Above My Pay Grade

At the conclusion of our interview on “The Journey Home” on September 10, I said these words: “I love being a layperson. Being pope was too much. It was above my pay grade.” And it’s true, I don’t regret not being a Protestant pastor at this stage of my life. It was a lot of pressure to always be trying to figure out what was what and having to speak authoritatively to my congregation on every topic–on my authority as it turned out.

That being said, it’s sometimes very hard to let old habits die, or to teach an old dog new tricks. I discover this on a regular basis as I struggle with wanting to “pontificate” about every issue that comes up.

As Catholics we have a “three-legged stool” of authority: 1) Sacred Scripture, 2) Sacred Tradition, and 3) the Magisterium. The Vatican II document Dei Verbum (Word of God) addresses the relationship of these three “legs” as they relate to our Catholic faith. Allow me to quote from Chapter 2, paragraphs 9 and 10.

9. “Hence sacred tradition and scripture are bound together in a close and reciprocal relationship. They both flow from the same divine wellspring, merge together to some extent, and are on course towards the same end. Scripture is the utterance of God as it is set down in writing under the guidance of God’s Spirit; tradition preserves the word of God as it was entrusted to the apostles by Christ our lord and the holy Spirit, and transmits it to their successors, so that these in turn, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, may faithfully preserve, expound and disseminate the word by their preaching. Consequently, the church’s certainty about all that is revealed is not drawn from holy scripture alone; both scripture and tradition are to be accepted and honoured with like devotion and reverence.”

10. “The task of authentically interpreting the word of God , whether in its written form or in that of tradition, has been entrusted only to those charged with the church’s ongoing teaching function, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching function is not above the word of God but stands at its service, teaching nothing but what is handed down, according as it devotedly listens, reverently preserves and faithfully transmits the word of God, by divine command with the help of the holy Spirit. All that it proposes for belief, as being divinely revealed, is drawn from the one deposit of faith.”

A three-legged stool is stable and can hold weight. A two-legged stool, based only on scripture and tradition, will be less stable, lacking the authoritative magisterium. And even less stable is the one-legged stool that is based only one of these, usually scripture alone. I came to see that was largely the problem faced in the Protestant expressions that take one scripture and interpret and apply it in multiple ways. Common examples of these issues include the “security of the believer,” “the meaning of baptism and to whom it is administered,” and the “role of women in ministry,” among many others.

So when I no longer had to make those calls after serving eight years in a non-denominational setting where there was no final word on these and other issues, I felt a weight lifted and realized that “pontificating” was no longer in my job description, nor was it meant to be.

So back to my tendency to fall back into said practice. I didn’t, nor does any Catholic, surrender our brain and our reason at our baptism and confirmation. We are called to trust scripture, tradition and the magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church, yet we are still able to discern and acknowledge that sometimes a deacon, a priest, a bishop, a cardinal, yea even a pope, God forbid, can teach or preach something that doesn’t jibe with what St. Jude wrote about in his epistle:

Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (verse 3).

This is where as Catholics in the pew, in our apostolates, and our vocations, we must be prayerfully alert and live into what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraph 92:

“The whole body of the faithful…cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful,’ they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals.” (Lumen Gentium, 12).

In blogs to come I will touch upon the freedom and responsibility these truths put on us as Catholic Christians. For now, let’s contend for the faith that has been entrusted to us!

Above My Pay Grade

Called to Be Holy

On this final Monday before our televised interview with Marcus Grodi on the “Journey Home” program that will air on EWTN, Monday, September 10, at 8:00 p.m., I want to address another topic we discussed that led me into the the Catholic Church: A call to be holy!

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“Becoming Catholic is not a rejection of my Wesleyan roots nor of the wonderful years of exciting ministry with Trinity Grace Church. My discovery is that this is the next step of many years of desiring to know God better and longing to live a life of holiness” (July 25, 2015)

Looking back on the statement I wrote a little over three years ago might seem that my desire was misplaced, dear reader, in light of the current turmoil in the Catholic Church. You might ask how one finds holiness in the midst of all that is happening.

I have to back up and explain that I had the privilege of growing up and ministering in a tradition that over its history, beginning in 1844, emphasized the message of holiness that John Wesley proclaimed. I must honestly say that I had a lot of misconceptions of what this message of holiness actually was and how it would manifest itself in my life. I saw it more as something that would happen at a specific time–a decision of surrender like conversion–that would take away my predisposition to sin. I can’t blame anyone but myself for a defective understanding on the Wesleyan doctrine of “entire sanctification.”

So what is there in the Catholic Church, in spite of the flaws of clergy and laity alike, that draws me to holiness? For me it is a way of life. It involves surrender, for sure, but also discipline, realizing that without the work of God in my life I cannot live a holy life. It leads me to get up on time and spend significant time in prayer, in reading the Bible, in devotional reading, and daily Mass. One of the disciplines that I never imagined ever in my life is learning about holiness through the ministry of the Blessed Virgin Mary in praying the Rosary. That practice has honestly revolutionized my life.

The following quotes are a few I came across in my journey into the Church.

“Christian ‘perfection’ is not a mere ethical adventure or an achievement in which man can take glory. It is a gift of God, drawing the soul into the hidden abyss of the divine mystery, through the Son, by the action of the Holy Spirit.” — Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness

“The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.” — Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2015

“O holy redemption, it is you that prepares the way for God! O perfection! O boundless submission, it is you that draws God deep into the heart! Let the senses feel what they may, you, Lord, are all my good! Do what you like to this tiny being, let it act, be inspired, be the object of your purpose! I have nothing more to see or do, not a single moment of my life is in my own hands. All is yours, I have nothing to add, remove, seek or consider. It is for you to direct everything. Sanctification, perfection, salvation, guidance and humility are your responsibility. Mine is to be content, dispassionate, passive, leaving everything to your pleasure.” — Pierre-Jean de Cassaude, Abandonment to Divine Providence

I look forward to sharing more with you next Monday on EWTN.

Called to Be Holy

“Scaring the hell out of me”

Mother Angelica foundress of EWTN used to say, “My intention is to scare the hell out of you.” She minced no words as she spoke the truth in love.

I have my own story of  a sermon I heard at church camp when I was 12 years old. The preacher was an “old-fashioned” man of God who wasn’t afraid to talk about hell. In the message he talked about the danger of missing heaven and if one did so, the eternal destiny was hell. The central point that I remember was how he described someone going to hell for all eternity. He painted the picture of a iron sphere the size of the earth and a tiny bird like a sparrow. The sparrow began his trek of circumnavigating the world walking without stopping. The bird’s little feet didn’t make a dint on the sphere, but who knows after how many eons the sphere begins to show some wear and a little path is carved into the ball. Eons more pass and the bird has made quite a dent in the sphere. Finally the bird is able to wear a path clear through the iron ball (remember it’s the size of the earth) and it breaks into two. And then God says, “Eternity has begun!” All the time I’m sitting there trembling, thinking about the absolute endlessness of the eternal torment one would never see the end of. He scared the hell out of me!

We might take issue with the preacher’s tactic, but I will tell you I am thankful! I learned that day there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. During the 30 plus years that I served as a pastor I preached my share of sermons, but I never preached one like that, perhaps to my shame. Hell was not something we talked about in “polite company.” We tend to focus more on God’s love, but to be honest, we don’t talk much about heaven either. Our focus seems to be more on making the world a better place. Now there’s nothing wrong with that—that too is our call as Christians. But unfortunately, that’s only part of the story—eternity is a long, long, long…

Jesus talked about a lot about heaven, but he talked even more about hell. The fact that there is more to life than what we know in the present helps us keep perspective. At the end of our life we will either spend eternity with God or separate from God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches this biblical truth:

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

I believe when we lose the vision of eternity, or believe that it really doesn’t matter how we live now, we lose our moorings, we lose restraint, and we decide what is right for us. Proverbs 29:18 says,

Without a vision the people lose restraint;
but happy is the one who follows instruction.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, gives that instruction that will make us truly happy.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

I venture to say in light of our current challenges in the Church there is a need to recover the teaching on eternal destiny—that there is something that follows our life here. I can’t help but think that when we have a healthy fear of hell, it will also increase our love for God and for the promise extended to those who love and serve Him.

You know what, I am thankful for the preacher that “scared the hell out of me!”

“Scaring the hell out of me”

Welcome Damian More!

Our second godson was born on July 7, 2018. His parents gave him the name Damian More. That’s a lot to live up to when you consider the saints whose names he bears. Today we have the privilege of standing with his parents and older brother as he is baptized and by virtue of the sacrament is born into the God’s family, the Church.

Paragraph 1213 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: ‘Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word'”.

Little Damian More won’t have any real understanding of all that will take place in his life by grace through the faith of his parents today, but knowing his parents very well, they are committed to lead him day by day into a knowledge of his Savior Jesus Christ and how he will become a sharer in the mission of Christ’s Church.

That brings me to his two onomastic saints: Peter Damian and Thomas More.

Peter Damian lived in the 11th century. He was a Benedictine monk and a cardinal of the Church in the time of Pope Leo IX. In 1828 he was named a Doctor of the Church. In his time he was mostly known as a reformer of the Church. In 1050 he wrote a very direct treatise on the vices of the clergy, which included fornication, homosexuality and abuse of minors, as well as the attempts by church officials to cover up these abuses. This was nearly 1,000 years ago!

Thomas More lived in the 16th century and is no doubt better known due to his close relationship with King Henry VIII of England. Sir Thomas More was a close friend of the king, served as his secretary and personal advisor and in 1529 was named Lord Chancellor. More served the king well, but his first allegiance was to Christ, his Church, and the Vicar of Christ, the Bishop of Rome, Pope Clement VII. When the pope would not grant the king an annulment from his wife Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, Henry broke from the Church and declared himself head of the Church of England and was granted a divorce. Thomas More could not support the king and resigned his position. He could not justify the king’s action against the Church and the dissolution of his marriage. More paid for his conviction regarding the Sacrament of Marriage with his life. His last words before being beheaded were: “I die the good King’s servant, but God’s first.”

My dear godson Damian More, only God knows what you will be called upon to give witness to, to proclaim and to defend. May the power of the Holy Spirit flood you and empower you, and may the intercession of Peter Damian and Thomas More enable you to stand true in this your century of service to God. You have my prayers always!

Welcome Damian More!