A Stumbling Block for Many

marystain

I just returned from Mass celebrating the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It was wonderful to see the church completely full on this holy day of obligation. It was my privilege to be one of the lectors, reading from Genesis 3.

Coming from an evangelical heritage I understand the issues someone from that tradition may have with a day like today. Many point to the fact that it wasn’t until 1854 that Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception to be dogma in his encyclical Ineffabilis Deus, “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

This dogma did not come out of thin air. The Church through the centuries held this to be true, and then in defense of the divinity of Jesus Christ in the 19th century, the dogma was declared, not as something novel, but in accord with the time-honored beliefs of the Church, not to elevate Mary, but to glorify Jesus and his salvific work in and through his mother. Here is a sampling of what previous churchmen have said:

“Let us not imagine that we obscure the glory of the Son by the great praise we lavish on the Mother; for the more she is honored, the greater is the glory of her Son. There can be no doubt that whatever we say in praise of the Mother gives equal praise to the Son.”—St. Bernard of Clairvaux, 1090–1153.

From a sermon by Saint Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury (1093–1109)—

Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night—everything that is subject to the power or use of man—rejoice that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace. All creatures were dead, as it were, useless for men or for the praise of God, who made them. The world, contrary to its true destiny, was corrupted and tainted by the acts of men who served idols. Now all creation has been restored to life and rejoices that it is controlled and given splendor by men who believe in God.

The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness. Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God himself, its Creator, it sees him openly, working and making it holy. These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb.

Through the fullness of the grace that was given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom, and those in heaven are glad to be made new. Through the Son who was the glorious fruit of your virgin womb, just souls who died before his life-giving death rejoice as they are freed from captivity, and the angels are glad at the restoration of their shattered domain.

Lady, full and overflowing with grace, all creation receives new life from your abundance. Virgin, blessed above all creatures, through your blessing all creation is blessed, not only creation from its Creator, but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.

To Mary God gave his only-begotten Son, whom he loved as himself. Through Mary God made himself a Son, not different but the same, by nature Son of God and Son of Mary. The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God. The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation. He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.

God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life. For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world. Without God’s Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed.

Truly the Lord is with you, to whom the Lord granted that all nature should owe as much to you as to himself. (Oratio 52: PL 158, 955-956, from The Liturgy of the Hours, December 8)

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

Overheard in the Office

Two coworkers were talking a few cubicles away from me and one said “If you believed in asking the saints to pray for you, which I don’t, maybe you should ask John Knox to pray, because he’s probably not too busy.” The insinuation is that Catholics are keeping their saints busy. If only it were so!

The conversation continued with chuckles and with an assurance that there is a hole in the Catholic theology of the “Communion of the Saints.” I listened and immediately wondered what I would do the next time one of my coworkers asked me to pray for them. Am I any more qualified to lift their concern in intercession to God? Just because I am on earth, how is my prayer more effective than the prayer of one who is in the very presence of God?

I know that the idea of asking the saints to pray with us and for us is foreign, even abominable to many who identify as Protestants or Evangelicals. The ironic thing is that the joke was being made by someone who should know better, but that is not the point of this article.

The point is that the Church is one, whether in heaven or on earth. The writer of Hebrews tells us in chapter 12, after giving us a run down of the faith of many Old Testament saints, that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Mary Healy in her commentary on the book of Hebrews writes: “As we run this race, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, as if filling the stands of a huge sports arena. They are the saints of the old covenant (now joined by those of the new covenant), who are rooting for us and passionately interested in the outcome of our lives.”

These are more than pictures or statues or memories in a dusty history book; they are real, living (more living than ever) saints who have won the victory and are in the very presence of God and of the Lamb in heaven. We are united not only in prayer, but also every time we celebrate the Mass which draws heaven and earth together through the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world for their sin and ours.

The book of Revelation gives us another clue to this amazing ministry the saints have in heaven. In chapter 5, verse 8, John writes: “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”

Now of course the unfounded argument or accusation is that Catholics pray to the saints, somehow elevating them to a divine status reserved only to Jesus. This, of course, is not true. What is true is seeing the saints as any other member of the Body of Christ whose main role is to continue to be part of that Body and care for one another. So when you ask me to pray for you, you are not divinizing me, but asking me to fulfill my God-given role of ministering to you as part of the Body of Christ. When I ask St. Francis de Sales to pray for me, I am not divinizing him, but asking him to intercede on my behalf.

One of the great gifts that my Catholic faith has given me is recognizing that death does not separate us. We are in the Church Militant; the saints are in the Church Triumphant; but it is one Church and Jesus Christ is our Head. Another benefit of the gift is knowing I have earthly and heavenly intercessors pulling for me rooting for me and passionately interested in the outcome of my life.

 

I Am Not Worthy

The season of Advent grows in significance in my spiritual life with each passing year. I first discovered Advent as a ministerial student at Asbury Theological Seminary. There I was introduced to liturgy and the whole concept of the year being expressed by liturgical seasons: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time.

I write on this Monday of the first week of Advent; the Gospel reading is taken from Matthew 8:5–13—Jesus and his encounter with the Roman Centurion who requests healing for his servant.

As he entered Caper′na-um, a centurion came forward to him, begging him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (RSV)

This morning before Mass, I sat down to pray this passage using Lectio Divina. After an initial prayer, asking God to speak to me through the Gospel, I read it carefully and three words jumped out at me: centurion, begging, and Lord.

The man who approached Jesus that day in Capernaum was a Roman centurion. A centurion was not a Jew, he was as I have already mentioned Roman, and commanded a “centuria” or century, that from 200 to 1000 legionaries. A centurion was a symbol of the oppression the Jewish population endured under Roman rule. His presence instilled fear, order and obedience, no matter how reluctant. As this centurion himself says, For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 

So here we have this powerful, brave and influential man coming to Jesus and begging him on behalf of a sick servant: “…my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” The centurion in his position with Rome could have ordered Jesus, a Jew, to come to his house and take care of his need. Instead we see the centurion in a posture of a mendicant, a beggar, not unlike others we see in Scripture, e.g. blind Bartimaeus. The posture of begging strips the centurion of his armor, his sword, his Roman swagger and his menacing demeanor. He comes to Jesus as we all must: nothing to brag about, nothing to hold on to, nothing to cling to. As the old hymn “Rock of Ages” says:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

The final word is Lord. The centurion says to Jesus begging: “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” And later he says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Maybe, like me, you’ve read that story so many times or as a Catholic, repeated those powerful words in the Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” For the centurion to call Jesus “Lord” was no small thing. For the centurion and all Romans of his time, Caesar was Lord. To call Jesus Lord was not only novel, it was blasphemous, dangerous and treasonous. Yet somehow the centurion recognized Jesus for who he was: Lord! Jesus is Lord! That became the creed of the early Christians: Jesus is Lord! not Caesar! Many of them gave up their lives for that affirmation of faith.

Where does that leave you and me? Time for confession, my confession. I tend to come to Jesus putting my best foot forward. That can look different at different times and places. I read the Bible thinking about all the times I’ve already read this passage instead of thinking about the fresh thing our Lord wants to say to me through it—like this morning! I start praying and present my list of petitions with the fixes I’m sure would make everyone and everything better, instead of quieting myself before our Lord and letting Him tell me how He wants to change me, which will change how I see the people and the things I want Him to fix. And even when I go to Confession, if I try to put my sins in the best possible light, instead of agreeing with the centurion that I am not worthy, no real forgiveness and cleansing can take place.

Lord, like the centurion, I put aside my perceived merits. I beg of you to hear my plea. I acknowledge that you are Lord and nothing in my life or in my world can compete with that, nor will you accept it. Lord, only say the word and my soul shall be healed. Amen.

A Mixed Bag

On this Wednesday near the end of November there are several directions I can go as I begin to write. The safest bet might be to give you a “mixed bag” of thoughts and ideas.

A Meaningful Thanksgiving

I spent Thanksgiving in Florida with my wife, my sister and her husband, and my dad who is a rock. Living past his mid-eighties he is dealing with a medical diagnosis that has taken away much of his independence, but that hasn’t diminished his heart, his mind or his soul. What a privilege to lovingly serve the man who brought me into the world and who loved and served me for so many years as I was growing up.

Trying to Put the Best Spin on a Negative Situation

It seems insult was added to injury when after the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops were denied the ability to vote on measures to begin to address the sex abuse crisis in the U.S. by the Vatican, the Pope appointed Cardinal Cupich of Chicago to the organizing committee for the February meeting in Rome to discuss the protection of minors (but not seminarians?) in the Church. This is the same prelate who told the media that Pope Francis had more important things to do than deal with this crisis—things like immigration and climate change! This is the same prelate who became the recipient of a red hat due to ex-Cardinal McCarrick’s advocacy and machinations. One has to wonder how seriously the crisis will be taken with Cardinal Cupich leading the charge.

Little Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer

The next and last issue I want to touch is almost too strange to be true, but not in the present climate and seems to be a recurrent theme, unfortunately, in the current pontificate. I quote from LifeSite News:

Almost all of the members of a conservative order of nuns that serve the elderly in French nursing homes have announced that they have asked to be released from their vows following attempts by the Vatican to force them to alter their way of life and to “modernize” their order.

According to their lay supporters, the sisters have been accused of engaging in “too much prayer” and concerns have been expressed that they wear the guimpe, a traditional form of religious head covering used by nuns that is no longer in vogue among the Church’s liberal elite. The sisters say that they are accused of a “deviant authoritarianism,” of being “too classical” in their thinking, and of being guilty of an “immobilism” in their devotion to their institute’s charism.

A total of 34 of the 39 members of the the Little Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer say they want to quit the order after a Vatican dicastery removed their superior general and attempted to impose three “commissioners” on them who were hostile towards their more traditional practices.

(LifeSiteNews.comThanks for your prayers for my dad! Keep the February meeting in Rome high in your prayers! And pray for the Little Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer as they seek to continue serving nursing homes in France.

Speaking the Truth in Love

The Catholic Church in the United States received very sad news over the Thanksgiving holiday. His Excellency Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, died Saturday, November 24 as the result of a cardiac event. Bishop Morlino had been the bishop of Madison since 2003 and was known to be a firm proponent and support of sound Catholic doctrine, of life issues and the need to get to the bottom of the homosexual crisis in the clergy that has drawn the Church into her most grave crisis in the United States.

Because Bishop Morlino spoke the truth he was not always appreciated by those who have allow politics to color their commitment to Catholic doctrine. Some have accused him of hating the LGBT community. A letter he posted to the diocese of Madison back in August will speak to the reality of his heart: of speaking the truth in love. If you didn’t have the opportunity to see and read his letter, it follows. I present it as a tribute to a holy and honest prelate of the Church.

Bishop’s Letter
August 18, 2018
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ of the Diocese of Madison,
The past weeks have brought a great deal of scandal, justified anger, and a call for answers and action by many faithful Catholics here in the U.S.
and overseas, directed at the Church hierarchy regarding sexual sins by
bishops, priests, and even cardinals. Still more anger is rightly directed at those who have been complicit in keeping some of these serious sins
from coming to light. For my part — and I know I am not alone — I am
tired of this. I am tired of people being hurt, gravely hurt! I am tired of
the obfuscation of truth. I am tired of sin. And, as one who has tried —
despite my many imperfections — to lay down my life for Christ and His Church, I am tired of the regular violation of sacred duties by those
entrusted with immense responsibility from the Lord for the care of His
people. The stories being brought into light and displayed in gruesome
detail with regard to some priests, religious, and now even those in
places of highest leadership, are sickening. Hearing even one of these
stories is, quite literally, enough to make someone sick. But my own
sickness at the stories is quickly put into perspective when I recall the
fact that many individuals have lived through them for years. For them,
these are not stories, they are indeed realities. To them I turn and say,
again, I am sorry for what you have suffered and what you continue to
suffer in your mind and in your heart. If you have not already done so, I beg you to reach out, as hard as that may be, and seek help to begin to
heal. Also, if you’ve been hurt by a priest of our diocese, I encourage you
to come forward, to make a report to law enforcement and to our Victim’s Assistance Coordinator, so that we might begin, with you as an
individual, to try and set things right to the greatest extent possible.
There is nothing about these stories that is okay. These actions,
committed by more than a few, can only be classified as evil, evil that
cries out for justice and sin that must be cast out from our Church. Faced with stories of the depravity of sinners within the Church, I have been
tempted to despair. And why? The reality of sin — even sin in the Church — is nothing new. We are a Church made of sinners, but we are sinners
called to sanctity. So what is new? What is new is the seeming acceptance of sin by some in the Church, and the apparent efforts to cover over sin
by them and others. Unless and until we take seriously our call to
sanctity, we, as an institution and as individuals, will continue to suffer
the “wages of sin.” For too long we have diminished the reality of sin —
we have refused to call a sin a sin — and we have excused sin in the
name of a mistaken notion of mercy. In our efforts to be open to the
world we have become all too willing to abandon the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In order to avoid causing offense we offer to ourselves and to
others niceties and human consolation. Why do we do this? Is it out of an earnest desire to display a misguided sense of being “pastoral?” Have we covered over the truth out of fear? Are we afraid of being disliked by
people in this world? Or are we afraid of being called hypocrites because we are not striving tirelessly for holiness in our own lives? Perhaps these are the reasons, but perhaps it is more or less complex than this. In the
end, the excuses do not matter. We must be done with sin. It must be
rooted out and again considered unacceptable. Love sinners? Yes. Accept true repentance? Yes. But do not say sin is okay. And do not pretend that
grave violations of office and of trust come without grave, lasting
consequences. For the Church, the crisis we face is not limited to the
McCarrick affair, or the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, or anything else that may come. The deeper crisis that must be addressed is the license for sin to have a home in individuals at every level of the Church. There is a
certain comfort level with sin that has come to pervade our teaching, our preaching, our decision making, and our very way of living. If you’ll
permit me, what the Church needs now is more hatred! As I have said
previously, St. Thomas Aquinas said that hatred of wickedness actually
belongs to the virtue of charity. As the Book of Proverbs says “My mouth
shall meditate truth, and my lips shall hate wickedness (Prov. 8:7).” It is
an act of love to hate sin and to call others to turn away from sin. There must be no room left, no refuge for sin — either within our own lives, or within the lives of our communities. To be a refuge for sinners (which we should be), the Church must be a place where sinners can turn to be
reconciled. In this I speak of all sin. But to be clear, in the specific
situations at hand, we are talking about deviant sexual — almost
exclusively homosexual — acts by clerics. We’re also talking about
homosexual propositions and abuses against seminarians and young
priests by powerful priests, bishops, and cardinals. We are talking about acts and actions which are not only in violation of the sacred promises
made by some, in short, sacrilege, but also are in violation of the natural moral law for all. To call it anything else would be deceitful and would
only ignore the problem further. There has been a great deal of effort to
keep separate acts which fall under the category of now-culturally-
acceptable acts of homosexuality from the publically-deplorable acts of
pedophilia. That is to say, until recently the problems of the Church have been painted purely as problems of pedophilia — this despite clear
evidence to the contrary. It is time to be honest that the problems are
both and they are more. To fall into the trap of parsing problems
according to what society might find acceptable or unacceptable is
ignoring the fact that the Church has never held ANY of it to be
acceptable — neither the abuse of children, nor any use of one’s sexuality outside of the marital relationship, nor the sin of sodomy, nor the
entering of clerics into intimate sexual relationships at all, nor the abuse and coercion by those with authority. In this last regard, special mention should be made of the most notorious and highest in ranking case, that
being the allegations of former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s
(oft-rumored, now very public) sexual sins, predation, and abuse of
power. The well-documented details of this case are disgraceful and
seriously scandalous, as is any covering up of such appalling actions by
other Church leaders who knew about it based on solid evidence. While
recent credible accusations of child sexual abuse by Archbishop
McCarrick have brought a whole slew of issues to light, long-ignored was the issue of abuse of his power for the sake of homosexual gratification.
It is time to admit that there is a homosexual subculture within the
hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord. The Church’s teaching is clear that the homosexual
inclination is not in itself sinful, but it is intrinsically disordered in a way that renders any man stably afflicted by it unfit to be a priest. And the
decision to act upon this disordered inclination is a sin so grave that it
cries out to heaven for vengeance, especially when it involves preying upon the young or the vulnerable. Such wickedness should be hated with a perfect hatred. Christian charity itself demands that we should hate
wickedness just as we love goodness. But while hating the sin, we must
never hate the sinner, who is called to conversion, penance, and renewed communion with Christ and His Church, through His inexhaustible
mercy. At the same time, however, the love and mercy which we are
called to have even for the worst of sinners does not exclude holding
them accountable for their actions through a punishment proportionate
to the gravity of their offense. In fact, a just punishment is an important work of love and mercy, because, while it serves primarily as retribution for the offense committed, it also offers the guilty party an opportunity to make expiation for his sin in this life (if he willingly accepts his
punishment), thus sparing him worse punishment in the life to come.
Motivated, therefore, by love and concern for souls, I stand with those
calling for justice to be done upon the guilty. The sins and crimes of
McCarrick, and of far too many others in the Church, bring suspicion and mistrust upon many good and virtuous priests, bishops, and cardinals,
and suspicion and mistrust upon many great and respectable seminaries and so many holy and faithful seminarians. The result of the first
instance of mistrust harms the Church and the very good work we do in
Christ’s name. It causes others to sin in their thoughts, words, and deeds — which is the very definition of scandal. And the second mistrust harms the future of the Church, since our future priests are at stake. I said that I was tempted to despair in light of all of this. However, that temptation
quickly passed, thanks be to God. No matter how large the problem, we
know that we are called to go forward in faith, to rely upon God’s
promises to us, and to work hard to make every bit of difference we can, within our spheres of influence. I have recently had the opportunity to
talk directly with our seminarians about these very pressing matters, and I have begun to, and will continue to, talk with the priests of the diocese, as well as the faithful, in person and through my weekly column and
homilies, making things as clear as I can, from my perspective. Here now, I offer a few thoughts to those of my diocese: In the first place, we must
continue to build upon the good work which we have accomplished in
protecting the youth and vulnerable of our diocese. This is a work on
which we can never rest in our vigilance, nor our efforts to improve. We must continue in our work of education for all and hold to the effective
policies that have been implemented, requiring psychological exams for all candidates for ministry, as well as across-the-board background
checks for anyone working with children or vulnerable individuals. Here again, I state, as we have done consistently, if you have knowledge of any sort of criminal abuse of children by someone in the Church, contact law enforcement. If you need help in contacting law enforcement contact our Victim’s Assistance Coordinator and she will help connect you with the
best resources. If you are an adult victim of sexual abuse from childhood, we still encourage you to reach out to law enforcement first, but even if
you don’t want to, please still reach out to us. 
To our seminarians: If you are unchastely propositioned, abused, or
threatened (no matter by whom), or if you directly witness unchaste
behavior, report it to me and to the seminary rector. I will address it
swiftly and vigorously. I will not stand for this in my diocese or anywhere I send men for formation. I trust that the seminaries I choose, very
discriminately, to help form our men will not ignore this type of
scandalous behavior, and I will continue to verify that expectation.
To our priests: Most simply, live out the promises you made on your
ordination day. You are called to serve Christ’s people, beginning with
praying daily the Liturgy of the Hours. This is to keep you very close to
God. In addition, you promised to obey and be loyal to your bishop. In
obedience, strive to live out your priesthood as a holy priest, a hard
working priest, and a pure and happy priest — as Christ Himself is calling you to do. And by extension, live a chaste and celibate life so that you can completely give your life to Christ, the Church, and the people whom he
has called you to serve. God will give you the graces to do so. Ask Him for the help you need daily and throughout every day. And if you are
unchastely propositioned, abused, or threatened (no matter by whom), or if you directly witness unchaste behavior, report it to me. I will not stand for this in my diocese any more than in our seminaries.
To the faithful of the diocese: If you are the victim of abuse of any kind by a priest, bishop, cardinal, or any employee of the Church, bring it
forward. It will be addressed quickly and justly. If you have directly
witnessed sexual advances or any type of abuse, bring it forward as well. Such actions are sinful and scandalous and we cannot allow anyone to
use their position or power to abuse another person. Again, in addition to injuring individuals, these actions injure the very Body of Christ, His
Church. Furthermore, I add my name to those calling for real and
sustained reform in the episcopate, priesthood, our parishes, schools,
universities, and seminaries that would root out and hold accountable
any would-be sexual predator or accomplice; I will hold the priests of the diocese to their promise to live a chaste and celibate life of service to you and your parish, and evidence of failure in this regard will be justly
addressed; I will likewise hold every man studying for the priesthood for our diocese accountable to living a chaste and celibate life as part of his
formation for the priesthood. Failure to do so will lead to dismissal from diocesan sponsorship; I will continue to require (with our men and our
funds) that all seminaries to which we send men to study be vigilant that seminarians are protected from sexual predators and provide an
atmosphere conducive to their holistic formation as holy priests, in the
image of Christ; I ask all the faithful of the diocese to assist in keeping us accountable to civil authorities, the faithful in the pews, and to God
Almighty, not only to protect children and the youth from sexual
predators in the Church, but our seminarians, university students, and all the faithful as well. I promise to put any victim and their sufferings
before that of the personal and professional reputation of a priest, or any Church employee, guilty of abuse; I ask everyone reading this to pray.
Pray earnestly for the Church and all her ministers. Pray for our
seminarians. And pray for yourselves and your families. We must all
work daily on our own personal holiness and hold ourselves accountable first and, in turn, hold our brothers and sisters accountable as well, and
finally, I ask you all to join me and the entire clergy of the Diocese of
Madison in making public and private acts of reparation to the Most
Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for all the sins of sexual depravity committed by members of the clergy and episcopacy. Some sins, like some demons, can only be driven out by prayer and
fasting. This letter and these statements and promises are not intended to be an exhaustive list of what we can and need to do in the Church to
begin to heal from, and stave off, this deep illness in the Church, but
rather the next steps I believe we can take locally. More than anything
else, we as a Church must cease our acceptance of sin and evil. We must
cast out sin from our own lives and run toward holiness. We must refuse to be silent in the face of sin and evil in our families and communities
and we must demand from our pastors — myself included — that they
themselves are striving day in and day out for holiness. We must do this
always with loving respect for individuals but with a clear understanding that true love can never exist without truth. Again, right now there is a
lot of justified anger and passion coming from many holy and faithful lay people and clerics across the country, calling for real reform and “house
cleaning” of this type of depravity. I stand with them. I don’t know yet
how this will play out nationally or internationally. But I do know this,
and I make this my last point and last promise, for the Diocese of
Madison: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Faithfully yours in the Lord,
Most Rev. Robert C. Morlino
Bishop of Madison

O God, who chose your servant Bishop Robert Morlino
from among your Priests,
and endowed him with pontifical dignity
in the apostolic priesthood,
grant, we pray,
that he may also be admitted to their company for ever.
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.

Progressive: Today’s Buzz Word

I find that a lot of life and deep thoughts come to me before 7:00 a.m., especially when I am the lector at the 6:45 Mass. This morning the first reading was from 2 John, not a book or letter that I have spent a lot of time with. The readings in the Mass (in English) are taken from the New American Bible Revised Edition. The passage that I read is as follows:

“I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth just as we were commanded by the Father. But now, Lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing a new commandment but the one we have had from the beginning: let us love one another. For this is love, that we walk according to his commandment; this is the commandment, as you heard from the beginning, in which you should walk.

“Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming into the flesh; such is the deceitful one and the antichrist. Look to yourselves that you do not lose what we worked for but may receive a full recompense. Any one who is so ‘progressive’ as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son.”

2 John 4–9, NABRE

The word that jumped out at me is “progressive.” I have never seen it in the Bible. And as I confessed earlier, I haven’t spent a lot of time on John’s last two letters. I also realize that “progressive” is not the word you will find in other translations, but the choice of it by those who worked on the NABRE is not misplaced. In other translations “progressive” is rendered as “goes beyond” (NRSV), “goes ahead” (RSV), “runs ahead” (NIV), “revolteth and continueth not” (Douay-Rheims).

The reason “progressive” jumped out at me is because it is such a buzz word in our culture, both secular (political, social, economic) and religious. The dictionary defines “progressive” as “a person advocating or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.” Progressive politicians are people like Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In the field of religion you might consider people like Episcopalian bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Jesuit priest James Martin as progressives. I hesitate to assign this nomenclature to anyone, but some seem to wear it better than others. Some might even consider our Holy Father progressive, especially as compared to his immediate predecessors Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II.

Let’s return to St. John’s warning: “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming into the flesh; such is the deceitful one and the antichrist. Look to yourselves that you do not lose what we worked for but may receive a full recompense. Any one who is so ‘progressive’ as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son.”

The danger of being “progressive” when it comes to the Church and God’s timeless Word is that we can run right past God’s intention and salvation plan to the point that we no longer “remain in the teaching of the Christ” and to do so is to find ourselves in that lamentable, but often unrealized place of not having God! That is another way to describe heresy or the reality of being a heretic.

Again I hate to call out people or groups of people, but something is taking place in the Christian world that deeply grieves me. A Christian denomination that I have historical ties to is taking a major “progressive” step. A very good friend of mine who pastors in that denomination is taking early retirement because he cannot conscientiously continue to support the “progressive” move. Read about the “One Church Plan” here. Another historic Christian denomination is setting in place a denomination-wide ruling on same-sex “marriage” that will take effect December 2. One bishop in Albany, New York, is standing up to the “progressive” move.

Anytime we “run ahead,” “go beyond,” or “revolt and continue not” the expressed will of God in His Holy Word and the Sacred Tradition of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, we do not remain in the teachings of Christ and we do not have God. Call me “traditional,” but “here I stand!”

Hell? Yes!

On a quiet Thursday morning (today) in a 6:45 a.m. Mass in a small town (Merchantville, New Jersey), at a Roman Catholic parish (St. Peter’s), with small group of people (maybe 60) a parish priest (Fr. Tim Byerley), gave a homily on the feast day of St. Albert the Great.

The Gospel reading for St. Albert’s feast was from St. Matthew 13. I will highlight the first part of the passage and the portion from which Fr. Tim took his four-minute homily:

Jesus said to the disciples: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

Matthew 13:47–50, Saint Paul Daily Missal 

What impressed me this morning is that our pastor did not waste words in getting to the point, nor did he avoid the importance of the message on a very early Mass audience. In a nutshell, Fr. Tim spoke about the subject that Jesus focuses on here and in many of his teachings: the reality of the final judgment and the possibility that due to our actions hell is one destination that could be reached.

Hell is not a popular topic as I have mentioned here before. Not only is it not popular, but it is also hardly mentioned, despite the fact that Jesus talked about it a great deal. Think back to the last time you actually heard hell mentioned in a sermon or homily. I’m thinking many of you dear readers under the age of 40 may never have unless you took part in a series on the “Four Last Things”—Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.

Fr. Tim so rightly pointed out that when final judgment, including the possibility of going to hell by the choices we have made, is excluded from our teaching and practice, then Christianity becomes just another philosophy that you try to live by, but in so doing, you choose what you want and what you don’t want. Since converting nearly three years ago I’ve learned there is a phrase for that: “Cafeteria Catholic.” Honestly, I believe there are not only “cafeteria Catholics,” but cafeteria “Christians” of all stripes.

Is it any wonder then, when the possibility of spending eternity in hell is removed from our hearts and minds, our lives and our practice, our homilies and our catechism, that we begin to live like the Israelites in the book of Judges: “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 RSV). The story of humanity is littered, maybe I should say “trashed”, with our rationale, excuses and defenses for why we do what we do. We alter our vocabulary to fit our chosen lifestyle and then we ask God to bless us and what we do. This can be anything from “blessing” an abortion clinic or seeking to redefine the timeless teaching of the Church in Sacred Scripture and Tradition regarding the Sacrament of Marriage. Once we throw out the doctrine of the possibility of our choices leading to eternal damnation, then the “sky is the limit” as to what we will adopt in our depravity.

Jesus makes it very clear: “Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” I would rather put my faith and confidence in him than in any “theologian” or “church leader” who teaches otherwise with an agenda.

On the Feast of All Saints, St. Albert the Great preached a sermon from Revelation 7:17

After portraying their beatitude, St. Albert explains this passage of the Apocalypse: “The Lamb which is in the midst of the Throne shall rule them, and shall lead them to the fountains of the waters of life” (vii. 17). 

“In God’s kingdom, there are five fountains, to which the Lamb will lead His elect. The first is the source of consolation; there the Lord shall wipe away their tears. The second is the fountain of repose; for after having dried up their tears, the Spirit, that is the Holy Trinity, will say: ‘Henceforth they shall rest from their labours.’ The third is the source of refreshment; for they who are at rest shall be refreshed and inebriated with the superabundance of God’s house. The fourth is the source of joy. The elect, by reason of the heavenly consolations, the sweets of repose and the most agreeable refreshment, shall be in jubilation. They shall sing their salutations with gladness in the courts of the predestined. The fifth is the fountain of love. How ardently will they not love Him, Who consoles them, Who gives them rest and loads them with every good? Isaias, speaking of this fountain, says: ‘You shall draw water with joy from the fountain of the Lord.'”

“On the other hand, in hell there are, five fountains, to which the infernal dragon thrusts the souls of the reprobate, that they may drink thereof. The first is called Styx. When souls drink of those waters, they conceive a mutual hatred of each other. The second is named Phlegethon. The property of its waters is to enkindle the rage of the damned, first against themselves, then against those through whose fault they are lost. The name of the third is Lethe: scarcely have the reprobate tasted of it than they lose the knowledge and recollection of past joys and pleasures. The fourth is Acheron. The damned on applying their lips to it immediately sink into indescribable sadness. The fifth bears the name of Gocytus. The effects of those waters are such that they who drink of them weep without ever experiencing the least consolation.”

St. Albert the Great, pray for us!

Che cosa?

Pope Francis gestures at the end of the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican

With all due respect, I want to ask Pope Francis, “Che cosa?” or as we would say here in America, “Say what?”, in response to his order to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops not to vote on two proposed measures that would have begun to show a modicum of movement to deal with the latest and greatest sexual abuse scandals in our beloved Church.

This scandal is really a continuation of the revelations of 2002, that erupted once again in June like the famous Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano. The concerns of the Catholic faithful that the Church continues to lose ground in our secularized, humanistic culture were magnified as we realized that too many of our leaders were “in bed” with the permissiveness and promiscuity of mainstream practice.

It’s hard to offer an alternative to a culture that has lost its way, particularly when it seems that many of our leaders are on the same road to perdition. And then our spiritual hopes for purification, reparation and renewal are dashed, or maybe delayed, when our Holy Father, who offered great hopes of reform, has either hoodwinked us or is just as complicit as the rest. His rhetoric toward those who care about this downward spiral in the Church is disturbing at least, and unconscionable at best: “Be careful around those who are rigid. Be careful around Christians – be they laity, priests, bishops – who present themselves as so ‘perfect,’ rigid. Be careful. There’s no Spirit of God there. They lack the ‘spirit of liberty’.”

You and I must continue to pray for our Holy Father, for our cardinals and bishops here in the U.S., and especially for our priests who lead us on the parish level. This isn’t just about the Catholic Church regaining its reputation. This is about the salvation of souls in our nation! This is Jesus’ concern—why He came and died on the cross and rose again—establishing His Church to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20 RSV).

[Photo: Max Rossi/Reuters]

Man Up, Veterans Day and USCCB

This morning I will be joining several hundred men of the Camden diocese in an all-day men’s conference called “Man Up.” There will be speakers and Bishop Dennis Sullivan will celebrate Mass at the close of the day.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, significantly the 100th anniversary of the end of the “war to end all wars!” It know that wasn’t true, but we remember and honor the sacrifice of all veterans then and since who have served our nation.

Next week the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will be meeting in Baltimore for annual conference. This has been a widely-anticipated meeting in light of the “summer of shame” starting with the revelations about ex-Cardinal McCarrick and then the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

We need to continuing praying that our bishops will recognize that they and we are in “the war of the ages” and they need to “man up!”

A Funny Thing Happened to Me…

Back in the sixties, Broadway and the silver screen presented a production called “A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Forum” that tells the story of a slave named Pseudolus who attempts to win his freedom from his master and it is set in Rome.

My life is not a Broadway musical or a movie, but on “the way to Rome” I have had some interesting, even funny things happen to me. Back in July I went to confession armed with a brand new confession app on my phone. I carefully made a list on the app of what I needed to confess. Just as I was ready to make my confession, I hit the wrong button and the app logged me off. I got flustered and got off to a shaky start as I couldn’t remember the phrase “examination of conscience.” I even forgot some of the things I wanted to confess. The moral of that story is don’t trust technology to think for you as you seek to improve upon an age-old sacrament.

I found a prayer I prayed back in August as the World Meeting of Families in Dublin was set to begin. I was concerned as were many Catholics of some of what was going to be presented there regarding the family. I prayed: “Lord, bless all speakers who intend to glorify you, uphold Sacred Scripture and Tradition, edify your true Church and seek the salvation of souls. For those who have other intentions, give them laryngitis, severe diarrhea, or make them otherwise indisposed. Amen.” That’s one I had to trust God with. He knows much better than I.

In September I began reading the book Sacred Story: An Ignatian Examen For The Third Millennium and I came across this phrase: “My Sacred Story takes a lifetime to write.” The author goes on to say:

It is a cliché to say that life is not over till it is over. I doubt anyone would disagree with this fact. Yet often ignored is the fact that we have to work daily on our spiritual growth. Or more precisely, we must work daily to open to the artist who can transform our lives into a sacred story….Christ can take our lives, daily undermined by the weight of bad decisions, selfishness, and our own sin and weakness, and transform all of it into blessing. God, in Jesus, is the artist and it will take a complete lifetime for the Lord to work his miracles of grace in our sacred story. We will always be in need of the merciful forgiveness of the Divine Artist in Jesus. Once we see that Jesus needs to work daily in our lives, we then come to understand why “my Sacred Story takes a lifetime to write.”

Your story and my story are by no means set in stone. There are constant changes and additions to our stories. We are on our way, and many interesting, serious, and even funny things happen on our way to where God is leading. Stay encouraged and never give up.