“I’m Sorry, Lord, For The Thing I’ve Made It”

The title is a line from the song “The Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman.    In the song, the singer re-commits himself to seeking the Heart of worship — “It’s all about You, it’s about You, Jesus.”  This song came to mind when I ran across a blog post of Msgr. Charles Pope titled “The Perils of the Pious: How the Devil Can Hijack Holy Practices.”  The post is too good for extended comment and I encourage you to read it as it is well-written and insightful (although I have a slightly different take on some things).

Msgr. Pope lists three ways in which we turn worship away from God.  They are:

  • Ritualistic Reductionism
  • Crass Comparison
  • Checking Off the God-Box

In the first, we replace God with ritual.  Although the ritual pleases God as does our obedient participation in it, it drives us away from God when we give it a  life of its own.  For example, the liturgy will soon change — a little bit for us, a lot for the priests.  Are we going to grouse about the weird, unfamiliar things we’re saying or are we going to say, “Jesus, this is quite weird to say — and just after I got the other one down! — but You, not the words, are the heart of worship.  If you’re pleased, I’m OK as disorienting and strange this change is.”

In the second, we give into pride.  Msgr. Pope beautifully expresses what I think is part of the idea:

The fact is, being better than a prostitute or a corrupt city official is not the standard that’s going to get us heaven. The standard that we must meet is Jesus Christ. Now if we really grasp this and understand how far we are from meeting that standard, then we will humbly cry for mercy. But the peril of the pious is to compare ourselves to others, not to Jesus. Too easily we can become smug and superior, arrogant. We can become unaware that we too need boatloads of grace and mercy to even stand a chance of getting to heaven.

A secular source (the name of which I no longer remember) observed a sort of grade inflation when it came to going to Heaven.  Nowadays, we say “So and So” was jolly good fellow so “of course” he went to Heaven.  Perhaps, it wasn’t so easy in the dark, tough past of the early 20th century.  I think the speaker and Msgr. Pope are saying the same thing.

But I think Msgr. Pope only said half of it (he follows up the quotation with an explanation so he may have said it . . .).  The worst kind of sin is the sin that you think is virtue.  Take a good dose of pride and add legalism and what do you get?  As you are doing something you think is good, you are really digging your grave.  C.S. Lewis said it best in Mere Christianity:

The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But Pride always means enmity—it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison— you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

That raises a terrible question. How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound’s worth of Pride towards their fellow-men.

I suppose it was of those people Christ was thinking when He said that some would preach about Him and cast out devils in His name, only to be told at the end of the world that He had never known them. And any of us may at any moment be in this death-trap. Luckily, we have a test Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.

The deadly fault is that we come to judge the quality of our actions by the wrong standard — anything other than God, because only God is good.    Luke 18:18-22; Mark 10:17-19.  Crass Comparison is one way Satan turns worship away from God.

The last fault Msgr. Pope notes describes, in a wonderful turn-of-phrase, as “checking the God-Box.”  I wonder, though, whether this is a separate fault or just a combination of the first two.  Let’s consider the Rich Young Man of Luke 18:18-22.  The episode is well-known:

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’[a]

21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.

It seems like he could have been a God-box checker.  He asks Jesus what boxes he should check.  Importantly, Jesus doesn’t say don’t check boxes, He tells the young man the first box to check.  The young man must have been elated — I am already doing that, he may have thought.  Then Christ asks for a radical transformation of the young man’s life.  This was a box the young man did not want to check, at least at that point in his life.  The problem with God-box checking is that it judges using the wrong standard.  Yet, if the box checking is merely immaturity or a tool through which God is helping someone grow, then I see no problem with it.

All errors in worship and all distortions of pious practices arise from substituting something else for God.  By never losing sight of Christ, one never would need to “I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it.”


Pornography Harms

Viewing pornography is a grave sin against the virtue of chastity.  As the Catechism explains:

2354 Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.

Many people reading this will respond, ‘so what? It doesn’t really hurt anyone.’  That is wrong on two counts. First, sin always hurts the sinner by turning him away from God and making it harder to turn back.  Second, it hurts others.  It hurts the people who are pictured, it hurts the purveyors, it hurts the wives and girlfriends who are forced to compete with an illusion and who see someone they love harming himself, and it hurts the daughter who can’t quite understand why dad likes her better as a “sexy pirate” than when dressed in a nice skirt but learns that that is how to please men.  In short, Pornography Harms

St. Thérèse’s First Communion

One of the Church Guys said today that he wished to become a drop in an ocean in Christ.  He is in good company:

But I would not and I could not tell you all. Some things lose their fragrance when exposed to the air, and so,too, one’s inmost thoughts cannot be translated into earthly words without instantly losing their deep and heavenly meaning. How sweet was the first embrace of Jesus! It was indeed an embrace of love. I felt that I was loved, and I said: “I love Thee, and I give myself to Thee for ever.” Jesus asked nothing of me, and claimed no sacrifice; for a long time He and little Thérèse had known and understood one another. That day our meeting was more than simple recognition, it was perfect union. We were no longer two. Thérèse had disappeared like a drop of water lost in the immensity of the ocean; Jesus alone remained–He was the Master,the King! Had not Thérèse asked Him to take away her liberty which frightened her? She felt herself so weak and frail, that she wished to be for ever united to the Divine Strength.

This is St. Thérèse de Lisieux describing her first Holy Communion in The Story of A Soul.    If it all starts with desire, that Church Guy is heading in the right direction.

18 Actions For A Stronger Marriage In 2011, part II

From Fr. Peffley’s website, here is part two of our Stronger Marriage series:
Change is difficult.  We should seek first to change and improve ourselves and have patience with others as they endeavor to change.

Marriage is strengthened by our taking an interest in and sharing in each others activities and developing common interests.

Marriage is made vibrant through continued courtship. Flowers, special dates, dining out, etc. keep a marriage fresh and help it flourish.  Don’t take your spouse for granted.

Communication is best achieved when we are attentive and when we are listening–when we make an effort to share feelings with each other.  Be observant to notice “unspoken” communications and needs.

Children are a blessing and a gift from God.  They are the fruit of love, and they will grow and develop according to the spiritual nourishment that their parents provide. Participate in their lives.  The love you give as a parent will only enhance the love that you share with your spouse

18 Actions For A Stronger Marriage in 2011, Part I

Teachers have the three “R’s”: Reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithematic.  From Father Francis Peffley, Catholics now have the 18 “C’s” for a stronger marriage in 2011.  To encourage a better focus, I will post six (today, Wednesday, and Friday) in three parts.  (Of course, you can cheat and go to Fr. Peffley’s website!).  What does each “c” mean in the context of your particular marriage?  Share any thoughts and ideas about them in the comments.  It would be helpful to bring the leaven of experience to bear. . .

Without further ado, here’s Part I:




All vocations require dedication.  Through thoughtful and loving effort, we can strengthen our marriage. The sacrament of marriage provides the grace to remain committed.

We show that we truly care through our love and acts of affection, attentiveness and concern for our spouse and family.

We all thrive on sincere and genuine compliments.  A kind word fuels and sustains the good efforts of each family member.

When we really care, we are moved to stop and to share in and feel the suffering of a family member just as the Lord did for us.

We can solidify marital love and harmony and we can avoid conflict through our flexibility–our willingness to give in and accommodate others.

A Word of Thanks For The Holy Father, Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

(photo credit)

Like all Catholics, the Papacy is special to me as a crucial part of Catholic identity.  John Paul II was much more than that.  He was larger than life and man overflowing with charisma and holiness.  He attracted, and then bound, me to the Catholic Church.

Benedict XVI is different.  His style of leadership is quieter.  We don’t have foreign trip after foreign trip.  We don’t have the same glamor as John Paul II.  Yet, with every passing day, I am more and more grateful to the Lord for giving us Benedict XVI.

Although difficult to put into words, three of Benedict XVI’s qualities draw me to him and through him to Christ.  First, Benedict XVI is unafraid.  He speaks the truth clearly and without compunction.  His remarks on China’s treatment of Catholics and his hopes for developments in other nations in his Urbi et Orbi address on Christmas Day could not be clearer:

May the birth of the Saviour strengthen the spirit of faith, patience and courage of the faithful of the Church in mainland China, that they may not lose heart through the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience but, persevering in fidelity to Christ and his Church, may keep alive the flame of hope. May the love of “God-with-us” grant perseverance to all those Christian communities enduring discrimination and persecution, and inspire political and religious leaders to be committed to full respect for the religious freedom of all.

These are strong words, especially in diplomatic circles, but words that he nonetheless has not hesitated to utter time and time again (as any search of the Vatican’s website for “China” will show).   Benedict XVI’s unflinching courage reminds the world that there is truth and that it must be spoken.

This brings me to the second quality.  Not only does Benedict XVI  speak the truth, he speaks it well.  Although an erudite, scholarly man, his writings are so simple, so clear that profound truths become accessible.  In getting ready for next Saturday’s meeting, I re-read the section about the Beatitudes in his book, Jesus of Nazareth.  Written while still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, he provided an image of what it means to be “poor in spirit”:

[T]hese are people who do not flaunt their achievements before God.  They do not stride into God’s presence as if they were partners able to engage him on equal footing; they do not lay down a claim to a reward for what they have done.  These are people who are lovers who simply want to let God bestow his gifts upon them and thereby to live in inner harmony with God’s nature and word.  The saying of St. Therese of Lisieux  about one day standing before God with empty hands, and holding them open to him, describes the spirit of these poor ones of God: they come with empty hands; not with hands that grasp and clutch, but with hands that open and give and this are ready to receive from God’s bountiful goodness. (Jesus of Nazareth, p.  76)

Never before had I understood the idea of being “poor in spirit” as well.  Benedict XVI’s lucidity turns the challenge into living the words, not understanding them.

The final quality is humility.  Even though he is the Holy Father, Benedict XVI exudes the poverty of spirit which he described in Jesus of Nazareth.  When he boldly speaks the truth, it never seems that he is saying believe this because it is I, Benedict XVI, who is saying it.  Rather, Benedict XVI says what needs to be said because the Lord has asked him to say it.  Benedict XVI’s courage comes from his humility.  His forcefulness comes not from self-assertion, but his humble desire to serve the Lord.

For all of these reasons and more, I offer a word of thanks to our Lord for choosing Benedict XVI to lead us.