Encouragement in an age of unbelief

“The Church does not grow old, the faith does not grow old, the Holy Ghost does not grow old; say not, The days that have been are better than those which are. We can go into this city and find as strong faith, as tender piety, as thorough self-annihilation, as the world in any age ever witnessed. God is as near us as ever; we have all the aids we ever had, and we may emulate the virtues of any past age. God has not changed; his religion has not changed; man’s nature has not changed. What was possible aforetime is possible now. Let us not, then, suppose we have come too late into the world to aspire to holy living. Let us turn our eyes, not out upon the barren wilderness without, but in upon the vast treasures we have been accumulating for ages, and dare use them.

“Who cares for the heretics and infidels around us, — except for their conversion? They cannot harm us against our will. Were not the early Christians in a hostile world? Were they not surrounded by Jewish and Pagan relatives and friends? Had they not apparently even greater obstacles than we to overcome? Why, then, shall we not speak to this age as they spoke to theirs? Suppose we are sneered at, ridiculed, abused, insulted, trampled on. Suppose the world becomes mad against us, mobs us, shoots us down, sends us to dungeons, the scaffold, or the stake; worse it cannot do. Suppose all this. What then? We have only to rejoice and be exceedingly glad. Woe unto us only when all men speak well of us. Woe unto us only when we prefer the praise of men to the praise of God.”

Orestes Brownson, “St. Stanslaus Kotska”, Brownson’s Quarterly Review, October, 1847. (H/T to Siris.)

Cruel to be merciful

[Warning: This post contains explicit language regarding sexual sin. Also the BS word.]

The efforts of modernists I think have a good intent: To make life easier for people, to ease their guilt and relieve them of difficult moral dilemmas, and to have fewer grounds upon which people may judge and condemn others. This is done by making it less clear that things are wrong; we must consider the “reality” of people’s lives today and not be pharisaical in holding them to strict standards. In short, blur the distinction between right and wrong, so that more things are believed to fall on the “right” side of the divide than would otherwise be the case.

But making it harder to define things as wrong, also makes it harder to define them as right. By making it easier to do what before was considered sinful, you also make it harder to do what before was considered righteous. By eliminating mortal sin, you also eliminate moral heroism. You eliminate the need for Christians, in considering whether to take the more difficult moral path, to “die to self”, which Jesus says we must do if we are to be his disciples (Mt. 16:24).

I have no delusions that the more tradition-minded Church of the 1950s and earlier was morally pure. There has always been a spectrum of observance of the moral law, from the overly scrupulous to the outright evil, with varying degrees of obedience and laxity in between. But at least people could tell where they fell on the spectrum, if they ever wanted to know, by having moral boundaries clearly delineated.

This has partly to do with an experience of my own. In my 20s (and earlier), when I was a new “revert” (baptized as a baby but not raised in the faith), I was suffering from addiction to the “solitary sin” so common to young men (long before Internet porn!). Being a relatively new Christian and wanting desperately to please God, in gratitude for the gift of faith that he had given me, I strove against my sin as best I knew how, and went to confession often. The priests in the confessional were very patient and comforting towards me, assuring me that it was only human to struggle with this sin, and not to give up nor view myself as a failure as a Christian. At one point I asked a priest in confession whether I needed to abstain from Communion after having committed this sin, but before going to confession. His response was that “this kind of sin is 90% natural and only about 10% sinful, so no, I would not stay away from Communion.”

Again very comforting, but what was I to do? Was this an acceptable permanent state for a Catholic? Committing sexual sin on a regular basis, yet receiving absolution for free, upon request, with no demands or requirements to change my behavior, and with full access to the sacraments?

But one day I went to a different church for confession and got a different message: Masturbation is a mortal sin, and one must not receive Communion until it has been absolved. Receiving Communion in a state of mortal sin is a serious sacrilege, compounding the original sin. Continuing in this course of conduct will imperil your soul.

Tough words! They hit me like a ton of bricks. But guess what? After that day, I went six months without falling into my formerly habitual sin. And when I did fall, I immediately confessed it and abstained for another six months. Some might say I was enslaved by fear. But on the contrary, I felt liberated. And what was it that had set me free? One priest giving me the truth, straight up with no bullshit. If what he said was true, then this gave me something to put on the other side of the scale when weighing whether to give in to temptation: What’s more important to me? This momentary pleasure, or being able to receive Christ in the Eucharist on a regular basis, with a clear conscience?

Refusing to draw clear lines leaves people to wallow in their sins, when they themselves might be sick of wallowing and might well choose to stop wallowing, if only they could see their wallowing for what it is. I don’t judge those who know better and yet choose to wallow. It’s between them and God, and my nagging isn’t going to change their hearts. But I’m convinced that far more numerous souls fall into the pit and remain there, because its boundaries are no longer clearly marked. There might be more moral heroes out there, except that moral heroism, in the form of giving up the pleasures one loves and is naturally inclined to, is considered foolish and outdated, i.e. pharisaical; or at the very least is considered unnecessary since all sins can be excused on one ground or another and no one can really commit a mortal sin with full deliberation and consent of the will. After all, it’s the Year of Mercy.

How to end a conversation

When you want to end a conversation, there are two ways to do it: Tell the other person to shut up, or shut up yourself.

Once in a while when engaged in blog discussions the other person tells me, “Well, I think it’s about time to wrap this up so this will be the last comment.” Is it just me, or is this rude?

I know I can be a pest and a windbag, so I’m not usually surprised when people have had enough of me. But I am often surprised when otherwise kind and reasonable people, sometimes even professed Christians, are so blatantly rude about it.

Personally, when I want to end a conversation I generally simply stop. Either I say, “Well, it’s been nice but I’m going to stop now.” Or I just stop. I never tell the other person to stop. If he wants to keep going with no one around to read or respond, that’s up to him.

How about you?


“I cannot tell what has been Thy everlasting purpose about myself, but, if I go by all the signs which Thou hast lavished upon me, I may hope that I am one of those whose names are written in Thy book.”

John Henry Cardinal Newman, Meditations and Devotions of the Late Cardinal Newman, William P. Neville, ed. (1893).

Of shunning and forgiveness

In my Latin-English missal from 1956, the Gospel for today is Matthew 18:15-22:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Gospel for Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent, The New Roman Missal (Fr. Lasance), 1956.

In the new Missal, the Gospel for today begins with verse 21 and goes through verse 35, in order to associate the idea of forgiving your brother 490 times with the parable of the unforgiving servant (“‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’”). Which makes sense.

But I very much like the combination of confronting your brother with his sin, and having nothing more to do with him if he refuses to listen not only to you, but even to the Church; with forgiving your brother virtually an unlimited number of times. The fact that Jesus addresses these two issues one right after another, is a good underscore to the fact that there is no conflict between the two: Don’t tolerate unrepented sin in the Church, but also be ready to forgive sin at the drop of a hat.

The Church welcomes sinners, not because it tolerates sin, but for the purpose of bringing them to repentance. According to Jesus those who refuse to repent should be to us “as a Gentile and a tax collector”. But those who do repent, like the Prodigal Son should be welcomed back with open arms, not once, not twice, but as many times as they choose to return.

Please help Richard Sullivan follow God’s call by donating to his fundraiser HERE

Help Richard go to the Abbey

Richard Sullivan of The Age of Discernment has been accepted to St. Michael’s Abbey (Norbertine) in Orange County, California.


One hurdle to be overcome is that Richard’s student loans must be paid off before he can enter the Abbey. If you’re willing and able to help, you can do so by going HERE and contributing.

From what I have seen of Richard, I can’t think of a more worthy candidate for the priesthood and religious life (and apparently the Abbey agrees!), nor do I know of a better place than St. Michael’s for Richard to live out his vocation.

God bless you, Richard!

Faith is not a feeling

I came across a blog post the other day in which a guy talked about being plagued by feelings of doubt, which are occasionally dispelled by an experience of consolation at Mass. The consolations eliminate the doubt for a time, until the doubt feelings return, which in turn are eventually dispelled in a similar manner.

I can relate to this experience. Once in a while, the Mass strikes me in such a way as to strengthen and renew my faith; or at least, provide me with feelings of stronger faith and renewal; deep, powerful feelings, sometimes accompanied by tears.

But I think it helps to remember that faith is not a feeling, but an act of the will. Since faith is not a feeling, faith’s opposite also is not a feeling. Therefore, feelings of doubt do not imply lost faith. Since faith is an act of the will, its opposite must also be an act of the will. While feelings are not always under our control, faith cannot be taken away against our will.

In this way, faith is like love: Love too is an act of the will and not primarily a feeling. Long after feelings of love have disappeared, we can choose to continue loving our spouse, parent, sibling, etc. In fact, that is a test of love: Whether we continue caring for someone when their company becomes burdensome or onerous to us. Will we love someone only while it’s easy? What kind of love is it that disappears like a puff of wind when our feelings change?

No, we can choose to love regardless of our feelings. And we can also choose faith.

I happened to read the following passage in my mid-day prayers:

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.’ So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.” Gen. 12:1-4.

Abraham is sometimes called the Man of Faith (Gal. 3:9 (NIV)). This passage illustrates what earns him that title: God tells him, at the age of 75, to pack up his things and take his family to a strange land, “which I will show you”.

“So Abram went.” He made the act of faith, or rather the act of the will that constitutes faith. It says nothing about how Abram felt about it. Was he sad to leave his home, or was he excited to go on an adventure? I would suggest that his feelings are not mentioned because they don’t matter. The point is that he went, irrespective of feelings.

By the same token this blogger, who received feelings of consolation when he went to Mass, demonstrated his faith by going to Mass in the first place, even though he had, in his words, “fallen prey to doubt”.

It seems to me that a basic sign of genuine faith in a Catholic is whether he goes to Mass regularly. People may go to Mass for various reasons, whether out of habit or to avoid displeasing one’s family. But when a Catholic doesn’t go to Mass, it’s a pretty good indication that he lacks faith: He feels compelled neither by habit or family, nor by the command of the Church.

The Holy Eucharist itself, on the surface, has nothing that compels belief in us. Its form is as plain as can be: A simple round wafer, bland in color and taste. As the old hymn goes,

“Not to sight, or taste, or touch be credit,
Hearing only do we trust secure;
I believe, for God the Son has said it —
Word of Truth that ever shall endure.”

(“Adore Te Devote” by St. Thomas Aquinas.)

“Hearing only do we trust secure” — we go to Mass not because of visual marvels, or any properties appealing to taste or touch, but only because of what we have heard and believed: Like Abram, we hear and believe and therefore we act.

Synod on the Family

Joseph Moore is right when he says, “do not read anything about the synod.”

But if you are going to read about it, read this. Evidently the bishops broke up into groups to discuss the Relatio, and most of them were critical of it and wanted it changed to better reflect the traditional Christian understanding of marriage. One point stressed repeatedly is that we should not be so focused on easing the way for broken families, that we fail to affirm families that have been striving to live the Christian ideal of marriage, and to hold them up as an example to others. Also that pastors need to “recognize their own failures and their inadequacies in fostering support for families.”

My favorite line: “[T]here is an urgent need for leadership in today’s world and … such clear leadership can only come from the Church. Such leadership is an urgent part of the Church’s service to contemporary society and a failure to give such witness would be to fail humanity.”

It made me feel a lot better.