NOTE: This column appears in full at Spokane Faith & Values. It has graciously been given permission for reposting at MtnCatholic.com.
When I think of religious misconceptions and the Catholic Church, I legitimately have to stifle a laugh as I think to myself, “Where do I even start?”
It’s almost as sure a thing as death and taxes, in my experience, that misconceptions abound about the Catholic Church — what she believes, the ramifications of her members behaving badly, whether or not her teachings are outdated. One could look anywhere and find them.
A quote from the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen has always said it best for me:
“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”
It’s a very intriguing statement, when you think about it, and I believe it’s profoundly true.
There should be no doubt that the Catholic Church is a tour de force in our world, and has been for centuries. For better or for worse, everyone who’s been to a university, been treated in a modern hospital, or lived virtually anywhere in the world has been affected, directly or indirectly, by Catholicism.
One example is Pope Francis’ visit to the United States last September; for those days, the American public was treated to the “most positive news week I have ever seen,” as one writer put it.
But two questions still remain: Why should I care? And how can the good things matter when so much bad has been done by the Church over the centuries?
Let’s be honest, moms always tend to know what’s best for their kids. From the time we’re little to far past adulthood, mothers in our lives always have the sage advice to make our lives better.
Even if it’s frustrating, even if we don’t understand it in the moment (if ever), and even if we just don’t want to do it, following mom’s advice usually leads to this reaction:
This is true of our human moms, grandmothers, aunts, etc. But it also applies to our OTHER mother: the Church.
Anytime Jesus speaks, things happen. His words have power. So when, in the Gospel of John, Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my sheep,” he’s instructing his Rock to build up his Bride, the Church, the one that Jesus promised would never (read again: NEVER) be prevailed against, in order that His flock would be well nourished and well instructed, as a mother instructs her children.
And so, here are four life obligations from both our earthly moms and our mother, the Church, that are sure to lead you to a better, happier life.
1. Clean your room (Go to Confession)
One of the classic traits of a mom is an obsession with making sure our bedroom is clean. What is it about moms and requiring a clean room? Instead of just an insistence that we not have anything on the floor, I’m willing to bet that this command is at least rooted in an understanding that a clean living space is not only healthy, but makes life quantitatively better. The more the junk piles up, the more stressful it is to walk around it, the harder it is to find important things, and the more we’ll just want to shove it to the side.
The same goes for regular Confession. Yes, the prospect of “cleaning out our souls” before a priest can be inconvenient and a little scary. And yet, the more we avoid it, the more the junk piles up, and the harder it becomes to find our heart under it all.
Cleaning our rooms and going to Confession both take a certain amount of courage, and both require a leaning in against discomfort. But both, as anyone who’s consistently done so can attest, are worth it.
“Confession is an act of honesty and courage – an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God.” – St. John Paul II
2. Eat your dinner (Receive the Eucharist)
If there’s anything like pulling teeth, it’s getting a kid to eat his dinner. And yet, moms know that without food, their child will literally die (after a while, of course). And so it’s worth it to them to continue battling, to continue persuading, to continue imploring the child in order to get that nutritious goodness into their offspring’s belly.
Likewise, the Church will always be there, waiting patiently like a mother does, but not letting us off scot-free if we shirk our duty to receive the Eucharist. It’s not because we have, as my own mother would say, the Meanest Mom in the World, but rather because our Mother Church knows that we will literally perish without it.
“If Christ did not want to dismiss the Jews without food in the desert for fear that they would collapse on the way, it was to teach us that it is dangerous to try to get to heaven without the Bread of Heaven.” – St. Jerome
3. Be nice to your siblings (Practice truth in charity)
Of everything that can prepare you to be a saint, having siblings has to be at the top of the list. And it’s one of a mom’s great battles in life to navigate the bickering, bothering, and occasional punch in the nose. Sibling rivalries are a fact of life, and the more kids there are, the more those rivalries tend to crop up. Left unchecked by mom, there would be a full-on mutiny in the house in a matter of hours. But a good mom works on her kids, always correcting, always guiding, sometimes with futility, but with a consistent effort that usually bears good fruit.
The Church’s job is about a billion times harder (almost literally…), so that’s why She gives us the constant call — demand, even — to be charitable to our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. It’s difficult at first, because there’s about as many different personalities in our heavenly household as stars in the sky. But the Church, in her wisdom, is persistent. We have Confession for when we fail, and we have prayer to help us continue to grow. The coffee and donuts help to foster good relations, too.
“Charity is that with which no man is lost, and without which no man is saved.” -St. Robert Bellarmine
4. Call your family (Pray)
We’re only in the comfort of our homes for so long before we must venture out into the great unknown. In our time of growth as children, we rarely need to call our family, because our family is always there with us. But the second we leave the house, in a big way that lifeline is gone unless we pursue it for ourselves. Thankfully, mom makes it a priority to make sure you KNOW that you need to call and fill the family in on how you’re doing. Still, it’s your prerogative to call them, or to at least pick up the phone when it rings.
As a priest I know always says, “This is just like the spiritual life.” Prayer is almost identical to the concept of calling our family. When we’re little, prayer is practically done for us — we’re taken to Mass, we’re led in the saying of grace around the dinner table, someone helps us say our night prayers — so we rarely need to take our own initiative, (and when we do, it’s usually adorable).
But once we reach a certain point in life, we need to take our own initiative to “call our family” in heaven and pray. And unless we do it on a regular basis, our relationship with them – and, subsequently, our connection to what created us — will wither. But the Church, in her great love for us, gives us SO. MANY. options to choose from. We only need to pick one and start.
“Persevere in prayer. Persevere, even when your efforts seem barren. Prayer is always fruitful.” – St. Josemaria Escriva
Q. What is the Rosary? How do you pray it? When do you pray it? Are there different kinds?
A. The Rosary is perhaps the most commonly known and most popular form of devotion practiced by Catholics and, believe it or not, even many non-Catholics. In short, the Rosary is a series of prayers is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, that provides a contemplative walk through the life and significant events of Jesus Christ.
How to pray the Rosary
The rosary is made up of a crucifix (a cross bearing the crucified Jesus), five introductory beads, a medal (usually bearing an image of Jesus & Mary), and five sets of 10 beads with a single bead between each set. Depending on the day, a different set of “mysteries” are used to guide the person praying through the Rosary (more on that in a minute).
NOTE: This column is hosted by and has been updated from it’s original at Spokane Faith & Values. It has graciously been given permission for reposting at MtnCatholic.com.
Q. Please explain if the Catholic faith supports the belief that only Catholics go to heaven.
A. That particular phrasing can be a little misleading — the more accurate question would be, “Do Catholics believe there is no Salvation outside the Catholic Church?”
Here’s what the Church says.
“Re-formulated positively, [the statement “there is no Salvation outside the Church”] means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body. Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, [Vatican II] teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 846 – read more)
“This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church. Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.” (paragraph 847)
“Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.” (paragraph 848)
Here’s what that means.
The basic answer is “Yes, BUT.”
This teaching stems from the two core beliefs that a) Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Risen Savior of all mankind, and b) he founded a church before being raised to heaven – one that was built on the 12 Apostles, led by St. Peter, and protected until the end of time by the Holy Spirit.
To read the first 5 truth bombs on marriage, click here. You won’t regret it.
Weddings are a big deal in our culture. Between the months of June & September (and all year on Pinterest…ladies) there’s hardly anything else on the minds of most 20-somethings in America. And yet, marriage, especially as a religious institution, is in a sad state these days.
It seems more and more people are understanding marriage as merely a legal contract between two people with intense romantic feelings for one another. But what’s been understood for centuries, especially in Christian cultures, is much, MUCH richer.
So we turn to the trusty Catechism of the Catholic Church, the rich volume compiled under the watch of one of the greatest writers on love and marital flourishing the Church has ever seen, St. John Paul II, for answers and a heavy dose of much-needed truth.
Below, you’ll find five “truth bombs” on marriage from the Catechism that are so awesome, by the end you’re sure to be doing this (kinda like you did the last time, and the time before that):
1. “Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.” (2360; 2361b)
As Christians, we believe everything (EVERYTHING) in existence is intricately ordered by God and for a specific purpose: to praise Him and return with gratitude the gift He gave to us. That fact means that in our sexuality and in our very humanity there is, necessarily, a way to be more true to our humanity or less true to it – to be more true to our sexuality or less true to our sexuality.
But how do we know what it means to be truly human or to be authentically living our sexuality? Words we read here – like pledge and commit – imply an act of self-gift, telling us that a contrary, self-focused existence accomplishes neither true expression of humanity nor sexuality. Those called to marriage must give of themselves, must commit to their spouses – on the first day and every day – if they wish to live out this vocation authentically.
2. “The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.” (2362)
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what many Catholics refer to as “holy sex”. And, by the way, “holy sex” is not just allowed to be enjoyed (we aren’t Puritans, after all), but as we read here, it’s both noble and honorable. The reason it can be all of the above is because our bodies are inherently good, and, thus, so is the marital embrace. In fact, Pope Pius XII, in 1951, affirmed that it was none other than God who made it so “spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit.”
But, as mentioned in No. 1, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. Garnering that enrichment, joy, and gratitude between you and your spouse requires heroic humility and radical self-gift. It requires us to think outside of ourselves – to trust God and to will the good of our spouses “as other” (without concern for our own well being). If you use your husband or wife as an instrument of your own gratification (in any way, sexual or non-sexual), on the other hand, your marriage will not be enriched, and you can kiss that joy and gratitude goodbye.
3. “The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.” (2363)
One of the cool things about Catholicism is that it’s possible to do the “both/and” thing and not have to adhere to an “either/or” mentality. So, while it’s an incorrect assumption for people to think all the Catholic Church wants couples to do is have seventeen babies, it’s equally incorrect for couples to think they’re doing marriage right by only thinking about themselves and/or being closed off to life (and that includes The Pill).
This cuts to the heart of where the Church comes from on abortion and contraception, but more importantly it provides a blueprint for (surprise, surprise) a successful marriage. Every marriage worth its salt – and every marriage that ever truly thrives spiritually, emotionally, and physically – pays attention to both the good of the spouses and the openness to life.
4. “Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment.” (2366)
One of the most poetic lines about marriage in Scripture is, “the two will become one flesh,” (Mark 10:8), emphasizing clearly that marriage requires the full giving of oneself to create something entirely new. It speaks to the utter unity that the newly married couple, as man and woman, engage in as complementary spouses.
While we mainly think of unity in terms of the marital act, or the couple being “a good team” in the way they tackle life, it’s mind-blowing to think that the highest form of unity that a married couple can reach is in the creation of a new human being. In a child being born, the “two becoming one flesh” takes on an even more profound meaning, as both spouses literally give their whole selves to create, through God, an entirely new, unique person.
5. “Fidelity expresses constancy in keeping one’s given word. God is faithful. The Sacrament of Matrimony enables man and woman to enter into Christ’s fidelity for his Church. Through conjugal chastity, they bear witness to this mystery before the world.” (2365)
The “til death do us part” promise that’s made before God and the Church on our wedding day isn’t asked of us just on that day — we’re asked to be faithful, to be loving, that day and every day after.
As the Catechism quotes, St. John Chrysostom exhorts young husbands to say to their wives:
I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I preferyouto my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us. . . . I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.
There’s a reason “Chrysostom” means “Golden-mouthed”… The man speaks truth! Husbands, if you don’t have this devotion to your wives (and wives for your husbands), you need to do something about that.
Sts. Joachim and Anne, Sts. Mary and Joseph, pray for us!
NOTE: This column is hosted by and has been updated from it’s original at Spokane Faith & Values. It has graciously been given permission for reposting at MtnCatholic.com.
A survey is an interesting thing.
Though valuable in its ability to grasp the perspective of vast groups of people, a survey nevertheless holds no bearing on the inherent truth of something – it exacts precisely zero influence over the rightness or wrongness of a particular issue.
For example, if the Pew Research Institute existed in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries, a poll of religious beliefs about whether or not Christ was divine would have resulted in a two-thirds majorityamong bishops of the day in denying the divinity of Jesus. That information, though giving the reader a sound testament of the persuasive capabilities of the chief evangelist of such a belief (Arius), stands in direct contrast of the truth of that particular matter; for Jesus is, always has been, and always will be, the begotten Son of God, who is both fully divine and fully human.
I wasn’t surprised to see the continued decline in religious practice and belief on a generational level. From my own experience in the Catholic world, I know that those in my parents’ generation were taught the motions and the rules by their parents, but weren’t often taught why those motions and rules mattered; they were catechized, but not evangelized. They knew Jesus’ church, but they didn’t know Jesus.
And so, it’s no surprise that their children have sniffed out something that’s not being done out of a place of understanding and intentionality. Doing something “because that’s what we do” is rarely good enough for kids, because kids want answers to their questions. So, when no good answers are offered — and when the Sunday practice often contradicts the rest of week’s activities — they’ll call B.S. faster than you can say “transubstantiation”.
But the story isn’t over, and the last thing the church is doing is giving up. So, what that survey does do is reaffirm the call to action and identified priority on evangelization that we’ve heard for decades, first from the Second Vatican Council (“Vatican II”), from Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and now from Pope Francis.
Few people today know that Mark Twain, one of the greatest American authors in history and hardly a man with healthy respect for organized religion, wrote a book on the great 14th-Century saint, Joan of Arc.
Even fewer, I imagine, realize that Twain regarded it as his best and most important work, devoting 12 years to researching the project and enduring six failed attempts at writing the book in order to produce his great masterpiece.
Many of Twain’s contemporaries knew the high esteem he had for St. Joan, as well. In a later essay on Joan of Arc, Twain called her “the Wonder of the Ages” and proudly declared that she was “easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.”
As you might imagine, Twain ensured that the book itself was exceedingly accurate, historically speaking, despite telling the story itself through the eyes of a fictional friend of Joan’s. Twain’s passion, mixed with the personality and artistic flourishes of the fictional narrator, make for a truly marvelous reading experience, and I’d recommend the book to anyone.
For those unaware, Joan of Arc was a peasant girl born in a small village in northeastern France during the mid 1400s, in the midst of the Hundred Years’ War when the English were fighting to claim the French crown. Joan was a mere teenage girl when she experienced several visions of certain saints and angels instructing her to take command of the armies of France and drive out the invading English. This, inexplicably, is exactly what she did. Not only that, many times she predicted her victories and the eventual crowning of the rightful king, Charles VII of France.
Joan, however, was inevitably captured by other enemies of France and sold to the English. The Brits sought not only to convict her of heresy and witchcraft but also to execute her, thus tarnishing her legacy and deflating the nation of France, who had come to regard Joan (rightfully so) as a national hero. As we now know, the English forces succeeded, but only through incredibly dubious and dishonest means. The findings of the trial were reversed and Joan’s good name restored by a papal investigation some 25 years after her death.
You can read the book for details, but below you’ll find five key lessons we can glean from Twain’s story and the life lived by one of history’s greatest saints, Joan of Arc:
1. Lay people can (and should) live lives of heroic virtue.
Although arguably more responsibility is placed upon the shoulders of the ordained, we laymen and laywomen have a call no different than that of our brothers and sisters in the religious life. A ticket to heaven is not part of the “swag” given to a priest at his ordination. Priests and bishops – even the Pope himself – only keep their faith and achieve sanctity by upholding their pursuit of the Truth through prayer and faithfulness to Christ.
Joan of Arc showed that radical holiness and faithfulness is a call of every person by virtue of the sacrament of baptism, not the sacrament of Holy Orders. Her witness is also a prime example that the path to holiness contains elements we may not suspect. Just as daily prayer and loving one’s enemies are essential to a healthy spiritual life, so too are things like love of country and a zeal for justice.
2. The Church will always survive the damage done by bad churchmen.
The story’s chief villain, Pierre Cauchon, was presiding bishop of the Diocese of Beauvais (France) and a sympathizer of the English cause. Cauchon was the chief persecutor of Joan during her imprisonment and trial, stooping to abominable lows — at one point eavesdropping on Joan in a Confession he manipulatively set up — in his multiple attempts to entrap her. Those who have read the book can attest that he was, in a word, a monster.
Cauchon was, however, still a legitimately appointed bishop and successor to the Apostles, despite his corrupt actions. How do we reconcile this if we say at the same time that the Catholic Church is protected by God?
Well, when Jesus instituted Peter as head of the Church in Matthew 16:18, he promised that evil would never prevail over the Church. He didn’t say anything about evil never giving the Church a run for its money. Every man who follows a calling to the priesthood is able to choose the kind of man he will be.
After all, it was Jesus who called Judas to be an Apostle, but Judas who chose to betray Christ.
3. This world isn’t the end.
Joan’s earthly life ended with her being burned at the stake, deemed a heretic (however unjustly), and denounced as a fraud. It seemed to be a resounding and permanent defeat, a success for her persecutors, and a death blow for the French.
But even Joan, despite having withstood weeks of unrelenting punishment at the hands of her captors, never despaired. Her hope for heaven never wavered, even in her darkest moments, because she knew the life she was living on earth was a means to an ultimate end: heaven and eternal happiness with God.
At one point in her trial, Joan related a portion of what she heard in one of her visions (from St. Catherine):
“Take everything peacefully; have no care for thy martyrdom; in the end thou shalt come to the Kingdom of Paradise”
Throughout her trial, Joan was constantly at peace and rarely afraid of the punishment she was receiving on earth. She was angry about the injustices being wrought against her, sure. But even that anger wasn’t because of wrongs being done to her — rather, it was because the actions of her persecutors were putting their own souls in danger of damnation. In a particularly epic line, Joan admonished Cauchon himself, the chief organizer of Joan’s trial:
“You say that you are my judge; I do not know if you are: but take good heed not to judge me ill, because you would put yourself in great peril. And I warn you so that if God punish you for it, I shall have done my duty in telling you.”
Joan, more than anyone, knew that living for heaven was the only reason to live, while striving for earthly treasures as an end in themselves was nothing but a fool’s errand.
4. St. Joan of Arc was living proof that God exists.
I wondered many times throughout the book what Mark Twain himself ended up thinking of Catholicism and belief in God in general after so thoroughly researching St. Joan’s life. How Twain — who may have thought God to exist, but wasn’t sure God cared much for mankind — remained unconverted after witnessing two particular aspects of Joan’s story is beyond me.
First, Joan correctly prophesied future events no less than 11 times. Some came to fruition during her life — crowning the King of France in Rheims Cathedral, or finding Charles Martel’s buried sword behind the altar at the Church of St. Catherine de Fierbois, for example — while others weren’t realized until long after her death, like predicting the English defeat at Parish within seven years of her death (November 12, 1437, six years and eight months after Joan’s death, Henry VI was defeated in Parish by French forces). The list of all 11, with verified source material, can be found here.
Second, the circumstances of Joan’s trial — known to this day as “The Great Trial” — are enough to affirm the presence of a divine Hand. At trial, Joan was refused defense counsel — her right as a minor under the age of 21 — and was forced to defend herself against Bishop Cauchon and 50 (fifty!) highly educated churchmen.
Joan, who could neither read nor write, nevertheless chewed up and spit out every sorry effort by her judges to trick her into incriminating herself, causing the trial to last not a few minutes and one session, as her judges had hoped, but instead nearly a month and fifteen sessions. One of Joan’s judges testified (a matter of historic record) at the rehabilitation trial years later:
They asked her profound questions, but she extricated herself quite well. Sometimes the questioners changed suddenly and passed to another subject to see if she would not contradict herself. They burdened her with long interrogatories of two or three hours, from which the judges themselves went forth fatigued. From the snares with which she was beset the expertest man in the world could not have extricated himself but with difficulty. She gave her responses with great prudence; indeed to such a degree that during three weeks I believe she was Inspired.
And so, we can learn a lot from the life of St. Joan of Arc, and I for one am eternally grateful that Mark Twain devoted 12 years of his life so that generations afterward could learn her story.
We can only hope that upon his death, Twain was welcomed into the heavenly kingdom by the heroine herself, St. Joan of Arc.
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