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Happy Birthday to the Catholic Church!

Today is Pentecost...the Sunday of the year where we commemorate the beginnings of the Church about 2000 years ago. Today is the day celebrating the Holy Spirit coming upon the apostles as tongues of fire, strengthening them and inspiring them to go forth and teach the world all about salvation through Christ.

Today is also the day where I went to Target and finally came in contact with...the mother god cult. For whatever reason, this cult tended to use Montclair State University as recruiting grounds. They used to approach all sorts of students and preach all sorts of wonderful heresies to students who were trying to study. They made the mistake of approaching my sister twice and both times she was able to point out how they were incorrectly interpreting the bible...and attempted to correct their theological as well as historical understanding of the bible. Many of my friends had also been approached by this cult at the library and it was always the same story...only the reactions tended to range from indifference to outright annoyance (especially during finals). I, on the other hand, never got a chance to experience the cult first hand while I was at MSU...and felt like I was excluded from one of the typical, MSU experiences (up there with parking tickets, having a shuttle bus speed past you when you are late to class, and having to run down to financial services with checkbook in hand to avoid another hold on your account). Meeting up with a member of this cult was certainly one of those inconvenient and annoying life experiences that you dread happening, but then laugh about later on when in the company of friends and colleagues.

After 6 years at MSU, I was a little disappointed that I never got to meet these people even though many of my friends had. All sorts of crazy stories went around campus regarding this cult. There was one story in particular that stood out and may have led to the campus-wide email warning students of the cult. In this story,  a student got caught up by this cult and found themselves getting led into a van, stripped and baptized in a forest at night, and then on an airplane to Korea. Eventually, they managed to get back in the US and in touch with local authorities. I am not sure how it happened exactly, but this cult got the attention of campus police. This is not hard to believe considering the stories going around and the experiences that some of my own friends had over the years. I didn't have much experience with this cult, but here is a first hand account from a student who did end up getting suckered in to visiting their church. This cult may still be active at MSU, but their activity has been flagged and this organization has gained somewhat of a following...not as a credible religion...but as a joke among students. This is probably not the attention they wanted...but it's the attention their actions brought upon them.

Well, today, I finally got a chance to hear them. I was perusing the clearance racks when I overheard a conversation that sounded all too familiar based on what I had heard from other students. As these people kept pointing out passages in scripture, I kept mentally referencing scripture and tradition that easily refuted what they were attempting to teach. One of them kept talking about how she took a religion class in college that taught about (enter convenient argument here)...and I kept wondering what college she went to and what class she must have taken.... My sister, the theology major (who recently graduated from Seton Hall with a masters in moral theology) and I kept trying to hold back a combination of laughter and incredulity as these women kept talking. We were tempted to lay down a Saint Thomas of Aquinas-esque smackdown on their ridiculous attempts at understanding scripture and their attempts to undermine the religion of an unsuspecting Target shopper. However, once we'd heard enough, we got in touch with Target's security folk and the mother god people disappeared.

So why am I even mentioning this cult as I write about the birthday of our Church? Well, it comes down to Acts 5:39:
But if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God. And they consented to him.
The priest mentioned this in his homily today..and then I later heard it in Father Barron's Catholicism series. (Yes, I did end up buying it and I've finally had a chance to watch 40% of it this weekend...but that's another post.)

Basically, my post comes down to this...if something pops up and it is not of will die out in its own time. I am fully confident that the mother god cult will cease to exist in due time. Let's face it, human-based movements (especially those based on heresy and foolishness) tend to be self-destructive. There have been countless cults in history and some more nuttier than others...and all of them disappeared in their own time. On the same lines, there have been all sorts of psychics, visionaries, spiritual leaders, self-proclaimed gods, etc. through history that have failed to withstand the test of time. There are quite a few more modern fad religions and movements out there that have gained the favor of all sorts of celebrities, etc....but even the most wealthy or popular of these will not last unless they are of God.

Why do I say this?

Well, if you look on the Catholic Church from a purely secular point of view, we should have never survived the first century let alone the last century. When we came into existence, there were a handful of members and our figurehead had just been crucified by the ruling authority. This man we had followed had claimed to be the son of God, but he had been killed alongside common criminals. What kind of religion could be based on a criminal...especially when there were so many other religions that were far more appealing. We had the polytheism of Rome which allowed all sorts of hedonism. We had the monotheism of the Jews...a religion that already boasted a few millennia and more than a few stories of salvation. These other religions were far more popular, far more widespread, and far more able to financially support the building of new temples.

Christians, on the other hand...were virtually nonexistent. Yet, Christianity grew in spite of all of this. We may not have been considered a huge threat at first...but we soon became a people who would willingly risk our lives for this new religion. Under Nero, hundreds if not thousands of Christians were lit on fire, thrown to lions, and publicly discriminated against from all directions. To make matters even stranger, Christianity was not necessarily the most easygoing and fun of all religions out there. Christians, in comparison with much of Rome, lived ascetic lives and refused the excesses so loved by many Romans. We did have joy, but our joy was not of this world. It was a joy that grew out of love rather than lust. It was a joy that grew out of self-sacrifice than gluttony.

Our popularity ebbed and flowed through history. We became a super power during some parts of history...a threat in others...and virtually nonexistent in others. We built great Cathedrals like Notre Dame, Cathedrals that not only withstood time...but attacks from extremely anti-Catholic governments that attempted to replace Our Lady with "Reason." They turned our cathedrals into temples of reason, where  religion was replaced with atheistic belief systems and anti-Catholic sentiment. As popular as these belief systems may have been at the time...and as  as Christianity was forced to become at the was Christianity that prevailed.
Festival of Reason at the Notre Dame Cathedral, 1793

The same goes for Catholicism in the face of other extremely anti-Catholic regimes...such as the communist dictatorships that razed churches to the ground and attempted to indoctrinate children to their atheist principles. As hard as they tried to speak out against religion and as hard as they attempted to remove it from the people, the spiritual starvation did nothing to kill this religion. In the case of the USSR, all it took was one visit from Bl. John Paul II to his homeland of Poland to awaken the thoughts and beliefs of a people that had been forced to pray in secrecy for years as their children were taught that God did not exist. The resounding call of "PAPA! PAPA! WE WANT GOD! WE WANT GOD!" from millions at a service (that the government refused to televise) ended up sparking the flame that would bring communism to the ground.

Looking at moments like this, it is almost impossible to explain them from a  purely secular point of view. We can argue that there simply weren't enough jails to imprison all of these people who called out for God...or that there weren't enough bullets to kill them all. However, I highly doubt that even this would be enough to stop the cry for God that was present in the yearning souls of a people that were starved of God for so long. You simply cannot stop the Holy Spirit when it is in action. In the same way, you simply cannot stop God or His works when He wills them into action. Our Church, being founded by Christ, lived for 2000 years BECAUSE it was founded by Christ. As such, it is a work of God that is actively ministering to His people and spreading the gospel of salvation. All these other fad religions and movements stand no chance because they are created by human minds and work solely through human hands.

We cannot, however, overlook the human component of the Catholic Church. Yes, God founded the Church through Christ...but, he entrusted it to us. We are not intelligent like angels. We are not perfect like Christ. We are a people that are full of imperfections and, as such, we are able to be corrupted by the evils of the world...and the temptations of the devil. We have had our share of scandals through the ages and we have dealt with much heartache through the years as we watch story after story of crooked padres in the news. Compound this with the selectivity of the biased media regarding anything Catholic, and one would be tempted to develop a bleak outlook regarding our Church. Yet, even with all the Borgias of Church history and all of the scandals so loved by the media today...I have not lost hope.

You see, we have not survived long because of all of the scandals, greed, and sin of our church.
"....Look not upon our sins, but upon the faith of your Church...."
God knew we were imperfect when Christ handed his keys to Peter. Peter himself was imperfect. Of all the disciples (Judas not included), he comes across as the one who puts his foot in his mouth most often. He may have gotten the keys to heaven, but he was also rebuked by Christ and eventually even denied Christ. God knew Peter before he was appointed the first pope, imperfections and all. However, with God's grace, Peter became Saint Peter. With God's grace, Saint Peter became the rock of the Church that Christ founded on this earth. In the same way, our Church has been through quite a dark periods. It has survived attacks from the outside as well as from within. Yet, we have survived. One could even say that we have been tried and purified time and time again...with the help of God's grace and protection.
"And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
                                                                                 -Matthew 16:18  
As worried as I am that we will have to deal with quite a lot in the days to come due to the HHS mandate and constant attacks on our faith by other not-so-friendly humanist groups and not-so-open-minded attempts at secularization...I consider these more of a nuisance than a real threat. As selfish as this sounds, I never wanted to live in a world where I would need to actively defend my faith via protesting and letter-writing to the government. (Personally, I would have preferred to fight along St. Joan of Arc with sword in hand...rather than deal with the political correctness,  red tape, paperwork, and bureaucratic BS you need to deal with to get anything done these days.) I always hoped to share my faith in a nicer a more tolerant an environment that required less paperwork and more honesty. However, I am beginning to accept that I have to work with what I got. There may be no Tolkien-esque wars against evil to be fought out there, but there is plenty to fight for....and I will fight.

The good news is that regardless of how long it takes to defend good against evil...regardless of how long we may have to deal with anti-Catholic oppression (if it ever comes to that point in the US)...regardless of what may be thrown at us in the days (or years) to come, God is with us. He's been with us for about 2000 years and He will continue to be with us in the days to come....and "if God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)

Here's to another 2000 years of all-that-is-good-and-Catholic!

Pax Vobiscum

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