Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fr. Perrone: Don’t cheapen your faith; don’t sell God short

Fr. Perrone carries the Blessed Sacrament on August 15, 2011 following benediction in the Grotto area

Don’t cheapen your faith; don’t sell God short by making the trappings of religion
or religious good feeling the focus of your faith.
Fr. Perrone, September 18, 2011

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I was captivated by the homily this past Sunday, of Fr. Eduard Perrone, the pastor of Assumption Grotto Parish.  I have known him since May of 2005.  While he is a diocesan priest, he is also a secular Carmelite, and this comes out often in his talks and homilies.  Those who have seriously studied the works of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila may sense that, especially in this homily.  I can tell you that he makes it a point to address these kinds of issues at least once or twice yearly.  I have heard this advice from him before, but I can't say he ever packaged it as well as he did in this homily.

These are very wise words that come from a priest who is deeply, and visibly, devoted to the Holy Eucharist, and to the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

Clerics and seminarians may want to take a close look at how to discuss a particular kind of sensitive matter in a way that is mindful of everyone's dignity.

Like all homilies, we should be inspired to look inward, not at all those other people, whomever they may be. I think there is something here for everybody.

I had to add white space with line breaks in longer paragraphs to make reading easier.

Non-believers have drawn the line that divides truth from falsehood as the separation of what we can see and demonstrate as real from the fictional world proposed by religious faith. For such people, God and heaven, and all things we believe in are ‘make-believe’ while the visible world and the emotional responses we experience are real. A lot of people have taken up that side of things nowadays as secularism gains momentum and as the number of religious people declines. From our point of view, there is indeed a line that should be drawn between the real and the unreal, but it’s not at the same place. On the real side is both the physical-emotional and the religious, and the phoney is false religion which is, paradoxically, also very popular in our time.

Here I am thinking not only of the whole host of new age religious beliefs (which are really nothing but updated forms of old superstitions) but also of certain distortions of the real faith which attach themselves to genuine religion. These too are forms of superstition and I’m afraid that many of our devout Catholic people fall prey to them. I’m thinking about those who are always looking out for impressive signs or phenomena which sometimes accompany religious belief. Although at least some of these things may indeed be real, they are on the margin of faith rather than in the main text.

The easy tendency can be for religious-minded people to make these sidebars the main feature of their faith and thus divert the focus from the essential thing about believing. And what is the essential thing about believing? It is simply the firm, unyielding, obstinate adherence to things that cannot be seen or proved by physical signs. That’s real faith. Thus, the believer asserts and maintains (without having any demonstration to back it up) that there is a Supreme Being who is God(1), that there is heaven and a hell, that there are angels, that there is sin and grace and that there are the many things that our Catholic faith teaches us which are revealed by God and to which we assent wholeheartedly and completely without compromise or equivocation: these are things such as the belief that Jesus is physically and divinely there in the Communion Host; that the Pope has the ability to speak to us infallibly (i.e. without error), that the Mother of our Lord is at the same time Virgin and Mother, and that Her body as well as Her pure soul is now already in heaven. (This is just a sampling of such beliefs.)

What’s my point? We have Catholic people who are not content with holding
tenaciously to these beliefs but who are always on the watch for signs of belief to wonder about. Thus we have the search for Communion Hosts that bleed or that turn to visible flesh or that visibly show the face of Christ on it; or, we have the great fascination over physical cures resulting from visiting special places and shrines; or, the yearning to consult someone who claims that God reveals to him upcoming events.

Now certainly these and like things have happened and it is certain that their source can indeed be from the good Lord who, from time to time, breaks the laws of nature to do what is beyond its ordinary powers. I would never dispute the possibility and indeed the reality of these occurrences. What I’m warning about here is the displacement of faith from the certainty of these invisible realities to those peripheral or secondary things which sometimes accompany the faith.

Allow me to give specific examples. We should firmly believe that Christ is present in the Holy Eucharist without feeling the need to run to a place where the Lord’s body has become visible in a Host. Or, we should be secure in the interest the Blessed Mother has in us and the assistance afforded us by Her without needing to touch a weeping statue of Her. And we should seek to do the will of God without hoping to hear voices directing us nor should we expect visible signs to be shown us to indicate the way we should decide a particular matter. What we should seek is the reality of grace: that is, invisible and non-demonstrable divine working. It is there that our Lord wants us to put our whole trust. And the reason why this is so crucial is that it may be less worthy for us to believe in the things of faith when signs are indicated or emotionally consolations are felt than when they are not.

Take for example the case of someone who is enthused over an apparition of the face of Christ. Is that image (supposing here that it’s really from God) a greater reality than the face attached to the Person of Jesus’ glorious body in heaven? In fact, it would be at best an assumed likeness or reflection of the reality of the face of Christ which is elsewhere (in heaven). Or, consider the miraculous cures that take place at Lourdes. Surely it’s a blest place and many go there in the hope for special favors. But the Virgin Mary is as much available to any other person anywhere by the simple addressing of prayer to Her as She is there. She will hear your rosary as much in this church as any place in the world. If you go to see a certain person reputed to be holy because of wonderful words or signs he does, or because of scents he produces, are you not perhaps more taken with those phenomenal things than with the God who (reputedly) is the cause of them? And how must this look from God’s side, so to speak? Is He supposed to be pleased because someone believes in Him and His truth only because of such things?

Your credit balance with God is much greater for believing without seeing, smelling or touching anything. Faith enters your soul through the truth your ears pick up when it’s told you what God has revealed. A fully believing Catholic is the person of faith, and not one who is fixated on the appendages of religion. It’s important to keep your focus and to be fixed on the essentials.

Today’s scriptures offer some of those essentials:

• Seek the Lord while He may be found;
• To me, life is Christ;
• Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of Christ;
• and our Lord’s rewards are given according to our work.

Here your concentration should be. Don’t cheapen your faith; don’t sell God short by making the trappings of religion or religious good feeling the focus of your faith.

Believe, and be pious. Leave the rest up to the good Lord who, in pitying human weakness, has from time to time, given little condiments to faith which have sometimes been mistaken for the main course.

Live by faith, and believe with all your mind and heart everything that the Catholic Church has taught you.

Footnote: (1) The existence of God, however, can certainly be proved by human reason, though that is not the point being made here.

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