Thursday, December 29, 2011

Be an Authentic Catholic

We are coming to a close on the year of the catechism that I have posted about a few times. It has been very enlightening and coming on the heels of the year of the Bible I have learned more about our faith than I even dared to imagine and gained a ton of perspective through these exercises.

One thing that I have found that is evident through reading the entire Bible and the Catechism (what amounts to the catholic guide to the faith) is that there is no foundation for some of the political stereotypes that have evolved in the church. To the contrary, the authentic teachings of the Church transcend the American political landscape.

You know what I am talking about. We have Catholics that are conservative and we have Catholics that are liberal. There are others, I am sure but these are the ones I see the most and it seems that the people who fall into these stereotypes allow their American political views to shape their faith. It seems to me that they  make no attempt to reconcile their views and positions with authentic Church teaching as a whole. Rather, they get hold of a part of a valid teaching like social justice or Humanae Vitae and to them that becomes the whole faith.

For instance, the liberal Catholic might defend legalized abortion under the guise of social justice. After all, a poor woman has the right to abort a child she can't care for that would just worsen her economic condition. Or a rape victim shouldn't have to carry the product of the rape to term. More than that, we certainly can't tell them that it is wrong; after all we haven't experienced life as they have. But there is clearly no room for such a position in the faith.

By the same token, the conservative Catholic may make an argument against welfare. "Teach a man to fish" and all that. Again, while we should "teach a man to fish", there is no room in the faith to demand that the state not help those who cannot or will not help themselves. In fact, just the opposite. What the faith teaches is that the state has an obligation to facilitate that help.

Far worse than just having these opinions, when the Bishops remind us of where we should come down on a particular issue they are often dismissed with whatever rationalizations we can muster. In other words, we lift our own political ideology above the teachings of the successors of the Apostles.

Now, I am not immune to this and don't want to leave the impression that I am. I have a tendency to lean in the conservative direction. However, what reading the Catechism and the Bible has shown me is that being a Catholic is not as easy as being liberal or conservative.

I know the examples that I gave are simplistic and easy. The purpose isn't to render a full account of the problems of each groups reasoning. The purpose is to get you to test your own opinions and philosophies against the true and full teaching of the Church. In other words, I challenge you as I challenge myself, don't be a liberal Catholic. Don't be a conservative Catholic. Be an authentic Catholic.

If you aren't sure how to be an authentic Catholic, a good first step would be to turn off Fox, MSNBC, and NPR. Quit reading whatever left or right leaning blogs, newspapers or other information sources you may frequent. Instead, lift up your heart in prayer and open up the pages of the Catechism and Scripture.

By the way, next year at St. Joan of Arc, Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana,  is the Year of the Eucharist, I am pretty excited.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Inn Keeper: Advent

This Advent I have been thinking a lot about "the inn keeper". As we read in the Gospel of Luke and as most people are aware Jesus was born while Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem. At that time many people were traveling to the towns of their ancestors to comply with an order for a census. In other words, it was a very busy time.

Because of this busyness of the situation and all of the extra people that had to be accommodated no one had room for the Holy Family. Instead, Jesus, our Lord and our God made in human flesh, was born in a stable amid animals and filth. I guess that people relegated Him to the stable because they could not recognize Him. I guess they could not recognize Him because they were not looking for Him but instead they were preoccupied with everything going on around them.

I know that people are as familiar with that part of the story as I have always been. But I have never really considered the other people in the story until recently. For instance, if there was no room in the inn, then somebody had to turn Mary and Joseph away. They must have approached an inn and the inn keeper must have said "Sorry, we have no rooms available".

This advent I have been imaging this scene were an inn keeper who is preoccupied with the hustle and bustle of the current time completely misses who has come to him. This inn keeper didn't recognize that the most important thing that had ever happened was happening right in front of him. He could have been part of it; instead he sent his God away and said "I have no room left for you, all of my room is taken up with other things".

Now I contrast this inn keeper with  Elizabeth or Simeon who were awaiting the coming of the Lord. They were totally focused on God and as such God was an important part of whatever was going on in their lives. For the people in the Gospel who do recognize our Lord, He is always front and center. This being the case, they were able to recognized Him when he was in their midst.

I have been comparing these different events and their results with how I approach the Advent and Christmas seasons. Am I preoccupied with the commercial Christmas and putting all of my attention on the secular aspects of the current season? Am I so worried about Christmas parties and gifts and food, etc that I pull my attention away from God? In other words, am I like the inn keeper? Will I entirely miss the Lord and send him away saying "I have no room for you, I have all of these other things to do."

Or do I use this season of advent to refocus my spiritual life and anticipate the coming of Christ. Do I look for God and put my focus on the most important thing to ever happen? And as such, recognize the Lord when He does come and exult Him and experience the true joy of Christmas. I hope for the grace this advent season to be ever focused on the Lord even in the middle of all the craziness of the commercial Christmas.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Advent: Training for Christmas.

Advent is a great time to refocus attention on the spiritual life and growing in the Christian faith. As a runner, I can see a similarity between running and the spiritual life. When I am running and preparing for a race, I get very focused and am methodical in my training plan. I have a goal and I work toward that goal with intensity. However, when there is no race on the schedule, my training can become lax and unfocused.

That is kind of how I am seeing this advent as well, with the Christmas season being the finish line and advent the training season. It seems to me that like being well prepared for a race enables me to enjoy the race itself and reap the benefits of my training with the goal of the race being met by a new personal best time and finishing strong. In the same way, being well prepared for the Christmas season will allow me to experience more fully the joy of the season.

This Advent I plan, God Willing, to focus and prepare with intensity for the Christmas season and the coming of our Lord. As for the particular training program I will be using, I have decided on the program that has produced many champions (saints) over the last 2,000 years. I will be using the tried and true form of Christian training, the prayer, fasting, and alms-giving plan.

Is this a big commitment? You bet because I know that I will have to focus intently on my training and make sacrifices in other areas of my life, but I know it will be worth it when I am running strong into Christmas morning and throughout the Christmas season.

Have a blessed and fruitful advent!