Monday, December 29, 2014

The Catholic Catechism by John A. Hardon, S.J.

I am a Roman Catholic and my conversion story is a lengthy one, but it all leads to my current place in faith, which is in the hands and heart of Christ. That I came back into the Church in my late thirties and am a teacher by trade gives me the burden of being adult about matters of faith, seeking answers to questions that many of the faithful give to God in childlike dependence. Although I regularly pray for the grace to accept all magisterial teachings as the voice of Christ on earth, I cannot cease my skepticism of indoctrination, the ideological bias of ecclesiastical authority, and the fallibility of man.  As a result, I heartily continue to pray through and study the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Through many different authors, I have found both consoling confirmation and thought-provoking questions on matters of faith. Fr. Hardon’s work, however, faithfully amalgamates both confirmation and question to lead the reader closer to Christ.  The Catholic Catechism written by John A. Hardon, S.J. is an in-depth source book and orthodox study on the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church with an emphasis on the many documents that emerged post-Vatican II.  Fr. Hardon’s historically-rooted teaching is not only very clear and exact in its presentation, but it has caused me to fill almost all 571 pages with copious notes and underlined passages both celebrating and respectfully questioning his express orthodox point-of-view. Logical organization, deftly-handled controversy, and topics that deepen one’s faith all point toward the overriding theme of Fr. Hardon’s work, the love of God and neighbor above all things lived out through enlightened love.
     The Catholic Catechism is divided into three sections: doctrines of faith, morality and the spiritual life, and ritual and worship. Each of these sections, according to Fr. Hardon’s introduction, overlap because faith, morality, and ritual affect and interact with one another.  But each division deals with in-depth, scholarly orthodox teaching according to not only magisterial norms but historical and post-Vatican II documents and papal encyclicals. As expected, Fr. Hardon even ties in the Church Fathers on many points. All of this equals a tightly wound, unabashedly classically-minded position for objective truth contained in all Roman Catholic Church dogma.
      Fr. Hardon pulls out all the figurative stops in arguing the Church’s point of view on many magisterial teachings that have garnered faithful opposition, and it is Fr. Hardon’s argument and counterargument that I find both captivating and scholarly.  On pp. 367-381, for instance, Fr. Hardon presents the Church’s teaching against contraception. This teaching is one of the most disputed since Vatican II, and not only does Fr. Hardon present the magisterial point of view, but he begins his argument with an anthropological and societal history and moves through philosophical and Christian tradition rooted in the Church Fathers and the teaching of the Didache.  Rooted in this section is Fr. Hardon’s presentation on the validity of Church authority, which I find clever since some of us who conscientiously oppose the orthodox position on contraception also question papal and magisterial infallibility.  Fr. Hardon knows this and brilliantly interweaves the argument for not only papal but magisterial infallibility in teaching faith and morals.  Next, he deals with the post-Vatican II document Humanae Vitae and its controversial conclusion, ignoring Pope John XXIII’s 1963 commission on Population and Family Life’s majority decision to accept contraception. Fr. Hardon creatively argues that the commission functions in a non-definitive, advisory-only capacity, thus leading to the inerrant magisterial decision and teaching on this matter of morals. Admittedly, this is one of the most sagacious, accurately argued examples of exposition in the text.  But all writing and ideas are subject to the contextual bias of an author’s position and historicity. This 14-page section, moreover, took me over an hour on which to read and make notes.  Conclusively, this section exemplifies several strengths in Fr. Hardon’s book:  First, the arguments herein are solidly orthodox and true to Church teaching.  Second, Fr. Hardon is an incredible thinker and deft argumentative and expository writer.
Of all the elements about the Church and Fr. Hardon’s presentation, there are many teachings and dogmas on which I pray for clarity and the humility of mind. Conversely, there are many teachings that both highlight and deepen my firmly-held beliefs. One favorite section in this book, therefore, is on the truth of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist presented on pp. 457-481. Fr. Hardon is vividly clear and historically accurate in this exposition and argument; he expertly covers the Ratramnus controversy of the 9th century that influenced all later arguments (especially the 16th century Reformation) of a symbolic rather than corporeal presence of Christ. And fittingly, Fr. Hardon moves into the renaissance of faith in the Real Presence that stemmed from the refutation of Ratramnus’ treaty and later the teachings of the Council of Trent.
Fr. Hardon’s book ends with a discussion on a controversial topic in Christianity, indulgences.  Indulgences not only confirm the Catholic concept of earning merit, but they teach that although our sins are forgiven, remission of temporal punishment vis-a-vis works approved by the Church is required.  Fr. Hardon historically establishes that certain evidence of general indulgences appeared after the eleventh century. He further explains the concept of indulgences and the Church’s later abuse.  Although the historical explanations are factual, there is a detectable Catholic bias in treating the subject.  I do not hold this against Fr. Hardon, for he is an expert scholar throughout and clearly influenced by an exclusively Catholic upbringing, education, formation, and commissioning to research and write the text by Pope Paul VI.  In the midst of my questions about the truth behind indulgences, he ends the section with a poignant reference to Pope Paul VI’s Handbook of Indulgences that puts the subject in a livable perspective. Fr. Hardon quotes Pope Paul VI as follows:  “A partial indulgence is granted to any of Christ's faithful who, in the performance of his duties and bearing the trials of life, raises his mind to God in humble confidence and adds, even mentally, some pious invocation.” Prayer amid the trials of life is an attainable, humble approach to living charitably and a beautiful way to close the discussion on a controversial topic.
In the book’s epilogue, Fr. Hardon coalesces his point and purpose: “We are to practice what we profess and live our faith by loving the God we believe in.  For his sake we are to love our neighbor, as he, the God-man, has been loving us. . .” All doctrine, morality, and ritual point us to the universal love of God and neighbor for and with the love of Jesus Christ. We cannot forget or lose this core focus, but, as Fr. Hardon writes,”This is not to minimize the value of knowing what God has revealed and what the Church he founded understands this revelation to mean.” Enlightenment, prayer, and spiritual discernment form us into effective members of the Body of Christ, allowing us to evangelize others. And although I still have spiritual mountains to climb, Fr. Hardon’s teaching has been the Sherpa steadying me along the path to the beatific summit. Wholeheartedly, I recommend this book to anyone seeking knowledge about the Catholic faith and its rich history.  With a prayerful heart, you, too, will find enlightenment and a closer relationship with Christ..

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mary as "Mediatrix": A Summary and Analysis of Fr. Hardon's Teaching

A thought-provoking teaching of the Catholic Church for many is the role of the Blessed Mother as “mediatrix.”  Admittedly, I, too,  prayerfully questioned this teaching and mulled over many sensible lines of thought regarding the Mother of God as “mediatrix.”  After reading Fr. John Hardon’s logical development and teaching on the subject, however, clarity has replaced confusion.
If we look beyond the Protestant theology of “total depravity,” man can, through the grace of free will, work in cooperation with God’s offer of grace.  Mary, the Mother of God, therefore, is rightly our mediatrix, for she, not being equal to or our Redeemer nor adding anything to His atonement, is our interposing friend between God and mankind. Our Lady as mediatrix, moreover, continues to intercede for us, the Church Militant, as we navigate the rough terrain of our salvation on earth.
Fr. Hardon’s first point is that Christ is the only mediator between humanity and God the Father: “Christ alone is our mediator by the fact that his death atoned for man’s sins, and his humanity is the channel of grace from God to the human race.” In calling Mary “mediatrix,” then, we do not strip away the unmatched mediation of Jesus between mankind and God the Father. Hardon also adds,“No one but the Savior unites in himself the divinity, which demands reconciliation, and the humanity, which needs to be reconciled.” Although Christ is our only mediator between God and man, lesser mediators are also part of our road to salvation.
As Catholics, we believe that after Adam’s fall we inherited his sin; however, we do not believe in total depravity.  After baptism, we are cleansed of original sin, our former self dies, and we are born anew into a life with Christ.  Mankind, therefore, is still capable (and required), by the grace of God, to willingly respond to and cooperate with divine grace.  In loving response, we collaborate by loving God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. Cooperation with grace does not entail doing works for merit or earning our salvation, however. Acts of love are a required fruit of discipleship, showing our cooperation with God and evidencing our lives as followers of Christ. This loving action demonstrates our self mediation.  Through acts of love, therefore, we are subordinate mediators between ourselves and God.  Although our mediation is one of cooperation with God’s grace and Christ’s atonement, it is an offering to advocate and help others through works of love, whether it be intercessory prayer or physical aid. If we can self mediate, then, how much more can someone closest to God mediate for us?
Mary lived her life on earth in constant devotion to God and mediation for mankind. According to Fr. Hardon, “The Blessed Virgin enters as mediatrix par excellence [best of a kind]...she mediated for others, as well, by her vicarious assistance to the rest of mankind.” Christ’s mediation, according to the Second Vatican Council, is always primary. Mary’s mediation, like ours, is secondary. Mary’s mediation and intercession, however, are not only counted with that of the saints, but hers, according to Hardon, are “measurably more effective because she is the Mother of God with whom she pleads.” Who better to intercede for us with God than His mother?
Mary is our “mediatrix” not because she is equal to God the Son, for according to the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, “no creature could ever be counted equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer.” Mary, like us, is a created being who willingly embraced God’s grace on earth and continually intercedes for humans in heaven, and “Mary’s mediation, therefore,” Fr. Hardon argues, “is a sheer gift of her Son...and no more detracts from Christ’s unique mediatorship than parenthood in human beings detracts from the unique fatherhood of the creator."

From The Catholic Catholicism by Fr. John Harding, S.J. (pages 165-168)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Catechism of the Catholic Church #29: "The Scandal of Bad Example"

Reading through the Catechism of the Catholic Church this year, I plan to share my thoughts on certain passages, hoping that they both inspire others to read and study the teachings of the Church and provide meaning and clarity to those who already do.

     "To reconvert society is often more difficult than original evangelization," states Fr. John Hardon. When we bank on the scandal of bad example, for instance, we become part of the anesthetized and spiritually bereft.
      Presenting a poor example of Christian love sends a negative shock wave through the world of the faithful.  Many examples exist of "faithful" Catholics who use the Church and her teachings to scare people into submission.  For instance, there are professed Catholics who walk around with pious attitudes, but in their hearts they harbor hatred, and if given the opportunity, they readily talk about people behind their backs. In any church parking lot after Mass, in the pew as the faithful filter in to worship, and in many ministries run within the church, "the scandal of bad example" rears its poisonous head. The perpetrators are not just the laity, however. Many religious and ordained are guilty, too.  

      I have, unfortunately, seen the effects of "the scandal of bad example" on people at work who at least seriously question Catholics and their beliefs, many of them professed Christians. Their stories are all the same: They witnessed abusive "Catholics" using a false interpretation of doctrine to belittle others, win arguments, and impose ideologies.
     Catholicism is a faith of love, and if it becomes anything outside of love, it is not of God and certainly not what Christ taught in the first century.  As Catholic Christians, we are not only required to study and know our faith but to put it into proper practice, a practice that radiates the love of Christ.  We are, moreover, to follow St. Paul's advice in his letter to the Philippians:

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sirach 43 and the Beauty of God's Creation

The New American Bible (2002) translates Sirach 43:2 as follows:
"The orb of the sun, resplendent at its rising: What a wonderful work of the Most High!"  

What an awe-inspiring image of the Creator at work, and this glorious illumination sums up the beauty of every "resplendent" red-orange sunrise I have ever seen.  This scripture reminds me of what Paul says in Romans 1:20, "Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made..." God's created beauty magnetically draws us toward Him. It is our choice, however, to co-operate with that spiritual draw.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: Many Faithful; Many Methods

In previously studying The Catechism of the Catholic Church, I either glossed over or blindly ignored the above important truth.  We are not all on the same spiritual plane of maturity; instead, we are at various stages of development and only able to grasp the eternal truth of this Magisterial teaching based on our current life position and spiritual stage. Teachers of Church doctrine, therefore, must be like St. Paul when he says,"To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some (1 Corinthians 9:22)." Evangelization and teaching must convey charity first, knowing that not all the faithful can or are ready to grasp all truth. But through grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, the faithful will grow closer to Christ at the hands of care-filled, loving instruction. 
As a humble learners we need to adapt to the same principle.  There is objective truth, but because we are all not on the same level of spiritual maturity, the gift of acceptance and learning cannot come through our forcing or rejecting the issue. Accepting and internalizing revealed truth comes through grace, prayer, Scripture, the sacraments, and in God's loving time. The latter is sometimes difficult, for it requires patience and obedience to God's will. Other than our cooperation with grace, we are powerless to go beyond our spiritual position in life. It is through humility and personal surrender that we live a life devoted to Jesus Christ, knowing He will lead us to the next stage.  And in that stage, whether the path is full of thorns or roses, we will be drawn closer to Him.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Remaining Catholic by Fr. Martin Pable: Non-Apologetic Reasons for Remaining in a Flawed Church

In looking for literature that reaffirms Church teaching in a "realistic" way, Remaining Catholic presents a clear, non-apologetic argument that explores six reasons to remain in the Church.  Initially I quickly read it, absorbing its content while searching hungrily for reaffirming answers. Currently, I am re-reading Remaining Catholic.  And I love the simplicity and non-apologetic approach Fr. Marty takes in outlining the Roman Catholic Church, her imperfections, and her graces.  The non-apologetic approach of this book is refreshing, and Fr. Marty's honesty about the imperfections of the bride are as comforting as his emphasis (and clear reminders) on her graces, especially those found in the sacraments. Any Catholic reader who questions orthodoxy will find comforting wisdom in Fr. Marty's book.  I only wish the book would dig deeper into the frustrating feelings most Catholics have with "big ticket" doctrines like contraception and papal infallibility, but I understand that most non-apologetic Catholic authors who honestly question these matters are considered heterodox. Fr. Marty clearly believes and lovingly teaches orthodox understandings in Remaining Catholic.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Luke 19:1-10: Accepting the Invitation of God's Grace

"For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost." (Luke 19:10)

Read Luke 19:1-10

This passage has a deep, significant meaning for me, for I was assigned to read this passage at my first Communion Mass.  As an eight-year-old, I remember vehemently reading and and trying to memorize the passage so that my delivery would be poised and practiced.  Reflecting on those times, I vividly recall a picture of the small man Zacchaeus perched in a tree in order to see Jesus among the crowd.  That vision made a lasting impression.  

Why does this tax collector want to climb a tree to see Jesus?  Being a child myself, I was “short in stature,” so I was mesmerized by Zacchaeus’ act of ascension to see the Son of Man. The meaning, then, clicked for me.  Zacchaeus had to rise above who he was, a loathed sinner, and accept the invitation of our Lord.  But it was our Lord who sought Zacchaeus first, not the other way around.  Even more, Jesus calls Zacchaeus by name.  He already intimately knows this seeming stranger, as he does every one of us.  And if we listen carefully, Christ calls us all by name and desires to shed His mercy and forgiveness on our sins. We have to accept that grace-filled invitation, however, as Zacchaeus does, and truly repent in our hearts. 

Jesus invites all of us to faith in Him. He wants us to embrace his love and forgiveness, just as Zacchaeus does, “for the Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.” Let us thank God daily for offering us His mercy and forgiveness and, by His grace, raising us up from our low, sinful state. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Whitcomb's "Confession of a Roman Catholic"

I read this short discourse in about an hour, as at the current time it is available online for free. The essay is well written and to the point. Although brief, Whitcomb provides plenty of personal, subjective insight as well as relevant references to Scripture and the Early Church Fathers.

Paul Whitcomb was a born-and-raised Protestant who, through devout faith, eventually became a Methodist minister. Throughout Paul's Protestant ministry, he thoroughly pursued the Scriptures trying to find answers regarding the variances in Protestant theology and doctrine. Paul exhausted local public library resources in his quest to find answers, but he kept coming back to the inconsistencies of Protestant theology. Unsettled in his inquiry, Paul experienced as serious but unexpected pull toward the Roman Catholic Church.

Paul writes with honesty and captivating truth, and I could not stop reading his compelling testimony. One of the many thought-provoking premises Paul uncovers is that the Roman Catholic Church, through Christ's commission in Matthew 28:18-20, carries on the task to teach not only what is written in Scripture but also those doctrines that St. Paul mentions as traditions of the Church in 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

Paul Whitcomb's confession speaks loudly to those who are looking for an answer to the hotly debated question "Why should I choose the Roman Catholic Church?" And his answer is solid and tightly wound in research, Scripture, and tradition. At a time when I, a practicing Roman Catholic, am prayerfully questioning the validity of some Catholic Church doctrines, this confession could not have come at a more relevant time for me and serves as a beautiful reminder of Catholicism's historical and theological authenticity.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

John 10:27-29 -- Hear and Follow the Voice of the Good Shepherd

"My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one."
~ John 10:27-29 NRSV

Why do we have the tendency to wander away for the path of grace and become distracted by the world and sin? We are human, after all, and gravitate toward sin. But there is a greater call for those who have faith in Christ, a call that will rescue us from the distractions of our sinful nature and bring us to the nourishing glade of salvation.

In the above passage Jesus says, "my sheep hear my voice ..." and "... follow me." This indicates the sheep are called and "follow." Interestingly, sheep are instinctive followers; it is hard-wired into their genetic code to follow the senior sheep or leader. No matter the task or danger, sheep instinctively flock.

Jesus is the good shepherd. Those who follow Jesus, then, are given eternal life and cannot be snatched out of His hand. Although not snatched, a sheep may lose its way from the flock, however. As sheep are hard-wired to stay together, they would not choose to stray but may get lost due to circumstance. People are no different.  When given the free gift of God's grace in Christ, we instinctively want to follow the life of grace.  But the world and our instinct to sin can cause a distraction, a circumstance, and derail us from the shepherd's path (see Romans 7:14-24). The deceit of sin, effectually, is the circumstance and leads us away from the flock of faith. No can snatch us away from the shepherd, but it is by the temptation to sin and our poor choices that we can become lost. Repentance, prayer, trust, and contrition turn us back toward the voice of the searching shepherd.  

God searches for us when we give in to temptation and sin, as is indicated in the parable of the lost sheep, coin, and son in Luke 15, but we must choose to accept God's peace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ and follow His voice. If we frolic in the dangerous glade of sin, Jesus will continue to look for us, but we must hear His voice, repent, trust, and follow.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

John 10:9-11 -- Discipleship and Emulating the Good Shepherd

"'I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.'"
 ~ John 10: 9-11 (NRSV)

Jesus Christ is the only way (the gate or door) into the divine sheepfold of heaven, our eternal destination. Our Lord gathers up the initial flock (Israelites) and those who were not initially included (gentiles). Jesus, as the good shepherd, sacrifices Himself for the love of His flock by wilfully accepting the brutality of the cross for us. We, in turn, must willfully accept the difficult cross of discipleship and live lives of faith in Christ. Our faith, however, must reflect the active love of The Good Shepherd. True discipleship means actively emulating Jesus in our day-to-day lives.  We are called, for instance, to live lives of self-sacrifice and service to others.

How do we live lives of service and self-sacrifice in a self-serving world? In what ways are we called to live out our discipleship and model Christ for others? Although some are called to be missionaries in foreign lands or devote their lives to caring for the sick and poor, many are called to the mission fields of everyday living. Simple, honest love comes in many forms:  
  • Spending a few extra minutes telling your spouse and children that you love them.  
  • Turning to a neighbor and saying hello instead of walking by. 
  • Letting our co-workers know we appreciate them by saying "thank you" and giving honest praise for something they did. 
  • Volunteering to do an extra task at work in order to give our co-workers a break.
  • Being a loving parent, spouse, and family member in the home. 
  • Praying for people in need.
We are called to be kind to all we meet, even the rude, offensive person. When we love one another, our discipleship will shine and, through us, God's light will radiate to others (John 13:35). 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

John 9:3 and The Purpose of Human Imperfection

"Jesus answered, 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.'" 
~ John 9:3 NRSV

Each of us is born and created a certain, special way by God (Psalm 139:13). Although we all have faults and shortcomings, we have a divinely-infused purpose. And this blind man, who was seen as either a sinner or born of sinners because of his blindness, was created to glorify and serve God. 

In an interesting and sometimes hard-to-see way, our weaknesses were woven into our being in order to draw us or others closer to God. This blind man was healed so that others could witness the grace and power of Jesus and be drawn to Him. But like the accusing Pharisees, those who reject the will of God are scattered in their sin and blinded by their egos. All things in this world, seen through the eyes of faith and humility, lead to God's glory in Christ.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Matthew 22:12-14: The Wedding Garment, Being Chosen, and Reconciling Imputed/Imparted Grace

"...and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’"
~ Matthew 22:12-14 NRSV

The parable of the wedding guests in Matthew 22 divides most Christians into two exegetical camps:
a.  The "wedding robe" as a symbol of imparted grace due to charitable works 
b.  The "wedding robe" as an indication of God's imputed grace upon the elect  

How do we reconcile these two opposingly different views of this parable? Would our merciful God deny the faithful His loving invitation to the wedding feast of heaven? 

Clearly God offers all the invitation to His loving forgiveness through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We all benefit from the atonement, moreover, and are freely justified by Christ's act of love on the cross.  But we are called to love, too. This garment of loving action is required to enter the banquet, for if we fail to love not only God above all things but our neighbor as ourselves, then we fail to wear the required "wedding robe" and are cast "into the outer darkness."  

In order to be the light of Christ for others, we need to let His light shine through us, for through loving action we become the living conduit of Christ.  However, if we refuse to love and channel His light, then we doff the garment of His grace. It is through God's grace, first, that we are able to love and receive forgiveness, that we are justified.  But being reborn in Christ, we are required to honor being unworthily justified through sanctifying acts of love. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"O God, All My Hopes are in You": Moral Dilemmas and Resting in Prayer, Grace, and God's Will

“When, therefore, you are suffering from some sickness, temptation, persecution or other trouble, go to Him at once and ask Him to reach out to you His helping hand. No sooner will you have put before His eyes your affliction by saying: “Behold, O Lord, for I am in distress...” (Lam. 1:20), then He will console you, or at least give you strength to suffer patiently the passing trial, and it will have been better for you to have had that trial than to have been delivered from it. Make known to God all feelings of sadness or fear that oppress you, and say to Him: “O my God, all my hopes are in You. I offer You this affliction and conform myself to Your Will. But have pity on me, and either deliver me from it or give me strength to suffer it.” And God will surely fulfill in you the promise He made in the Gospel always to console and comfort the afflicted when they have recourse to Him: “Come to Me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you.” (Matt. 11:28)”
~ How to Converse with God  by St. Alphonsus Liguori

Moral struggles are no easy matter, and if given the option, most will choose to face a physical struggle instead.  Physically, we can either overcome the battle or accept the defeat.  Moral, spiritual struggles are much tougher and have a lingering, life-altering effect.

A few months ago, I had an epiphany that rerouted my faith journey. Much of the traditions and doctrines of the Church became my means of focus and study.  Deepening my understanding of and desire for the Church, I submerged myself in reading and praying through The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, sacred Scripture, and many writers, both lay and ecclesial, of the Church. Initially this led me to lean on devotions, sacramentals, and frequent reception of the Sacraments. Although these practices were bringing me closer to Christ, strict analysis and study of the Church, however, quickly led me to a scrupulous examination of self and a constant worry about my failures to follow and consciously conform to all Church teachings. Worry and scrupulosity became a heavy burden, one that led me to a moral crisis. Although I was trying my best to empty myself and live a life in Christ, I was not, however, able to completely conform my life to the teachings of the Church. As a newly reverted, on-fire Catholic, this was devastating. And in this devastation, I cried out in prayer for Jesus to lead me to His will, not mine.

In looking back, it was my will to follow Christ by strictly aligning myself to the doctrines of the Church, even if it meant abandoning reason and love for those around me. In trying to solve my moral dilemma, I sought daily devotions and frequent Reconciliation as a way of “making it right” and pressing on with my faith journey. In trying to live a life in Christ, I prioritized living a life in perfect sync with the Church. I was becoming a modern-day Pharisee. This way, however, was not God’s will for me. My dilemma hit hard when, in my zealous pursuit of Church doctrine, I offended those closest to me.

At this point, it would have been easy to abandon “religion” and only seek “relationship” with Jesus, as many who love Christ with good intentions wrongfully preach. Worship, conforming ourselves to Christ, and service to God and neighbor must be in the context of community; it is why Jesus established His universal church on earth. Instead of despairing, I reached out to God in prayer, Scripture in meditation, the faithful in reading, and to my pastor in counsel. This, for me, was the winning combination.  And although I did not get an easy answer, I received the grace, forgiveness, and love of God in Jesus Christ.

Our journeys to Jesus, I am convinced, follow different paths, yet are in some ways similar. Scripture spells this out in many of the apostles’ stories. Peter, for instance, was strong and brave, but his short temper and lack of faith led him to abandon Christ. But Peter had the humility to repent and trust in the mercy of Jesus, the Son of God. Thomas was too quick to doubt the resurrected Jesus, even though he lived with and learned from Him.  Thomas was at the feet of God, but he refused to believe until he felt the wounds of Christ. John, the beloved disciple, was closest to the heart of Jesus, so close he gently rested his head against his breast at the last supper. We all follow different paths, but when we willingly choose Jesus Christ, we arrive at the same destination by His grace.

Listening, having faith, being humble, and leaning on Jesus in times of trial is a summation of my journey as a servant of Christ. By God’s grace, my moral dilemma has led me closer to Him, deepened my faith, and, hopefully, is making me a stronger conduit of Christ’s light to others. But the key to our faith journey is prayer and conforming to God’s will, praying not only for Jesus to lift the burden of our dilemmas but, if God so desires, to strengthen us to carry them for Him.