A Warm and Fuzzy Heresy

It feels good at first. When you’ve been feeling bad about yourself or a bit depressed about how your life is going, it feels good to hear someone tell you that there’s a different way to live. When your hear that you’re a good person, an amazing person and that you can have anything in the world that your heart desires—well, that’s heady stuff. It’s like coming in from a freezing cold blizzard and being wrapped up in a great big warm, fuzzy blanket. It feels SO good.

And that’s a problem. It’s all about making you feel better, and nothing about making you a saint. This brand of Christianity is popular in America these days. You can find it on your tv any time day or night. It goes by different names, but it’s generally called some version of the “prosperity gospel.” It bears little resemblance to the Gospel of Jesus Christ laid out in Holy Scripture. Most Christians profess that Jesus came to save us from our sins through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. We believe that His love and mercy was poured out for us on the Cross and we look to that same Cross as the source of our hope, And we know that Jesus tells us “…whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).  

One of the tenets of this prosperity movement (and how it got its name) is that your faith will bring you worldly wealth and happiness. You are told to speak to God about your wants and to claim them as your own.This “naming and claiming” is a very modern twist on God’s benevolence. Throughout the history of Christianity, believers who did as Jesus tells us and took up their crosses, found sanctity through His example. Jesus was poor, homeless, humble, despised, tortured and brutally killed. All but one (St. John) of His Apostles were tortured and killed for their faith in Christ. Over the centuries thousands of Christians have been put to death for believing in Jesus Christ. It is happening this very day.  

The lives of these martyrs make no sense if you look through the lens of earthly prosperity preachers. Try to imagine applying “name it and claim it” as you face torture and death. You can’t do it because it isn’t part of God’s plan. If we pick up that cross and follow Him, we must expect to walk the path He walked. We must expect to suffer and to embrace suffering as a key to our sanctification . St. Paul tells us that suffering goes hand in hand with following Christ. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him, but also suffer for His sake”(Phil 1:29). Are we to believe that St. Paul got it all wrong? And not only Paul, but the other Gospel writers and Apostles as well?

This is why you’ll rarely hear the prosperity preachers talk about the Cross, the Crucifixion, suffering, sin, pain, repentance, or sacrifice. None of this fits with their vision of God, whom they have reduced to a kindly uncle with an unlimited bank account. This is a small god and not the God of Calvary, Who requires nothing less of us than everything. But in that Cross IS everything—eternal life in Christ. The Gospel isn’t about making you feel good about yourself. The Gospel is a call to lay our lives at the foot of the Cross and to enter into the life of Christ. The Gospel is meant to transform our lives in this world so that we may share God’s eternal life in the next world That transformation, if we believe the Gospel, is going to be painful. Sanctification, becoming like Christ, is worth walking that broken road with Him. It’s what the Apostles and the Saints have done. And their reward? So much more than a big house and earthly wealth. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Don’t allow them to try and make God over in their own image, into some kind of personal shopper. Turn off the tv and read the Gospels. Discover the love of the great I AM and His plan for your life. Do not be afraid! 

“They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the Cross.”

      ——Flannery O’Connor

A Call To Prayer

Sharing this space and my thoughts with you each week makes me very grateful. It’s an honor and a privilege to come into your lives for a few moments. I hope that my words here are informative and I pray that each of my readers can come away knowing how much they are loved by the Lord Who has made us all in His image. I know that many of you do not share my Catholic faith. My hope is that you can learn more of what the Catholic Church teaches us through my writing. So much of what folks think that we believe is not true after all. As Christians, we all share a rich and precious faith. This brings me to my thoughts for this week.

I’d like to ask you to pray. In whatever way and with whatever words you choose, pray. Our world, our country, and our neighborhoods are in desperate need of God’s guiding hand. I don’t need to tell you about the many wars and conflicts we see in the news. So many of our Christian brothers and sisters are being tortured and killed for their faith. There are dozens of tyrants and terrorist groups who want nothing more than to kill anyone who won’t bow to their will and their beliefs. In our own country are people waiting in the shadows, biding their time for a chance to rise up and make the headlines. Many of our own neighborhoods are torn apart by gangs who see human life as a cheap commodity with little or no value. Playground fights are settled with guns now and not fist fights  

And apart from the violence and suffering in the word is the terror and pain so many of us feel within our own hearts. Every sin wounds us, wounds our families, and wounds our world. And so, today, as you’re reading this, I’d ask you to begin to pray.

“Lord, help us to be grateful for all that You’ve given us. Thank you for Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, and the gift of His Holy Cross. We ask You to forgive our sins and to help us to hate sin as You do. We know that Your mercy is an ocean of love and forgiveness. Heal us, Lord, and heal our hurting world……”

Please continue to pray in your own words, for the needs of your family, our nation, and our world. I believe that our prayers are heard. I believe that God loves us to pray and wants us to share our hearts with Him. Thank you for your prayers and for the privilege of sharing this journey with you.

“We must pray without tiring, for the salvation of mankind does not depend upon material success…but on Jesus alone.”

    ——St. Frances Xavier       Cabrini 

Mrs. Brezhnev and The Sign of The Cross 

She was the First Lady of the Soviet Union for 18 years, married to Leonid Brezhnev. They had two children and she kept their private life as private as she was able. Victoria Brezhnev was described as old-fashioned, gentle, and retiring. She rarely traveled with her husband and she hated speaking in public. By all accounts, Mrs. Brezhnev’s life centered on her husband their children and later, grandchildren. Her favorite hobby was watching ice dancing on television. While she stayed home, her husband led the Soviet Union through much of the Cold War. Under him, their military power grew dramatically while domestic life there became more difficult, more impoverished, and more hopeless. The Soviet economy was on the verge of collapse. A loyal and lifelong community, he used the KGB to quell any opposition to his repressive regime. The government-controlled agricultural efforts became less and less able to feed the country. In many ways, Brezhnev was like Stalin, but without his level of government-sanctioned civilian murder.

For Brezhnev and his wife in this environment, the Church did not exist. They never spoke of religion and certainly never practiced it. Faith was seen as a weakness in Soviet culture, to be controlled and limited by the government. No one with any government aspirations could be known as a person of faith. Brezhnev imprisoned priests and believers, closing seminaries and churches whenever they got in his way. Both in his public life and at home, Leonid Brezhnev and his unassuming wife were examples of communist atheists. Faith was nowhere to be found.  

Which makes this incident at Brezhnev’s funeral all the more interesting. When he died in 1982, the US representative at his state funeral was Vice President George H.W. Bush. He remembers being moved by Victoria’s actions that day, which was to be her last public appearance. She stood without moving by her husband’s coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Victoria leaned over her husband’s body—and made The Sign of The Cross. There at the center of an atheist empire, she traced the image of our hope and salvation on the body of the man she had loved for 54 years. Did she have faith in God’s love for us? Hope that there was more in our destiny than the black end of atheism? She must have done. For to so publicly express hope in Christ in an atheist nation was an act of great courage. This is what Mr. Bush recollected.  

Courage, Hope. Faith. The grace and the love of God never stops reaching out to us. Even when we run from Him, He still pursues us. So long as we have life, He loves us and wants us to be with Him. He reaches out to us with a relentless love. Through decades of life in a godless regime, He reached out to Victoria through her love for her husband. In her heart, He kindled the light of hope—that maybe there really is more to life than this hurting world and its politics and bread lines. Maybe there is a Truth that made us in His image and loves us, even when we have rejected Him. That Hope gave Victoria the courage to trace the Cross on her husband’s body. To say, in her own way, that we are more than what the world has told us that we are. We are the children of the King of Kings.  

I hope that she embraced God’s love for her. The rest of her earthly life was lonely and painful, at least as far as we know. But, like she showed at her husband’s funeral, we can never know the workings of God in someone else’s heart. So let’s pray for one another and be kind to one another, always. We’re all on this wondrous journey together and life is too short to spend our time making the trip any harder. Let’s practice the love of God.  

“Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him.”

            —–Psalm 62:5

The Cheshire Pope 

Like America, the Catholic Church is composed of “conservative” and “liberal” people. And a bunch more middle-of-the-roaders. Conservatives tend to defend traditional viewpoints and liberals tend to embrace changing things up. There’s always been this sort of tension in the Church, in our country, and in just about every other human institution I can think of. We like labeling people and their opinions or beliefs into one camp or the other. When folks challenge these black or white labels, or seem to us to be inconsistent in staying in whatever box we’ve assigned them, well, it’s uncomfortable. It’s confusing. It challenges us to examine what we think is true and to defend what we believe. It makes us look beneath the surface of things to see what lies beneath. It doesn’t fit into our quick and easy newsbite world. In our recent history, no one exemplifies this more than Pope Francis.  

From the moment he assumed the papacy in 2013, we’ve seen him do things differently from the other popes in our lifetime. His simple white vestments and work shoes. His choice to live in a few furnished rooms instead of the Apostolic Palace. Leaving his house at night to visit the poor. He shook up the management in the Vatican offices and banks. He likes speaking “off the cuff” to reporters and even when he has a prepared speech in front of him, he likes to lay it aside and speak from his heart. He likes to mingle with the crowds who flock to see him. In some ways, both his security team and his Vatican “handlers” often seen a half-step behind him. Comments are often being “explained” or “clarified” to the media. He showed this during his recent trip to America.  

Liberals were relieved when the Pope didn’t mention either abortion or Planned Parenthood by name in his several public addresses. Conservatives point out that Pope Francis did focus on the protection and defense of life, at all its stages. Likewise, he failed to spend time shouting against same-sex “marriage” which thrilled many liberals. Yet the whole purpose of his trip was to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, which was a celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony within our society. Francis has a habit of keeping us on our toes. Even though he came for the World Meeting of Families, he also met with a gay couple with whom he’s friends. And then he met with the Kentucky court clerk who’d been jailed for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. You may remember, too, that he was once asked for his thoughts on homosexuality by a member of the press. He famously replied, “Who am I to judge?” Yet just a few days ago, when a Vatican priest publicly “came out” with his boyfriend, Pope Francis wasted no time in relieving him of his job and banning him from further Vatican duties. Liberals celebrated his comments that Christians shouldn’t finance or manufacture weapons. Conservatives reminded them that he also spoke out in support of a US war against ISIS, saying that war is acceptable “to stop an unjust aggression.” On the one hand, he’s said that uncontrolled capitalism exploits the poor and the environment. On the other, he’s said that business is good because it provides wealth and employment. Children and the family are the future our our faith—–but “Catholics don’t need to breed like rabbits.”

It can leave you scratching your head. Is he a liberal or a conservative, or something else? Well, it’s even more complicated than that. He doesn’t fit into our easy categories because the Gospel isn’t a political party. And the Holy Father is more interested in our souls than in our labels. He confounds us because grace confounds us. The kind of love that died on the Cross to save us confounds us. We want to put the Church in a tidy little box. But our Savior calls us to be more than our human labels. Pope Francis is just trying to teach us how to do that.  

“Jesus comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.”

           —–G. K. Chesterton