Saturday, January 12, 2013

Why aren't our plans working? -- part 5

Letter to Frieda Begue continued)

About 30 years ago, I was confronted by a young feminist who had just announced from my pulpit that she was taking a group downtown to march in favor of a woman’s right to abortion. Perhaps I have shared that story with you. I was the new pastor and was not welcome to celebrate the main Sunday Mass. They had their own priest, one who never used the words “father” or “lord” or “pope.”  They were all activists and in the words of my former superior, “Some of them had even been to Nicaragua!” I was very limited in what I could do, but when the call to defend abortion went out from the pulpit for which I was responsible, enough became enough! Go ahead and appoint me chaplain to retired Franciscan nuns in the arctic circle. I couldn’t endure any more! I started saying that Mass despite the intentions of my immediate superior and I alone would make the announcements. No more open microphone at Mass, even for people who had been to Nicaragua.

The young woman in question railed at my intolerance and I explained to her that Catholics believed abortion is a mortal sin and that people who knowingly have one will go to hell unless they repent and confess their sins.  She had a melt down.  She shouted “YOU can’t tell me how to be a Catholic! I was born a Catholic!” I returned, “ You weren’t born a Catholic. You were baptized a Catholic.”

No one is born a Christian or a Catholic. It is a gift conferred by baptism that each of us must accept or reject. The young activists in my former parish could not conceive of being Irish and not Catholic. Or perhaps Grandma would cut them out of the will. They certainly weren’t Catholic in the sense that they accepted what the Church taught and believed.  They didn’t believe in the Trinity, in the divinity of Christ, in the sacrifice of Calvary, in a real Resurrection, in the Real Presence, in papal infallibility or in any of that stuff. They did however believe in folk music, a woman’s right to abortion and coffee and doughnuts in the hall after whatever it was they did up in church.

No matter how hard you try, you can’t dry off the waters of baptism, but you can cut yourself off from membership in the Church. It’s called excommunication. There are other simpler, more practical ways to leave the fellowship of the Church. Many of them involve nothing more complicated than sitting on your couch on Sunday mornings for a few years. This is not exactly excommunication. Let’s call it non-communication. It’s easy to resolve being in a state of non-communication. Just ask the Lord’s forgiveness, make a good confession, and come to Mass and Communion next Sunday, if not sooner. I must admit, there is a little more to it than that. You have to start living the Catholic life.

“The Catholic life?” you ask, “What is the Catholic life?”  Simple, I believe it is the best way to be a Christian, and you may well ask what is a Christian? A Christian is a follower of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. (Christ is the Greek word for Messiah, the anointed one. Hence the name Christian, by which we have been known for almost 2000 years.) The Christian is one who trusts and obeys Jesus, the Christ. 

Most Christians define their faith by the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed, which say that Jesus was the heart, the visible image, of the God who made all things. In other words, if you want to get to know the Creator of the Universe, get to know a Jewish Carpenter who was born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. He taught that God is a relationship, God is Love itself, and that He, Jesus  is the heart of that relationship come to earth. He invites us to join that divine relationship. He is as a Son to a Father, and He invites us to become what He always has been. God’s Holy Spirit can  remake us in Jesus’ perfect image, just as Jesus is the perfect image of the Father of all things. We do this not by magic or by membership in a club, but by trusting Him. Trusting Him means living the way of life that He teaches. That is the Catholic life.

What is the difference between Catholic and Christian?  None, really. The Christian is the follower of the Christ and “Catholic” is a Greek word that means “universal.” There are lots of varieties of Christianity that have popped up over the ages, but the Universal Faith is the one that the great majority of Christians have always accepted and still do. It is the most ancient and fullest unfolding of what Jesus teaches. Catholicism is a shared way of life. It is to know love and serve God in this world and be happy with Him forever.

So here it is! This is how a Catholic is so supposed to live in the world.

We obey 10 commandments:

  1. Love God above all things and worship only Him. This means you don’t worship yourself. Pretty tough.
  2. Don’t take His name in vain. This isn’t just about swearing. It means don’t call yourself a Christian and act like a pagan. 
  3. Honor the Lord’s Day. Everyday is the Lord’s. You have to have a life of prayer and study and above all you must go to Mass on Sunday. 
  4. Honor your parents. Don’t just obey them. Honor them. This means if you are a parent you must live an honorable life. 
  5. Don’t commit murder. This includes abortion and all abortion causing drugs. 
  6. Don’t commit adultery. This is the tough one for our over-sexed society. This means one man, one woman, one faithful permanent marriage that is open to God’s gift of life. No sleeping around. No recreational sex. No “interesting” alternative life styles. Tough religion, no?
  7. Don’t steal. This is tougher than you think. It means a day’s work for a day’s pay and a day’s pay for a day’s work. It prohibits slavery. Most of the clothes you have on are made by Chinese or Indian slaves. If you are a politician it means you can’t tax the brains out of your constituents making it impossible for them to maintain two-parent homes where children are raised by their mother, if the mother so chooses. (He writes in an act of cowardice.)
  8. You shall not lie.
  9. You shall not envy peoples’ relationships 
  10. or possessions. 

Wait, there’s more.

We obey  5 precepts of the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2041)
  1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from work.
  2. You shall confess your sins at least once a year.
  3. You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.
  4. You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.
  5. You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church each according to his own ability.  ( This last one doesn’t just refer to organizations and buildings. It implies service in the family of the Church and service to the family of the Church. That means you have to help the poor and get involved in the ministry of the Church.) 
Hold on! there’s still more!We practice 14 works of mercy, 

7 corporal (physical):
  1. Feed the hungry.               
  2. Give drink to the thirsty.   
  3. Clothe the naked
  4. Shelter the homeless.      
  5. Care for the sick.                             
  6. Ransom the captive.                        
  7. Bury the dead.                                

and 7 spiritual:
  1. Instruct the ignorant.
  2. Counsel the doubtful.
  3. Admonish sinners.
  4. Bear wrongs patiently.
  5. Forgive offenses willingly.
  6. Comfort the afflicted.
  7. Pray for the living and the dead.

So, we  live to know, love and serve the Lord. We pray. We study. We obey. We serve. We have 10 Commandments, 5 precepts, 14 works of mercy. That should keep us busy! It’s a full and rewarding way of life. If you want your kids to go to a Catholic school, you want them to value their relationship with Jesus Christ more than they value money or sex or even sports! You want them believe and do these things. Are you doing them yourself?


  1. Fr. Simon,
    I SO ENJOY your posts: your knowledge, which is broad & deep; your humor, which peppers everything with delight; and your Spirit of honest, steadfast friendship with Our Lord. Thank you for sharing as you do!

    This post is helpful, as it summarizes "what is needed" to live a truly Catholic life. I will copy the text & keep it on my iPad to ponder and, most importantly, to act upon!
    God Bless You!!

  2. In ad 122 was it not Ignatius who put into writing Catolikos to separate us from the gnostics. Father before Vat 2 the Church had 6 precepts but were entirely the local synod of bishops priority. The Penny Catechism in the UK where I grew up so many years ago said we must go to confession at least once a year and anytime we had committed a mortal sin. I can tell you this that no one went to communion without confessing every two weeks. Which by the way is supported by the ability to receive a plenary indulgence. To obtain the plenary indulgence one had to go to confession and communion, within the octave of performing the indulgenced task. I often pity the dear old ladies who every first Friday go to communion, probably """uselessly"""

  3. I love your frankness. So refreshing! I am following this page from the U.S. I commend your spirit of boldness. Is there any room for the idea of how to? How to trust, how to fall into a love relationship with Christ? How to make it real when the world is pounding at the door, and we serve a seemingly invisable God. How do we make our works personal and service not mechanicle and more intimate for the sake of deeper spiritual growth and not just looking good on our time sheet of doing? How?