From Humdrum to Holy: Walking with Jesus to Mount Zion

Man’s supernatural end

The Catholic Church teaches that: “By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange” (CCC 221).

Through Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, our participation in this eternal exchange is possible. Man has been created by love and for love.

Here on earth our lives as Christians consist in the image of Jesus being reproduced in us by means of the love of God that has been shed abroad in our hearts which empowers us to love God and neighbor and in so doing fulfill the law of Christ.

Enter Fr. Ed Broom, O.M.V.

A priest for more than 30 years dedicated to giving the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Fr. Broom knows well what it takes to live out the Christian faith by following in the footsteps of Jesus.

In his recent book titled From Humdrum to Holy, Fr. Broom has put together a comprehensive yet eminently practical plan of action to grow in holiness and therefore closer to Jesus.

At 24 chapters and a little over 120 pages, it is comprehensive in its scope of topics and short enough to be read in one sitting.

One of the book’s most powerful points is its first chapter which focuses on the question of our existence: “why are we here in this world?“.

Fr. Broom’s answer is St. Ignatius’: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

This constitutes a strong foundation that keeps everything in the book firmly grounded in the reality of our daily lives and the choices we make.

Chapters 4 and 17 build on that foundation by reminding us of the importance of self-knowledge and the possibility of falling into mortal sin and dying in that state. Far from being fear-mongering, such exhortations help us not forget that our choices have eternal consequences and that this life is an arena of combat in which a lot is at stake.

Take heart and step into the fray

The remaining chapters present us with a rich treasure trove of steps and actions we can take to start living holy lives and walk more closely with our Lord.

Everything from morning prayer to daily Scripture reading, spiritual reading, learning about the Faith, daily examination of conscience, prayers of dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary, invocation of angels and saints, more frequent reception of the sacraments with adequate preparation and many others are presented so they can be immediately applied in your life.

In sum, Fr. Broom has provided us with a fine resource we can constantly go back to for encouragement and sound advice on how we can better live the fundamental vocation of all Christians; the universal call to holiness. It is my hope and prayer that this book will strengthen your resolve and furnish you with the tools and means to do the will of our Father in heaven.

Religion No, Jesus Yes!

A non-denominational pastor thunders to his congregation: “My brothers and sisters, I used to live in bondage! I was bogged down under the weight of endless religious rules and precepts I had to painstakingly observe.”

“However, one day I came to the realization that all those things could never save me. The answer to my anguish and anxiety had been staring at me all along. Christ saves, not religion! Therefore, don’t labor in darkness anymore and see the light that only Jesus can bring. Can I get an amen?!”

This sounds a lot like what the average non-denominational Evangelical minister is preaching from the pulpit. Here we can see that familiar and quasi-rallying cry of a great portion of American Protestantism, namely religion doesn’t save, Christ does.

What are we to make of this claim so often bandied about by our Protestant friends? After all, at first blush it appears unassailable and quite pious.

All it takes is a question or two

To respond, I’d like to propose two simple questions that can help us see how the well-known quip doesn’t hold under scrutiny and ultimately becomes self-refuting when properly analyzed.

When considering the elements that constitute a religion, we can distill it down to two, namely: a worship code and a moral code. These correspond to the two following basic questions: are all forms of giving adoration to God valid and are all types of behavior valid and pleasing to God?

Is God pleased by the way I’ve chosen to worship Him?

Let’s consider number one.

The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life and consequently, the highest form of worship human beings, empowered by Christ, can offer to God. Such a statement is either true or false.

For the vast majority of Protestants it is categorically false. This shows that for a given person or group of people, not all forms of worship of God are valid, otherwise they would have to include the Catholic Mass. As we can see from this, from the moment a Christian makes a decision as to what one can do or not do in order to offer adoration to God, he is ipso facto practicing a religion.

Let’s consider an additional example. Some groups of charismatic Christians would see a concert with loud music, stage smoke and dazzling lights as a valid way to give adoration to God. Conversely, some other Christians, such as Quakers and some Calvinists, would look at such activity and say that it is in fact a synagogue of Satan.

In the midst of that bombardment of visual stimuli, what God would there be to offer worship to? They are not worshiping God but themselves, these other Christians would say. Here we can see again that both groups have made pronouncements as to how one ought and ought not to worship. In so doing, they are practicing different religions.

Is God pleased by the behaviors I’ve chosen to embrace?

Let’s consider number two now.

We’ll use the issue of homosexual behavior and same-sex unions as our example. Many Christians in the Episcopal tradition, for example, have no qualms about blessing the union of same-sex couples and officiating wedding ceremonies for them in church buildings. They are very clear in declaring that the love these couples have for one another is pleasing in the sight of God and we should not hinder them.

Diametrically opposed to this we find many other Christians in other traditions that strongly condemn such actions and view them as the closest thing to the Devil waltzing about in the household of God. In making judgments as to what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable moral behavior, both groups are practicing different religions.

Conclusion

In summary, in examining the two questions I’ve put forward one can clearly see how the claim in the title of this post becomes a self-refuting proposition, for we have demonstrated that all individuals and groups must make decisions as to how they ought to worship and not worship and how they ought to behave and not behave. These are undoubtedly the elements of a religion.

Hence, whether one likes it or not, as soon as one wants to follow God, one is also choosing a particular religion, with its specific rituals, beliefs, history, and practices.

Scrutinizing “Resisting Happiness”

Matthew Kelly sent me a copy of his new book Resisting Happiness, and I recently read it.

New Words, Old Meanings

This book is about the perennial human struggle to grow in faith, hope, and love while overcoming sin.

resistbookHence, we “resist happiness” because we have concupiscence–the tendency toward sin–and so we are tempted to be lazy, gluttonous, prideful, and selfish.

Kelly avoids these traditional words in order to make the book accessible to non-Catholics, secular people, and Catholics who don’t know their Faith well. This is Kelly’s target audience and his mission, and that must be kept in mind when reading the book as a Catholic strong in your faith.

Self-Help Catholicism?

Kelly tells many anecdotes in this book–one of his hallmarks–and even admits to recycling several stories from previous books into this one. Reading Kelly’s books the same themes emerge under slightly different window dressing: become the best version of yourself (e.g. holiness, becoming a saint in traditional lingo); discover that Catholicism is true, grow in virtue.

kelly1Many people criticize Kelly because he can come across as promoting “self-help” Catholicism or that his writing is too surface-level.

My response is that Kelly is targeting the huge masses of people who don’t go to church, who fell away from Catholicism, who are nominal in their Faith.

Recently in fact, a reader messaged me describing three people he is talking with–all secular to a large degree, with lots of problems, far from God in most ways–and he asked me what books I’d recommend.

I told him something by Fr. (Bishop) Barron or Matthew Kelly. Quite frankly they are the kinds of authors that reach people who are on the outside of the Church. I respect them for that and don’t expect to read an Imitation of Christ when I pick up one of their books.

Plus, even for a Catholic apologist like me, I need reminders of the basics: in reading Resisting Happiness many times it made me reflect on my own life and how I let laziness steer me off course in my spiritual life. So there is something for everyone in it.