Friday, February 11, 2011

Do We Know?

How comfortable are we in our faith? What have we done to educate ourselves in the teachings of the Church? I’ve been working on an article for the Harvest, our diocesan newspaper, about those from our diocese who are in formation for the priesthood or religious life. I sent each of the candidates an e-mail asking them to tell us something about themselves and their formation and discernment process. It was interesting to hear some of the responses. One in particular struck home.
In high school, I had non-Catholic friends who began to question elements of the Catholic faith that I had never been taught or about which I had been misinformed. At the same time, we received a new pastor in my home parish who began preaching and teaching about Catholic topics that were completely foreign to me, and therefore seemingly threatening. I eventually realized that there is no benefit in persisting in ignorance of the Faith; if I was going to claim to reject something which the Church teaches, then I had to know what I was rejecting. Otherwise, I knew that I should be able to answer the questions of my non-Catholic friends.
This led me to zealously study Church teaching through the catechism and various books and online articles. As I read more and more, I began to truly fall in love with the Church in the fullness of her teachings. I came to see how the Faith is one beautiful whole, not a list of doctrines which may be abstracted from each other and accepted more or less according to personal preference. Over time, all of the teachings which I had found difficult to accept (the doctrines concerning purgatory, indulgences, contraception and sexual ethics, etc.), seen in the context of the whole, made so much sense. I saw that the Church, rather than being a dead institution with a strict and negative view of the human person, is in fact a vibrant, living, integral whole with an exceptionally beautiful conception of humanity as a people called to intimate union with Jesus Christ.
Sadly, many of us find ourselves in the position where we’ve been taught things contrary to what the actual Church teaches. Many times we seem to grab on to these tidbits because they make us feel good. I’ve heard from multiple sources that some of those who have attended Tempus in our diocese over the years have come back with an understanding of the sacraments and sin that is not supported by the teachings of the Church. Sometimes we decide whether or not to attend our local parish based upon whether or not the priest preaches messages that make us feel good about ourselves, instead of challenging us to overcome sin in our lives and turn ourselves back completely to God. Christ did not condemn the woman caught in adultery. He did send her off with the command, “Go and sin no more.” As Catholics, we are called to truly seek out the truth in the Church. We are called to follow the Church in our quest for holiness. When faced with the challenge of the truth we have two options. We can embrace the truth. Or, we can run to a place where the truth is hidden in an effort to make us feel good about ourselves. If, despite all that Jesus said about Hell in the gospel, we think everyone will go to Heaven without being in a state of grace, Satan wins.
Instead of getting mad at the messenger, take some time to review the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I want to share with you just a few short sections:

1384 The Lord addresses an invitation to us, urging us to receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist: "Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."

1385 To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself." Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.

1386 Before so great a sacrament, the faithful can only echo humbly and with ardent faith the words of the Centurion: "Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea" ("Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed.") and in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom the faithful pray in the same spirit:
O Son of God, bring me into communion today with your mystical supper. I shall not tell your enemies the secret, nor kiss you with Judas' kiss. But like the good thief I cry, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."