Holiness and Martyrdom as a Catholic in America

When Cardinal Timothy Dolan received his red hat on February 18, he said that he was grateful to the Holy Father for giving him this honor, but he just wants to be a saint. If I were to sit down with Cardinal Dolan today, I would share with him that the easiest way to canonization, according to the 6th point in the article – Desiderata for 2012 written by Reverend C. John McCloskey III, is to die a martyr. Knowing the extent of Cardinal Dolan’s experience and education, I would imagine that he would already understand this fact. I make this statement because martyrdom is very likely to appear in the United States of America in the years to come. With the greatest threats against Religious Freedom and attacks on the First Amendment this country has ever seen, it it quite possible that not only will our bishops, priests, and religious face martyrdom, but many faithful and obedient Catholics who will not comply with a tyrannical government could as well. I will let this marinate in your minds return to it at the end.

With that being said, the purpose of my blog is to engage and educate the Catholic lay faithful in the New Evangelization. It’s my hope that through my writing, I will help teach the “basics” of the Catholic faith for Catholic adults, who did receive proper catechesis as adolescents. In the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ and one of his great vicars and universal shepherds, we must remember – “Be Not Afraid!” We must not be afraid of what lies ahead of us or be afraid to learn more about Catholicism. Today, I will discuss holiness, what it means to be saint, and martyrdom.

In Thessalonians 1:6-7, St. Paul says, “you become imitators of us and of the Lord…you became an example to all the believers…” To be holy and to seek perfection is not an option, but an obligation. As followers of Jesus Christ, we must always thrive to be saints. Every Christian has the capacity of becoming a saint. Our purpose in life is to be holy in imitation of Jesus Christ, who is all holy. He is to be our perfect model. As St. Paul says in Corinthians 11:1 – “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

What is holiness?

Holiness is the separation of the irreverent, seeking and giving oneself to God. God is the foundation of holiness because God is all goodness. The invitation to holiness and goodness comes from God himself.  As Christians, to be holy is to bring our best versions to the world. However, because we suffer from the remnants of Original Sin, it can be difficult and challenging at times to live a life of holiness. We must always remember that we have Jesus Christ as our model and strength and should never get discouraged. Even the greatest saints of the Catholic Church had their struggles and moments of weakness.

What is a saint? Who is called to be a saint? When do we receive this call?

A saint is a person who thrives to live a life of holiness with the help of God’s grace and attains the prize of eternal life (CCC 828). The word saint comes from the Latin term – sanctus, which means “holy.” Sanctification is the process where one is made holy.

All Christians are called to holiness. We are called to holiness after receiving the Sacrament of Baptism. In Baptism, we are claimed and adopted by God as his children. We are restored to the filial (sonship) relationship that was established first and foremost with the first man. In our Baptism, we receive the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. We also share in the three Old Testament offices that are fulfilled by Jesus – Priest, Prophet, and King.

To be a saint is to live a life dedicated to heroism. Heroism is about self-sacrificial deeds; it’s not about self-glorification and narcissism. It requires one to live with heroic virtue! G.K. Chesterton said, the “saints are the heroes of the Church.” Zorro has always been one of my favorite literary heroes. When I think about Zorro, the words of self-sacrifice, strength, goodness, and servant of the people come to mind. Just as Zorro is a great hero, so must we thrive to live lives dedicated to self-sacrifice, goodness, and serving others. Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, there have been many men and women who have answered the call to live lives of heroic virtue and self-sacrifice. In recent years, I think of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Blessed John Paul II, and St. Jose Maria Escriva. These men and women truly lived their lives for Jesus Christ and were filled with joy. St. Teresa of Avila said to be a saint is to live life with joy and passion – “a sad saint is not a saint at all.”

Living the life of a saint is not always the most popular lifestyle in our culture or period of history. To be a saint is to be counter-cultural just as the Church is counter-cultural. During his three-year ministry, Jesus himself was counter-cultural for he ate with sinners, spoke with woman (some became his disciples), and countered the elders of the faith.

Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix says, “Christ does not call us to be popular, or even successful. He calls us to take up the cross each day and follow him. There is only one ultimate failure in life: not to be a saint. Nothing else in life matters, compared to the treasure of Christ’s love.”

As Catholics, how do we become saints seeking holiness?

First, we must receive the Sacraments. Although all seven are fundamental, Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist can be received on a daily basis. The Sacrament of Reconciliation assists us in our relationship with Our Lord and allows us to restore our personal relationship with him when it is severed. If you have not been in some time, I encourage you to find a time and go. The Sacrament of Holy Eucharist is the life giving bread of Jesus Christ. It not only nourishes our physical body, but gives us spiritual strength as well. It is truly Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity. Next, we need spiritual direction. A director of our interior life will aid us in our prayer and help us to discern God’s will for our lives. Lastly, reading the Scriptures, Lives of the Saints, or other spiritual texts will engage us to know God in a personal way and will also assist in our relationship with Our Lord and His Church.

As Catholics who are striving to live lives of holiness, learning each day how to be saints, and living contradictory to the world around us will often bring times of hostility and persecution. We saw this in the Early Church as Christianity grew. Hostility and persecution rose up to meet Christianity and the martyrs of the Early Church were born. The word martyr comes from the Greek term – witness.  St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith was stoned to death (Acts 7:54-60). Other individuals such as St. Lawrence, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Martina of Rome, and eleven of the twelve apostles (excluding John) and many others all died the martyr’s death. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Ignatius of Antioch says about his impending martyrdom, “…Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts…only let me get to Jesus Christ…I would rather die.”

There are two forms of martyrdom – red martyrdom and white martyrdom. Red martyrdom is witnessing to the faith where a person endures death. The Church proclaims those who are killed for the faith are baptized by blood and are directed straight to heaven. The red martyrs are genuine examples of heroic fortitude and conviction that is unparallel. White martyrdom (dry martyrdom) is social persecution rather than death. This form of martyrdom is when a person or group of persons are attacked either verbally or in writing for having a conviction of faith or when they choose not to violate their moral conscience. This is the most common form of martyrdom for us Catholics in America to date, but that could change soon.

Although the 20th century witnessed more red martyrs for the faith around the world than any other century, here in the United States white martyrdom was more common. However, in recent years and with the multiplying of the culture wars, white martyrdom has dramatically increased against Catholics in general (see Huffington Post article). With the announcement of the HHS Mandate and the so-called “compromise”, verbal and hate filled attacks have been on the rise against Catholics since we stand against this unjust law. We will not allow a tyrannical government like the Obama Administration to force us into anything that contradicts our Religious Freedom and First Amendment Rights on the grounds of “women’s health” (see yesterday’s results from the Blunt Amendment – right down party lines). We will not comply!

In the 1920’s, the government of Mexico declared war on the Catholic Church killing bishops, priests, religious brothers and sisters, and lay faithful in the streets. It was terrible time for the Church in Mexico and many good and faithful people lost their lives. If the dangers we have now continue and the current administration is re-elected for four more years, Mexico from the 1920’s could appear on the shores and in the heartland of the United States.

Congratulations Cardinal Timothy Dolan

As I sit here watching the Ordinary Public Consistory for the Creation of New Cardinals (DVR recording), I have to admit that I am jealous of those people sitting in St. Peter’s Basilica. It would be a great experience to watch so many of our faithful Bishops be elevated to their new Cardinal positions in the Church. I have only been to Rome once in my life (2000 A.D. for World Youth Day) and hope to return sooner than later. All in God’s time…

On behalf of the JP II Generation Catholics, I want to congratulate Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan to his elevation as a Prince of the Church. From all that I have read about Cardinal Dolan and his leadership among his fellow Bishops in the US,  his strong stance against the HHS Mandate, and videos on YouTube, I can say one thing about this great man of God – he has the charism, apostolic zeal, and love that Blessed John Paul II also had and shared with the world. Now I am not comparing the two men nor am I saying that Cardinal Dolan would be Pope someday (that’s left up the decision of the Holy Spirit who guides the Church), but I am saying there are some similarities in the two men. People have described Cardinal Dolan as a big teddy bear who has a great sense of humor. Although I never heard anyone describe Blessed John Paul II as a “big teddy bear”, I would say his overall love for people had a big teddy bear quality to it. As for Blessed John Paul II’s humor, well, if you recall when he first spoke to the people in St. Peter’s Square after he was elevated to the Papacy, he said to the Italians, if I make a mistake with my Italian, I know you will correct me. Humor and the Italians loved him from that moment on.

I never met Blessed John Paul II, although I was blessed to see him three times in my life – Phoenix, Arizona in 1987, World Youth Day in 1993, and World Youth Day in 2000. It is my hope that I can meet Cardinal Timothy Dolan sometime soon. Anyone know him personally?? ;-)

Congratulations Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan! We love you and support you 100% in all that you do for the Church in New York City and the United States of America. Praise Be Jesus Christ! 

Don’t forget to sign-up to Follow Tom’s Blog and receive emails when he posts. Tell your family and friends too! The New Evangelization is going to bring the world back to Jesus Christ – are you ready for it?!

Conscience Formation 103

In the previous two posts, I spoke about what conscience is not (see CF 101 – below) and what conscience is (see CF 102 – below). Now I want to focus my attention on how the conscience works. In our daily lives, most of the decisions we make come very easily; they are habitual. A virtue, according to CCC 1803,  “is an firm and habitual disposition to do the good.” Not only will a person perform acts well, but also the best of who he is will come through.  On the flip side of virtue, we have vice. A vice is a bad habit that pushes us to bad/evil choices.

Virtue and vice can slightly be compared to the Jedi and Sith philosophies in the Star Wars films. The Jedis were the more virtuous of the two since most of their decisions were well thought out, they lived for others, and they always tried to choose the good in all situations. The Sith were ones of vice and often chose evil things such as killing all the Jedis or conquering the entire universe. They were always about themselves as we see clearly in Return of the Jedi and how the Emperor has no concern for Vader or Luke. Not all Jedis were virtuous such as the case of Anakin Skywalker (see Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith). Anakin Skywalker was never virtuous, struggled with his many vices, and they eventually lead him to Darth Vader.  Anakin was given chance again and again to mend his ways, but chose not to and ended up in vice rather than virtue. Many of his choices contradicted the Jedi philosophy and he could never conform his behavior to do the good.

Although most of our decisions tend to be habitual, there is an importance for us to learn how to be virtuous in all that we do (let me tell you…it’s not easy). The virtues are like “spiritual muscles” that help us grow in responsible acts without any effort at all. Our bad habits, which we must learn to identify first, have to be avoided at all cost. Our bad habits will only be overcome with the grace of God. For us Catholics, we have the great Sacrament of Reconciliation (and the other sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist) that dispense grace upon us. Learning to be virtuous and avoiding vices are part of our spiritual training at Catholic Christians and a major characteristic of forming our Christian consciences.

Most of our daily decisions are made with ease habitually, but what about those major decisions, those important decisions that take time to deliberate and could have a monumental impact on our conscience? What do we do then?

When making those major decisions we must deliberate, choose, perform, and assess. As I stated in CF 102 (see below), Blessed John Paul II said that conscience is not a decision, but a judgment made with the intellect. Our conscience is about the discovery of objective truth, not about feelings and emotions. Emotions and feelings come and go. A fundamental element of Catholic morality is to inform our consciences and to continue inform them by careful deliberation. Before we make a major decision, we must gather all the information about the decision at hand and consider all the good and bad consequences that will stem from this decision. We should keep in account the Golden Rule, love your neighbor as yourself, and understand that evil actions will not produce a good result. In deliberation, we should look towards those individuals that have mentored us in the past as well as the teachings of Jesus Christ that are safeguarded in the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Our decisions as Catholic Christians should be in conformity with that of Jesus Christ and his Church.

After deliberation, we should then choose the best course of action that reflects Jesus Christ and person that we are as God’s creation. A key factor in the choosing step is PRAYER. Prayer allows us to communicate with God and He with us. Prayer aids us to remember that we are created in God’s image and dignity. It also slows us down to focus on him and the decision at hand. Listening to God helps us make rational decisions and not just go with our gut or what feels good at the moment. There is an old saying – God gave us one mouth and two ears. Its is so we will listen twice as much than we talk. We should that the Holy Spirit will direct us towards God’s will for our lives.

Once a choice has been established, we must now perform the action. In this step, we see the importance of responsibility coming into play. Listening to our conscience is important because if we go against our conscience, we sin. We should never react here. Temperance (self-control) is a fundamental aspect of this step. We must always be as mature as possible. Being responsible and staying the course is the most difficult part of this entire process.

The last step in our conscience formation process is to assess our actions. Our conscience is not just about deliberating, choosing, and performing the actions we will perform, but it also aids in the actions that we have already committed. When we follow the steps given above, our conscience will be clear for we know we made good choices, the virtuous choices. If we have not made the correct decision, our conscience will let us know by calling us to reconciliation and penance.

If you pray the Liturgy of Hours (official prayer of the Catholic Church), Night Prayer includes an Examination of Conscience. It’s here where we can review the day and examine our good decisions and actions that contrasted those decisions. You don’t have to pray the Liturgy of Hours to do this either. Making a simple examination a “habit” will ensure that your day was reviewed before you laid your head to rest. It will also help you to grow in holiness and to do God’s will in your life.

As Christians with God’s help, we must form our conscience, continue to form it and to follow it. The formation of our conscience is a life long process and it is not always correct. Blessed John Paul II in Veritatis splendor said, “conscience is not an infallible judgment, it can make mistakes.”

After this post, you should understand more clearly why the HHS Mandate from the Obama Administration is such an evil proclamation that violates our religious freedom (this is the BIG issue).  As Catholics, we know by our consciences that sterilization, contraceptives, and abortifacients are intrinsically evil – that means they are always wrong! How does the Obama Administration want us to violate our consciences when we clearly see these methods as evil?! This is what Cardinal-Elect Timothy Dolan meant when he said that the President has given us a year to violate our consciences. As Catholics who should be forming our consciences, we must stand up against this tyranny that is upon us. Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix said in his letter to the Diocese of Phoenix, “We cannot- we will not – comply with this unjust law.”