Tuesday, July 31, 2012

On Pilgrimage

Dear Theophilus,

I’ve just finished reading Hilaire Belloc’s The Path to Rome. It’s the story of the narrator’s pilgrimage from Lorraine in north-east France along a direct line to Rome. In a descriptive style typical of the late XIX Century the narrator describes his journey as he climbs over mountains and wades through rivers crossing France, Switzerland and Italy. The classical digressions aside, like many pilgrimages, Belloc’s Path to Rome is as much about the journey as it is the destination.

Reading about Belloc’s journey got me to thinking about how the pilgrimage seems to have become a lost art among Catholics. Living in a world that is driven by material success, very few people have the luxury of taking the time off to walk across a continent, and even fewer are willing to make the sacrifice. But those who do will tell you that the sacrifice is will worth it.

I’ve been blessed enough to have been able make the journey to a number of pilgrimage sites. Some exotic and far flung, while others were not as famous and quite close to home.

In 2003 my wife and I visited Europe for 3 weeks on our summer holidays. With a list of sites to see and thousands of kilometres to travel a rental car, instead of the traditional hiking boots, was our only option. First on our list of stops was Lourdes. I had read a couple of articles about St. Bernadette and the grotto at Lourdes, but I really wasn’t ready for what I experienced. I felt a truly spiritual sense of sacred tranquility as I knelt and prayed in the grotto where Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette. It is impossible to put into words the sense of sacred presence that permeates that holy place.

Perhaps this experience at Lourdes was the reason for my disappointment in Santiago de Compostela. Even though it was years before Emilio Estevez’s The Way – in 2003 the Camino still held a certain celebrity cache as far as pilgrimages go. Visiting the cathedral and kneeling at the tomb of St. James, I couldn’t help but wonder at what the hype was all about. Like I said, a pilgrimage is as much about the journey as it is about the destination; and I think this holds true in the relationship between the Camino and Santiago.

My wife’s family is Portuguese, so she spent her entire childhood hearing about the visions at Fatima, so this central Portugal town was out next pilgrimage destination. We some how managed to time our visit with High Mass on Sunday, standing in the square in front of the cathedral with 10,000 other pilgrims under the sun of one of Europe’s worst heat waves on record. The most moving experience came at the end of mass when the statue of Our Lady of Fatima (the assassin’s bullet in her crown) was recessing back to the chapel at the other end of the square as 10,000 pilgrims began waving goodbye to her with white handkerchiefs. It was as though we were saying goodbye to a close and dear relative, knowing we would always be in her prayers.

Our tour ended back in France with a visit to friends who live just north of Lyon. Before leaving Canada, a colleague had suggested that we visit the tomb of St. Jean Vianney in the village of Ars if it was on our route. Much to my amazement, a quick internet search showed that Ars is only 10km from our friend’s town. Even more amazing was that our friends had never been there before. They tagged along to see if it would be worth bringing other guests to visit the Curé d’Ars, my wife and I enjoyed watching the transformation of our friends’ children who were being raised without religion but had a million-and-one questions as they tried to seek out their own personal faith.

Since 2003, pilgrimages have become a part of our vacation travels, many of them much closer to home. We have taken our son to Martyrs Shrine and Ste. Marie Among the Hurons (Midland, Ontario) to pray at the tombs of St. Jean de Brébeuf and St. Gabriel Lalement. Last summer we spent a day at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montréal, a trip that inspired Michael to build a church out of Lego “Just like St. André.” Our simplest pilgrimage was to St. Michael’s cathedral in Toronto to listen to Thomas Cardinal Collins give the homily. That visit was as much about explaining the cathedral, the Archbishop’s hat hanging over the altar, the vestments and the sense of sacred as incense wafted into the air, as it was about meeting our dominical obligation in an extraordinary way.

Making a pilgrimage, near or far, famous or ordinary, is a great expression of our Catholic faith. As a family we are always looking for a new pilgrimage destination and would love to read your suggestions. As you leave on your pilgrimage, however, remember that it’s as much about the journey as it is the destination.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Grasping the Meaning of "Catholic"

Dear Theophilus,

When most people think of defining the word Catholic, they probably think of it as the building on the corner where some of them go each Sunday, or at least at Easter and Christmas. Others will immediately think of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy, starting with its visible head, the Pope, and working their way down through the clergy of cardinals, bishops and priests. My experience has been that these same people usually equate Catholicism with a set of rules and regulations that hamper their individualism. It’s this thinking as individuals that keeps them from understanding the true meaning of Catholic.

Those who have taken the time to study the question a little further will tell you that the definition of catholic is “universal”. This comes from its etymological root in Greek of katholikos, coming from the phrase kath’holou (on the whole or in general) from the two words kata (about) and holos (the whole). In other words, catholic means to embrace the whole or something that is universal.

When I first began to grasp this concept of Catholicism as being universal, my human arrogance saw it as meaning that the Catholic Church (and more completely, Christianity) is for every person on the earth – universal. I say this was human arrogance because I perceived the Catholicism as being something human as opposed to divine. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Catholicism is universal in that it encompasses all of Creation. When we look at sacred scripture, the Bible begins with the story of Creation:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen 1:1)

and then the Bible ends with a prophecy of Creation’s fulfillment in the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:9 – 22:5) telling us that Creation will be perfected since

Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and of the Lam will be in it, and his servants will worship him. (Rev 22:3)

Since God’s plan is about all of Creation, it is universal or Catholic. We only need to look at the world around us to be overwhelmed by its immensity.

It is very scary and humbling, then, to realize that we are but a tiny speck in the immenseness of this Catholic Creation. This brings me back to my comment of human arrogance in thinking that we are central to God’s Creation. According to Genesis, mankind wasn’t created until the sixth day – the last of all of God’s Creation. Although God did give us dominion over His Creation, we need to remember that it is His and that we are only a small part of His universe. Understanding this we need to ask ourselves two very important questions: Where do I fit into God’s universal or catholic plan? and How can I understand God’s will for myself in such a large project as all Creation?

According to Fr. Robert Barron, we can’t – our minds simply cannot comprehend the vastness of God’s plan for Creation. In his Word on Fire lecture series, Fr. Barron used a few different parallels to try to explain our role in creation and our inability to understand the bigger or catholic picture.

Fr. Barron spoke of Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. When you look at it up close, you can only perceive a few dots and a smudge of colour. Stepping back you might begin to see how these dots and smudges can for shapes. It’s only when you look at the entire work from across the room that the artist’s complete vision can be understood. Since we are but a dot or a smudge on the canvas of God’s Creation, it is impossible for us to understand His entire vision for His universal creation.

Fr. Barron also spoke of the soldiers involved in the D-Day landings in Normandy. General Eisenhower, the man in charge of the operation, could see the broad scope of the battle plan – the purpose of each small skirmish to the whole that had to be fought to ensure victory. A sergeant leading his platoon only needed to be concerned about achieving his objective – taking the crest of a small hill or securing a bridge. If he had tried to comprehend the entire battle plan, it would have only muddled his understanding of his immediate situation, lessening his chance for success and thus endangering the larger victory.

It is our job as good Catholics to marvel at the immensity of God’s Creation, accept in awe that Catholicism encompasses the universal creation and to obediently understand our role in God’s plan, leaving the design to our Lord and Master.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Catholicism and my e-Reader

Dear Theophilus,

I received a Kobo e-Reader for Christmas 2011. As a traditionalist, I was a bit dismayed at the idea of giving up the comfortable weight, feel and smell of real books for the light, sleek lines of technology. I also mourned the loss of giddy anticipation while waiting for a package of ordered books to arrive in the mail or a tranquil afternoon spent leafing pages and reading back covers in a traditional bookstore.

Seven months later, I’m a convert. Although I still enjoy picking up the odd book now and again (there’s still a stack of novels under my bed), I thoroughly enjoy the ease my Kobo gives me in finding the titles I want to read at a much cheaper price. I also have to admit that I like it that they’re in my hand immediately, giving instant gratification to my bookish addiction. I’m also reluctantly enamoured with the text-size function now that bifocals seem to have become a necessity.

The vast library of Catholic classics (and contemporaries) available at my fingertips also excites me. Titles that are long out of print or simply not carried by my local bookstore are readily available. In the case of the classics, they are often offered at the best discount going – free (or at least under $1).

Since Christmas, my library has grown with the following titles:

  • Explanation of Catholic Morals (John H. Stapleton)
  • Heresy: Ten Lies They Spread about Christianity (Michael Coren)
  • Orthodoxy (G.K. Chesterton)
  • How to Listen when God is Speaking (Mitch Pacwa S.J.)
  • The Path to Rome (Hilaire Belloc)

and my virtual bedside table is covered with similar titles:

  • Didache (the 12 Apostles)
  • Summa Theologica (St. Thomas Aquinas)
  • Europe and the Faith (Hilaire Belloc)

plus whatever Catholic title or author I find as I troll Catholic blogs, e-Book stores or that are suggested by friends. Titles I hope to share with you as I discover the wonderful world of Catholic e-Books.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Awake from your Slumber

Dear Theophilus,

A friend recently sent me a link to a blog entry by Canadian Catholic singer Mark Mallett. In writing his blog Mark talks of the need for us Christians to arise from the slumber society has lulled us into to proclaim Christ’s message to an unreceptive world. Mark begins his blog post with:

We are living in a precarious moment, the calm before the Storm, when many are tempted to fall asleep. But we must remain vigilant, that is, our eyes focused on building the Kingdom of Christ in our hearts and then in the world around us. In this way, we will be living in the Father’s constant care and grace, His protection and anointing. We will be living in the Ark, and we must be there now, for soon it will begin to rain justice upon a world that is cracked and dry and thirsting for God.

You can read the entire post here, where Mark delves deeper into our falling asleep and the call to awaken to God’s grace in today’s world.

Reading Mark’s words got me to wondering about the ills of the western world. It seems as though the news these days is full of stories of death and violence. Whether it is the massacre in a Colorado movie theatre, the spate of shootings that have plagued Toronto’s streets this summer or any other news item from around the world; the images of July 2012 seem to be images of pain and anguish. Added to the outcries of horror that such events must be met with, there are questions of why and how such things could have happened.

The answer: we have been lulled to sleep. Lulled to sleep by a false sense of security in our society of abundance. Lulled to sleep by a society that has consumerized everything including the sacraments (think First Communion parties and divorce) and even life itself (think abortion and euthanasia). Lulled to sleep by a society that values individual materialism over communal spirituality.

What can we do then to avoid being the Bridesmaid who fell asleep, letting her lamp go out and missing the Bridegroom’s entry? (Mt. 25:1-13) What can we do to avoid being left outside the gate wailing and gnashing our teeth? (Mt. 13:42) Like Mark Mallett tells us, we need to listen to our modern day prophets: John Paul II, Benedict XVI, St. Faustina, and Cardinal Newman. These are the voices calling out in today’s wilderness; calling us to make straight a highway for God.

How can we do this? We need to be like these modern day prophets and do the hard thing: live our lives according to God’s teachings through the guidance of the Catholic Church. The Church’s teachings in the catechism are not new laws made to take the fun out of living. Rather, they have grown out of the Catholic Church’s 2000-year tradition that is rooted in the covenants between God and His people through Adam, Abraham, Moses and the prophets. This road won’t be easy. It never has been; the Bible is full of stories of righteous individuals who have stumbled. Through the grace of God, however, they managed to find the strength and courage to carry on.

How can we make a difference in this crazy world we live in if we are but a single voice? When you proclaim the Truth through words and deeds you are adding your voice to those already proclaiming the Truth. You will then be surprised that others will eventually add their voice to yours. Before long you will begin to see what a difference your voice can make.

First, however, we must awake from our slumber.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Yoda's Catholic Wisdom

Dear Theophilus,

As a catholic high school teacher, I’m constantly looking for ways to help my students get in touch with their faith. One of the things I like to do is to write an inspirational quote on the board and leave it there for a week or two for the kids to meditate on. Some of my favourites include:

Remember, you are in the presence of God.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.


If we all let the light of Christ shine through, just imagine how much brighter the world would be.

I’ve often wrestled with the idea of adding a quote from the Star Wars character Yoda: Do or do not. There is no try. As a teacher, my first inclination is to use this quote as a way to encourage kids to get their homework done, but recently I’ve come to realize that there is a Catholic element to the Jedi master’s words.

In the last little while I’ve repeatedly heard the phrase Cafeteria Catholicism. It’s a light hearted way of referring to Catholics who pick and choose which teachings of the Catholic Church they wish to follow; the same way you would pick and choose what you want to eat from the cafeteria.

The last time I heard the expression Cafeteria Catholic, it was followed by the rhetorical question: Is it possible to be only 75% Catholic? When I heard this, I turned to my 5-month pregnant colleague beside me and with my usual sarcastic nature asked her if she were only 50% pregnant. One can only begin to imagine the eyebrows that raised in the room. The person who asked the first rhetorical question then asked us to imagine the reaction if a husband were to get up to speak at his golden wedding anniversary celebration and proudly tell his wife that over their 50 years of marriage he had managed to be faithful 98% of the time – almost perfect.

The point was clearly made. Either you are Catholic or you are not. You can’t pick and choose from the catechism like from the Ponderosa salad bar – you may not like all the toppings, but everything needs to go on your plate.

Yoda’s words will be on my classroom blackboard come September, and if the kids ask, I’ll explain both meanings. I’d be interested in hearing of your Catholic inspirational phrases I could use to help my students uncover their faith.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Michael Coren - Debunking Lies about Christianity

Dear Theophilus,

When I first set out on the journey of writing this blog, one of my goals was to comment about the books I’m reading as I finish them. This is something that I realize that I’ve completely dropped the ball on. Much like the chain smoker that lights a new cigarette from the dying ember of the one before it, I usually find myself racing through the end of one book so I can get to the next one. I know this is no way to enjoy the delicate tastes a book has to offer, but there is so much out there to be read that I feel compelled to get through as much as possible. This said, I’ve already gone through a number of books since I started this blog last November and I’ve hardly mentioned any of them.

Today is the first day of changing all that, and I hope to make a habit of sharing the new insights I’ve learned while they are still fresh in my mind. So I want to share my thoughts on Michael Coren’s latest book: Heresy: Ten Lies They Spread about Christianity. I mentioned this book in an earlier post, but feel it deserves the attention of a post all of its own.

Having read Coren’s previous book, Why Catholics are Right, and finding it not only a wonderful insight into Catholic teaching, but also a great defence of the Catholic Church today, I was anxious to read what Coren had to say in the defence of Christianity.

Before going any further, however, one needs to note that Michael Coren makes no bones about being an Orthodox Catholic, and he certainly won’t apologize for it. So, while what he says might seem abrupt to some more liberal minded readers, it needs to be said and leaves the reader with a better understanding of Christian and Catholic teaching.

In his introduction, Coren discusses how Christianity has become the last, great whipping boy in the public arena of modern western society. He notes that if much of what is said about Christianity were to be expressed about other religious groups – Muslim, Jew, Hindu, etc. – there would be much hew and cry for the speaker’s head in today’s politically correct culture; and rightfully so. In Heresy Coren gives the everyday Christian the answers needed to defend the faith against the most common arguments made against it. The following is a list of chapters from the book:

  1. Jesus Didn’t Exist
  2. There is No God: Bad Things Happen to Good People
  3. The Da Vinci Code
  4. All the Clever People are Atheists
  5. Hitler was a Christian
  6. Christians and Christianity Supported Slavery
  7. Christians are Opposed to Science
  8. Christians Oppose Progress and Change
  9. Christians are Obsessed with Abortion
  10. What Else can we Throw at Christianity

To give a sampling of what you’ll find in Coren’s book, I’ll give an extremely brief synopsis of chapters 3 and 7.

Coren does well to debunk the modern myths that have developed from Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code. I’ve always held that this novel was a good piece of fiction, but it should always be taken as that – a piece of fiction. According to Coren, this is the greatest problem with what Dan Brown writes; that most people take it as the truth (especially since Brown begins the novel by stating that his story is based completely on actual truth). Coren then goes on to correct most of Dan Brown’s lies, citing authoritative and academic works on subjects such as Opus Dei.

In the chapter concerning Christianity being opposed to science, Coren takes full aim at the perennial argument that Christianity, and especially the Catholic Church, must be against science because the Pope had Galileo locked up for claiming the earth revolved around the sun. As a matter of fact Coren points out that this theory was first proposed by Copernicus, a Catholic priest, and championed by another Catholic cleric, Kepler. Galileo’s crime was to use the theory to directly challenge sacred scripture and to infer that the Pope was a simpleton – two ideas that he refused to retract – making it not the scientific idea, but rather the way that Galileo went about his business that landed him under house arrest.

What I like best about Coren’s latest book is that he tackles these questions from a non-denominational Christian perspective. Unlike his previous book, Why Catholics are Right, Coren sets out to defend Christian teaching throughout history – the majority of which just happens to be Catholic. Reading Heresy: Ten Lies They Spread about Christianity will provide any Christian with more than enough ammunition the next time an armchair atheist tries to shout them down at their local pub.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why the Catholic Church is the Source of Truth

Dear Theophilus,

In trying to defend and explain Catholic teaching recently, I was asked why the Catholic Church should believe that it has a monopoly on the Truth. The person asking was a self-professed ‘None’, claiming to be neither Catholic nor any other denomination – just simply a Christian trying to figure out what Christ would want us to do. His biggest bone of contention was that he thought the Catholic Church to be exclusionary with its doctrinal laws and that Christ would want to include everybody. I agreed with my interlocutor wholeheartedly, unfortunately he had a hard time understanding that it is not the Catholic Church that excludes individuals, but rather the individual sinners that chose to exclude themselves from the teachings of Christ through the Catholic Church. This is when the question of the Catholic Church being the holder of God’s Truth was asked.

I knew that a simple answer of Christ building his Church on the rock of St. Peter and the subsequent genealogy of papal succession wouldn’t cut it as an answer. Nor would either Christ’s commissioning of St. Peter with the keys to heaven or the sending forth of the Apostles be sufficient. I’m pretty certain that the person asking the question already had the answer he wanted to hear in mind – that only a personal Christ known through the Bible could express the Truth, and not the College of Cardinals.

I was left scrambling for an answer coming from his own perspective to convince him. It was only 2 days later that I found an appropriate way to answer the question on the primacy of the Catholic Church while reading How to Listen When God is Speaking by Mitch Pacwa, S.J.

My line of argument had to start from common ground, a belief that we both held – that God, our Father, is the creator of heaven and earth and that Jesus Christ was his Son. Agreeing upon this we could then recognize the divine nature of Christ and his oneness with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Blessed Trinity. Although the mystery of the Trinity is difficult to get one’s head around, there is nothing in this statement that any Christian would deny – even the staunchest anti-Catholic Protestant.

From here we need to ask ourselves: Whom did Christ come to teach? The answer being all of humanity. Jesus taught mainly through parables, using the language and symbols the people of his time and place could understand. These parables have been handed down to us through scripture to be read and applied to our contemporary lives. However, and this is important to the point of the Catholic Church having the ability to unpack the lessons of the parables for us, after teaching the parables to the crowds, Christ would then take the 12 Apostles aside and teach them how to understand the deeper meanings of the parables so as to be able to explain them to those who seek the Truth (Mt 13:16-23, 36-43 and Jn 13:17-20). From this we can acknowledge that although Christ is the undisputed source of the Truth, his apostles became his preferred source for the interpretation of the Truth for the lay people.

The question for us remains, however, of how this authority to interpret Christ’s teachings has been handed down throughout the ages in the Magisterium of the Catholic Church? To answer this we need to examine how Jesus wanted his teachings to be handed down and interpreted. To know this, we join Jesus and the Apostles at the table of the Last Supper where Christ promises them the guidance of the Holy Spirit:

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that will come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (Jn 16:13-15)

This was reaffirmed for the Apostles when Christ appeared to them in the locked room after the resurrection:

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:21-23)

It’s amazing that these same words are said to Catholic priests 2,000 years later when they are ordained as the Archbishop breaths on them.

This conveyance to the Apostles of knowledge and ability to understand and interpret Christ’s teachings is reiterated when he appears to them after the resurrection in Luke’s Gospel (Lk 24:45) as well as at Christ’s Ascension into heaven (Acts 1:8).

As we continue to read the Acts of the Apostles, we learn of the great deeds that were done in Christ’s name and how the Early Church developed in Jesus’ absence, handing down Christ’s teaching from one generation to another. We cannot begin to believe that these holy and righteous disciples, infused with the Holy Spirit, would have deviated from Christ’s intent. As Christ’s teachings were transmitted by the disciples from one generation to the next, they were guided, as Christ promised, by the Holy Spirit to form the doctrines of the One Holy and Apostolic Catholic Church of today. A Catholic Church that can trace the source of its teachings to the 12 men who, breathed on by the risen Christ, came to understand the scriptures so as to speak the Truth.

If we truly believe that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church on earth (as all Christians are called to believe), then we must also believe that the Apostles and their descendants – the Catholic Church – were called to carry out His will until the end of time.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Orthodox Revolution

First edition cover

Dear Theophilus,

During class discussions in the religious education course I just completed, it became increasingly apparent to myself and my classmates that I am on the more conservative side of Catholicism. In other words – I am an Orthodox Catholic.

The Free Dictionary defines orthodox as: “adhering to the accepted or traditional and established faith, especially in religion.” So I have to admit that, yes, I am an Orthodox Catholic. This was made blatantly obvious during one activity, where a line was drawn down the middle of the room and those who were pro-contraception were to stand on one side and those against contraception on the other. My lone friend and I were somewhat intimidated as we looked over the line to the standing-room-only pro-contraception side of the classroom. This then led me to consider a struggle in living out my orthodoxy: firstly, understanding how my orthodoxy affects my spiritual development; and, secondly, how my orthodoxy makes me un-orthodox in my interactions with the rest of society.

In his 1908 book aptly entitled Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton stated that being orthodox is the greatest form of rebellion in contemporary society. Throughout the book, Chesterton lists the ills of early 20th Century society and how they had come about because of society’s deviation from Christ’s teachings. I find it amusing that a statement made on observations from 104 years ago is still very appropriate today. In our western society that promotes the rights of the individual over those of the community; putting materialistic and physical pleasure before spiritual fulfillment; a society that tells us that we are entitled to every whim – including our relationship with God – the Orthodox Christian that seeks the good of the community and spiritual pursuits before these material gods is seen as an anomaly that should be shunned and combated as an outcast.

So I ask myself: What is God’s will for me in this world? How should I present myself as a Catholic in society? Time and again I come to the answer that I need to be a gentle witness. It will do no good for me to preach fire and brimstone, telling the world that it is on the path to perdition. This is a message that the world either doesn’t want to hear or is not ready to listen to. Pushing the orthodox path to Christ will only lead to sealing their ears to His word.

After a recent heated discussion on the Church teaching on homosexuality (where I was shouted down to cries of who should cast the first stone before I could speak of the Church’s inclusive nature), I received some reassuring direction from someone who’s knowledge and faithfulness far outstrips my own. His message was this: “You will never go wrong if you teach from the Catechism and scripture, using them not as a weapon, but as a tool. Be ready, however, that many will attack you and will try to crucify you for professing the Truth.” His words reminded me once again of the revolutionary nature of my orthodoxy.

As an Orthodox Catholic and Christian, I realize that how I live my life and what I profess is revolutionary in today’s world. Instead of manning the barricades and starting a Holy War, I feel a call to be even more subversive. To be a gentle witness.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

On Heretics and Heresy...

Dear Theophilus,

As I mentioned in my last post, I am taking my Religious Education part 2 course to add to my qualifications as a catholic teacher. As promised by my friend, colleague and course director, many of the twenty some-odd students in the class are at varying points along the way of their spiritual journey.

Many of my classmates are posing some very good and thought provoking questions on Catholic Church teachings. I think much of what they’re asking about comes from the perception of Church teachings presented in the media; the two most frequent questions turning around homosexuality and the ordination of women.

It’s good to ask questions. That’s how we learn. The course instructor even went so far as to state that over the millennia Church doctrine has evolved and formed through the discussion of heresy. In fact, in the Early Church, it was the discussion of heresies that drove the first councils of bishops and led to the clear expression of doctrines such as the Nicene Creed (Council of Nicaea 325) and Mary as the Mother of God (Theotokos – Council of Ephesus 431). It’s too bad, however, that the instructor left it at that, and did not delve into answering the questions at hand.

The idea that did resurface, time and again, through our discussion, was a questioning of why the Church excludes and judges those that go against its teachings. Both Fr. Robert Barron and Michael Coren offer fantastic insights as to how the Catholic Church deals with heresies and heretics.

Both start from the accepted definition of heresy: “An opinion or a doctrine at variance with established religious beliefs, especially dissension from or denial of Roman Catholic dogma by a professed believer or baptized church member.” From here, what both Fr. Barron and Coren proclaim is that the Catholic Church has no problem accepting heretics into the fold; it is rather their heretical ideas that cause the problem. Michael Coren goes further in writing that it is not the Catholic Church that excommunicates heretics, but that they excommunicate themselves (Heresy: Ten Lies They Spread about Christianity) and that the Catholic Church plainly states its ideals and teachings, and if you don’t like them, you are painfully free to go (Why Catholics are Right). Both of Coren’s books are excellent resources to help Catholics and Christians to answer the questions others will have as they search out their faith.

Recently, Fr. Barron posted his thoughts on heresy on his website, www.wordonfire.org. Fr. Barron reiterates that we need to love the heretic while being wary of their heretical ideas. In his talk, Fr. Barron explains how trying to tell the Catholic Church to change its teachings is tantamount to telling another person of free will what they can and cannot believe. Fr. Barron goes on to use a great parallel – that telling the Catholic Church to accept uncatholic teachings would be like asking the United States Golf Association to start building baseball diamonds. Not that there is anything wrong with baseball, it’s just not the stated purpose of the USGA.

What we need to do is to educate ourselves. Ask the hard questions of faith and Catholic teachings, and then find out why they exist. Once we’ve educated ourselves, we can lovingly teach our neighbour, helping them along their own faith journey.