Faith Challenges of 2013: Repenting of My Self-Sufficiency

This has been the year of two living popes.

It’s been a year of new mass shootings, government shutdowns, spies turned whistleblowers and the revelation that our government is doing everything but looking up our skirts and down the fronts of our blouses in its efforts to spy on and criminalize the entire American populace. I’m not ruling the skirts and and blouses part out, but we have no confirmation of that.

It’s been the year when the Supreme Court drop-kicked DOMA and took gay marriage off the leash, the year when we the people actually got our fill of senseless war and stopped the bombing in Syria. It was the year when the economy rotated in place and a big piece of my part of the world was blown to smithereens.

There’s been the flop of the Obamacare start up; the push for gun control and a nervy stand-off in Texas over a commonsense pro life bill that would simply require abortion clinics to provide the same levels of safety to their patients as any other free-standing surgery clinic.

My brother-in-law died, leaving my sister as one of the walking wounded. My mother has been in and out of the hospital.

And me, I’ve just kept on passing bills and writing blog posts. I still haven’t lost weight and I still can’t make my hair do one single thing that it doesn’t want to do. I have taken up piano lessons, and I am the proud possessor of a new camera.

Life, as they say, goes on.

One surprise to me has been how hard it is to blog about matters of faith and still keep my religion. I’ve spent years dealing with that very thing as a legislator. The process of getting whammed around because of my beliefs has toughened my faith and made it stronger. But I’ve also found, as I’ve started writing about it, that it has made me more than a little impatient with people who aren’t as willing to go out there on the ice for Jesus as I am.

I’ve forgotten how I was before the pro abortion people made me the target of an orchestrated campaign of character assassination. They forced me to choose over and over between them and Jesus, between the Democratic Party and Jesus, between having friends at work and Jesus, between anybody even speaking to me on the job and Jesus. I’ve forgotten what it was like back in the days when I hadn’t been called every ugly name I can think of.

Who was I back then?

I honestly can’t remember.

All I know is that talking about these things with you good people here at Public Catholic and witnessing your attempts to work through them yourself has acquainted me with the simple fact that I’m different now than I was before these things happened to me. I see the world differently than I did before I chose Christ in an active way during adversarial politics.

One of the purposes of this blog is to provide a forum where we can work through the process of finding our voice in the face of the often daunting ugliness of attacks on the faith in this post-Christian society of ours. It’s ironic how often the blog and I get targeted by people who make it their business to attack Christians and Christianity. That can be disruptive to what I’m trying to accomplish here, but it is, in its own backhanded way, a great privilege.

Whenever anyone targets me for personal attacks and vendettas because of my stand for Jesus, I am blessed.

But this blessing leads me to the faith challenge that has troubled me most of this past year. It is easy to get caught up in these attacks and start feeling besieged. Instead of drawing me closer to Christ, that kind of thinking can build a barrier between me and Him.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of regarding these things as being about me. It’s also easy to fall into the parallel trap of trying to deal with them on my own.

One of the surprising pitfalls of blogging about faith is that I can spend too much time talking about Jesus and cheat myself of time spent talking to Him. It seems some days that the more I talk about Jesus the less I talk to Him.

This tendency to talk about Christ without talking to Christ is a dangerous road to take. I think it would lead me inevitably down the path of becoming my own little g god. I could eventually come to a point where I lose my relationship with Jesus and begin to lecture and hector about Him without any guidance or input from Him. These attacks from the Christian-bashing peanut gallery — and my own temper — push me hard down that path.

That would be disaster, not for you who read the stuff I write, but for me. I can not allow anything to come between me and my relationship with Christ, even if that thing is my attempt to stand for Christ. I can’t because to lose Christ is to lose life itself and all that matters.

The only way I know to avoid this is by retreating. I don’t mean by not writing this blog. I mean by not making the writing of this blog into what passes for my relationship with Christ. The life of a Public Catholic should be mostly Catholic and only a little bit public.

What I mean is that any public statements or actions about my faith should be the outflow of a fruitful walk with Christ that is mostly hidden and that is nurtured, sustained and informed by the quiet times of simply being with Him. If most of my faith is what people see, then it is an anemic and ultimately destructive excuse for real faith. The way to achieve this kind of fruitful walk with Christ is not by pushing on, but by making regular, nourishing retreats away from the public part of life.

This is similar to the lesson that I learned in how to live a real life while in public office. I had to withdraw and go home to my real life. You have a real life by living one. By the same token, you have a real relationship with Jesus Christ by spending time with Him.

I am not talking about going to mass, although going to mass and partaking of the Body and Blood of Our Lord is essential. I am talking about spending time in prayer, and by that I mean mostly just being with God. I certainly don’t mean dumping out a laundry list of wants and needs and then going back to your busy-busy life. Prayer is, or it should be, mostly companionship. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is a wonderful way to get some alone time with God. But it’s not necessary, if it’s not do-able.

I experienced the profound conversion that changed my life while I was driving my car on the way to Enid Oklahoma to make a speech. God is with you, always. You only have to start talking to Him.

I’m still learning the blogging ropes. At the same time, I’m also trying to learn how to live my first vocation, which is simply and always to love Jesus and let Him love me. The challenge to my faith in 2013 has been the surprising reality that I need to learn how to speak about Jesus in a public forum and then just go home to Him the rest of the time.

I think talking about this on this blog is highly appropriate. It is, after all, called Public Catholic and is dedicated to helping all of us, you and me both, learn to live our faith in the public side of our lives. We live in a society where the public debate, the media and most educational institutions are dominated by an anti-Christian viewpoint that is not the least bit ashamed to engage in Christian bashing that rises to a discriminatory level. We have reached the point where at least in some quarters verbal abuse and hazing directed at Christians is considered a form of righteousness.

Every one who stands for Jesus is going to pay a price.

The only way this blog can help to empower Christians to find their voice for Christ in the face of that overt and ugly resistance is if we talk honestly to one another. We need, all of us, to base our efforts to speak for Jesus on a real faith that is nourished and sustained in the private side of our lives.

Nobody told me this rock was out there under the blogging water when I began doing this. I did not realize that I would learn that I had to repent of my self-sufficiency. I had to hit the rock of spiritual dryness and feel the unpleasant thunk all on my own.

For all I know, the other Christian bloggers here at Patheos have never come up against this. I tried a few months ago to talk to a priest about it because I thought that, of all people, a priest who has to go out there and wear his faith on his collar all the time would understand. He just stared at me like I was speaking Klingonese.

I decided then that I was on my own with this, or, rather, I was on my own with Jesus. But that’s how I became a Christian in the first place; just me and Jesus.

What that means for me is making time for the simple things: Pray the Rosary, read the Bible, go to mass. I can leave the heavy lifting to the Holy Spirit. I don’t have to sustain my relationship with Christ by my actions. All I need to do is stop ignoring Him in my zeal to defend Him and simply talk to Him. I am a child of God, and like all true parents, He will always answer when I call.

Do You Believe Jesus is Alive?

 

Never forget that we are resurrection people.

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Making a Holy Advent: Allow Christ to Enter into Our Lives

Don’t waste Advent. It’s a wonderful season that allows us to prepare for the coming of Our Lord, as well as look forward to His coming again.

The words for Advent are: Peace, Hope, Joy, Love.

Don’t waste Advent. Live it and allow Jesus to be born again in your heart.

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Conversion Story: Jesus Came to Heal the Broken Hearted, and I Had a Broken Heart

 

This is a beautiful testimony of conversion to Jesus. In a way, it’s a rescue story.

Notice this young man’s discussion of his friends who led him to Christ by their example, witness and loving invitation. That is a potent form of evangelization. It is what Pope Francis is trying to teach us. The question is, do we have the ears to hear?

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Evangelii Gaudium Cliff Notes: Part 1, The Call

 

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the end of the world. Jesus Christ

 

Evangelii Gaudium is a call to you and me and every other Catholic on this planet to step out of our petty personal piety and evangelize the world.

There is a considerable body of support for this call throughout Christian history. The first and most important — in truth, the only support anyone needs — comes from Jesus Christ Himself in what He said in the words I put above.

Protestants call it the Great Commission, and a number of their denominations are built on living it out. Jesus Christ told His followers to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Just to put emphasis on it, He had, before His murder, cursed a withered fig tree for not bearing fruit. What did that fig tree do to Jesus, and what meaning does Our Lord’s action have for you and me? The tree was a symbol of all of us who do not bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Jesus taught the same message over and over. Bear fruit, use the grace you are given to bring others to Me.

That, without the more negative allusions (I used the fig tree story, not the Pope.) is what Evangelii Gaudium is about. The Pope is calling us to do exactly what Jesus told us to do. He is calling us to bear fruit by converting the world around us. Evangelii Gaudium is a call, directly from Pope Francis to every Catholic everywhere, to shake the dust of self-absorption off our feet and take the message of the Good News of Christ to the world.

Pope Francis calls us first to remember our own salvation and to rejoice in it. Think about it for a moment. We are eternal beings who, because of the great sacrifice of Our Lord at Calvary, are given the opportunity to chose of our own free wills to spend our eternal life in the company of the God Who made us.

I experienced a touch of what that means at my own conversion experience when the Holy Spirit filled me with the divine love and rapturous joy of God. Heaven is for real, folks, and it is too wonderful to describe. We can spend eternity there in that joy and love. All we have to do is chose Christ.

But in this world that is stunted, deformed and perverted by the wiles of the evil one, heaven can seem a distant and irrelevant country. I have been fascinated for a long time by the fact that we are so much better at depicting hell in our art than we are at depicting heaven. Heaven, in the movies we make and the poetry we write, comes across more insipid than heavenly, whereas hell glows and glowers with its sadistic reality.

I think that is because this world is so blighted by the father of lies that in some ways, his dark version of things seems to be reality. If we want to see his handiwork, all we have to do is click on our televisions and punch in the number for any news channel.

“The world is too much with us … getting and spending we lay waste our powers,” Wordsworth wrote. That is true of every single one of us, including me.

Pope Francis is calling us in clear language that a fourth grader can understand to remember that we are more than “getting and spending,” and that there is more to every person than the evils they do. Evangelii Gaudium is an exhortation for us to remember our salvation and rejoice in it.

The Holy Father is asking us to remember that first love when the Holy Spirit filled us with Divine Joy. Joy is exactly the right  word for it. It was the word I used before I gave up trying to find words to describe what I experienced when Christ first hugged me to His heart.

Joy.

Joy beyond our ability to describe or comprehend. Joy based on love that is also beyond our ability to describe or comprehend.

That is what Pope Francis is calling us to in this great document he has written. He is asking us to set aside the “getting and spending” that lays waste our powers and live in the joy of being eternal children of the eternal God Who loves us beyond our ability to either describe or comprehend.

He is asking us to live in the joy of Christ and the peace that passes all understanding and then to exercise the generosity which is a natural outgrowth of that kind of living in our dealings with the lost and unwanted people around us. I have failed in this call as much as anyone I know. I am a mass of resentments and angers, ironically, many of them over the way I have been treated by those tormented people who reject Christ.

Reading Evangelii Gaudium was an occasion of convicting conversion for me. I have allowed myself to forget the joy I knew when I first met Him in my too-earnest attempt to follow Him and be true to Him. I, like everyone else, need to go back to what Christ called “your first love,” which is that moment when He loved me from life to death.

Then, I need to do as the Holy Father is calling me to do and share that love with those I encounter. That is the root and the beginning of the New Evangelization. It is the core message of Evangelii Gaudium.

Pope Francis did not write about politics. He wrote about Jesus and our call to bring all the world to Him.

Here in Pope Francis’ words, is what Evangelii Gaudium is all about:

The Joy of the Gospel fills the the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.

When Jesus Washed My Sins Away

 

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Pope Francis: Let’s Not Do Business with the Devil

 

Pope Francis gave another one of his wonderful homilies this week. This one is on the devil, evil and Jesus’ triumph over both of them.

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One More Nutty Attack on Christianity

A “self-professed Bible scholar,” has announced that he cooked up a new theory that will “rock Christianity to the core.”

This one should at least get a D- for extravagant tall tale telling. It seems that this guy has come up with the notion that the Roman government invented the jesus story in order to control their populace.

I won’t even go into all the ways this thing won’t fly. I’ll leave that to those with the patience and the spreadsheet for it. You can read all about at TheBlaze. Or, you could just round file it alongside jesus’ grave, the passover plot and the whole cacophony of attacks on Christianity out there in the hustings.

These things are a clever way to make a few bucks. If you can’t write well enough to create something that people would want to read on its own merits, cook up a witches’ brew of attacks on Christianity. Attacking Christ and Christians has become so popular that the attackers have exhausted their arguments. They have to settle for battering Christians with personal insults and repeating cliched attacks against the faith that have been rattling around so long that they’ve been worn slick.

From that perspective, any new line of attack is going to be welcomed in certain quarters. It may not make much sense, but it will be treated as if it does simply because it’s a new bucket of mud to sling.

From TheBlaze:

On Oct. 19, self-professed Biblical scholar Joseph Atwill is planning to make public some very flammable allegations. At a day-long symposium called “Covert Messiah” in London, England, he’s set to unveil purported evidence that Roman aristocrats manufactured Jesus Christ – a claim that, if substantiated, would devalue the core of the Christian faith.

The only problem? Most Biblical experts disagree with the scholar’s pronouncements.

press release announcing the purported new evidence claims that Atwill has discovered “ancient confessions” that purportedly prove that Romans invented Jesus Christ in the first century. He has long argued that the faith system was used as a political tool to control the masses — something he says is still going on today.

“I present my work with some ambivalence, as I do not want to directly cause Christians any harm, but this is important for our culture,” he said of the alleged debunk – one that he believes will eventually be universally accepted.

Pope Francis: You Cannot Know Jesus Without Betting Your Life on Him

Do you know Jesus?

Do you really know Him?

Pope Francis tells you how to really know Jesus.

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Run in Circles, Scream and Shout

When in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout. 

Based on conversations I have with Catholics in my private life, I’m guessing that what I’m about to say is big, unwelcome news for a lot of active, Jesus-loving Catholics in America today.

But, based on what I know is happening, it is long past time for someone to start saying it, and saying it often.

We are going to have to get used to the idea that the Church is under attack. I know that most Public Catholic readers are aware of this. In fact, I’m overdue in complimenting you on how thoughtfully you responded to last week’s media dipsy doodle over Pope Francis’ interview with America magazine.

Nobody tried to post any of the “run in circles scream and shout” comments I saw elsewhere on the internet. I think that I am blessed that this blog has attracted such an intelligent and thoughtful group of readers.

However, based on the things I read elsewhere, and more to the point, the things I’ve heard from my fellow pew-sitting Catholics, many of whom wouldn’t touch the internet with a stick, I would say that you are an extraordinary group of well-informed believers. That makes you important to the future of our Church.

Since you are the ones who have learned to think things through without taking a reflexive bite of whatever swill the media is dishing, you are also the ones who have the job of going into your parishes, prayer groups and families and setting things straight.

That’s a big job, and it’s going to get bigger as time goes by.

You see, the Church is under attack. As St Paul said 2,000 years ago, we are not dealing with the ordinary gossipy mealy-mouthedness of regular human communication. We are dealing with powers and principalities. In other words, the Church is being attacked by people who, without knowing it at all, are driven by a hatred for the Light that does not grow tired and will not stop until Jesus comes again.

The sad part is that the purveyors of Christian/Catholic/Church bashing claptrap are winning the information wars. People believe these folks, especially when they praise the pope for their false interpretations of his words. They fall right over the cliff of thinking that the Holy Father has pulled the moral rug out from under them.

Let me tell you something simple: That ain’t gonna happen. It won’t happen in my lifetime, or in yours, or in the lifetime of the Church.

The Pope will never obviate 2,000 years of Christian teaching to follow after what Elizabeth Scalia calls the “idols of everyday life.” No matter what bribery they offer him in terms of their praise and adulation for what he didn’t say, he will not do this.

The Church’s written teaching on abortion goes all the way back to the Didache, which is to say, to the beginning. The teaching on the sanctity of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony goes back to the wedding of Cana, which is to say, to the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. It was the first thing Our Lord did when He began to teach and preach.

The Vicar of Christ is not going to overturn these teachings.

At the same time, the teachings of the unfathomable value of every human being — young or old, gay or straight, man or woman, saint or sinner — goes back to that same Jesus and His words. The Christ Who told us that the very hairs on our heads are numbered by the God Who made us, is the same Christ Who instituted the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

It is all of a whole; one cloth. That is what we have lost in our politicized message. We cannot chose between human beings and say that one is more worthy of life than another. We can not do this about any human life, including our own, for the simple reason that every human life belongs to God. By the same token, we cannot pretend and proclaim that two men or two women are the same as a man and a woman. If it wasn’t for the enormous pressure being exerted by the culture, we would all see this for the fantastical delusion that it is.

That does not mean that two men or two women are any less human and worthy of love than a man and a woman. But it does mean that just because you call it “marriage” that does not make it a marriage. It just makes you a fool when you say it.

The reason I am writing this is because I think most of the people who read it see this already. I want you to understand that you are graced by that understanding and that this grace carries a responsibility. Our brothers and sisters are being whipped around like flags blowing in the wind by media flimflam about the Church.

They absorb the constant dribble of malicious criticism without giving it perspective or taking the time to learn what is fact, what is exaggeration and what is an outright lie. By the same token, they buy the whole deal when the press tells them that the Pope has overturned bedrock teachings of the Church.

What I want for you is two things.

1. Do not lose track of the fact that the Holy Father will never repudiate Christ and His teachings. He will not do it. So when you hear the next new whatever that the press says about him, judge it by that simple fact.

2. Communicate this to the people around you. Evangelize a bit by telling the truth. It won’t be easy. The American public has been so beaten up by constant manipulation and propaganda that they behave like a 300,000,000-member herd of spot-lighted deer. But if I have learned anything in 18 years of public life, it is that steady persistence and consistency win out over lies. They don’t right at first. But in the long run, the truth floats and lies sink.

We’re going to have to get used to this. Things will get worse before they get better.

But that isn’t a tragedy. It’s an opportunity. It’s our chance to stand for Jesus.

My advice to you is, don’t miss it.


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