Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guest Post: How to Understand Scandals and Other Things - Insights from Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Now for the final installment on Archbishop Fulton Sheen from Luke from Quiet, Dignity, and Grace.


Insight #3: "If you do not live as you believe, you will begin to believe as you live."

This gem comes from what is now called the Sheen Catechism.  The Archbishop's skills as an orator are alive and well in this collection of 50 talks which are now available on mp3.  They were originally recorded in his private study and are truly beautiful.

In a discussion on the moral life, he lays out the idea that if we don't live as we at least claim to believe, eventually, our beliefs will change.  Why is this so?  Well, we human beings, as good as we may be at fooling others, are just not capable of fooling ourselves.  When there is a tension or a hypocrisy in our life, we want it gone.  If we Say we are Catholics, for instance, but begin gradually not living the way we ought to, then the eventual consequence is that we will very likely give up the belief.  We will choose a belief that better fits the way we live our lives.

Pithy though the quote may be, this quote has serious power from a spiritual, rational, practical, and even psychological point of view.  Sheen not only studied philosophy and theology, he also read heavily in modern psychology, trying to find the best of its efforts, even if it meant sifting through a lot of less useful ideas.  This quote has the power to transform your life if you understand it at an early enough age.  If you believe your religion is important, you had better live like it.  This doesn't mean you have to be perfect, of course.  Nobody is.  But you better do your best and you better make it a priority to live up to that standard.  If not, eventually, the battle gets more difficult.  And Sheen was expounding this in the golden age of American Catholicism.  What has happened since his era?  Mass attendance has fallen by almost 50%.  People have created a whole new brand of Catholicism in which they consider themselves Catholic but disagree and disobey major Church teachings as well as almost completely abandon sacramental practices.  Unfortunately for many people, they stopped living in a way that lined up with their belief.  And in due time, their beliefs changed.

Insight #4: How to Understand Scandals

First, a fact: There Are scandals.

This shows us that Christ chose the people of His Church in their human condition, he chose them as they are, not as they should be.  After all, Christ was a cause of many scandals; why should his Church, his Mystical Body, be exempt from scandal?  For instance, Christ's disciples knew that He was God made flesh.  But they witnessed his humiliations and, ultimately, his death on the Cross.  What greater scandal could there be than a dead God?

Christ experienced wants of hunger and thirst and even died at the hands of sinners.  So his Church experiences tragedy, scandal, and sin.  But Christ being in pain didn't mean that He was not God.  Christ's own death couldn't even triumph over the fact that He still was, is, and always will be God.  Similarly, Christ guarantees that his Church teaches the truth, but he doesn't guarantee that his teachers will always be perfect.

It is true that there are bad Catholics. But remember this.  While "our faith increases responsibility, it does not force obedience.  It increases blame, but it does not prevent sin.  If some Catholics are bad, it is not because they are members of Christ's Mystical Body, but it is because they aren't living up to its demands."

An Interesting Point

Think of the concept of a scandal.  Someone has to do something that disappoints someone else.  In other words, if a Catholic priest commits a sin and it becomes public knowledge, the only reason it would be a scandal is if you would expect a Catholic priest to be good.  So when people throw their arms up in disgust at the Church, they are really displaying that they look for something good in the Church.  Namely, they expect holiness.  That's a very important psychological point!  The media can only draw the scandal out and make great headlines because everybody Expects the Church to be Holy.

You never hear someone complain that a sun-worshiper or atheist has fallen in his or her duties.  No news headline would ever grab attention if it read "sun-worshiper steals money from church" or "humanist steals money from school."  Nobody expects anything from a sun-worshiper, humanist, etc.  But insert the word priest and we have a scandal.  It's easy to be a communist or an atheist, and it's very morally lax.  But it is demanding and morally difficult to be a Catholic.

Furthermore, if the Church, which some people criticize for its human failings, was actually a perfect institution....would anybody want to be a part of that?  If the Church was actually perfect, then most of us would be ineligible to join.  In fact, aside from Christ, Mary, and a few saints, we'd nearly all be cast out with the plants that grew on bad soil.  Christ told us some of the harvest would be thrown out at the end.  If being Catholic really kept us perfect, then Christ's words would be either a lie or they'd be impossible.  Because if we were all perfect, there would be none cast aside at the end.

I apologize for this but blogger was acting up so I had to highlight in a weird color for you to see the most important text of the blog.  Go check out Luke's blog Quiet, Dignity, and Grace.

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