Monday, May 30, 2016

Heaven and Hell: Think of Both

I was venting, via a FaceBook message, to a priest for whom I have quite a bit of respect. I was telling him that someone near and dear to my heart doesn’t seem to always realize the importance of going to Mass; that she knows it is a mortal sin to purposefully miss Mass, and that she has an intellectual understanding that there is a hell, but that she doesn’t seem to realize the enormity of that fact. His response surprised me. He wrote, “When it comes to hell…I prefer to talk about Heaven!”

Well, I suppose his idea is that if we help people understand how wonderful Heaven is, we won’t need to scare them with Hell.  But I disagree. When I taught child psychology, I disagreed with those theorists who suggested that parents should not use punishment with their children, but only “positive reinforcement” (i.e., rewards for good behavior, but no punishment for bad behavior).  I think it is more effective to use both techniques. Sometimes, a bad behavior is “reinforcing” in and of itself, and no amount of ignoring that behavior will make it stop; but punishment for the offending behavior will have an effect.

I think it is good and necessary to talk about Heaven, because in my experience, most people think of Heaven as a place that’s just like our world here on earth, with all the fun stuff and the experience of happiness heightened, but none of the bad stuff present at all. For instance, my hiking friend thinks that Heaven will be endless hikes in beautiful country where you never get tired. I think this notion is severely limited!

I also think it is good and necessary to talk about Hell, because although people may understand that Hell is bad, they don’t at all consider just how bad it will be, and the fact that it is eternal. We don’t seem to have much trouble thinking about being eternally happy, but can we even fathom what it would be to experience eternal misery?! The thought is too distressing to hold in mind for too long!

I read this in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers this morning (and I wrote about it in a different post a year or so ago):

Abba Evagrius said, "Sit in your cell, collecting your thoughts. Remember the day of your death. See then what the death of your body will be; let your spirit be heavy, take pains, condemn the vanity of the world, so as to be able to live always in the peace you have in view without weakening. Remember also what happens in hell and think about the state of the souls down there, their painful silence, their most bitter groanings, their fear, their strife, their waiting. Think of their grief without end and the tears their souls shed eternally.

"But keep the day of resurrection and of presentation to God in remembrance also. Imagine the fearful and terrible judgment. Consider the fate kept for sinners, their shame before the face of God and the angels and archangels and all men, that is to say, the punishments, the eternal fire, worms that rest not, the darkness, gnashing of teeth, fear and supplications.

“Consider also the good things in store for the righteous: confidence in the face of God the Father and His Son, the angels and archangels and all the people of the saints, the kingdom of heaven, and the gifts of that realm, joy and beatitude.

"Keep in mind the remembrance of these two realities. Weep for the judgment of sinners, afflict yourself for fear lest you too feel those pains. But rejoice and be glad at the lot of the righteous. Strive to obtain those joys but be a stranger to those pains. Whether you be inside or outside your cell, be careful that the remembrance of these things never leaves you, so that, thanks to their remembrance, you may at least flee wrong and harmful thoughts."

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Conversation with Father

Today, I approached our parish priest and read him the following:

My main concern in this life is getting my daughter to Heaven. She is barely holding on to her faith, and I’m sick of not getting any help from the Church with this. I could give you countless examples of how this parish has failed my daughter, but I will spare you…for the moment.

My daughter has not been around any good priests, and I was hoping this experience of getting to know you could have worked for her good, and that maybe you could be instrumental in bolstering her spiritual health. Before she and her fiancé first came to see you, I talked you up, told them you were kind and caring and competent. Sadly enough, my daughter has not experienced you that way. She perceives you as just one more priest who doesn’t really care about her, and who doesn’t follow through on what he says. I cannot see that she is far from the truth in this appraisal, especially given your lack of accessibility and your failure to return her emails and phone messages. I have made excuses for you, telling her: it’s Holy Week; the Bishop is here; it’s the week of the priest retreat…but after a while, it was clear that there were no more excuses to be made, and you were simply neglecting to respond to her many messages. It’s been a couple of months since you’ve responded to her attempts to reach you.  

Another important concern of mine is the salvation of The Fiancé’s soul, primarily through his conversion to Catholicism. He is not even sure whether he should believe in God, and I was hoping that he, too, would see in you a kind, caring, competent priest who could perhaps even talk to him about becoming Catholic. I had hoped you would be an alter Christus for him, as you are called to be, but instead, he perceives you exactly as my daughter does.  I’m doing my best to make a Catholic of him, but frankly, you are not helping. Neither is the Tribunal priest, by the way. The Fiancé understands that people are busy, but he resents being told “I’ll get back to you” and then never hearing from you again. He resents the Tribunal priest telling him “Call me back in a week and a half; I’ll have looked at your paperwork by then”; and then, when he calls back, he is that told the Tribunal priest has STILL not even looked at it…and to “call back on the 31st”. Incidentally, I’ve been through the annulment process myself, as a non-Catholic. It was definitely a deterrent for me in terms of becoming Catholic.  

You have a pastor’s responsibility for the souls of these two young people who have been placed in your path. The way I see it, and the way they see it, you are letting them down.  I know that the priestly vocation is challenging, and I pray for you daily; but I often wonder whether you bother to pray for me. Do you pray for me, or do you just wish I would go away? I have no indication from you that you care one iota about my spiritual well-being… my daughter’s.  Well, I care very much about the state of her soul, and I can tell you that on your watch, her spiritual health as deteriorated.

I pray for you, and I hope you pray for yourself, that God will have mercy on your soul, because you are contributing to a loss of faith in my daughter, and you are failing to instill a desire to be Catholic in The Fiancé.  You may have many good reasons and excuses for the gap in communication with them, but in the end you will have to make those excuses to Our Lord, not to me or them.

When I finished, he said he was glad that I had told him how I felt. He admitted his negligence, and seemed to indicate that he would attempt to rectify the situation; we’ll see.

Then we digressed into a brief conversation about the spiritual state of the parish and the diocese. I reminded him that I, too, am a parishioner, and that he hasn’t done anything for my spiritual well-being. He asked, “What would you have me do?”

“Tell the Spanish Mass people that their music is inappropriate,” I suggested.
“I can’t do that.”

“Tell the ‘Eucharistic ministers’ at St. Anthony’s that they should not be walking up into the sanctuary to receive Holy Communion.”

“I can’t do that. I can’t do that.”

“Why not?” I demanded.

“The bishop…the bishop…it all has to come from the bishop. I’ve tried to do these things before, and I’ve been corrected and punished…I can’t do it.”

I do know that this priest has endured some hard times at the hands of a bishop, but I don’t know the details. But at the same time, I don’t have to know the details to know that Our Lord calls priests to be like Him, and that means to suffer. 

“You CAN do something,” I told him. “But you won’t.”

“I can’t,” he repeated yet again. And he told me that he knows he’s doing Our Lord’s will by not doing anything. “It all has to come from the bishop.”

“No, you’re not doing His will,” I responded.

“You can’t make that judgement. You don’t know,” he said.

“I know God’s will for his priests,” I said.

He told me again that he has suffered at the hands of bishops before. I pointed to the crucifix hanging on the wall. Sadly, it was one of those with a “spiritualized” Jesus – you know, without the agony, without the nails, without the crown of thorns. Still, the priest got my point, and said, “I know that, of course.”

“You’ll gain a lot more grace by suffering for Him than you will by cowering before the bishop,” I pointed out.

“Don’t you think I know that? Of course I know that.”

Well, he doesn’t act like he believes it. Sure, it’s easy for me to suggest he suffer for standing up for the right thing. He thinks I have not suffered, but I have – maybe not in the same way he has, but I have suffered nonetheless.  And I continue to suffer in another way every Sunday at Mass because he, as the parish priest, will not make necessary corrections in the way the liturgy is celebrated. Maybe I would cave, too, if I were in his shoes. But I hope I wouldn't, and I wish he wouldn't.

“Have you asked the bishop to make some of these corrections?” I pressed.

“I can’t,” he said again. “I can’t. It all has to come from the Holy Spirit.”

Hmmm. I think that is called "quietism". But I gave up trying to reason with him, and just said, “Then my soul is on your head.”

I thought of the words of St. Boniface: "Let us be neither dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead let us be careful shepherds watching over Christ’s flock." This priest is not helping anyone. He's allowing his flock to continue in their inappropriate ways. He's not challenging anyone to become holy.

He does not want to be a martyr for the faith. He does not want to do God’s will. He is afraid.

He says “I can’t,” but he means “I won’t.” He means, “I’m afraid to.” May God have mercy on his soul.

And mine, too.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Diluted Faith

Come Holy Ghost! This is a scene
from the Pentecost Sunday Mass
at my favorite retreat spot.
A month or so ago, my husband’s first-born son visited us. He is a “cradle Catholic”, and went to Catholic schools all the way through high school.

I haven’t had much contact with my husband’s sons and their families over the last few years. They live in Southern California, and my husband flies down there to see them at least once a year, but the last time any of them came up this way was 5 years ago for our daughter’s high school graduation.

This time, it was just Chris, and he and I had several interesting conversations that involved some mention of Church issues. He expressed surprise when I mentioned the huge percentage of alleged Catholics who don’t believe that Our Lord is truly present in the Eucharist; he said he simply didn’t see how anyone could not believe it. He talked a little about the parish he attends when on vacation in Colorado each summer, and said that he enjoyed the Nigerian priest’s homilies because they were challenging.  

I asked Chris if he follows any Catholic news websites or blogs, and he said no. He doesn’t pay much attention to Catholic new, but is aware, of course, of some of the issues that have come to the surface due to secular coverage of Pope Francis’s “off-the-cuff” remarks. But he pays so little attention to actual Catholic news, that he has no idea about the crisis in the Church. In some ways, I think this is working for good, because Chris seems to easily hold on to his faith, even though the Church is under attack from within and without. He goes to Mass, and probably prays the Rosary at least now and then; and he asks for prayers when important events are coming up in his life.

Still, although he seems to hold fast to his Catholic morals, he and his cradle-Catholic (but essentially fallen-away) wife encouraged their children to make their own decision about whether or not to receive the sacrament of confirmation. As far as I know, all three have declined at this point, and two have attended Protestant “bible” colleges. The third is still in high school.

The altar really did look stunning; the
photo doesn't really do it justice.
So, while Chris may have held onto his faith – at least the faith he was taught as a child – he hasn’t really passed it on to his children. His oldest daughter has married outside the Church, with her parents’ blessing, and told me that she doesn’t consider herself to be Catholic. I suspect the second daughter is following suit. I have no idea where the third child stands – he’s in high school currently.

It makes me sad, though. Chris knows more than his children do, but he doesn’t seem to realize what they don’t know, and how important those missing elements are. Neither he nor his wife appears to grasp the importance of the sacraments, since they have let their children slide away from them.  It seems we always teach just a little less than what we know to our children, and they fill in the blanks with knowledge gleaned from other places. Sometimes that works, and sometimes they become misinformed.

I didn’t address any of this with Chris, since we had such limited time. Perhaps I will someday. But in the meantime, I can only pray that the Holy Spirit will move in Chris’s life to bring him more fully into the faith, and in his children’s lives to bring them back to a faith they have abandoned.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Roof Over My Head

For years, we've thought of adding a peaked roof to the chapel. Last September was the 10th anniversary of the establishment of Holy Family Chapel, as we call it, and in all those years, we probably debated the merits of a roof every other year.

The expense always seemed disproportionate to the building itself, which is really just a remodeled shack. But every summer, I have at least wondered if a peaked roof would alleviate the heat build-up in there. The flat roof didn't help, that's for sure. I have always put in a window air conditioner, starting about mid-May and continuing through October. That works, but I'd rather not have to bother with it. And last year's air conditioner didn't even last the season; previously I've had air conditioners that lasted several years, so I don't know what the issue was this time.

Anyway, the roof is now in progress, with the hope that I might be able to keep things cool enough without an air conditioner. We'll see. Maybe I'll only have to use it for July-August.

Here's how it's been shaping up:

Before this project started, my spiritual director paid a visit and said Mass in the chapel twice! That is always an exciting event for me. In this spiritual wasteland, to have an extraordinary form Mass said in my own private chapel is pure bliss.

Here it is, almost ready for Mass to begin:

And tomorrow, I'm leaving for a real retreat - not a "working" retreat - for the next few days. I am looking forward to that!

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.