through the same manner, passed down through the ages from one man to another back to when Jesus did it to the original Disciples. Like baptism, receiving Holy Orders puts an indelible mark on the soul. It is permanent. It cannot be undone. If we publically declare our intention to be ordained and we accept the invitation to candidacy we will be forever marked as men who were found worthy of candidacy. Even if we never get ordained that will be a mark in our permanent record.

When I was originally discerning the diaconate and in the past two years of aspirancy I thought I was being called to serve. God wanted me to serve as a deacon. Upon further reflection I do not believe this to be the case. If all God wanted me to do was serve there are plenty of places to do so without being ordained. There are many great humanitarian organizations in and outside of Church that are in desperate need of good people to help. No, God is not calling me to serve. God is calling me to be ordained.

Holy Orders are one of the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church. A Sacrament is a conduit through which the Lord delivers special grace. If God is calling me to Holy Orders then he wants to use the Sacrament to deliver a special grace to me. Graces and gifts are given to us to help us complete a mission that the Lord wishes us to do. If God wants to give me a special grace it is to strengthen me for a mission he wants me to embark on.

Like Abraham, Mary, or Jesus before me I am being given an option. Are you willing to trust me and let me do my will in your life without the need to know what or why right now? Are you willing to be ordained so that I may use you for something special later? Often these questions come with great suffering and trial and the grace is given to provide one with strength to see the mission to completion. Knowing that is what makes this one of the hardest decisions I will ever have to make. Do I have the faith of Abraham to do as the Lord asks no matter what that may be? Do I have the conviction of Mary to say yes to the Lord’s invitation? Do I have the strength of Jesus to say, “Thy will, not mine, be done.”

That is what my brothers and I must discern this summer. That is the decision we must make. Our response cannot be lukewarm. We either have to go all in or walk way.

Pray for us, that we be open to the voice of God over the next couple months and discern correctly. May the Holy Spirit lead us and guide us to make the right choice. This is no small decision.

But wait...there's more!

"Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate
but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.
But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice,
as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has driven out all his own,
he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him,
because they recognize his voice.
But they will not follow a stranger;
they will run away from him,
because they do not recognize the voice of strangers."
Although Jesus used this figure of speech,
the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.

So Jesus said again, "Amen, amen, I say to you,
I am the gate for the sheep.
All who came before me are thieves and robbers,
but the sheep did not listen to them.
I am the gate.
Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.

John 10: 1-10

The sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. But God does not yell at us. He does not scream. He does not raise his voice. God speaks to us through a still, small voice. Knowing this, the evil one has filled our lives with as much noise and distraction as possible. There are a million different things vying for our attention.
Turn on any television. The average thirty minute program is less than twenty-two minutes long. What fills the remainder of the time? Advertisements. Advertisements that tell you what to eat, what to watch, how to look, how to smell, how to act, and even how to think. You cannot open a paper or a magazine or even drive down the road without being inundated by advertisements all trying to manipulate you into buying that one thing that will make you truly happy. And yet, this generation has the lowest happiness level ever. How can this be?
We have forgotten what true happiness really is. A good working definition of happiness is the feeling you get when an expectation is met. We are really happy when an expectation is exceeded. There is such a level of unhappiness in the world these days because our expectations are not being met. We buy the latest weight loss product but we don’t lose weight. We are unhappy. We buy the latest fashion hoping to be noticed and we are unhappy when we aren’t. We buy the coolest car or the latest phone or the newest gizmo looking for satisfaction but satisfaction is fleeting. And now the biggest trend in this manipulation of thought is with prescription drugs. There seems to be a pill to cure anything that ails us. Do you want beautiful skin? There is a pill for that. Do you want to lose all of that stubborn belly fat? There is a pill for that. Want to re-grow all of that hair you have lost? Yup, there is a pill for that too.
The devil did not start by filling our lives with noise. A truly happy person does not go out looking for something to make them happy. The devil started by changing our expectations. Not all at once, but slowly over time. He capitalized on the pride, vanity, greed, and laziness that are all part of our fallen nature to change our expectations from something real to something unattainable. Once expectations are unattainable happiness is unattainable. Once happiness is unattainable misery and grief fill the void where love once lived.
The devil is a thief, a robber, and a liar. Do not be deceived by him. His way leads to misery and grief. Follow the Shepherd instead. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In him expectations are exceeded past anything you thought possible. But he will not yell and scream at you to get your attention. His sheep know his voice and know to follow him. Make the time to turn off the distractions of the day. Shut down the screens, turn off the noise. Listen for that still, small voice calling you to have life and to have it more abundantly. Real happiness does not come from having more stuff. It comes from recognizing more of God’s infinite love poured out in your life.
If today you hear the voice of the Lord harden not your heart.