There are not many topics that I try to avoid as much as the one of “Why Has My Family Abandoned their Catholic Heritage,” passed on from grandparents, parents and beyond that, all the way back to the time of the Apostles. What I consider critical to being human, being a faithful member of the Body of Christ, the only way I have found to practice how to love others as Christ loves us, many have rejected as being irrelevant. I received my patrimony, my heritage from my parents and they from theirs. They were stalwarts of belief, role models for my own decision to embrace the Catholic Universal priesthood, than again to apply as a Lay Cistercian of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist). http://www.trappist.net How could anyone reject the one thing my grandparents thought worth dying? Passing on of things was never important to our family. We never had a lot to pass on. Passing on the heritage of Faith, now that was important. Growing up, they went to extraordinary lengths to preserve young believers. I am not only puzzled from the seeming abandonment of principles of love and service that we received, but I am also sad, sad that what I know to be so important to humans they may be missing: 1) discovering the purpose of life; 2) selecting my purpose in life; 3)what reality looks like; 4) how all reality fits together; 5) how to love fiercely; and, 6) you know you are going to die, now what I am sad because they are missing Christ as the Son of God, savior.
I must preface my remarks with two ideas, in order for me to be able to even write down my ideas, painful as they are. First, everyone is free to choose whatever they want as their belief system. In my own family, there are those faithful to their heritage passed on from our grandparents, then there are cultural Catholics, those who have abandoned their heritage in favor of whatever they place at their center, and finally, those who believe nothing at all. Secondly, I am not judging or putting down anyone for believing in anything. Faith is a process of believing as you weave down the path of life, often coming close to the edge of rationality versus animality. I am responsible for my life, my belief system, my ability to love others as Christ loves us, and how well I did what Christ asked of us. (Matthew 25:36). Next, I choose to focus on my own efforts to “have in me the mind of Christ Jesus,” rather than excoriate anyone because they don’t believe like I do. Truth is one. God is one. I will say that I pray for my family each and every day, as I do for myself, that we all have the strength and enlightenment to choose the love of Christ over the World. I have no control over anyone and, like St. Paul, I must continuously convert my life from my false self to my true self.
In this Internet Retreat, you have looked at temptations for this and that. One that looms large in this context is, the loss of Faith. Some would tell me that they have not lost their Faith at all but have come to their senses. Some replaced the Faith of their Heritage, forged by countless prayer and sacrifices, with something else they judged better. No one chooses what is bad for them. How can they choose something else and I hold something so important it explains, as much as humans can do so, the purpose of life and how we all fit? There are not two realities, only one. Truth is not subject to whim or to how much the person is sincere. Truth is one.
How does this heritage crumble in just one generation? It goes without saying that everyone is sincerely seeking the truth to the best of their ability. They are good persons, in some cases, heroic persons that care for others. I must admit to being very mystified and find myself without any good reasons. Never the less, I will attempt to move on with my Lectio Divina meditations on the subject and share with you what I have thought about. More troubling is that this happens in not just one family but across the board in many, many families I know.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LOSE YOUR HERITAGE?
I can only tell you what losing my heritage would be. If you never had your heritage, passed down through your family, you would not know the meaning of this concept. Faith is one of those realities, invisible like the emotion of love, all encapsulated within the parameters of the Mystery of Faith, a compendium of all that is, some of which we know but much of it beyond human comprehension. In the previous section on truth, reason and free will, I tried to describe that each of us has an opinion about this or that. That goes for the statement that someone has lost their Faith. That is from my viewpoint, but, as I have tried to point out, there is more than just my opinion. We measure ourselves against the weight of all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of Faith. Faith is not as the World sees it, just your opinion and my opinion. It is the collective strength, the unbroken thread of those who have sacrificed and struggled to love Christ as Christ loved them, the unknown and forgotten persons who make up the Body of Christ Triumphant, those who have been faithful to what Christ taught us. It is all those who are joined together as Church Universal, individually struggling to know what is good for them and what is bad for them, and those who jump off the barq of Peter for a bit then jump back on because Christ has the words of eternal life. It is waging warfare with the shallow and short term pleasures of the orgastic state, of drug and alcohol, and money, that Erich Fromm alluded to in his book, The Art of Loving. It is avoidance, in terms of behavior, but why? What is to avoid?
What did they lose, when they lose their Faith? Whenever I say someone seems to have lost their Faith, it means they do not have a North on their compass, one that was given them in Baptism to guide them through the alurements of what is good or bad for us, or minefields of the World. In Baptism, we all become adopted sons and daughters of the Father, in addition to having Christ take away the Original Sin into which all humans are born. We can squander this heritage, if we are not careful. How so? Like love, we can fall out of love with someone (we call that divorce) and change our assumptions about what relationship means. Of one thing we can be sure: God won’t renege on his love for us, even if we quaver in what God means for us. The fidelity of the Lord endures forever.
Whenever I say someone seems to have lost their Faith, it means they do not have a North on their compass, one that was given them in Baptism to guide them through the alurements of what is good or bad for us, or minefields of the World. In Baptism, we all become adopted sons and daughters of the Father, in addition to having Christ take away the Original Sin into which all humans are born. We can squander this heritage, if we are not careful. How so? Like love, we can fall out of love with someone (we call that divorce) and change our assumptions about what relationship means. Of one thing we can be sure: God won’t renege on his love for us, even if we quaver in what God means for us. The fidelity of the Lord endures forever. If God gives you a share in his life but you don’t use it, it withers like a dead leaf on the vine and falls off.
Take some time and read the passage about falling away from the Faith. Those who do this don’t even realize what is happening, it so gradual and innocuous to those without Faith. Many won’t even admit to losing their Faith and some actually say their gaining Faith.
Mark 4 NRSVCE – The Parable of the Sower –
4 Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
The Purpose of the Parables
10 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret[a] of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12 in order that‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. 17 But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.[b] 18 And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. 20 And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”
The parable is about God who sows the seed of Faith in us. We don’t deserve it by however much we believe it to be true. Faith is not about what we believe but about how much we believe in what God tells us. This is called obedience to God’s will and is accessed through humility and conversion of life from self to God. There is a condition to receiving God’s word. You must cultivate it for it to grow and bear fruit. Losing Faith means it drys up because you can’t sustain it. The seed of Faith must be planted in good soil for it to grow. If the seed of Faith does not grow, it just remains a grain of wheat. It is meant to grow and give nourishment. Faith is like that grain of wheat. Initial Faith is received through Baptism but it must grow. Growth is not automatic but takes work. It must be planted in soil that will allow it to be what it is meant to be. If, after a lifetime of trying, your Faith is still initial, you have not produced anything. James writes of this in Chapter 2 by saying:
Faith and Works.*14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?i15If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day,16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?j17So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18Indeed someone may say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.19 You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.20 Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?k22You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works.23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called “the friend of God.”l24 See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route?m26 For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
We are baptized with water and the Spirit for a reason. That reason is not primarily for us but to help others, or, to love others as Christ loves us. If you don’t use your gfts of Faith and the Spirit, you will suffer consequences. If you don’t use your Faith, it will wither on the vine of Christ and not bear fruit. Want to see if you have Faith? Matthew 25:31
THE DRAUGHT OF FAITH
Chapter 4 of the Rule of Benedict (RB) is a good checklist of the tools needed to sustain yourself in times of struggle (which is every day). Based on my own observation in my life and in the lives of others, here are some reasons Faith dries up.
THE INABIITY TO FIND MEANING WITH CATHOLIC PRACTICES
I write all of this as a result of my Lectio Divina. I only vouch that it is what I think. I Hope that I am correct but I won’t be absolutely certain until I stand before Truth and let myself be before the Supreme Being, God. That is a particular judgement that happens when we die. No one gets away with anything. There are consequences for sin. No one goes to Heaven that has sinned that is unrepented. Repented sin are those actions and thoughts that are contrary to what God says is good for us, but we do them anyway.
What happens to someone who loses their faith is the same thing that happens to someone who falls our of love. If you don’t keep trying to love, in the midst of life’s challenges, love will dry up.
Falling out of love means:
Your mind and your heart have two different purposes, not one.
CONSEQUENCES FOR OUR ACTIONS
There is no free lunch, if you are a spiritual person. You must love God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself. (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:34). The reason for a Church in any age is to create a School of Love (St. Benedict’s Prologue) in which we can practice loving others as Christ loves us with the tools He gives us (Chapter 4, RB). As a Lay Cistercian and member of the Church Universal, I do that in the context of others, meaning there is always imperfection and the consequences of Original Sin against which I must content, daily. Personally, I have not found anything more inspiring, more centered on Christ, more consistent with the message of Christ than what I am doing.
There are three choices we can make, all of which have consequences.
I. I can choose what I am doing as a Lay Cistercian and, to the best of my ability try to transform myself from my false self to my new self, each day, using the practices and charisms of the Cistercian Way. This is a way to look at reality that is in process of becoming. When I die, I will be judged on what I have chosen as my Center (Philippians 2:5) and how well I practiced my Faith. God will tell me, “Good and Faith Servant, Come, Share Your Lord’s Joy!”
II. I can choose not to be a Catholic Universal member, nor a Lay Cistercian, and select some other approach to find meaning in life. If I am sincere in what I have selected as my center, God will judge me on my activities. Matthew 25:31-46.
III. I can choose myself as my center and the fulfillment of all my wishes. When I die, I will be judged against Who God Is and What Christ came to share with us, and how I did or did not recognize it.
The most frequently used phrases humans will use when they are face to face with the Way, the Truth, and the Life is:
It is the Church’s fault, they never told me about this.
I never knew about how to love as Christ loves us.
I left the Church because it was irrelevant, maybe it was me who was irrelevant.
I never knew that the teachings of Christ were to help me love others. All I thought it was, was to go to Church and please my parents.
No one ever taught me how to dig beneath the surface and slough off my old self to put on the new self in Christ.
I though religion was for old ladies and priests who could not otherwise find a meaningful job.
Matthew 25:31-46 New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)
The Judgment of the Nations
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD…IN THE END IS THE WORD MADE FLESH
When writing this, actually as one part of a three part book, I want to emphasis that all of us are free to choose whatever we want to be or to believe about anything. I also want to state that there are consequences for our actions, maybe not now, but later on. Standing before God being asked to place your being against the Supreme Being, none of us comes out looking good. Some will accept their inheritance as sons and daughters of the Father and some will not.
In the end, there are three things that last, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13:13 Some people know what this means in terms of living it out, and some miss the point entirely.
Adam and Eve were created by God to be gardeners or caretakers of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. We are caretakers of the Kingdom of Heaven (on Earth) because of our adoption as sons and daughters of the Father. Some people realize this and some do not.
We have all been given the ability to reason for a reason. Perhaps it is to be able to chose the purpose of life. What we choose can be either good for us or bad for us. There are consequences to all our actions. God became one of us, Jesus Christ, not only to show us the way, the truth, and the life, but to show us what love means. We are made adopted sons and daughters of the Father through the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. We confess our Faith through Baptism and Forgiveness of Sins in the Sacraments as ways Christ gives us the energy to sustain our struggle against the effects of Original Sin. Some see that and act on it, some do not see it and it means nothing. That in all things, God is glorified. –St. Benedict