Book Review: Renewal

renewal1Renewal is a new book analyzing the conflict between conservatives and progressives within the Catholic Church in the United States over the past fifty years.

Co-written by Anne Hendershott and Christopher White, the book surveys the crisis that the Church has faced in our country since the Second Vatican Council. Why did vocations to the priesthood decline so precipitously for so long? What have dioceses done to reverse this decline? What has worked? What hasn’t?

The book’s premise is that orthodox bishops and priests are ushering in a new era in the Church, healing the damage that heterodox clerics have done over the past several decades. The authors convincingly prove their case. The proof is in the numbers, with vocations and renewal blossoming in those dioceses with solid bishops, while vocations continue to barely trickle in in dioceses with not-so-solid ones.

Many hot topics get good discussion and examination: the women’s ordination movement (as well as the failed experiment of female “lay parish administrators” with priest as subordinate sacramental helper), the problem of universities that are Catholic in name only, the Obama administration’s attacks on religious freedom.

While much of the book’s content was known to me, nonetheless it was shocking to see it all collected in one place. The numbers don’t lie. As all orthodox Catholics know, the only way to be fruitful is to remain on the vine of Christ. And we remain on the vine by obeying Him (see John 15). Those Catholics who have not obeyed Him have caused destruction within the Church, the effects of which will be endured for decades to come.

That said, the book’s message is one of hope. The renewal that is going on in the Church is real and is growing. The not-so-secret secret is that faithful bishops matter, a fact that Pope Emeritus Benedict knew very well, and that Pope Francis is continuing to support. The new episcopal appointments from Texas and in surrounding states like New Mexico, Louisiana, and California have been awesome. I have personally known some of the priests ordained to be new bishops; men of courage, of stalwart faith and orthodoxy, as well as moral character.

Renewal is a timely book, important for anyone involved in vocations, dioceses, or parish work to read. It is also a good book to give to someone who wants to know the state of the Catholic union in the U.S.

God’s Playing Opposite Day Again

Jeremiah the prophet

Does it ever seem to you that God’s will is the exact opposite of what your desires and hopes are?

On Friday’s post regarding the difficulty of single life, Sarah had a great description of this phenomenon:

I’ve often heard what I think is a false belief that God is somehow out to always trick or surprise us or “teach us some lesson” by haHA not giving us our desires! I think there is a lot more depth to God, and as a single it really, really frustrated me when time and again “encouragers” would give rare examples of people who felt called in one direction but ended up never going down that road.

The reality is, God is not out to get us or simply “play opposite day” with us to be cute or prove anything… however, His ways *are* bigger than our ways and yes, we must accept that we don’t have all the answers and His plans may not always make sense to us. And yet, no matter what happens, God really does love us and want whats best for us and desire joy for us.

I have certainly felt this way during my life. Starting during my days as an atheist. Of all the things I held in contempt, Christianity held a special place. Then God brought me to my knees via depression, anxiety disorder, and panic attacks, and I became a Christian, that thing I most despised.

After a year or so of swimming in the waters of Evangelical Protestantism, I had grown to abhor the Catholic Church. Its rituals, rules, and ancient morbidity all disgusted me. But then I started questioning some of the presuppositions of my new-found Protestant beliefs and realized, to my horror, that (of all things) the Catholic Church had the strongest, most consistent claims to be the Church Christ founded.

God had done it again. He had duped me, and I was duped. And I found myself again joining something I once despised.

By this point, I was ready for anything. Or so I thought. The vocation to consecrated celibacy opened up to me when I became Catholic. At this time though, I was still struggling to overcome my social anxiety disorder. The idea of being a priest, always in the spotlight, was completely unappealing to me. I dreaded the idea of it. But it didn’t take long for me to remember how God on multiple occasions had led me to become the very thing I most feared. Would He do it again and call me to the priesthood?

Thus my discernment of the priesthood became a double battle of struggling to see past my fears and overcome them so that I could peacefully and calmly see whether Christ was leading me to become a priest. I didn’t want my own weaknesses and anxieties to prevent me from being the man God wanted me to be. And I knew how powerless I was to accomplish this without His help.

Thanks be to God. He did help me through the fears, and, with both feet firmly planted on the ground, I came to respect, admire, and value the priesthood, even while realizing that it was not my vocation.

So God didn’t play opposite day forever with me, though it felt that way several times. Truth is though, He wanted the best for me, and since I started from a far and alien country, it was an arduous trek to come Home.

As Sarah said: God knows you and wants what is best for you. He alone knows how you will be most fulfilled in this life. He is worthy of our total trust. God bless you in your life!

Have you had times in your life when it felt like God was playing a shell game with you, or playing opposite day?