Why are young Catholics leaving the Church?

It’s no secret that the Catholic Church is losing members quickly, and many of them are of the younger generation. Statistics show that for every convert, there are six Catholics that leave the Church. Nearly 13 percent of Americans have described themselves as “former Catholics.” A report released by the Pew Forum shows that the number of Catholics in the United States has dropped by 3 million since 2007. While it is true that the Church cannot be destroyed by humans and is infallible, these statistics show that many, many souls are spiritually at risk. Among adults, many people have left the Church because of the recent scandals and because of disagreement with the Church’s teachings, but it is a different story with the younger generation. Many young Catholics are dropping out because they do not fully understand their faith, society and the media are influencing them in a very bad way, and sometimes their lifestyle contradicts the teachings of the Church.

Lack of understanding about the Catholic faith and inadequate knowledge about the Church’s teachings is the beginning of leading young Catholics away from God and from truth. As Bishop Fulton Sheen said, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” This clearly shows that many Catholics and non-Catholics alike have misconceptions about what the Church really teaches. Many young Catholics nowadays have not been taught well and do not understand their faith. The number of students in Catholic schools has decreased from 5.2 million students in the 1960s to roughly 2 million. The diminishing number of Catholics that understand their faith and want to follow Jesus has led to a decrease in vocations, so there are also fewer people to teach the next generation of Catholics.

Catholics must understand basic beliefs, such as the Eucharist, Original Sin, the Paschal Mystery, and salvation before they can understand the Church’s social teachings on, for example, contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and social justice. If young people do not understand the Church’s teachings, it will be much easier for them to be led astray by outside forces. Matthew 13:1-9 says: “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

The explanation of the parable is given in Matthew 13:18-23: “‘Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’”

The problem nowadays is that young Catholics are not being well-educated in their faith, and therefore are not understanding it fully. Since many of them do not have their foundation of faith and understanding on “good soil”, no fruit is being produced. Jesus’s explanation is clear: when a person does not understand their faith, the “evil one” will tempt them and lead them away from God and the truth. And in the modern world, Catholics are surrounded by temptations and immorality because they have simply become part of our culture.

Society and the media are also leading young Catholics away from the faith. Remember that the Devil is the “god of the world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and the “father of lies” (John 8:44). We know this is true because society and the media have led many Catholics astray with deception. And since many Catholics are not well-informed about their faith and what the Church teaches, they are more easily led away from God and the truth through the “evil one” and his works, as well as the sinfulness found in modern-day culture. Society and the media are often at conflict with Church teaching. The former is blocking access to the truth, and tries to teach us to adopt a “do whatever makes you happy” kind of attitude. However, real happiness can only be found in God.

Our society tells us to do what we feel is right for ourselves, and to do whatever makes us happy. Fornication is considered a freedom, people talk openly about what used to be considered “unacceptable”, and many people believe that everyone has a different set of morals (moral relativism). What is considered “acceptable” by society has changed from age to age, era to era. Yet the Church’s teachings have never changed. The Catholic faith is counter-cultural. Society’s definition of “happiness” is the superficial definition. True joy is more than temporary pleasure. When a lot of people nowadays think about what makes them feel good, they think of things like money, getting new clothes, living in a big house, buying a new fancy car, etc. But these are worldly pleasures that won’t last – and time and time again, as we try to make ourselves happy with worldly things, the excitement soon fades. What we, as Christians, think of as “happiness” may seem strange to secular society. We believe that happiness comes from God. The real peace and joy that comes from God alone will survive any troubles that life sends us while we are on earth, and we will experience its fullness in Heaven.

While sin can create temporary pleasure for a person, the damage has still been done whether one realizes it or not. For example, one can choose to smoke ten packs of cigarettes a day. While this can cause the person to feel calm and relaxed temporarily, the damage has been done; addiction can become a problem, and this leads to health problems and even death. Likewise, indulging in sin can lead to spiritual damage and even spiritual death. Having strong faith and a good understanding of the Church’s teachings and why they are correct will set us free from sin and will provide a defense against society’s lies. Moral relativism is also a real problem in the modern-day world. To put it in a nutshell, moral relativism teaches that one person’s morals can differ from another’s, that there is no one “right” moral law, and that there is no absolute truth. However (referencing my first point), young Catholics need to be taught that there is absolute truth, and this can only be found in God and His Church. In short, the faith of young Catholics is being threatened by the incorrect ideas society is trying to teach them, and they don’t know that worldly things only create temporary pleasure while God provides eternal happiness.

Another reason why young Catholics are leaving the Church is that after having been led astray by the incorrect ideas of society and the media, they realize that their lifestyle conflicts with Church teaching. Many times, their issues arise from the Church’s moral teachings about sex, especially masturbation, homosexual activity, premarital sex (fornication), and cohabitation. They may also disagree with the teachings about topics such as gay marriage, abortion, and contraception. This is a major hindrance in the search for truth, and the problem does not affect only young Catholics exclusively. Many people, adults and non-Christians included, have a hard time accepting truth because it requires them to change their habits and lifestyle. Also, it can be assumed that many young Catholics personally disagree with the Church’s teachings because of their lack of understanding, and this makes them far less willing to change their bad habits and lifestyles to seek truth and follow the Church’s teachings. They would rather leave the Church than do something so “inconvenient.”

Truth compels us to change at times, and sometimes we are unwilling to do so. Jesus spoke about this, too, in Luke 14:25-27: “Many people were traveling with Jesus. He said to them, ‘If you come to me but will not leave your family, you cannot be my follower. You must love me more than your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters—even more than your own life! Whoever will not carry the cross that is given to them when they follow me cannot be my follower.’” Sometimes while trying to be a disciple of Christ, we meet up with difficult situations, and instead of facing these situations and trusting God, we try to run away. The deeper one gets oneself into the snares of a sinful lifestyle, the further one is tempted to run away from God and hide from Him. In Genesis 3:8, Adam and Eve tried to hide from God after they sinned. After Original Sin, it is simply our human reaction to run away from God, ashamed, when we sin, rather than asking Him for forgiveness. When we apply this concept to young, modern-day Catholics, it makes sense that a sinful lifestyle can lead to leaving the Church.

In conclusion, many young Catholics nowadays are leaving the Catholic Church because of lack of knowledge about their faith, the bad influence from society and the media, and a lifestyle that conflicts with Church teachings. The statistics are not very encouraging, especially for parents who would like their children to remain Catholic even after they become adults and leave home. But all is not lost, for with God, nothing is impossible. We can help these people continue in their journey of faith by making sure they understand their faith and by teaching them about sin. They must understand that they cannot believe everything that appears on their computer screens. They also must be taught that unlike what moral relativism teaches, there is absolute truth, and that only God can bring them real happiness. Even though right now more people are leaving the Church than people who are converting to Catholicism, hopefully this will change in the future. One truth is stronger than a thousand lies, and God will triumph over the evil one.

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Real Happiness is Found in God

Before I begin, I would like to give all of you a little bit of background information. For the past three years, I have noticed that when summer ends and autumn rolls around, I tend to get a bit depressed. Perhaps the word “depressed” is a bit extreme, but I cannot think of any other word to describe this…feeling…I get during this time of year. It’s a very strange feeling like something is missing, unfulfilled, and it’s quite unpleasant and overwhelming. And, while trying to avoid feeling this way, I try to bury myself in my work and forget the world. I haven’t really found a definite reason why this happens to me, but at the end of this article, I will propose a theory.

Three years ago, I moved from Edison, New Jersey, to Warren. I was in fifth grade, and moved shortly before school started. Since everyone else in my classes had known each other for years, it was very awkward being new. Perhaps the changes were too overwhelming? Perhaps that’s why I felt something was missing? Anyway, the main reason why I was so upset was that since I was new, everyone tried far too hard to “help” me. As someone who has always been ahead of others my age, I resented their “help”, being arrogant. In any case, I was an atheist back then, and of course the Holy Spirit was not yet in me.

Two years ago, I started middle school. I don’t really remember the details of that time, but perhaps the spiritual struggle had already begun at the time. Either way, the feeling of emptiness reached its peak at the end of summer or the beginning of fall, and then I managed to push away this “feeling” once I got used to all these new changes. At this point, I was starting to believe in God but still was an agnostic.

During this time last year, I had recently read a book about New Age theories and was doubting my new belief in the Christian God – at this point I had decided that God was real and that Christianity was real, but I was uninformed and didn’t know much about the faith. I wanted to go to church but my parents didn’t believe in God. So what was I supposed to do? As I started to notice my sinfulness, I became worried that if I didn’t make my faith “official” I was going to Hell.

No, the so-called depression was certainly not due to drastic and overwhelming lifestyle changes. It was due to the fact that I was trying to be happy but didn’t know what – orwho, rather – could and would make me really happy. And that, obviously, is God.

Our society tells us to do what we feel is right for ourselves, and to do whatever makes us happy. The Catholic faith is counter-cultural, and secular society thinks we lead restricted, boring lives and aren’t getting any pleasure from life. However, the opposite it true. Society’s definition of “happiness” is the superficial definition. True joy is more than temporary pleasure. When a lot of people nowadays think about what makes them feel good, they think of things like money, getting new clothes, living in a big house, buying a new fancy car, etc. But these are worldly pleasures that won’t last – and time and time again, as we try to make ourselves happy with worldly things, the excitement soon fades.

What we, as Christians, think of as “happiness” may seem strange to secular society. We believe that happiness comes from God (and seriously, never try to live your life without God or you’ll end up in my past situations!). The real peace and joy that comes from God alone will survive any troubles that life sends us while we are on earth, and we will experience its fullness in Heaven.

Many people think that God created commandments to place restrictions on us. However, this could not be farther from the truth and the opposite is actually correct. Jesus became man and died on the Cross to free us from our sins. Likewise, God does not wish to place too many restrictions on us, but to set us free not only from sin, but from society’s judgement. When we focus on God and His love, we see ourselves the way He sees us, not the way society views (and judges) us. Are we really so insecure as to rely on society to tell us what to do? Remember that society’s judgement, especially with morality, is not necessarily correct (although there are “universal principles” that we call common sense; for example, murdering people and robbing banks are just wrong). Once we stop worrying about what other human beings think of us, but what God, our creator, thinks of us as one of His children, we can truly be set free and really be the person we are. We should be the person God intended for us to be, not the person society has formed from its own incorrect judgements.

So that had been my problem all these years; I was seeking happiness on my own, without God. But when we really stop and reflect, we will realize how empty our own pleasures are; they only seem to be meaningful while we are still on this earth. But we were not created to live in this world for all of eternity, and I’ve realized this at last as something I didn’t know for the past three years. As Saint Thérèse of Lisieux said: “The world’s thy ship and not thy home.”

What Defines “Success”?

God works in mysterious ways indeed, and while we are still on earth there are many, many things we don’t have the capacity to understand yet. And this issue, naturally, is addressed in Scripture. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Sometimes we feel that what we do is meaningless, and it isn’t going to get us anywhere. But how do we, as human beings, define being “successful” as? Are you successful when your work brings you approval from other people? As you successful when your work brings you money or other worldly pleasures? If so, this is very dangerous.

For example, a website that receives 100,000 likes per month is not necessarily better, from God’s perspective, than one that only receives around fifty. What the people in our society think of us is not exactly what God thinks of us! And, as I said earlier, there are dangers to measuring our success by human standards. We may start indulging in what appears to be confirmation of our greatness from other people.

Since success should not be defined by human standards, is our work really meaningless as we feel it can be? Not necessarily. If it is truly meaningless and even harmful, then hopefully God makes this clear to us. But sometimes we want to give up doing something because we feel it is a waste of time and fruitless, yet we know there is a higher power that is urging us to continue, not matter what. So what are we supposed to think in this situation?

I would like to share with all of you an excerpt from my novel, Missa Solemnis, that I hope will adequately express what I am trying to say. In this particular scene, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the characters, feels unappreciated. While he feels ready to give up, one of his friends offers him advice as tells him that he should continue to do what his conscience is telling him to do, since it is God’s will, though not necessarily what he believes is “meaningful” from a human perspective. (And, as one of my friends pointed out, I might have made a reference to 1 Corinthians 12 without really meaning to!)

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Mozart sighed and put down his pen. He turned and looked at Franz, who was busy working. “What’s the use?” Wolfgang heard himself ask.

Franz looked up, startled. “What are you talking about, Wolfgang? What’s the use of what?”

“What’s the use of working so hard? I’m not appreciated here, and my music isn’t even performed so much anymore. My job at court pays only eight hundred gulden a year!”

How could Mozart’s great talent, and the utter beauty of his music, be so unappreciated, treated so carelessly by those who should know better? Wolfgang was almost living in poverty, and he was starving. What does this mean? Franz wondered. I know it’s merely our job to create, but do we always have to pay with every fiber of our beings? He’s working himself into the grave! Unless…

“Who says you aren’t appreciated?” Franz asked. “Whether it’s now or in a hundred, or a thousand, years, you’ll be appreciated. Besides, the less our reward here, the more we get in Heaven.”

“Do you really believe that?” Wolfgang turned around to stare at him. “Do you really think God planned for me to unappreciated, and then…?”

“Look at it this way,” Franz said. “Maybe we’re just contributing to something greater, but we just don’t know it. It’s probably part of God’s plan, and someday we may know why things happened this way, since everything happens with a reason. When you were a child, did your father tell you everything he had planned for your family? Probably not, since he knew what he was doing and didn’t need a child’s limited viewpoint. Isn’t our viewpoint limited compared to God’s? He knows what He is doing and doesn’t need our opinion on this, but everything will turn out fine.”

Franz’s explanation was convincing, but something else was on Wolfgang’s mind. “Franz, I had a weird dream last night. Before I tell you…well, I feel like I’m writing this music just to give it away, and that I’m not earning anything from it. I dreamed I was growing flowers and that I had many assistants helping me with this. I was growing all those beautiful pink flowers just to give them away!”

While Wolfgang was still puzzling over this, Franz immediately understood. “Wolfgang, pink is the color of love. You were growing pink flowers and giving them away to show your love for others.”

“But what about the assistants?” “Going back to what I said about God’s plan…these assistants probably represent other musicians over the world, who are contributing to this plan. Don’t you see, Wolfgang? You could get a government job to make Constanze and her mother happy, but you don’t! Why? Because you were born to give the world your flowers of love, expressed through music.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Wolfgang said. “But still, even if things are really like this, I still need to get a commission and earn some money. I’d still rather not end up on the streets!” He lowered his voice. “The other day I applied for position of Second Kapellmeister, under Salieri. It was, as usual, to no avail.”

He returned to his work.

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Roses. Just roses. Everywhere Wolfgang turned, he saw nothing but roses. It was beautiful, but he didn’t know what to make of it. What is the use of working so hard? Wolfgang wondered. I never keep any of my roses; I grow them just to give them away! But somehow I know this is what I was made to do, to give out my flowers of love, in spite of the fact that I am living in poverty.

He turned around and saw some people standing near the fence to his garden. What are you doing? Wolfgang called out.

We’re here to help you, responded one young man. All of us will grow flowers of love and release them into the world to give the world beauty. Why else are we here, on earth?

And everybody who walks upon the earth is different, replied a young woman who looked not much older than fifteen. I see that every flower here is different; different colors, shapes and sizes. But they’re all the same in another way, they’re all beautiful. Let us show everyone that they are all different from each other, like these roses, but that they’re all beautiful and special in their own ways, all as children of God.

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“Wolfgang?” Franz asked. “Are you okay?”

“What?” Wolfgang blinked and was startled to find himself sitting at his desk, holding his pen limply in his hand.

“I kind of lost you for a second,” Franz explained, relieved. “I was talking and you were staring at me, but your eyes had this blank look…”

“Oh, sorry!” Wolfgang exclaimed. “I was daydreaming and thinking about my dream from last night. After hearing what you said…I understand. When the group of people came to help me with my flower garden, there were two people in particular who came and spoke to me personally, a man and a woman. Now I realize they were supposed to represent you and Dorothea.”

“Truly?” Franz asked, suddenly interested. “Tell me about it.”

“You told me…” Wolfgang whispered, “We are all here on earth to give the world beauty. Dorothea said she had noticed that all the flowers were different in certain ways, but in other ways they were the same… Just as we, as people, are all unique, but all are the same as children of God.”

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This quote from 1 Corinthians proves that there is not a single person in the world that is useless, because nothing that God does is meaningless. Therefore, from a human perspective, although our work can appear to be useless at times, if it is God’s will and He is the reason why we do what we do (hopefully!). It is my hope that my writing can share the Good News, but if someday God tells to find some other way to do this, I’ll follow Him. I know I shouldn’t follow my own will, but God’s, for “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Sometimes I may think it is in my best interests to do a certain thing, but God knows me better than I know myself. And God will never ask you to do something useless as well – as long as it is for His glory, what you’re doing will help yourself and others, even if you don’t see it now.

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From an earthly and human perspective, one could argue that even Jesus was a failure! Jesus obviously had valid reasons to tell those He had healed not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah. Of course, everybody would misunderstand, just like Peter did. One could have expected Jesus to lead a rebellion against the Romans and win a victory, but he didn’t! However, Jesus’s death on the Cross did us more good than if he had won a victory against the Romans (or anything else, for that matter)! It seems that the Cross was a failure, but God had his own mysterious plans and we don’t understand. Something that seems to be one thing on the surface can actually be quite the opposite. When we determine our success by how much money we earn and how much adulation we get from other people and from society, we are, like Peter did, “thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

The Distinction Between Humans and Animals

The Catholic position on the distinction between humans and animals can be quite controversial, especially among those who love animals as pets. Debates about whether animals can go to heaven after death have been well-rehearsed, and it should suffice to say here that there can be no certainty. What is clear, however, is that Church teaching does make a distinction between people and animals, a teaching that is clearly backed by Scripture, logic, and common sense. Biologically speaking, we have some characteristics that animals also have, but we must not fail to consider the spiritual side. Spiritual speaking, we are very different from animals because we possess free will, intellect, and creative ability.

God created man in His image, and out of His infinite goodness, He gave man free will. At first glance, animals seem to have free will because they, too, can make decisions, this is an over-simplification of the definition of free will. As human beings, we use our free will to choose either good or evil, and we also use our free will to choose whether to accept or reject God Himself. Animals can choose things, but they do not have free will. They only have instinct. When we hear of a shark attack, do we blame the shark? No – in fact, sometimes it could actually be the fault of the person if he provoked the shark in some way. The shark did not attack the person out of evil intent or malice; it was simply acting from its instincts, and its instincts help it to protect itself and to survive.

Animals also do not have intellect like human beings do. This is not to say they are stupid, because many animals can be intelligent and can even help people in dire circumstances. However, animals do not, for example, gather together in groups and discuss the existence of God! Unlike humans, animals do only what their instincts tell them, or what humans have trained them to do. Much of what animals do is done in order to protect themselves or to survive. As for people, life would be very boring if we thought about nothing except how to survive. We think about topics like the meaning of life or the existence of God, while animals do not. Therefore, animals do not have intellect like humans do. Nor do animals have creative abilities like humans do. Although animals do create things, they only create things out of instinct. A certain type of bird only builds a certain type of nest. A certain type of spider only makes a certain kind of web. As people, because we have creative abilities and free will, we can create whatever kind of home we like. The creative abilities God gave us also allow us to create different kinds of art, architecture, music, or literature.

Scripture shows that human beings are more important than animals. From the very beginning of creation, we were given “dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). In Matthew 10:29-31, Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore have no fear: you are worth more than many sparrows.” Catholic teaching re-affirms this: Although it is “contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly,” it is also “unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons” (CCC 2418). Saving human lives is, of course, more important than saving the lives of animals. Scientific experimentation, for example, on animals is morally acceptable as long as it remains within reasonable limits.

Man was created in God’s image, and this is what gives human life a certain dignity that does not pertain to animals. This is not to say, of course, that Catholics believe that animals are not important, or that they can be abused. However, in the beginning, God gave us dominion over all other creatures, and for this reason we are distinct from animals. As people, we possess free will, intellect, and creative ability, while animals do not. It should be clear now that humans are different from animals, but the question mentioned in the beginning still remains: can animals go to heaven? Many theologians have pointed out that if one really needs their pet to be happy in heaven, then one is definitely not ready for heaven! All this is true, but Matthew 6:33 states, “…seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” If we seek God first, then perhaps – someday – God will give us our pets back.

The Christian Reaction to Violence

Watching the news the other night left me utterly speechless. Recently, so many acts of violence have been perpetrated in the United States and around the world. Terrorist attacks and deadly shootings. Suicide bombings. Peaceful protests that turned violent. Religious persecution. Need I say more?

Does it not violate a person’s conscience to commit such despicable crimes? Clearly, many of them thought about their plans thoroughly, and had clear, yet terrible, motives as to why they would ever do such a thing. Even after sufficient reflection, they, using their free will, made the choice to murder innocent people. Is this not contrary to moral law?

Brothers and sisters, this is a time of crisis, and prayer becomes even more important. First, we must pray for the families, both the immediate and extended, of those who have lost their lives in despicable acts of violence. After such a tragedy, many people may be tempted to believe that God has abandoned them, question His mercy and goodness, and turn away from Him. Yet God can give comfort to those who have lost their loved ones. We must pray that those who are grieving will turn to God, rather than away from Him.

Second, we must pray for the victims themselves, so that they may be saved and enjoy everlasting peace and joy with God in heaven. Through no fault of their own, they have lost their lives; some were even in the act of defending and helping others when they died. Third, we must pray for those who are thinking of following the examples of the terrorists. We must pray that these unfortunate would-be terrorists can experience conversion and a change of heart, through God’s grace. And fourth, we must pray that government officials will make morally correct decisions while handling the crisis.

Violence cannot be solved with more violence, but only with peace. As Christians, we need to, at times, fight the temptation of getting revenge on someone who has wronged us. Christ tells us to love and pray for our enemies. Instead of responding to violence with more violence, we need to solve the problem in a more effective way – love. Through prayer, we can help stop future terrorists from attacking, offer God’s peace and comfort to grieving families, and ask for the salvation of the victims of terrible crimes.

Evil exists on earth because God respects our free will, but He still loves us all as His children. Let us pray for the conversions of those who are lost, and let us help those who are in the dark see the “Son” shine!

The Problem of Evil

One of the most common arguments against the existence of God refers to the problem of evil. This can be phrased in many ways, but it all comes down to the same question: If God exists, and He is all-loving, then why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? The idea that an all-good and all-loving God should exist alongside a world with so much evil and suffering in it seems to be self-contradictory. However, while many of Jesus’ teachings seem to be contradictory, upon further contemplation, they make sense in a beautiful way that can only be attained when opposites are reconciled with each other. While it may sound strange, the fact that God permits evil actually proves that He is loving and merciful. We, as mere human beings, cannot possibly understand everything, for God’s ways are so much higher than our own. Only when we accept that everything God does and allows is for the best can we even begin to scratch the surface of the answer to the problem of evil.

First and foremost, it should be made clear immediately that “God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it” (CCC 311). Here we enter the mystery of God’s will. God has a perfect will and a permissive will; while He does not control everything that happens, His perfect plan is still accomplished nevertheless. He uses His perfect will when He directly wills something, and whatever He directly wills must be good because God is goodness itself. However, He also has a permissive will, and therefore allows certain things – which are contrary to His perfect will – to happen. The aforementioned quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that God permits evil because He respects our free will, and that He knows how to mysteriously derive good from evil.

To explore the reason why evil exists, we must begin by examining the fall of the angels. Of course, God did not directly will for the angels to sin; however, He allowed it to happen. The Church teaches that in the beginning, Satan – the devil – was created by God, and that he was a good angel. However, he and the other fallen angels became evil by their own doing. “It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable” (CCC 393). It is not right to say that God was responsible for this evil, and it also isn’t right to say that because God allowed this to happen, He is not loving and merciful. However, Scripture can give examples of the devil’s disastrous influence upon the earth. In spite of all this, divine providence allows this influence of diabolical activity. This is, of course, a mystery, but “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

God loved us so much that He gave us the gift of free will, which makes man different from other creatures in a certain way. Ever since the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, we all have inherited original sin, that is, all people apart from Jesus and Mary. “How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam ‘as one body of one man’ By this ‘unity of the human race’ all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called ‘sin’ only in an analogical sense: it is a sin ‘contracted’ and not ‘committed’ – a state and not an act” (CCC 404). Human nature, therefore, “is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence” (CCC 405). The Catechism continues by stating that,  “by imparting the life of Christ’s grace,” baptism “erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.”

Much of the evil that we see in our world is caused by man’s sins and evil actions. Someone who decides to commit a mass murder – with full knowledge and full consent – has used his free will to turn away from both God and man. To reject God is to reject our neighbor; to love God is to love our neighbor. When terrible things happen, we may wonder why God chooses to respect our free will and allow suffering to happen. Why can’t He simply take away our free will? God knows that our free will is one of the greatest gifts He gave us. While it is true that free will can give us the opportunity to sin and reject God, it also allows us to repent and turn back to Him. We also use our free will to decide whether to love God or to reject Him. Love is a freely made decision. When love is coerced, it is no longer free, and therefore no longer authentic love.

Applying this same concept, would we ever really become “good” if God continuously forced us to do good? This also explains why God allows us to sin and make mistakes. Sometimes, that is the only way we’ll learn. Let’s use an analogy: let’s say you have a son who is in high school. One morning he comes to you and asks you to call the school and say that he is sick. The real reason, however, is that he has not completed a project that was due that very day, because he has been procrastinating for the past few weeks. In this situation, as a parent, you cannot simply let him get away with this action because he’ll learn his lesson if you allow him to fail occasionally. “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them” (Proverbs 13:24). This is why God allows us to sin and face the consequences of that sin; through suffering, not only can we learn from our past mistakes, we can also expiate for those mistakes.

The Catechism teaches that “God would not permit an evil if he did not cause a good to come from that very evil, by ways that we shall fully know only in eternal life” (CCC 324). Therefore, we can be certain that the fact that there is evil in the world does not mean that God doesn’t care about us, is distant, or is dead. He doesn’t just stand by silently and watch us sin; He actively brings about a greater good from any evil in the world. Often times, we cannot immediately see that there is a greater good derived from an evil, but some examples are obvious. After a terrible tragedy, people can come closer together, and there is also an increase in prayer. These tragedies can serve to remind us of our own mortality, and that ultimately, we are not fully in control of our fate. They can also remind us that death doesn’t discriminate and can come at any moment, so that we must always be vigilant and guard our souls against sin.

Many examples of God’s providence – and that He can derive good from evil – can be found in Scripture. “It was not you,” said Joseph to his brothers, “who sent me here, but God… You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Genesis 50:20). The greatest example is found in the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Of course, God did not directly will for Jesus to die; he simply allowed it to happen by using His permissive will. However, the greatest good in the history of the world – our salvation – came about through the greatest evil – the death of God, caused by men.

The fact that there is evil in the world does not prove that God doesn’t exist, or that He is not all-good and all-loving. He is not the cause or creator of any evil. The evil in the world is often caused by the devil’s influence and by man’s sinful actions, but God permits this because He respects His creatures’ free will, and He knows that He can bring about a greater good from an evil act. However, in spite of the fact that God can derive good from evil, evil, in essence, never actually becomes a good. There is hope, however, because although free will leaves room for sin, sinners can still use their free will to turn back to God. Therefore, it is very important that we all pray for all the sinners of this world and ask for God’s forgiveness whenever we have sinned.

Music and the Catholic Liturgy: Are the Sanctus and Benedictus Supposed to be One Section?

Throughout history, people with various talents and careers have found ways to glorify God with their work. Many well-known composers of the eighteenth centuries, such as Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, wrote mass settings and other forms of sacred music, such as hymns. Even today, there are many Catholic composers who have written mass settings and songs to be sung during the liturgy. However, there are many differences between sacred music today and the sacred music that was used two hundred years ago. The Second Vatican Council encouraged active lay participation during mass, and because of this, liturgical music has changed greatly.

In many mass settings from the eighteenth century, the liturgical section called the Sanctus was often divided into the Sanctus and Benedictus. In the mass, the Sanctus is translated as: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Centuries ago, this was not the case. The Sanctus ended with the first “Osanna in excelsis” (Hosanna in the highest), and the Benedictus ended with the second “Osanna,” usually either a reprise of the first, or a shortened version of the first. However, most modern settings of the mass, especially those in the vernacular, set the entire Sanctus and Benedictus as a single section.

In the eighteenth century, composers began to write long and embellished settings of the Sanctus and Benedictus. The music would often go on so long that a break after the first “Osanna” was necessary, since the Consecration is considered the most important part of the mass. The Benedictus would be sung afterwards. This practice was forbidden for a time in the twentieth century, but in his 1958 document, Pope Pius XII declared that the Sanctus and Benedictus should be sung without a break if Gregorian chant is used. For longer settings, the Benedictus is to be sung after the Consecration of the Eucharist.

To divide the Sanctus and Benedictus would have been necessary because, as Pope Pius X says: “It is not lawful to keep the priest at the altar waiting on account of the chant or the music for a length of time not allowed by the liturgy…it must be considered a very grave abuse when the liturgy in ecclesiastical functions is made to appear secondary to and in a manner at the service of the music, for the music is merely a part of the liturgy and its humble handmaid.”

Music is a great way to worship God in the liturgy, but composers must be aware of their limitations. If the music is too long and embellished, it will distract from the liturgy, and instead bring too much attention to the musicians. Many composers, however, have written mass settings not intended for liturgical use. Why, one might ask, would someone write liturgical music that could not be used for its intended function? Music is, after all, a form of prayer, and throughout the centuries the Church has continued to support sacred art as a form of worship of God.