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.
A Mixed Bag

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?

God’s Surprises?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Royal of The Catholic Thing wrote this morning:

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

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

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

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

St. Teresa of Jesus pray for us!

God’s Surprises?

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?

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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Prayers for Our Pope

Now more than ever we need to be in prayer for Pope Francis. Let us lift him in prayer especially this week as he seeks the Holy Spirit’s direction.

O God, the Shepherd and Ruler of all Your faithful people, mercifully look upon Your servant Francis, whom You have chosen as the chief Shepherd to preside over Your Church. We beg You to help him edify, both by word and example, those over whom he has charge, that he may reach everlasting life together with the flock entrusted to him. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty and Everlasting God, have mercy on Your servant Francis, our Supreme Pontiff, and direct him, according to Your loving kindness, in the way of eternal salvation, that with Your help he may ever desire that which is pleasing to You and accomplish it with all his strength. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord Jesus, shelter our Holy Father the Pope under the protection of Your Sacred Heart. Be his light, his strength and his consolation.

Prayers taken from “Our Catholic Prayers

Prayers for Our Pope

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?