April 12, 2022

Article at Medium

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A Christian Is More than One Who Believes

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There is a lot of consternation about a letter released in July by Bishop John Doerfler. The letter entitled Created in the Image and Likeness of God: An Instruction on Some Aspects of the Pastoral Care Of Persons with Same-Sex Attraction and Gender Dysphoria gives instructions on how to minister to those who self-identify as LGBT.

Many railed against it believing it singles out the self-identified members of the LGBT Catholic community. They are not wrong. In fact, the rules he cites actually apply to all those in the Catholic Church but he wrote it specific to that community.

Catholicism is more than rules

Many in their anger against the letter missed a larger issue within both Catholicism and Christianity the bishop addresses and the Pew Research Center also reveals. Bishop Doerfler makes the bold step of condemning the common practice of doing nothing more than citing rules.

He begins by explaining the importance of leading people to an encounter with Christ. This means to help them develop a prayer relationship with Jesus which is at the center of true Christianity. The practice of just simply citing rules is bad Catholicism. He explains: “To accompany others, it is insufficient merely to state the Church’s teaching.”

If you want to know what the Church teaches in a way that reflects no pastoral foundation and is as uncaring and as hard as the cross on which Christ was crucified simply read Catholics who write on social media. They spend their days condemning others because “that is what the Church teaches.” They sound like they inspired the lyrics to the Pet Shop Boys: “It’s a Sin.”

Bishop Doerfler warns against such Catholic practice, a powerful admonition for a Catholic cleric. I criticized other bishops who do exactly that on Twitter and other venues. You cannot minister using two hundred and eighty characters. Do you want to know the rules in black and white? Talk to a canon lawyer. Do you want to know pastoral ministry? I might be able to assist.

He goes on to say: To address the behavior apart from fostering a personal encounter with Jesus and his love is likely to harm the other person.

Yup!

Catholicism without knowing Christ makes no sense

His goal is to bring someone to encounter Christ first and not to force them into what the Church teaches first. His words are more closely connected to the words of the catechism and the ancient tradition of the faith. In fact, it is impossible to live our faith without this encounter sustained through prayer.

Ironically, the bishop’s letter became known for the rules he does explain at the end. They actually apply to all Catholics. Therefore, to cite them specifically to one group or community, which he does, gives the wrong impression.

The letter illustrates a real problem in Catholicism since the days of Jesus. What does it mean to call oneself a Catholic — the one who follows rules or the one who prays? The one who can recite the do’s and don’t’s of the faith or the one who is a friend of Jesus. The true Catholic prays and through prayer learns about the deeper wisdom in the rules.

It is no secret Jesus and the religious leaders of his day did not get along. Why? Because the leaders enforced rules without any compassion or consideration of the humanness of God’s people. Jesus brought in the human reality and taught the law was made for humanity, humanity was not made for the law.

If you are going to live Christianity then follow the model Jesus gives us and not the law reciting actions of the religious leaders of his day.

What makes a Christian

In a recent survey from the Pew Research Center of those who identify as Christian, only forty-five percent pray on a daily basis. What is the difference between those who pray and those who do not?

We have to understand what we mean by prayer which Pew does not define. If my entire prayer schedule is to say one Our Father every day, I assume I count as one who prays daily. In truth, I say it many times as part of my required responsibilities as a priest. If I limit my prayer to what I am required to do, then my prayer-life and faith will still be quite shallow.

Our prayer has to lean more toward the contemplative. We can encounter God in silence in Eucharistic adoration or other prayer models. We can follow what St. Alphonsus Liguori teaches — to speak to God as one would a good friend. If I am not praying like this, then my Catholicism will be as shallow as my prayer life. I will be incapable of living or teaching the faith to the level to which all Catholics have a calling.

What really makes a Catholic is that he or she prays. One of my favorite teachings is on what the devil fears the most — the worst of all sinners on his or her knees in prayer.

The bishop lays out an essential element to being a true Christian. Those who call themselves Christians but do not pray may be more like those Jesus condemned as offering no more than lip service. This may explain such strange phenomena as sending holiday greeting cards where the central figure is firearms.

The bishop angered many by citing rules of who can and cannot receive the sacraments at the end of his letter, however, he lays the foundation of understanding the rules through pastoral ministry. In other words, the person ministering the sacraments must address the situation in a pastoral manner to help the person seeking the sacraments deepen their encounter with Christ. In fact, the person who understands his qualification of receiving the sacrament in light of the rules alone is living the same idea the bishop condemns. Catholicism cannot be reduced to just following rules because the rules make no sense outside of a daily encounter with Christ. A person who puts into action the fruit of his or her prayer will bear great fruit.

Who goes to Heaven?

There are many people who spent their lives living and teaching a black and white understanding of Catholicism void of compassion and love while others who just humbly come before the Lord and seek to know him will find him in powerful ways. Jesus himself teaches this in the Parable of the Pharisee and Publican (Luke 18:9–14).

The teachers of a compassionless faith may be surprised to find that those whom they condemned may end up living in huge mansions in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus knew them personally whereas he only knew the others by their lack of need of his friendship because they were so good at following rules on their own. They would also find, as St. Alphonsus Liguori taught in How to Converse with God (chapter 20), that as much as they chose to show no mercy to these they rejected, God is most merciful to those who pray.

When I was in the Navy studying to be a Sonar Technician we learned the answer to the age-old question — if a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, does it still make a sound? The answer is no because in order to make a sound there is a need for a receptor to change the kinetic energy produced by the falling tree into what we call sound. That is, of course, the ear.

If a person self-identifies as a Christian and does not pray, is he or she really a Christian, even if he or she follows the rules to the letter? Or is the believer what St Paul warns against — a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal?

Check our RJ Carr’s latest book Encounter Christ in Your Humanity

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