Peculiar People

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Often when the American Republic experiences crisis we fondly remember those early founders that seem to have had such crystal clear foresight and strength of conviction that got them through the difficult times of establishing a nation. We look back to George Washington, Patrick Henry, John Adams and others to give us courage and in that way believe that we can return to their ideals.

The Church in her wisdom has given us the gifts of the saints who in forsaking all, picked up their cross and followed our Lord Jesus. For many it left them with the moniker of “strangers,” “foreigners,” and even “peculiar” (KJV). For many others it meant torture, suffering and death. We remember these precious and powerful men and women on specific days that we call feast days. Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 35–108). Check out the dates of his life! Today’s saint was born right after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

On route to his martyrdom under the Emperor Trajan, Ignatius wrote a series of seven letters to different churches. Once he arrived in Rome he was thrown to the lions and gained the martyr’s crown.

In honor of his feast day and to encourage us in this hour of trial that we are enduring in our own time, allow me to share words of encouragement and challenge from this great saint.

  • “Now I begin to be a disciple. Let fire and cross, flocks of beasts, broken bones, dismemberment come upon me, so long as I attain to Jesus Christ.”

  • “Do not have Jesus Christ on your lips, and the world in your heart.”

  • “A Christian is not his own master, since all his time belongs to God.”

  • “I would rather die for Christ than rule the whole earth.”

  • “Christianity is greatest when it is hated by the world.”

  • “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid.”

  • “Take care, then, to be firmly grounded in the teachings of the Lord and his apostles so that you may prosper in all your doings both in body and in soul, in faith and in love, in the Son, and in the Father and in the Spirit, in the beginning and in the end, along with your most worthy bishop and his spiritual crown, your presbyters, and with the deacons, who are men of God.”

  • “Be obedient to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was in the flesh to the Father, and the apostles to Christ and to the Father and to the Spirit, so that there may be unity in flesh and in spirit.”

St. Ignatius of Antioch pray for us!

God’s Surprises?

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A banner hanging on the side of a church in New England prompted me to ask some questions about “continuing revelation.” Is God still speaking in the sense that He is giving new revelation? Is God changing what His Word and the Tradition of His Church has maintained for 2000 years and even longer when you consider the ancient writings of the Old Testament? Are there “surprises” that we are just discovering that updates God and His revelation to our 21st century practices and new normal?

That’s an important question and one that seems to be the theme of the current Youth Synod and the Synod on the Family before it. Just last week one of the sub groups led by Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich asserted that we need to be prepared for new definitions of the family going forward. This seems to fit into the idea that God is rethinking what He has given us as timeless truth and the Church better get “woke” and optimized to version 21.0!

This summer our local book group read Pope Francis’s latest encyclical “Rejoice and Be Glad” that was a follow up to Amoris Laetitia and the Synod on the Family. In three separate paragraphs the Holy Father refers to “surprises.” If this had been written in 2013 I probably would not have thought much about it, but now, in the light of what led up to the encyclical it seems to infer that God is still speaking and our traditional ways (the last twenty centuries) will not serve today’s church.

41. When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road. They may well be false prophets, who use religion for their own purposes, to promote their own psychological or intellectual theories. God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises. We are not the ones to determine when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of that encounter are not up to us. Someone who wants everything to be clear and sure presumes to control God’s transcendence.

138. We are inspired to act by the example of all those priests, religious, and laity who devote themselves to proclamation and to serving others with great fidelity, often at the risk of their lives and certainly at the cost of their comfort. Their testimony reminds us that, more than bureaucrats and functionaries, the Church needs passionate missionaries, enthusiastic about sharing true life. The saints surprise us, they confound us, because by their lives they urge us to abandon a dull and dreary mediocrity.

139. Let us ask the Lord for the grace not to hesitate when the Spirit calls us to take a step forward. Let us ask for the apostolic courage to share the Gospel with others and to stop trying to make our Christian life a museum of memories. In every situation, may the Holy Spirit cause us to contemplate history in the light of the risen Jesus. In this way, the Church will not stand still, but constantly welcome the Lord’s surprises.

Robert Royal of The Catholic Thing wrote this morning:

In the Synod, many participants, even bishops, often speak of the Church as if it were almost superfluous. We’re hearing it said, again and again, that the role of the Church is to facilitate an “encounter with Jesus”; that our faith is not in the Church – let alone in sinful Church members, including priests and bishops – all, of course, true up to a point.

More radically, it’s sometimes hinted that the current crisis might be viewed (in the words of Newark’s Cardinal Tobin, chosen for the Synod by Pope Francis but absent, owing to the abuse crisis in his diocese) as God “smashing old structures” to prepare the way for reform.

It’s a hazardous thing to pronounce on what God is or is not doing in your day, especially in terms of smashing things that he has already used for 2000 years, unless you are a prophet whose lips have been purified in advance with a burning coal – preferably by an angel.

I end this morning by stating that God has called the Church to be the instrument of salvation to all, not by being forced into the image of fallen humanity, but by calling fallen and sinful humanity to the person of Jesus Christ our Savior and the transformation that He brings. Jesus is the ultimate revelation. He is God’s final word. The only surprise remaining is that full surrender to Him is what makes us fully human!

St. Teresa of Jesus pray for us!

Christ Is King!

“These [the kings of the world] are united in yielding their power and authority to the beast; they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:13–14 NRSV).

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It seems our Lord even has a tattoo on his thigh and a monogram on his robe. In Revelation 19:16 we read: “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords'” (NRSV).

Since 1925 the Roman Catholic Church has celebrated the Feast of Christ the King, and in 1970 it was moved to the last Sunday before the beginning of Advent. This year it will be November 25. The feast has the highest rank of solemnity. This feast is also celebrated by the Anglican communion and many mainline Protestant denominations.

Back on October 7, a young blogger from the Diocese of Broken Bay (Australia) tweeted: “Most people want Jesus as a consultant rather than a king.” The archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, responded to him saying: “Not too sure I want (or have) him as either.” Many have made much of his tweet. Many have asked for clarification. Then he wrote a few days later:

I worship Jesus reigning from the Cross, whose “kingdom is not of this world” and who “casts the mighty from their thrones”…I don’t favour royalist ideologies “of this world” which make Christ remote, the Church triumphalist, the Pope and bishops princely etc. (Tweet on October 10).

Twitter is probably not the best place to lay out your theology, even though now you have 240 characters instead of 120 to make your point. I don’t in any way pretend to know what Archbishop Coleridge means by his first or second tweet. Yet it does raise some concerns, not the tweet alone, but the other comments that this prelate has made in these times of fuzzy theology.

Back in 2015, after the Synod on the Family, Coleridge took exception to several phrases that are common and current in the Catholic Church and suggested that should be rethought:

  • The “indissolubility” of marriage
    “Keeping Church teaching intact can still open up a vast field of pastoral creativity…. Our danger, and not just the bishops but others in the Church, is to think that we’re condemned to dance in chains unless we can change the Church’s teaching.” (Crux)
  • The “intrinsically disordered” nature of homosexual acts
    In the case of the Church calling homosexual acts “intrinsically disordered” and homosexuality itself “objectively disordered,” for instance, he said that way of putting things leads to a “sense of alienation.” “Can the synod find a language that is in fact positive, less alienating, less excluding?” (Crux)
  • Calling divorce and civil remarriage “adultery”
    As for adultery, Coleridge argued that “to say that every divorce and remarriage situation is adulterous is perhaps too sweeping.” (Crux) He has also argued that using the word “adultery” for remarried divorcees needs to end. (LifeSite)
  • The old maxim of “love the sinner but hate the sin.”
    He stated that the Catholic saying “love the sinner, hate the sin” with reference to homosexuality no longer holds since the distinction “no longer communicates” “in the real world” where sexuality is “part of [your] entire being.” (LifeSite)

Heading back to the kingship of Christ,Cardinal Raymond Burke said the following to the Rome Life Forum: “Catholics must consciously place themselves under the ‘Kingship of Christ’ in the face of enemies of the Church today attempting to ‘infiltrate the life of the Church herself and to corrupt the Bride of Christ by an apostasy from the Apostolic Faith’.” (May 2018) He added, “Christ as King reigns over his Bride the Church, over the world, and must also reign over human hearts.”

I find myself brought up short when I pose the question to myself: “Do I recognize Christ as King over the Church, the world and my heart?” if I answer in the negative. I have to do a systems check against Colossians 1:15–23, as does every bishop, priest and layperson in the Church.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everythingFor in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.

Christ is King! Christ is Lord! And if you, I, or anyone cannot express that with confidence, we have to ask, “Who is lord in His place?”

What Did Paul Say to Peter?

Last evening our Forty Hours of Prayer came to its conclusion with a procession of the Holy Eucharist through the church. It was a beautiful and moving experience at the close of a time devoted to praying for reparation, healing and reformation in the Church. Fr. Alexander Poccetto, an oblate of St. Francis de Sales, gave a short, but powerful homily that succinctly brought together the call to all Christians, especially Catholics, to be faithful to our Lord in these difficult times.

This morning the first reading at Mass was from Galatians 2. In the Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, he describes his call by Christ and his loyalty to the gospel. He makes it very evident in the first chapter that he did not venture out on his own, but went through the proper channels to validate his mission. In 1:11-12 he writes: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

On that basis, I might be tempted to print up my business cards, start a website and begin a public ministry. After all, what I have to share is a direct revelation from Jesus Christ himself. But not Paul. He went out into the wilderness for three years and allowed Jesus to further prepare him. Then after three years he tells us, “I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas (Peter) and remained with him for fifteen days” (1:18). Why is this important? Paul recognized the authority of Peter (Cephas is the Aramaic equivalent, meaning “rock” and the name that Jesus would have actually given to the apostle, upon whom he would found the Church). It was not only important, but vital that Paul be commissioned by the vicar of Christ, the one we recognize as the first bishop of Rome, the first in the long succession of popes in the Church.

It is interesting that Paul uses the Aramaic version of Peter’s name throughout his writings, even when writing to churches in the Greek world (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Galatians 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14). It’s not that he never calls him Peter, he does (Galatians 2:7, 8), but the use of Cephas seems to affirm even more his authority as the “rock.”

The passage that was read this morning refers specifically to Peter’s inconsistency at Antioch. Paul writes the following:

And when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews [also] acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Paul, as one of the apostles, saw the importance of “calling out” Peter regarding an inconsistency in his life and practice–something that would hinder the proclamation and practice of the gospel. Peter, even with his direct commission from Christ to be head of the Church, accepted Paul’s rebuke and later speaks highly of him in his second general epistle.

What can we learn from this Scriptural encounter? Paul never denied Peter’s leadership role, he honored him as the head of the Church. Yet when the very integrity of the Church was threatened, when other leaders close to Peter veered into potential error, Paul spoke up under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

We may be uncomfortable with recent calls to our Holy Father to state succinctly the faith that has been passed on to us, from the “dubia” cardinals and more recently from Archbishop Viganò, however, when these concerns are addressed by Pope Francis, the Church and the our witness to the world will be confirmed. Let’s pray faithfully for the Vicar of Christ and the College of Cardinals that together we will rebuild Christ’s Church through reparation, healing and renovation.

From the Bottom Up

I trust you have been encouraged, challenged and informed by this blog. In the weeks to come expect to find new blogs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 

Yesterday my local parish, St. Peter’s in Merchantville, New Jersey, began the annual Forty Hours of Prayer. The focus for this year’s forty hours is “Reparation, Healing and Renewal”—reparation for the evils committed by a handful of priests and bishops, healing for the victims of sexual abuse, and renewal of the Church at the local, diocesan, national and universal Church levels.

At the inaugural Mass at 3:00 p.m. yesterday, my pastor Fr. Tim Byerley gave a homily outlining these three aspects of our prayer focus. I want to highlight his thoughts from the third point: Renewal or reform. Last week Fr. Tim attended a conference in Washington, DC, the NAPA Institute’s Principled Entrepreneurship Conference. Two of the speakers at this conference were Gerhard Cardinal Müller of Germany and Dr. Scott Hahn. Cardinal Müller spoke of the importance of renewing and reforming the Church from the top down. He reminded the attendees how God has raised up saints in the past to call the Church back to holiness, and how at times God has even employed visitations of the Blessed Virgin Mary to speak truth to the Church, for example at Fatima, just over one hundred years ago. We must pray that there will be men and women who will faithfully speak truth to leadership as St. Catherine of Siena did to Pope Gregory XI convincing him to leave Avignon and take his rightful place in Rome; as Saints Robert Bellarmine, Charles Borromeo, and Philip Neri who were instrumental in the Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent to restore and reform the Church from within. Who will be that saint or group of saints today?

Dr. Scott Hahn spoke of the importance of the Church being renewed and reformed from the bottom up. This is also very important and Dr. Hahn spoke to the conference as a layman himself. His focus was on the importance of lay Catholics living holy lives. He specifically referenced the need for couples to live out the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and through their sacrament to honor each other, have children and raise those children to love God and the Church who will then became faithful priests, religious, and married couples who will in turn do the same. If Catholics would be faithful to do this, in one generation the Church would be renewed and reformed and the society would be impacted for the good.

He mentioned some specific ways in which married couples could achieve this, and all by God’s grace being poured out into their lives:

  • Lifetime commitment to marriage. What God has joined, no one should separate.
  • Rejection of contraception. Every couple must be open to life and using birth control is not something a Catholic can practice.
  • Rejection of pornography. Pornography is insidious in our culture. Back in 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, “I know it when I see it.” Today we are so inundated by a culture of pornography that we sometimes struggle to recognize it when it gently laps on our shores, then before you know it the tide has come in and we are completely immersed. It’s time to reset our filters and reject what will destroy us, our marriages and our families, especially our children.
  • Commitment to raise godly children and grandchildren. Our children and grandchildren will not become holy by osmosis. We cannot expect that their education, religious or otherwise, their peers, the media and the culture in general will lead them to God. At best it will be neutral. It is our role and responsibility and God-given commission to “train up” our children and persist in their religious upbringing. We would not leave their nutrition, health, and general education to chance. Why would we put their immortal souls at the risk of hell by not leading them into the way of truth?

Whether you are participating in a Forty Hours of Prayer or not, set aside some time to pray, fast and seek how you may follow after our Lord in this challenging time. This is not something we can take lightly. Our destiny and the destiny of the next generation depend upon our faithfulness to respond to God.

Saints Catherine of Siena, Robert Bellarmine, Charles Borromeo and Philip Neri pray for us!

The Worship Wars: 2.0

In early part of the twentieth century the world came together to participate in a very devastating war that was in that era called “the war to end all wars.” Such was the magnitude of warfare and the loss of human life that it seemed humanity would learn a vital lesson and never repeat such a travesty. However, one hundred years later, that war is not now called by the phrase coined at its conclusion, but rather we know it as World War I. We all know what happened. Within twenty years of the armistice signed on November 11, 1918, the prelude for what we now call World War II was playing out on the world stage. The second war was even more devastating and deadly than the first. And in many ways the world has not fully recovered from its ravaging effects.

The bottom line seems to be that humanity does not learn from experience or from history. Even when we see the devastation of power mongering and false ideologies we have the naïve impression that this time it will work. Someone has said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Many of you dear readers will remember that I spent nearly 60 of my tender years in the protestant evangelical tradition of Christianity. In my early years worship was what we would now call “traditional.” What that meant is that we would sing from the hymnals and be accompanied by an organ and piano, or in smaller churches by only a piano. If a church was big enough it would have a choir and those choir members would wear choir robes, unless it was too hot, in the days before air conditioning.

Then somewhere in the 1970s the “war” began. We called it the “worship wars.” It started as we truly believed there was a “generation gap”, like the one that the general culture had been talking about since the 1960s. So we (my generation—late baby boomers) began to sing choruses, play guitars, clap, and if we were really daring, raise our hands in worship, not in the main service, but in youth services or conferences or conventions. And as those late boomers began to move into leadership, we decided that we probably should have two services, a traditional one for our parents and grandparents, and a “contemporary” one for us and our kids. That contemporary service has morphed down through the years to include drums, bass guitars, strobe lights, and smoke machines. The hymnals were forgotten as we started using overhead projectors and finally PowerPoint. We have arrived and our hearing is shot.

Yet so many of our young people are turned off by the “contemporary” scene and they are looking for roots, quietness, tradition, liturgy, “smells” and “bells” and something of substance. Many of these young people have found themselves in Anglican, Orthodox and Catholic churches to recover the traditional worship.

I have been in the Catholic Church since March 2016, and in that short time I have grown to deeply love the worship in the Mass. Thank God I have never experienced the abuses in worship after Vatican II which took place here in the U.S. I have heard horror stories of “hootenanny” Masses and celebrants dressed as clowns. May God forgive such sacrilege! Yet, I also know we have lost something as we turned away from the Traditional Latin Mass and its incredible history and glory.

That brings me to the Youth Synod currently underway at the Vatican. Over the past year young people have been asked what they wanted to see in the Church. It seems that many of their concerns have been substituted for an agenda held by “progressive prelates” who didn’t get enough at Vatican II. The youth show, that they like their counterparts in evangelicalism, they long for the history and richness of the Mass. Young people, couples, families and singles show up at the Traditional Latin Masses. They are not asking for the Mass to be modernized or “protestantized.”

And yet we hear from Paolo Ruffini speaking for some of the Synod Fathers that we need “a Liturgy that is better suited to present times, more participatory, more understandable, otherwise the youth might consider it dull…” In response to this a Catholic priest on Twitter who goes by the handle “Father V” wrote: “It’s almost as if the higher-ups have developed amnesia about the net effect of felt banners, guitars, insipid music, and burlap bag vestments. Mass attendance plummeted and continues to fall everywhere.”

Lord have mercy! Keep praying for this synod that continues through the month of October.

Wisdom from Philadelphia at the Synod

I work in Philadelphia Monday through Friday. I live in the shadow of Philadelphia just across the river in a “bedroom community” of the City of Brotherly Love. His Excellency Charles Chaput is the archbishop of Philadelphia, a man who is loved and reviled for his commitment to Catholic orthodoxy. The previous five prelates of Philadelphia were all elevated to the position of cardinal, something that came to be expected for an archdiocese of this importance. The eleven-page testimony of Archbishop Carlo María Viganò gives a reason for why the current prelate is not. “Yes, the Bishops in the United States must not be ideologized, they must not be right-wing like the Archbishop of Philadelphia, (the Pope did not give me the name of the Archbishop)…”

Archbishop Chaput is currently at the Vatican for the Youth Synod. He was elected to the synod’s permanent council three years ago. There has been many who have urged that this synod be postponed or canceled in order to deal with the current sex abuse scandals, including Chaput. Yesterday the Philadelphia archbishops addressed his brother bishops regarding the inclusion of “LGBTQ” in Church documents. I turn the rest of my blog over to Archbishop Chaput:


Brothers,

I was elected to the synod’s permanent council three years ago. At the time, I was asked, along with other members, to suggest themes for this synod. My counsel then was to focus on Psalm 8. We all know the text: “When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?”

Who we are as creatures, what it means to be human, why we should imagine we have any special dignity at all – these are the chronic questions behind all our anxieties and conflicts. And the answer to all of them will not be found in ideologies or the social sciences, but only in the person of Jesus Christ, redeemer of man. Which of course means we need to understand, at the deepest level, why we need to be redeemed in the first place.

If we lack the confidence to preach Jesus Christ without hesitation or excuses to every generation, especially to the young, then the Church is just another purveyor of ethical pieties the world doesn’t need.

In this light, I read Chapter IV of the instrumentum, grafs 51-63, with keen interest. The chapter does a good job of describing the anthropological and cultural challenges facing our young people. In fact, describing today’s problems, and noting the need to accompany young people as they face those problems, are strengths of the instrumentum overall. But I believe graf 51 is misleading when it speaks of young people as the “watchmen and seismographs of every age.” This is false flattery, and it masks a loss of adult trust in the continuing beauty and power of the beliefs we have received.

In reality, young people are too often products of the age, shaped in part by the words, the love, the confidence, and the witness of their parents and teachers, but more profoundly today by a culture that is both deeply appealing and essentially atheist.

The elders of the faith community have the task of passing the truth of the Gospel from age to age, undamaged by compromise or deformation. Yet too often my generation of leaders, in our families and in the Church, has abdicated that responsibility out of a combination of ignorance, cowardice and laziness in forming young people to carry the faith into the future. Shaping young lives is hard work in the face of a hostile culture. The clergy sexual abuse crisis is precisely a result of the self-indulgence and confusion introduced into the Church in my lifetime, even among those tasked with teaching and leading. And minors – our young people – have paid the price for it.

Finally, what the Church holds to be true about human sexuality is not a stumbling block. It is the only real path to joy and wholeness. There is no such thing as an “LGBTQ Catholic” or a “transgender Catholic” or a “heterosexual Catholic”, as if our sexual appetites defined who we are; as if these designations described discrete communities of differing but equal integrity within the real ecclesial community, the body of Jesus Christ. This has never been true in the life of the Church, and is not true now. It follows that LGBTQ” and similar language should not be used in Church documents, because using it suggests that these are real, autonomous groups, and the Church simply doesn’t categorize people that way.

Explaining why Catholic teaching about human sexuality is true, and why it’s ennobling and merciful, seems crucial to any discussion of anthropological issues. Yet it’s regrettably missing from this chapter and this document. I hope revisions by the Synod Fathers can address that.


The Youth Synod will run through the whole month of October. We need to be much in prayer!

What’s with Washington?

I’m almost certain that as you read the headline of this blog, your mind immediately goes to political Washington, whether it be the Trump White House, the “contentious” Congress, or the latest sad debacle called “confirmation hearings” for the next Supreme Court justice. I’m not going there.

My concern today is about what is happening in ecclesiastical Washington. We all know about disgraced Archbishop Theodore McCarrick who served as archbishop of Washington from 2001 until 2006. I say we know all about him, but no doubt there is much more to sort through and disclose, if we can stomach it! According to a report from Catholic News Agency, McCarrick “has begun his life of prayer and penance at St. Fidelis Capuchin Friary in Victoria, Kansas, according to statements from the Diocese of Salina and the Archdiocese of Washington.”

Then there’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who is mentioned repeatedly in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on sex abuse in his role as Bishop of Pittsburgh before he became archbishop of Washington. He was recently in Rome waiting on Pope Francis to take action on his letter of resignation which he submitted when he turned 75.

A personal note before I go further, Charlotte and I have a special place in our hearts for the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. We have made two trips to the Basilica that played a major role in our journey into the Catholic Church. IMG_0897

The Basilica in many ways is the national parish of the Catholic Church in the United States. It is there that popes have visited, it is there that the funeral Mass of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was celebrated. This weekend a group of our parishioners will be joining others from the diocese of Camden for a Marian pilgrimage to the Basilica with the opportunity to see the new Trinity dome mosaic.

As a couple we have financially supported the ministry of the Basilica and have been encouraged by the prayers that have been offered up for our intentions from the Basilica. And yet my heart is heavy as I read that the wound that was opened with McCarrick continues to ripple out for miles around his places of influence in Washington and New Jersey. I will link here to an article by Anne Hendershott of the National Review and allow you to read and discern. I plan to write the rector of the Basilica, who was appointed by McCarrick to that position, and ask for some answers before I send any more support to a place I love. That will be my small part besides prayer in calling our spiritual fathers to lead us in accountability and holiness.

It is fitting on this feast of St Francis of Assisi to ask ourselves how we will respond to Christ’s call to rebuild his Church “which had fallen into ruin.”

And of course, as in the case of St. Francis who sought to rebuild the local Church of St. Damiano that was in ruins, our call is bigger than our local parish or the Basilica, though both are extremely important, Christ wants to restore his Church which has fallen into ruin.

St. Francis pray for us!

From Satanist to Saint

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This is not your typical story of a saint. This account takes us way out of our comfort zone, to the point that we have to confront the reality of Satan and the demonic and the battle against the souls of men and women.

Blessed Bartolo Longo (1841-1926) was born in Latiano, Italy. His father (both parents were devout Catholics) died when he was 10 years old, a loss that greatly affected the boy. Not only did he lose some of the stability of his home, but his homeland was undergoing turmoil as many changes were happening in Italy to begin to make it the modern state it is today.

Bartolo studied law at the University of Naples where many of his professors were ex-priests who “preached” hatred against the Church. Later he would write: “I, too, grew to hate monks, priests and the Pope and in particular [I detested] the Dominicans, the most formidable, furious opponents of those great modern professors, proclaimed by the university the sons of progress, the defenders of science, the champions of every sort of freedom.”

Rejecting his faith and the Church, he sought something to fill the void and began to visit mediums and was introduced to the occult. As those who have engaged in the occult  know, you cannot dabble and stay on the fringes. His thirst for more to fill the void led him into outright Satanism. He engaged in a period of intense study and rigorous fasting, to the point that he was no more than “skin and bones.” It was then that he was consecrated as a satanic priest and dedicated his soul to a demon. As a satanic priest he presided over “black masses” and preached boldly against God and Christ’s Church, calling them the true evils.

His family never stopped praying for Bartolo; they tried to talk him out of his error, but he would not listen. The family sought help from a professor from the university, Vincenzo Pepe, a devout Catholic. He met with Bartolo and after several encounters challenged him with these words:  “Do you want to die in an insane asylum and be damned forever?” Professor Pepe, through the power of the Holy Spirit, struck a chord in the darkened soul of Bartolo. He agreed to meet with a Dominican priest, Alberto Radente, who after three weeks of continual conversations welcomed Bartolo back to the Church and give him absolution. He also introduced him to the Rosary. Longo was 24 years old.

For two years he was in constant company with the Dominican priest and other dedicated Catholics. They provided him cover from the onslaughts of the evil one and offered him accountability in his long road to restoration from the demonic. At the end of this time he became a third-order Dominican. He began to serve the poor and downtrodden in the area of Pompeii.

Yet Bartolo was plagued with nagging doubts. He wrote: “One day in the fields around Pompeii, I recalled my former condition as a priest of Satan… I thought that perhaps as the priesthood of Christ is for eternity, so also the priesthood of Satan is for eternity. So, despite my repentance, I thought: I am still consecrated to Satan, and I am still his slave and property as he awaits me in Hell. As I pondered over my condition, I experienced a deep sense of despair and almost committed suicide. Then I heard an echo in my ear of the voice of Friar Alberto repeating the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary: ‘One who propagates my Rosary shall be saved.’ Falling to my knees, I exclaimed: ‘If your words are true that he who propagates your Rosary will be saved, I shall reach salvation because I shall not leave this earth without propagating your Rosary.’”

Bartolo spent the rest of his life propagating the Rosary and living out the Mysteries of the life of Christ contained therein. He helped to build the famous Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary in Pompeii, he “founded elementary schools and orphanages, inaugurated a print shop and technical school to give the children of convicted criminals the chance of a better life. He wrote books on the Rosary, composed novenas and prayer manuals. The former Satanist eventually became a friend of Pope Leo XIII, who had a great devotion to the Rosary. From Pompeii he also began the popular movement that led to the solemn dogmatic proclamation of the Assumption in 1950.” (Dominican Friars Foundation)

A little known fact is that Blessed Bartolo Longo was the source of inspiration for Pope St. John Paul II who introduced the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary that deal with Christ’s public ministry to the Catholic world in 2002. The pope beatified Bartolo in 1980.

Our saint’s life is a reminder that no one is too far gone. God’s love, mercy and grace reaches to the depths of our sin, cleanses us and puts us on the way to heaven.

Blessed Bartolo Longo pray for us!

Angel of God, My Guardian Dear

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As a child living in the jungle interior of Suriname, South America, I frequently would visit the home of my widowed aunt and her two children who lived on the same mission compound as my family. One of the things in her home that captured my attention was the painting of the guardian angel watching over two small children crossing a very unstable bridge over a river full of rapids. The children seem so unaware of the danger, perhaps because they are young and innocent, but maybe because of the protection of their guardian angel.

Beyond that painting I don’t remember being taught that I had a guardian angel, yet I can also say nobody taught me to the contrary. Jesus actually teaches about guardian angels in the Gospel of Matthew (18:1-10 NRSV).

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.

“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.

And if that wasn’t enough the writer to the Hebrews (1:14) tells us: “Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” I can almost guarantee dear reader, that at some point in your life, you have a time in which you sensed protection from an invisible force, when you have looked back and maybe even declared, “God must have sent me an angel!”

God has assigned us this protection from our guardian angel. This angel continually sees the face of our Father in heaven. What a wonderful and sweet connection! This is better than any secret service detail afforded to the president and other high level officials. We don’t own the angel; we can’t tell the angel what to do; we don’t name the angel or try to control the angel.

Here is the prayer that Catholic children learn early in life:

Angel of God
My guardian dear
To Whom His love
Commits me here
Ever this day
Be at my side
To light and guard
To rule and guide. Amen.

On this feast day of the Holy Guardian Angels, we pray, “O God, who in your unfathomable providence are pleased to send your holy Angels to guard us, hear our supplication as we cry to you, that we may always be defended by their protection and rejoice eternally in their company. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Image from Appalachian Magazine