If you follow the news, especially Church news, you likely understand that there are few places on the internet or in the public square where faithful, orthodox Catholics can find respite. Anecdotally, it appears that there is a growing sense of discontent or even of despair. Pope Francis seems to be addressing this tendency in Christus Vivit: “Young people, do not let the world draw you only into things that are wrong and superficial. Learn to swim against the tide, learn how to share Jesus and the faith he has given you. May you be moved by that same irresistible impulse that led Saint Paul to say: ‘Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel’ (1 Cor 9:16)!”

The internet has made our world smaller than ever. It is now very easy to be “in the know.” Information travels very quickly, at the speed of light. As a consequence, societal trends and movements affect us more rapidly. Dangerous ideas that in the past might have been smothered by a filter of family, friends, and local communities, now fester unmediated in a virtual hellscape, where the worst impulses of humanity–vanity, pride, lust, envy, jealousy, and hatred–are often considered virtues.

In the wake of the recent mass shootings, it is encouraging in a way, for politicians in the United States to be debating how this country can be made safer. Stronger background checks, says one. Prohibit high capacity magazines, says another. Disconcertingly, however, others have engaged with the ideology of a so-called “manifesto” of a mass-murderer to try to glean some insight into what political motivations drive a man to kill. This misses the obvious fact that mass-murderers should not be rewarded with attention. Additionally, their theory seems to be that if you make it impossible to believe what those mass-murderers believed, then there will be no violence. 

Our problems are not limited to the secular world. Our sins are tearing the Church apart too. The Church of Christ is, of course, stronger than the power of sin. I am not suggesting that our Church is at risk of being defeated in any absolute sense. But this is what is happening: the serpent of Genesis has reemerged in the dangerous new forms of individualism and American nationalism. Those who embrace this ideology are so self-assured about what is right and what is true that it has led many of them to reject magisterial Church teachings. They have become overconfident in their own abilities to reason, and they have driven themselves far from the living Body of Christ and into ideological bunkers.

This mentality has been exacerbated by certain Catholic media outlets. Rather than mediating the facts or sifting through information carefully, they publish articles that fit their preconceived notions about the supposedly good and bad actors in the Church today. They choose the “truth” that is most convenient or most palatable to them and present it to their readers, in disservice to Truth. In a recent example, one of these Catholic media outlets strongly implied, without any real foundation, that Pope Emeritus Benedict had taken sides against Francis in the very real but regrettable political battle over the restructuring of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute. 

The solution to these problems is not structural or administrative. Much of the current crisis in the Church is due to disagreements based on false premises and ideological assumptions, and nothing short of a paradigm shift will be required to bring about its end. I often think of Ptolemy’s model of the solar system in these situations. His geocentric model was replaced by a completely different and more correct understanding of the solar system. A simpler model, albeit one that acknowledged the imperfections of the universe, replaced the extreme complexity of a model that needed orbits and planets to be only perfect circles and spheres.

The simple yet imperfect reality is that we are broken. This fact often escapes even the most well-intentioned among us. All of us are deeply broken. Our hearts are broken; our minds are broken. We find ourselves thinking in darkness and loving only ourselves. And yet, many of our “models” of how our society and the Church should work operate on the false assumption that we are not broken, or not nearly as broken as we actually are. It is on the basis of these false assumptions that we entrust ourselves with the freedoms we desperately crave and feel we deserve but which any objective bystander can acknowledge we promptly abuse. We then come up with a dizzying maze of rules and traditions to ward off sin and any deviations from the norm.

Our model needs a re-imagining. 

By acknowledging that God is at the center of our lives, that he alone can tell us how we ought to live, only then we will come to grips with our brokenness. Francis has referred to the Spirit as the main protagonist in our lives. Sadly, while we debate among ourselves about certain aspects of our faith, such as the infallibility of the Pope, tens of millions of people in the United States are suffering because God is not part of their lives at all. They lack direction. They lack something to aim for, something to hope for, that lifts them out of the muck and mire of a sinful human existence. The sad reality is that without God, our brokenness becomes entwined with our very identity. We learn to take pride in ourselves, including our very sinfulness.

How can a broken man or woman learn to love? How can sinful people fix themselves? The only way is to receive the love of the One who can love perfectly, who can show us why we were made and can bring about that change in us and through us. Yes, we are broken, but we can learn to love by the grace of God and the grace of God alone. This isn’t another Marianne Williamson-like way to suggest we’re dealing with a “dark psychic force.” What I mean is Truth has come into the world and redeemed it from the hollowness of sin. What I am talking about is the Creator of the universe who died on the cross so that he might fill each of us with his love. 

Consider the man who loves perfectly. He cares deeply for others and gives generously of himself. As Thomas à Kempis wrote of the grace-filled man, “[He] does not care for news or novelties, because all these things spring from the age-old corruption of humanity, for there is nothing new or lasting in this world.”  As we heard recently at a Sunday mass: Vanity of vanities! Everything is vanity! 

Evangelization, spreading the Good News, is the only response to the sins of this world. The Gospel is eternal newness, the source of all our energy and youthfulness (cf. Christus Vivit 13). We are all in need of healing, which can only be found in the deep, abiding love of Christ. Consider the man who does not dwell on the sins of this world, but on the beauty, the wonder, and the joy of God. Consider the person who has been freed from worldly despair to be the love of God for others.  

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Daniel Amiri is a Catholic layman and finance professional. A graduate of theology and classics from the University of Notre Dame, his studies coincided with the papacy of Benedict XVI whose vision, particularly the framework of "encounter" with Christ Jesus, has heavily influenced his thoughts.  He is a husband and a father to three beautiful children. He serves on parish council and also enjoys playing and coaching soccer.

Consider the Man

10 Responses

  1. Ralph says:

    Great article. It reminds me of Pope Francis’ point that reality is more important than ideas. We have become so enamored with our own reasoning powers and our own ideologies that we have forgotten the reality of our own sinfulness and the reality that is other people. This is especially true on the Internet where you can attack somebody from the comfort of your own home. So much of human communication is based on facial expression, body language, tone of voice and other factors that get lost online so it is easy to dehumanize a person when they are just an icon on a screen.

  2. chris dorf says:

    Important questions and observations you put forth here.
    My view is that much Catholic theology has been slowly altered in the West, US, by materialistic non-Catholic/Protestant understandings of beliefs of our Faith ‘such as’ the understanding of salvation/redemption/works which, altered, changes our understanding of Jesus’s Will for us as his sheep.
    Unlike the more Conservative Catholics whom believe that they battle their enemy whom they call ‘liberal Catholics’, the conservatives bring many problems to the table themselves in altering the Catholic Faith.
    Eugene McCarraher, a Prof from Villanova, has written and taught for many years about this; as did former Fr. Michael Baxter whom taught at Notre Dame.
    Also, Dr. David Anders, From Calvinism to Catholic’, is another voice trying to unwind much erroneous sweeping errors in conservatism regarding our Lords call to Salvation.
    I purposefully stayed a little vague in here because if you have been observing these matters as I have, you can fill in the scenario.
    Their is a reason conservatives dislike Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero and Pope Francis (and Letter of James on works and Faith?)

  3. Andrew Nelson says:

    It is ironic Pope Francis desires global unity(against nationalism), albeit at the expense of the one saving truth of Jesus Christ and His Church, while at the same promoting policies which hinder the unity of the Church. For example, he is against walls for countries, but supports the walls of national bishop conferences throughout the Church, with their own national and political agendas. How do these conferences unite Catholics worldwide? Also, each Pope has to be in unity with the entire magisterial teaching and traditions of the Church, not only since VII(and Pope Francis cannot even be in unity with Pope John Paul II). A Pope is not his own man who can change settled doctrine by some ‘surprise’ coming from God. How does this preserve Catholic unity from generation to generation, when we sever ourselves from our Catholic roots. Lastly, and this huge even though it is a sore spot for liberal Catholics. How can we be more unified as Catholics worldwide when we have enclosed ourselves within our own nationalism in the vernacular language of our country in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? The Latin language unified Catholics. It was a language of no country, but a sacred language for Catholics and the Church worldwide. We were prideful to abandon the wisdom of our forefathers, and now we wallow in our enlightened swamp.

    • Chris dorf says:

      Your response is an object lesson with relation to this essay. The response itself is political using code terms and phraseology that is used in certain parts of the Church; usually with the intent to dengrate or vilify ‘the other side’.

    • Lazarus says:

      You are confusing unity with uniformity.

  4. Amateur Brain Surgeon says:

    You don’t even realise that there are significant parts of this piece that are perfect examples of the actions and words you condemn in others.

    But, that is par for the course for those who are self-righteous and filled with love – not like all of those other icky Catholics you reference.

    • Daniel Amiri says:

      To the extent that we refocus the conversation on our love of Christ, our faith in God’s promise and our hope in the Kingdom, the better off we’ll be. I know I have failed in this piece in particular, and partly that was a conscious decision on my part, and partly it’s because I still lack faith. In other words, I don’t yet see the world truly from God’s eyes, or as it is stated in Lumen Fidei, from the perspective of the crucified Christ. Social media has revealed and made worse our tendencies to blow trivialities way out of proportion and to trivialize the serious discussions we need to have as Catholics. Nothing from my piece should be interpreted to mean that there isn’t real debate that needs to take place. But what it does mean is that, in a more loving world rooted in Christ and his gift of mercy, we couch our disagreement in true and generous love in pursuit of Truth, together. We can see that is not currently happening.

  5. Amatuer Brain Surgeon says:

    For man, it is impossible to see the world through God’s eyes but you are among those who are farthest from that impossibility if you think that heresy is trivial.

    Pope Francis, in AL, tried to teach that a man can both be an adulterer and in a state of sanctifying grave and that is an absolute heresy.

    How does that heresy serve love?

    Pope Francis tried to teach that God positively willed false religions and that is a heresy that is opposed to love because it is opposed to the First Commandment.

    About a week or so ago, Pope Francis said that the fire Jesus desired wqaas already kindled was the fire that overcomes division when it is the truth that Jesu was speaking about the fire of truth that divides, son from father, daughter form mother etc etc .

    That is, Pope Francis was bringing us another Gospel. How is that love? How is an exegesis (it was really an eisegesis) that explicits contradicts what Jesus said and taught surfing love for truth?

    Of course, these examples can be multiplied…

    • Daniel Amiri says:

      I don’t want to gloss over any of this because they are important questions. I would be happy to walk through how these statements are to be understood in an orthodox (i.e. non heretical) way, which really is how we should understand them. Is that something that you would find useful?

      • Amateur Brain Surgeon says:

        Dear Daniel. Sure, take them one at a time beginning with the claim that one can break a commandment, commit adultery, and yet be in a state of sanctifying grace

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