Friday, November 27, 2015

Beware the Devangelization

The accepted dictionary definition of "evangelize" is:

1. To preach the gospel to.
2. To convert to Christianity.
3. To promulgate or promote (a doctrine or idea, for example) enthusiastically.

Now, we know that a large part of our job as Catholics is to evangelize, that is, to bring others to Christ.  The ways and means are up for discussion, often passionate discussion over the course of our Church's history. If you have ever read this blog before, you know the big three evangelization techniques I have seen succeed: evangelize by example, evangelize by service, and evangelize by education.  Unfortunately, something I have seen succeed in recent years is a reverse evangelization -- well-meaning but perhaps not well-catechized Christians, and here I address Catholics in particular, are attempting to evangelize the fallen away of their friends or even family, and instead of preaching the Gospel and converting to Christianity, they end up as the object of a secular evangelization practiced by the person whom THEY were trying to help in the first place! 

The person who is particularly vulnerable to this "devangelization" is typically the one who has an emotional attachment to the person whom (s)he is trying to convert. Parents are possibly most likely to fall into this category when attempting to reconcile their fallen away or lukewarm children back with The Church. They may find themselves ill prepared to counter the slick and aggressive anti-Catholic arguments their child now has at at the ready, and as a sad result, they find themselves compromising, first a little, then a little more, and before they realize a wholesale defeat has taken place, they are the object of definition number three above . . . their teenage or adult child has "enthusiastically promulgated or promoted" the doctrines of secularism, or worse.  

Often, in a noble but destined to fail go at retaining the title of Catholic, the parent will perform a series of incredibly complicated mental and verbal gymnastics to retrofit the newly discovered 
SBNR (spiritual but not religious) or progressive ideas into the 2000 year old teachings of The Church.  It is, of course, unsuccessful, but a lot of damage has been done.  Instead of researching answers to the anti-Catholic challenges and talking to a family priest, the parent simply folds.  It is the easier and quicker path to a superficial family peace, and that feeling of relief is frequently mistaken for the warm fuzzies of finding common ground between two polar opposites.

The truth is this: evangelizing anyone requires that YOU know your stuff.  But evangelizing someone whom you love and whose love you are afraid of losing requires that you beg God for some graces, you have the help of a priest, and you are armed with the weapons of the Holy Spirit.  You have to steel yourself for the inevitable: that the beloved person you are evangelizing is going to present his or her "side" as being superior to Catholicism, or, worse and more insidious, as "different, new, loving" but totally compatible with Catholicism. 

Now we don't to look at this as a battle for the upper hand; this is not a contest for who can be the better fisher of men.  But we are given a divine commission to instruct the ignorant, and that applies full force to family members, especially children whose spiritual formation was entrusted to us from the day of their birth.

How NOT to fall for devangelization? It's analogous to dealing with an addict in the family.  Realize that if you are discussing religion with a loved one who is rebelling against Catholicism, this person may have enthusiasm for her new beliefs that seems TO HER to outweigh yours.  She will also try to use the argument that what is new is better -- that your ideas are antiquated, that this "new way" of following Christ is more loving, more merciful, more in tune with our souls and our changing world.  Educate yourself with knowledge of the history of The Church and the words of the Church Fathers, the great saints, and our holy Popes,so that you are immune to these arguments.  If the addict's mouth is moving, he is lying, and if the fallen away's mouth is moving, she is justifying, equivocating, and is quite likely very personally invested in covering up a secret sin. 

As painful as it is, you also need to recognize that your loved one may utilize some emotional blackmail.  Suddenly their love may seem conditional on YOU accepting their new identity as something other than YOUR definition (read the Church's definition!) of a Catholic.  You shouldn't engage in emotional manipulation, nor should you fall for it.  The truths of The Church speak for themselves, today more than ever before.  Those who stray from The Church rely heavily on pointing to the evils of the modern world as evidence that there either is "no God," or "many roads," when in fact, the evils of this age are a point for the side of the one True Church.  The practical and concrete examples are replete that demonstrate this: in every way that humanity strays from the teachings of Christ as guarded by The Church, economically, familially, sexually, humanity has failed miserably.  

Work on your own faith life.  That is the answer to nine out of ten, no -- make that ten out of ten conundrums faced by the Catholic evangelizer.  Study Scripture and the Catechism and know with every fiber of your being that the truths outlined therein are immutable and unchanging, not to be contradicted nor negotiated down.  If you find yourself backed into a corner and you can't discuss your way out, remember that there is only really one teaching that you must know,  and that is the teaching about authority.  Jesus Christ is all in all.  He is the one and only true Savior of our world, and He is God Himself. And Jesus Christ gave teaching authority to Peter, our first Pope, and He continues to guide the Church today.  If we do not believe this, if we do not KNOW this, then we shouldn't accept the Bible, or any of the teachings or examples of Christ! Either He is King or He isn't.  Either He guides The Church or He doesn't.  So if you are asked a question by an argumentative son or daughter that you don't feel prepared to answer in detail, you can say with confidence: "Because The Church teaches it." No further explanation is required, at least not in the heat of argument. Your confidence (particularly if you can keep your composure and not resort to yelling or emotionalism) will make an impression with your loved one, whether he admits it or not. 

Remember, never stop praying.  Pray over your loved one, pray with your loved one, and if at all possible, try to get that loved one to  Adoration.  Sitting in the presence of Jesus makes it much more difficult to disobey Him! His love is irresistible! 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Only Good Catholic

Driving my kids home from school on one of our faster moving country roads, I was stopped short by a dog wandering stupidly around the yellow lines.  I couldn't get out of the car to help because my son has a life-threatening allergy, so my frustration mounted as I realized that until someone else came along, I was now responsible for this creature's safety simply because I happened upon him at this moment in time.  I rolled down my window and attempted conversation, to no avail.  "Go away, boy! Get off the road!" I honked my horn.  I couldn't even inch my own vehicle up to try to demonstrate that this is what cars DO around here, because a good part of the time he was in my blind spot or right near my tires. "Dopey dog! I'm trying to save your life!" I felt tears threatening.  Finally a truck came in the opposite direction.  I beseeched the other driver to help and explained why my son's allergy precluded me from doing so.  The driver looked indifferent, and almost annoyed by the burden I was attempting to foist on to him.  My voice and probably my face became more pleading.  I hoped my emotion would show through.  "I have to get somewhere . . . " he started rolling ahead a bit.  "Please! Just get the dog off the road; bring him up to the man walking a ways back . . . anything.  I can't.  He'll get hit!" The driver knew it was true.  The road isn't very trafficked, nor policed, so it's a fast way to get where you need to go. 

I don't know what happened after I drove away.  My kids reassured Mom, as they are wont to do, that I had done everything possible under the circumstances.  Still, I felt the familiar pangs of conscience.  "What I have done, and what I have failed to do." Out loud, to them, I merely said, "It's the owner's fault.  A dog belongs on a leash. A beautiful animal like that." I trailed off.  I wasn't making sense anymore, even to myself.  This wasn't Queens.  This is rural Ohio, and farm people let their dogs and cats run amok.  

All my life I've encountered creatures run amok, it seems, and all hungry for something or someone.  I collect stray animals and stray people. I listen to strangers in the store. I keep a vault of secrets. I lend an ear, I lend money, I lend my heart.  I'm so often left with the question: "Did I do enough?" And the burning hot frustration that I had while evangelizing the dog on that country road is an all too familiar sensation as well.  "Why won't you listen to me? I'm trying to help you! I'm trying to save your life, dummy! Stop what you're doing and do what I tell you to do!" 

Is that reaction making helping others all about me? Is my heart so selfish? Maybe.  I have to learn to trust God to do the heavy lifting.  I have to learn to trust others in the same way I trusted the other driver that afternoon.  "He'll help the dog; he seemed like a nice man."  It's what I told my kids, but I only half believed the words as they came out of my mouth.  They were half whistling in the dark.  

The thing that's tempting as a Catholic is getting ahead of yourself.  We want to get everyone to Heaven, and we know that The Church is the way, so we want to get them in there pronto, and by any means necessary.  Time may be short.  There is an urgency, especially in these secular times, in a country so materially wealthy and educated but in such loathsome and egregious spiritual poverty.  We tend to raise our voices a little frantically, don't we? "Hey, dopey! I'm trying to save your soul! Get out of the mess you're in and do what I'm doing!" But the immediate hunger that the person we encounter may be one for food, or cash, or a punching bag.  Do we take care of the physical needs, those lowest on Maslow's hierarchy, before we address what WE know to be the "only thing that is needed?" 

"Society", for want of a less hackneyed term, may be answering that question for us.  It's telling us to shut up and hand over the material aid, just be quiet about it. In 2015 America, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic.  They want our money, our hospitals, our foster homes, even our Pope.  What they DON'T want is our doctrine. Hey, even a broad swath of self-identifying Catholics don't want the doctrine -- they want the baptism, the First Holy Communion, and the big wedding. Every other day is a secular day, and you better keep your sappy, judgmental, archaic religious ya ya out of it. Sound familiar?  If you've been evangelizing anywhere in "real life" or online or even in your own neighborhood, it should.  But listen, this secularized society is just people.  They all need hope and they all need healing and they all need Heaven. 

Knowing that truth puts us ahead of the game. The dog might think that a romp on the double yellow line looks good right now, or he may just be confused and thirsty.  His immediate need was to get off the road, and I had to work with someone else, and have a little faith, and suffer a little, to help get him there. At the end of the day, I had to be satisfied with an unknown outcome.  Sometimes in evangelization we have to settle for the unknown outcome.  It's a lot like being a classroom teacher, or a parent.  We in the business of the human services may not see results for literally decades, if ever.  

What we can't afford is to let an opportunity for encounter go by without speaking the Truth, even if it seems to fall on willfully deaf ears.  No one will cross my path without knowing what I am and WHY.  Sure, I'll help you out, but you're going to remember that it was a Catholic who did the helping, not to give me credit or for me to look holy, or for me to FEEL holy, and not even for me to fulfill the Great Commission! You're going to remember I'm Catholic so someday when you are hungry for hope and healing and you're ready to get out of the road and come to safety, you will REMEMBER where the source of all real help is: the Church, WHO the source of all real help and hope is: JESUS, and why your hunger still isn't satiated, because you still haven't filled it with surrender, obedience, and the Eucharist.  

"There's a difference between being a nice person and being a doormat," someone once cautioned me.  Now I repeat that maxim to my kids, as they collect strays and give away what is dear to them, and pray for others, and shake their heads at the badness they see in the world around them.  I want them to tread carefully, to not get taken advantage of, but I have to teach them to help the hungry, no matter how obstinate or nasty or in denial the hungry are.  

I'm a bad Catholic, because I'm too comfortable.  Jesus told me to be perfect, and I'm not.  Jesus told me to be a fisher of men, but my bait doesn't always work.  Still, I'm driving down that untrafficked road, fast, so fast,  yelling at the deaf, trying to set aside my pride to trust my fellow drivers, trying to keep my kids and my husband safe, and always asking, "Did I do enough, Lord?" 

Why does the question haunt so? Because I know the only good Catholic is a saint. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Guest Post by Corey Grimley: A basis for Pope Francis’ “Healthy Decentralization” and embracing a “Synodal Church” is found in Cardinal Robert Sarah’s new book, GOD OR NOTHING.

Nicole, thank you for asking me to write a guest blog post regarding our recent discussions.  On October 17, 2015, at the close of the recent Synod of Bishops, the Holy Father told the Synod Fathers that "the spirit of episcopal collegiality [remember this word] has not yet been fully realized. … As I have asserted, in a synodal Church 'it is not opportune that the Pope replace the local episcopates in the discernment of all the problems that present themselves in their territories.' In this sense, I feel the necessity to proceed in a healthy 'decentralization.'"  This statement by Pope Francis received immediate criticism, which argued that the “progressive Pope Francis” is now trying to undermine the unifying authority of Rome and the Papacy. 

Some Catholic groups quickly pointed out that Cardinal Francis Arinze, one of the very respected, conservative, African prelates, expressed concern if such a “decentralization” would mean that a “national bishops’ conference in one country [] would approve something, which, in another conference, would be seen as sin. … National bishops’ conferences are important and should have a clear role, but I don’t think it should include these areas.  It looks dangerously like nationalizing right and wrong.”

We are left with the question, “is the very idea of ‘healthy decentralization’ something in direct conflict with the authority of Rome?”  It appears that an answer may be found in a new book that George Weigel reported was very popular among the Synod Fathers:  “Cardinal Robert Sarah’s God or Nothing is the talk of the town — Rome — at the moment,” Weigel said.  Robert Royal, the editor of the Catholic Thing, told the National Catholic Register on October 7, 2015, during the Synod, that “Virtually everyone I know has been very impressed with [God or Nothing], so much so that many are already thinking [Cardinal Sarah’s] a prominent papabile at the next conclave,”.  

See It is important to note that Pope Francis obviously thinks quite a lot about the conservative Cardinal Sarah, as the Pope appointed him Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (one of the nine Roman Curia Prefects) in 2014.
So what does this very popular book among the Synod Fathers (maybe Pope Francis too?), written by a very respected, conservative Cardinal, have to say about “healthy decentralization” and a “Synodal Church”.  Quite a bit actually. 

In God or Nothing (“GN”), the interviewer, Nicolas Diat, on page 109 asks Cardinal Sarah, “Some commentators speak up often, calling for a new and authentic application of collegiality [there’s that word again] in the Church.  How do you see this problem?
In response, Cardinal Sarah begins by explaining that “[i]n the Church there has always been a willingness to consult with one another at the hierarchical level to examine important questions with a view to arriving at a common position of the bishops.”  Sarah goes on to explain that “[n]ecessary collegial consultation therefore does not abolish the autonomy and responsibility of the bishop in his own diocese [read:  healthy decentralization].  No one should feel obliged or forced by the collegial decision of the episcopate … .  Each bishop is responsible before God for the way in which he fulfills his episcopal responsibilities toward the flock that the Holy Spirit has entrusted to his protection.”  GN, p. 110.

“Synods, which are a highly successful form of implementing collegiality, are great moments in the life of the Church [read:  synodal church].  But the various forums must not demobilize the bishops or give them the sense that their powers of evaluation are diminished. … Pope Francis would like to increase collegiality, and I think that he is right.  Roman centrality has made important achievements possible, but it can also lead to a form of sclerosis.  For if the bishop’s responsibility is weakened, there is a problem of trust. [again, read:  healthy decentralization]”  GN, pp. 110-111.  Emphasis added.
After emphasizing the responsibility and autonomy of the bishops in their own dioceses, Cardinal Sarah, in differentiating between healthy versus unhealthy decentralization, goes on to explain that “Rome absolutely must keep the management of the apostolate as a whole. … [W]e would commit a grave sin against the unity of the Body of Christ and of the doctrine of the Church by giving episcopal conferences any authority or decision-making ability concerning doctrinal, disciplinary, or moral questions.” [See Cardinal Arinze comments, above]  Cardinal Sarah then quoted Pope Pius XII’s statements of November 2, 1954 regarding maintaining governmental uniformity among the bishops via “frequent communion with this Apostolic See [Rome].  … “Pius XII concluded: ‘This union and harmonious communication with the Holy See arises, not from a kind of desire to centralize and unify everything, but by divine right and by reason of an essential element of the constitution of the Church of Christ. …”  GN, p. 111.  Emphasis added.  What is implied is that the “centralization of everything” could “lead to a form of sclerosis,” as discussed above.

“[Pope Francis’] desire to foster synodal reflection is a fortunate initiative.  Indeed, the synod should become a new Emmaus experience during which the heart of the Church is burning with the fire of the Scriptures.”  GN, p. 112.  Amen.

As I was reading pages 110 – 112 of GN it struck me that maybe Pope Francis wasn’t left out when copies of GN were distributed to the Synod Fathers…?  If GN was (is) as popular among the Fathers as Weigel reported, when they heard the Pope’s statements of “healthy decentralization”, they may have thought quickly to these passages from GN and how both Pope Francis and Cardinal Sarah appear to share certain opinions regarding what valid reform can look like in the life of the Church.  

Thank you for asking me to provide this observation.  The observation was just one of the myriad of little things that make me love how hard our Church leaders work to make us a stronger Body of Christ.