Excommunication or not

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Earlier this month an Irish priest, Fr. John Hogan, parish priest of Multyfarnham in County Westmeath, refused to give communion to Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy, a member of the lower house of the Irish parliament. Mr. Troy was attending a requiem Mass celebrated by Fr. Hogan at St Nicholas’s parish church. The reason for the refusal of communion was due to the fact that TD Troy had supported the introduction of legalized abortion services in Ireland. Mr. Troy had previously identified himself as pro-life, but revealed that he had voted in favor of the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment that protected unborn babies. TD Robert Troy is a Catholic.

Across the pond just last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, signed a bill that he had lobbied for that would make it state law to permit abortion up until the minute before a baby would be born, that would allow other health practitioners beside doctors to perform abortions, and would remove all criminality for taking the life of an unborn child in any case. Governor Cuomo ordered that the lights of the tower on the World Trade Center be lit in pink to celebrate the victory. Andrew Cuomo is a Catholic.

What is the difference in these two scenarios? Two politicians, two actions in favor of abortion. One is refused communion; the other has not. That isn’t to say that Governor Cuomo may still be refused communion, but Cardinal Timothy Dolan has stated that “excommunication” is not “an appropriate response.” But is that the best response? What is the purpose of refusing communion or imposing canonical excommunication?

For the purpose of reference it should be noted that senior Illinois senator Dick Durbin has been excommunicated for his pro-abortion stance and voting record. In a recent letter Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield stated: “Senator Durbin was informed several years ago by his Pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish here in Springfield that he was not permitted to receive Holy Communion per canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law. My predecessor upheld that decision and it remains in effect. It is my understanding that the Senator is complying with that decision here in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.”

Canon Law 915 reads as follows: “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.

On September 22 of last year I wrote a blog entitled “In Silence No More” that dealt with St. Ambrose, then bishop of Milan, and his action of excommunication against emperor Theodosius after a massacre he had ordered upon the citizens of Thessalonica. The emperor complied with the order and fulfilled his penance before being restored to communion.

Denying communion is not an expulsion from a political party or a social club. It is actually a mercy given to the baptized to help him or her recognize grave sin and the accompanying discipline that has the purpose of bringing him or her to spiritual restoration and communion with God and man. The biblical basis for this is found in Matthew 18:15–20.

“If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (NABRE).

St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, writes that excommunication serves “to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5 NABRE). It is noteworthy that Paul did not leave the man dangling, forever separated from the life and sacraments of the Church as in 2 Corinthians 2:5–11 he instructs on how to bring about the reconciliation of this same sinner.

So excommunication is a mercy to show us the grave error of our unconfessed sin and to hopefully drive us back into the loving arms of the Father. Hebrews 12:11 tells us: “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for gain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”

The bottom line is that if our priests and bishops truly care for the souls of their sheep, they will not seek to embarrass them in a public or recriminatory way, or even worse, cower in the face of public opinion and do nothing. The issue is the spiritual health and destiny of each sheep. Is it worth currying political favor or protecting one’s own hind parts, and thus put in peril the eternal soul of the parishioner, no matter how exalted or esteemed he or she is? St. Ambrose didn’t think so. Emperor Theodosius was glad in the long run that he didn’t.

 

 

 

Excommunication or not

A Gentleman Saint

saint-francis-de-salesYou would assume that all saints would be bona fide ladies and gentlemen, at least by the time they were officially declared saints through the canonization process. Yet saints, even in heaven, are usually remembered for their dominant or besetting personalities and characteristics. Some are fiery, some are gentle, some are reserved, some are bold. What they have in common we find in paragraph 828 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practice heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors (Lumen Gentium 40; 48–51). “The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history” (John Paul II, Christifideles laici 16, 3). Indeed, “holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal” (Christifideles laici 17, 3).

To sum it up all saints lived in heroic virtue and in fidelity to God’s grace. We know that many others who have not been officially canonized have also lived in this virtue and grace. Yet those who are canonized do serve as models and intercessors.

When I converted to the Catholic Church I was asked to chose a patron saint at the time of my confirmation. I took this very seriously. I wanted to chose someone who modeled for me not only heroic virtue and fidelity to God’s grace, but someone who because of what he or she lived and endured and overcame could be a model for the life ahead of me. That saint for me became Bishop Francis de Sales (1567–1622). Not only is Francis de Sales the patron saint of writers (something I aspire to), he was greatly used by God to bring many lapsed Catholics back to the faith after the Protestant revolt (again something my heart burns to see happen!).

I was first introduced to Francis de Sales through a novena I learned of from the Coming Home Network, specifically to pray for those who had abandoned or were not practicing their faith. I prayed this novena before I was even a Catholic, longing to see lapsed Catholics come back to the fullness of the faith. The more I researched I discovered that de Sales had received training as a lawyer, but could not ignore what seemed a persistent call from God to the priesthood.

Today, one of the writers I greatly admire, David Warren, devoted his blog to St. Francis de Sales. He describes the refocusing of his life from law to theology:

“Thrice in a single day, according to the legend, this scion of a noble family, that was grooming him for high station in law and public life, fell off his horse. Each time his sword and scabbard came off — how embarrassing! — and each time they came to rest in the pattern of a Christian Cross. I mention this as if it were important, because it is. We portray saints and mystics today as if they were Triumphs of the Will, heroes overcoming all adversities to win the main prize, each a spiritual Hercules. This tends to leave God out of the account, and thus the Will by which each was actually not only motivated, but directed.”

Sam Guzman, of the Catholic Gentleman, comments on Francis’s vocation of evangelization in a blog six years ago:

“While St. Francis was full of zeal, he didn’t meet with much success. In fact, he got chased out of towns and had many doors slammed in his face. But he didn’t quit. Instead, he began copying out pamphlets containing Catholic teaching and apologetics and slipping them under the doors of the Calvinists. This is the first known example of someone using tracts for religious evangelization (tracts weren’t invented by Baptists!). We can only imagine what he would think of social media. Eventually, through perseverance and creativity, St. Francis was successful in converting thousands back to the Catholic faith.

“At the age of 35, St. Francis was promoted to the Bishop of his diocese. His kind and patient teaching style won him a huge following among the faithful, and he had a special interest in encouraging lay people to live holy lives. He said, “It is an error, or rather a heresy, to say devotion is incompatible with the life of a soldier, a tradesman, a prince, or a married woman…. It has happened that many have lost perfection in the desert who had preserved it in the world.” He is remembered for his many writings, especially Introduction to the Devout Life—a guide to the spiritual life for laypeople.”

“St. Francis de Sales is the gentleman saint extraordinaire. He lived a holy life in a very difficult time for the Church—the Reformation. His patience, humility, and above all, gentleness, were his trademarks” (Sam Guzman).

A Gentleman Saint

They dressed in white

61 Million

It seems appropriate to share this post from January 22 in light of Tuesday’s important speech from the chamber of the House of Representatives.

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that made abortion on demand legal in all 50 states. The decision has been hailed as a victory for women and women’s rights. Many feminists regard it as indispensable for a woman to achieve full equality as a citizen of the United States.

A few days ago I came across some quotes from the earliest of “feminists” who advocated for women’s rights, especially the right to vote. These women who called in those days “suffragettes.” Many of them were present at the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, on July 19–20, 1848. It was “a convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman,” and it was held at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were two of the more renown women’s rights activists who attended this convention. Seventy-two years later the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed the right to vote to all women in the nation.

Many of today’s feminists harken back to these brave and ground-breaking women for inspiration. As I stated earlier, the right to “choose an abortion” has become just as important as the “right to vote.” How did these 19th and early 20th century feminists compare to their modern-day compatriots? Let’s return to those quotes!

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

We are living today under a dynasty of force; the masculine element is everywhere overpowering the feminine, and crushing woman and children alike beneath its feet. Let woman assert herself in all her native purity, dignity, and strength, and end this wholesale suffering and murder of helpless children. With centuries of degradation, we have so little of true womanhood, that the world has but the faintest glimmering of what a woman is or should be. (Revolution, January 29, 1868)

Susan B. Anthony

The unifying theme of Susan Brownell Anthony’s life was to speak up for those without a voice. Anthony fought for temperance, the abolition of slavery and especially the enfranchisement of women. She also spoke up for the voiceless child in utero, opposing Restellism,  the term that Anthony’s newspaper and others at that time used for abortion. It’s easy to chalk up Anthony’s (and other early feminists’) opposition to abortion as a relic of their day and age. But these women were progressive and independent; they did not oppose abortion because they were conditioned to, but because they believed every human life has inherent and equal value, no matter their age, skin color or sex.

Anthony’s newspaper, the Revolution, had a policy  of not advertising abortion like other mainstream papers furtively did. Revolution editors like Elizabeth Cady Stanton were explicit in denouncing “child murder,” “infanticide” and “foeticide,” descriptions they used interchangeably for abortion. Indeed, a recent Smithsonian Magazine article discussed news coverage of “infanticide” in the 1860s, a common subject for early investigative reporters of the suffrage era, many of whom were women writing about their concerns under pseudonyms.

It is not hard to imagine that these early feminists and suffragists, Anthony among them, were opposed to the most fundamental human abuse: degrading another human being by claiming to own and destroy it.

In her famous 1875 talk on social purity,  Anthony condemned abortion as a consequence of liquor consumption.

Elizabeth Blackwell

In her autobiography, Elizabeth Blackwell, a suffragist and the first U.S. female doctor, went into medicine to denounce abortionists: “Women who carried on this shocking trade seemed to me a horror,” she wrote. “It was an utter degradation of what might and should become a noble position for women.”

Charlotte Denman Lozier

Another suffragist physician, Charlotte Denman Lozier, said, “We are sure most women physicians will lend their influence and their aid to shield their sex from the foulest wrong committed against it,” that is, abortion.

Victoria Woodhull

Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president in 1872 said, ““The rights of children, then, as individuals, begin while they yet remain the foetus.” Woodhull and her sister, Tennessee Claflin, declared, “Pregnancy is not a disease, but a beautiful office of nature.”

These early feminists would be appalled if they could see where we are 170 years after that first women’s rights convention. Legally in the last 46 years, 61 million babies have paid the ultimate price. Their voices still speak to us today about the “foulest wrong committed” against all women, especially those who are yet unborn!

 

They dressed in white

Letting Go of Everything

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Once upon a time there was a young man who lived very comfortably in a family that had plenty of resources. His father and mother provided a wonderful environment for his younger sister and him to be nurtured physically, emotionally and spiritually. One day … I’ll let bishop Athanasius to pick up the story from here as excerpted from his biography of St. Anthony.

“When Anthony was about eighteen or twenty years old, his parents died, leaving him with an only sister. He cared for her as she was very young, and also looked after their home.

“Not six months after his parents’ death, as he was on his way to church for his usual visit, he began to think of how the apostles left everything and followed the Savior, and also of those mentioned in the book of Acts who had sold their possessions and brought the apostles the money for distribution to the needy. He reflected too on the great hope stored in heaven for such as these. This was all in his mind when, entering the church just as the Gospel was being read, he heard the Lord’s words to the rich man: If you want to be perfect, go and see all you have and give the money to the poor—and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and follow me.

“It seemed to Anthony that it was God who had brought the saints to his mind and that the words of the Gospel had been spoken directly to him. Immediately he left the church and gave away to the villagers all the property he had inherited, about 200 acres of very beautiful and fertile land, so that it would cause no distraction to his sister and himself. He sold all his other possessions as well, giving to the poor the considerable sum of money he collected. However, to care for his sister he retained a few things.

“The next time he went to church he heard the Lord say in the Gospel: Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Without a moment’s hesitation he went out and gave the poor all that he had left. He placed his sister in the care of some well-known and trustworthy virgins and arranged for her to be brought up in the convent. Then he gave himself up to the ascetic life, not far from his own home. He kept a careful watch over himself and practiced great austerity. He did manual work, because he heard the words: If anyone will not work, do not let him eat. He spent some of his earnings on bread and the rest he gave to the poor.

“Having learned that we should always be praying, even when we are by ourselves, he prayed without ceasing. Indeed, he was so attentive when Scripture was read that nothing escaped him and because he retained all he heard, his memory served him in the place of books.

“Seeing the kind of life he lived, the villagers and all the good men he knew called him the friend of God, and they loved him as both son and brother.” (From the Life of Saint Anthony by Saint Athanasius, bishop, Office of Readings, Liturgy of the Hours, January 17)

Wow! Am I willing to obey the words of Scripture to that degree?

Happy Feast Day St. Anthony of the Desert who lived from 251–356 A.D. and died at the age of 105!

 

Letting Go of Everything

Nothing Ordinary About It!

Christmastide came to an end with the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord which was celebrated this past Sunday. As of yesterday we entered into what is known as Ordinary Time. I once thought that the period of Ordinary Time meant that it was a lull in the liturgical season until we get to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent leading into Easter. Then we have Eastertide until we get to Pentecost Sunday and once again we enter Ordinary Time, and things get ordinary until Advent begins four weeks before Christmas.

The truth of the matter is, there is nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time. Its designation doesn’t even mean that it is ordinary or common or boring or whatever. The word “ordinary” comes from the Latin ordinalis which refers to numbers in a series. The Latin root word is ordo from which we get our word “order.” We call it Ordinary Time because the Sundays are numbered. The Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, though never referred to as such, is technically the First Sunday of Ordinary Time. From there we have the Second, Third, Fourth, etc. Sundays of Ordinary Time until we reach Ash Wednesday and the period of Lent. This year we will have eight Sundays in Ordinary Time before we observe the First Sunday of Lent.

Ordinary Time in 2019 picks up again the day after Pentecost (in the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time). Because we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity the Sunday after Pentecost and the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ the following Sunday, we don’t return to Sundays of Ordinary Time until the Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. Are you confused? Check out this site for the correct designations.

The liturgical color for Ordinary Time is green both after Christmastide and Eastertide. We generally associate green with life and growth. During this particular section of Ordinary Time we focus on the earthly ministry of Jesus: his teachings and his miracles. After Pentecost we focus on the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit through the Church that continues to the present. Even in times of persecution, trial, scandal or corruption in some parts of the Church, she remains ever green. She is indeed the Bride of Christ and Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25–27 RSVCE).

This is no time to let up or take a nap or be discouraged. Christ loves us and he is sanctifying us so that we might be holy without blemish! Thanks be to God!

Nothing Ordinary About It!

Overhead in the Office, Part 2

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I was sitting in the common space of my company enjoying my lunch when I realized that one of the other departments was going to have a potluck. Before they began to eat, the leader of the department stood and, this being a Christian company, announced that he would say a “quick prayer” before they ate. That’s not the first time I have heard prayer preceded by the adjective “quick.” I’ve even heard pastors and priests qualify the kind of prayer they would pray as “quick” and it’s almost always before eating.

What does that say about prayer, about us, and about how we view prayer before we eat? It reminds of those days when I was in public school and knew I should pray before I ate my lunch, but felt embarrassed, so I would feign dropping something and would pray on the way down and back up. Even now, working in a largely other-Christian than Catholic company, I am hesitant to make the sign of the Cross before I return thanks for my food.

Many years ago I was part of a newish church plant that had just merged with another church and we were learning the “older” church’s ways of doing things. That particular Sunday I was asked to read Scripture. Before the service the worship planner was walking us through the order and he announced that after I read the Scripture, he would pray a “quick” prayer so I could get off the stage and the preacher could take his place. That day prayer served as a scenery change!

So, when it comes down to it, the quick prayer could be for several reasons: 1) we’re really hungry, but we know that it wouldn’t be right to dig in without at least mouthing some gratitude; 2) It’s a carry over from those days of embarrassment of returning thanks in public, so we’ll get it done as quickly as possible; or 3) It’s nothing more than a perfunctory ritual that we do in order to stay in God’s good graces; and maybe most likely 4) We have so much to eat that we have lost the deep sense of gratefulness for what we have been given.

I love to see what our spiritual forebears have said about prayer in these situations. I found a good source of their wisdom in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I highly recommend it to you. In the section entitled “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” in paragraph 2828 we read:

“Give us”: The trust of children who look to their Father for everything is beautiful. “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45). He gives to all the living “their food in due season.” (Psalm 104:27). Jesus teaches us this petition, because it glorifies our Father by acknowledging how good he is, beyond all goodness.

Paragraph 2829 continues:

“Give us” also expresses the covenant. We are his and he is ours, for our sake. But this “us” also recognizes him as the Father of all men and we pray to him for them all, in solidarity with their needs and sufferings.

And finally in paragraph 2830 we read:

“Our bread”: The Father who gives us life cannot but give us the nourishment life requires—all appropriate goods and blessings, both material and spiritual. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus insists on the filial trust that cooperates with our Father’s providence (cf. Matthew 6:25–34). He is not inviting us to idleness (Cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6–13), but wants to relieve us from nagging worry and preoccupation. Such is the filial surrender of the children of God:

To those who seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, he has promised to give all else besides. Since everything indeed belongs to God, he who possesses God wants for nothing, if he himself is not found wanting before God (St. Cyprian).

Mealtime Prayer:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bless us Oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

We give thanks for all your benefits, almighty God, who lives and reigns forever.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

Overhead in the Office, Part 2

Happy Epiphany!

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It was a cold winter day forty-five years ago today in Jonesboro, Indiana. I donned a white robe and headed to the baptistry located behind the choir loft just below the stained-glass window at Westview Wesleyan Church. I was 17 years old and I was finally going to be baptized!

Reverend Carlos Fletcher became my pastor during those critical high school years and asked me if I had ever been baptized. I told him that I hadn’t and true to his conviction and nature said, “We have to take care of that!” So at the beginning of the second semester of my senior year in high school I was baptized into the Christian faith.

Looking back I recognize that this was not just a ceremony, but an true incorporation into the life of Christ. A few months later I responded to a definite call on my life to pursue a missionary vocation. I shared this recently when my wife and I were interviewed on “The Journey Home” and I consider this a turning point in my spiritual life. You can see that interview here.

Historically, Epiphany celebrated four things: Jesus’ nativity, the visit of the Magi to the Holy Family, Jesus’ baptism, and Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana. Each of these events is a special manifestation of Jesus Christ to humanity. In the Latin Church we typically focus on the visit of the Three Kings which symbolizes the revelation of Jesus Christ as a light to the Gentile nations and as the Savior born for all of mankind.

Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Sounds through the earth and skies.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light

We Three Kings, verse 5, written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., 1857.

Collect for the Epiphany of the Lord
O God, who on this day
revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star,
grant in your mercy
that we, who know you already by faith,
may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.
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.

 

Happy Epiphany!