The Shack: A Catholic Critique

The Shack: A Catholic Critique

Spoiler: If you haven’t read The Shack by Wm. Paul Young and don’t want to know anything about it that might take away from your initial experience, please be aware this post might not be for you.  I discuss elements of the story, but I don’t give it all away.

I recently finished reading The Shack and I found it to be, as a whole, a beautiful story of how God desires to enter into our most painful situations and transform them by His presence.  The way Young depicts the interactions within the Trinity caused me to stop and consider more deeply the perfect communion found within God Himself.  In fact, as soon as I finished The Shack, I picked up Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book The ‘One Thing’ is Three: How the Most Holy Trinity Explains Everything.  After reading about the communion of the Trinity in intimate detail, I was filled with a desire to learn more about our Trinitarian God.

The general story line of The Shack is about a man named Mack who has experienced great suffering and loss.  He receives a note from God asking him to come to an old shack to spend the weekend with Him.  When Mack does this, he enters into an incredible encounter with the living God and grows in an understanding of each person of the Trinity.

The main aspects of Young’s story I found to be edifying.  It was simply some of the side details or conversations that made me wonder if he was critiquing Christianity as a whole or specifically Catholicism.  Or, at least, his perception of what the Catholic Church teaches or is.  There are a handful of elements that struck me as a direct rebuke of Catholicism.  The two I want to focus on are ritual and institution.

There is a beautiful section where God involves Mack in “devotions” after a shared meal.  Rather than producing a Bible to read from, Mack is surprised when Jesus reaches across the table, takes the Father’s hands, and speaking honest, loving words of adoration.  It reinforces the reality that devotion is entering into a loving relationship with God, not something that is merely rote or filled with words.  After another meal, Mack expects the same thing to happen.

“What about devotion?” asked Mack.
“Nothing is a ritual, Mack,” said Papa…

What is so wrong with something being a ritual?  There are a couple other places where ritual is portrayed as unsavory and in conflict with God’s desires.  I could agree with this if ritual meant that something was insincere or done merely out of habit.  However, that is not what a ritual has to be.  Sometimes rituals are the best way to enter into something that is far above us.  Like the Mass or marriage, we follow a religious ritual because we are connected to something bigger than just ourselves.

The Catholic Church is known for saying the same Mass over and over and over again.  My students will sometimes question why they need to go to Mass each week when it is simply the same thing they heard the previous week.  But if we understand the sacrifice of the Holy Mass as it actually is–the priest in persona Christi re-presenting the sacrifice of Jesus at the Last Supper and consummated on the cross at Calvary–then we would realize that nothing else would be a fitting memorial.

Yes, it is a ritual.  But Jesus also said “Do this in remembrance of me.”  Why reinvent the wheel every Sunday when Jesus has given us His very self and asks us to share in this sacrificial meal?  More than new praise and worship songs (which I appreciate in a specific context), the Mass prayed throughout the ages unites us to the earliest followers of Jesus Christ.  This isn’t a bad type of ritual, but rather a ritual that unites Christians across space and time. Continue reading “The Shack: A Catholic Critique”

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Sacramental Records and Sacramental Beauty

Sacramental Records and Sacramental Beauty

I know sacraments aren’t a contest, but how many have you participated in or witnessed in a one week time period?

After I go to confession within the next couple days, I will be at five sacraments.  Five out of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.  That is a record for me, although I can’t tell you what the previous record actually was.

Last Friday, I went to ordinations for six priests for my diocese.  On Saturday, I attended the wedding of a couple friends.  Yesterday, I became a godmother for the youngest daughter of a couple with whom I am friends.  Interwoven over this week were several Masses and soon I will go to confession to bring the grand total of sacraments to five this week.

One of the beautiful aspects of the sacraments is how tangible they are for us physical creatures.  As I stood behind the mother at the baptism, I watched the priest sign the child with an aromatic cross of chrism.  She was claimed for Christ in a physical way so as to show the spiritual reality.  The water poured over her head, reveals the spiritual cleansing that is taking place even though we cannot see it happen.  Long after the scent of chrism has vanished, her soul will still be marked with an indelible seal, proclaiming her as a new creation in Christ.

At ordinations, I watched the bishop trace the hands of the men with chrism, consecrating their hands and lives to the eternal High Priest.  Beyond the chrism, there was the laying on of hands by the bishop and all their brother priests.  Placing their folded hands within the bishop’s hands, they promise obedience to the bishop and to his successors.  Called to conform their lives to the cross, they prostrate themselves before the altar of the Lord, the place where they will daily offer up the sacrifices of the People of God and make present the sacrifice of Jesus.   Continue reading “Sacramental Records and Sacramental Beauty”

Simple Witnesses: The Newly Canonized Fatima Visionaries

Simple Witnesses: The Newly Canonized Fatima Visionaries

May 13, 1917

Our Lady chooses to reveal herself to three children tending sheep in the Cova da Iria.  Tenderly, she tells them to not be afraid and yet she asks them to sacrifice for the conversion of the world.  They are mere children, the oldest one is ten years old, but they agree to offer up their sufferings and sacrifices for love of Jesus and for the conversion of others.

That may seem abstract to many of us.  However, they are quick to concretize this request.  Whenever poor children ask for food, the three children give them their lunch.  As they tend to the sheep, they see how long they can go without water and offer this thirst to Jesus.  Little Jacinta finds out that she will die alone in a hospital in Lisbon and, although she is scared, she chooses to offer this trial up to Our Lady for the sake of others.

We can take as our examples Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta, whom the Virgin Mary introduced into the immense ocean of God’s light and taught to adore him.  That was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering.  God’s presence became constant in their lives, as is evident from their insistent prayers for sinners and their desire to remain ever near “the hidden Jesus” in the tabernacle.

Canonization Mass Homily of Pope Francis, 5/13/2017

These sacrifices, though small in the course of human history, are monumental.  Children are shown to be capable of leading the way to holiness.  Their tangible witness is felt in particular in the place one would expect it: Fatima, Portugal.

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It has been a tremendous gift of mine that I have been to Fatima three times.  The picture above is from the most recent trip.  The man in the picture happens to be the nephew of St. Francisco and St. Jacinta Marto.  His father was their older brother, John.  Proud of his close relation, he showed us the page in Lucia’s book where she speaks about his father.

Each time I am in Fatima, I experience a great peace that comes from resting in a place that is so dear to my Heavenly Mother.  My birthday aligns with the anniversary of her first appearance in Fatima and so I have a filial devotion to this particular feast.  As I have read more about the children and how they fervently responded to her words, I have grown an even deeper love for Our Lady of Fatima and her little children.

May 13, 2017

In so many ways, their lives were insignificant.  Francisco and Jacinta were two children who fell victim to the influenza epidemic in 1919-1920.  Their lives were spent in poor circumstances in a town in Portugal for which few people cared.  While generally good children, they were not known to be perfect.  Yet on May 13, 2017, they were declared canonized saints in the Catholic Church.

Indeed, God created us to be a source of hope for others, a true and attainable hope, in accordance with each person’s state of life.

Pope Francis 5/13/2017

Continue reading “Simple Witnesses: The Newly Canonized Fatima Visionaries”

Why I Will Drink Coffee on Sundays

Why I Will Drink Coffee on Sundays

In my youth, giving something up for Lent meant you didn’t have it from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday.  When one of my sisters came home from college, she revealed a secret: you can have the things you gave up for Lent on Sundays.  She claimed it was a “mini-Easter.”  At the time, though, it seemed like cheating and an excuse for people who couldn’t handle giving something up for the entirety of Lent.  I didn’t need a cheat day, I reasoned, I was strong enough to last all of Lent.

Over the past few years, I have come to realize the wisdom in allowing Sunday to be a relaxed day in the midst of a penitential season.  There is a particular wisdom found when I remember my own temperament.

I like a good challenge.  Tell me I can’t do something and I will probably try to do that thing (if I care enough).  I’m stubborn and prideful to a fault.  So when I tell myself that I can go without coffee for the entirety of Lent, I start to feel a little smug.  It sounds challenging and I can already feel a sense of pride within myself.  Of course, it is a sacrifice for the Lord and yet I am quick to make it about what I can do.

However, if I acknowledge that I will go six days without coffee and then break that fast on Sunday, it is hard to get overly prideful about that.  Really?  That’s it?  Six days?  And I find myself almost convincing myself to “be strong” and go through all of Lent without it.

The purpose of Lent, though, is not to build up my ego and pat myself on the back for all of the difficult things I did.  Hopefully, Lent is a time of challenging ourselves and saying no to our own habits and desires.  Yet if I walk into Mass on Easter Sunday, bursting at the seams that I was able to forego a long list of comforts, I might miss the fact that Jesus is the one saving me. Continue reading “Why I Will Drink Coffee on Sundays”

The Price of Forgiveness

The Price of Forgiveness

“Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry…”

Generally, when I begin to pray the Act of Contrition in Confession, I close my eyes.  I prefer to go behind the screen and I like to close my eyes so I can focus on the words.  As I started the prayer, I realized that the confessional I was using had a crucifix hanging on the screen at about eye level.

“for having offended Thee…”

My eyes shifted and fastened on Jesus.  There He was, arms outstretched and pierced by nails.  His total gift stood in stark contradiction to my selfishness and inability to sacrifice.  Yet as I spoke the words directly to Him, I was struck by the rightness of it all.

“I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell…”

My sin crucified Him.  And though there was nothing new that I was learning, I was seeing in a deeper way what my sin brought about.  Here I was, staring at the very reality that made the words I was saying efficacious.  Without His death, my words were a vain pleading for reconciliation without paying the debt. Continue reading “The Price of Forgiveness”

That Others May Be Chosen

That Others May Be Chosen

The Litany of Humility is one of those prayers that I hate.  And love.  And wish I loved more, but am a bit scared by.  If ever there was a prayer that could level a solid crushing blow to the ego, I believe the Litany of Humility is a top contender.

“That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.”

There are several parts during this prayer that cause me to cringe, and this line is one of them.  This cringing comes from the fact that I do not actually desire this to be true.  It seems like it would be too difficult if this went from prayer to actuality.

Simply put: I want to be chosen.

Doesn’t everyone want to be chosen?  I want to be the chosen confidant.  I want to be the dearly loved and chosen friend.  I want to be the favorite teacher.  I want to be the one people choose to ask questions because they think I will know the answer.  I want people to choose to read what I write.  For so many things, I want people to choose me. Continue reading “That Others May Be Chosen”

His Terrifying Vulnerability

His Terrifying Vulnerability

There is a terrifying vulnerability in how His arms are outstretched.

I’m not certain I had ever quite seen it that way before.  At Sunday Mass, I was looking up at the large crucifix behind the altar and I was slightly fearful.  That wide open heart, that vulnerable heart, that posture of being unable to defend oneself is what He wants from me.  And it scares me.

A nail pierces each hand, fixing them in place.  He is unable to shield Himself from anything: not the hurled insults, not the mockery, not the physical blows should it come to that.  Briefly, I pictured myself unable to curl up into a ball to protect my heart, to shield my face.  It was terrifying.  I would not be simply defenseless before loved ones but before my enemies.  That place of weakness seemed to be too much to bear.  At least in the face of persecution and mockery, I like to appear to be strong and resilient.

And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!  (Luke 23:35-37)

Continue reading “His Terrifying Vulnerability”

Ordinary

Ordinary

“What do your parents do?”
“My dad is a retired firefighter and now drives people at a retirement home.  My mom stayed home with us when we were young and now works as a receptionist at a clinic.”
“Hmm.  I thought it would be something different…I thought your dad would be a politician or something.”
“Nope.  My dad is pretty ordinary.”

Some of the people at the table laugh and one says that the next time he sees my dad, he will tell him that I said he is ordinary.

“What did they do to teach the faith?  Did you go to daily Mass?”
“No.  We prayed the rosary sometimes and usually prayers at night.  My parents just talked about the faith very openly and we always went to Mass on Sunday.  My parents are pretty ordinary.  They just did what they were supposed to: they were our primary educators in the faith.Continue reading “Ordinary”

A Shift of Perspective

I just wanted this day to be over.  It felt unnecessarily long and drawn out.  In fact, this whole week had felt tiring.

On Tuesday, near the end of my last class, I decided to start thinking that it was actually Friday.  With growing excitement, I started to wrap the class up, thinking, How could I have forgotten all day that it was Friday?  When I told them that we would discuss their assignment on Monday, I suddenly realized (spurred on in part by some confused faces) that it was really Tuesday.  Each day since then has been more of the same desire to get to Saturday.

As I followed my class to the computer lab, I internally rolled my eyes.  Such a rough day.

Then I mentally interrogated my self-pitying soul:

Why is this such a rough day?
Because the computers didn’t work like they were supposed to and now we have to go to a lab.
Did you get enough to eat?
Yeah…
Did you fear for your life?
No…
Is it really that big of a deal?
No…

I’m not saying I was chipper and happy-go-lucky the rest of the day, but it helped slap me out of my first-world troubles.  The computers didn’t cooperate: get over this little difficulty, get over yourself, and be thankful for what you do have.  It isn’t worth getting stressed out over and it shouldn’t ruin the rest of your day, but rather it was a little mishap.

The change in perspective was very needed.  Let little things stay little.

Running for Them

This might be premature, but I find it interesting that what has motivated me to take up running is teaching.  More specifically, my students.  “Take up running” means I’ve gone for four runs in the past week.  It could all fall apart very soon (definitely has happened before), but I think this might be here to stay for the time being.

A couple weeks ago I came to a realization: I don’t sacrifice for my students.  They come up in my prayers and I hope the best for them.  However, I don’t often find myself tangibly offering things up for them, other than allowing them to keep living after a particularly trying class period.

I’ve realized this lack of sacrifice before.  This time I was compelled to do something about it.  Running is something good for me and good for them.  I find myself thinking about them as I run and offering up my labored breaths for them.

Yet the more I run (think: slow jog), the more reasons I find to keep doing it.  I’ve run twice through my neighborhood and while I don’t like it as much, I think I might keep it up because it gives a new perspective and new prayer intentions.  I run past a home and I hear the muffled sound of a man and woman arguing.  Or I run around a bend and see two kids in front of a house, a larger pre-teen girl slapping the head of a smaller pre-teen boy.  The girl looks belligerent and the boy has his defenses up but is angry.  She glances at me and there are no more blows while I run by the house.

I find myself praying for peace as I meander the streets of my neighborhood.  This little heart inexplicably finds itself aching for situations I will never know about, fights I will never see, hurtful words I will never hear, but that are happening in these places so near to me.  I prayed for peace to flow through these houses.  For homes to be places of peace, not places where we take up arms against our flesh and blood.  For parents to show their children how to love.  For people to experience the love and peace of Christ that I have experienced.

It is not that much, and I should in all rights probably be doing far more.  But for now, I am running for my students.  For their addictions, depression, relationships, struggles, and hearts.  When I nearly convince myself to not go for a planned run, I remember them and realize I’m not doing it for me, but for them.  And it makes me run.