Which of Your Friends are Going to Hell?

Someone both lovable and known-to-be-sinful died recently, and a friend posed this question: What does the Church teach about so-and-so?  Is this person now in hell?

This was my answer:

The Church will very occasionally confirm that someone is in heaven, but never makes a judgement on who is in hell.

We can know that certain sins will mortally wound the life of the soul if they are freely chosen by someone who understands their gravity. We cannot know the inner life of another person, and therefore cannot know how culpable they are for a given sin, nor whether they repented (if necessary).

Heck, we barely scratch the surface on our *own* inner lives.

We can, in contrast, appreciate all that is true, good & beautiful in the people around us.

***

On that note . . . I wrote a long rambly post back in August on the complicated lives of us sinners.  There was a relevant section to my friend’s question, so I’ll share that again:

Mercy is the thing that makes us see the part of our friends that must at all costs be saved.

Yes, yes, we know about the immense weaknesses and deplorable lapses and insufferable habits — but we know the other side! We have seen selflessness to make your mouth gape, and virtues so indelibly marked on our friends’ souls that they track in purity and joy on their shoes even when they try their hardest to wipe their goodness off at the door.

Some people get so despicable that it’s hard to see the parts worth saving. God can see those parts though. The question of salvation isn’t how much nastiness needs to be removed to get down to the person you were created to be. The question of salvation is: Are you willing to be saved?

Happy Advent, everyone!

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Detail of a Cross of St. Longinus.  If there’s hope for him, there’s hope for you.  Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Longinuskreuz_1.JPG CC 3.0

Miracle from Mont Sainte Odile

This is a story from the last day of the Epic Vacation, and about a subsequent miracle that happened the week after, and my cat.  It comes up now because a friend of mine could use an eyesight miracle, so if you’d kindly pause and say a St. Odile Pray for Us, I’d be most grateful. Thanks!  Now for the touring+miracle story.

 

The kids and I had planned to visit Mont Sainte Odile while we were staying out in the village on the first leg of our trip.  The monastery is not far from the concentration camp, so the obvious plan was to visit one site in the morning and one site in the afternoon.  That plan, like many of our epic plans, was thwarted by our persistent difficulty in getting out the door early each day.   We left Alsace for the first time having neglected her patron saint.

After a week in Chamonix and a few days around Paris, we returned to Alsace to stay in downtown Strasbourg.  I decided to hang onto the rental car since the marginal cost was relatively low and I wanted to keep our options open.  For the last full day of the trip, the kids voted that we take one more adventure in the countryside and go see that monastery after all.

 

Here’s the tomb of Ste. Odile, where I asked for her intercession on a variety of concerns, not least of which that I would like very much to return again to Alsace, thanks.

Here’s the ancient chapel in the monastery where my children stood before the crucifix bickering with each other.  There’s a door from here into the main chapel where we could hear holy people next door praying the Mass (we’d arrived mid-Mass and chosen not to interrupt).

In the monastery gift shop you can purchase all the usual Catholic merchandise, including pun-laden cologne:

The word “eau” means “water” and is pronounced like the letter O.  Eau d’Il means “water of He,” with the obvious spiritual connotation, and is pronounced the same way as the name Odile.   (Grammatically it’s as awkward as the Son-sun puns.) This pun on the word for water, though, is wildly entertaining to those of us who can’t resist a pun, because Ste. Odile is famous for her miraculous spring:

At this place, Odile struck the rock, and the water that gushed forth cured the blind man.  Pilgrims, halt your steps and rest there, to pray to God that he will enlighten your souls as well at this miraculous spring. 

You can purchase the miraculous (but un-blessed) water up top at the monastery where it’s offered for a suggested donation in little plastic bottles, or you can bring your own container and hike down to the spring and collect water yourself for free.

I made the hike and drunk down my water bottle so I could refill it with water from the spring, because who can resist?  The kids ended up not joining me on the hike as-planned, but the road out of the monastery passes right by the spring, and they filled up their now-empty water bottles as well.  We were totally armed for . . . whatever it is Catholics do with unblessed water from miraculous springs.

Once back in town we emptied the car, cleaned it out, filled it up, returned it to the rental place, and went home to pack-up for our departure the next day.

Now it is absolutely ridiculous to plan to bring bottles of water in your checked luggage home from Europe.  It’s a recipe for wet laundry.  But our Catholic instincts were way too strong here, and so I carefully put our bottles of spring water inside large ziplocks and packed them amid a suitcase of clothes that wouldn’t get ruined if there was a leak, and which would absorb any leaked water so that no one else’s luggage got wet.  Miracle #1: Our water made it home intact.

So we get home and unpack and I’ve got these old used plastic water bottles containing un-blessed water from the miraculous spring.  I have a decorative bottle my grandmother gave me that was sitting empty, so I filled that bottle and corked it and set it out on the mantel, Catholic memento achievement unlocked.  There was, however, more water than would fit in the decorative bottle.  What to do with it?

I put it in the pets’ water bowl out in the yard.

Now for the big miracle.

This kitten is one of the pets.  Martin the Cat came to us as a stray, and when he arrived he had runny, gunky eyes.  Efforts by the vet over the past several years to treat his eyes have been ineffective.  We eventually decided that since he wasn’t in any obvious pain, he was just going to be a cat with an untreatable eye problem and there was nothing more to be done.  He’s a great little neighborhood cat, underappreciated at my house but who does the rounds providing companionship to several of our lonely neighbors who would not be able to take on a cat of their own, but who appreciate his daily visits.

Here’s the miracle: About a week after I put out the St. Odile water for the pets, I noticed Martin the Cat’s eyes were completely cleared up.  They haven’t gotten runny since then.

Natural vs. Supernatural

Is it possible Martin’s eyes just happened to have spontaneously cleared up that particular week, and St. Odile had nothing to do with it?  Sure.  It’s not like I poured water over his eyes and watched  an instantaneous  transformation.  What I do know though is that he had this eye problem that didn’t respond to any conventional treatment, and after drinking water from a spring whose water had cured a blind man, and a spring under the patronage of a saint whose symbol is a book with two eyes on it, after drinking that water, the cat was cured.

That’s all I know.

If the week after getting one of his rounds of eye drops from the vet my cat had been cured, I’d assume it was the vet’s treatment that had done the job. So I give St. Odile the same benefit of the doubt I’d give the veterinarian.

Video: The monastery bells ringing to announce the start of mid-afternoon prayer.   All through Alsace and beyond, church bells like this would ring for five minutes or so, straight, to summon the faithful to Mass.  The Epic Vacation category contains all the posts related to our vacation.  Some of them are pure tourist-info, and others are more commentary and stuff.

Who Owns “Social Justice”?

One of the news sources I flip through occasionally is Al Jazeera It’s not the only place I’d turn for information (goodness gracious!), but for coverage of Middle Eastern politics it’s a bit more thorough than the average American paper, go figure.  Al Jazeera also has good human rights coverage sometimes, such as this investigation into Britian’s modern-day slave trade.  Catholics are big into human rights.

The most painful fallacy I see among Catholics is the false dichotomy between “social justice” and “life issues.”  It’s moldering baggage from the Church’s political divisions over the last fifty years or so: We know that a branch of dissenting Catholics labeled themselves “social justice” warriors, and so our alarm bells go off whenever we hear someone talking in vague terms about peace and justice and not much clear doctrine.

We have to cut this out.

Catholics who believe the entirety of the Catholic faith are not obliged to hand over a portion of our faith to agnostics-in-Catholic-clothing.  We get to own the whole package: the Trinity, the Church, the Sacraments, Scripture, and the entire Christian moral life.  We don’t have to settle for our slice of the “pelvic issue” pie and doggedly shun any topic we fear might have somehow, somewhere, been enjoyed by a Democrat.  We certainly don’t have to swallow the line that justice with regards to immigrants, the environment, workers, prisoners, or any other category popular on the Left can thereby only be solved by the Left.

The Church proposes a beautiful, sensible, logical, theologically-sound way of looking at social issues, and it’s ours to love and cherish.  Enjoy it.  Own it.  Don’t let anyone deny you your right to the entirety of the Catholic faith.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]

Four Ways to Avoid Becoming a Bitter Catholic

Up at the Register this morning, I’m talking about ways to not become a person you hate being, in the aftermath of other Catholics being truly horrid:

Bitterness isn’t born ex nihilo. Bitterness is the festering of a spiritual wound, and many Catholics are infected by bitterness because they have suffered real, penetrating, stinging wounds at the hands of their fellows.

When you see someone being rabidly ugly, that didn’t come from nowhere.

When it’s you being rabidly ugly, it often feels like “righteous anger.”

Hmmn.  Are you filled with a sense of peace? Do people generally agree that the way you speak and act is gentle and life-giving?  Do even some of your opponents speak of you respectfully, because your are well-known as someone who is rational, calm, and has good sound reasons for your beliefs?

Or is it maybe possible that, fault of the hurt you’ve endured at the hands of people who had no right to treat you that way, you’ve started to get a little bitter?

Maybe a lot bitter.

It isn’t easy, but there are some things you can do to help yourself heal.  These are some of the things.

And then there were ducks . . .

FYI it’s my editor Kevin Knight at NCR who wins the award for my favorite photo caption ever.  That’s his genius, not mine, concerning the ducks.  But he is so, so, right.  Ducks, guys.  Make that #5.

Related:  Do you you know Catholics who have grown parish-shy? This fine cat photo was my illustration for Taming the Feral Faithful: How to Lure Serious Catholics Back to Your Parish.  You can find an index with this and many other articles about discipleship and evangelization at my D&E index over at the Conspiracy.

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Photo: w:User:Stavrolo [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A Thank You Note for Senator Feinstein

Dear Senator Feinstein,

I wish to thank you for your extraordinary comments to Professor Barrett, in whom, you assure us all, the dogma loudly lives.  (May that be said of all Notre Dame’s faculty one day, please God.)

The reason I wish to thank you is because, like most people, I have some things I believe to be true.  I also have children, most of whom are now teenagers.  Teenagers do this thing that’s necessary for the good of the species, but aggravating all the same: They question the beliefs of their parents.

I would like them, for example, to believe with all their heart that texting and driving is always to be avoided because it poses a serious danger to themselves and others.  I think that’s true, I assume you do as well, and since one day my children might be sharing the road with you, we both have a strong interest in their coming to accept that belief and act on it.  You might say that you and I are dogmatic on that point.

Another thing I’d like them to accept with all their heart is the Catholic faith.  That’s something that probably isn’t so easy for you to understand.  See, here’s the difficulty with kids these days: They don’t fake religious beliefs in order to get along and smooth their social paths.  Back when you were a kid?  Yeah, people did that.  They might be Catholic because it was their family heritage, or they found the communal life appealing, but without necessarily feeling that they had to accept the entirety of the Catholic faith as being exactly true.  I think you work with some people who are like that.

But we of the younger generations don’t do fake-religion so much.  There are a few holdouts, of course, but for the most part, if a young adult these days practices a religion, it’s because he or she thinks it is true.   That’s especially so for Catholics, because in many circles (yours, for example), there’s no real social benefit to being Catholic.  Sometimes it even kinda sucks.  (In a join-your-sufferings-with-Christ kinda way, don’t get me wrong . . ..)

So, like many Catholic parents, even though I try my best to pass onto my children the things that I think are true — both about road safety and the reality of human existence in a larger way — I am well aware that my kids might choose to reject my beliefs.  And though they might lie and say they don’t text and drive even if they do (please God no), they probably won’t get around to lying about being Catholic, at least not after they’ve moved on to college.

And that’s why I want to thank you.  See, my boy is a senior in high school, and like many boys he doesn’t always share his inner thoughts with the world.  I don’t always have a clear read on what he thinks about the Catholic faith.  But this morning?

I showed him the video of you making your famous quote.  He laughed so hard at how ridiculous you were — it was truly a wonderful moment for a mother to share with her son.  We made jokes about “dogma” and a little bit of woofing sounds (which got our actual dog excited and after that she stood at the door all day watching for squirrels because she could tell we knew dogs were important), and also he joked about “those dangerous Christian religious extremists refusing to kill people!”

It was a really fun time for the two of us.  It was also a moment when I knew that my boy understood a person should act on his or her beliefs.  Otherwise they aren’t really much in the way of beliefs, are they?

So thank you very much for giving us that little gift.

I wish you all the best,

Jennifer.

PS: My son also thought you looked drunk.  But you weren’t, I don’t think.  He really hasn’t spent that much time around either senators or drunk people, so he’s not necessarily the best judge.

 

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Photo via United States Congress, US Senate Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In Search of the “Real America”

There’s a meme going around right now about what “real Americans” are like.  We see pictures of heroic rescues in the Texas floods contrasted with recent racist or fascist violence.  The “real America” is the good one.  The real America is where people pull together, act bravely, and give everything to help their neighbor, no matter who that neighbor might be.

I don’t disagree.  America really is that, and we have the pictures to prove it.

The difficult bit is that we aren’t only that.

***

I have some assorted friends whom I profoundly love and respect, and to whom I owe a perpetual debt of gratitude for the goodness they have brought into my life.

These friends are like me, though, in that they are noticeably flawed.   (Like me in kind, not degree – evidence is I’m more flawed than they are.)

I don’t want to hear about that.  Even if I do sometimes notice their weaknesses, I want everyone else to shut their mouths.  What I see in them, what I want everyone to notice, is the beauty and goodness and truth they bring to this world.   I want to shout: Do you not understand what they did for me? For you?!

***

This instinct to see the good in our friends is how we get to an All Dogs Go To Heaven theology.  It’s a good instinct.  We can see that our friends are made in the image and likeness of God, inherently lovable and worth loving.  That’s an accurate view of who they are.  The thought of such a person going to Hell is unthinkable.  We’re not alone there.  God Himself has been quite explicit about His desire to save the world rather than condemn it.

***
Mercy is the thing that makes us see the part of our friends that must at all costs be saved.

Yes, yes, we know about the immense weaknesses and deplorable lapses and insufferable habits — but we know the other side!  We have seen selflessness to make your mouth gape, and virtues so indelibly marked on our friends’ souls that they track in purity and joy on their shoes even when they try their hardest to wipe their goodness off at the door.

***

Some people get so despicable that it’s hard to see the parts worth saving.   God can see those parts though.  The question of salvation isn’t how much nastiness needs to be removed to get down to the person you were created to be.  The question of salvation is: Are you willing to be saved?

***

We aren’t supposed to like nastiness.  It isn’t supposed to be easy and comfortable to live with horrid people.  We should want to be surrounded by peaceful, loving, generous folk who fully live out the commandments.  (Never ever forgetting Proverbs 27:14, but of course there are others as well).

So it’s understandable that we have low patience for certain sins.

***

What is lost in our national discourse is the appreciation of the complexity of other humans.  Someone can be terribly wrong in some ways and entirely right in others.  Someone can both commit serious sins and carry out marvelous good works.  (I’ve got the first part down, thanks.)

You can be a racist nationalist who risks your own life rescuing total strangers.

You can give away your fortune aiding the poor, and also devote yourself to killing the unborn.

You can be a notorious philanderer and also an unshakable civil rights martyr.

The combinations are unlimited, and Americans seem, collectively, to be trying out all of them.

***

Where our national discourse goes wrong is in trying to mount the opposite of the ad hominen attack — call it the ad hominen defense.  If my side is right, my men must be perfect.  An attack on my ideas is an attack on me and mine.

We are unable to admit the possibility of human weakness and complexity, nor to properly rank the seriousness of our failures.  Thus we end up in bizarre situations both divisive and falsely “unifying.”

Sometimes, out of fear of hurting somebody’s feelings or overlooking their virtues, we’re afraid to condemn their serious sins.  Better to get along and smooth things over for a day that never comes when somehow we’ll dialog our way past the impasse without ever opening our mouths.

Other times, out of fear of seeming to approve a vice or a poorly-formed conscience, we feel compelled to commit a course of Total Condemnation — economic, political, and personal.

***

Let me show you a video of the way of peace.  This is South Carolina removing the Confederate flag from the state house grounds.

It came down because of decades and decades of peaceful protest. Did it take too long? Yes.  The remedy for sin always takes too long.  Do people suffer injustice in the course of the long, slow path of peaceful protest? Yes.  But people suffer injustice from violent protest, calumny, and vicious personal attacks.  There’s not an option for waving the Fix Everything Wand and presto-change-o the world is magically better.

Peacefully refusing to accept injustice works.  It has worked marvels of healing and change in a place where you would never have said fifty years ago that all this would come to pass.  It worked in a place where people are still fallen.  Sinful people who do wretched things made that flag come down.  Gracious people doing their best to make the image of God shine in the darkness made that flag come down.  They were the same people.

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U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle: “Soldiers, fire fighters, paramedics and neighbors ensured more than 1,000 people and hundreds of dogs and cats were safe, evacuating them to dry ground and local shelters.”  Courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain].

Back-to-School Means Back-to-Apologetics

Last night’s report from the corner public high school: “My history teacher explained to the class that the difference between Catholics and Protestants was that Catholics idolize Mary.”

Ah.  Well, there’s academic precision for you.

After learning that this particular teacher was a Lutheran, I produced my go-to book for children who have to deal with Lutherans who can’t be nice to the BVM:

Beginning Apologetics 6

Begining Apologetics 6: How to Explain and Defend Mary from San Juan Catholic Seminars has a page devoted to key quotes from Martin Luther concerning the Blessed Mother.

If you let your kids out in public, they need to know Catholic apologetics.   Parents, don’t count on your local parish to provide this education to your children.  Maybe your parish offers excellent religious education or maybe they don’t, but it’s your job to oversee your children’s formation.

A good Catholic upbringing doesn’t erase free will.  All the best formation in the world is no guarantee your children will remain Catholic into adulthood.  But if you don’t even give them the tools they need to attempt a defense of their faith, you’re kinda asking for it.

South Carolina Catholic Quiz Bowl

Something fun if you are in striking distance of South Carolina (you don’t need to be in-diocese to participate): My friend Carol Pelster, who is a tremendous pleasure to work with, is organizing a SC Catholic Quiz Bowl to be held in Columbia, SC in early November.  Her daughter Veronica writes:

My mom and I are happy to announce a date for the first annual Catholic Quiz Bowl of South Carolina! The date is Saturday, November 11 at 1 pm at Our Lady of the Hills.

What is a Catholic Quiz Bowl? This idea comes from our experience participating in the RC (Roman Catholic) Challenge in Oregon. This is a jeopardy style game for 5th through 12th graders with questions pertaining to the Catholic Faith, the Bible, the Saints, the Liturgy, etc. My siblings and I all thoroughly enjoyed this friendly competition and benefited immensely from this motivation to study our Faith. As a seminarian in Nebraska my brother started something similar there. Now, we are hoping to spread it to the South East!

What do we need to make this happen? What we need most is volunteers for the day of the game. Volunteers will ask the questions, keep score, time the games, and be door monitors. The more volunteers we have the smoother this will go. If you would like to volunteer please let my mom or me know. . . .

How does the game work? Players will be on teams of 3 to 4 players. Two teams will play against each other with the moderator asking the questions. There will be two types of questions: toss up, which anyone can answer, and bonus questions. For bonus questions the team members will be able to consult with each other to come up with the answer. Each round will be about 20 minutes. Multiple games will be going on at the same time (hence the need for many volunteers). Winners play off against each other until there is champion. More details and sample questions will be discussed at the planning meeting.

How does your child sign up to participate? My mom is working on a registration form [see below]. However, it is not too early to start talking to your friends and getting teams together. Each team will need a name and 3 to 4 players within the same age range (5th-8th grade or 9th-12th grade). This is not just for homeschoolers [parish groups, etc] –anyone in the appropriate age group is welcome. Also, don’t forget to study!

Please let me know if you are interested in helping or have questions.

God bless.
~Veronica

 

The registration form is now ready:  Catholic Quiz Bowl SC 2017 Entry Form

Here’s a poster you can share liberally: Catholic Quiz Bowl SC 2017 poster

A Facebook page and other web presence is in the works, and I’ll update this post when that time comes. Meanwhile, you can share this post with anyone you think would be interested.  Remember that your team can be put together with whomever you like — it’s a good activity for youth groups, religious ed classes, or Catholic schools, but you can also just create your own mishmash team.  If your parish or family or poker club wants to send multiple teams, that’s super.

How to Prep for the Quiz Bowl

Carol writes:

For studying, kids should refer to a good catechism, Bible, Mass Missal, Lives of the Saints, and   Church History.  For some questions to practice with (though ours will be rather less obscure)  you can look at this:  http://traditionallearning.com/rcchallenge/.

I would guess (I haven’t seen the question bank, and won’t) that any flash cards or Catholic trivia games you happen to own would be good for practicing.  Also brush up on your go-to lists (12 Apostles? 10 Commandments? Gifts of the Holy Spirit?), and so forth — the appendices of most religious ed textbooks contain good starting points.

Good luck, and get your entry forms in early so you don’t have to pay the late registration fee.

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]

The Holy Trinity Unexplained

I think my favorite day of the year might be Trinity Sunday.

It’s not obvious, except that every year it makes me gasp and be happy.  I probably like it better than other feasts because there’s never any obligatory feasting involved, thank goodness for that.

I don’t have anything to say about the Trinity.  The Catechism does have some things to say, and those will keep you busy for a while.

Meanwhile, here are some icons of the Holy Trinity.
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Photos taken just after dinner, I guess.

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You get pictures like this to explain the unfathomable if you’re from the mystic eastern lung of the Church; in the west, we prefer bad analogies, of course.  It’s good of the Church to call this Trinity Sunday and not Struggling With Theology Sunday.

But you can have a pretty good feast day if you pick one known true thing about the Holy Trinity and for a few minutes let it sit in your brain unfixed.  This is the thing with mysteries: They are meant to be worked at.  They are meant to be announced and examined and slowly revealed, bit by bit, until in the fullness of time our thirst for understanding is satisfied.

 

Icons via Wikimedia, public domain.

When You Can’t Shut Up About Evangelization & Discipleship

It turns out I have a lot to say on certain topics.

The start of my index of posts on Evangelization and Discipleship is now up here on this blog. I put it together because I happen to need to be reminded of things I kinda know but always forget.

The index is still in progress. I started by going through my posts at NewEvangelizers.com, then went through everything in the “Evangelization” category at my Patheos blog.  There’ll be more later, but for now we’ve got plenty.  The topmost section contains the basics, and I think I’ve managed to find all the posts I definitely wanted for the 101 pile.

Head’s up for the unaware: I can be a bit pointed.  The especially acerbic bits are down at the bottom of the page in a clearly-marked category of their own.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.  

Samaritan womans meets Jesus at the Well, by Annibate Carracci

Artwork: Annibale Carracci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.