The Bogeyman Inside


[SPOILER ALERT: Monsters are real!]

Anyone who has spent any time in the woods has probably seen or heard something they can’t quite explain. The sound of a branch breaking when nothing is there. The call of an animal that you’ve never heard before. A strange-looking track you can’t identify. The feeling that you’re being watched or followed. Later, safely back home, you think things over and wonder what you just saw or heard. A bear? a mountain lion? Bigfoot? Zombies?

Our human story has always been shot through with monsters. We’re fascinated with scary stories or tales of the “unknown.” We cover our eyes at the terrifying parts of the movie, but we open them just wide enough to see the vampire show his fangs. We’re scared, but we’re also attracted. Why does the shadow in the woods frighten us and at the same time, draw us to it? Why does the girl always take the flashlight and go down the creaky basement stairs? She goes because, like each one of us, she’s a monster, too.

One of the reasons we’re so fascinated by the bogeyman in the woods is because sometimes we feel and act like a wildman ourselves. We let our emotions get the better of us and instead of being rational and reflective, we scream and wave our hands in the air. We feel like picking up a club and running amok. But we don’t. At least most of us don’t. That fleeting moment of “monster-me” goes away pretty quickly. But we remember what we’re capable of. Those out-of-control impulses help us transform a shadow into a zombie in the closet. Or a ghoul in the basement. After all, if there’s one inside of me, why wouldn’t there be more out in the world?

We’re all a mix of good and evil, of light and dark, of angel and beast. Humility keeps us aware of how broken we are. Humility whispers to us: “Without grace, you’re just another one of the walking dead.” It’s pride that tells us that it’s that OTHER person who is sinful and selfish and short-tempered. Pride tells us that we’re just fine, that our sins are few and tiny. Or else it tells us we’re so sinful and lost that God could never ever forgive us and welcome us into His arms. Pride is the soul-killer, the life-taker, the sin that can transform us into one of the walking dead.  

The Catholic writer Michael Kelly says that there is a clear line that separates good from evil and that line runs through the middle of my heart and of your heart. The grace of God calls us to be the light of the world and our own pride uses every chance to put a bushel over that light. We see that same struggle going on in our Church, in our country, and in our world. We change the world by allowing God to change us. The Sacraments give us life in Christ, and they increase our humility. You never see a humble vampire or zombie, do you? Immersed in Sacramental grace, we keep pride at bay and share the Light in a world of shadow and darkness. Pray for humility, for the grace to be aware of your sins and to seek forgiveness in Confession. Take your monster to the closet of confession and leave it there. God loves monsters.  

Not all the monsters have fangs.”

                     —–Jack London 

The Spreadsheet of Faith


Over the last week, a lot has been written about the recent Pew Research Center survey on religion in America.  The gist of the survey is that fewer Americans identify themselves as Christians and, of those who do, fewer are claiming membership in mainline protestant denominations and Catholicism.  The headlines have also focused on the increasing number of folks who say that they are atheists.  Some writers sound almost despairing in their review of the survey results.  It’s as if the end of Christianity is just around the next corner.  Others have analyzed the numbers in any way they can that will shore up their own particular beliefs and prejudices.  I’ve been reading the survey and many of the varied commentaries on it and have come to my own peculiar conclusions.

It’s not that I don’t think information like the Pew survey can be informative.  But for me, the responses to the survey are even more interesting than the survey itself.  To begin with, what do these survey results have to do with our faith?  Evidently, it’s enough to make many writers and chroniclers wring their hands in anxious worry.  But I think they’re wrong to worry, at least about this.  The Church is not a spreadsheet.  And we’re led by a Shepherd, not an accountant.  There’s a danger in looking at faith through corporate eyes.  We forget that the world’s rules don’t apply to followers of Jesus Christ.  If we allow them to, then we’ve truly lost our way.  Getting us lost is what the world is always trying to do to us.  And we can’t allow it.  

Christ never told us that the Church would enjoy the favor of history.  He told us just the opposite.  “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”(Matthew 10:16).  “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet”(Matthew 10:14).  Since the earliest years of the Church, there have been those who have left and those who have rejected Christ outright.  Heresies come and go like the wind.  The faith of Christ isn’t easy.  Many find it too hard to bear.  We have to remember that the only measuring stick for the Church is that tree on Golgotha’s hill.

Jesus has promised to always be with His Church and that the Holy Spirit will always protect and guide His flock.  Did He promise that the Church would never see a decline in members?  No.  And we also have to remember that the United States, which is where the survey was conducted, isn’t the center of the world.  His Church is bearing fruit in great numbers in other countries.

The Church is only as healthy and strong as each one of us.  If folks are leaving the Church, we have to look at the example each one of us being for Christ.  The world will know us by the fruit we bear:  love, charity, kindness, joy and peace.  Are we so muddled and lukewarm in our own journey that we are no longer a light in the darkness?  If we are away from the Sacraments that Jesus gave us, how can we keep our eyes fixed on Christ?  If we aren’t on our knees before Him in Adoration, how can we be surprised when no one else is?  Our faith is not about surveys or spreadsheets—it’s about relationships: my relationship with Christ and with my neighbor.  We have to remember His words above all—“…apart from Me, you can do nothing”(John 15:5).

“So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s foolishness.”
            —I Corinthians 1:23

When You’re Angry At God


Most of us have been angry with God.  We can all recall circumstances in our lives when we’ve been overcome with emotion and directed our wrath to the Lord.  We lose a loved one and in our grief we lash out, demanding to know why God would do such a horrible thing to such a wonderful person.  We’re caught up in the emotion of our grief and we demand an explanation.  We have to find a logical or at least an understandable reason for why this happened.  Sometimes, when we’ve calmed down a bit, we look back at our anger with God and we’re shocked and ashamed.  We feel guilty for being angry with the Lord.  We see our anger as a sin.  But, is it really?

Anger is an emotion.  It flows out of our humanity and isn’t consciously willed.  You don’t get cut off in traffic and “decide” to get angry with that thoughtless driver—your anger is upon you without you thinking about it.  If you read some of the Psalms, you’ll soon realize that David was often angry at God.  Read Psalm 22.  David has an intimate relationship with the Lord and in intimate relationships, you don’t try to hide your feelings from the other person.  Honestly sharing your emotions is a key to the bond you share.  David couldn’t have hidden his feelings from God if he’d tried.  So David owned up to his feelings.  He cried out to God in his anger and despair.  You don’t encourage trust and intimacy by shrouding your heart.  But after David expressed his anger to God, the Psalm show that he didn’t just stay in that wrathful place.

After David genuinely rales at God, he gets it out of his system.  He moves on.  In Psalm 22, David moves through his anger, to praise.  He gets back to his right relationship with God.  And isn’t this what happens in our healthy relationships?  We get angry with our spouse, we express it, get over it, reconcile, and move on.  A friend wrongs us, we hash it out, we work through it, make up and go on with our friendship.  The relationship we enjoy with God is like this, too.  Sharing our genuine emotions with our Creator and Savior is a great gift and reveals our “family” relationship with Him.  Yes, our anger also reveals our own brokenness and it shows how little we truly understand His love for us.  But God knows our hearts and loves us anyway.

In some ways, our anger reveals how much we love God.  After all, we reserve our strongest emotions for the ones we love the most.  But we can’t allow ourselves to remain in that anger.  Emotions like anger, are involuntary.  But allowing ourselves to continue in anger is a choice we make.  And choices can be wrong.  There comes a time when our anger at God does become sinful. David reveals a way for us to move beyond anger and that way is through repentance and gratitude.  

The moment we turn our thoughts to all the many blessings of God, our anger turns to sorrow and from sorrow, to praise.  Gratitude takes all the air out of our wrath.  For me, I move from anger, to tears, to praise.  My tears are the sorrow I feel for being mad at the One Who has given me everything.  I offer them to Him and He accepts them, over and over again.  We’ve been through this before and, sinner that I am, we’ll probably go through it again.  That’s how true love works.  Its’a journey that is so much deeper than fleeting emotions.  I know that God understands my anger and I know as well that He wants more for me than that.  Only His grace can heal me.  Your anger with God doesn’t surprise Him.  He knows you loved your friend who died unexpectedly.  He understands the anger you feel at your broken marriage.  Don’t feel guilty over that genuine anger.  But, like David, don’t make your home in it, either.  Let it out and move on.  Thank God for all the love you still have in your life and trust Him to give you even more.

“For He has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch.  He did not turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out.  I will offer praise…”
      —Psalm 22:25-26

The Knights of Columbus


No one can debate the good works done by the folks at any of the 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children located throughout the United States.  They provide medical care for kids with a variety of conditions at no cost to their families.  No doubt this is a great charity and thousands have benefitted from their care over the decades.  Shriners do lots of charity work in their communities, but I’ll bet most of us known them for the hats they wear (it’s called a “fez”), their candy sales, their circuses, and those little cars they drive in parades.  Shriners are associated with Masonic lodges.  All Shriners are Masons, but not all Masons are Shriners, if that makes sense.  Masons also have several other groups under their umbrella, like the Order of the Eastern Star, the Order of DeMolay, and the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls.  All of these groups set their own membership requirements.  

Since 1738, the Catholic Church has forbidden her members from joining Freemasonry.  In 1983, the Vatican issued another declaration affirming that Catholicism and Freemasonry are “irreconcilable” and that any Catholic who enrolls in a Masonic association is “in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.”  The Church’s objections are based on the Masonic teachings of a naturalistic deistic religion which is at odds with Christianity.  Deism denies the Holy Trinity, the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture, divine revelation and miracles. Some protestant denominations have also objected to Masonic teachings, but really only Catholics and Greek Orthodox Christians forbid membership.   The Church makes rules like this to promote fraternity and charity in solidly Christian groups, like the Knights of Columbus.  

Founded in 1882 in New Haven, Connecticut, the Knights of Columbus is a fraternal charity of Catholic men whose principles are charity, unity and fraternity.  Their founder, Father Michael J. Mcgiviney, may soon be on the road to sainthood.  Almost 2 million Knights now serve in countries all over the world.  The Knights came into being at a time in America when Catholic immigrants were the victims of widespread discrimination and often were barred from joining labor unions or social welfare groups.  The Knights helped struggling Catholic families with financial aid for the unemployed and affordable life insurance.  They continue this mission today.  The Knights support Habitat for Humanity, the Special Olympics and disaster relief around the world, among other charities.  Some famous Knights include John F. Kennedy, Jeb Bush, Vince Lombardi, and Babe Ruth.  As important as their financial support of the needy, their donation of millions and millions of work hours given to charitable causes is just as impressive.  

The Masons and the Shriners also give tons of money and man-hours to charitable causes.  The Catholic Church in no way minimizes this good work.  The Church calls Catholic men to serve with one another, to share in fraternal fellowship with other Catholic men, building up the Body of Christ through the community of parish and Council life.  The work of the Knights of Columbus is and always has been, an overtly Christian organization.  Members are all Catholic men in good standing whose lives reflect the beliefs and teachings of the Church.  They are not Deists or secularists.  They are faithful Catholics.

If you’re in a parish that’s blessed to have an active Council of Knights, be sure to support them with your treasure and your prayers.  The Knights have long-enjoyed the patronage and support of the Popes.  Pope Francis has encouraged the Knights to continue their defense of the sanctity of marriage, the dignity of human life, the beauty and truth of human sexuality, and the rights of believers.  This group of men represents the best of our parish community life.  Lately, we’re heard and read a lot about the lack of men in the church pews and ministries.  The Knights of Columbus are the answer to the question: “Where are all the good Catholic men?”  They’re right here, serving God and their neighbors in charity and fraternity.  If you’re a Catholic man looking for a place for God to use your time and talents, contact your local Council of the Knights of Columbus.  They have a spot for you.

“The proof of love is in the works.  Where love exists, it works great things.  But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist.”
     —-St.  Gregory the Great
           (540 – 604 A.D.)