Friday, February 22, 2013

So, what is your solution?

Letter to Frieda Begue, concluded!

So what now? The first step is to admit that the changes in the world are more sweeping than anyone would have imagined.  Peter Kreeft said very simply at a recent lecture “...the sexual revolution is the greatest revolution in 2000 years.”  We are living in the midst of the most sweeping redefinition of human life since the time of Christ. At the same time, we are witnessing a technological revolution that may be still more profound than the sexual revolution. It simply has no precedent. To continue to “stay the course” when that course has already demonstrated its inadequacy goes beyond foolish. It borders on insanity. The aging progressives who have dominated the life of the Church for the past 50 years had no idea of the whirlwind that they were unleashing. They cling to business as usual in the midst of the earthquake. The structures of the past 50 years are not sufficient for the future. I am so tired of hearing that the schools are our best means of evangelization. They are not. They could however become the best means of catechesis. It is time to end the parish school.

Archbishop Listecki and Dr. Lichter as principal are doing something creative at All Saints Catholic School in Kenosha Wisconsin. It is a regional model for Catholic education.  The ten parishes of the area have decided to quit fighting one another in the desperate quest for students. They are combining their resources. In order to keep the numbers up and make a school viable, parishes struggle to enroll students. The thought of limiting the student body to those who genuinely want Catholic, and not simply private education, means that numbers would sink so low and tuition would fall off so badly that the school would cease to be viable. This is happening anyway despite our efforts to “be inclusive” and to “reach out.” In fact, the schools may be dying because of our efforts to “reach out.”  We dilute the effectiveness of our message in an effort to keep the numbers up, and all the while poor Catholics who could never afford to send their children to a Catholic school get the crumbs that fall from counting table. This is not what the Lord told us to do.  

If a person is committed to the Catholic life, the Catholic community should do its absolute best to give them a genuine, and forgive me if I use an offensive word, “authentic” Catholic education. There. I’ve don it. I’ve uttered an obscenity “Authentic!” This word is offensive because it implies that there are “real.”

There are Catholics and then there are Catholics who are just “part time” not quite as “gung-ho” about the faith. Grow up. This is the fact. If a person does not assist at Mass, they are not living the Catholic life. There is more to the Catholic life, but Mass is the cornerstone of the Catholic life. If a person does not participate at least minimally in the Catholic life, why should we design our Catechesis around them, why should we try to teach them about a God and a Church in which they have no real interest. 

Evangelism means bringing people into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, not just a historical knowledge, not just a theological knowledge and certainly not a nodding acquaintance, but a saving knowledge. Those who want a private education, but not necessarily a Catholic one are candidates for evangelization, not for Catechesis. 

You cannot catechize the unevangelized. You cannot teach about Christ to those who have never met Him. We are like that boring neighbor whom all of us dread. Perhaps we find ourselves on a bus or train seated next to him. He takes out pictures of his two year old and goes into endless discussion of the child’s merits and above average intelligence. We haven’t ever met the child and wish we hadn’t met the parent. Perhaps if we knew the little darling, or still more loved him, we would want to know all there is to know about him. We don’t. We are merely being polite because for some reason or other, we have to put up with this tedious neighbor on what has turned out to be a very long train ride.  

So it is with Catholic schools for those who just want a good private school education. This even applies to religious education classes for those who are just there to “get their sacraments” so their children can have a church wedding and Grandma won’t cut them out of the will. They are so happy when it’s over. They bid their troublesome neighbor goodbye and resolve to avoid him in the future. Let us introduce them to the Lord first and then perhaps they will want to hear our stories. 

I am not saying that we should exclude anyone from our schools. We should just be realistic. The schools should teach the Catholic life to those who wish to live it. If, for some reason, a person wants to send his child to a Catholic school, but has no intention of living the Catholic life, fine. It‘s just that the real cost of educating your little dear in a safe and moral school will be about $12,000 a year -- twelve thousand dollars a year! Who will be able to afford it?   

An integral part of this scheme is that it is a regional school and will be supported by the local Catholic community. It will not be part of, nor attached to any parish. Parents and children will have to remain faithful to the parish in which they are participating to maintain their status as practicing Catholics. It will be the apostolate of the Catholics in a given area. If a person is living the Catholic life and participating in the real and daily life of a church community, that child should be in a Catholic school, and my hunch is that the little old ladies who see Johnny and his ten brothers and sisters in church every Sunday, may not mind helping Johnny and his siblings go to school. They are part of the family that is the parish. 

I know this works. I did this for twenty years. Every kid in the inner city school of my former parish was on “scholarship.” The sweet grandmothers of the North Shore forked over the shekels by the bushel because they believed in that school. Retired geniuses and business moguls came down to a very dangerous neighborhood to volunteer to teach reading and math to the kids. They developed relationships that were part of being Catholic. The education of those poor immigrant children became the apostolate of three or four parishes. Some kids who were born into the most desperate poverty ultimately got scholarships to Harvard and Yale, all because the school was a collaboration of many, and it taught the Catholic life to both child and volunteer. It works. 

Well, how will you know if the child who wants in to your narrow-minded exclusive Catholic school is living your so called” Catholic life?” Easy. The pastors. A child would have to be recommended by his pastor. In the Kenosha experiment the 10 local pastors sit on the board. As pastor, I have to pay a certain amount of money for the education of my parish children in the local Catholic school.  When I hear that a child whom I see every Sunday in the 5th pew from the front, whose name and whose parents I know, is enrolled in the local Catholic school I am delighted. I am happy to fork over the money to help subsidize his education. 

But every September I get a few families who suddenly want to register in the parish. I have never seen them and will never see them again. They need to register, because if they do,  they will get a discount at the local Catholic school. They are using me. They are using the school.  They are using the name Catholic, and I resent it. 

When I talk about the Catholic life, I am not talking about registered Catholics, or people who say they will start participating in the church. I am talking about providing education for those who are already genuinely part of the family, those who have faithfully done their best to raise their children in the faith. I am talking about the mother of four who, every Sunday, struggles with her squirming babies in the pew over on the side. When it comes time, she finds they can’t afford to put their children in a Catholic school because, having obeyed the teaching of the Church regarding openness to life, they haven’t two extra nickels to rub together. They couldn’t possibly afford to educate their growing brood in a decent school, because we have given their place to people who have never even entertained the thought of obeying the teaching of the Church regarding artificial birth control. 

Our schools are failing for the precise reason that our congregations are dying. We have paid lip service to our faith but we simply haven’t believed it in our heart. We are maintaining institutions instead of making disciples. It is time for radical change, because the world around us is changing more radically than we can imagine. I have not addressed the problems of home schooling and non-school religious education programs. Religious education programs exist largely because so many we can’t afford our schools. If we have a collaborative effort that genuinely produces active Catholic adults, money will cease to be a problem.

Home schoolers exist because of the disaster of secular education. In a government school the chances that a child will be sexually abused by staff or other students are so huge as to be commonplace. Children in public schools are sexualized at a very early age not only by abuse but by design. The curriculum of the government schools has come under the control of the sexual revolutionaries whom Peter Kreeft mentioned. 

I recently heard a horror story of a grade school in a large urban area in which the children were encouraged to make posters that showed both male/female couples and same sex couples holding hands. The posters bore the motto “This is traditional marriage.”  Ten-year-olds learning the proper use of condoms is standard practice in government schools. Thus  home schooling for those who can’t afford Catholic schools and don’t want their children subjected to the brutalization that passes for socialization in the government schools. 

More horror stories. A priest friend of mine who also attended Krayola University on the shores of Lake Wobegon, a Catholic school, told me that he had a teacher for philosophy of God who was an atheist. Students of that era and of such teachers are now in charge of educating our children even in Catholic schools. Sometime home schoolers are avoiding Catholic schools as well as public schools and have reason to do so. The same classmate told me a story about a teacher in his Catholic parish school. The children wear uniforms but the teacher comes in with blue jeans that she painted on just that morning. It is not a government school, but the eighth grade boys are getting more of an education than their parents are paying for. Some teachers in Catholic schools are saints. My mother was one of them, but for some, a minority to be sure, it’s a job and in my experience of `perhaps 10 Catholic schools, the religious instruction is sometimes un-enthused and indifferent. 

An addendum to my regional school suggestion: The teachers in the regional school should not be there for the sake of a job, but for, the sake of a calling as Catechists of the Catholic faith, and we should pay them a decent wage, defraying costs by as much volunteer work as possible.

If we have schools that are accessible and authentically Catholic (there’s that nasty word again) the Catholic home school movement and religious education will be much less necessary than we now find them. And money? Increasing the number of collections is not the way to increase church revenues. The only way to increase church funds is to increase the congregation. That will not happen until we teach the faith effectively. I recently heard a school board representative invite members of a congregation to send their children to his Catholic school. He bragged about high test scores, small classes and good computer labs. He didn’t mention Christ. We will fail until Christ is the clear purpose of Catholic education.

Here endeth the lesson.
Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, February 15, 2013

Why aren't our plans working? -- part 10

(Letter to Frieda Begue, continued yet again. Will this guy never shut up?)

So let me recap, in case you have lost the thread of my argument.

1) No matter how many programs we initiate and no matter what we do to fund them, it seems that many, though certainly not all, parishes are failing to draw and keep young people. The conclusion can be drawn simply by looking at the absence of young people in many churches after they have received the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation. In addition, it seems that the behavior of Catholic college students is even more embarrassing than that of non-Catholics, and as adults, Catholics in this country have abortions, practice artificial birth control, get divorced and sleep in on Sundays pretty much at the same rate as pagans. (I made that last one up, but I bet it’s not far from the truth.) Religious education whether in Catholic schools for kindergarten to college is not working very well the way we are doing it now.

2) The case can be made that many people send their children to religious education classes of the “Sunday School” variety because they want their children to “get the sacraments” as rites of passage, not because they want them to live the Catholic life. They themselves don’t live the Catholic life, as evidenced by multiple marriages and refusal to participate in the liturgy. The hemorrhaging of resources and energy is particularly distressing in urban Catholic schools. Though many people sacrifice to provide a good Catholic education for their children, they are sometimes outnumbered by the non-practicing Catholics who in fact don’t care one way or the other whether or not their children live the Catholic life. They want a relatively inexpensive private school education provided by Catholic parishes. They will put up with a little religion if they must, but they have no intention of observing the Commandments and precepts that we Catholics believe define our service to God and our fellow human beings. This is particularly true in urban areas where public schools are educationally deficient and physically dangerous.

3) To be Catholic is to believe as St. Paul says, “If we have believed in Christ for this life only, we are the sorriest of all people.” (1Cor.15:19) There are four last things that await us; death, judgment, heaven and hell. If you believe the Catholic life is optional, then you cannot sustain Catholic parishes, Catholic religious education and certainly not Catholic schools. There is not enough fire in the belly to find the millions of dollars necessary for the project where there is no passion nor faith in the heart.

Two stories: A fellow pastor told me about a woman, a former Catholic who now went to an evangelical Protestant church. She wanted her child to be enrolled in the parish school, not just at the already reduced rate given non-Catholics, (about $5,000), but at the Catholic rate (about $4,000) The cost to the parish per child was at least $6,000, of which the parents only provide part. The pastor suggested that she ask her evangelical Protestant pastor to provide a $2,000 scholarship, rather than expecting it from a parish she had abandoned. She expected  a church in which she no longer believed to provide for her children. She had no worries that they would return to the faith she had rejected. The religion curriculum, at least at that time, was fairly generic and very bland. Her child would be exposed to no undue fanaticism. The same pastor said that about 1/3 of all parish revenues went into the operating costs of the school. It would be like bringing a wheel barrow into the church for three months every year and just wheeling it over to the school. This rather bold woman is really not different from a great many parents who want their children cared by a religion with which they wanted nothing to do. She was just a bit more honest about it.

A second story: In the never ending struggle to keep enrollment and thus revenues up, a neighboring parish sent a member of his school board over here to St. Dymphna’s of Frostbite Falls. He spoke at all the Masses inviting parents to enroll their children in the local Catholic school. The speaker pointed out that it was a great school, which it is. He let people know that it was a safe environment, with good computer courses, small class sizes and an excellent record of high school and college success. .........(long pause).......... Nothing mentioned about the fact that the school was Catholic, or that it was a matter of the eternal salvation of the souls of those most dear to parents, their own children. That’s because despite all the lip service we pay to our Catholic faith and to Catholic “values,” it just isn’t very important and deep down, we don’t think it’s true. Remember that this was a school board member who failed to point out the one thing that matters about Catholic education, namely that it is CATHOLIC!!!  

I am as tired of saying it as you are of hearing it. It is idiotic of us to drag down those people who want to live the Catholic life and who want their children to live the Catholic life, by wasting, yes wasting, our resources providing private schools and rites of passage for people who find our faith unimportant. 

Comment #1 “Who are you, you self-righteous curmudgeon to judge what is important to whom?” To which I respond that I have been in this business for 43 years. I have been involved with three schools and five religious education programs. I was the pastor responsible for one of those schools for 20 years. It doesn’t take a microscope to notice a train wreck.

Comment #2 “Schools are our biggest means of evangelization! The church will die without them!”  Haven’t you been paying attention? More often than not churches are dying because of them. I have watched parish after parish close because the school could not be sustained and the school, having absorbed the resources of the parish for years, was the only thing the parish had going for it. If the schools, as they exist now, were a successful use of resources for the purpose of evangelization, we would be overflowing with fervent Catholics. How many thousands, even millions of children have passed through our doors and have received “their sacraments?” Now tell me this. How many thousands, even millions of empty seats are there in Catholic churches every Sunday?

Here is the point of Today’s installment:

which I, your friend, the Rev. Know-it-all, will helpfully provide in the coming weeks.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Why aren't our plans working? -- part 9

Letter to Frieda Begue continued ad nauseam)

There are four last things, things that are more important than the color of your hair, your tummy tuck or you face lift. No mater how much rice bran and organic moose drool you eat, no matter how many times a week you go to the gym, there are four things that matter: Death, Judgment, Hell and finally, Heaven.

Forget everything you ever learned in Sunday school about heaven. In the first place the word “heaven” in the text is simply the Greek word “ouranos” or  “sky” in English. Think about it “The kingdom of the sky,” or “when I go to the sky.” “Jesus is in the sky.” “Grammy and Grampy aren’t dead, Junior. They are with Jesus in the sky.”  

I love it when people argue about whether or not heaven is a place. “The sky is a place!” or “there is no such place as the sky!” The text uses the word sky in a metaphorical sense. The sky is simply the biggest and most mysterious place that the ancients could perceive. That fact remains true to this day. There is no way to describe it, just as there is no way to describe the dimension that it denotes, the dimension that we call heaven for want of a better word. Heaven is not just a continuation of life on earth. To compare our life now to Life Eternal is to compare the nine months in the womb to life in the sunlight. To compare this world to heaven is like comparing the light of a match to a thousand suns and more.

St. Paul says that, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) and again “It is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”(1Corinthians 2:9) As I mentioned before, St John goes even further.  “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1John3:2)

What does all that mean? First it means that there is no way to describe heaven. That is certainly what people I know who have been there tell me. We always think of mansions on streets of gold. The streets of gold are just poetic description, but the word “mansion” is a downright mistranslation. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2) The word “monai” in the Greek text of scripture used to be translated mansion, but it doesn’t really mean that, It means a place to stay permanently, a place to remain, a place for coming home. I’ve been in a lot of mansions and some of them are very lonely places. 

I don’t want a mansion. I want a home. I remember my room when I was little. Ours was a house full of people, full of noise, full of love, not perfect by any means, but still a place of safety and belonging. The aromas that came up from the kitchen, the sound of my father’s voice my seven brothers and sisters, the arrival of guests. We had so many wonderful gatherings of family and friends. So many people had keys to the front door, which were seldom used because the front door was seldom locked. Home was where I was safe. Home was where you were welcome. Not everyone had that kind of home. I realize that I was very blessed. Though not everyone had that kind of home, everyone can have that kind of home. We call it heaven. The fond memories of my childhood home are only hints of the joy and safety of the heavenly home offered  by Christ. You can keep your mansion on its street of gold that you heard about in Sunday school. I would rather return to my Fathers house. (Luke 15:18)

Am I saying that heaven is not a place? No. Heaven is more than a place. It is what places hint at. Now we live in space and time. Remember that St. John tells us we will be like God, and remember that for God all time is now and every place is here. God is not in the skies. The skies are in Him. He holds the skies in the palm of His hand, and we will be like Him. “But,” you may counter, “ didn’t Jesus say “Today you will be with me in paradise”? (Luke 23:24) There are other mentions of paradise in the Bible. "I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell." (2 Cor.12:4) Doesn’t the Book of Revelation talk about paradise? (Rev.2:7) 

Surely paradise is a place. Not necessarily. Paradise is a relationship! Notice that St. Paul when he was taken up to paradise doesn’t talk about what he saw. He talks about what he heard.  Paradise was a fairly common word beyond its religious use. There were lots of “paradises.” Paradise was originally an Iranian word that meant a walled enclosure. It came to mean the garden in which a king could walk with his friends without the formality of the court in which his every word was law. It was a place of friendship, of intimate conversation. In the Bible it came to mean the garden of Eden where God walked in friendship with Adam and Eve. Paradise is about the relationship, not the real estate. In effect, Jesus said to St. Dismas, the good thief, “Today you will walk with me in my royal enclosure as my friend.”  So many people worry that they will not know their loved ones in heaven. Nonsense! We will know them perfectly for we will know as we are known. What passes for knowledge here is nothing compared to the perfect and personal intimacy of heaven. You will know your loved ones there far better than you know them here.

We Christians hope for more than heaven when we die, at least more than the heaven that most people are expecting. God promises to adopt us as His children. As Jesus is His only begotten, we will be His adopted, no less His children than Jesus. If you have ever adopted a child, you know that child is your real child, not your make believe child. I had a dear friend who had two begotten children and one adopted. He was a very peaceable man, but when some talked about his two real children he was always sore pressed not to strike them. He contented himself by reminding them that had three real children. So, too, we shall be the real children of God, but as St. John says above, we are called His children but “child” is only the dim shadow of the wonderful truth which cannot be adequately described in our limited languages. We shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.

When I was a little boy, the nuns would tell us about the “beatific vision.” We would spend eternity looking at God. I could think of nothing more boring. It sounded like an eternity in church. I would rather have spent eternity watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. Then I grew up and realized that there is such a thing as falling in love. When a young man marries a young woman, and if perhaps he wakes up in the middle of the night, and if perhaps the moonlight streaming  through the curtains allows him to see her soft breathing gently rising and falling as she sleeps, he wishes that the moment would last forever. It can and it will, if we have loved the Lord. To behold the Beloved! Heaven is to fall in love forever. What this sorry world calls falling in love is just the hint of that infinite well of love into which we will someday fall if we have truly, sacrificially loved in this brief life.

And yet heaven is more than to behold the beloved. The most amazing thing is that we are to become part of God who is Love. By being adopted into that family which is God. God is perfect relationship, perfect family, as the Blessed Pope John Paul II called Him. We are to be “divinized,” to be made part of the God who is love, sacrificial love, not simply selfish emotion, but real sacrificial love. If we are to become part of that relationship with God who is true love, we will not simply love and be loved, we will become Love. We will become Love. Think about it. We will become Love. Is there another religion that makes such a promise? Our mortal longings and affections are barely the slightest hint, not only of what we will experience, but of what we will actually be, when our sin and selfishness have been burned away. To become Love!  Is there a more wonderful destiny?

So, why be a Catholic, a follower of Christ in the most ancient and, I believe, the most authentic form? In the face of death the Lord offers hope. In the face of judgment, the Lord offers mercy. In the face of hell, the Lord offers freedom and Heaven’s freedom offers true Love, Eternal Love, the Love for which you and I were created, the Love which is God.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Why aren't our plans working? -- part 8

(Letter to Frieda Begue continued to the point of tedium)

Why be the follower of Jesus Christ by living the Catholic life?  Because Death is inevitable and hell is possible. In the face of death, Christ offers the possibility of eternal life and in the face of hell, Christ offers true freedom, not just the addictions we mistake for freedom.

There is still another reason to live the Catholic life. The Bible calls it judgment, I suspect that judgment is the same thing that we Catholics call purgatory. In the Bible we read that judgment isn’t just a sort of up or down thing, not just “guilty” or “not guilty.” In addition to the “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict, the judges of ancient Israel dispensed wisdom and settled disputes. According to the Book of Deuteronomy, in his final instruction, Moses says to the judges he has appointed “Listen to the complaints of your kinsmen administer true justice to both parties.”  Justice is as much bringing into right relationship as rendering what is due.

Remember when I mentioned the first man I met who had died and lived to talk about it? He said the only thing that bothered him about the whole experience was that there was a kind of judgment in which he knew the answers before he was asked the questions. There was a kind of judgment......

Other people whom I have met who have had this experience of judgment say that they experience all the pain they caused others during their lives. Ouch! I’ve caused a lot of pain willingly and unwillingly, to friends, parents, co-workers. I’ve gossiped, I’ve lied, I’ve taken advantage of others. St. Paul says that
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1Cor.13:1) I will see myself as I really am, not as I tell myself I am. I am not the kind, devout, generous person I pretend to be. I will see the self-absorbed, dishonest, gossipy, couch potato for whom God gave his only begotten Son. It’s the real me that God loves, not the me I pretend to be. 

Have you ever taken a good hard look at yourself in a mirror?  I mean a mirror that doesn’t see make up and jewelry and clothing and hair dye? And for men a mirror that doesn’t reflect the 17-year-old flexing his scrawny muscles, but the mirror that sees the 60-year-old sucking in his paunch.  It is a matter of great humor and some sadness to see some aging beauty wearing the same size that was a little tight when she was in her twenties or to see some middle aged Casanova on the beach wearing some little swimsuit that makes one want to call the proper authorities. (By this I mean animal control. Some of theses post- adolescent Adonises are so hirsute that one suspects the stories about Bigfoot are true.) Looking at our outer selves in a mirror by the unkind glow of an early morning florescent light can be shocking for most of us, but God Almighty is the perfect mirror of our souls. If you think you’ve let yourself  go in this world, just wait till you see yourself in the  Perfect Mirror of the Eternal. Just wait until you “know as you are known.”  Your secrets will be made public as you stand on a stage before all 106 billion people who have ever lived, worse than that, you will see yourself as your Creator sees you and you experience the pain that you have caused Him who loved you to the last drop of His blood. Make sure you eat breakfast that day and have a second cup of coffee. You’re going to need it. 

I can hear you saying “But I’m saved! I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior at bible camp when I was twelve! I’m a church member. My sins were washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb!!!”  Where do you get that nonsense? Not from Good and Gentle Jesus who said “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ” (Matt. 7:21-23)

Just read Matthew 25:31-46

 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”  

I quote this at length for two reasons, first for the “faith alone” crowd.  To accept someone as Lord is to obey that person. He says, “Feed the poor,” and I say, “I don’t have to, I’m saved.” If you take that attitude I suspect you are in for a surprise. That’s why I say one must live the Catholic life. It used to be just the Christian life, but then that German priest, Luther came along and invented couch potato Christianity where all you had to do was show up. I wish he were right, but I suspect he was very wrong, dangerously wrong if you listen to what Jesus had to say. I quote the whole thing for a second reason. Not only do people I met who have died and lived to tell about it say this sort of thing happen, but good and gentle Jesus said it, If you think He never had a cross word to say and accepts everyone with unconditional “Luv,” you too are in for a shock.

Now for some good news. We have reason to hope that God makes the offer of His Love and eternal life to all people. “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23) and St. Paul writes “(God) wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”(1Timothy 2:4) We Catholics believe that judgment, though painful, can be a good thing for those who have not rejected God’s offer of love. Read what the catechism says about purgatory:   

Paragraph # 1030 “All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification.
(1031) Purgatory (is) this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.” 

In this school of life here on Planet Earth, very few of us finish all of our homework. God completes the process as we enter into eternal life. The Christians have always called this “purgatory,” that is until the “new and improved” brand of Christianity Lite invented by Calvin, Luther, and that crowd 500 years ago. Real Christianity believes that we are not simply in or out, but that we are adopted by God as His children, and thus that we must be transformed into his image before we enjoy the fullness of life. Most of us barely begin this process here on Earth, but, thank God, if we die in the Lord, we continue to grow until we reach the full stature of Christ.(Eph. 4:13)  

St John says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1John 3:2) That means we will stand before the God who is Light from Light and the brightness of that Light will burn away all that is darkness. Remember a few paragraphs ago when I quoted the Catechism as saying Purgatory....  “ is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.”  Perhaps that means Purgatory’s cleansing fire is simply the fire of love.