Monday, September 27, 2010

Faith of Our Fathers

Over at First Things, author Joe Carter posted an interesting piece on the faith of America’s Founding Fathers entitled Founding Believers. Carter describes the debate often had between the Religious Right (conservative Christians) and the Secular Left (atheistic/agnostic secularists) concerning the religious beliefs of the men who formed this nation during the Revolution. He uses the research of David L. Holmes, a religious studies professor at the College of William and Mary, to reach the following conclusion:

“…while we Christians can claim few founding fathers as fellow believers, the atheists and secularists can claim none. Not one of the significant leaders was an atheist, much less subscribed to the modern idea of secularism.

“Most—whether they were non-Christian Deists or Deistic Christians—appear to have been held to the classic ‘five points of Deism’: (1) There is a God; (2) He ought to be worshiped; (3) Virtue is the principle element in this worship; (4) Humans should repent of their sins; and (5) There is life after death, where the evil will be punished and the good rewarded.

“The views of the Deistic founding fathers would have been as repugnant to the modern secularist as those of the so-called Religious Right. The founding believers considered belief in a deity to be necessary for good citizenship, believed in intelligent design, had few qualms about establishment of state churches, and took a low view of atheists. They might not pass muster as orthodox Christians, but if they were around today they would be considered theocrats.”

Now, I do not consider myself a member of the Religious Right (which is predominately Evangelical/fundamentalist). As a Catholic, I would disagree sharply with the Extreme Right’s view of Christianity and so I could never accept theocratic rule from the Right.

However, it has been my experience that theocracy is not what most conservative Christians are about. The Evangelical experience of Christianity is utterly devoid of such state-controlled religion (more so than even the Founding Fathers as deists). It would never enter an Evangelical’s mind to create a state-church union, primarily for two reasons:

1) For Evangelicals, faith is such a highly personal experience, that even within the same church-group no two believers hold exactly the same doctrines. They disagree on everything from baptism to End Times prophecy, ordination and divorce, even moral issues. In general, they have no desire to impose their personal doctrines even on fellow believers sitting next to them every Sunday morning. It would be foreign to them to use state power to do what even their churches do not do.

2) The history of Evangelicalism (as brief as it is) has never had ties to state power. There has never been an Evangelical (in the modern American sense of the word) state-church in the history of the world. Catholics and Mainline Protestants cannot say the same. The entanglements between ecclesial and state power among Catholics and Protestants are many, and unfortunately have caused wars and oppression and much suffering. Evangelicals know this history and they take great pride in their church’s lack of state power throughout history. They see it as a mark of authentic Christianity that their religion is devoid of the state-church sin.

We might summarize these two points as follows: 1) an individual’s personal beliefs about God are his own business and not even the church has the authority to force doctrine; 2) the church must remain free from state control and must not itself control the state – the sins of the past must not be repeated – state and church are separate entities. This radical autonomy of the individual believer and that of the church is the clear foundation of the Evangelical movement as it has shaped the Religious Right.

To an outsider it may seem that Evangelicals wish to create a theocracy, but from my experience discussing these things with Evangelicals, the two points I listed above rule the day. Whatever the rhetoric sounds like when taken out of context, or whatever the Left says to caricature the Religious Right, in the end Evangelicals are fighting a cultural battle (certainly with political repercussions and with many political fights along the way), but not a political coup or the establishment of a theocracy. The Christian Right’s main objective is not theocratic, but cultural and moral.

With all that being said, I don’t think the Religious Right’s motivations are all that different from those of the Founding Fathers. As the First Things article points out…The “Christian” character of our nation is not found encoded explicitly in its laws; it is not dictated, as a doctrine that must be believed by every citizen. Rather we are a nation of Christians who freely choose to follow Christ, and in doing so we act in accord with Christian principles and make laws that reflect the Good that Christianity has taught us. The battle fought by the Religious Right is to preserve Christianity’s right to inform the political and cultural debate just as the Founders intended: “(1) There is a God; (2) He ought to be worshiped; (3) Virtue is the principle element in this worship; (4) Humans should repent of their sins; and (5) There is life after death, where the evil will be punished and the good rewarded.”
"Regardless of what was believed at the time of the founding, our country is not a ‘Christian nation’ but rather, as the Baptist theologian Albert Mohler duly notes, ‘a nation of Christians.’ America, he argues, ‘is not Christian by constitutional provision or creedal affirmation—but its people are overwhelmingly Christian by self-affirmation. Thoughtful evangelicals will not overestimate the convictional character of this self-identification. Secularists ought not to overestimate its superficiality.’”

Even a deist could agree to that.
 If the Founding Fathers were “theocrats” who “had few qualms about establishment of state churches” then perhaps we should fear the Religious Right’s motivation in invoking the Founder’s intent? Is the Right positioning itself to enforce a Christian theocracy?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book Review: The Old Mass and the New

Looking to the Past for Liturgical Renewal

I have recently developed a keen interest in Latin as the language of the Church. Not that I would ever abandon the Catholic faith for some schismatic Traditionalist sect, but in the past few years I have grown increasingly fond of Latin and have come to appreciate more and more the wisdom of the Church in preserving this language for use in prayer and in official ecclesiastical texts. My heightened interest in Latin can chiefly be attributed to the July 7, 2007 release of Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, which allowed for the unrestricted use of the Latin Mass (according to the 1962 Missal promulgated by Blessed John XXIII) by priests of the Roman Rite without the need for special permission from their respective bishops. Simply put, Pope Benedict made the Latin Mass more accessible to those who desire it.

This document was met with praise from most traditional-minded (“conservative”) Catholics but was derided and criticized by many of the more “progressive/liberal” Catholics who usually evoke the “spirit of Vatican II” to justify their own liturgical innovations. Amidst this debate over Benedict’s motu proprio comes a wonderful little book by Bishop Marc Aillet of the diocese of Frejus-Tuolon, France entitled, The Old Mass and the New, Explaining the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI.

Bishop Aillet makes a strong case in favor of the pope’s decree, drawing from past papal pronouncements as well as Council Documents from Vatican II, the Council of Trent and reaching back into history as far as Gregory the Great and beyond. He sketches a brief outline of liturgical development within the Latin Rite and explains the importance of the Latin language, symbolic gestures, Gregorian chant, and the palpable sense of Mystery and of the sacred, distinctive to the traditional Roman form of worship.

Make no mistake - the author of this book is not opposed to Mass in the vernacular according to the revised 1970 Missal. In fact, when celebrated in accordance with the rubrics and with a mind toward honoring the tradition that has been handed down to us, the New Mass can be just as reverent and uplifting, and it certainly produces the same fruits – namely the Body and Blood of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine, offered as a Sacrifice to God. With that in mind, the vernacular Mass of Paul VI should be seen as a genuine development of what came before – not a break with tradition (as Traditional Catholics claim), but a natural growth in the Church’s lived experience of worship.

Yet, as Bishop Aillet explains in The Old Mass and the New, we must keep in mind that the Old Mass, the Tridentine Latin Mass, which came before, is clearly a vital part of that same lived experience. These two Forms cannot cancel each other out; they are part of a single whole. The Old Mass was never officially abrogated. There was never a decree issued, or pronouncement made that banned its use. It can still provide all the grace and splendor of Christ present to us, as it did for centuries to many generations of Catholics prior to Vatican II. And it is this historic link that draws so many back to this ancient Form of the Mass, especially the younger generation who were raised after the Council and who search for something tangible that ties them to their heritage of faith.

This attraction to the Tridentine Form is not merely a case of over-developed “nostalgia.” It is more than sappy sentimentality that draws so many people (especially the young, who have no personal memory of these things) to a Liturgy in a foreign language that requires no small amount of preparatory work to understand and to participate. Bishop Aillet points out that Catholics who attend these Old Masses are on a whole more educated and liturgically well formed than the average Catholic. These Christians know that the Old Mass contains within it beautiful expressions of faith that can (with the help of Benedict’s motu proprio) inform and enrich the New Mass.

For example: the priest facing away from (or more correctly in the same direction with) the people, so that all are oriented toward Christ; the use of Gregorian chant and traditional hymns rather than the trite folk songs so common in modern Masses; the incense, bells, and ritual gestures; the sense of sacredness and reverence – many of these components can be carried over into the New Mass within the guidelines of the rubrics. Bishop Aillet stresses that even the use of Latin itself is allowed in the post-Vatican II liturgy. But somehow these elements were dropped almost completely from most parishes after Vatican II, as though the Council Fathers forbade anything remotely like the Tridentine Mass. It was as though a giant rift opened up in the line of liturgical development, and 1970 marked the death of the Old and the birth of the New.

After reading The Old Mass and the New, one sees that in issuing Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI does not close that rift so much as he proclaims boldly that the rift was never there to begin with. The Old Mass is alive and should be given to the people to cherish. The Old can survive alongside the New, each giving renewed vitality to the other. This is the message of Bishop Marc Aillet in this present book. Pope Benedict has offered a tremendous blessing for Catholics around the world by providing the Old Mass as a living tradition on which to pattern our future worship.

[To purchase your own copy
of The Old Mass and the New, by Bishop Marc Aillet, and to find other great Catholic books and products visit The Catholic Company website. Also be sure to check out their great selection of Mary statues.]

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bishops: Successors to the Apostles

From the Catechism:

551 From the beginning of his public life Jesus chose certain men, twelve in number, to be with him and to participate in his mission. He gives the Twelve a share in his authority and 'sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal." They remain associated for ever with Christ's kingdom, for through them he directs the Church:
“As my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

77 "In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority…”

860 In the office of the apostles there is one aspect that cannot be transmitted: to be the chosen witnesses of the Lord's Resurrection and so the foundation stones of the Church. But their office also has a permanent aspect. Christ promised to remain with them always. The divine mission entrusted by Jesus to them "will continue to the end of time, since the Gospel they handed on is the lasting source of all life for the Church. Therefore, . . . the apostles took care to appoint successors."

861 "In order that the mission entrusted to them might be continued after their death, [the apostles] consigned, by will and testament, as it were, to their immediate collaborators the duty of completing and consolidating the work they had begun, urging them to tend to the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit had appointed them to shepherd the Church of God. They accordingly designated such men and then made the ruling that likewise on their death other proven men should take over their ministry."

886 "The individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches." As such, they "exercise their pastoral office over the portion of the People of God assigned to them," assisted by priests and deacons. But, as a member of the episcopal college, each bishop shares in the concern for all the Churches. The bishops exercise this care first "by ruling well their own Churches as portions of the universal Church," and so contributing "to the welfare of the whole Mystical Body, which, from another point of view, is a corporate body of Churches." They extend it especially to the poor, to those persecuted for the faith, as well as to missionaries who are working throughout the world.
887 Neighboring particular Churches who share the same culture form ecclesiastical provinces or larger groupings called patriarchates or regions. The bishops of these groupings can meet in synods or provincial councils. "In a like fashion, the episcopal conferences at the present time are in a position to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegiate spirit."

888 Bishops, with priests as co-workers, have as their first task "to preach the Gospel of God to all men," in keeping with the Lord's command. They are "heralds of faith, who draw new disciples to Christ; they are authentic teachers" of the apostolic faith "endowed with the authority of Christ."

893 The bishop is "the steward of the grace of the supreme priesthood," especially in the Eucharist which he offers personally or whose offering he assures through the priests, his co-workers. The Eucharist is the center of the life of the particular Church. The bishop and priests sanctify the Church by their prayer and work, by their ministry of the word and of the sacraments. They sanctify her by their example, "not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock." Thus, "together with the flock entrusted to them, they may attain to eternal life."

894 "The bishops, as vicars and legates of Christ, govern the particular Churches assigned to them by their counsels, exhortations, and example, but over and above that also by the authority and sacred power" which indeed they ought to exercise so as to edify, in the spirit of service which is that of their Master.

895 "The power which they exercise personally in the name of Christ, is proper, ordinary, and immediate, although its exercise is ultimately controlled by the supreme authority of the Church." But the bishops should not be thought of as vicars of the Pope. His ordinary and immediate authority over the whole Church does not annul, but on the contrary confirms and defends that of the bishops. Their authority must be exercised in communion with the whole Church under the guidance of the Pope.
896 The Good Shepherd ought to be the model and "form" of the bishop's pastoral office. Conscious of his own weaknesses, "the bishop . . . can have compassion for those who are ignorant and erring. He should not refuse to listen to his subjects whose welfare he promotes as of his very own children.... The faithful ... should be closely attached to the bishop as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father":
Let all follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ follows his Father, and the college of presbyters as the apostles; respect the deacons as you do God's law. Let no one do anything concerning the Church in separation from the bishop.

891 …The infallibility promised to the Church is…present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium," above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine "for belief as being divinely revealed," and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions "must be adhered to with the obedience of faith." This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.

938 The Bishops, established by the Holy Spirit, succeed the apostles. They are "the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Which Came First, the Church or the Bible?

I am currently reading a book on ecclesiology by Charles Cardinal Journet, entitled Theology of the Church, which is a shorter version of a two volume work the Cardinal wrote in the early 1940s. (The book I am reading was first published in the 1950s.) Even though this is a condensed version of the original work, it is still pretty intense reading, and is full of insightful passages.

I came across the following lines recently and thought I would add a few thoughts of my own. Cardinal Journet is writing here about the Apostles and their leadership of the Church in the First Century:

As long as they [the Apostles] were living, the Church was, through them, ‘in the act of revealing’ and above the ‘revealed’ Sacred Scripture. But at the death of the Apostles, the Church lost this privilege: she ceased to be above Scripture.” [page 120, emphasis added]

Very often Catholics are accused of putting the Church in a position above the Bible. This is of course not what the Church teaches. The Catholic Church teaches that the Church’s Magisterium (her teaching office) is subordinate to Scripture, as the Catechism clearly states:

86 "…this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith."

The Church is not above Sacred Scripture. Sacred Scripture is the divinely revealed Word of God. This revelation from God ceased after the death of the last Apostles. Nothing more will be revealed as pertains to the salvation of souls. The Church can only function as guardian and expositor of that which has already been revealed. And to do this she remains subordinate to God’s Word, only teaching that which has been handed on.

But, as the Cardinal points out, there was a time when the Church was in fact above Scared Scripture. When the Apostles were still alive and had not yet written down all that would be revealed, they had in their own minds all that they had witnessed and all that had been revealed to them through the Spirit. They were in a sense “walking Bibles” before the Bible was completely written.

Since the Bible was not yet finished, the only complete revelation was found in the Church herself, that is, in the Apostles who were members and leaders of the Church. So the Church was in a position above the Bible as she herself contained the source for complete revelation from God. As Cardinal Journet puts it, the Church was ‘in the act of revealing’ as long as the Apostles still lived.

So clearly the Church was the instrument by which we received the Word of God. And even after the death of the last Apostle, when the Church ceased its role as revealer of God’s Word and became the servant of God’s Word, the Church still had a vital role to play. The various books had to be collected together into one volume (which we now call the Bible). This took centuries and it required a divinely guided Church which could teach with real and binding authority so that we can be certain that we would receive the RIGHT books and not FALSE ones. Certainly, the Church ceased to be above the Bible, but the Church still had authority from God to gather the books together accurately and collect them into one volume.

This authoritative Church is the only reason that Protestants have their Bibles today. They may reject the Catholic Church, but in doing so they reject the very institution that God gave to us so that we would have the Bible they hold so dear. The Bible is certainly the Word of God and is superior to the Church, but without the Catholic Church we would have no Bible.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Book Review: We Have a Pope

“Staring at the History of the Church”

In the introduction to this brief booklet by Steven K. Ray and R. Dennis Walters, the story is told of a Christian woman who visited the Vatican and Saint Peter’s Basilica as a tourist decades ago. While standing among the crowd of spectators she witnessed the grand entrance of the pope, carried aloft on a throne to greet the people. Being Protestant, she had never attached any importance to the Bishop of Rome and rejected the Catholic notion of papal supremacy. But at that moment, when she caught a fleeting glimpse of Peter’s successor, the head of the Catholic Church on earth, she felt goose bumps on her arms and a rush of unexpected excitement. As she craned her neck to get a quick view of the pontiff, she felt as if she were “staring at the history of the Church.” And then he was gone.

That moment in one woman’s life encapsulates the essence of this short work entitled We Have a Pope. Not intended as an exhaustive or thorough examination of the papacy, this 31 page text offers us a fleeting glimpse of Peter’s Successor as it explains how the Holy Father fits into the Church that Christ established. Reading this booklet is like stopping briefly to gawk in curiosity (like a spectator in Rome), but to come away from that experience knowing that we saw something quite more than we had expected.

Within these pages we find, Scriptural passages (especially the giving of the “keys’’ to Peter in Matthew 16, and Jesus’ ordering of Peter to “feed my lambs” at the end of John’s Gospel) all of which support the Catholic teaching of Peter’s primacy and the special authority granted to him by Christ. We also find a few select quotes from the Fathers of the Church that support Apostolic Succession, Peter’s presence in Rome, and the unique role of Rome and its Bishop in the governance of the Church. History, the Bible, and the witness of many Christians come together in a short space to trace the outline of Catholic doctrine concerning the pope as Peter’s heir.

If I had one criticism of We Have a Pope it would be that some issues are passed over a little too quickly or without enough detail to set the record straight from an apologetics standpoint. For instance, the two forms of the Greek word “rock” used in Matthew 16:18 – petros for Peter’s name, and petra used in the same passage – are often cited by Protestants as proof that Jesus did not call Peter the “rock” on which the Church is built, since He used two different Greek words. Without directly addressing the Protestant side of the debate, the authors do explain that the actual language spoken by Jesus was most likely Aramaic (not Greek) and therefore kepha was used for “rock” in both instances. So the discrepancy in the naming of Peter is eliminated. Overall, the matter is handled effectively without delving too far into the technicalities of Greek linguistics or Protestant polemics. Also the authors do a good job of building the case for Peter as the “rock” by explaining the significance of name-changes in a Biblical context, and the use of Kepha (or Cephas) as Peter’s name elsewhere in the New Testament.

My criticism is only minor. Obviously the shortened format of this book does not lend itself to protracted explanations, or to a full treatment of every aspect of the papacy. In such limited space it is difficult to tackle every challenge to Catholic doctrine. More lengthy works on the papacy and Petrine authority do explore fully the Protestant challenges and defend Catholic belief in a more thorough manner. Steven Ray, one of the authors of We Have a Pope, penned just such a book entitled Upon This Rock, which includes ample footnotes and bibliographical information for anyone interested in further study. The important point and main goal of this smaller tract is to give the reader a quick glimpse of the pope (as a curious bystander might have while seeing the sights of Rome) and in doing so spark a longing for more. Once we have caught ourselves “staring at the history of the Church,” we can seek out other writings that give us a better view.

(Note: This is a great booklet to have as an apologetics source to lend out to non-Catholics who are inquiring about Catholic doctrine on the papacy. It may not answer all of their questions, but it gives a good summary and a jumping-off point for further discussion. Also the price is right for buying multiple copies so that sharing is made easier.)

To purchase this and other great Catholic books and products visit The Catholic Company website.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Pope: Successor to Peter

From the Catechism:

874 Christ is himself the source of ministry in the Church. He instituted the Church. He gave her authority and mission, orientation and goal:

In order to shepherd the People of God and to increase its numbers without cease, Christ the Lord set up in his Church a variety of offices which aim at the good of the whole body. The holders of office, who are invested with a sacred power, are, in fact, dedicated to promoting the interests of their brethren, so that all who belong to the People of God…may attain to salvation.

551 From the beginning of his public life Jesus chose certain men, twelve in number, to be with him and to participate in his mission. He gives the Twelve a share in his authority and 'sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal." They remain associated for ever with Christ's kingdom, for through them he directs the Church:
“As my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

552 Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Our Lord then declared to him: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." Christ, the "living Stone", thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed Peter will remain the unshakeable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it.

553 Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." The "power of the keys" designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: "Feed my sheep." The power to "bind and loose" connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom.

880 When Christ instituted the Twelve, "he constituted [them] in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among them." Just as "by the Lord's institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another."

881 The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the "rock" of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. "The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head." This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church's very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.

882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, "is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful." "For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered."

883 "The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, as its head." As such, this college has "supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff."

884 "The college of bishops exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council." But "there never is an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter's successor."

889 In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility…

891 "The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals....When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine "for belief as being divinely revealed," and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions "must be adhered to with the obedience of faith." This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.

936 The Lord made St. Peter the visible foundation of his Church. He entrusted the keys of the Church to him. The bishop of the Church of Rome, successor to St. Peter, is "head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth"

937 The Pope enjoys, by divine institution, "supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Quod est veritas?

There are many ways to live out the Catholic faith with loyalty to her teachings. One does not have to be a cloistered nun or a celibate priest to be considered faithful and true. A lay businessman, a stay-at-home mom, a 19 year-old college student away from home for the first time - all can find ways to live out their calling as faithful Catholics in their daily lives. We may not see ourselves this way as easily as we do the priest or religious person who takes their vows and commits their life to poverty and obedience, but even our mundane, ordinary lives are meant to reflect our Christian faith in everything we do.

This does not mean that we will be perfect, sinless people. We all have our faults. We will sometimes fail, and have to pick ourselves back up again, and try to do better. It is helpful to remember that everyone sins, including the holiest of nun and priest…and even the greatest of Saints. But we all must try to maintain devotion to God and faithfulness to His commands as best we can in whatever our vocation might be.

This can prove difficult out in the “real world” where we are pulled in so many directions and tempted in so many ways. It is easy to become ensnared in the ways of the world and adopt values and beliefs that conflict with Catholic teaching. Many Catholics justify their own falsehood and sinfulness using the faulty logic of the atheistic culture to justify their errors. They try to live comfortably as both a Catholic and a secularist with one foot in each world.

An acquaintance of mine, who was raised Catholic (though he attends Mass infrequently), has adopted such an approach to life. Among other things, he vocally supports gay marriage and criticizes the Church’s teaching on the issue. He claims to believe that life begins at conception, yet he defends a woman’s right to end that life as a personal choice. While in college he led a student coalition that petitioned the administration to install condom machines in the dormitory restrooms. And just this year he spent a week in a motel, hundreds of miles from home, with a woman he had only recently met online.

…But don’t worry. He still describes himself as a “devout Catholic.”

Just to be perfectly clear on this matter, I looked up the word devout. According to the online version of Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “devout” means devoted to religion or to religious duties or exercises; expressing devotion or piety; devoted to a pursuit, belief, or mode of behavior. And the Free Online Dictionary reads: Devoted to religion or to the fulfillment of religious obligations; displaying reverence or piety. Every definition I checked used similar words to describe devout.

If my friend is “devout” – if he is “devoted to religion or to the fulfillment of religious obligations” – then it is certainly not “Catholic” that best describes the object of his devotion. He has publicly and privately thumbed his nose at Church teaching and has neglected his duties as a baptized Catholic. He has done more than just sin – he has obstinately persisted in sin, has adopted false moral precepts as his own moral code, and worked to change society to fit this false morality. If he is a “devout Catholic” then what does a “fallen-away Catholic” look like?

Now I do not pretend to know the state of any person’s soul. I am not arguing that my acquaintance is destined for Hell. I could not possibly pass such a judgment on him or anyone else. Only God can make such a claim.

However, I can certainly recognize a false statement when I hear one. I know what “devout” means; and I know what “Catholic” means; and these two words together do not describe my friend accurately. This is not about his personal sins (we all sin); rather, this is about his public actions and public statements made against Catholic teaching while at the same time claiming to have a devotion to the faith. By doing this he brings scandal to the Church while jeopardizing his own salvation and those who might be influenced by him. His words betray the Truth.The challenge of living a devout Christian life is to know the Truth and to pursue that Truth even against what the world tries to substitute in its place. Armed with Truth, the Christian must know sin and void it; and he must know goodness and strive to achieve it. If instead we mislabel Good and Evil, if we confuse reality for a falsehood and place our devotion in something other than Truth, then we eventually mislabel even our own selves. Thus a “devout Catholic” can be one who skips Mass, supports abortion, and distributes condoms on college campuses.

It begs the questions asked by Pontius Pilate so many centuries ago:

“Quod est veritas?” – “What is Truth?”