Monday, March 7, 2011

Is the Catholic Church losing our younger generation? III

This leads me to the first thing Catholics can do. As Jesus said, there is no servant above his master. That is to say what the master does, the servant also must do. The New Testament quite often gives expression to masculine virtues. It uses combat imagery and even violence to communicate revealed truths. St. Paul, for instance, refers to the helmet of salvation and the shield of faith. Our Lord used hyperbole's of violence in order to inspire holiness such as plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand. When referencing hell, he speaks of the grinding and gnashing of teeth where the worm does not die. Furthermore, the spiritual and moral realities of combat, conflict and the ever looming threat of the enemy (which include the flesh, the world and Satan) are frequent themes from the first page of the Gospel of Matthew to the last page of the book of Revelation.

Today, however, we as Catholics address the issues in much softer and indirect ways. For instance, the world or the ways of the world is depicted by the New Testament as an adversary of God. In fact, St. John and St. James asserted that the love of the world and the love of God are mutually exclusive. It’s either Mammon or God. That is the choice. But the Church, as of the 1960’s, rarely gives expression to this for fear that it might come across as despising the people of the world. Our posture seems to be one of only affirming the truth while omitting the denunciation of error and sin. For instance, I heard many Catholics say they would rather “light a candle than curse the darkness.” That may sound nice but it is hardly biblical. Jesus spoke the truth about virtue but he also publicly rebuked vice. The men and women that the Church has canonized as Saints did likewise. Although our Lord never blessed any tree that I am aware of, he did curse a fig tree. Perhaps this was to prefigure the fate of Jerusalem which ended being destroyed by the Roman army just forty years after his ascension. Indeed, he issued severe warnings concerning what awaited that illustrious city. I would hate to think that our Lord’s pastoral approach is outdated; that it was to be applied in every century except the twentieth and the twenty-first century.

If Catholics want our younger generations to embrace the Gospel values of marriage and sexuality, we have to once again revisit the pastoral approach of Jesus, the Apostles and the Saints. They gave inspiration, they lifted up the downtrodden, and they consoled and provided hope to the hopeless. Nevertheless, out of love for souls they also publicly rebuked sin by name. If need be, they confronted sinners when circumstances warranted it. This, no doubt, drew unwanted attention and unwanted consequences upon themselves. St. John, the Apostle who wrote about Christian love more than any other, publicly confronted a troublemaker whose name was Diotrophes. St. Paul published names of blasphemers. St. Ambrose, a Father of the Church, publicly prevented Theodosius II, the Roman Emperor, from entering into the church because he had killed 7,000 Thessalonians during an uprising. Even our beloved twentieth century Saint, St. Padre Pio, chased out insincere penitents from his confessional booth. These men did not look for confrontations. But they knew that the love of souls required it at times.

Out of love for the younger generation we are required to do no less: To name the sin and to bear the consequences. Sometimes, it means turning people away as our Lord did with the rich man or the man from the country of the Gerasenes who was once possessed. Jesus himself said that those who do not listen to the Church are to be treated as outsiders. I know this runs counter to our modern sensibilities. Indeed, it clashes with what "we define" as Christian love. Many of our peers in the Faith have taken Christian love to mean that we accept people where they are at and then cross our fingers and pray that they somehow come to know the truth about their sins. In the meantime they are led to believe that are in perfect communion with God when in fact they are not.

Those who are entrusted with leading and caring for souls- be it a teacher or a priest –quite often do not require repentance from those souls under their care. Inclusion at all costs is the motto! “Come and enjoy the sacraments,” we say. But as far as “plucking out the eye” or “cutting off the hand”- which represent those things that cause us to sin -well…we leave that up to the individual Christian because we have been told “not to judge.” When the standards of Christ are not presented or they are presented but failure to meet them is not met with any consequence, then the incentive to be good and to follow Christ are compromised. It's good to remember that a Church with low standards is a Church without respect. Easy and unconditional access to the Sacraments is not only a departure from biblical norms and Church tradition, but it doesn't work! We have fifty years to show that it just doesn't work!

Our thinking has to change. We have to be proactive and unafraid of calling a spade a spade and a sin a sin. Love of souls and conversion itself demands it. If there are no sins to repent from then we can hardly invoke Christ as our Savior. And if people are unaware of the bad news, they can hardly appreciate the Good News. The salvation of youth demands that we communicate the positive and the negative, virtue and sin, heaven and hell, God and Satan. This certainly applies in particular to the sin of homosexual acts. Love for the homosexual person presupposes- at least in the biblical sense -that the sin of homosexuality be known. Without this knowledge, repentance is impossible. And I do believe that if you let the light of Christ shine in dark corners people will respect you for it. They may protest, but they will respect you and the message you deliver. Even more importantly, those who struggle with homosexuality may choose to live chastely in order to experience the peace of Christ.

Keep in mind that with every person you offend with the truth, you inspire at least two to three more people who perhaps will never say anything to you.

Points two and three in the next blog-