Out of the Depths

Out of the depths I cry to You, O LoChrist in Majestyrd; Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication: If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand? But with You is forgiveness, that You may be revered. I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in His word. My soul waits for the Lord, more than sentinels wait for the dawn. More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord; For with the Lord is kindness and with Him is plenteous redemption; And He will redeem Israel from all their iniquities. (De Profundis Prayer)

We come to the third day of the Triduum that began October 31, the day that marks our obligation to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, that as Catholics we practice the whole month of November.

Every morning of November I began my prayers with a prayer for the Faithful Departed.

Christ Jesus, Lord of life and Redeemer of the world, grant eternal rest to all the faithful departed. Let my relatives and friends whom you have called from this life attain their eternal home. Reward our departed benefactors with eternal blessedness. Grant your departed priests and religious the recompense for their work in your vineyard.

O Lord, receive into your peace the souls of our brothers and sisters who labored for peace and justice on earth. Accept the sacrifices of those who gave their lives out of love for you and their fellow human beings. Look with mercy on all who showed goodwill to others and grant them the peace they deserve.

O Lord, through the bloody Sweat that you suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane; through the pains that you suffered while carrying your Cross to Calvary; through the pains that you suffered in your most painful Crowning with Thorns; through the pains that you suffered during your most cruel Crucifixion; through the pains that you suffered in your most bitter agony on the Cross; through the immense pain that you suffered in breathing forth your blessed soul; grant eternal rest to all the faithful departed.

Praying for the faithfully departed was not my practice as an evangelical. Yet as a Catholic I have grown to love and appreciate the devotion and recognize the important ministry I have to pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ who are still very present to me spiritually, although absent from the body. I have made a practice to pray for them weekly during the first year after their death, and thereafter, I pray for them every Sunday. The list of people I lift in prayer in this way continues to grow and they will receive prayer until I myself become dependent on the prayers of others.

Merciful Father,
hear our prayer
and console us.
As we renew
our faith in Your Son,
whom You raised from the dead,
strengthen our hope
that all our departed brothers and sisters
will share in His resurrection,
who lives and reigns
with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Out of the Depths

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).

ChristtheKing-672x372
ctkyonkers.org

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?”

Christ Is King!

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!

Wisdom from Philadelphia at the Synod

On This Rock

360px-Entrega_de_las_llaves_a_San_Pedro_(Perugino)One of the key doctrines that separates Catholicism from all other Christian expressions is the firm belief that Jesus established his Church on the rock that is St. Peter. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19 NRSV). One of the things I didn’t realize until I began my journey to Catholicism is that in the Greek all the uses of “you” underlined above are in the second person singular. Jesus was speaking specifically to Peter.

On another occasion Jesus also gives all the apostles the power to bind and loose, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23 NRSV). In both cases it is obvious that Jesus is investing apostolic authority to these men and as Catholics we understand that because of apostolic succession, through the bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, and through him all bishops, and through them all priests who represent them, minister the sacraments of the Church.

One of the beautiful passages that show the primacy of Peter reveals words that Jesus spoke to him before his arrest on Holy Thursday. “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:31-34 NRSV). It will be Peter’s mission to strengthen his fellow apostles after the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. 

And while we know Peter certainly denied his Lord three times, by all standards disqualifying him from the important role of leadership, we see our Lord draw Peter to himself in a very significant and tender moment. In John 21:15-19 NRSV, we read of an important encounter between the two of them after Jesus’s resurrection.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Jesus reiterates the commission he gave Peter in Matthew 16. He says to him, “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep.” It is Peter a few days later in the book of Acts who takes charge and leads the search and installation of the successor of Judas. And then on the day of Pentecost, it is Peter who stands and preaches the first sermon that brought 3000 converts to the Church.

Pope Francis is now the 266th Bishop of Rome and 265th successor of St. Peter. No pope is perfect, not Peter, not Francis, not anyone of these men. Many times we are concerned with what a pope says or does. There have been many concerns expressed about our current holy Father. We must pray and pray always that Christ will guide his Church by the Holy Spirit operating through the Vicar of His Church.

St. Peter pray for us! Pope St. John Paul II pray for us!

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Above My Pay Grade

At the conclusion of our interview on “The Journey Home” on September 10, I said these words: “I love being a layperson. Being pope was too much. It was above my pay grade.” And it’s true, I don’t regret not being a Protestant pastor at this stage of my life. It was a lot of pressure to always be trying to figure out what was what and having to speak authoritatively to my congregation on every topic–on my authority as it turned out.

That being said, it’s sometimes very hard to let old habits die, or to teach an old dog new tricks. I discover this on a regular basis as I struggle with wanting to “pontificate” about every issue that comes up.

As Catholics we have a “three-legged stool” of authority: 1) Sacred Scripture, 2) Sacred Tradition, and 3) the Magisterium. The Vatican II document Dei Verbum (Word of God) addresses the relationship of these three “legs” as they relate to our Catholic faith. Allow me to quote from Chapter 2, paragraphs 9 and 10.

9. “Hence sacred tradition and scripture are bound together in a close and reciprocal relationship. They both flow from the same divine wellspring, merge together to some extent, and are on course towards the same end. Scripture is the utterance of God as it is set down in writing under the guidance of God’s Spirit; tradition preserves the word of God as it was entrusted to the apostles by Christ our lord and the holy Spirit, and transmits it to their successors, so that these in turn, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, may faithfully preserve, expound and disseminate the word by their preaching. Consequently, the church’s certainty about all that is revealed is not drawn from holy scripture alone; both scripture and tradition are to be accepted and honoured with like devotion and reverence.”

10. “The task of authentically interpreting the word of God , whether in its written form or in that of tradition, has been entrusted only to those charged with the church’s ongoing teaching function, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching function is not above the word of God but stands at its service, teaching nothing but what is handed down, according as it devotedly listens, reverently preserves and faithfully transmits the word of God, by divine command with the help of the holy Spirit. All that it proposes for belief, as being divinely revealed, is drawn from the one deposit of faith.”

A three-legged stool is stable and can hold weight. A two-legged stool, based only on scripture and tradition, will be less stable, lacking the authoritative magisterium. And even less stable is the one-legged stool that is based only one of these, usually scripture alone. I came to see that was largely the problem faced in the Protestant expressions that take one scripture and interpret and apply it in multiple ways. Common examples of these issues include the “security of the believer,” “the meaning of baptism and to whom it is administered,” and the “role of women in ministry,” among many others.

So when I no longer had to make those calls after serving eight years in a non-denominational setting where there was no final word on these and other issues, I felt a weight lifted and realized that “pontificating” was no longer in my job description, nor was it meant to be.

So back to my tendency to fall back into said practice. I didn’t, nor does any Catholic, surrender our brain and our reason at our baptism and confirmation. We are called to trust scripture, tradition and the magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church, yet we are still able to discern and acknowledge that sometimes a deacon, a priest, a bishop, a cardinal, yea even a pope, God forbid, can teach or preach something that doesn’t jibe with what St. Jude wrote about in his epistle:

Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (verse 3).

This is where as Catholics in the pew, in our apostolates, and our vocations, we must be prayerfully alert and live into what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraph 92:

“The whole body of the faithful…cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful,’ they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals.” (Lumen Gentium, 12).

In blogs to come I will touch upon the freedom and responsibility these truths put on us as Catholic Christians. For now, let’s contend for the faith that has been entrusted to us!

Above My Pay Grade

Is the Pope Catholic?

When I was growing up and someone asked a question with an obvious positive answer, the sarcastic response that was often given was “Is the Pope Catholic?” I found myself asking that “rhetorical question” once again yesterday after Pope Francis’s appearance before a large crowd of youth in Sicily.

At the end of his meeting with the youth of Sicily, Pope Francis prayed a simple prayer rather than give the Pontifical Blessing, so as not to offend the “many non-Catholic Christians, those of other religions, and the agnostics” present. In itself, there is nothing wrong with the prayer, although weak on actual message (I’m trusting someone else’s translation from Italian to English to provide the content):

Now I would like to give you a blessing. I know that among you there are young Catholics, Christians, other religious traditions, and even some agnostics. For this I will bless everyone, and I will ask God to bless that seed of restlessness that is in your heart.

Lord, Lord God, look at these young people. You know each of them. You know what they think. You know that they want to move on, to make a better world. Lord, make them seekers of good and of happiness, make them active in their journey and in their encounter with others; make them bold in serving; make them humble in seeking their roots and carrying them forward to bear fruit, to have identity, to have belonging. May the Lord, the Lord God, accompany all these young people on the journey and bless everyone. Amen.

It seems that “seeker sensitivity,” long popular in evangelical circles, has moved into the Vatican circle and is being practiced by Pope Francis. Understand that I’m not saying we should never try to contextualize the message of the gospel. But there are certain factors here that make this seem bizarre. I’m fully aware that not every Sicilian, especially among the youth, are practicing Catholics, but the vast majority of them are. For many of those young Sicilian Catholics it was probably the first time to see the pope in person and have the opportunity to receive a pontifical blessing from him.

A Pontifical Blessing

V. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
R. Now and forever.

V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.

V. May Almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
R. Amen.

Another issue is that the person who gave the simple blessing rather than the pontifical blessing was not just any cleric, but Pope Francis, the Holy Father, the Successor to St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ on earth. Who better to give a beautiful, significant and enduring Trinitarian blessing, than him. Pray the simple prayer, but then give the people the blessing that befits the holy office.

In this time of crisis in the worldwide Church we need more than simple, bland, generic, fluffy, fuzzy, theologically indistinct blessings.

St. Peter pray for Pope Francis! St. Peter pray for Christ’s Church! St. Peter pray for us!

Is the Pope Catholic?

“Scaring the hell out of me”

Mother Angelica foundress of EWTN used to say, “My intention is to scare the hell out of you.” She minced no words as she spoke the truth in love.

I have my own story of  a sermon I heard at church camp when I was 12 years old. The preacher was an “old-fashioned” man of God who wasn’t afraid to talk about hell. In the message he talked about the danger of missing heaven and if one did so, the eternal destiny was hell. The central point that I remember was how he described someone going to hell for all eternity. He painted the picture of a iron sphere the size of the earth and a tiny bird like a sparrow. The sparrow began his trek of circumnavigating the world walking without stopping. The bird’s little feet didn’t make a dint on the sphere, but who knows after how many eons the sphere begins to show some wear and a little path is carved into the ball. Eons more pass and the bird has made quite a dent in the sphere. Finally the bird is able to wear a path clear through the iron ball (remember it’s the size of the earth) and it breaks into two. And then God says, “Eternity has begun!” All the time I’m sitting there trembling, thinking about the absolute endlessness of the eternal torment one would never see the end of. He scared the hell out of me!

We might take issue with the preacher’s tactic, but I will tell you I am thankful! I learned that day there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. During the 30 plus years that I served as a pastor I preached my share of sermons, but I never preached one like that, perhaps to my shame. Hell was not something we talked about in “polite company.” We tend to focus more on God’s love, but to be honest, we don’t talk much about heaven either. Our focus seems to be more on making the world a better place. Now there’s nothing wrong with that—that too is our call as Christians. But unfortunately, that’s only part of the story—eternity is a long, long, long…

Jesus talked about a lot about heaven, but he talked even more about hell. The fact that there is more to life than what we know in the present helps us keep perspective. At the end of our life we will either spend eternity with God or separate from God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches this biblical truth:

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

I believe when we lose the vision of eternity, or believe that it really doesn’t matter how we live now, we lose our moorings, we lose restraint, and we decide what is right for us. Proverbs 29:18 says,

Without a vision the people lose restraint;
but happy is the one who follows instruction.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, gives that instruction that will make us truly happy.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

I venture to say in light of our current challenges in the Church there is a need to recover the teaching on eternal destiny—that there is something that follows our life here. I can’t help but think that when we have a healthy fear of hell, it will also increase our love for God and for the promise extended to those who love and serve Him.

You know what, I am thankful for the preacher that “scared the hell out of me!”

“Scaring the hell out of me”