Saturday, December 13, 2014

Another Troubling Homily From The Pope

Two days ago in his daily homily, Pope Francis made some incredible statements that I think may actually be quite dangerous to those vulnerable to discouragement and depression.  From the Catholic News Agency we read, for example:
  • "If, in your relationship with the Lord, you do not feel that He loves you tenderly, you are missing something, you still have not understood what grace is, you have not yet received grace which is this closeness."
  • In history and also in our lives we are tempted to transform grace into a kind of a merchandise, perhaps saying to ourselves something like, ‘I have so much grace,’ or, ‘I have a clean soul, I am graced.’"
There's so much wrong with this I scarcely know where to begin.  But let's start with the word "feel".  There's a difference between "feel" and "believe".  Feeling has to do with emotions, and we know that they aren't entirely under our control at times, thanks to original sin.  Believing, on the other hand, is an act of the will.  The Church teaches that our souls are made in God's image and likeness owing to our intellects and wills, with no mention of emotions.  I'm no philosophical expert, but I believe emotions or feelings are a lower faculty of the human nature and they must be brought into control by acts of wills.  It might be nice from time to time to have favorable feelings regarding our relationship with God; I think these are called "consolations".  However, by no means are their presence or absence any accurate indication of grace in our lives or how close we truly are to God.

Recently it was revealed that Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, after she had understood her call to found the Missionaries of Charity, never again experienced any of these consolations.  She confided this matter only to her spiritual directors.  It was a cross for her, true, but who in their right mind would say she was not "receiving grace"?

Earlier saints experienced similar things.  St. John of the Cross is said to have gone a while without such consolation.  He learned much from it and I believe that was the topic of his work, "Dark Night of the Soul".  His friend, St Teresa of Avila, was once thrown from her horse.  Being a "straight-shooting" talker, she complained to God "if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them."  In the Bible, particularly the Book of Hebrews, we read of the necessity of God's discipline as opposed to consolations.  The lack of feelings can itself be a grace that causes us to love and serve God for who He is, as opposed to the warm-fuzzies that we might enjoy.

The second "bullet" hearkens back to some cracks the Holy Father made last year about traditional Catholics being "pelagian".  I saw his definition of "pelagian" and I'll gladly bear that newly-defined label.  I go to confession every 2-3 weeks.  When I walk out of that confessional, I do say "I have a clean soul, I am graced."  I say that not because I "count merchandise" but because that is what Jesus Christ, through His Church, teaches.  Should I not acknowledge the graces that He procured for me by His Passion, Death and Resurrection?  It is the same thing when I attend Mass and receive Holy Communion.  With that I do say "I have so much grace".  Not to do so would render me an ingrate.

I said in the opening of this post that I believe those words from Thursday to be dangerous to those who are prone to discouragement and even depression.  That is because they suffer from maladies of the emotions.  Were they to rely on their fragile emotions as measures for God's grace and love, as suggested by the words of His Holiness, they would be setting themselves up for spiritual disaster.  Can you just imagine someone, after a life of sin, coming back to the Church and hearing that?  They need to rely on the facts of God's teachings.  If that person goes to Confession and, with all the effort he/she can muster renders a truly honest accounting of their sins, they need to rely on the truth of the priest's absolution that they are once again in a state of grace despite any roller-coaster to which their emotions may be subjecting them.

Our feelings are way too fickle to be any measure of God's love in our lives.  I thank Him for the Sacraments and Traditions of the Church for these are the transmission of God's grace in our lives.

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