Dear Friends of the Kolbe Center,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
In this newsletter I am going to share an insight that I believe could help all of us to reach out more effectively to Catholics who have left the Church. While, in our experience, Catholics who leave the Church do so in most cases because of some degree of evolution-based modernist influence, the insight that I am going to share could help even in cases where a Catholic has left the Church for some other reason. I gained this insight when I was recently invited to have a series of on-line meetings with a Catholic who was raised evangelical, converted to the Catholic Faith as a young adult, and then became an atheist under the influence of prominent internet atheists. As I will now explain, as I have thought and prayed about how to reach out to him, Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother have shown me that my normal way of reaching out to Catholics who have left the Church as young (or old) adults was fundamentally flawed, and that I needed to take a different approach—an approach that I will try to explain in this newsletter.
Heroic Individualism or Gross Infidelity?
Throughout the western world and beyond, we breathe an atmosphere of individualism which conditions us to believe that a person who leaves the Church because he finds good reasons to reject one or more doctrines of the Faith deserves at least some measure of respect for his “intellectual honesty.” But this is an illusion. Anyone who has reached the age of reason who makes a public commitment to follow Our Lord Jesus Christ in His Church until death—especially in the context of a Sacrament, be it Holy Baptism or Confirmation—has willingly entered into a covenant relationship with our Heavenly Bridegroom. Such a person should be taught to understand that he or she has been incorporated into the Bride of Christ, the Holy Catholic Church, and has pledged eternal fidelity to the Heavenly Bridegroom.
A Catholic’s profession of faith on reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation is analogous to wedding vows. Consider a woman who marries a man and pledges fidelity to him until death. For a little while after their sacramental wedding, she nurtures her relationship with him by praying with him, being his help-mate, and having intimate daily communication with him. Then, one day, one of her "girl-friends"--better identified as “acquaintances” because no true “friend” would behave in this way—tells her that she has seen some documents that show that her husband was actually married to another woman who is still living. The shocked wife approaches her husband with this claim, and he categorically denies it. So, for a while, the wife resumes her normal relationship with her husband. But a doubt continues to nag at her, so she decides to seek out her “friend” for corroboration of her claim that her husband is a bigamist. The “friend” promises to provide all kinds of corroboration for her claim and invites the now suspicious wife to join her and a group of her "friends" who have helped many other wounded wives to discover their husbands’ infidelities. In a very short time, the wife's relationship with her husband has been effectively destroyed, long before any definitive “proof” of her husband’s infidelity has been provided.
Exactly the same process occurs with Catholics who are tempted to break their solemn covenant with God. Instead of associating with the Friends of Christ--especially the company of the Saints (through prayer and meditation on their holy lives) and other devout Catholics--and instead of maintaining a regular prayer life and frequent reception of the Sacraments, fallen (or falling)-away-Catholics listen to their “friends” who tell them that the Heavenly Bridegroom isn’t the perfectly truthful and holy God-Man that they have been led to believe. They could spend time with St. Teresa of Avila, St. Benedict, and St. Padre Pio, but they prefer to spend time with internet atheists like T. Jump, Erika "Gutsick" Gibbon, and Swamidass. The suspicious Catholic gradually stops devoting time to meditation on the Heavenly Bridegroom’s teachings, and to intimate communication and collaboration with Him, and eventually stops receiving the sacraments, spending more and more of her time with his “friends,” who point out more and more of the alleged defects in the character of Christ and His Church. In a very short time, his relationship with Christ has been effectively destroyed, long before any definitive “proof” of Christ’s lack of credibility has been provided.
Shakespeare wrote an entire play about an otherwise honorable man named Othello, who allows a satanic counselor named Iago to destroy his faith in his wife’s fidelity through false circumstantial evidence of her alleged adultery. Catholics who rightly agonize at the spectacle of Othello’s unjust treatment of his wife Desdemona ought to realize that their fellow Catholic friends and family members who abandon the practice of their Faith after reaching the age of reason are guilty of an even worse injustice than Othello. This is because Our Heavenly Bridegroom is the “Lamb of God” without blemish, in comparison with whom even the purity and fidelity of Desdemona suffer from countless imperfections.
The Duty to Nurture Fidelity
As a director of religious education and active member of the Legion of Mary in a parish for thirteen years, I had many opportunities to see adults and young adults enter the Church or make professions of faith in the Church, only to abandon the practice of the faith within a few years of their solemn profession. I believe that part of the blame for the frequency with which this tragic scenario repeated itself in the parish was the failure to teach converts and confirmandi alike the sacredness of the covenant into which they entered with their Heavenly Bridegroom—and the failure to liken their commitment to Our Lord Jesus Christ in His Church to the commitment that one spouse makes to another in Holy Marriage. Understood in this light, converts and confirmandi would have been taught their duty to protect and nurture their covenant relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ even more zealously than husbands and wives protect and nurture their covenant relationship. How ridiculous it is, in the light of this truth, that so many—indeed, in most parishes the majority—of converts and confirmandi abandon the practice of the Faith for alleged “reasons of conscience”!
Talk to any spouses who have successfully kept faith and handed on the Faith to a large family through a life-time of sacrifice, and they will laugh at the mere notion that they could have done so had they not maintained an intimate relationship with God and with each other, guarding their hearts against the slightest movement of mind or heart towards infidelity or distrust of their beloved. Ask them what they would think of a young husband and wife who did not commit to regular intimate communication with God and with each other, and they would predict the direst consequences for their relationship, without sincere repentance and a firm commitment to begin and maintain that double intimacy. Yet we all know Catholics who as young adult or adult converts or confirmandi solemnly professed their faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ who now profess that they have abandoned the covenant they made for “reasons of conscience.”
On examination, these “reasons of conscience” usually turn out to be arguments against one or more doctrines of the faith or a response to scandals in the Church analogous to Iago’s circumstantial evidence for Desdemona’s infidelity to Othello. Seen in this light, any convert or confirmand who follows through with his commitment to nurture an intimate relationship with God from day to day and moment to moment would never allow any scandal or any argument against the faith to deceive him into breaking his covenant. Yet the world is teeming with tens of millions of Catholics who have done just that.
Revelation and Relationship
A common argument of fallen-away Catholics is that if God existed and were just, He would make the truth of His Revelation so obvious that it would be impossible for anyone to be condemned through unbelief. One fallen-away Catholic recently told me that if God made the Bible glow every time anyone opened it, that would be a clear sign that the Bible is divine. However, this way of thinking reflects a profound ignorance of God’s character and of His stated purpose in creating mankind. Our Lord has not invited us to acknowledge His existence and the truth of His Revelation the way that we arrive at a geometric proof—although there are certain truths of the Faith, like the existence of a Supreme Being, that can be determined by Reason alone. On the contrary, Our Heavenly Father created us to be His children by adoption and to receive His Revelation in relationship to Him as our Father, to Jesus as Our Brother and Redeemer, and to the Holy Spirit as Our Advocate and Counselor, as members of God’s Family, the Catholic Church, wherein the Holy Angels and Saints give us sublime examples of lives lived in communion with the Most Holy Trinity.
When I converted to the Catholic Faith as an eighteen-year-old freshman at Princeton University, one of the “motives of credibility” that led to my conversion was my reading of the original tomes of Samuel Butler’s Lives of the Saints in the Firestone Library, a stone’s throw from the Princeton University Chapel where I was eventually baptized and confirmed. It was apparent to me that Butler’s historical accounts of men, women and children, of every walk of life, from every part of the world, who lived the same kind of life that Jesus lived when He walked the earth bore witness to the Truth of the Catholic Faith and to the reality of Christ’s living presence in the members of His Mystical Body, the Catholic Church. I am convinced that any Catholic who reads the lives of the saints daily, while remaining in the state of grace, practicing mental prayer every day, receiving the sacraments, and fulfilling the duties of his state in life, will never apostatize. On the other hand, any Catholic who does not do these things will easily be led astray, especially if he has the misfortune to lose the state of grace—because our minds are no match for the demons unless we are united to Our Lord Jesus Christ and Our Blessed Mother and to our Holy Family, the Catholic Church.
A Thousand Difficulties Do Not Make One Doubt
In spite of all that has been said above, it would be extremely naïve to think that even Catholics who nurture an intimate relationship with God from the time of their profession do not face challenges to their faith and fidelity. As noted in a previous newsletter, even the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux, hailed by Pope St. Pius X as “the greatest saint of modern times,” suffered horrendous temptations against her faith in her last agony. She wrote:
If you only knew what frightful thoughts obsess me. Pray very much for me so that I do not listen to the Devil who wants to persuade me about so many lies. It is the reasoning of the worst materialists that is imposed upon my mind. Later, unceasingly making new advances, science will explain everything naturally. We shall have the absolute reason for everything that exists ...
The difference between the Little Flower and so many millions of Catholics who have broken their solemn vows to God with appeals to “science” or “reasons of conscience” is that she nurtured an intimate relationship with her Heavenly Bridegroom from childhood. She knew that the Gift of Faith that she had received from Him was SUPERNATURAL and could not be proved or disproved by the light of natural reason—even as she knew that nothing in the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Faith was against reason.
Well instructed young adult or adult converts and confirmandi know their duty to nurture an intimate relationship with their Heavenly Bridegroom, especially through mental prayer. Such souls may indeed experience temptations against the Faith, some of which may take the form of arguments against one or more doctrines of the Faith. But such souls will take pains to protect their relationship with the Heavenly Bridegroom as zealously as St. Joseph protected his relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary. They will frequent the sacraments and maintain their rule of prayer—including regular mental prayer—unflinchingly; and they will take their difficulties resulting from scandals or arguments against the Faith to a wise and holy confessor, rather than promiscuously attempting to evaluate them, say, on the internet. To do the latter is to risk the same calamity as Othello whose judgment was no more a match for the satanic cunning of Iago than is the judgment of most young adult converts or confirmandi when they confront the satanic cunning of popular internet atheists.
Fidelity Requires Accountability
Just as witnesses to a Catholic Marriage bear a grave responsibility to hold the newlywed spouses accountable to fulfill the vows that they professed, so do witnesses of adult conversions or confirmations bear a grave responsibility to hold them accountable to fulfill their vows to God. A convert or confirmand who abandons the practice of the Faith because of some scandal or argument against one or more doctrines of the Faith should be called out for his infidelity. He should be reminded that to abandon the practice of the Faith because of some scandal or for some alleged doctrinal error is to fall into the fatal error of Othello and to risk destroying his relationship with the Heavenly Bridegroom for the sake of a lie alleged by some latter-day Iago whose demonic envy has prompted him to sow seeds of infidelity.
For those in our families, friends or acquaintances who are wavering or who have already apostatized, these few final recommendations, combined with prayer and sacrifice, may yet be helpful:
In the first place, we can invite them to ponder the truth that an infinite, transcendent, self-existing God could only be known by us contingent beings by the gift of supernatural faith, raising us above the limitations of our relative nothingness and allowing us to participate in the life and knowledge of Almighty God. Of course, He gives us what Holy Church calls "motives of credibility," but the actual knowledge of Him that we yearn for can only be obtained by the supernatural gift of faith. Having been brought up an agnostic secular humanist, I understand very well how easy it is for us to treat God as an equal, and to think that He owes us the same kind of bona fides that we would require from another human being. But even a little reflection on the gulf that separates the finite from the infinite should suffice to show the absurdity of assuming an attitude other than one of extreme humility.
In the second place, since adult Catholics have received the inestimable supernatural Gift of Faith, it would be good to ask them to consider a variation on Pascal's Wager. If the God of Christianity is real and true, then it would be very important for them not to do anything that would jeopardize their communion with Him, and to do everything possible to maintain a humble relationship with Him while they strive to resolve their difficulties—lest they exchange the promise of eternal happiness for a freely-chosen state of eternal misery.
Finally, it would be good to remind them of the reality of the spiritual world, and especially of the devil and his demons, as attested by the testimony of exorcist priests right up to our own day, so that they face the real possibility that they could be deceived by the brilliant intellects of the evil spirits, especially when our Catholic brothers and sisters have separated themselves from the Heavenly Bridegroom and from His Life-giving Sacraments. We can refer them to the testimony of contemporary exorcists at links like this one or to the most famous public exorcism in the history of the Church, the Exorcism of Nicola Aubrey, witnessed by over 100,000 people, including highly educated skeptics and anti-Catholics as well as Catholics, to drive home the reality of the spiritual world. This is especially important—because the atheists and anti-Catholic apologists on the internet, in many cases through ignorance and not through deliberate malice, rarely have any respect for these spiritual realities, and thus easily allow themselves and those who follow them to be blinded and led astray.
Through the prayers of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, may the Holy Ghost grant us the grace to remain faithful to Our Heavenly Bridegroom and to draw all the souls we know or meet to Jesus through Mary! Amen.
Yours in Christ through the Immaculata in union with St. Joseph,
P.S. Fr. Maximilian Dean has organized a conference on the Absolute Primacy of Christ to be held July 14-16, 2023, at the Holy Spirit Center in the Norwood neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. According to this doctrine, the Incarnation and the Immaculate Conception were integral to God’s original plan for creation from before the foundation of the world and were not merely a response to the need for Redemption after the Fall of Adam. The Symposium will provide an opportunity for scholars—including Bradford Fellmeth and myself as representatives of the Kolbe Center—to present theological arguments in favor of the absolute primacy of Christ and to create a resource for theologians and faithful alike who want to learn more about the beauty and intricacies of this Christocentric perspective of creation and salvation history. The symposium is open to the public, and I encourage all of you have an interest in this important subject to attend. You can find detailed information about the conference at this link.
P.P.S. Our annual leadership retreat has been scheduled to take place from August 27-September 2, 2023, at the Apostolate for Family Consecration retreat center in Bloomingdale, Ohio. For more information or to register, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.