By KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA — What is a better way to prepare for Christmas than by “Discovering your Faith…”, asks the title of the Advent retreat sponsored by the Catholic community of St. Michael at the Post Chapel of the Fort Jackson Army Base? The retreat master, Father Daniel McCaffrey, no stranger to Fort Jackson after serving twice as the parish chaplain, gave a powerful and comprehensive study on what it means to be a Catholic today.
“I like to think of Father McCaffrey as the Bill O’Reilly (of Fox News) of the Catholic Church with his ‘No Spin Zone’ when discussing issues of the church. He brings to bear his experiences with the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, eight years in Pakistan, wartime (and peacetime) military service, and current service as spiritual director to the Catholic Physicians’ Guild,” said Jean Ray, parishioner of St. Peter Church in Columbia.
On the first day of the retreat, Father McCaffrey explained three salient characteristics of Christ: love of the poor, love of the cross, and love of forgiveness. He correlated these qualities with the beatitudes.
“Jesus loved the poor, and so must we,” said Father McCaffrey, an international speaker with a doctorate in sacred theology from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. “But the poor come in many shapes and sizes. It is basically anyone who needs something you can give,” he said, “Even the person who asks for directions, when you are in a rush.”
Father McCaffrey also discussed at length Christ’s love of the cross and suffering. He relayed how the pure of heart see God’s loving hand in everything, even the trials. “God brings us to a higher place through suffering. We need only look at Jesus and see through his suffering; he opened up the gates of heaven,” he said.
He mentioned the benefits of offering up suffering for family members and friends because such an unselfish act can change the coldest heart. “God hears your prayer and without violating the person’s free will can grace him with an internal inspiration,” he said.
Father McCaffrey believes earth is “not a playground but a proving ground” and difficulties test character and faith. “Suffering can make us saints. If we miss suffering, we will be spiritual midgets,” he said. Through his recent battle with cancer, now in remission, Father McCaffrey brought credibility to his challenging words.
The third love of Christ discussed was that of forgiveness exemplified with Christ on the cross. As suffering allows a person to grow spiritually, so does forgiveness and letting go of a grudge. “Pray for your enemies, but make sure you have a glass of water; so you can take a sip when you gag,” he said with a smile, assuring everyone that it would soon become a natural and painless act with practice.
On the second day of the retreat, Father McCaffrey spoke about the three marks of the church. In order to accept the teachings of the church, Father McCaffrey mentioned the importance of humility. “The Lord walks away from the proud. He leaves them in their blindness because they are too proud to ask for the light,” said the priest.
He spoke of the need to hear and speak the whole truth. People who are left in ignorance will not be spared the personal injury from going the wrong path. He used the analogy of smoking before the health risks were known, and how those people were not spared the cancer.
On an ecumenical note, Father McCaffrey pointed out the church’s liberal teaching on salvation and how the Lord “takes you were you are.” He spoke of Protestants as brothers and sisters by baptism and how no one should condemn someone who is non-Catholic. He said that Catholics are called to be authentic witnesses to the faith because when “much is given much is expected.” He reminded everyone that the Catholic faith contains the fullness of truth, and it should be loved, lived and shared.
When speaking of a “holy” church, Father McCaffrey spoke of the many holy people who have served Jesus and the church but did not shy away from addressing the scandals associated with church members throughout time and Jesus’ harsh words about it. He emphasized how the church, established by Christ, remains holy and all the sacraments are holy by the action of the Holy Spirit, not by the priest administering them.
Father McCaffrey said that people sometimes respond to scandals by saying, “‘I don’t want to go to church because it is filled with hypocrites.’ My response is, ‘There is room for one more.’ The church is filled with hypocrites, but why should they be left out? Shouldn’t they have the same opportunities to change?”
Father McCaffrey then gave concrete ways to reach heaven. He spoke of indulgences given as incentives to keep people on the path to holiness by doing other pious acts like reading Scripture for 30 minutes a day. In addition, the indulgence can remove some of the temporal punishment associated with the sin.
On the last day of the mission, Father McCaffrey talked about the Ten Commandments, an appropriate subject before the penitential service that followed his talk. It was on this day that he spoke boldly about issues often avoided and challenged priests to be courageous. According to Father McCaffrey, even the topic of hell is being underscored. His response is “Hell is alive and well, and there is room for everyone.”
Because of his experience as director of Natural Family Planning for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma, he hit the topics of sexuality head on. “Chastity, without grace of God, would be impossible,” said the priest.
He gave a helpful rule of thumb when trying to determine sins against the sixth commandment. “Any sexual pleasure outside of marriage mental or physical is out of bounds,” he said. To help people differentiate between temptation and lust, he added, “The first look isn’t bad, it’s only normal to notice an attractive man or woman, but it is the second look, when you are dwelling on something you shouldn’t have that it becomes lust.”
He quoted the statistics that 80 percent of Catholics contracept or are sterilized and that 50 percent of Catholic marriages end in divorce. Father McCaffrey believes there is a definite correlation. “When husband and wife come together, it is an act of worship. If you took a holy object and purposely threw it to the ground, it would be considered a sacrilege,” he said, making the point that contraception degrades the holy act of conjugal love. He also made the connection of sterilization with the fifth commandment since a person mutilates a healthy organ for the sole purpose of destroying God’s procreative powers.
“Good people are not hearing this message and are acting out of ignorance because they have not been shown a way to be chaste. But ignorance does not protect them from the serious consequences of their actions,” he said.
“I was raised Catholic and in a strong Catholic community. I think churches today are giving a lot of fluff to build up membership. Father McCaffrey is not afraid to talk about the hard subjects that we need to know about. Often people avoid the deep philosophical topics so to avoid conflict,” said Matthew McMillen, a young man stationed at Fort Jackson. His wife, Lisa, added, “People are afraid of the truth, afraid of their own shortcomings and don’t want to have to change.”