Tag Archives: Holiness

Self

Self awareness is good. I must pay attention to my body, my thoughts and my soul. I must know myself and know how I may be affecting myself and those around me for better or for worse.

Self care is good. My body, my mind and my soul are gifts given to me. I must take good care of these gifts and not neglect them or abuse them.

Self control is good. I am responsible for managing my emotions and for choosing my thoughts and my actions. No one else can do this for me.

Self-centeredness is not good. I am not the center of all things; God is. My life must revolve around God. God is love. Love includes self, but love is not centered on self. Love must ultimately be centered on others.

Relax The Moral Standards?

Why does the Catholic Church refuse to “relax” certain moral standards even when a high percentage of Catholics desire such a move?  It’s because the job of the Church is not to produce “nice,” spiritually mediocre people who “get along” with everybody.  The job of the Church is to produce saints, people of radical holiness.  Lowering moral standards would mute the call to sanctity.

At the same time, the Church has a most lenient penitential system.  We all fall short of Jesus’ standard of perfection and require God’s mercy.  The other job of the Church is to be the vehicle of God’s love and mercy when we fall.  God’s loving mercy does not lower moral standards.  Mercy provides help and support in shooting for those standards.

Catholics (indeed, all Christians) are called to radical holiness.  We are all called to sainthood.  Lowering the bar won’t cut it.  Instead, seek to meet the bar.

 

(Paraphrase of a commentary by Fr. Robert Barron)

Just One Of The Guys

Recently, my wife and I were invited to an information meeting for those who may have a calling to be permanent deacons.  People at church have been suggesting to me for some time that I may have this calling.  This is something that will require a good bit of discernment over time.  I don’t know if I have the call to be a deacon or not.  What I do know for sure is that I am called to be a follower of Jesus, no matter what.

I had a good conversation with a deacon who shared some of his thoughts about his vocation.  It struck me when he said, “Since being ordained, I’m no longer one of the guys.”  People treat him differently now.  For example, men who ordinarily might share an off color joke or make some unseemly remark speak more cautiously around him.  I suppose this is a good thing insofar as it shows some reverence for his ordained status and his representation of Christ and the Church.  It may also reveal their guilty consciences and highlight their need to conform their minds to Christ.  Or, maybe they are simply being “courteous” by trying not to offend the deacon as a person.

In any case, it occurred to me that we are all called to serve Christ.  We are all told to be living sacrifices and to let our minds be conformed to Christ.  Ordination may set certain men apart for specific purposes in the Church, but it does not make them “more called” to serve Christ than the layman.  Therefore, it seems to me that a deacon should always be “one of the guys” because “the guys” need to be striving for holiness as much as any deacon, priest, bishop or pope.  There is nothing that says a Christian man is exempt from living a holy life unless he gets ordained.

There is also a perception that, if a man has a keen interest in “spiritual matters,” or he possesses certain gifts, he must be called to some ordained status.  Maybe, maybe not.  All men and women are called to have a keen interest in following Jesus Christ.  Devoting one’s entire life to Christ is not reserved for priests, deacons and nuns.  It is for all of us.

Adding to a perceived “spiritual gap” between clergy and laity is the notion that canonized saints are something other than ordinary human beings.  We see their pictures and hear their stories and we believe they are not us.  The irony is that the very reason we are supposed to be mindful of the saints and in touch with the saints is that we are supposed to emulate the saints.  They are not there to show us a lofty ideal we can never reach.  They are there to show us and to tell us, “If we can do it, you can do it!”  The saints are not “the exception” they are “the goal.”  They show us what we as Christians are expected to be.  That is why there are so many saints from all walks of life.  They are us!  They are cheering us on!

It seems to me that if a deacon is living a holy life, and is surrounded by men who are striving for the goal of sainthood, he will feel like he is “one of the guys.”  Maybe God is calling me to be a deacon.  I don’t know yet.  He has already called me to be a Christian man, a husband and a father.  He has called me to follow him, no matter what.  I want to be “one of the guys” for Jesus, ordained or not.

Stones In Our Hands And Logs In Our Eyes

Luke 6:37 tells us not to judge.  But, we can’t stop there, because Matt 7:1-5 spells things out in more detail.  The message is that we are not to be judgmental hypocrites.  There’s no point trying to remove a speck from someone’s eye if you have a huge log in your own eye.  First, take care of your own sins.  Then, you have the proper perspective to help someone else grow spiritually.

When you make judgments about certain behaviors or attitudes, remember that you will be held to the same standard you are using.  For example, there’s no point in judging someone’s lies if you yourself make a habit of lying.  There’s no point in judging someone for watching or making pornographic videos if you yourself entertain pornographic thoughts and images in your own mind.  Don’t look with disdain upon someone who gossips if you gossip, too.  Clean up your own act before trying to help another clean up theirs.

Jesus took this to an even higher level in John 8 when he told an accusing crowd, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  After those who wanted to condemn her had all left, Jesus said to the woman who had sinned, “I’m not going to condemn you, either.  Go, and sin no more.”

The crowd knew that the woman had sinned.  Jesus also knew she had sinned.  Jesus did not admonish the crowd for recognizing and hating sin.  We are supposed to recognize and hate sin (otherwise we can’t get the logs out of our own eyes).  Jesus admonished the crowd for not recognizing and hating their own sins and for wanting to condemn the woman for hers.  So, Jesus showed us the better way.  Recognize and hate sin, but treat sinners with love and mercy rather than condemnation.  We’re all sinners.  We all want love and mercy when we sin.  We should apply the “Golden Rule.”  Any condemnation is God’s decision, not ours.

“Go, and sin no more.”  Victory over sin is the ultimate goal of God’s love and mercy.  Notice, Jesus did not say, “I don’t condemn you, either, and I never will, so go ahead and keep sinning.”  If we continue to prefer sin over God’s love and mercy, condemnation may very well be the result.  Jesus left the woman with her free will and the choice to either obey him or ignore him.

In summary:  Hate the sin but love the sinner.  We are all sinners and need empathy for each other.  Make sure you hate and address your own sins, first (regular confession and genuine repentance).  Leave condemnation up to God (if you throw a stone it may bounce back and hit you).  Don’t condone sin in yourself or in others (judge behaviors, not souls).  The ultimate goal for all of us is to “go and sin no more.”

Looking Up, Not Down

The moment I place myself “up here” and someone else “down here,” lower than me, I have denied my faith.  When I look upon any other human being with contempt, I have denied my faith.  Regardless of what another’s sins may be, I have my own to repent of.

I must look up to everyone from a lower position, because I must see Christ in them.  If I look down on them, I look down on Christ.  Pride destroys the soul.

I must judge behaviors, for I must know right from wrong in order to strive for holiness.  But I cannot judge souls.  Only God knows the hearts of people.  Only God judges the soul.

God does not raise us up by looking down on us.  He raises us by lowering himself and looking up at us with love.  This is what the Christian is called to do, because we are called to follow Christ.

Faith does not last.  In Heaven we won’t need faith, for we will see everything.  Hope does not last.  In Heaven we won’t need hope, for we will have arrived.  Only charitable love lasts forever, for God is love.  Faith, hope and love; the greatest of these is love.

I cannot look down on others from a genuine vantage point of faith and hope.  I can only look up to them in love.  Otherwise, my faith and my hope are phony imitations.

Wait…Jesus Said To OBEY The Scribes And Pharisees? What..?

In Mathew 23:1-3 Jesus says (paraphrase), “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: therefore, do all that they tell you to do; but don’t behave the way they do, for they don’t follow their own teachings.”  There are several points here to reflect on.

1)      Jesus was not anti-religion, he was anti-hypocrisy.  Jesus followed his Jewish religion perfectly (unlike the hypocrites).  Jesus never said he came to abolish religion.  Jesus came to fulfill the Jewish religion, not to get rid of it.  When people say, “Religion is bad but Jesus is good,” they are mistaken.  Jesus is good and so is his religion.

2)      Jesus recognized and validated the office held by the scribes and the Pharisees.  God established the seat of Moses.  It was an office of authority.  An earthly person (Moses) held an office of God-given authority.  Furthermore, that office had successors.  The scribes and the Pharisees had God-given authority because they were the successors of Moses, not because they were good men.  What we see here is the biblical principle that it is God, not men that establishes and preserves the earthly office of authority.  Men behaving badly can still validly occupy an office of God-given authority and use that authority to establish and teach doctrines and traditions (binding and loosing).  Jesus teaches obedience to men who sit on a seat authorized directly by God.

3)      The teachings of the scribes and Pharisees were not made invalid by their hypocrisy.  Notice that Jesus did not say, “Rebel against and disobey the scribes and Pharisees because they are hypocrites who won’t even follow their own teachings.”  Quite the opposite was true.  Jesus taught obedience to their God-given authority.

4)      The scribes and Pharisees “made the word of God of no effect” through their tradition (Mark 7:13).  Having the tradition wasn’t the problem.  Their attitude was the problem.  They “rejected the commandment of God” (verse 9).  Tradition is good if one is not rejecting the commandment of God.  After all, Jesus and his family followed Jewish tradition.  They were religious!  One can take most any religious tradition and either glorify God or reject God through that tradition.  It’s about one’s attitude.

5)      As stated above, Jesus validated the seat of Moses as an earthly authority from God.  In fact, he liked the idea so much that he fulfilled and perfected it for the New Covenant by creating the chair of Peter.  Again, God protects this office and provides successors for it.  Even a scoundrel of a pope cannot negate the authority of this office.  God protects the official teachings of the Church from error through the Holy Spirit, not through the impeccable behavior of men.  That is what the infallibility of the papacy means.  The same Holy Spirit that keeps error out of the Bible also protects the papacy.  God the Father directly authorized the seat of Moses.  God the Son directly authorized the Chair of Peter.

6)      Protestantism has the Bible, but it has no seat of earthly authority like the seat of Moses or the Chair of Peter.  This is, ironically, unbiblical.  The rejection of God-given Church authority has resulted in division and a multitude of opposing doctrines.  It is popular today to claim Jesus while rejecting religious authority.  Jesus taught the opposite.  To obey the God-given seat of authority is to obey God.  Obey Jesus by obeying his Church.

7)      Catholicism does not create traditions of men that “make the word of God of no effect.”  Read the Catholic Catechism honestly and you will discover that Church teachings flow from and compliment the Scriptures.  The Bible and Sacred Tradition are both apostolic.  They go together.

8)      Catholicism does not “heap heavy burdens upon men that even the religious leaders can’t bear.”  Read the Catholic Catechism and you will discover that Church teachings are about holiness and a relationship with Jesus, not legalistic rules and regulations.  There is nothing about being Catholic that “can’t be done” by the clergy or by the laity.  There may be things people don’t want to do, but that’s all about attitude and obedience.  If you live a Catholic life with the proper attitude you will grow ever closer to Christ.  Catholicism is all about receiving the grace of Jesus and sharing him with the world and with each other.

Do You “Really” Want To Spend Eternity With Me? That’s A Mighty Long Time!

I think it was Mark Twain who said that Christians are trying to get to a place where they will spend eternity with people they can’t stand to be around.  He also said he would choose Heaven for the climate and Hell for the companionship.  Well, take a good look around Christendom or even your own congregation and ask yourself, “Do I really want to spend eternity with these people?”  Now, certainly there are a lot of nice folks around, and some of them are a joy to be with (most of the time).  But seriously, eternity is a mighty long time.

Of course, such thoughts reveal a hard truth about most of us.  We have not yet been perfected in love.  On Sunday we can sing, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God” and on Monday we can gossip and complain about some other Christians.  Not exactly the pinnacle of holiness.  More like a dysfunctional family.  So, why exactly do we want to go to Heaven?  If Heaven is just an eternity of “more of this,” I really don’t see why anyone would desire to go there.  I seriously doubt that anyone wants to spend eternity with me and my messy self, either!

One might respond, “Well, God will be there.  Being with God is what it’s all about.”  Ok, but everyone else will be there, too.  “Well, we’ll all be so focused on God that we’ll ignore each other.”  Then there’s no point in having a family of God if we spend eternity ignoring each other.  “Well, God will take care of all those issues.  We will be different in Heaven.  We won’t be petty and sinful and we’ll love each other.  We’ll be like Jesus.”

So, when “exactly” do we become like Jesus?  We can’t get into Heaven until we are perfect like Jesus.  If I died today I can’t say I have reached such perfection.  I don’t know any Christians that would claim to be as perfect as Jesus in thought and behavior “right now.”  Yet, that is how we must be in order to enter Heaven and enjoy Heaven.

None of us intend to live in eternity in the same condition we are today.  We all expect that we will be “better” in Heaven than we are on the day we die.  So, how and when does this “change” take place?  For most of us, it has to take place between our death and our entrance into Heaven.

Most Protestants expect this “change” to happen, but they don’t have a name for it.  They simply say, “God takes care of it.”  Catholics also expect the change to happen, but they have a name for it.  Catholics call it “Purgatory.”  It is a state of being.  It is what happens between death and entrance into Heaven.  It is a “purging” of all the leftover “stuff” that would cause you or me to mess up Heaven by being there.

Sure, there were Catholics that exploited and abused Purgatory in order to manipulate people and get their money.  The abuse of a truth by bad Catholics does not make the truth untrue.  The fact still remains that I don’t want to spend eternity with you as you are today, and you don’t want to spend it with me as I am today.  God has to get us ready for Heaven and strip us of all the attachments that would hinder us from entering and enjoying Heaven.  There may be a few people who are able to achieve perfect holiness in this life, but most of us are not there yet.

Purgatory is not “a third choice” or a “second chance” at salvation.  Everyone in a state of purgation after death is undergoing the process because they are already on their way to Heaven.  Purgatory is for people who are already saved.  It is not a way to save the lost.  It is that state of being between death and entrance into Heaven.  It’s like when your mom says, “Come inside for dinner, but take your muddy shoes off  and wash your hands first.”

Saying, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” does not negate Purgatory.  You still have to acknowledge that “somehow” “some way” at “some time” God completely cleans us up for Heaven and makes us “different” than we are in this life.  Whatever you want to call it, however you want to “spin” it, it’s still a state of purging.  Hence, “Purg”-atory.

We’re in big trouble if there is no Purgatory.  Without it, all we have to look forward to is “more of this” for eternity.  “More of this” is not what Christ died for.  Presently, we need to strive for holiness and perfection of love.  It’s not an easy process.  It requires sacrifice and dying to self.  The process doesn’t end until we enter Heaven.  That’s why those in Purgatory are called “The Church Suffering.”  They are undergoing the necessary yet painful detachment of all that might remain as a barrier to perfect love.  Purgatory is God’s merciful continuation of the process of conversion to holiness.  It’s just more of God’s grace.