January 7, 2009


January 6, 2009—Holy Name Cathedral

Topic: "Being Catholic in a World That Is More and More Secularized"

[Sr. Helena's comments in brackets]

"Secularism" doesn't mean being against God, it means living as if God didn't exist. Maybe one of the best things we can do to "be more Catholic" is teach people to pray. If we talk to God every day, we CAN'T live as if God doesn't exist. Teach people HOW to pray, how to spend those 10 minutes at the beginning and end of each day. Prayer isn't just asking, it's adoring, it's praying memorized prayers. Prayer will help us resist social pressures and help us bring God into society.

"the secular"—"the world" that is the neutral arena where God acts, we act and love and are saved.

"the sacred"—"the world" that is entirely of God

"the profane"—"the world" that is against God, closed to the God and the sacred.

"Secularization" means making the world profane. The secular needs to be open to the transcendent. The world is not "sacred" in that it's divine or sacred like "Sacred Scripture," but it can be open to God. The Church is in the hands of clergy, but the world is in the hands of the laity who have to make sure it doesn't collapse totally into the profane.

Society becomes brittle without God (like the communist regimes).

"Freedom of religion" means you can practice your religion openly in every aspect of your life. "Freedom of worship" means you can worship in private only. There's also a third way: "religion as hobby"—you practice when you have time, when you feel like it, because you like it, when you like it.

The supreme court of California just declared that Catholic Charities is a "secular ministry" because it's helping people. But this is not true.

If we don't do His will here, we won't be happy with Him in the next life. [We'll be miserable "with Him" in the next life!...]


Q: Is Catholicism the only way to heaven?
A: No, but it's God's way. Otherwise, what am I doing up here? [big laughs] We will be judged on love. We have to live lives of self-gift and self-sacrifice. Other religions believe in love, but only Christianity believes that God IS love.

Q: How do we convert people?
A: Depends. Relationships are prior to individuality in Catholicism, so we need to first have a relationship with someone we want to help. We can't begin with the Bible, the Catechism or even our own personal experience. Listen. When you do talk, talk about Christ, then the Church. The Christ you know through your prayer.

People can be desperate, and thus feel their need of God. You can then say "come and see," and invite them to church with you. People can feel life is good and be good people, and they want to be grateful to Someone. People can feel empty, feel the need for forgiveness. God doesn't give us infinite happiness here, but knowing our Savior BEFORE DEATH totally increases our quality of life.

Q: Do interreligious and interracial marriages weaken the Catholic party's Catholic values?
A: The nuns in my sister's school back in the 50's told the girls: You can date a non-Catholic boy twice, but not three times. [big laughs] Interreligious marriages are hardest on the kids—they get mixed messages, and sometimes wind up with no religion. It's hard work, but it can work, sometimes beautifully. Often there is MORE respect for one another because of the difference. The Church has never not sanctioned interracial marriages. Ever. Only the State does that.

Q: Will we get together with the Orthodox soon?
A: I don't know, but we are doctrinally so similar. The problem is we don't read history the same way. We remember differently, we forget differently. Not only did the Western Crusaders crush Constantinople, the Eastern Christians slaughtered Western Christians over leavened bread used for the Eucharist. We need to not carry our wounds into our identity. Eastern Christians remember these things like they were yesterday, also because they live in these countries where it happened.

Our splits with the Protestants ARE doctrinal. It started with Luther who had a problem first with the governance of the Church, the priesthood, then, of course, with the Eucharist. (Luther and Erasmus both saw the abuses in the Church. Erasmus stayed to reform the Church, and Luther left to reform it, BUT Luther thought Jesus was coming very soon and would put it all back together!)

Q: Why is abortion so focused on of all the life issues, and not so much executions or war?
A: Because it's so widespread (death of millions), the preborn are the most innocent and threatened, if this most fundamental human right goes all our other rights go, it's changing our whole legal system (who's next?), we've declared a whole class of people unwanted so we can kill them.

Capital punishment—the government has a right and duty to protect its citizens, but now we can lock people up for life and there's no need to kill these people. The Church is working to get the States to abolish it.

Civilized society doesn't allow PRIVATE KILLING without a trial, but that's what we're doing to the preborn. We have declared that their value comes from being WILLED and WANTED [by certain individuals].

Iraq—is an unjust war (the Holy Father and U.S. bishops made that very clear). But now that we've invaded unjustly, we have a moral obligation to get out justly (without a bloodbath, protecting as many people as we can).

Q: What about nonviolence?
A: We need pacifists because that's a Gospel value, a Beatitude. But, like celibacy, we can't all be pacifists. It would be a strange world. Self-defense is a moral obligation when we or defenseless people are attacked. You can choose not to defend yourself but when you become a parent, you give up that right. You have to protect your children. [Sr. Helena prefers the term "active nonviolence" to "pacifism" because the word "pacifism" is too easily associated with "passivism." Sr. Helena has huge problems with war as a means to resolve problems, and the fact is that with modern warfare (esp. nuclear), the very conditions of a just war may be nullified (because any war can escalate out of "proportion," and large numbers of civilians are always involved/killed. Many theologians/ethicists are questioning the validity of "just war theory" in today's world.) Check out http://www.catholicpeacefellowship.com/ based in Indiana, made up of many Catholic Iraq war vets. Incidentally, the second Iraq War falls COMPLETELY outside any discussion of just war theory because it wasn't even a "pre-emptive" strike but a "preventative" strike: "Saddam MIGHT be a threat to us someday, therefore, we'll just take him out now" (not to mention all the lies, supposed bad intel, WMD, war profiteering--think "Haliburton," etc.). When Cheney was asked why we didn't just assassinate Saddam instead of invading the country, he said, "We don't do that." Putin joked: "Hmmm, the biggest military world power is the USA, maybe Russia should do a preventative strike against the US."]

Q: Are Catholic soldiers killers then?
A: WWII was a just war, but many unjust things were done: firebombing of Dresden, atomic bombs, killing lots of civilians. Iraq is an unjust war, but we are doing some good things for the people. Conscientious objection should be used [unfortunately, once you're in the military, the U.S. government doesn't allow selective c.o. for particular wars, order, conflicts, etc. If you refuse, you'll be court marshaled, jailed, or there's always Canada].

Q: How can we prevent getting brainwashed by secular university professors?
A: Know more than them. [big laughs] Not in their speciality, but about other things they're not qualified in (religion, your faith, what it means to be a person, etc.). Learn history. Learn your faith. Educate yourself. You might even take them aside and have a talk with them. Ask them why they're using their position as a professor to advance or attack ideologies (they have professional ethics). But remember, they're giving you your grade. [big laughs]. When I was doing my doctoral work, they didn't want me in the program because they believed a priest couldn't think for himself. They didn't allow me to wear my Roman collar. But in the end, they liked me so well they offered me a teaching job.

Q: What happens when your prayer life is dry?
A: It's a relationship. It won't stay the same. Dryness is normal. But we can feel God's presence by His absence. Mother Teresa spent most of her life in this dryness, feeling no emotion, not feeling God's presence, but her faith was strong. That's very unusual. Thank God He doesn't deal with most of us like this!

Q: Even if we're doubting our Catholic Faith or we can't accept all of it, shouldn't we stay in the Church out of loyalty?
A: No! It's not about loyalty. It's about truth. I didn't make this up. None of us did. If I devised my own religion, it wouldn't look like the Catholic Church. [big laughs] God is too big for us to understand, but not too big for us to love. If we don't understand/accept something in the Church, we shouldn't necessarily just leave. Make sure you really know what the Catholic Church actually teaches [and why]. But don't stay on your own terms, either. Who are you (or me) to do that?

Q: What three books should all young Catholic adults read?
A: There's so many good books! "Orthodoxy" by Chesterton, Lives of the Saints (read about your patrons saints—I read everything I can on St. Francis), a good biography of Jesus (not just wild imaginings), try Anne Rice's novels on Jesus--they're very interesting, Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict.

Q: What's the central issue for the Church today? A: It's always passing on the Faith.

Q: What about priests who don't accept the whole Catholic Faith? A: Give me their names. [huge laughs] A priest cannot define himself or his ministry. He's a man in relationship. None of us can define ourselves totally. We are all in relationship. It's all about relationship.

Q: How can Catholic girls find good Catholic guys? A: That's easy: volunteer to lector at the 7AM weekly Mass at the Cathedral. [big laughs] Most of the people there are over 75, but they have grandsons that they'll introduce you too. Who are probably sleeping.

Q: Why doesn't the Church allow IVF (in vitro fertilization)? A: Because every child has the write to be conceived in the marital embrace, not in a petri dish. But what's the difference, really? The baby is then implanted in the mother's womb? Because we are not a pragmatist Church. We have principles. It's not about the end, it's also about the means. It's not just about results. Why is there such a big push for embryonice stem research? Even though the only successful therapies have come from adult stem cells? Maybe because scientists don't want to be told no, ever--they feel there should be no limits. [Also--they want to PATENT $$$$$ whatever discoveries they make, and they can't do that without at least sharing the $$$$ with the adult whose stem cells they use. But with the little embryonic "nobodies," body parts could be owned. Even though patents aren't supposed to be owned on living things, they already are.]

Q: What should we pray for? A: Me. Often my prayers are very shabby. Peace in the world. The peace of Jerusalem. Priests.

Q: What do you pray for? A: You.

Q: Do we have to go to Confession before receiving the Eucharist? A: Only if you're in mortal sin. You have to determine that. Why go to a priest? Because we are social beings and there's no such thing as an individual sin. There are social consequences to all of our actions, even in private, because there's no such thing as an unrelated person. But we don't just share sin. We share in the virtues of each other and of the saints, too. I think that people don't go to Confession also because they don't believe in forgiveness--that it's real.

Will the Church ever become modern and conform to the world? Truth is not negotiated. The Church was born in the Roman Empire which completely approved of the gay lifestyle, abortion, exposing infants that were unwanted (if the father didn't accept them). There is nothing new about these things. Are we going to go back to the Roman Empire? We have an obligation to RELATE to a baby, a pregnant woman. We can't just say to her "don't have an abortion." We have to provide help before and after pregnancy. And we do: Catholic Charities. Now we can ALWAYS save the mother and usually the child.

If abortion is a "right," then we can't limit it, and we should celebrate it! Rights are great things! Therefore we HAVE to allow partial birth abortion, etc. In our culture of individual freedom and "modernity," rights are glorious achievements, and rightly so. We like to overcome "limits." Our modern social life was born in a Revolution which is all about throwing off limits. The medieval Church used to talk about DUTIES. Many first Americans thought we didn't need a Bill of Rights, because it was all laid out in the Constitution. But others, especially Madison, thought it should be spelled out. The French Revolution/Enlightenment was all about the "Rights of Man." It was all based on the individual, and not relationships. But when it comes to things like marriage, the Church, the State didn't make it up and can't change it. We have to respect the rights of individual gay people, but there cannot be same-sex marriage. When we think we're exercising a right, we have to ask if this "right" is good for others--how many people were people killed, disserviced by this right? America is not wrong by focusing on individual rights, just incomplete.




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