Saint Dismas

June 17, 2009

Saint Dismas is the good thief, crucified at Jesus’s right hand, sharing in Christ’s suffering on the cross in a way that no one else has ever been able. He is named Dismas by tradition, but we don’t know his real name. Here’s what we do know about him:

Luke 23:39-43

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

He knew his own wretchedness and Christ’s righteousness. He asked that Jesus remember him, acknowledging Christ as Lord of His kingdom, and he received the promise of eternal life. Has there ever been a sweeter suffering? Dying beside your Savior, waiting to see Him in paradise.

I pray that God might give me this kind of sweet suffering, despite my own wretchedness. I pray I will always recognize Christ, defend Him, and ask to know Him and be known by Him. Saint Dismas, pray for us.


How Would a Saint React to Liturgical Abuse?

June 17, 2009

I’m not big on linking to other pages, but here’s an interesting Catholic Answers topic I came across on how a saint would react to liturgical abuses.


Sifting for Lies

June 15, 2009

Last night Chris turned the tv to Joel Osteen’s preaching while I was knocking about the kitchen getting ready for bed. I was listening, responding with the occasional snort and scoff. Chris said, “Stacey, what he’s saying is right. He’s not wrong.” So I sat down on the couch, next to my less critical husband, prepared to defend my assessment.

At first I was worried there was no hard proof for my accusation. Osteen was encouraging the football stadium filling congregants to do their work, whatever they do, unto the Lord, and to do everything for the glory of God. Of course there’s no problem there, in fact, it’s a vital message in the Christian life. But then, he said (paraphrased), “When you excel in the workplace, that is the best witness,” with an unnatural emphasis and satisfaction at his last words, as if to witness Christ to others was the only reason you offer all your work to the Lord. I grabbed onto this small shred of evidence, and told Chris, “Can’t you see where he’s headed? What he’s telling people to do is right, but the motivation is wrong. It’s as if the only reason to excel is to evangelize.”

After listening a little longer, Chris agreed. I went on, “And he doesn’t put any value in the work itself, done for God. There’s no encouragement that our suffering is united to Christ’s so that we may be glorified with him. It’s right there in Romans, Chris, why don’t they notice it?” Chris said Protestants don’t really talk about suffering that way, which is true, but silly. It’s in the Bible. They get everything they believe from the Bible. Right?

As Osteen went on, it became glaringly obvious that he was exhorting people to excell not only that they might be a good example of Christ to others, but so that others might “see something they want in [Christians]” and we should work hard without holding back so that “God doesn’t hold back a great release” from us. Evangelism wasn’t his only motivation, reward here on Earth was also a motivator. He talked about promotions, commendations, recognition, superstar basketball players earning over half the team’s goals. He talked about working hard and doing out best so that others notice, we are blessed in return, and others envy that blessing and want to become a Christian so that they can be blessed as well. That’s twisted.

He ought to have said that our work offered to the Lord is valuable as it is, regardless of its usefulness to others. He ought to have said that regardless of anyone else noticing or rewarding us, God will reward us in the next life. He ought to have said that we should expect nothing of a return for our labor from this world, no promotions, no raises, no envy, but instead will normally receive hate because Christ was first hated. If we are so blessed, we thank God, but never expect it.

As Chris said, Osteen’s message does nothing for the factory worker doing a repetitive and thankless job. It does nothing for the teenager working at McDonalds where there is little hope of promotion or recognition. It does nothing for my dad, 18 years in a job that takes advantage of him and loathes a higher standard, denying pay raises whenever possible, who wonders what God’s plan is for his life and why his current situation seems to be fruitless. I worry about the despair that results from a message like this. How many people in that stadium will fall away from Christ because they don’t see the results they expect and lose any value in their suffering? There’s so much truth in what Osteen says. Is it enough to mitigate the lies? Does he still point the way to Christ?

I’ve become pretty critical when listening to Protestant messages, always sifting through it to find the lies. Besides trying to find where they go wrong, I’m trying to find where I’ve gone wrong. I have no idea what I’ve believe in the past because I thought it was standard Christian beliefs. I don’t know where it all comes from. I’m always evaluating. Maybe this is a failing on my part and I should ease up on the Protestants. They do love God, after all, and do His work. Perhaps this is a step in my journey. I’m still watching to see that my current path is the right one.


As To a Light Shining in a Dark Place

June 14, 2009

I knelt today to pray before mass. That’s a first for me. Chris told me when I was done that “real” Catholics cross themselves before and after they pray. I noted that no, most don’t. Most just kneel, look around a bit, and then sit down. Despite our flippant remarks, I did feel better focused on God. I was kneeling before Him, and actually felt like He heard me, instead of like with common emotionless supplications. I’ve discussed before with people that what we do affects how we feel. These are outward signs of inward prayerfulness, but they also affect us to make us more prayerful. It helps in those dark moments, when we can’t feel spiritual. Our worship is not motivated from the inside, but rather the worship motivates our insides.

I also crossed myself with baptismal water today, and have been genuflecting since the Sunday after I wrote Say the Black, Do the Yellow. I’ve been experiencing only a small amount of the faith this gives me, especially since I’m not very rigorous in these practices, but do them as I am able. It can be a hard thing to put yourself into a worshipful frame of mind when you have two young children wriggling, whining, playing, fighting, and pulling on you, not only all during mass but all day every day. This may be one of the dark times of my soul, far from God’s presence, though I’m drawing close to Him in my desires. And that’s what the Catholic Faith is: it’s faith for those who have nothing more to give than their desire to have faith.

Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

So for those who can’t find the strength to radiate the love of Christ, who can’t draw near to Him, who can’t do much more than get through the day and fall into bed exhausted, they have hope. God draws them, they need not find their own way. Christ promises to dwell in them when He is consumed in the Eucharist, despite their own weaknesses. If we have only faith the size of a mustard seed, only enough faith to say yes to God when He offers His grace, then that is enough. God will replace our self-inflicted burdens with His light ones. He does not say we will have no burdens, but that they are easy and light. The sacraments are “very few in number, very easy in observance, most sublime in their meaning” as Augustine says.

2 Timothy 2:11-13

If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

We may, when we have nothing left in us, go through the motions, and the grace in the motions changes us. Perhaps this is why people accuse Catholics of just going through the motions. This is the refuge of those of little faith. God is faithful even when we are faithless. But notice, that we must not disown Him, because He will also disown us. We can be faithless and still own up to God, still commit to His will and His works. That is the kind of faithlessness, the faith that is only a mustard seed, that takes refuge in the Catholic Church and the grace in her sacraments. That is the kind of faith that will see it through the dark places and reach the morning.

I pray we all may have enough faith to continue in God’s will, regardless of the dark place we are in, so that when the day dawns, the morning star will rise in our hearts. We will finish the race and behold our savior, our beloved.

2 Peter 1:18-19

We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.


Catholic Guilt

June 10, 2009

I was watching Dead Zone the other night with Chris, the episode “Transgressions” in the final season. At one point, Johnny tells Sarah he just feels so guilty, and she quips, “It’s all the Catholics you’ve been hanging around.” Odyssey 5 also comes to mind in which someone tells another, “You’re Catholic, you always feel guilty.” After I finished reading Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, I decided I was too harsh on her, that she wasn’t being deliberately malicious, and decided to email her and ask why she made certain characters Catholic. She responded by saying “Because [she has] many Catholic friends who suffer guilt until they realize how much God loves them.”

Where did the “guilty Catholic” come from? Personally, I have never met a Catholic who’s tortured by guilt. I feel no guilty motivations for any “works” I may do, though Lord knows I have plenty in my life to feel guilty about. When I asked Chris, he joked, “I feel guilty for not feeling guilty!” Although as far as I can tell, this stereotype has little basis in reality, it is a widespread and deeply ingrained stereotype. I can only speculate as to its origin.

The Original Guilty Catholic

Maybe we can look back to the Reformation. Martin Luther was initially wholly motivated by guilt. At least that’s the picture I got from his biography, Luther the Reformer. He ran from pilgrimage to pilgrimage, in a frenzy to rack up his good works points and wipe out his guilty debts, which eventually led to his “faith alone” epiphany. Repeatedly, he was told by his fellow monks to look to the cross, but was plagued knowing he could never do enough to be righteous, and stand before a righteous God, of his own merit. When I accused Luther of pride in a conversation with a friend, because Luther somehow believed his sins were too great for the usual method of salvation from the cross, he told me this form of pride is called despondency. I’m willing to venture that the generic guilty Catholic stems from despondency. I think Luther’s pride is also seen when he believed that he was the only one whose interpretation of Scripture was correct, and that his belief was enough to save him. Focuses way too much on himself to be of Christ. Enough about Luther, the original guilty Catholic.

Why Catholics Might Feel Guilty

The difference between Protestants and Catholics in how we see ourselves, is that Catholics believe what we do matters, but we take full credit for our sins, and only share in any credit for the good we may do by God’s grace. Of course, many of the far removed Protestant denominations believe the same thing (my parents and I agree on the technicalities of this issue, a great relief!), but this was a crucial breaking point during the Reformation. “Faith alone” means what we do doesn’t actually matter in that it doesn’t affect anything, it is merely proof of faith without our free will. Always keep in mind, Luther emphasized grace to the point of condemning free will in even our decision to accept Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. Calvin took things further and said our damnation and even our sins are designed by God to increase His glory, we have no choice in anything. Both thought that any effort on our part was pride, and that any claim to glory on our part was an attempt to take away glory from God. Of course, increasing the glory of His loved ones increases His glory, especially since we can only be glorified if we become like Christ. How can that be prideful?

This kind of disconnect with our actions doesn’t make much sense, and it scrambles any of the beauty of our relationship with God because free giving of our selves is crucial to any real relationship. If what we do doesn’t matter, then why are we here? That’s why many Protestant denominations have drifted back to Catholic dogmas, without a clue as to their roots.

So here is the defining Catholic feature: we must do things. There’s really not much that we must do, and Augustine assessed it as a very easy yoke to bear indeed, especially compared to the old law. There are observances of a few “sweet” sacraments, and obedience to those in authority. Like any kind of guilt, I’m assuming that of the guilty Catholics (I’m sure some do exist though I haven’t met them), comes from knowing that either you’ve done something wrong or you haven’t done what you should do. In the Catholic Faith, what we should and shouldn’t do is more clearly defined than in many other faiths or denominations, so I guess it makes sense that there is a guilty Catholic stereotype. Maybe it has sprung, not from real experience with guilty Catholics, but from what people imagine they would feel if they were Catholic and had to follow “all those rules”.

It’s true that the Catholic punishments are also well defined. There is the sacrament of reconciliation and penance. Usually, people are instructed to right their hearts through prayer, not to sin again, and are forgiven. Doesn’t sound awfully guilt inducing to me, but hey, I haven’t actually gone through it yet. Then there is the punishment of Purgatory, although as C. S. Lewis puts it, our souls cry for the purifying fires of Purgatory. We would not wish to stand before a righteous God without being purified. The pain of Purgatory is a sweet pain when thought of that way. The only real catch in all the Catholic rules is that we must mean it. Everything is vain without faith that bears fruit in love. If someone obeys all the rules, and goes to confession, does their penance, etc., but does so without love of God or faith in His mercy and salvation, they must know in their heart they haven’t fulfilled the greatest prerequisite to accepting God’s grace. So is the guilty Catholic really the same as a guilty Protestant, just better defined?

Why Catholics Shouldn’t Feel Guilty (and most don’t)

Of course, those familiar with Catholic beliefs know we can never merit our salvation, and even the good works we do are not by our own merit, but Christ’s. Salvation and our lives here on Earth are not about us, and we need to avoid pride, which leads us to believe it is. Instead, we must realize that all we are capable of is cooperating with Christ, and allowing God’s grace to work in our lives. Any good that we do or have is only by God’s grace. So the pressure to “earn” salvation would seem to me an entirely invented pressure, designed to make us feel more important than we are.

That must be the key. Realize that it’s not about us! It’s not about fearing His punishments or even fulfilling a list of requirements. It’s about God, and loving His laws, because you love Him and want to please Him and be conformed to His will. When we realize that, the pride of giving ourselves credit, and beating up ourselves with guilt disappears. Because then, we see that our sins are washed away by Christ’s more than adequate sacrifice. Our works are performed in earnest effort to be closer to God and conform to His will. The good we do is not ours, and the bad we do doesn’t matter in light of the cross, like Luther’s peers told him.

I don’t know how Luther could have missed it, because as I’ve said before, the heart of the Catholic Faith is sacrificing our pride, our selves, and surrendering to Christ. I know the Church of his time was a hyperactive abused thing, but it’s all there in the catechisms and councils. Guilt was conquered at the cross. We realize that nothing we do is enough to stand before a righteous God, but that He has done enough. What we do matters, because we choose to accept or reject God, His grace, and His will in our lives. We choose to respond in love or pride, and consequently feel peace or guilt.

Disclaimer

This is all more of a journal entry pondering this stereotype that I find bizzare, and doesn’t really qualify as a public statement. Do I understand it right? Or is the guilty Catholic outside my reach still?