The thoughts we’re tempted to

Santa Cruz Mission chapel

Is anyone done being fascinated by our Holy Father, Pope Francis? I continue to read news outlets attempting to pinpoint him. He truly is a man of the middle road and for those who hold fast to left or right, he is an enigma, and a frustrating one at that.

I think that Pope Francis’ own words at the close of the Synod point to what he is about. And those with the ears to hear, can hear it.

He speaks of joy. Do they think he is lying?

He speaks of temptations. As much as cotton-eared so-called traditionalists want to paint him as a “liberal pope” he speaks openly about the devil and temptations. He calls out the faithful on sins so common we forget how scandalous they are (gossip) and how they destroy our efforts to evangelize by their scandal. The so-called “left” wants the Pope to be their darling, but cries against his silence at not passing sweeping legislation in a Church which is not governed that way at all.

What humors me now is how our Holy Father calls out each of these groups, and indeed all of us, in his words at the close of the Synod. Please take the time to read the full text. Here are some substantial excerpts. He speaks regarding temptations faced during the Synod. There is something for everyone here.

– One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

 – The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

 – The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).

 – The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

 – The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “byzantinisms,” I think, these things…

Let’s think about these words. There are few who are solely guided by these temptations and nothing more. Later on the Pope recognizes the good will of those involved and rightly refers to these as “temptations.” Everyone has, based on their genetics, personality, beliefs, environment and upbringing, certain temptations they are more likely to fall into than others.

Regarding the first: a logical, faithful, rigorous person may be moved deeply by a love of the Law and logic in our Church’s teaching. So they find the love of God through this path and want to share that love with others. Then creeps in Satan with the temptation…

Regarding the second: one cares deeply and first found God through the open arms of the Church and perhaps specifically through the parish life. He was not asked questions when he arrived, but for the first time in his life experienced unconditional love. His faith is formed and his devotion to God begins. He wants others to know this great love he experienced, this love with no strings attached. Then creeps in Satan with the temptation…

Regarding the third: she works hard. She was raised to believe that the things you love, you work for, and this is how you show your love. Her character is one of strength and steadfast dedication. When she makes a decision she sticks to it. If she falters, it means she was not dedicated or in-love enough. It is hard to understand others who cannot fulfill their commitment. Then creeps in Satan with the temptation…

Regarding the fourth: a seed among the thorns. Perhaps he was raised and works in the secular world. Perhaps he grew up seeing another suffer greatly and never formed an understanding of the beauty in suffering and as the world believes, thinks it must be avoided. His goal is to help people, to alleviate their suffering. This motivates him in his love of God and Church. Then creeps in Satan with the temptation…

Regarding the last: she feels so at home in the Church. She is dedicated to her parish and serves her parish before considering her needs. This is her parish. This is her faith. Perhaps she does not know a lot about the universal Church or the Magisterium, but she knows parish life and knows what it takes for a parish to be successful. Then creeps in Satan with the temptation…

Have any of these failed? No!

Are any of these terrible people who hate the Church, the world, or those in the world? No!

They face temptations, as we all do. We can probably see ourselves easily as one of those. If we don’t, I think we ought to think a little more about it. I experience and sometimes fall into the first temptation. How about you?

We should not despair. The Holy Father continued, “Dear brothers and sisters, the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) – His disciples should not expect better treatment.”

If that’s not enough, here is a little more:

The is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err: it is the beauty and the strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of the faith which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our life. And this should never be seen as a source of confusion and discord.

If you feel confused about his meaning and his vision of the Church, please read the rest. It only gets more beautiful. The Catholic Church is a hospital for the sick. She is precise in her treatment, but can treat at any stage (On Gradualism). With open hearts, let’s seek the truth, and rejoice as our Holy Father does in the beauty of our some times chaotic unity!

On Gradualism, Evangelization, and the Stages of Change

I am so excited to hear what the news of what is coming out of the synod. The news is joyful and ripe for controversy because in this American society, we are not so good at listening. The concept is called “gradualism.” The idea is that I cannot leave sin cold-turkey. There is typically a gradual move towards a holier life.


This is consistent with the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of the Stages of Change. Precontemplation is the first stage. While others may point out my problem, I do not see it as a problem and do not think of it. Once I realize the behavior or habit is a problem, I enter the Contemplation stage. Next comes the Preparation stage. I make plans to change. After this stage, I enter the Action stage. I now take concrete steps towards the change I would like to make. Once those steps are in place, the changes require maintenance. At this point in the stages, it is typical that after some success in maintaining the change, I falter and I fall back into my old habit. In fact this can happen at any point in the process. Whether I am aware of my failure or not, I will have to begin the stages again. However, I am stronger and each time I go through I am stronger. I am not the same sinner I was at the beginning. Once I am strong enough, I will stay in the Maintenance stage and am able to avoid the bad habit or action for the rest of my life.

All this takes time. We can consider the emphasis on graduality of returning to the moral life in terms of the TTM stages of change. Gradualism means we reach out to those in the various stages of change, not just the action and maintenance stage. It means we are merciful, understanding and sympathetic when one returns to an earlier stage, even pre-contemplation when they may justify their actions and not see their sins as a problem. We are reminded of our moral duty to care for those who may be in the Contemplation or Preparation stage. At anyone of these earlier stages, we may speak the Truth, the Law, and the individual may not be ready to act on it.

Therefore, we must take care how we are to speak. Pope Francis has pointed out the uselessness of proselytizing. It does not help to speak at people. Each stage represents a different type of soil. We may speak. The seed falls on ground and is eaten up (pre-contemplation). It falls on rocky soil (contemplation, preparation but does not move to action). It falls on thorns (action and maintenance, but falls back to the beginning). Good soil (action and maintenance, with continued maintenance.

It does happen at times that we speak the Truth and the person changes their life. We feel strengthened and desire to speak the Truth more. What we don’t see is that our action was merely one part of the whole: steps, stages, actions providentially orchestrated by the Holy Spirit to bring this soul to conversion.

I have fallen into this error. We have the duty to evangelize. But it must be evangelization of the whole person. We need to do it with a little sense.

There are four levels of communication. In the first level, the “superficial” level (basic greetings) no information is exchange. In the second level, “people, places, things.” information is exchanged but nothing personal. In the third level, I speak about “what I value.” Now I give part of myself. You can see what I am passionate about by the subject and intensity of my conversation. Lastly, in the fourth level I share “how things affect me.” Here I give you my reactions, my feelings.

If I approach a person without regard for their whole person, I may speak flippantly merely of the Law (Level 2) without mind to how the dissonance between Church teaching and the person’s lifestyle/moral decisions affect him or her (Level 4). I have sinned in disregarding his or her personhood. Proselytizing speaks about law to people. In it I do not come down from the soapbox to see whom I am speaking to.

The next issue is those medium of communication we use. My mistake was to use email. My first goal was to determine the stage of change the person was in, hoping I could help prevent her from taking the step she was preparing to take. How stupid I was. You cannot get a sense of the whole person via email. I saw she was committed to her decision. Accepting this I discerned what our friendship could look like now. The damage was done. I wrote, still over email, very matter-of-factly (Level 2) my vision of what our relationship could be. I could not convey the sensitivity I felt over email. And so I did greater injury.

Thanks be to God we reconciled, realizing how far off track our communication was because of the medium. The conversation became severely distorted because we chose to use an electronic form of communication, rather than a personal.

Something is lost in digital communication. If we had been in person, I would not have said the things I wrote. Perhaps she might have felt loved, reached out to and supported, whatever her decision. That’s certainly how I felt, but not what I communicated. What I communicated alienated her and hurt her. I might have driven her away further because of my error.

Evangelization is not a series of pressing buttons and converting people. God alone changes hearts. If we are obedient to his call and docile to his guidance, we can be part of someone’s journey. Understanding the graduality of conversion can help us to be a little more docile in His Hands and hopefully more useful to His Purpose.