September 2, 2014

Advice Orthodox Can Heed — Abp. Timothy Dolan: A Good Time to Revive Your Faith

Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan offers advice that applies to Christians across the board. Some highlights:

If there is not some sacrifice, hardship, and challenge to living our Catholic faith, we usually end up taking it for granted and setting it aside.

Dr. Philip Jenkins, the scholar of religion at Penn State University, observes a bit of raw data: the Church grows rapidly, and the faith of her believers is deep and vibrant, in countries where there is persecution of the Church; the Church languishes and gradually loses its luster in countries where it is prosperous, and where it is privileged.

The great Father of the Church, Tertullian, made the same claim 19 centuries ago as he watched the Church suffer persecution in the Roman Empire: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the faith.”

Uh-oh…what’s that say about us? We live in America where there is religious freedom (even though it is under pressure!). Here we are in a country where there is no danger or external hardship involved in being a loyal Catholic. Are we in for trouble, then? Is our faith becoming listless?

Last week I had the honor of preaching a day of recollection for our great priests of the archdiocese. We try to come together for prayer twice a year, in Advent and Lent. There we have conferences, confessions, a holy hour.

In one of my talks I repeated to the priests the famous quote from Pope Paul VI: “When it’s easy to be a Catholic, it’s actually harder to be a good Catholic; and when it’s hard to be a good Catholic, it’s actually easier to be one.”

Read that again and let it sink in…

Source: Catholic New York

Couple of weeks ago I mentioned to you how the radiance, glow, and temptation to self-satisfaction that accompanied my elevation to the College of Cardinals was all set aside when the Holy Father reminded us, the new cardinals, that we now wore red because it is the color of blood (like the vestments at Mass on the feast of a martyr). In case we didn’t get the point, he told us that we were expected to be ready to give our very blood in defense of the faith.

I guess I should not have been startled. Aren’t we all called to sacrifice, selflessness, service—even at the cost of our lives—for the enduring values of our faith, out of love for God and neighbor?

Is that not one of the potent lessons of this holy season of Lent?

It was the day after Ash Wednesday that we heard Jesus say, “Whoever wishes to be my disciple, must pick up his cross and follow me.”

If there is not some sacrifice, hardship, and challenge to living our Catholic faith, we usually end up taking it for granted and setting it aside.

Dr. Philip Jenkins, the scholar of religion at Penn State University, observes a bit of raw data: the Church grows rapidly, and the faith of her believers is deep and vibrant, in countries where there is persecution of the Church; the Church languishes and gradually loses its luster in countries where it is prosperous, and where it is privileged.

The great Father of the Church, Tertullian, made the same claim 19 centuries ago as he watched the Church suffer persecution in the Roman Empire: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the faith.”

Uh-oh…what’s that say about us? We live in America where there is religious freedom (even though it is under pressure!). Here we are in a country where there is no danger or external hardship involved in being a loyal Catholic. Are we in for trouble, then? Is our faith becoming listless?

Last week I had the honor of preaching a day of recollection for our great priests of the archdiocese. We try to come together for prayer twice a year, in Advent and Lent. There we have conferences, confessions, a holy hour.

In one of my talks I repeated to the priests the famous quote from Pope Paul VI: “When it’s easy to be a Catholic, it’s actually harder to be a good Catholic; and when it’s hard to be a good Catholic, it’s actually easier to be one.”

Read that again and let it sink in…

Convenience, ease, no demands, no sacrifice, blending in, drifting along, just-like-everybody-else, no “cost of discipleship”—that’s a poisonous recipe for faith.

Hardship, sacrifice, tough choices, harassment, ridicule, standing for Gospel values, loyalty to our faith to the point of persecution or even blood—that’s the recipe for a deep, sincere, dynamic faith.

We see it in the Old Testament: when the People of Israel are at peace, prosperous, free and unfettered in their faith…they turn to false gods!

When they are under attack, persecuted, and vilified for their faith, their religion is pure and strong.

Scholars tell us that people who leave our Catholic faith for another religion—and a somber fact today is that many do—usually (not always), but more often than not, join a religion that is stricter and more demanding.

Seems like “easy religion” languishes; “hard discipleship” flourishes.

So, what do we do? Should we long for harassment or persecution to revive and renew the faith? Hardly.

But we do admit that, if the practice of our faith does not result in some hardship, or make us somewhat different from “the crowd” to the point of occasional derision and exclusion, something’s wrong.

And we can also voluntarily take on sacrifices to remind us of the cross Jesus asks us to carry with Him.

Voila! Lent! The time we are encouraged to penance and mortification.

The old-timers will recall the rigors of past Lents, and scoff at the negligible penance we’re expected to take up nowadays: abstinence from meat on six lousy Fridays? Fasting and abstinence on two measly days (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday)? Get serious! the veterans annually remind us.

(And I annually get sack loads of mail asking for a “dispensation” from even these light demands!)

If we are fortunate enough to live in a country where there is no overt, external, explicit persecution of the faith—and we Americans are—we praise God, but then are constantly vigilant to make sure our faith does not become listless.

One way to avoid that is by taking upon ourselves penance, sacrifice, and mortification.

To some, that’s “old school.” To some, that’s pharisaical.

To me, it’s pure Gospel…and very wise.

Because, when it’s easy to be a Catholic—and today it is—look out, because it’s tougher to be a good Catholic; and when it’s hard to be a good Catholic—and that’s your choice—it’s easier to be one!

A blessed Lent!

Comments

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    Pete says:

    Saint John Chrysostom: “In matters of piety, freedom from oppression is the worst form of persecution. It is worse than any other persecution. No one understands or senses this danger because safety gives birth to carelessness. It weakens the soul and lulls it to sleep, and the devil destroys sleeping men.”

    This is no new idea from Cardinal Dolan. Nevertheless, it is an interesting spiritual obstacle to manuever around to say we must teach and preach Christ and His statutes, while being willing to suffer and die in the face of hard opposition–without whining, but rather with joy.

    At OCF College Conference at Antiochian Village three years ago, Metropolitan Jonah told us during his keynote that he expected that one day he would be imprisoned for his faith. Back then, it was a somewhat sombre thing to consider from my perspective. Now that we see things moving three steps closer and one stap away from total secular inundation, what a frighteningly glorious day that would [will] be. How would [will] it feel to know you hold to the True Faith, a faith that leads to prison in the United States of America, itself?

    The paradox of preaching to the very end while enduring patiently for a crown of martyrdom is still just so hard to totally conceptualize, even with such being so clearly displayed in the lives of the Saints.

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    Harry Coin says:

    And yet, and yet… I think it might be fair to classify these remarks as case of blaming various attributes of ‘the times’ for the relatively poor performance of the particular groups offering the remarks. Perhaps these remarks are more by way of deflection from glaring inner misdoing and misjudgement?

    Why? Not three hours before reading these remarks today’s news offered commentary about how evangelical groups are a key element of support propelling candidates they feel reflect their views to near parity with those who outspend their candidates $4, $5 and $10 dollars to $1. How similar faith based and other groups using the ballot box removed supreme court judges who go further than not just freeing consenting adults to live how they prefer but also to impose the requirement upon everyone who does not agree to support it with their taxed money directly and otherwise through activity of civil authority.

    There are tremendous centers of Christian energy all over this country, perhaps long overdue is a hard look at what the faith calls for our church to proceed from ‘glory to glory’ in our modern converging world of historically unparalleled wealth and health. A poor person in the USA would be thought quite rich indeed in Gospel times. I personally know a family where the mother lives in a fashion that most Christians would find morally and socially very very far indeed from good sense and even basic responsibility. In the old days this person and probably her kids (from different dads) would be in prison or would have long since starved to death. Instead she gets money for her own food and her kids food, free extensive medical interventions including major orthopedic surgery costing around $120,000, free education for her kids, and she gets to shack up with various as she deems wise giving account to nobody. She certainly means to show up for a GED class, and has meant so to do for a many years now. And she can move from apartment to apartment or trailer being evicted after several months each. Heat, air conditioning, running hot and cold water, trash pickup. The poor. Now, how to inspire such to up their moral game? That’s the question.

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    cynthia curran says:

    Its nuts what the Roman Catholic Church goes thru in our Country. I read protestants that accuse the Roman Catholic Church of killing millions during the middle ages and early modern times. Even some of the historical events were truce like the Cathars which were a gnostic group, a lot of its was exaggerative. Now, I for one do not like exaggerative history of countries or nations sins or that Roman Catholic Civilzation was the worst.

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