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]

Che cosa?

What Did Paul Say to Peter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Did Paul Say to Peter?

What’s with Washington?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Francis pray for us!

What’s with Washington?

Thor’s Mighty Oak

Bonifacius_by_Emil_Doepler

Recent events in the city of Chicago remind me of an earlier event in the history of Christianity. Winfrid, born in Wessex in Anglo-Saxon England in the year 672, is better known as St. Boniface. Boniface (which means “good fate”) is considered the apostle to Germany. In 721 Boniface went to Hesse in central Germany to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. After the conversion two chieftains Dettic and Deorulf, who were twin brothers, thousands of Germans converted to Christianity.

Upon hearing news of this successful mission to the Germans, Pope St. Gregory II called Boniface to come to Rome at which time he consecrated him as bishop of all of Germany, even without an episcopal seat. Boniface took an oath at that time that is very significant and powerful:

I, Boniface, by the grace of God, bishop, promise to thee, Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and to thy Vicar, the Blessed Pope Gregory and his successors, by the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, undivided Trinity, and by thy most holy body, to proclaim the whole Catholic faith in all its purity; and by the help of God, to remain steadfast in the unity of that faith, in which, without doubt, is the Christian’s hope of salvation. Never, at the bidding of anyone, will I do anything against the unity of the One Universal Church; but, as I have said, I will in all things be faithful and helpful to thee and to the interests of thy Church (to which God has given the power of binding and loosing), and thy said Vicar and his successors…. This oath I, Boniface, a lowly bishop, have written out with my own hand; and, according to what is prescribed, have placed it on the most holy body of Blessed Peter, and, in the sight of God, have sworn to keep it. (from Warren H. Carroll, The Building of Christendom).

With his new ecclesiastical authorization, Boniface returned to Hesse the following year. There he found that many had gone back to their pagan ways. He confirmed those who had stood fast in the faith and directly challenged “entrenched paganism by personally chopping down the ‘Thunder Oak’ of Giesmar, a huge old tree dedicated to Thor.”* He did not act alone but in consultation with the Hessian Christians who knew culturally and religiously that this would be “the most effective way of dramatizing for these largely barbarian people the powerlessness of their old gods and the victory of Christ in their land.”**

Commenting on this episode, church historian James Hitchcock writes: “The Germans expected Boniface to be struck dead, and when he was not, they concluded that the power of his God was greater than that of their own and used the wood of the tree to build a church.”*** As a result the true religion was firmly established in Germany and many others from Boniface’s native England came to help with catechesis as the task of converting pagan Germany was vast.

Now back to Chicago. Until Saturday Fr. Paul Kalchik was the pastor of Resurrection Church in Avondale, a community area of Chicago. Fr. Kalchik has been pastor there eleven years. A survivor of homosexual rape twice, once by a homosexual priest, he has been faithful in his call to “love the sinner, but hate the sin” and at the same time be faithful to the teachings of Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium.

Recently he found the rainbow banner with a cross superimposed that earlier had been a fixture in the church, hanging in the sanctuary, from when it was dedicated by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, as the “gay parish” of Chicago. In the example of St. Boniface, Fr. Kalchik announced he would burn it. However, he evidently heeded his bishop’s warning not to, but a small number of the parishioners took the banner and burned it last week. On Saturday, under the direction of Cardinal Cupich the priest was removed from his parish.

I admit not knowing all the inner details and particulars of this case, but where there’s smoke there’s fire. Blessed Pope Paul VI said in 1972, after Vatican II, “… We would say that, through some mysterious crack—no, it’s not mysterious; through some crack, the smoke of Satan has entered the Church of God. There is doubt, uncertainty, problems, unrest, dissatisfaction, confrontation.” The enemy still seeks to obfuscate his machinations with smoke and mirrors!

St. Boniface, pray for us!

*Carroll, The Building of Christendom, p. 276.
**Ibid.
***Hitchcock, History of the Catholic Church, p. 112.
Thor’s Mighty Oak

Dickens Was Right

Dickens

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” (opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, 1859)

Charles Dickens could have been describing many things that we experience in the early part of the 21st century. Before you move on, read that paragraph again and ask yourself if it describes any part of  life that you experience.

“It was the best of times…” Almost daily I find myself rejoicing that the Holy Spirit led me into the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I anticipate going to 6:45 a.m. Mass and getting my day started with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist! I am energized by practices that give life to me in the Church.

“It was the worst of times…” Almost daily, at least since the end of July of this year, I find myself weighed down by the reality of what is going on in the Catholic Church. Everyday, it seems, a new revelation comes forth that keeps this “summer of scandal” moving into the “autumn of atrocity.” What makes things worse for me and many is that we want answers and those seem slow in coming.

“It was the age of wisdom…” There is so much “wisdom” running around. We see it daily on TV, in social media, etc. King Solomon warns us in Proverbs 3:7 NRSV, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” So much of what we call wisdom today is not moored in the Author of all wisdom.

“It was the age of foolishness…” The absence of God’s wisdom leads us to another characteristic of our times, foolishness. We live in a “silly season” to put it euphemistically. Don’t get me started, but when we believe everything that certain folks with a Ph.D. behind their names tell us, it’s hard to look at ourselves in the mirror and see sanity.

“It was the epoch of belief…” Gallop tells us that 90% of Americans believe in God. Pew Research tells us 80% of Americans believe in God. Great! But the truth of the matter is that belief is not enough. In his letter St. James says: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (2:19 NRSV). So you could say that believing puts us on par with the demons! Ouch!

“It was the epoch of incredulity…” As I mentioned a few days ago in this blog, church attendance in general, and weekly attendance at the Mass in particular, has dropped dramatically. For all the belief, there is a lot of incredulity. Fewer people believe in the distinct Christian doctrines, even some as key for Catholics as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

“It was the season of Light…” I could go on, but you get the idea.

Last night I attended a wonderful event in our parish, the St. Peter Senior Ministry Fundraiser: “The Age of Beauty.” Our parish has the only senior ministry in south Jersey that ministers to beautiful seniors Monday through Friday. Because my wife, Charlotte, volunteers there, by extension I feel I am part of it. For this event artist Linda C. Dennin painted a portrait of each of approximately 60 seniors and staff of the ministry. What joy there was in the hall throughout the whole evening!

I engaged in conversation with many of these dear brothers and sisters, people who have loved Christ and His Church all of their lives, a half dozen of them in their nineties. I thought about how one by one they will leave a gap in our parish, a parish they love, and what will the next and succeeding generations do to take their place? Right now these seniors are confused and hurt that a cardinal they respected has been discovered to be a predator of seminarians and a child sex abuser. They are even more hurt that this was covered up by prelates they trusted to care for the flock. I tried my best to encourage them, to assure them that Christ has not given up on his Church, but the pain is deep!

In these times, good and bad, even very bad, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, and He will make His Church holy. Let’s hold on tight and pray!

Dickens Was Right

Bizarro World

On the TV show “Seinfeld” Elaine learns about Bizarro World from Jerry. See it here. I remember learning about Bizarro World from Adventure Comics. It was a cube-shaped planet called Htrae (Earth backwards), and there lived Bizarro Superman and several other Bizarro superheroes. In popular culture Bizarro World has come to mean “a situation or setting which is weirdly inverted or opposite to expectations.”

I don’t how many times recently I have commented to someone that we are living in a Bizarro World. How do I explain what I mean without being insensitive to someone or something. Let me give you an example that was mentioned to me yesterday at work. This comes from the category of truth is stranger than fiction. On August 16 of this year, the Babylon Bee which bills itself as “Your Trusted Source for Christian News Satire” offered this “fake” headline:

Pope Says He Will Address Sex Abuse Scandal Once He’s Finished Talking About Climate Change

On August 28, just eight days later, an interview by the Chicago NBC station with Blase Cardinal Cupich produced this real headline:

Cardinal Says Pope Has More Important Things to Address Than Abuse Scandal Like The Environment and Immigration

Bizarro World can show up in most any place. It is especially embarrassing when it comes from people who should know better. Yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if you come across a news story today that communicates bizarre.

It should concern us anytime Christians make bizarre news. How do we avoid “scandal” that is not for the case of Christ? As St. Peter says we should make sure that the only “bizarre” we are involved in is because we are judged for not going along with the ways of the world. The early Christians were considered bizarre because they rescued babies that had been left to die under bridges (an ancient form of post-birth abortion), or because they would stay in the cities in the plagues to care for their dying neighbors instead of fleeing for safety as their fellow citizens did.

We should seek to live that kind of bizarre. St. Paul gives us some instructions to live by in Ephesians 4:17-23 (NRSV).

Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

If it’s for Christ and his kingdom then be bizarre! Just be sure it’s for Christ and his kingdom!

Bizarro World

Our Stomachs Tied in Knots

After the announcement of serious allegations against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick at the end of July, many Catholics, myself included, wondered when the other shoe would drop. Well, you might say a boatload of shoes were dropped on Tuesday at the press conference of the Pennsylvania attorney general and his report on the abuse perpetrated by 300 priests on 1000 victims over the past 70 years in six dioceses of that state, that had been covered up by superiors, some of them, now in higher levels of church leadership.

As much as all of this creates knots in our stomachs, none of this can be swept under the rug–not now, not ever! We are seeing that while actual incidents of abuse/predation are down since 2002, there has been, in a sense, only a bandage applied to the gaping wound. For the Church to be healthy and holy, the wounds have to be sterilized and cauterized and there will most likely need to be some debriding and even amputation!

That will start with each one of us. Let’s confess where we’re complicit: not praying like we should, not living like we should, not having any noticeable difference between our lives as Christians and the pagan world around us. When we have taken care of our own household, we can call our leaders to account and we must.

Last evening I attended Mass at the Basilica in Philadelphia to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As I prayed with knots in my stomach I remembered that our Lady is the “undoer of knots.” Back in the second century St. Irenaeus in his classic work “Against Heresies” presents a parallel between Eve and
Mary, describing how “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.”

We need the prayers and intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary in this time of great knots. Blessed Virgin Mary, take into thy hands today this knot. I beg you to undo it for the glory of God, once for all! In thy Immaculate Heart I place my hope! O Blessed Virgin Mary, undoer of knots, pray for us! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Our Stomachs Tied in Knots