At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd – Matthew 9:36
I felt compelled to write on this topic today, especially as I am undergoing a small project of mine to identify specific works of saints for my research. This side project lead me to check some books on Amazon and as it happens I began to take a look through some of the recommended books from Amazon that were similar to my search results. Honestly, I was kind sadden by what I saw because the works themselves were not of some evil topic but rather that they were works that would only cause further confusion and create new obstacles that will need to be destroyed. I instantly recalled this passage from scripture and understood it well in this new light.
What saddens me really is the confusion present in our time. It is absolutely mind-boggling to me how much confusion is among people today. This is not in some singular part of society but in all areas. I am most concerned with how much confusion there is around religion and spirituality. Many Catholics cannot seem to distinguish the truth given to them from the church and lived out by the saints of old from other half-truths developed by false shepherd. How has this happened? Let us take a look at this passage from scripture:
These are the nations the LORD allowed to remain, so that through them he might test Israel…These served as a test for Israel, to know whether they would obey the commandments the LORD had enjoined on their ancestors through Moses. So the Israelites settled among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage, and gave their own daughters to their sons in marriage, and served their gods. Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; they forgot the LORD… – Judges 3: 1, 4-7
We read here in Judges how the Lord left some of the neighboring tribes around Israel as a means to test them. What we see is that the Israelites begin to mingle with the other tribes, accept their gods, inter-marry and begin to do evil in the sight of the Lord. This is a very common thing that happens in the Old Testament and I feel that it is applicable to our time as well.
What everyone has to contend with today is the voice of a thousand people, ideologies, thoughts, etc. that are trying to stake their claim as the right way. You have it with different religions claiming to be the true faith, you have it with political and social ideologies such as gender fluidity, and you have it in things like new philosophical ideas and movements that are also trying to have a voice. In the midst of all these voices, how is one to discern, with absolute clarity, that the Catholic faith is the way, the truth and the life? And even if you are a Catholic today, how do you distinguish between authentic Catholicism and non-authentic Catholicism? It is sad that we have to deal with such struggles, not only globally, but even within the Catholic Church!
Similar to what happened with the Israelites in Judges, when we the Catholic Church (the laity and clergy) begin to start “marrying” so to speak something outside of the church, whether this is some ideology, spiritual methods or incorrect philosophy, we will inevitably begin to waver as the Israelites did. This is what we see with so many things now within the church. For example, some of you may be familiar with the centering prayer movement. If not, click here to read more. It’s this quasi way of praying that involves some aspects of Hinduism, some New Age ideas, and so forth. The challenge here too is that these movements start to weave in the saints of old or methods such as Lectio Divina in order to show how this new method is fully rooted in authentic Catholicism. There ultimately lies the deception: what is shown to us as being authentically Catholic in nature, is just a modern mash-up of a dozen few things taken here and there from various aspects of society, covered up with some genuinely authentic Catholic teachings and presented to you as the food for your soul. Imagine rotten compost baked into a cake and covered with butter cream frosting. Outside looks tempting right? Seems safe to eat? Beware of what’s inside!
This brings me to ecumenism. Now the intent here is good. It is fundamentally about uniting the Christian body back to the way it should – as one, Catholic Church. However, people often forget one thing – it is not about the Catholic Church conforming to other denominations but it is them conforming to the Catholic Church! We are not the heretics! I often hear the objection that the Catholic Church has lost its call to sharing the gospel with the world and meeting people where they are at. We are told we need to look to other denominations to regain this spirit in this age. We can debate whether this is a true statement but what is not for debate is to say that we the church have lost something and must look to others to regain our true identity. We must look within OURSELVES and our glorious history to see how we ought to be. The answer on how to approach reform should not be through the lens of a false religion, ideology or philosophy but simply looking back to our roots that are always present in the Catholic Church.
When speaking specifically about spiritually and methods of prayer, a lot of safe guidance comes out easily in the lives of saints, church history and Jesus Christ. Why do we continue to dangerously develop some new method? We have to stop reinventing the wheel or some new shortcut that we borrowed from the Buddhists and just go back to the basics. And we can safely learn these basics from the Catholic Church and the saints. Once we start to say that we need to look to other faiths or philosophies to somehow improve our own way of life, we begin to go down a dangerous path. This would imply that we do not possess the completeness of truth and must rely on others to regain that! The Catholic Church cannot err, however, those that make it up (the clergy and laity) can through sin and this does mean at times that we need to refocus on the basics that we have in tradition and scripture in order to correct any deviation.
With all this confusion present, how is one to navigate through this mess and to be able to clearly see what is truth or a distortion? My advice is to do three things: read the Bible, read the works of saints and pray daily (especially the Hail Mary). These three things done in unison will allow you to understand the truth more clearly. If you want a greater challenge, mix in the Catechism and the teachings of the councils but do not over work yourself. What you will find in the lives of saints for example is an absolute consistency in the means by which they came to sanctity. This also matches the way Jesus Christ calls us to live in scripture! Complete consistency. In order to discern whether some new movement is of the right spirit or an evil one, save yourself the trouble and learn from those that LIVED in the right spirit. Once you begin to establish this baseline in your mind, you will almost be able to see the error of these new ideas with ease. If you do not do any of these things and rely solely on modern materials alone, you will not be able to navigate safely through the mass confusion in our time.
I want to conclude by saying that reading new material is fine. I am not discrediting this practice as there are some very well-known names in the Catholic Church that you can rely on safely. If you are limited to what material you can read or how much time you have, stick to the suggestions above. Most of what is written today is usually some derivative of what the saints wrote, which ties in perfectly with scripture and tradition. At points in history, we do have to proclaim the same message to society again but be careful as many people are claiming many things that are not necessary Catholic in nature.
In time as you begin to establish this internal compass, it will be a great aid to you as it will help you navigate through false works produced by false shepherds and will protect you from introducing evils into your own life. This is key for the United Body effort to be successful. It needs to be composed of those who are able to see past the veil of evil and can see truth. Follow Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church!
St. Pope Clement I, pray for us!