Jesus Inevitably Brings Division

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Roman Catholic Man

The Youth Synod is Rome is mercifully in its last week. Reading and watching reports coming out of the Vatican has been like watching an impending train wreck in slow motion. You can see what is happening, you are in anguish, you even cry out to give warning, but to no avail. The car crossing the tracks will be obliterated by the oncoming train whose conductor is either asleep at the controls or willfully planning to ram into the car.

Now that may sound uncharitable or judgmental, but sometimes the truth is hard to say and hard to hear. This morning’s Gospel reading is one of those passages where our Lord speaks and we jerk ourselves to attention and say, “What?” In case you weren’t in Mass this morning, you can read it here:

Jesus: A Cause of Division.“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49–53 NABRE)

This is one of those passages that we would like to say that Jesus obviously doesn’t really mean what he is saying. Isn’t he the Prince of Peace? Didn’t the angels announce at his birth: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14)? He is, and they did!

We are uncomfortable with a Jesus who says he has come to set the earth on fire and he wishes it was already blazing. Bishop Robert Barron this morning in his devotional based on this passage writes, “He’s throwing fire down, much like the God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.” He’s right and it’s the same God! This does not fit with the popular concept of Jesus “meek and mild” who looks and acts more like a 1960s flower child then the eternal holy God of the universe.

Jesus came to our world with a specific purpose. “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” The only way that we can be brought to peace with God is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ His Son. But that doesn’t mean we get to say, “Thanks, Jesus! We’re good! I’ll quote you and give lip service to you, but for the most part I’m going to keep doing what I want to do and live in the way that makes me happy.”

And then Jesus asks that all important question: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Human beings want their cake and eat it too. We want peace without the cross. Oh, it’s OK in our minds that Jesus died on the cross, but don’t ask us to get anywhere near the cross ourselves. “I don’t want to die. I want to live. I want to be happy. I want to be fulfilled. I want to be free to express myself in the way that I determine is best for me.” Those words are heard and read everyday of the week and when they come from the lips of “Christians” they are lukewarm puke that Jesus can’t stomach.

Following Jesus causes division! In the family, in the workplace, in society, in the nation, and in the world. When we deny the rightful place of Jesus to apply his fire and sword to our lives in order to conform us to His righteousness, we automatically divide ourselves from him.

That’s what’s so disturbing about what seems to be happening in Rome this month. A Protestant theologian who writes for First Things and other publications, Carl Trueman, wrote today in Public Discourse, the Journal of the Witherspoon Institute the following:

Whatever side one chooses in the Reformation of the sixteenth century—be it Bellarmine or Calvin—one thing is for sure: the Tridentine Catholics and the Magisterial Protestants were debating matters of real, ultimate significance. I am a Protestant by conviction and have very serious disagreements with Rome, but I regard traditional Catholicism as asking the right questions and providing substantial answers about the nature of sin, redemption, grace, faith, the sacraments, and eternal destiny. Christianity is a religion with a holy God and a tragic vision of a magnificent but fallen humanity at its core, so tragic that only a bloody sacrifice—the sacrifice of God Incarnate—can atone. I may reject the Mass but I can at least see that it marks the centerpiece of a serious theology and ecclesiology and is attempting to address the complexity of the human condition. By contrast Instrumentum Laboris (Synod of Youth) points to a church that seems to be losing sight of those central issues. The Catholic Church could well be exchanging her theological birthright for a Mass of sociological potage.

Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church and only He can rescue her from “this present darkness.” “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Amen.

Jesus Inevitably Brings Division

Going Back to Christ or Forward to Him

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I am home from a vacation that took me to Maine and points in between. I had the opportunity to interact with other “rigid” Catholics like myself who are certainly concerned about what is going on in the Church, specifically the lack of action on the current crisis and the “silly” daily synopses coming out of the Youth Synod in Rome.

This morning I found a post from David Warren, a writer that I enjoy and often laugh with, and most times he hits the bull’s eye with his description on current events. I will share one quote from his latest blog here and then give you a link to read the entire blog.

Reactionary thought for today:

It is wrong to long for the recent past — to wish we could go back to the ’nineties, the ’seventies, the ’fifties. We are enduring today the consequences of just such rotten decades. We must go back to Christ; or forward to Him, which is the same thing. The only alternative is to go to Hell.

Read more of David Warren here.

I look forward to resuming my regular blogging tomorrow, if I can find something to say that will do you any good! Have a wonderful day!

 

Going Back to Christ or Forward to Him

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?

The Worship Wars: 2.0

In early part of the twentieth century the world came together to participate in a very devastating war that was in that era called “the war to end all wars.” Such was the magnitude of warfare and the loss of human life that it seemed humanity would learn a vital lesson and never repeat such a travesty. However, one hundred years later, that war is not now called by the phrase coined at its conclusion, but rather we know it as World War I. We all know what happened. Within twenty years of the armistice signed on November 11, 1918, the prelude for what we now call World War II was playing out on the world stage. The second war was even more devastating and deadly than the first. And in many ways the world has not fully recovered from its ravaging effects.

The bottom line seems to be that humanity does not learn from experience or from history. Even when we see the devastation of power mongering and false ideologies we have the naïve impression that this time it will work. Someone has said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Many of you dear readers will remember that I spent nearly 60 of my tender years in the protestant evangelical tradition of Christianity. In my early years worship was what we would now call “traditional.” What that meant is that we would sing from the hymnals and be accompanied by an organ and piano, or in smaller churches by only a piano. If a church was big enough it would have a choir and those choir members would wear choir robes, unless it was too hot, in the days before air conditioning.

Then somewhere in the 1970s the “war” began. We called it the “worship wars.” It started as we truly believed there was a “generation gap”, like the one that the general culture had been talking about since the 1960s. So we (my generation—late baby boomers) began to sing choruses, play guitars, clap, and if we were really daring, raise our hands in worship, not in the main service, but in youth services or conferences or conventions. And as those late boomers began to move into leadership, we decided that we probably should have two services, a traditional one for our parents and grandparents, and a “contemporary” one for us and our kids. That contemporary service has morphed down through the years to include drums, bass guitars, strobe lights, and smoke machines. The hymnals were forgotten as we started using overhead projectors and finally PowerPoint. We have arrived and our hearing is shot.

Yet so many of our young people are turned off by the “contemporary” scene and they are looking for roots, quietness, tradition, liturgy, “smells” and “bells” and something of substance. Many of these young people have found themselves in Anglican, Orthodox and Catholic churches to recover the traditional worship.

I have been in the Catholic Church since March 2016, and in that short time I have grown to deeply love the worship in the Mass. Thank God I have never experienced the abuses in worship after Vatican II which took place here in the U.S. I have heard horror stories of “hootenanny” Masses and celebrants dressed as clowns. May God forgive such sacrilege! Yet, I also know we have lost something as we turned away from the Traditional Latin Mass and its incredible history and glory.

That brings me to the Youth Synod currently underway at the Vatican. Over the past year young people have been asked what they wanted to see in the Church. It seems that many of their concerns have been substituted for an agenda held by “progressive prelates” who didn’t get enough at Vatican II. The youth show, that they like their counterparts in evangelicalism, they long for the history and richness of the Mass. Young people, couples, families and singles show up at the Traditional Latin Masses. They are not asking for the Mass to be modernized or “protestantized.”

And yet we hear from Paolo Ruffini speaking for some of the Synod Fathers that we need “a Liturgy that is better suited to present times, more participatory, more understandable, otherwise the youth might consider it dull…” In response to this a Catholic priest on Twitter who goes by the handle “Father V” wrote: “It’s almost as if the higher-ups have developed amnesia about the net effect of felt banners, guitars, insipid music, and burlap bag vestments. Mass attendance plummeted and continues to fall everywhere.”

Lord have mercy! Keep praying for this synod that continues through the month of October.

The Worship Wars: 2.0

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