The timing of Cardinal Newman’s canonization is definitely providential. God is reminding us, and hopeful more Catholics will learn, of the wonderful, keen, and common sense approach to holiness of the English priest.
I am excited for his official sainthood. I hope you are as well. Please check out a sermon or writing of John Henry Newman this summer. I guarantee your fervor for the faith will ignite 🔥 🔥!
Check out more content on Cardinal Newman from my latest article for EpicPew at the link 👇
Yesterday the United States celebrates its 243rd birthday as a nation that champions the following freedoms expressed in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution: freedom of religion, speech, press, and right to a peaceably assembly. Much debate and discussion has been generated over the proper interpretation of these enumerated freedoms spelled out in the primary American document. Today, I do not want to continue or add to the debate. Rather, I simply want to contemplate the question of what is true freedom. Where does mankind’s freedom originate from? Is it possible to achieve complete freedom in this life?
What Does Freedom Mean?
Before I proceed with my thoughts on freedom, I want to define which specific sort of freedom I will be referring to. Throughout the centuries humanity occasionally conflates freedom to[i.e. ability to do anything a person wishes] with freedom from [liberty from an oppressive force or evil]. I am going to dedicate my attention to the later definition of freedom. As a Catholic, I admit that much of my world outlook is influenced by my faith. Because of this I will view the subject of freedom through the lens of Christianity.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Man’s freedom is limited and fallible. In fact, man failed. He freely sinned. By refusing God’s plan of love, he deceived himself and became a slave to sin. This first alienation engendered a multitude of others. From its outset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom (CCC 1739).
Despite this despairing truth, the Catechism states that hope is not all lost. In paragraph 1741 the Church teaches that, “In him [Christ] we have communion with the ‘truth that makes us free.’” In other words, true freedom is not the ability to do anything we want. Disguising freedom under the camouflage of the self leads to chaos and strife. For example, if people chose to have complete freedom from obeying traffic lights and signs traffic jams, car accidents, and even vehicle caused deaths would ensue.
My Experience of Freedom
From my own experience, I have learned that this struggle between freedom to versus freedom from is real. Battling the sin of stubborn pride and possessing OCD, I often lack humility to admit I am wrong. I obsess over possessing control at both work and home. In the short term, I receive peace and relief when I exert control through daily OCD rituals of cleaning and limiting my email inboxes. Sometimes my utopia lasts for a few weeks. However, such utopian bliss is fleeting and temporary. My self-centered approach to freedom hits a roadblock when my family’s needs come in conflict with my own desires.
I wish that I had better news. Like, I am winning this war against my pride and OCD tendencies! Sadly, I am not. I lost a battle last week. What I do plan on doing is going to daily Mass to celebrate the 4th of July and to make an effort to put my wife and children before my needs this week. I plan on going to Confession to obtain the aid of the sacramental graces provided by the Holy Spirit through the priest. True freedom [that is freedom from sin] may not truly occur until our death and hopeful union with the Trinity in Heaven. I ask for your continued prayers as I seek to become a more humble man. My road toward true freedom only exists through the narrow path provided by Jesus Christ! I pray that I continue to have strength to get up and walk this path daily with Him and I am thankful for God’s continual mercy towards me.
Early on the history of the Catholic Church an admiration existed for Peter and Paul. Aside of Jesus Christ himself, these two men are the main characters in the New Testament. In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, church leader Clement of Rome tells of the leadership of Peter and Peter. He wrote,
There was Peter who by reason of unrighteous jealousy endured not one not one but many labors, and thus having borne his testimony went to his appointed place of glory. By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance. Unto these men of holy lives was gathered a vast multitude of the elect, who through many indignities and tortures, being the victims of jealousy, set a brave example among ourselves (First Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians 5:4-6:1).
Living in the 1st century A.D., Clement’s praise of the first leaders of the Church is evidence that something special changed these men. God selected a simple fisherman and a reformed murderer to head the Catholic Church. I believe the Holy Spirit guided the Church to forever link these two saints lives through having the same feast day on June 29th.
Creativity of Truth [St. Paul]
Having the ability to think outside the box and preach to vastly different audiences is a gift. St. Paul possessed both creativity and the flexibility to frame his thoughts to fit the needs and understanding of his particular audiences. Writer of almost 2/3 of the New Testament, St. Paul represents the creative aspect of the Catholic faith. He brings to the table dynamic, vibrant, creative theology to teach Christians in the early Church and today.
The Apostle of the Gentile used many tangible and relatable examples to teach the faith. One of my personal favorites comes from 1 Corinthians 12. Paul clearly and succinctly communicates the fact that unity is found within diversity. He provides the analogy of the Church consisting of one body with many parts and Jesus Christ as the ultimate head of the body. Another clear and understandable example of the love and teaching of God is St. Paul’s frequent references to Christians as adopted children of God. In Romans 8:14-17 he writes, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.j 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba,* Father!”k 16The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,l 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
Stability of Truth [St. Peter]
Unlike Paul who represents the intellectual, creative, and theological side of truth, Peter is a model for the consistency and enduring nature of
Catholic teaching. Jesus instituted the papacy in Matthew 16:17-19. According to the evangelist the charge to the future pope went as follows,
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood* has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 18k And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,* and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19l I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.* Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
The lead up to this significant institutional passage is Peter’s realization of Jesus’ true identity is the Christ. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Peter led the Catholic Church after Jesus’ ascension to Heaven. He led the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 and displayed the ultimate mark of faith in his martyrdom. The papacy continues to be an office guided by the Holy Spirit by which unites Christianity and acts as the supreme authority on matters related to faith and morality.
Analogy of Tetherball
Truth is unchanging but our understanding of truth developed over the centuries. The genius of the Catholic Church is apparent in the consolidation of Peter and Paul’s feast on a single day. There is a schoolyard game that comes to mind to describe the relationship between the first pope and the great Apostle to the Gentiles—tetherball! Incidentally, it was not until my early twenties that I discovered the joy and fun this recess game provide despite its simplistic nature. I even purchased a tetherball at my local sporting goods store in hopes to eventually install a tetherball post in my background.
To get back from my tetherball tangent, the post in this game reminds me of the stability that the papacy of St. Peter provides. The ball and rope represent the creative theology of
St. Paul. Both are essential aspects of the game [and the Catholic faith]. Without the stability of the papacy, truth devolves into subjectivity and confusion ensues. Likewise, an absence of dynamic theological thought [represented by Paul] leads to staleness, rigidity, and irrelevancy of Catholic teaching. Remember kids recess is an important subject in school too—you never know when you can apply lessons from leisure to real life!
I find no more appropriate way of closing my thoughts on these holy individuals than to cite the words of the successor of Peter. Pope Francis on June 29th, 2017 stated, “The Fathers of the Church liked to compare the holy apostles Peter and Paul to two columns, on which the visible building of the Church rests. Both sealed with their own blood their testimony to Christ of preaching and service to the nascent Christian community.”
This weekend I heard the following comment on the floor as I began work, “Catholics and I don’t get along much. I live to destroy Catholics.” While his statement may certainly be hyperbolic—that co-worker is definitely known for exaggerated and bombastic claims—there is truth to it. During my college years, his statement would have provoked righteous anger. Immediately, I would have engaged in debate on the level of St. Nicholas, the hectic-puncher, himself!
According to Venerable Fulton Sheen, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” Perception trumps reality more often than not. Refraining from leaping to judgement, unlike my co-worker, will allow me to demonstrate the love and truth of Catholicism. This article will look at three reasons why I no longer debate opponents of the Catholic Church.
Change the Heart, Not the Mind
Arguments only appeal to the rational side of a person and usually only leave the parties further entrenched in their respective beliefs. The 20th century American actor Will Rogers said, “People’s minds are changed through observation and not through argument.” You just have mention the words politics, religion, or Trump to prove his claim. Social media simply adds more fuel to debates.
Instead of seeking to be the winner of an argument, focus on changing the human heart. The Common Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas plainly wrote, “To convert somebody go and take them by the hand and guide them.” Entering into a relationship with those of different beliefs from will not able help you understand their point of view, but also open their heart to the beauty of Catholicism. I have many college friends I try to keep in contact who oppose the teachings of the Gospel. Whenever we hung out in the past, I never sought to impose my beliefs on them actively. I demonstrated charity and clearly articulated the reasons for my belief when they asked.
Preach Gospel—Use Words Only When Necessary
Another reason I no longer actively seek debates with opponents to Catholicism is because I have learned the value in actions speaking louder than words. I used to tout the importance of charity, yet I failed so display that same virtue in an argument, on social media or real life. Mark Twain purported, “Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” Despite the progress I have made over the years, I still fail at having my words match my deeds 100% of the time! If you too struggle with hollow words and insincere actions, hope is not lost—now is the best time to start over.
Strengthening the Will
Work and family life presents plenty of challenges, annoyances, and irritations. In other words, opportunities for holiness. My parish priest said in his homily for Pentecost, “We must ask the Holy Spirit to widen our narrow view.” We can only see our perspective.
Those bigoted words from my co-worker about the Catholic Church did not spontaneously spew out. His experience with the Church or what he perceives the Church to be is jaded. I asked the Holy Spirit to provide me the strength to remain calm and silent.
St. Josemaria Escriva wrote, “Don’t say, ‘That person bothers me.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me’!” That is how I approached that man’s attitude—as an opportunity for me to exercise patience. Catholics must not fight fire with fire. We can only douse out the incendiary actions of our opponents with help of the Holy Spirit.
No Need to Defend Truth—Truth is Undefeated!
Our natural reaction when someone we love dearly is attacked is to rush to their defense. In my early twenties, I acted boldly, yet rashly, in defense of my faith. More times than not, I regretted my hotheadedness. Experience and the Holy Spirit has taught me a different approach. As St. Augustine put it, “The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.”
It is not my job to save the Church. My primary role as husband, father, and a member of the laity is to teach the faith to my wife, children, and those I meet on a daily basis. Actions speak louder than words. I no longer debate non-Catholics or people vehemently attacking the Church. I witness to the truth in my daily life. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. He already has won! We need only to obey and truth in His Providence.
I have learned that the more a person learns about a particular subject or person there exists a direct correlation in an increased amount of titles or synonyms to describe them. For example, I had a lot of nicknames as an infant and toddler because of my parent’s love toward me. I have inherited that same knack to create multiple appellations for my children as well.
Within the Catholic Church, our honor toward Mary, the Mother of God, lends itself to a burgeoning of titles to reference her too. After I taught a lesson on Mary, I learned that she has over 2,000 titles! I will barely scratch the surface of this topic by reflecting on 3 specific titles of Mary that provide me hope on a daily basis.
Undoer of Knots
This is a relatively new devotion toward Mary. I became aware of this unique title through my reading of a biography of Pope Francis- shortly after his election to the papacy. Mary as Undoer of Knots is his personal favorite Marian devotion. Below is the prayer associated with this nascent devotional practice:
Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need, Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy that exist in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exists in my life. You know very well how desperate I am, my pain, and how I am bound by these knots. Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of his children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life. No one, not even the evil one himself, can take it away from your precious care. In your hands there is no knot that cannot be undone. Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with Your Son and My Liberator, Jesus, take into your hands today this knot.
There is something tangible and raw and this prayer. Life is messy. Sometimes due to my own fallen nature, and occasionally because of the sinfulness of others, my life becomes knotted. My personal struggles develop into a Mobius strip of suffering. Reciting the prayer and asking for Mary as Undoer of Knots to help straighten me out is both a peaceful and confident feeling.
Star of the Sea
Along with Undoer of Knots, Mary as Star of the Sea is new title I am now assigning personally to our Blessed Mother. Historically speaking though, this title is as ancient as the sea. Early Christians associated Mary with this appellation. Throughout the Holy Scriptures the sea and oceans viewed as dangerous waters to transverse.
During the night, stars helped to guide sailors to safety. In an analogous way, Mary acts as a guide, not our source of salvation [that is reserved for God alone!] toward salvation. Mary as our Mother is a protector of us, her children, against the tumultuous waters of life. According to the great Early Church Father, St. Ephraim, Mary is “the safe harbor of all sailing on the sea the world.” Centuries later, Pope Leo XIII uses similar language to describe Mary. He called her “safe harbor of travelers.”
Traveling is a universal experience among mankind. Mary as Star of the Sea reminds of the importance of reliance on others, to guide in times of strive and tumult.
Refuge of Sinners
Because the first woman, Eve, is associated as the bringer of suffering into the world through her fall in the Garden of Eden, Mary is traditionally seem as the New Eve. Together with being Star of the Sea and Undoer of Knots, the third Marian designation that fills me with hope is Mary as Refuge of Sinners. The word refuge originates from a French word meaning “to flee”. It makes sense for us to connect this title to the person of the Mother of God. Moms are people who their children flock or flee to in times of suffering or distress. As the most perfect and universal mother, Mary is a sure person to seek refuge from against the prowess of Satan and temptation.
According to St. Louis de Montfort, [Mary] is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus and will surrender themselves to her, body and soul, without reserve in order to belong entirely to Jesus.” The beauty of the Catholic Church is the great diversity that exists within its universal walls. Marian devotion is a gift to help bring us closer to God. I hope that I have shed some light on the significance of these three titles of Mary. Through the intercession of Our Spiritual Mother we grow closer to the Light of the Son!